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Kerby's Exclusive Interview With GZR/ Black Sabbath Bassist Geezer Butler

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Wednesday, May 25, 2005 @ 0:03 AM

Geezer Takes A Little Time To

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It’s a damn shame.

Take a minute and simply consider all the bands and individuals currently enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame--besides such obvious selections as The Beatles or even Bob Dylan, other “luminaries” such as the Bee Gees, the Rascals and even The Mamas and the Papas inexplicably reside there as well. I realize that we’re getting to a point in the year 2005 where most of the obvious choices have already been included in this lofty collection of musical greatness, but it is sort of amazing that a group of hirsute, high-pitched femme boys who brought the world the magnificent gift of disco could somehow make it to Ohio ahead of any of the real purveyors of the genre we all know and love as heavy metal. It’s difficult to believe that nearly twenty years after museum’s inception, the band generally considered to have started it all--Black Sabbath--still hasn’t been recognized by the Rock Hall of Fame. For that matter, metal in general has been for the most part completely ignored with the exception of AC/DC entering in 2003—regardless, no Sabbath, no Priest, no Maiden=big joke.

Regardless of whatever criteria one would use to decide who should be a part of the most exclusive collective of musicians to ever pound drums or screech like hellions on guitar, the boys from Birmingham, England would have to qualify. The fact that Sabbath hasn’t been inducted just underscores the belief many possess which is that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is simply an odd assortment of artists that for whatever reason just happen to be on the right side of the fence of critical acclaim. In this interview, Geezer doesn’t appear to be overly concerned with the plight, but nevertheless, the bassist for this seminal group does appear to be as perplexed as everyone else with the omission. Being an outsider though is nothing new to Butler or his band mates in Sabbath as they have constantly had to endure obstacles throughout their entire career—after all, Sabbath was at least partially founded on the dark possibility of doubt derived from people telling them that they couldn’t make it.

Now, in addition to continuing to play alongside stalwarts Iommi, Osbourne and Ward, Geezer has also been collaborating with his side project GZR. The new record is entitled Ohmwork, and is basically a collection of aggressive metal that manages to mix a current sound with more traditional elements of hard rock to create a work that manages to push beyond the expectations of a normal side project and quickly enter the realm of simply being a quality album. Some of the immediacy present here is the result of a recording process that took a grand total of ten days to complete. The rush provided by working under such a finite timetable is evident here as themes such as war, isolation and corrupt leaders are all dealt with tempestuously in ways that manage to deviate noticeably from the distinctive sounds of Geezer’s primary band.

Always the consummate professional, expect Butler to be on the road with Sabbath this summer and on into the fall with possible GZR dates following. Here’s hoping there is an induction ceremony for Black Sabbath on the horizon as well… after all, there can be no legitimate Rock and Roll Hall of Fame without it.

KNAC.COM: Being that you have experienced so much and seen so much, would it be safe to say that this is the bleakest time the world has faced during your lifetime?
GEEZER: Absolutely. The world is in a very bad way at the moment with all of the violence going on all over the place.

KNAC.COM: It seems that the new GZR record contains lyrics that typically deal with alienation and darkness. Do these lyrics reflect more about the band personally or is it more of a representation of society as a whole?
GEEZER: Well, the lyrics come from me and Clark. He has led sort of a bleak life up there in Massachusetts where he is from, while I’m sort stating more of a world wide view with the war in Iraq and the troubles in the Middle East and how religion has poisoned everybody. It just seems as though people never learn from their past mistakes. I can’t believe that people can’t just get on with each other, but it seems like there always has to be violence. I know it might be a bit naïve, but those are the feelings in my songs.

KNAC.COM: You mentioned working with Clark—is there almost always a period when you are collaborating with someone new where the other person invariably has to get over the fact that they are, in fact, working with “Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath”? Does it take a little longer than normal to get on a personal level?
GEEZER: Yeah, I think it wasn’t so bad this time, but Clark on the last album got really nervous, which is bad in way because people get frightened and only want to take the easy way without trying anything different because they might mess up. That is sort of the way he was at first on the last album, but then, after we worked together for a while, he realized I wasn’t this big monster or anything. The fact is that I respect his input as much as I respect anyone’s input, and once he realized that, things came much easier for him, and he really came out of himself and felt relaxed a lot more.

KNAC.COM: What is it like to realize that you have that type of affect on other people or fellow musicians? Or is it just something you have had to deal with for so long?
GEEZER: It’s hard for me to realize it. I’ve played with the guys in Sabbath for years, and we’ve grown up together and have just always been around each other. When you meet other people, it’s hard to think that they think that you’re something more than just an ordinary person. They soon realize though that I don’t have this big ego or anything.

KNAC.COM: Why do you think that so many musicians who have achieved far less sometimes have ego problems whereas you have managed to avoid it?
GEEZER: I think it has to do with our backgrounds and how we were brought up—it was really a bad part of England, and we were all working class.

KNAC.COM: That type of thing never leaves you?
GEEZER: It hasn’t left us, no. I was always used to being talked down to as a kid, and I would never do that to someone else.

KNAC.COM: Truly Sabbath has had an uphill battle from the beginning.
GEEZER: Yeah, nobody really ever gave us a chance. It took us seven auditions to record companies before we ever even got a record deal. Even then, it was for the minimum deal possible.

KNAC.COM: Does that make it that much nicer for you to be able to engage in a project such as GZR where you have free reign to do whatever it is that you want to do?
GEEZER: It’s great. For me, it just brings me back to the basics of where I started out. I’m not doing this for money. It’s just nice to go out and do exactly what I want without the record company telling me what to do or having to get permission from other people in the band about what kind of music I want to do.

KNAC.COM: This has to be dramatically different from your working relationship with Sabbath.
GEEZER: Yeah, because Sabbath is very set in its ways in writing. It’s like Tony is on guitar, I’m always on bass, Bill is always on drums, and Ozzy just sings. Whereas in this band if I want to play keyboards or the guitarist wants to play keyboards or bass or whatever or if Clark wants to play guitar, everyone is free to be able to do that. In Sabbath though, for whatever reason, it has always been rigidly structured. It’s really hard to write songs when you’re just sitting there with your bass.

KNAC.COM: Has the writing situation with Sabbath ever gotten any easier throughout the years, or is that simply the way it is always going to be?
GEEZER: Yeah, I think it is. The last time we tried to write an album, it was that way. I was stuck sitting there with me bass, and it was just weird, and we couldn’t break out of that.

KNAC.COM: How do you decide what parts of modern rock or metal to incorporate into your sound with GZR? Do you even think of it that way?
GEEZER: I don’t really think of it that way. The hardest part of this album was finding a direction because we have been writing for about seven years now, and we have about forty or fifty different songs that range from jazz to hip hop to everything. It’s like the hardest part is to just sit there and try to decide a direction for the band. It wouldn’t be any good for me to come out with a jazz record though because it just wouldn’t get anywhere. People would just be like, “What the hell is this?” The way it works is that the four of us sit down and listen to everything that we’ve done. Then we pick out the songs that we want to do—maybe ten or twelve of them. Here we thought, “Let’s just go for the heavy stuff.”

KNAC.COM: At the end of the day, if there is a deadlock, you get to pull rank though, right?
GEEZER: Yeah, it’s ultimately my decision, rightly or wrongly. If it doesn’t work, then I get the blame. [Laughs]

KNAC.COM: Was it pretty cool the first time you sort of got to assert your authority?
GEEZER: It doesn’t usually happen that way. It depends more on Clark really. If he comes up with a song that he is stronger on vocally, then that is usually the song that we do.

KNAC.COM: When you tour with GZR versus Sabbath, is this harder because it is more personal for you?
GEEZER: With Sabbath, it is really comfortable because the emphasis is not on me. You get to go out and play songs that everyone has heard before---most people just tend to look at Ozzy anyway. When it is a case where I’m onstage with my band, sometimes I get really uncomfortable when I realize that everyone is looking at me. [Laughs] I start to get paranoid.

KNAC.COM: Really?
GEEZER: Yeah, it was like that. One night, I was on tour and I just started thinking about it and it just occurred to me that everyone was looking at me. It had never really occurred to me before. Then I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, I’m sure you were wishing that the thought had never come into your mind.
GEEZER: It got to the point where I wanted to hide behind the amp. It was like stage fright. I had never experienced that before. It is much easier for me to go on in front of twenty thousand people when I feel fairly anonymous than it is to go out in front of sixty people in a club.

KNAC.COM: I had wondered that because people always want to say “playing music is playing music,” but these really are different situations.
GEEZER: Yeah, they are completely different.

KNAC.COM: Many people who achieve a significant level in music and who still have that avenue open to them might be afraid to get into a project like this because they would be afraid to fail. It seems like it would be easy to get paralyzed by it.
GEEZER: Absolutely. That’s why it takes so long to do an album. I kept saying, “We’ve got better stuff than this and we’ve got better stuff than this.” Eventually, seven years had gone by, and we still hadn’t done an album. You just have to go in at some point and do it—good, bad or whatever, so you can get on with something else.

KNAC.COM: At what point do you have to just decide that a record is finished? Couldn’t you conceivably mess with something forever?
GEEZER: I spent a whole year changing and chucking the songs about. It got to the point where I bought a sampler, sampled everything I did, and rearranged it with the sampler. It was driving me nuts. I just got together with the guitarist, Pedro, who was on Ozzfest touring with me last year. We just listened to all of this stuff and picked out which songs we were going to work on. Soon as Ozzfest finished, we rehearsed for a couple of weeks and got Clark over and just did it.

KNAC.COM: Is it sort of difficult for you to have this coming out now with your summer and most of the fall being booked with Sabbath?
GEEZER: Well, at the time when we were mixing and recording, we didn’t realize that we were going to be doing Ozzfest again. Then, it came up though, and it got priority. What we end up doing with regards to touring on this depends on what the album does because these days you have to get tour support from the record company. Hopefully, we will get a chance to tour towards the end of this year or early next year.

KNAC.COM: One of the songs off the new one concerns a person faking their own death. Have you ever wanted to get out from under the whole idea of being “Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath”? Is it hard to connect with people if you have to constantly question their motivations?
GEEZER: It really isn’t about me personally. I was just thinking about it one day about starting life all over again. That’s sort of where the idea of the song came out. As for the relationships, you learn how to separate people like that. That was especially true in the early days of Sabbath. Ninety percent of my best friends were turning around and asking me for money all of the time and wanting me to buy them a house and all kinds of stuff. That really becomes the time when you realize they aren’t your friends anymore. These days, I just keep myself to myself, really. I’ve got friends that I trust, the ones I’ve got now.

KNAC.COM: That would be a survival skill wouldn’t it?
GEEZER: You can always spot the undesirables. [Laughs]

KNAC.COM: How does that affect the way you approach touring with Sabbath?
GEEZER: I don’t do a lot of mixing plus I don’t like to have anyone around me before a show. I just can’t talk to anyone before a show.

KNAC.COM: Like how much before a show?
GEEZER: Two hours before the show I’ll hide away. I can’t even speak to me wife or anything. It’s just one of those things. We are all a bit like that—especially Ozzy. He doesn’t like to talk to anyone even three or four hours before a show. He just goes into his own world and gets ready for a show. Before that, you know, we had a laugh with Judas Priest and people like that.

KNAC.COM: What types of things do you think about during those two hours?
GEEZER: I like to do exercises—stretching exercises. I like to play me bass for a half an hour to get flexible. It’s just a routine you get into, and if somebody interrupts it, it just throws you off. It is just such a regimen.

KNAC.COM: Can you get superstitious about it?
GEEZER: I was just about to say that. If somebody comes in and interrupt you, you start to think, “I’m going to have a really bad gig tonight.” It’s like I would go on stage and that would be running through my mind.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, but is there any possible way you could ever misplay Sabbath classics? It has to be second nature to you, right—almost as normal as breathing?
GEEZER: Yeah. It really is. The only time we really make a mistake is when we think about what we’re doing.

KNAC.COM: Or you think about other people watching you?
GEEZER: Yeah. [Laughs] That doesn’t even matter to me though when I’m playing the Sabbath stuff—they can look at me all they want to—I’m not going to get paranoid. The Sabbath stuff is just second nature. The only time I panic is if I’m thinking, “Is it the second verse or the third verse?” Or maybe Ozzy is doing something—he is always trying to make me mess up on stage.

KNAC.COM: Were you even pleasantly surprised at how well the band played last summer?
GEEZER: …Yeah, because I think we were playing better than ever because we were healthy. We don’t do drugs or go and booze anymore. Bill had his heart attack, and he used to smoke eighty cigarettes a day. Now, he doesn’t smoke or eat all that crap food anymore, and he’s playing better than he was before. I think that once the playing starts deteriorating, then it’s time to call it a day. As long as we play the way we do and love to do it the way we do though, we will keep doing it.

KNAC.COM: Were you prepared for last summer to have been the last tour you would ever do with Sabbath?
GEEZER: Yeah, I thought it was. I was really surprised because I thought that this year it would be the Ozzy band. I was very surprised when I got the call and they were wanting Sabbath to do it.

KNAC.COM: How much rehearsal is involved in something like that for you?
GEEZER: This time we’ll probably do two weeks and probably try to make Ozzy do some new stuff.

KNAC.COM: So you guys are planning on changing up the set list a little this time?
GEEZER: Yes, that’s the plan.

KNAC.COM: How much do you care about Sabbath’s omission from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
GEEZER: It would have been nice to be in it. I just think that it has become a little diluted with some of the bands that have been included. Some of them have had one hit album, and then were never heard from again. For that reason, it seems to be more and more meaningless every year.

KNAC.COM: That seems to beg the question everyone seems to have and that is how could a band like Sabbath with such influence and longevity not make it in ahead of some of these other groups?
GEEZER: Yeah, it almost seems like a conspiracy against us. It really does.

KNAC.COM: Would that be shocking to you at all considering all of the obstacles you guys have had to deal with throughout your career?
GEEZER: Yeah, it seems like we have always kind of been put down by people in the business. Obviously, fans have likes us, and other bands have likes us too, but it does seem like there is some little clique out there who likes to vote for themselves. It does sort of make it meaningless when they don’t have bands like us in there—it just seems pointless. It is probably voted on by the same people who once gave Jethro Tull the “Metal Band of the Year” award.

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