An Interview with
The Original Drummer of Black Sabbath & Solo Artist in his own right since 1986.
It took place via Telephone on Tuesday, May 12th 2015. We discussed his brand new album 'Accountable Beasts', life after 'Sabbath and much, much more....
Interviewed By Glenn Milligan.
Bill: Hi Glenn, it’s Bill Ward.
Glenn: Hi Bill. It’s good to hear from you.
Bill: Oh thank you. Cheers.
Glenn: How did you begin to put the band together?
Bill: We started actually quite a few years ago. I started working primarily with Keith Lynch in 1986 but we’ve been working together off and on throughout all the years. We met Ronnie Ciago and Paul Ill as well. That’s how we first started putting it together.
Glenn: I was playing the album ‘Accountable Beasts’ last night for quite a bit and it’s pretty incredible. You’ve got so many different influences on there. The first song ‘Leaf Killers’. There’s so much happening there. There’s bits of ELO, The Beatles, Sparks, System Of A Down, Faith No More… It’s incredible. How did you go about putting all that together?
Bill: It just comes out of me. I’m flattered by the way by all the people it resembles but it truly is coming from my own experiences from working in Black Sabbath and through my Jazz influences. I’ve always been really melodic so I love writing melodies. Some of it’s kind of come a bit natural for me, so I feel a bit humble about that one. It’s very nice. I just go.
Literally Glenn, I just sit down with my keyboards and it just comes out! I don’t know any other way. It’s not contrived or anything - if it feels right, well that’s it.
Glenn: Yeah that makes a lot of sense. Where did the title come from ‘Accountable Beasts’?
Bill: I liked the opposite words. They’re kind of like ‘yin and yang’. They’re kind of opposites of each other. So I like the idea of that from a writing point of view. ‘Accountable Beasts’ - it seemed a bit kind of non-sensical. But really what it is, is I did one song called ‘Straws’ after 9/11 and one more time again, I was reminded how inhuman that human beings can be. Of course it’s very sad in those terms.
So I looked at what I have to do in my life in terms of responsibility and accountability as in terms of being a good Dad, being a good Husband, being a good Grand Dad, being a good friend to my friends and being an honest man. Things like that. So they were principles that I’ve tried to adhere to.
The whole thing about ‘Accountable Beasts’ is where we are going up and picking up the wreckage or other peoples wreckage and trying to fix it. I used the word ‘beast’ because I really don’t regard human beings any different than the animals or the insects and things on the planet. I hope that doesn’t sound too radical but it’s where I’ve come to in my life.
I’m 67 and I’ve seen enough war and I’ve seen enough bloodshed and I’ve buried enough people to reach this point where I’m in a place where the common ant or the gracious ant is just as important in many ways as we are as human beings. I’m kind of in that place.
I just see us, rather than just saying ‘Accountable Humans’, I wanted to use the words ‘Accountable Beasts’ because by far as I am sure you are well aware, as human beings we are by far the most dangerous animal or beast on this f*ck*ng planet. We are going to destroy the lot. We are going to kill the lot and then we are going to run it into the ground and we are going to destroy everything and we make people cry every day. We hurt and make people cry and feel pain every single day. That’s what we do!
Glenn: Just for the sake of money and power – it’s crazy.
Bill: Yeah. That’s what we do. That’s where I got ‘Accountable Beasts’ from.
Glenn: That’s great. There are so many great songs on there like ‘DOTH’.
Bill: It’s short for ‘Darkest Of The Horses’.
Glenn: Right. What got me about it is that it’s so bombastic and it almost reminded me of the music used for ‘The Apprentice’ TV Show over here as it is pretty incredible and so atmospheric. I really like that one.
Bill: I was interested in doing some promotion with it in Europe. When I first wrote it, especially when I wrote the vamp. I thought, ‘Oh my god, this is very Prague-like or very Berlin-like and I thought perhaps this may be something more popular in Europe.
Glenn: It probably would especially because the bands are so dark over there. I think it would grab a lot of people. It grabbed me anyway. I thought, ‘this is so different to what you’d expect over here as well’. It’s got a lot about it. I mean, ‘Straws’, when I heard that, bits of it reminded me of ‘I Am The Walrus’ by The Beatles. It has that kind of vibe to it. It’s a really questioning thing that is going down. It’s like, 'this is amazing'.
Bill: Well thank you. In ‘Straws’, I deliberately used a Beatle part. It’s not something that The Beatles did but I wanted it to sound in the part where it says, ‘Dad is in the army and Mum is joining too, and God help all the countries, they do know what they do’. On the word ‘do' I deliberately moved the modulation and it just seemed like the right thing to put there. I think it was just because The Beatles spent so much time in talking about positive energy in their music and I wanted to use it in that one specific line.
I was attacking the denial of war and it's like, ‘they do know what they do’. I used the biblical term as well when Christ was on the cross and he says, ‘Forgive them Father, they do not know what they do’. I think it was when he was on the cross or reportedly on the cross. So I wanted to take that and extract that from the biblical sense and (make it) ‘they do know what they do’. There’s no forgiveness here. Let’s not forgive, ‘They do know what they do’- they know what they are doing. They are killing people so let’s stop this baloney!
Glenn: ‘As It Is In Heaven’ – that’s a song that really makes you think a lot. What I like about that, is that clock sound at the beginning of it – that ticking. Is that like a ticking of life and looking into life and back at it and stuff like that?
Bill: Yes that’s what it’s supposed to be so thank you for noticing.
Glenn: I even looked at some of the album and thinking, ‘Wow this is like the first couple of Queen albums because you’ve got that dark side of your Queen and bits of Sparks in there. It’s just absolutely amazing. It’s one of those albums that when you put on and you’re first try different tracks before you actually properly play it and you think, ‘What the hell’s this?’. But when you play it properly, it really grabs your attention – all the different things.
It’s one of those albums that really grows on you because I played it several times and I thought, ‘This is going to be one of those classic albums that should get noticed a lot!’ That’s how I really felt about it a lot.
Bill: Well that’s very nice. I hope it does get noticed a lot.
Glenn: It should do. What are your favourite songs that you’ve put together?
Bill: Well each one has its own life. I liked what I did in ‘Leaf Killers’. I liked how I was able to use the vamp on brushes – just swing time but at the same time singing very morbid lyrics, still condescending from a pole position – ‘A congregation kneels below’. I think that’s very profound and it reminds me of my childhood years in church. I observe that we would do as we were supposed to do or been told to do but nobody ever did anyway! I like to write that, but I like the reserve on the very next bars that follow that. It’s like, 'When I am at peace, I’m going to lay here in my Daddy’s arms'. That’s a very vulnerable thing to say to x amount of people.
That’s the kind of thing you say to your friend after about 20 years of a relationship. ‘When I am at peace’ or ‘When I die I’m going to lay here in my Daddy’s arms’. Of course what I’m talking about is that I’m going to lay here in God’s arms when I die. It’s necessarily because I’m a religious person but I’m hoping that when I die I’ll be in a good resting place, a good place of peace so I can do whatever I have to do in the next life or in the next realm of wherever I have to go. Those are very profound things there and I was very pleased I was able to be vulnerable enough to say that.
I love ‘Silent shimmers hit the vest’. T hose are all the things that hit us every single day. ‘Silent shimmers hitting our vest’ – the focal point in that is that the actual vest is basically a Cavalaire vest worn by our soldiers and silent shimmers is when a bullet, if you can imagine a bullet in slow motion, it hits a vest and then explodes into the vest.
But we’re also as people, as little children today – there’s lots of children that are going to school and they are going to get hit by silent shimmers. It’s going to be in the form of, “You can’t do that” or “No you can’t have that” or it’ll be something and those are silent shimmers hitting the vest. So it’s for everyone. It’s for everybody!
I felt very pleased in my writing in the part where we talk about, ‘As a shock my mantle grief’. I had to look at that carefully. I had to look at when someone dies or when something horrible happens and we have grief about it. The initial thing that actually protects us is actually called shock. I spent months at shock and at grief and I didn’t have mantle.I thought, ‘How am I going to structure and put down those three f*ck*ng words together?’.
Then it came to me and it's like, 'Oh okay, ‘As I shock my mantle grief’ – as I shock my buffer grief or hold grief. When I got that it’ just like, ‘Oh!’. I was just blown away. So that’s one of my favourite songs there!
I love ‘Ashes’, moving on, I wanted to go back to Jim Jones. I wanted to go back to the massacre. That’s why we have, ‘Run, run push, eat the sugar’. I wanted to give my animation of children rushing to their deaths. Having been a Grandfather and just absolutely adoring children it just absolutely broke my heart knowing that children had been given sugar or kool aid appetites, like lambs, we’re marching them to the slaughter. So they’re very profound lyrics and they’re about events that have happened either through churchiology, Christianity or through just pure cultism and I wanted to bring that out.
‘Ashes’ looks at different topics and lightens them, fanatical breather and kicking our own asses and gathering flies and gathering more flies, more hate and more fear. I feel good I was able to pronounce these things and do it with a really heavy kick. I play drums on that track and I kicked its ass man. I mean, we’ve got huge drum sounds – 26” bass drums, big snare sounds. I mean we just laid it down.
Glenn: I mean it’s like when you listen to it, it’s almost like, ‘Holy Sh*t, when’s Ozzy going to start singing?’ It’s that brutal, big, loud, heavy Sabbath sort of stuff.
Bill: Thank you.
Glenn: You’ve nailed it basically!
Bill: Thank you, thank you. I’ll take that as a huge compliment because Black Sabbath’s a band I really, really admire for obvious reasons. But that’s a little bit about a couple of the songs.
Glenn: Yeah. It’s pretty amazing, the fact that you’ve really gone to town and thought deep about what you were going to write. It’s not like, “Oh let’s put nine or ten songs on an album and that fills some space”. It’s got so much heart, soul and passion and feeling in all the songs and it’s meant an awful lot to you. Every word of it, it’s come from the heart.
Bill: Thank you. I appreciate that Glenn.
Glenn: Will you be going out and playing any of this stuff live?
Bill: We’re hoping to. I can tell you exactly what we’re doing. In the early part of July in the United States we are going to be rehearsing BWB. We’ve already done some rehearsals and we’ve made a change of line-up. Ronnie Ciago & Paul Ill won’t be doing the live stuff. Keith Lynch (Guitar) is with me and Walter Earl will be playing drums. My own Son, Aeron Ward will be also in the band.
So we’ve got some nice things lined up as far as where we want to be sonically and what we want to achieve sonically live. It’s quite a complex set-up – that means it’s going to take some extra musicians. As you can tell, I’ve got some choirs already on the record, so I’ve got to do that live. (To self) So when you write this stuff Bill, make a memo - don’t use Choirs! It’s too f*ck*n’ late now – the cat’s out the bag!(We laugh).
So in July, we’re rehearsing BWB. What we’re trying to do right now promote to the promoters because we need to have association with the promoters to see if they’ll take us on. It’s such a huge undertaking. The band is like a ten piece band and that’s very, very expensive to go on the road. So in this day and age, those things have to be really considered. In our last rehearsal sessions which were about three weeks ago, everything was starting to come together quite nicely.
We went, “Okay, this isn’t bad”, but we’re going to have to go in again in July and kind of ramp up a little bit again. I think what we’re going to try to do is we’re going to try to possibly do one or two shows. If we are going to do them we will notify the public. Those shows might actually take place in the United States. We can do our rehearsals, but let’s just throw it all up and see what it sounds like with our backing singers and everything with all our operatic parts. As far as wanting to do it, there’s no question about whether we want to do it or not because we all want to do it. It’s a question of logistically can we do it? So that’s our 'Achilles Heel' right now!
Glenn: Which shows came together well in rehearsal and which ones needed quite a bit of work to produce live from how they are on the album?
Bill: Thank you. Great f*ck*ng question! ‘Ashe’s is a mother’ especially vocally. Right now, I have another singer with me. His name’s Dewey Bragg. Dewey plays with a band called ‘Kill Devil Hill’. Dewey’s fantastic by the way. He’s just an unbelievable guy and he’s got an incredible voice! Jimmy will probably be in the choir in BWB.
When we are in rehearsal, we have to get some parts right so that meant that I had to sing ‘Ashes’. I sang it five times in a row and I had to stop myself and say, “Hey guys, can we move onto something else because I am belting it out?”. As you know, there’s two areas in ‘Ashes’ where we are singling multiple lyrics inside what I don’t think is like 12 bars and there’s thirty words in like twelve bars – it’s like ‘Come on!’. So that’s hard work. It’s really hard work to do that. So those were things that we really had to really work on.
Songs that came together really well were ‘Catastrophic World’ – that pretty much plays itself to be honest with you. You rattle the rattle and it’s like, ‘Okay, here we go, off we go’. Catastrophic Worlds’ is f*ck*ng huge. It sounds really loud and obnoxious and metally. I love it. Its great man – its like ‘Arrrrrrrr’ (makes the sound of a deep buzzing guitar or drill). ‘Catastrophic Worlds’ was great. ‘Leaf Killers’ sounds really nice live. It’s sounding really good. That’s relatively okay to put together.
‘Accountable Beasts’ came together pretty quickly as well. I played drums originally on ‘Accountable Beasts’. Walter is going to be playing that and Walter plays phenomenally well. His drumming is just superb. I looked at him and went, “You've got to be kidding? You’ve got to be f*ck*ng kiddin’ man?’. I mean he nails everything. He nailed all my parts and everything. He’s great!
I’m singing out front on that and I’m okay. I was afraid that ‘Accountable Beasts’ might be a little strenuous on some of the higher parts but I actually did quite well. I was quite pleased with myself because I thought, ‘Oh you know, it’s been a couple of years’.
Actually when I recorded the vocal on it, it’s been three or four years ago. I thought, ‘Well maybe I can’t sing anymore’, but I was pleasantly surprised actually. So that was okay and I really have to be careful. I do a lot of vocal practise and try to remember all the tips that Ozzy used to do. "You have to do this and you have to do that", (he says in his best Ozzy impersonation), so I have to try and remember things like that.
Glenn: Do you think you’ll ever play any Sabbath songs in the live set or are you keeping it strictly about your own solo material and avoiding the Sabbath side of things?
Bill: I won’t play any Black Sabbath with BWB. It’s just strictly all our own music. I won’t do anything like that. Besides the fact that my entire life was spent with Black Sabbath! So there’s going to be a lot of influence with my drumming and all the things that I play in Black Sabbath. I’ve still got all my jazz.
I’ve been working very hard on getting my chops, especially when I got sick in 2013, we’ve had to kind of come back a little bit and I’ve had to work on my chops.
Glenn: I must ask you, Amy Rae Yard a.k.a. OZZFestAmy as she became known by people since she did Ozzfest in 2001, said you were around a bit but they didn’t see you a lot. She went on to say that you really concealed your identity and walked around, even in catering, with a hooded top and people didn’t realise it was you. She was wondering what the reasons were behind you doing that?
Bill: Well I had my hoody on today as well. That’s just the way I am. I’m very not caught up in Popdom or Rockdom. On the Ozzfests, I liked to be a participator not only on the stage but I participate with everybody. So when I was backstage, I would participate with all the other bands. I meet everybody, I talk to all the truck drivers. I really have a good time but that’s just my natural habitat. I wear my hoody and my shorts and that’s pretty much me. I tend not to wear my chevrons anymore. I don’t have to hit people over the head with anything.
Glenn: I must ask you and I bet you’ve been asked a million times but what would you say your favourite moments were in Black Sabbath that stand out?
Bill: The first thing I was going to say was the laughter. But what I’m doing these days is that I’m having a hell of a good time listening to the music that we played and I’m listening to all the different parts and the things that we did. I’m listening to them and I’m going, “Oh my God”, you know this band’s pretty good because sometimes when your in the forest you can’t see ‘til later on.
So I’ve really been enjoying listening to the band and recognising.. well I thought they were a very good band! I thought they were a very, very good rock band! So that’s enjoyable for me.
Doing a gig – doing it right was a big thing for me. I took them very seriously. There’s a new saying these days, ‘We'll leave it all on the stage’ and I’ve been doing that since we’ve been kids. I leave everything out there. To me, it's absolute fulfilment or it would have been a crap gig if I didn’t completely put everything out there – all my heart and soul or every single thing that I had or it would have been a crap gig. Everybody else might have loved it but it was a crap gig if I didn’t put it all out. So those are the important things to me and those are the most memorable things. But after the smiles, the camaraderie which… we did have camaraderie once upon a time and those are very precious things for me.
Glenn: What do you like to do outside music? Do you have certain things you like to do as hobbies?
Bill: That’s a really tough question because I write every day. In fact, before this morning, a couple of hours ago actually - I woke up about 5.30am. The first thing that was on my mind was that I’d got some new crescendo ideas that I want to try and put on a tape recorder. I’ve got my tape recorder with me. I want to try and get those down and put those to one side before I begin the day properly.
Exercise is big for me because exercise has become even more important now than it was before – since I did get sick in 2013. Exercise is the most really important thing. So everyday we’re out walking. Right now I’m actually in Blackpool, England. So we are going to walk down the promenade. We’re taking off for a 5 mile walk. I’ve got two of my crew with me and that’s what we do. It’s a big deal. I focus on recovery. I’m in my 33rd year of being drug free and alcohol free!
Glenn: Congratulations Sir. That’s great!
Bill: Thank you, thank you. That takes up a huge part of my life – interacting and spending time in recovery. Hobbies: Model Aircraft and Model Fire Engines! I love the fire engines!
Glenn: Wow. I didn’t know that. That’s amazing!
Bill: I’m an aircraft enthusiast. I love flying. A few years ago, I didn’t realise we couldn’t get in the house anymore because I had all these model aircraft everywhere. It’s a joke trying to get into our house and stepping over the cats. (With folks saying),“Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to bump into your fire engine”.
Glenn: Well my Dad, he loves painting. He’s always painting Lancasters and Spitfires.
Bill: That’s it man, right there - that’s it.
Glenn: He painted his first Vulcan yesterday.
Bill: I’ve got pictures in my bedroom at home in the States. I’ve got pictures of Lancaster Bombers on the wall. I’m a war baby. I was born after the war but we were obviously brought up by parents that obviously fought in the war so I’ve got all that. I have the ripples of the war in me. (I also like) spending time with my kids and spending time with my wife. That’s about it really. I write poetry. I write a lot of poetry. I love writing. I write every day. It’s kind of like where I’m at really.
Glenn: Would you say there’s any sort of things in life that you’d love to do that you’ve not done yet?
Bill: There’s a couple of things. I do have some ambitions. I haven’t crossed the Atlantic on a ship. I’m hoping to do that one of these days. Also, the most stupidest one is - it’s on my bucket-list, I want to go in one of those planes that fly inside the hurricanes. I want to just go up there and get a job measuring something. I’d love to do that and fly into the eye of the hurricane and come out the other side.
Bill: That’s probably one of my more unrealistic f*ck*n’ ambitions. What I want to do is continue to write music and record. I just want to be a really good Granddad, good Uncle and a good Brother and those are what I try to do. A good Husband. It’s really hard being a good husband. It’s hard in terms of learning to love in a way that is endearing and I’ve been with my wife now, I’ve been married four times and the wife I’m with now, we’ve been together for 22 years! After 22 years you have to kind of reinvent yourselves. So it sometimes can be very difficult. It’s hard work. It’s not easy.
Glenn: Because you change as you get older as well?
Bill: Yeah, you’re getting older, so there’s a lot of things that you do and there’s a lot of things that you don’t do. It’s like dealing with the losses and dealing with the newness of other things. I’ve got a number of things that I would like to accomplish. A kind of a bit of a laundry list actually. I’m hoping that I can move towards these things and do them. I’m very much alive!
Glenn: You’re not looking back, you’re thinking forward all the time?
Bill: Yeah. I’m very much here and now. I love music. I have my own radio show back in America. We play nothing but Metal. I have marvellous relationships with all kinds of different Metal bands from Slipknot to Philm to Strapping Young Lad (especially Drummer, Gene Hoglan). They all keep me alive. Dave Lombardo is one of my favourite drummers in the entire world. I saw Dave playing at UCLA only last week and he’s a marvellous jazz drummer. So all these things keep me alive.
I stand for the students. I’m an advocate for the students, especially the drum student. I’ll stand ‘til the day I die that 'Playing Drums Equals Publishing'. I’ll f*ck*ng advocate that and do whatever I’ve got to do to look after the younger students. I can talk about it. If I can advise them. I spent some time with young students only about five or six weeks ago. I was with some people in La Vegas and young drummers – 8, 9, 10 years old. These guys are really hot. They are good kids. They need looking after. They’re being looked after by their parents and they’re being looked after by other drummers. But I like to be a part of that as well and say, “Hey”. That’s very important to me in my life.
Glenn: I guess even now you’re still learning about different things about the drums as well – you never stop learning.
Bill: You never stop learning. I mean, to be honest with you, I went to see Dave Lombardo, like I said, last week and he pulled a hat-trick. I went, “What the f*ck were you playing?” He was f*ck*ng unbelievable. I’m looking at him and I’m only six feet away from him. I’ve got a front row seat. Actually, I was standing on the stage looking at him. I’m watching him play and he kept pulling all this stuff out and I’m going, “Dave’s the Man!”.
So there’s so much to see and learn and there’s so much to do. I feel like I’ve only touched the surface in so many ways. I am just so keen to learn more. I love watching my friends play drums. I just really enjoy what they’re doing and the things that they’re doing and all the new things that they’re doing in drumming. It’s just a wonderful experience for me. I’m very fortunate!
Glenn: It’s part of you. The drums are part of you and you are part of the drums. It’s all in one isn’t it? You are part of each other because there is so much passion to it all.
Bill: Yes. Absolutely. F*ck*ng passion is just.. especially when you get four or five drummers in a room. Man, if you want to see passion, put four or five drummers in a room – it’s just like ‘F*ck Man!’. It’s like the walls tremble. I mean they do… yeah it’s really neat to have these wonderful gifts in my life. It’s marvellous!
Glenn: I’ve got to ask you, I know Ozzy’s done an Autobiography and Tony’s done one but Bill and Geezer haven’t. Can you see yourself writing one, one day?
Bill: I starting a book when I was about two years sober so that would be about 1986. When I put the book down, I read it and it was a pile of sh*t! I went, “Well there you go, if anybody wants to see my ego, then that’s that book. So if anybody wants to know about that kind of thing…
If I write something, I want to write something that’s meaningful, that’s worthwhile, that’s completely honest and that is important. Not only important to the reader but important to bring something to life itself to help the wind blow a little bit further. That’s what I’m looking to… If I do that I will write something that’s very… I would like to think I can write it with humility.
I would definitely not write about who did what to who. I definitely wouldn’t write about who I know and who I don’t know or anything like that. All the kinds of things that sell books I wouldn’t write about.
Glenn: I’m actually finding and I’ve read quite a few that a lot of it is like the same book over and over again just by different people. It’s just like, ‘Oh God, more of the same sh*t.’ It’s just like a carbon copy of the last book you’ve just read a lot of the time.
Bill: Yeah. I don’t want to write a Rock book. A seen it, been there, heard it, done it. I’d like to write something. I like writing my poems. I like writing obituaries – things like that. Anything that’s morbid – count me in! (We laugh).
Glenn: That’s class. That’s brilliant. We’ve talked about an awful lot of things but is there anything you’d like to talk about that we’ve not covered?
Bill: I think just from a drumming point of view and getting older as a drummer. I think we have to take of ourselves – especially the metal guys. When I say that, I don’t mean to exclude any other drummer on earth. But metal guys, they tend to slam a little bit and there’s a price to pay for that physically. What we have to do is start recognising that our bodies. We’ve killed our bodies at an early age. We really have to take care of ourselves the best way that we can.
In despondency, we have to risk ourselves and we have to really learn to be okay by making mistakes. We’ve got to allow ourselves to make mistakes and not look for perfectionism but to learn balance. The thing that I’m trying to look for now is I’m looking towards other drummers. I’m looking at their balance and looking at the way that they hold themselves not only in their life but how they hold themselves when they play.
I think in getting older I’ve got to learn to balance more as opposed to being staccato or more having rigidity, I’ve got to learn more even flow and better breathing techniques. Still being able to have the volume that I need but to be able to present something musically. I want to be a musical drummer. I am a musical drummer. I’m an orchestrational drummer. I don’t play beats but I think that’s something I want to pursue. I think it’s important to pass that on to the guys that are heading my way age-wise that are coming through the ranks if you like and what have you.
They are going to be hitting this stuff when they’ll be hitting 50, 55, and 60. So they must, if they can, I would encourage them to take risks, make mistakes and not let this age f*ck*n’ deal get in the way. “Oh I’m too old to do that now”, “It’s silly to do that” and all this other stuff. F*ck all that sh*t. I think you have to be here and now and when you’re here and now you can accomplish what you need to as a drummer. So focus on here and now. It’s strictly selfish on my part – I’m just talking about drummers right now.
Glenn: That’s absolutely fine. What would you say have been your proudest moments have been over the years?
Bill: They might not be what one would expect. It’s when I stood up for myself in spite of the pain it created. Sometimes I’ve had to stand up for myself and standing up for myself it’s affected others. It’s affected others in a very, very painful way. But I’ve had to do that. I’ve had to stand up for myself because if I had of continued not to stand up for myself, I would probably have died.
Glenn: That’s real deep stuff that and as you say, something you don’t expect as well. It’s pretty amazing.
Bill: One would think it was like getting the Gold Record.
Glenn: But the thing about it, you did that 25, 30, 40 years ago.
Glenn: It’s like when you get these young kids that are like, “Oh yeah, I want to make a few million, get my gold records”, and then when they’ve got it… sh*t, what they going to do?
Bill: Yeah. Sometimes we have to make decisions that are really hard to make and we know that by making these decisions, other people are going to be affected by it. But you have to make the decisions and people do that every single day in life. Sometimes we end up in a place where we’re up in a cul-de-sac and go, “Well I’m left no choice, I’ve been driven into a cul-de-sac, and I’m left no choice". I have to go this way otherwise if I don’t I’ll be swallowed up whole. So those are some of the things I’m proud of.
I’m proud enough to be able to be honest enough with my kids to tell them that I cry at night and that I am really vulnerable. They know that. I am happy that I have accepted me as a person because for a long time, when I was drinking and using I was running away from a lot of things.
Since I stopped drinking, I’ve been facing everything in my life. Sometimes not easily but I’ve been facing things in my life that I didn’t want to face but I had to face them anyway. I had to f*ck*ng grow and I didn’t want to grow but I had to. So there’s things like that. I see those as real life accomplishments and very important.
Glenn: If you walk into a record store and you see a Black Sabbath album, do you see it as an outside thing or do you look at and think to yourself, ‘Wow that’s me?' or 'That was me back then?’ Also, Do you sometimes have to pinch yourself and you go, ‘God, I did that and look at where I’m at now’?
Bill: Sometimes I think I may have to pinch myself. Sometimes I do pinch myself. I look at myself and I go, “You stupid f*ck*r”. Most of the time I laugh actually – especially at those f*ck*ng red tights! I just look and I go, “What the f*ck?”. Sometimes I’ll see a young musician and a guy that was really, really trying hard to do his best. Sometimes I’ll see that sad man. I’ll see the sad guy who didn’t know what was in front of him. He didn’t know he was going to be on a journey that was going to really put him into a lot of trouble because I ended up on skid row.
When I look at that guy in the red tights, he didn’t know he was going to end up on skid row and I didn’t know that I was going to hang with him and be on skid row and come through with him. Things like that. When I look at these things, 99.9% of the time I have really good memories but I feel I’m a little bit on the outside looking in yeah. It’s like that because life becomes different.
Glenn: I suppose it’s similar when you are walking somewhere and one or two Black Sabbath songs come on. They must conjure up so many things in your head as soon as you hear those songs or does it just become that you get so used to it that it doesn’t bother you anymore?
Bill: No it always turns me on. I’ve got to be honest with you. I still don’t like the bass drum sound in ‘Iron Man’. I’ve been fighting over that now since we recorded it. (I laugh). I think sonically it’s nowhere near where I wanted it to be. Nowhere near! I’ve always been frustrated with the bass drum sound. Everybody in the world’s okay with that except me. Fans say to me, “Love f*ck*n’ Iron Man, love the bass drums there man”. I’ve said,, “Oh you do, really? Urrrr!”. I’m kind of cringing. It’s terrible!
When I was sick in October 2013, after the operations and after all the things I had to have done with me, for a while, I was on what they call a pick line. It means every day I had to have saline. So we (Bill & his wife) would rush from my house to the hospital to get my saline every day. We had to be quick as well because they were touch and go moments. I took my ipod and I used to play ‘Cornucopia’ from ‘Past Lives’ and I’ve got to be honest, it helped to keep me alive!
Bill: I would just sit there and I had my saline bag going in me in the pick line. I’m sitting around going, “Ahhh finally”. My body was getting all its energy it needed to have. For a while you are quite ill and you have to be dependent on other things to help save your life. I didn’t listen to anything else by Black Sabbath apart from ‘Cornucopia’ on ‘Past Lives’ and it sounds f*ck*ng great. I was like, “Man, check this band out - F*ck*n’ Hell!".
So there’s two different things. You’re listening back to Sabbath stuff and ‘Cornucopia’ was just great to listen to because they were quite dark days actually. Just for a short while but I was surrounded by love. I had a lot of people really, really, really saying, “Hey, you’re going to make it, you’re going to be fine” and I’m just listening to ‘Cornucopia’ so there you go.
Glenn: It’s funny you should mention ‘ipods’. Going back to the heyday of Black Sabbath, did you ever think how technology would change and how the medium of music and how we listen to music would change over the years?
Bill: I never dreamed it would happen and to be honest with you I f*ck*ng hate it!
Glenn: Yeah. I don’t understand the thing about kinds downloading songs off i-tunes and all those kinds of websites because I was brought up to buy real albums in the shops. I don’t get it.
Bill: And neither do I. It’s a different world for me. I’ve got a really good crew who take care of all that stuff and they’re doing their best to get everything straightened out and make it how it’s supposed to be. Do you want to hear a story?
Glenn: Go on, go for it.
Bill: Right. So six months before we mastered the record, we were working in the studio and we were listening on old speakers. Then one day I just went, “Oh my God”, and I turned to Kevin Kallow, my Co-Producer and I said,“Kev, we’re doing it all wrong”. He looked at me and he went, “What?”, I said, “We’re listening to it on speakers”, and he said, “Right, that’s what I’ve done for the last 20 years Bill”.
I said, “No, we are listening to it on speakers, the people that are going to be listening to this aren’t going to be listening to this on speakers”. He looked at me and his face dropped. He went, “What you want to do?”, and I said, “We are going to do earbud mixes”.
Bill: So we changed all of our mixes. We went into all the mixes on the songs you’ve heard and we changed everything to an earbud mix.
Bill: I bought a pair of $20 earbuds. We set it up where we stopped listening to speakers and I mixed the entire f*ck*ng album on earbuds. Can you believe that?
Glenn: It’s amazing but if you think about it, it makes so much sense because when kids are playing stuff they listen via an i-pod don’t they. They don’t play music like they used to do.
Glenn: Then what we hear off an old album or cassette they might sound like utter sh*t on these little things but because you’ve done it like that, they’re going to hear it in great sound.
Bill: We did. We’ve moved everything to fit into the ear-bud. They call it going down the keyhole. We made sure all the bass drums fitted into the earbuds. Everything fitted into the earbuds and we had to adjust, move the board around and change things. We had to get rid of some guitars that were raucous because you can’t have that in earbuds. So we had to really tread very carefully.
We brought the final earbud board mixes to mastering. Mastering took it and mastering just f*ck*ng… we have a great guy in Stefan Marsh as a guy that masters our stuff – f*ck*ng unbelievable! We listened to it afterwards and went, “Oh my God”. Kevin and I were so tired. We were so beaten up. We’d been working every day on ear-bud mixes and we were absolutely ready to just fall asleep for a year.
Glenn: I’m not surprised!
Bill: So that’s how we did it. From hereon in now. They will all be earbud mixes.
Glenn: Wow. It’s amazing how other people didn’t think about that. What made you think that?
Bill: My Grandchildren. My kids. Even me. I listen to everything on f*ck*n’ earbuds. I went, “Why are we mixing it on speakers when everybody is going to listen to it on earbuds. So I finally got it. I moved to the digital world.
Glenn: It’s mad isn’t it but here we all are. Which songs were the toughest to go from speaker mixes to earbud?
Bill: It would be ‘Accountable Beasts’. ‘Leaf Killers’ had a lot of blats on the bottom end so we had to re-do some bass. We had to bring up the bass an octave on certain parts. We were losing all our low end on the earbud. We had to change something sonically in ‘Ashes’ because we were having collisions of bottom-end keyboards and bass. So we moved sonically. We moved them around a little bit. It added just a little bit more treble so we could have more clarity and it went down the keyhole.
Every time it went down the keyhole, I didn’t know it was going to go down the keyhole. Every time I used to look and I used to go, “Please go down the keyhole – Please work, we’ve got a whole f*ck*n’ album here – this has to work!”. It was like trying to smuggle f*ck*ng whisky into f*ck*ng Cornwall!(I laugh).
But the bottom line is that’s what it felt like. I said, “We’ve got it, we’ve got it!”. Every time that I knew that we had everything sonically I used to turn to Kevin and just go, “We’ve got it, we’ve f*ck*ng got it – it’s in the earbuds”. Because we didn’t know, we didn’t start out that way.
What we do now is when we record, we check everything before we record in earbuds. It’s earbuds all the way now. But we were talking about all the recordings that had been recorded on speakers and then changing them to fit earbuds. It’s like “Harrrrr!!!” (I laugh)
Glenn: Imagine doing that with the entire Sabbath Catalogue – the Earbud Version?
Bill: No. F*ck*n’ couldn’t do it! Couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even dream of that. I don’t even want to f*ck*n’ think about that. That sounds like a f*ck*n’ nightmare! (We both laugh).
Glenn: Well I’m going to let you get off Bill. But this has been so good talking to you.
Bill: Thank you. It’s been really nice talking to you too.
Glenn: You take care.
Bill: You too.
For further information check out:
A big thank you to Liese Rugo & Peter Scheithauer.
All Photographs of Bill Ward were taken by Christopher Wagner and have been supplied and used by kind permission of Liese Rugo and Bill Ward respectively.
Special thanks also go to OZZFestAmy for some excellent input and inspiration.