Guitar World magazine recently spoke to BLACK SABBATH guitarist Tony Iommi about the making of the band’s new album, “13” — the first in 35 years to feature Tony, singer Ozzy Osbourne and bassist Geezer Butler.
Asked what it was like working with legendary producer Rick Rubin, who is notorious for being very “in and out” of the studio while records are being made, Iommi said: Honestly, I didn’t quite know what to make of him at first. His whole idea [of pre-production] was, ‘Write the song. Call me when you think it’s ready.’ So I would. Actually, I’d email him, because I couldn’t phone him … nobody phones him. So I’d email him: ‘Do you want to come down tonight?’ And he’d pop in, have a listen, go, ‘Yeah, I like that,’ or, ‘I don’t like it.’ We wanted him to be more involved, like, ‘Well, what about changing that, or putting that bit there, or go to the A,’ or whatever. But he was this elusive guy that we never really saw. But when we started recording, he was there all the time… lying on the bed with the microphone. [laughs] Blimey, what a strange guy. [laughs] His way of working was he’d have us playing it live in the studio like we did on the first album. We’d play the song a couple times, then Rick would say, ‘Can you do it again?’ After we’d finish, Geezer would be sitting next to me, and I’d say, ‘That sounded all right didn’t it?’ And he’d say, ‘It was a good one.’ And Rick would go, ‘Do another one.’ [laughs] So we’d do another one, and another one, and then Rick would go, ‘I think we’ve got it, but do you want to try another one to see if you can better it?’ Ozzy would be sitting in the booth going, ‘Fucking hell, we got to do it again?’ [laughs] Rick definitely pushed us.”
Iommi also spoke about how when BLACK SABBATH first met with Rick, the producer sat the guys in the band down and played them the first SABBATH record. “I understood the point he was trying to make,” Iommi said. “He didn’t want an exact copy of that album, but he wanted the vibe of that album. Like, what if this album was the follow-up to ‘Black Sabbath’? What would we have done? It’s hard to wipe out 40-odd years and forget all the things we’ve learned. But I understood what he meant as far as creating the same vibe that the first album had, which was quite raw and natural.”
Regarding whether Rubin offered specific suggestions on how to produce the vibe of the first BLACK SABBATH album, Iommi said: “We did a lot of pre-production on the tracks so we could go in and play it live. But when we got into Rick‘s studio and started playing, he would say, ‘I’m not sure about that. Can you extend that part? Can you slow that down?’ Once you’ve rehearsed it and gotten one tempo in your head, it’s really hard to change, especially without click tracks. But he wanted it that way. He’d say, ‘If it speeds up, that’s fine. If it slows down, that’s fine.’ We’d gotten out of doing it that way over the years. But when we’d done that first album, it was all up and down.”
On the topic of his current health status a year and a half after he was diagnosed with the early stages of lymphoma, Iommi said: “When I’d finished the chemo and the radiotherapy, I went to see the doctor again for my regular blood tests. I said, ‘So it’s gone now?’ And he said, ‘No, it’s not going to go. You’re not going to get rid of it. But we can treat it and work with it.’ I got all dismal, because I thought it was gone. He said there was a 30 percent chance of it going away, but I was probably going to have this for life. Now I get treatments to keep it from spreading. So every six weeks I go in for an infusion of Rituximab, which is one of the four ingredients when they give you the chemo. It takes a few hours, and it makes you feel a bit crap inside and a bit sick. But a couple weeks after, I start perking up again. So that’s how we are working it with the shows. I go out, then come back and go into the hospital for more treatment, more blood tests and all the rest of the rubbish. And then we do it all over again.”