Known affectionately to BLS fans and his band
as “the Evil Twin,” Nick Catanese is as dedicated
and capable a sideman as you’re likely to find.
He has played with Wylde since Wylde’s first
solo endeavor, Book of Shadows, and he does
yeoman’s work providing the chugging rhythm,
second lead, and harmonies that propel Black
Label Society’s two-guitar onslaught. Like Wylde,
Catanese is incurably enthusiastic about Black
Label Society and playing guitar for a living. And
while he’s been honored in the last year with a
signature Paul Reed Smith and watched Order of
the Black rocket to the top of the Billboard charts
in the first week of its release, he remains refreshingly optimistic, self-effacing, and attitude-free
about the whole experience.
when he says, “Man, just
play it like you.” His style is
its own animal, so I can’t do
it anyway. But I can do what I
need to do to make it sound like
BLS Guitarist Nick Catanese
on Backing up His Hero
What process do you go through to
establish your own voice in Black Label?
I’ll play something and see what Zakk thinks.
But having been in Black Label such a long time,
there’s no egos or anything—partly because
Zakk always believed I can do whatever the band
needs. That inspires a lot of confidence.
Nick Catanese onstage at the Pearl Room in Mokena, Illinois, with
his PRS SE Nick Catanese signature model. Photo by Joe Coffey
What’s your favorite aspect of Zakk’s playing?
It must feel good to be part of a band that’s
now successful enough to do things on its
It’s a family and a great team, you know? The
songwriting and the vision are really Zakk’s. And
I try to be there as a friend, as well as a guitarist, because that can get a bit heavy, being the
huge figure that he is. But he’s such an icon to
guitarists and to me personally, it’s a thrill. And
he’s inspiring. He works so hard and expects the
same from others around him, so you rise to that
level. It’s really gratifying. Especially when I look
back to the Book of Shadows project, which was
just Zakk, me, and an Astro van.
Is it strange to be working with someone who
influenced your playing?
Yeah, I’m still a fan. And I bought my first Les Paul
because of him. I remember being three or four
rows back at the No Rest for the Wicked concert in Pittsburgh. And if someone had told me
that eight years later I’d be playing with the guy
onstage, I would have just said, “Sure man, whatever.” It goes to show that nothing’s impossible.
Things must be pretty telepathic for you guys
at this point.
Even before rehearsals, Zakk will call and throw
a set list together and have a really good idea
of what he wants. “Let’s do the doubled solo
in ‘Genocide Junkie’ and the diminished lick in
‘What’s In You.’” He’s pretty specific, and it helps
my head get in the right place. But on the piano
songs—things like “Darkest Days,” where I’m
taking the lead—it’s really challenging. I’m glad
The thing that blows me away isn’t even the
playing so much—everybody sees and knows
about that. I’m amazed by what a songwriting
machine he is. He just comes up with riff after
Getting your own signature PRS must have
been pretty cool.
Zakk has always sort of insisted that Black Label
is about the sound of Gibsons and Marshalls.
But two years ago at NAMM, I went out with
Paul Reed Smith for a clinic, and we were talking about how PRS guitars are these elegant
weapons. They look so nice hanging on the wall,
but they’re just these monsters when you plug
’em in. Later, I went to the factory in Maryland.
I stopped in Paul’s office, which they call the
mousetrap for rock stars. He started showing
me wood, and the next thing I know, I have this
cardboard box full of wood pieces they’re going
to make into a guitar. Then, a month or two later,
I get this violin-cut guitar that Paul built with a
note from him on the back of the headstock.
That guitar—with its 57/08 pickups—sounds like
Godzilla on steroids. But when we started working on the signature model, we worked from
the SE model—we kept it really simple, made
it black, put my Evil Twin logo on it. The thing
sounds amazing, and it’s the guitar I play live.
But the whole experience with PRS was incredible. The people who work there are just the
highest caliber. And Paul himself—the fact that
he played my guitar to get it right—just blows
my mind. He’s a brilliant dude . . . a freak of
nature or a really nice Dr. Frankenstein.
What design specifics did you ask for on your
I like a pretty chunky neck, like a Les Paul
Custom, which has a feel I always loved. When
I hit the stage, I like that feeling of knowing
the guitar is on and nothing’s going anywhere.
I also wanted EMG 81 and 85 pickups, which
people always think I use because of Zakk, but
I’ve used them since playing in my local band
in Pittsburgh. Paul was so funny. He’d say, “You
know, Nick, we make pickups, too.” But I really
had to have the EMGs in there. I love how tight
they make everything sound—especially for
rhythm. They’re great for those Hetfield-style
sounds, or Iommi doing “Into the Void.” The first
time I heard No Rest for the Wicked and realized
that’s what Zakk was using, I remember feeling
like I’d made a good choice.
You and Zakk seem like the kind of guitarists
who could work with anything.
It’s funny, because I end up talking to a lot of
fans that get all the gear—a Les Paul loaded
with EMGs, a JCM, and everything else—and
they tell me, “I still don’t sound like you.” And
I always say, “You don’t understand—that’s a
good thing.” Because 90 percent of your tone
is in your hands. Zakk could play Eddie Van
Halen’s rig, and it’s going to sound like Zakk.
And it’s cool that a basic sound, like my PRS
through a Marshall, can evolve into something
else in someone else’s hands. The world needs
more kids who want to practice their ass off
to find their own thing. And that’s my favorite
thing to see—the kids who want to be players
instead of rock stars.
216 PREMIER GUITAR NOVEMBER 2010