By Jeb Wright
Photo Christopher Wagner
Bill Ward has been making waves, online, with his very public demands to Ozzy Osbourne for an apology and a new contract. While Ward claims he would love to rejoin Black Sabbath for their final album and tour, the Sabbath camp will have to offer more money and apologize for the way they have been treating him over the past few years. Ozzy claims Ward can't handle the daily rigors of a rock tour and that Bill should either take the presented offer, or go his own way.
As words have flown back and forth across Facebook, Sabbath is no closer to making amends with Ward or giving him the kind of deal which would make him feel wanted and respected. It is a verbal war that is far from over. It is a shame; it doesn’t make sense that Black Sabbath would cement its legacy without making peace with their original drummer by putting the love of money over the right thing to do... a sin! When it comes to Black Sabbath, the final imprint on the world should be Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Terry "Geezer" Butler and Bill Ward.
In the middle of this controversy, Ward digitally released his latest solo effort, titled Accountable Beasts. This recording began life as a quick album release for Bill's solo band. This effort ended up taking six years to complete! In this interview, Ward talks about the new songs, his creative process and whether he will be able to take a solo band out on the road if the Sabbath controversy fails to conclude favorably. He also lets the cat out of the bag on his long term project Beyond Aston, stating that the album is done and finally in the mixing stages.
Read on to discover more about what makes Bill Ward tick, as well as what it would take to get him back in Black Sabbath!
Jeb: You’ve been busy in the media regarding the banter back and forth with Ozzy concerning Black Sabbath and whether or not you will be a part of it… and then, out of nowhere, comes a new album from YOU! Accountable Beasts caught us off-guard. Was that the plan?
Bill: There is quite a lot going on, actually. We’d been letting people know, not in a huge way, but in part of the verbiage that came out a couple of weeks ago, where I had been moving forward with my projects. I had made some conditions regarding what it would be like for me to be entering back into Black Sabbath. In doing those things, I had said that we had an album that was imminent and would be coming out soon, so there were those rumblings going on.
It caught everyone by surprise, including us, Jeb. Normally, when you put something out on iTunes there is a little bit of a grace period but this went through instantaneously. We were like, “Holy fuck!” We had a bit of internalizing in our camp. Everyone was like, “Oh shit, we haven’t called this person or that person.” In short, it was a cluster fuck.
We finished the mastering of January 6, 2015, so we knew we were underway and we would be putting this out. It was ‘a given’ it was coming out. We are getting things in-line now. There is a booklet that follows the release and there will be hard copies of the album soon. Not everything was instantaneous with this release, but it won’t be long until we get everything caught up. It was a bit sloppy, but we’re okay and we are getting caught up.
Jeb: We will talk about what’s going on with Sabbath, but first let’s talk about the new album. I’ve always said you are the most underrated member of Black Sabbath; in fact, I was talking to a writer who is a kind of a big deal in the Metal world named Martin Popoff...
Bill: I know Martin.
Jeb: He and I are buddies. We both really think you’re a very creative person and he and I both agree that Accountable Beasts is as much of a work of art as it is a collection of songs.
Bill: I very much appreciate that. It is quite complimentary. I really appreciate that as it is always nice to be validated by your fellows after you’ve worked so hard on a piece of music.
Jeb: It would be very easy for you to go in and make a Metal album in the style of Black Sabbath and the fans would buy it, but you don’t do that. You push forward. This album is schizophrenic at times, it is heavy at times, it is melodic at time and it is shocking at times.
Bill: I knew musically that I wanted to be more adventurous in comparison to When the Bough Breaks. I knew I was going to play heavier and be more aggressive. I played, on the nine tracks that are available, I played on all of the tracks except for “First Day Back.” I wanted to find a home for “Straws” as well. We did that song as an individual effort after 9/11 and I wanted to make sure it had a historic home.
I wanted to play things that I thought were heavier, especially from a drum point of view. “Accountable Beasts” is a good example where I am slamming. Those are 16th and 32nd bass drum notes that are going on. To me, that is almost straight ahead punk, you know. When I say that, Jeb, it is almost like straight ahead “Symptom of the Universe” as well.
I definitely wanted to get back to the comfort of where I feel more at home, and that is playing heavier and being more outspoken. I think that Accountable Beasts allows that and that it is a pretty good platform for me to be more fitting into my skin a little more. I was like, “Oh yeah, I play loud and aggressive from time to time.”
Jeb: Other than “Straws” are these new songs?
Bill: Yeah, they are. Just to let you know, Jeb, we have also started the finalization of Beyond Aston. The reason I am bringing that up is that in doing Beyond Aston some things were moving really, really slow. I said, “Look, let’s just do a quick album.” Fucking famous last words! That is how we started. I had the songs “Accountable Beast” and I had “Ashes,” which was at the time called “I Believe.” I nearly had “Leaf Killers.” I said, “You know what, we’ve got this by the balls so let’s just get it out, man.” I didn’t realize that the process would take nearly six fucking years! I thought this was something that was going to be quite easy to do but from start to finish it took six years. A lot of it was new. “First Day Back” came from Beyond Aston so that was an older track.
“The Wall of Death” I wrote in the spring of 2013. I was taking a lot of heat at the time from the band Black Sabbath about things that I was supposed to have done or said, or was. I was absolutely infuriated. I got a case of the, “You know what guys? Fuck you!” So, I wrote “The Wall of Death.” That is why I’ve got that lyric in there that says, “Keep the pace, mother fuckers. We roll and here we roll, you want to roll? Let’s roll.” It is very much of a challenge.
I needed to say that and I need to allow that to come out of my body and say, “You know what? I am just fed up with what you’re saying about me.” I’m a really honest person and if it was true I would have owned it. That is what that was about. I made it a rude song. I deliberately put that huge guitar on the end and I wanted it to be raucous, non-conforming… I wanted it to almost sound out of place. It seemed to fit if it was out of place. I am not sure that makes sense, but it makes musical sense to me. We deliberately distorted it and we deliberately made the DB levels in an un-conforming manner from a recording standpoint.
Jeb: That is what I mean when I say this is art as much as music. There are bits and pieces all over this thing. This is a Bill Ward album and not a music industry album.
Bill: It is not a music industry album and I don’t even know what a music industry album would be anymore. I’ve become cynical as I’ve gotten older, especially with some of the falling away of recent times, in the last three to four years. I find myself being more cynical so things that are common place or normal or, you know, mistrust and things like that, including some aspects of the music industry. I think it is true to say I am more cynical. I am not ashamed to say that. I just wanted to be whoever I am and let that come out and let that be performed. I don’t have any boundaries and I don’t have any set ways of doing things. I don’t say, “Let’s travel along this path.” Whatever it is, I like it to flourish and I like to allow it to grow. I like to allow the song to become the song.
Jeb: You’re lyrics are strong on this release, but you didn’t really write many lyrics in Sabbath.
Bill: I didn’t write with Sabbath much because there wasn’t a hole, or there wasn’t room. It was kind of like an Ozzy/Geezer thing. Every once in a while if I had a lyric it got printed. Some of my lyrical ideas are on the Sabbath albums, but it was primarily defined as this is how we are, this is how it works and this is the way we go about things. I didn’t allow those things to flourish. Also, I think a big part of this is that when I finally got sober in 1984, I allowed myself to step out a little more. I allowed myself to be more creative. I really wanted to write more. I write poetry, and I write and write and write… it’s what I fucking do. There are these huge boxes against the wall where it all is. It just comes out of me all the time. That’s happened a lot since I became sober, very much more.
Jeb: That’s interesting, as it is like you stripped away the shit and the real you came out.
Bill: It is something like that.
Jeb: One of the best tunes, musically and lyrically, is “The Leaf Killer.”
Bill: I like that song a lot. It is about the arduous task of living and that sometimes we became life weary. All of us feel that way and sometimes we want to take break, or have a cup of tea, or a cup of coffee. Sometimes, some of us, want to shoot ourselves. It is about coming to the realization that there is a good end. That is why I wrote the lyrics of “When I’m at peace I’m going to lay in my daddy’s arms.” It is very comforting to know that.
“Silent shimmers hit the vest” I put in there because it was about the way that the soldiers, especially the American soldiers are being put into harm’s way. They are standing there, and they are being shot at by people who want to destroy just about anything these days. I wanted to describe how a bullet would hit the vest and I thought about ‘silent shimmers.’
Silent shimmers is about more than a bullet hitting the vest. It is also about that noise in the house that we can’t quite make out. It is about that attitude that we’re not quite sure of, but we know it doesn’t feel right. The ultimate account of silent shimmers is when the bullet hits the Kevlar.
I love the description of grief that comes directly after that. It took me a long time to figure out how one could one write about how one can get through grief, the initial grief. Shock takes place, but I could not put shock and grief together, and I needed a word and I came up with ‘mantle.’ In other words, it is a structure that would hold something, a mantle.
I wanted “Leaf Killers” to be a Metal song. It is not something that is right in your face Metal, but it is Metal in the terms of the attitude and the putting together of it all. I deliberately did the tongue in cheek vamp part “still condescending from a coiled position.” “The congregation kneels below.” I played brushes and I made it a kind of south New Orleans kind of funeral band. I love what we did on the keyboards. It had to be Halloween. It had to be about wearing black rings and things like that.
Jeb: Each song on the album really stands alone, yet it makes a great collection together. Your lyrics are very unique on this thing. You never know what the fuck you’re going to get with a Bill Ward album!
Bill: [Laughing] I am sorry about that!
Jeb: What is the song “D.O.T.H.” about?
Bill: The darkest of the horses. It is about the person in your life that is really out to fuck you. The darkest of the horses is quite near, you know.
Jeb: There seems to be a theme going on here!
Bill: Well, that is what “D.O.T.H.” is about. I wanted to make it erotic. I wanted to make it sexual. It is one of those things, again, where I walked into it and got coldcocked. I was like, “Hey God, I thought I heard you say I wouldn’t hear the sound of my own screaming.” In other words, I trusted you, you asshole! I am screaming out that this is really painful in this song like, “Where do we go from here?”
It is me being cynical again, especially with my relationship with God. It doesn’t mean I have a bad relationship with God, it just means, at that moment when I wrote it, I was being very cynical. That is what that is about. I love that song, musically, as well. We did a really good job on that one.
Jeb: With everything in chaos with Sabbath, would you play these songs live?
Bill: We’ve been practicing these songs. As a matter of fact, we just came out of live rehearsals. The intention is to start again in June with rehearsal to see if we can get a little tighter and a little bit more to where we want to be. If we can have some promoters that would take us on then we are willing to try to go out. It is a bit costly, to be honest with you, Jeb. It is costly in terms of crew… and to perform this, as I would like to perform it, would take ten people in the band. There are four people in what I call my Gothic Choir. There is a lot of operatic things on this album. To perform it, I would need to have those operatic and jazzy sorts of people. WE are still doing “Mobile Shooting Gallery” from the first album and on that song we sing multiple lyrics very fast and to do that you have to have some sort of jazz history to even step up to the plate and sing that kind of thing. For me, it is challenging and wonderful and I am hoping that we can step up to the plate and have a band that could play this live.
Jeb: Part of the controversy is that according to certain camps, the rest of Black Sabbath, you are unable to play an entire concert, physically.
Bill: Oh, that’s their fear that has nothing to do with me. That is somebody else’s fear. That is simply fear and that’s all that is. It is not the truth and it has nothing to do with the truth. The only thing that happened to me that is the truth is that I actually got sick on October 18, 2013. Up until that point I was fully capable of playing drums and I could have played multiple world tours, et cetera, et cetera. I just had not signed a contract. Had I signed a contract then I wouldn’t have been sick, according to them!
I hate what’s going on, it is terrible. It is a good question: Had I signed the contract that was offered to me, which I wouldn’t have done, but had I signed it I probably would have been exonerated from health problems! That is crazy. Once you sign, you just don’t have health problems.
I would never, ever, ever commit to taking on any type of live commitment, or studio commitment, if I knew there was something going on inside of me which could stop me from doing it. There wasn’t a fucking thing going on inside of me that would stop me from playing in the studio or in a live band rehearsal. It absolutely didn’t exist.
Jeb: You’re saying this all strictly boils down to money with Black Sabbath.
Bill: In my particular case, when I try to get a sign-able contract, yes.
Jeb: That’s crazy.
Bill: The sickness agenda started after I wouldn’t sign the contract. You know all the problems of what I was like in 2011, it all started to happen after the event. In 2011, nobody said anything to me about that as they all seemed to be quite happy that I was there. I am getting better with it now, but I was infuriated when I first heard of that as my health was really good. I was playing drums every day and practicing 130 beats per minute for a half an hour on the bass drum. I wasn’t walking ten miles, I usually walk ten miles a day but I was walking six to eight miles a day. It is what I would be doing anyway. It is what I am doing now. I am walking on treadmills. I had to rebuild my core after the operation I had.
What happened on October the 18th of 2013 was serious shit and I needed surgery. Had I been on tour then, yes, that would have happened. That was something that was unexpected and unforeseeable, as life can be. That would have meant that I would not have been able to continue on with the band for at least five months. It would have taken that amount of time. They have cancelled shows as well when unforeseeable events happen. They say, “He couldn’t have done it anyway because he got sick.” I think that is a bunch of bullshit. These things are unforeseeable and everybody knows that we go in good faith and we know unforeseeable events can happen. Ozzy has had to cancel on multiple occasions because of unforeseeable events since all of this has happened.
Jeb: Should we hold out any hope that Sabbath will reunite with you?
Bill: That statement that I made was actually an olive branch. It was a real olive branch, not a pie in the sky olive branch. I gave exact specifications of what would put me back in the band. I don’t fuck around, you know. “You want me back I the band? Then make a public apology about the things that you said about me that weren’t true. That’s the first thing. The next thing is give me a sign-able fucking contract.”
This contract isn’t the Rockefeller of all Rockefeller contracts. I just want something that is decent and fair and what every other person on earth who is playing rock and roll would want.
Jeb: Did Sharon buy everyone out of Sabbath?
Bill: I’ve got no idea what her actions have been. I stay away from that and I have no idea what goes on there.
Jeb: You can’t deal with it.
Bill: I just let it go.
Jeb: There are two sad things that come from this. All of the fans, including me, want to see you on that drum stool. The other sad thing is that Ozzy and you were always close, but this is really fucking everything up between you.
Bill: Definitely. I love him and I miss him. I grieved his loss in 2012. I went through absolute murder, emotionally, with him saying the things he was saying. I was absolutely gob smacked, I couldn’t believe it was somebody that I had known for so many years. It was really horrible going through that.
I don’t dislike Oz. I don’t have any animosity, or any revenge, and I am not seeking to be better than him, or anything like that. I am not trying to be right in these things in terms of “You are wrong and I am right.” I am simply stating the facts and asking for an amendment of the facts, as they stand. It is very matter of fact with me. It is actually quite simple.
I am really saddened that all of the Ozzy fans and all of the Bill fans are all upset. All the Ozzy fans fucking hate me. There is a lot of controversy. We try to keep an open mind to all of the fans and all of the interested parties. We are very concerned, my team, we are very concerned about the way these things are handled. We are very concerned about the people who dislike me, but they have every right to dislike me. I actually support them in their right to dislike me and they are entitled to their opinions. I don’t necessarily agree with them that I am an asshole, but if they want to call me an asshole I will support their right to do that. I’ve got no axe to grind with anybody. I am at peace in this. I offered a real pathway. I just did it a couple of weeks ago.
Jeb: Has there been any talks other than Ozzy’s public reply?
Bill: Absolutely not. They found it offensive. I had no expectations. The thing that I needed to do was to write down and tell the public the things that I require and that these are the things that happened to me. I don’t expect everyone to understand because they didn’t walk the walk with me. I walked the walk through this and some of my family members did as well. It felt very sinister and not very nice at all. I had to rebuke that. I had to say, “That wasn’t really nice. Before we move forward and before we are all happy families, let’s get some things straightened out.” It is what any family would do. When somebody comes in and fucking shits all over the place you go, “Hey, clean that shit up and then maybe we can talk.”
Jeb: Have you had any contact with Tony or Geezer?
Bill: Tony emailed me and I emailed Tony only a few weeks ago. Geezer, I have not spoken to for about five months. I haven’t said a word to Ozzy, not one single thing.
Jeb: My gut feeling is that this is not going to work out. I hope I am wrong.
Bill: I’ve put these things out into the universe and whether they are going to be received through the universe, or whether they will be received through ego I don’t know. If they are received through ego then they will fail. If they receive these things with understanding and with an open mind there is every possibility this could succeed.
Jeb: Before you sent that out you had to be okay with whatever happens.
Bill: Yes, I was prepared to meet any circumstances, whether that be retaliation on their part, whatever form of retaliation… whatever it might be I had to be in the state to meet whatever was going to come at me.
Jeb: It is no surprise that Accountable Beasts has so much anger at times.
Bill: The song that really comes around is “The Wall of Death.” The other songs were written, lyrically, prior to this. This is just me fucking normally! That is me having a crack at everything else that goes on in the world.
I wrote “First Day Back” as a way to try to help the person who is in his first day back. Everyone has a first day back. It could be your first sexual experience, or your first day in prison or you’re first day realizing that you nearly died. All of these things are first day backs. I wanted to look at what it was and what is so unusual about that first day back and how it feels. The first day back in recovery man is like fucking hell! That is a huge one right there.
Jeb: Let’s touch on Beyond Aston. The first time I interviewed you was like 15 years ago and we were talking about it then. So what the fuck, Bill?
Bill: I know! I shelved it so we could make Accountable Beasts which was to be a fast album.
Jeb: You only took six years on that one.
Bill: Only six years! Beyond Aston has I think 13 songs on it. It is actually being mixed as we speak today. It is in the studio. We’ve got all of the songs and we’ve got them on one hard drive and we’ve gone through them. We are looking at final overdubs and little things that need finessed a little bit. All of the tracks are there and everything is done and we just have to mix it. It is close.
Jeb: Last one Bill: I’ve always wondered if you’re comfortable in your skin being known as Bill Ward the Rock-god.
Bill: Well, you know, I don’t see myself as a Rock god. I see myself as Bill, as a grandfather, as a husband, as a family man, as a songwriter and as a musician. I’m very comfortable with the ownership of all of those things because it’s the truth. Rock god is a little bit arrogant for me. I don’t know about that!
If you want to talk about Rock gods, I was at UCLA last night and we went to see one of my friends Dave Lombardo. He was playing some Avant Garde jazz at Rice Hall at UCLA in Los Angeles. I went to see Dave play. He played so well and I was like, “Oh my God.” He is something of a Rock Icon or a Rock god and he probably wouldn’t like me saying that. You can have that one and pass it around. I remember when I became a legend. I wasn’t quite sure how to take that! I try to keep my feet on the ground. When people compliment me on my ability to write music that is a huge compliment to me. I try to receive it graciously. They compliment me on my drumming, or if I was able to achieve something drum-wise that I couldn’t play before then that is great. I don’t look for accolades. I try to just get beyond where I was at.
Jeb: I appreciate your candor. It sounds to me like you’re still willing and ready, and that if things could work out then you’d love to be sitting on that drum stool.
Bill: I miss them terribly and I miss playing the songs. I totally miss playing “Into the Void” but that is rather selfish of me, as it is one of my favorite songs to play. I totally miss playing “Children of the Grave” and I totally miss playing “Black Sabbath.” I miss these songs and I miss playing with that Irish bass player friend of mine. When you’ve been used to working with somebody and you have the sound… I work with a lot of different musicians and I don’t want to take anything away from them, but I’m so used to playing with Terry and hearing Terry’s bottom end and his orchestration parts… I miss that. It is absolutely soul destroying when I’m not connected to that. I’ve been playing more crescendo, more orchestration these last few years. I am playing far more jazz now. I still slam and I still play hardcore. I’m doing all of these things. These are terrible losses to me. I live with these things, Jeb. It is such a sonic loss in my heart.
Drums and bass players connect together and I interact with him and I rebel, and I repel, and react to him. It is a huge loss.
Jeb: I’m going to end by playing the Devil’s Advocate... Why not just take what they are offering and say fuck it and go do it and put it all in the past?
Bill: If I did that it would destroy me. It would destroy me because what I’m being offered is soul destroying. It is disrespectful and it’s something that treats me in a way that is not nice. It is just not nice. I can’t talk too much about the internals of it, but to take the offer… One of the things is that if everybody agreed to do this for nothing then I’d do it for nothing. This is not about money, this is about respectability. This is about principal and respectability. It’s never been about fucking money. Everyone thinks it is about the money, but it is not about the money.
Jeb: You want them to be an accountable beast!
Bill: Pretty much. It is like ‘be nice’. That is what we’re asking for.
Jeb: We will wait and see…
Bill: If they can come that far then that’s fine. It has been going on for a long time. It wasn’t something that happened overnight. I know that Tony said suddenly there were all of these lawyers involved, but our lawyers were involved right from the beginning. When you’re working with Sharon Osbourne then you get lawyers involved right from the very beginning. All through 2011 our lawyers were talking to their lawyers the entire year. It wasn’t anything new and it suddenly just didn’t happen out of nowhere. It was not something where Bill has changed his mind and he’s getting lawyers and everything else. We were trying to negotiate the entire fucking year. That’s the truth.
Jeb: I am happy that in the mean time you’ve come back with Accountable Beasts for your fans, and for yourself.
Bill: Thank you.
Jeb: I am still going to give you hell on Beyond Aston until we are doing an interview about it!
Bill: [laughter] that’s fine! I can’t wait for you to hear it. I can’t wait as I am so excited about it.
Jeb: Musically, Beyond Aston will be very different than anything you’ve done.
Bill: Some of it is insanely heavy. It’s deliberately heavy. There are some special guests on it. I’ve got all kinds of things happening. There are some new experiments on it. There are a lot of different things going on. We started mixing it about four weeks ago, so the final mix is coming soon.
Jeb: After waiting this many years for Beyond Aston I am glad to hear the news. One day we will be doing an interview on Beyond Aston and I will have a big ass grin on my face.
Bill: [laughter] Me too!
The views of the comments below are not necessarily those of Classic Rock Revisited