For Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler, retirement hasn’t been about golfing and days at the beach. Today, for instance? Home alone, screaming at his laptop. But it’s a good thing; before our interview he’d just watched his beloved hometown football club, Aston Villa, win. “When they scored, I threw my laptop up in the air, and it hit me in the face,” he says with a chuckle.
Fortunately, Butler’s now getting out of the house more, thanks to Deadland Ritual — the first band he’s joined since he hooked up with Sabbath in 1968 (not counting the Heaven & Hell offshoot, and his own GZR project). With Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens, singer Franky Perez (Apocalyptica, Scars on Broadway) and drummer Matt Sorum (Who hasn’t he played with?), the band has classic rock underpinnings with a modern sound and approach. The legendary players gave the L.A. Weekly the scoop about the newly minted lineup — and much more…
L.A. WEEKLY: How did Deadland Ritual begin?
STEVE STEVENS: Well, Matt, Franky and I have known each other for so many years. Matt has an all-star band called Kings of Chaos. I did a solo tour in Europe last year and Franky came on the road as the singer. I started having a conversation about doing a record with him, and he said, ‘You know what — I've been having the same conversation with Matt Sorum.’ Matt had seen an interview with Geezer after Black Sabbath played their final show where they asked, ’What are you going to do now?’ And Geezer’s like, ‘Oh, I gotta look for a new band.’ Matt saw that, jumped on it, called him, then called me and said, ‘Hey, what about Geezer Butler?’
GEEZER BUTLER: Yeah. I didn’t even know the call was for a new band, I thought it was for Kings of Chaos. So we had a meeting and they explained. They sent me a couple song ideas that Steve had done, and I really liked them. They asked me to join. So I says ‘yeah.’
SS: We did it much like any other band; we got in a little room just to see what the chemistry was like, to see what it sounded like. We didn't jam on a Black Sabbath song at first, oddly enough. We just jumped right in with our original material because we needed to know what we sounded like as opposed to sounding like guys playing a Black Sabbath song.
So tell me about that first time, musically speaking…
SS: You know that things can look good on paper, but the proof is in the pudding when you're all together. And it was incredible. We all kind of created this unique space for each other. I think that's what's really different and cool about it is that we listened to each other and really wanted to create something that was unique to this band. We all have the same vision. You know, we're all obviously lovers of that early ‘70s English rock scene, of which Geezer is a big part of. It wasn’t rocket science once we knew what the band sounded like.
You only have three songs recorded for your debut album — “Broken and Bruised,” “Down in Flames,” and “Walking into Walls,” but I understand you have more written. Have you been doing lyrics, Geezer?
GB: I've only got one song with lyrics on it, it’s called ‘City of Night.’ Franky sent me the vocal lines for it, but he was just like sort of humming it, kind of just what the song reflected, and I wrote lyrics. It's just one of those things. It's what you do for a living.
In the early Sabbath days, it seems a fair amount of your lyrics came from your reading, mysticism… Are you reading a lot these days and would that influence your writing?
GB: I haven’t had a lot of time for reading these days. I’ve been busy figuring out bass parts for this new band! I always think when I'm reading a book, ‘Oh, I should be coming up with bass parts or something.’ I've been reading the new Ian McEwan book, Machines Like Me. I’ve got about a third through that.
Geezer, you’re an influence on practically ever rock and metal bass player out there. Your major influence was Jack Bruce, correct? Have you met him?
GB: No, it was one of those things, ‘Never meet your hero.’ But I did have a chance to at the NAMM show in Anaheim. We had a brief, quick, meeting, and he said I was the only bass player he liked, so that left me quite dumbfounded. That was it. I first saw Cream because of Eric Clapton. I didn't know who Jack Bruce was at the time. But the way Jack Bruce was playing, I didn't even think that bass players played like that. That’s what I wanted to be, then. I was probably about 16 or 17.
You’re all learning Deadland Ritual songs, as well as each other's songs for your gigs … How’s that working out?
GB: We’ve been rehearsing with Steve in between his Billy Idol tours. So we get to write and rehearse, but to record, you know, you need to have a month or six weeks to do or finish an album. So we probably won't be doing that until later on this year. Live, we’re doing Sabbath’s “Symptom of the Universe,” ‘Sweet Leaf” and “N.I.B.” Also, “Rebel Yell,” which is quite straightforward [for me] and “Slither” [Velvet Revolver] is too.
SS: The funny thing is that even though I'm a guitarist that made my career in the '80s, I'm such a product of those formative years when you’re devouring records. I'm a [Sabbath] fan; obviously any guitar player who loves heavy rock, you're going to be a fan of Tony Iommi and I want to do the music justice. But at the same there are aspects of my playing which I’m keen to express. So, hopefully I'll honor it at the same time as, you know, still sounding like Steve Stevens.
Geezer, you’ll be on a tiny stage at the Troubadour gig; people will be trying to touch your feet!
GB: They'll be looking up my nose! I better wear Depends as well.
Are you seriously anxious about this in any way?
GB: Oh yeah. Yeah. I mean, no matter how much you rehearse—we've been rehearsing for God knows how long and we’ve still got another 10 days — but it’s never the same when you get to a gig and you go on stage. You just pray that nothing goes wrong. If I’m in rehearsal and something goes wrong, we just stop and start again. Once you're doing the gig, there’s no return.
Do you hate the word ‘supergroup’?
SS: I mean, Franky is kind of like a secret weapon at this point, so I think that's cool. When I did my solo tour in Europe and was doing interviews about it before we came, I said, ‘the guy you're going to end up walking away and talking about, it's not me, it's going to be Franky.’ I'm really proud to give him a platform so that people will discover him. And in that aspect it's certainly not a super group. Hopefully we’re just a group of real bad-ass musicians.
How/where does Deadland Ritual fit in your career?
SS: After we go and play these dates, the next step is to record the record. For me, it's not a side project. It's something that coexists with what I do with Billy Idol. I also think that's kind of the way musicians in 2019 work; you do other projects and hopefully it enriches other stuff.
GB: I’m excited about it. I really like the music we’re doing; it’s not restricted to any kind of formula. And each track stands on its own, different in its own way. I’m really looking forward doing it.
Geezer, a funny aside; on your website, there was photo of you at the recent Bowl for Ronnie [James Dio] event and the caption said it was your first time bowling?
GB: Yeah, I tried it once, and it absolutely killed me wrists. [Sabbath] was on tour in Las Vegas, I had a quick bowl and hurt me wrist and I couldn't play that night. Apparently I was holding the ball wrong.
How did you do this time?
GB: I got three strikes. My team won. Tom Morello was on my team; he had his own bowling ball and everything. Tom and I did that Chris Cornell benefit; I did a couple songs with Tom, he’s great.
Was there a lot of talk about Ronnie at that event or did Wendy give a speech or anything?
GB: No, she didn't give a speech, but it was all Ronnie’s music being played while were were bowling.
It was really good.
Had had you spoken to Ronnie in the weeks before he passed away?
GB: [Heaven & Hell] were on tour when he got his stomach cancer. I’d seen him I think a couple of weeks before he died, and I was in the hospital with him when he died. He was in the last ward — the hospice. And I was visiting him every day. He was just out of it; he was in so much pain. He was on morphine, so that kept him out of it. But we were all talking to him as if, you know, he was conscious; right up until the end. I said, ‘I’m here for you and don't be don't be frightened,’ and stuff like that, you know? It was really sad. I can't believe it's been nine years.
Deadland Ritual plays at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 28 at the Troubadour.