Heavy music progenitors Black Sabbath played the final show in their 40-plus-year career on Feb. 4, 2017 in the city where it all began: Birmingham, UK. Subsequently, frontman Ozzy Osbourne launched his second semi-farewell tour, No More Tours II (currently on hold due to illness), but the musical future for guitarist Tony Iommi, drummer Bill Ward (who was not on the farewell Sabbath tour) and bassist Geezer Butler seemed in limbo.
The influential bassist, born Terence Michael Joseph Butler, was the primary lyricist on Sabbath’s 14 albums, responsible for the iconic apocalyptic storyline of “Iron Man” as well as the indictment of warmongering on “War Pigs.” Between 1995 and 2005 he put out three solo albums, as well as playing on Osbourne’s Just Say Ozzy and Ozzmosis releases. Butler, 69, and his wife, artist manager Gloria Butler, have had a home in Los Angeles for nearly 15 years, and following The End of Sabbath, after a 74-date final tour that grossed close to $85 million, he enjoyed some well-earned down time.
But that’s all changed since he joined Deadland Ritual, a new lineup formed by ex GNR/Cult/Velvet Revolver drummer Matt Sorum, Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens and singer Franky Perez (Apocalyptica, Scars on Broadway). The band have released a single and video for “Down In Flames,” a moody, swinging mid-tempo hard rocker, and are in the midst of recording a debut album with producer Greg Fidelman (Metallica, Slipknot), while simultaneously prepping for a first gig at L.A.’s Troubadour. European dates begin June 4 in Denmark. The slightly taciturn but jovial bass legend spoke with Billboard by phone from his home about throwing in the towel on retirement and how Deadland Ritual composes music together.
I understand you were the final piece of the Deadland Ritual puzzle. How did you meet the guys?
I did some charity things with Matt drumming probably three of four years ago, but we did a tour with Velvet Revolver; they supported Sabbath in Europe a few years ago, so I met him then. I didn’t even know this call was for a new band; I thought it was not for Camp Freddy (an all-star cover band), but Kings of Chaos (formed by Sorum, GN’R’s Duff McKagan and Gilby Clarke, plus a revolving lineup featuring members of Def Leppard, Deep Purple, Aerosmith). I thought it was for that at first. They sent me two songs with lyrics already done and I really liked them. Then they sent me a third song and asked me to write lyrics for that, I said ‘I’m not really sure about lyrics,’ but when we had a meeting, and they explained, yeah, that it was going to be a totally separate new band.
What song did they send you? The single, “Down in Flames”? Or “Broken and Bruised” or “Walking into Walls”?
Yeah, “Broken and Bruised.” I said ‘I like the song, but some of it needs to be changed.’ We got together and Franky eventually came up with the lyrics, and after I joined, I sort of pointed out the bits that needed changing and we went from there.
What did you want to change?
There was a part that sounded too much like Sabbath. The whole song has sort of a Sabbathy vibe. You’d listen to it and think it was Sabbath. So we changed that a little bit.
Tell me about the first in-person meeting.
We sat down at my favorite vegan restaurant, Crossroads on Melrose Avenue, and talked about different music, and the kind of things I was thinking about. And the end of it, they all say, ‘we want you to join the band. Do you want to join?’ And I says, ‘yeah.’
You’re so easy.
After 18 months of retirement, I would have said yes to anything! [laughs] After Sabbath finished, I just wanted to take time off and wake up every day and think, ‘Oh, great, I’ve got nothing to do today.’ That was okay for a year. After I put on about 20 pounds and watched every TV show there was I just went nuts.
You’ve done solo albums, including G/Z/R with Burton C. Bell from Fear Factory… had you not considered doing something like that again?
Yeah, I’ll never stop writing. But it became more of a hobby than anything else. I was sorta relaxed and going off on different tangents in my little studio here, with the thought of eventually doing a G/Z/R album, but then Deadland Ritual came about, and that was it.
In those 18 months of retirement, was there a time when you didn’t even pick up an instrument for months at a time?
Yeah, I probably went for a couple months. I’ve been doing a lot of traveling since Sabbath finished. I went on my first cruise. It started off in Italy and went through Greece, Croatia, Slovenia and finished up in Venice.
I’m sure you get recognized on a cruise?
No, everybody else is even older than me!
When was the first time you played with Deadland Ritual and what songs did you play?
We recorded the first three that were written, I suppose that would be… God, I have no concept of time whatsoever—probably October/November we went in the studio and recorded the three songs. I’d already been to Steve’s house, and we came up with the third song, “Down In Flames,” which is the one that’s out now.
Lyrically, you’re not on any of those, right? And what topics are you writing about these days?
Yeah, I’m writing lyrics for the fourth song we’ve done, which I think is going to be called “City of Night”; that’s the working title, anyway. I just finished writing those lyrics. It’s just about… it’s hard to explain really…any old crap. About the end of things, the End of Days. And looking back on your life wishing you’d done things you could have done, but it’s too late. It’s a bit like the ‘song before I died’ kind of thing. I don’t actually write the lyrics at home, just the music. In writing for the new G/Z/R album, I hadn’t gotten as far as lyrics, because I haven’t got a singer. And I’m useless at singing. I was just coming up with different riffs and stuff.
Did you bring any of the songs you were working on for G/Z/R into Deadland Ritual?
Yeah, we’re doing two of them. I made a CD of about five different ideas that I had, just to see if there was any interest in them, and we’ve ended up doing two of them so far. It’s good to have Steve’s feedback on it; I had in my mind how it should go, then Steve suggested this, that and the other. And I was like ‘yeah, I never thought of that,’ and it made the whole thing come alive. Which is what I miss working on me own; that bounce-back. We were working on it yesterday. It’s really very heavy. Probably the heaviest one we’ve done so far.
I see there’s a Deadland Ritual show at the Troubadour, which is a tiny club compared to Sabbath’s arena shows.
That will be the first gig. I’ve never played there. I think I’ve been there once or twice years ago. It’s like starting from scratch; I haven’t done clubs since 1970. I’ve done the odd one here and there, but not a whole tour of clubs. Or fifth on the festival bills.
What songs will fill out Deadland Ritual’s live set?
We’re thinking about doing seven original songs, which we’ve done up to now, unless we write more between now and May. Probably three or four Sabbath songs. “N.I.B.,” because that’s what I’m associated with particularly; the bass intro and all that kind of stuff. And some stuff that Sabbath didn’t do, like “Symptom of the Universe.” Steve loves that one. And Franky likes “Heaven and Hell” and we might do one or two others; see which ones work out best in rehearsals. But more obscure Sabbath songs, rather than “Iron Man” or “Paranoid,” that’s been done a million times. A couple Velvet Revolver. “Slither” definitely, I’m not sure bout the second one, and I think we’re going to do “Rebel Yell,” Billy Idol! [Laughs] I have to learn them all between now and May!
How far into the future do you look with Deadland Ritual?
At the moment we’re just going to see how it goes. We’ve written seven songs up to now, so we have to get those recorded. We’ve got quite a few record companies interested. But at first, it was ‘have a jam, and let’s do some festivals.’ But it seems to have gone beyond that, people are taking it more seriously now. So if things work out with the gigs that we do we’ll carry on. I’m excited about it. I really like the music we’re doing, not restricted to any kind of formula. And as I say, each track stands on its own, different in its own way. I’m really looking forward looking to it.