After an 18-year break between studio albums, Black Sabbath did what’s expected for an aging iconic rock band looking for a comeback in 2013—they recruited super producer Rick Rubin to record their new album.
Rubin, who helped reinvigorate the careers of Johnny Cash, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Neil Diamond, among others, asked Black Sabbath to channel the energy and spirit of their groundbreaking self-titled debut, an album that many consider the first in the heavy metal canon. Rubin’s magic worked again, with the album, called 13, scoring the first No. 1 release from the group in 33 years.
Black Sabbath performs at Shoreline Amphitheatre on August 26 with all but one of the band’s original members. Frontman Ozzy Osbourne spoke about the tour and the new album in a media conference call earlier this year.
On splitting with original Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward for the album and tour:
We would love to have Bill back in the fold, but unfortunately it didn’t work out. We knew we had to deliver an album because we had kept people waiting for, like, 35 years. We all just got on the boat and, unfortunately, Bill had some discrepancy about something or other, but we’d love to have him back and work something out.
On working with Rubin, who asked the band to revisit their first album before recording 13:
For us, when Rick says, “I don’t want you to think of a classic heavy metal album,” I’m like, “Well, what the fuck do you want me to do? What are you looking for?” I know either way it took me the longest to understand what he was saying. He says, “Forget all the other albums. I want you to concentrate and zone into the vibe that you had on the first album.”
I thought, “What is he talking about, you know?” And then the [record needle] drops, and then I suddenly remembered that we originally started out as a jazz/blues band, and that was a part of the first album. We hadn’t written that many songs and it was just like a jammer on side two—a bluesy album sound to it.
So I got what he was saying. he didn’t want a structured album in the respects of verse, riff, verse, riff, middle, solo … He wanted that freedom that we had on the first album, which was just a natural vibe.
On how his voice and how it has lasted 40 years:
Well, I’ve stopped smoking cigarettes. I’ve stopped smoking dope. I’ve stopped taking drugs. I’ve stopped drinking alcohol. Before I go on the road now, I try and warm my voice up and before a show I warm my voice up.
I’ve got one instrument and that’s my voice that’s given by God. I’ve got to start taking care of it because it ain’t going to last very long.
I was abusing it. I mean, my voice [was there] all the time when I used to smoke, and I just thought, it’s a good idea to quit. I haven’t smoked a cigarette or dope in a long, long time.
On being labeled a heavy metal band:
You know, the ’70s heavy metal, the ’80s heavy metal, the ’90s and the new millennium metal are nothing like each other, but yet we’re all under this one bag and I never really got my head around it.
We never said, “Oh, we’re the godfathers of heavy metal,” because we’ve always felt that it doesn’t say anything. Musically, it just puts you in one bag. It was heavy rock, which was more of a musical thing to me.
I’ve never really liked using that word “heavy metal” because ’80s metal was all Poison, Motley Crue, Ozzy and so on, and the ’70s was a different thing, and it got different in the ’90s. I mean, it’s like it doesn’t have any musical connotations for me.
On his nickname ‘Prince of Darkness’:
It’s a name. I didn’t wake up one morning and go, “You know what, I’m going to call myself…”—it started as a joke name really. I’m okay with it. You know, it’s better than being called an asshole.
On touring now compared to 30 years ago:
Well, we’re all a few years older and nobody gets stoned or drunk. Geezer’ll take a drink now and again but I don’t drink or use anymore. Every time I do I get in fuckin’ trouble. We’re just guys now; we’re men. We’ve got families and we got responsibilities, but I’m still fucking crazy. I’m still having fun, you know?
On playing with guitarist Tony Iommi again:
The guy is a warrior in the respect that when he was about 17 he was working in a factory and he had the tips of his middle two fingers on his hand lopped off in a metal shaving machine. They told him that he would never play guitar again. He proved them all wrong by making these signatures, and for years I would say to Tony, “How do you know when you’re touching the strings?” And he goes, “I just do it,” you know.
But you say to him, “You can’t do this again,” and he’ll find a way if he wants to do it. When we started this last album, he was struggling with lymphoma. We all thought, “Oh, this is never going to happen.” He marched through it, and for that alone he’s my hero. I mean, he pulls things off like when you think he’s done, he’ll come up with something bigger, better and badder than before.
Black Sabbath performs August 26 at Shoreline Amphitheatre. More info.