"If you're the most successful you, then no one can tear that down. Because you're you and you standalone as your brand." Rob 'Blasko' Nicholson, bassist Rob Zombie, Ozzy Osbourne, Zakk Sabbath
WATCH THIS EXCLUSIVE VIDEO CLIP
Rob 'Blasko' Nicholson returns to the podcast for the second time - you can check out his first appearance here. This time we dive into his extensive music career, toughing on his time playing bass for bands including Cryptic Slaughter, Danzig, Rob Zombie, Ozzy Osbourne and of course, Zakk Sabbath. Plus, Blasko gives some inspiring advice for musicians just starting out and reveals his connection to the Tiger King.
Jeff: So, I got to ask you to start off... I love this shirt, by the way. I wear this shirt out all the time, and I get comments on it all the time because people... Either it's one or two things, someone will comment and come up to me and be like, "Holy shit, Blasko. I love Blasko." And I'm like, okay, kindred spirit, you know who this is. Or they'll think it's, the Ozzy shirt. You know?
Blasko: Of course. Yeah.
Jeff: And come up, and I love it because their face will immediately almost drop. Because they'll come up about to say something, and then they'll really see it and be like, wait, what is that? And then I'll explain, and they're awesome about it. And I got to ask too, when you did this, what was amazing is you did this all for charity. And that charity happened to be Big Cat Rescue. Did you talk to Carole Baskin at all when you did that?
Blasko: Well, I mean, keep in mind this is long before Tiger King.
Jeff: Oh, totally, totally, totally. Yeah.
Blasko: Right, long before that. So let's just get that disclaimer out there right away. So what it was is, I wanted to just make it a limited edition thing, just for fun. And then all the proceeds would go to charity. And so the platform that I used to do the shirt on was this company called Teespring. So I didn't want the money ever to go in my hands. Right? So on Teespring you can set it up to where Teespring just sends the net profit to the charity. Now, they have charities in their system that are already ingested in their system.
Blasko: Rather than try and set up another one, or whatever. So the first one that I came across that that was a animal rescue, or whatever, was Big Cat Rescue. And I looked it up and I go, oh, they take in tigers. And they're not a breeder, but they take in tigers and zoo animals that have outgrown the zoo. Or at least that's the pitch, right? And I did a little research. And, look, the surface level research of Carole Baskin and Big Cat Rescue at the time, years ago, is believable.
Blasko: You know? And so that's what happened. And then, so I did that. Now the post story of this is that then she was at a CatCon. Like in LA there's this thing called CatCon, which is this three day event of cat people and cat vendors. And she was one of them. They had a little vendor set up, kiosk there. And I went up to them and I was like, "Oh, hey, I did this fundraiser and the profits went to you guys." And duh, duh, duh, duh. And it was very cool and stuff, and she was very appreciative and whatnot, or whatever. So crazy then, Tiger King super hot, stay at home initiative show that I watch. And I was like, "Oh, holy shit." And I was like, that's that place. They're Big Cat. And I went and looked up, and sure enough, I've got email conversations with her. Because at the time I had reached out and stuff. So I was like, "Wow, man, what a small world this crazy cats of Instagram place is."
Jeff: It's so crazy. Because, I mean, when you came again, from my perspective, it was the same thing. When you came out with the shirt, I immediately was like, I got to have it. And I know that you love cats, and you're so into that culture. And when you were like 100% of the proceeds are going to this place called Big Cat Rescue. I typed it into Google and it came up, and it was like, we save cats and everything. I was like, this is amazing. Blasko's amazing. Ordered the shirt immediately. And then, yeah, the whole Netflix Tiger King mania happens. And I'm sitting there watching it with my wife and I'm like, Big Cat Rescue sounds so familiar. Why does that sound so familiar?
Jeff: And she's like, I don't know, we've never been there. And I was like, yeah, and I was mulling it over and mulling it over. And it was two or three days after it premiered on Netflix I put this shirt on and I looked down and I was like, I think... And I went back through Instagram when I had posted after getting the shirt and had tagged them in it, like, "Thanks Blasko, and thanks Big Cat Rescue." And I was like, "It was them." So freaking crazy.
Blasko: Yep. I know, man. Small world.
Jeff: Small world. It is, it is, it is, it is. And, okay, so I want to unpack a lot of stuff. Like the first time we had you on the show was episode four. And we talked about some stuff, but hell, I didn't know what the hell I was doing with a podcast at that time. So I want to unpack a bunch from your career. One of the reasons why we're connected, obviously is Death Wish Coffee. You and Zakk found Death Wish Coffee right out of the gate, basically. And we created this amazing family that we're all a part of, and that is all on episode four. And I know that. But what I did never asked you, how did you and Zakk initially meet? Was it in the industry, or did you guys meet outside of that before that? When was your first, hi, I'm Blasko, hi, I'm Zakk? What was that moment?
Blasko: It would have to be whenever I was in Rob Zombie's band, and we toured with Ozzy a bunch. Ozzy and Sabbath. But one of the early tours, it was called Merry Mayhem. And it was them trying to do a winter Oz Fest kind of thing. But it was like four bands, and it was indoors. And I thought it was really very cool. I don't know why they never did it again. But I'm pretty sure that's where we first met. And then toured with them, and then just all the Oz Fest. Right? Because even if Zakk wasn't playing with Ozzy on an Oz Fest, he was playing with Black Label. And so it was one of those things where he was just always around. And then that world got eventually a little bit smaller as I joined Ozzy's band, and he was in it at the time.
Jeff: Yep. Yeah, I figured it must've been around that point, but I didn't know if maybe it was just a different circle that you guys had met to begin with. But it's crazy in this day and age with musicians like yourself, how connected everybody is because of giant tours like Oz Fest. And things like that, that have been this wealth of bands. Not only for my perspective, being a fan of being able to see all of you guys play in front of me, but you guys all get to meet each other, which is really rad. And it becomes this entire community.
Jeff: Going all the way back, I mean, all the way back, all the way back to Cryptic Slaughter. Was Cryptic Slaughter the first band you ever performed live with, or did you have a early adolescent band before that?
Blasko: Yeah, I mean, I was in garage bands and stuff before that. And we would do keg parties or something. Right? And even Cryptic Slaughter, I mean, initially we were just one step above a keg party band, for awhile. But yeah, I mean, there was some insignificant things, but it was backyard party stuff.
Jeff: Do you remember any of the names of those backyard bands? I always love early band names.
Blasko: Yeah. Trying to think. Well, the one that I remember the most was it was called Dissident.
Blasko: Yeah. And that was the one I probably remember the most that did some parties. And that was real pre Cryptic Slaughter.
Jeff: That's awesome. That's awesome. So yeah, obviously Cryptic Slaughter, like when you guys started out, it was, you said, one step above a keg party basically.
Jeff: But you made a name for yourself, speed thrash in California at that time. Take me back to, because I can't even imagine, what was it to be doing that type of music, which was technically brand new at the time. Speed and thrash was just hitting the scene. And in California at the time. Did you guys feel like you were part of something new, when you guys were coming up like that?
Blasko: I felt like we were in close proximity to something. You got to figure, we really kind of kicked off in '86. And '86 was the height of that wave of metal, where we're talking about Random Blood and Master of Puppets. Right? That was certainly the apex of that era. And Slayer was an LA band, and Metallica was early on an LA band, but then became a Bay area band. But proximity-wise, right, we're there. And then in real close proximity there was this thing happening in Venice with the Suicidal Tendencies and Beowülf, and this whole welcome to Venice thing, scene going on. I mean, we were literally in walking distance area. Like I went to Venice High and the other guys went to Santa Monica High. And after school I would just take my bike or my skateboard or whatever, and just cruise up the street from Venice. And it would connect me to Santa Monica where we rehearsed and hung out and whatnot.
Blasko: But we weren't part of that. That was like Beowülf, Excel, No Mercy, Suicidal. That was its own little scene, that even though we were at times associated with, because we were only 50 feet away city-wise, we weren't part of that scene. We weren't part of it, even though we did shows with those guys and stuff. And so I don't know. I mean, it felt like we were on Metal Blade at the time. And then we were on this little subsidiary of Metal Blade, and on that was us and DRI, and Corrosion of Conformity, and Raw Power, and Beyond Possession, and the Goo Goo Dolls, and The Mentors. I'm sure there's a handful of others that I'm forgetting. But there was something going on, but because there was no internet and, you know what I mean?
Blasko: There was no real immediate connection to anything. It felt like we were part of something, but it's not like we could all unite. And, you know? So we were on the fringe of a lot of stuff. And I think that if anything, we were connected because we were on Metal Blade with all these other bands. And at the time DRI and COC, being very much the purveyors of that fringe element of the crossover thing that we were part of that. But once again, we never really associated with any one scene. We were just on the fringe association of it, and stuff. Which, I think in hindsight, maybe attributed to our success, even to now. To where it's a band that stands out and people know it. Where, I'm not going to say we were the best band or the most talented band, or whatever.
Blasko: We had a little something that was unique to us. And there was a lot of peer bands that were around at the time that potentially were technically more proficient or better. And probably because most of them were older than us, to be honest. I mean, we were in high school. We were probably one of the youngest bands around, and stuff. But yeah, man, I mean, it was the time. I mean, you got to figure that by the time I graduated high school I had already put out three records with that band. So that really set the pace for dictating what my future was going to be, because I just wanted to keep doing that.
Jeff: Yeah. So being in that band really cemented, this is what I want to do for a career, for life. I want to be a musician. Right?
Blasko: For sure. Because, I mean, whenever you're a kid and you're like, I want to be in a band and I want to put out records. That's a fun thing to say, but probably 99.9% of the time that dream will never come to fruition. For me, it did. And to be able to be in a band that gets a record deal and puts out three records, and goes on tour before you even graduate high school, that's the test. This is either something that I want to do, or I've got my fill of it and I can move past it, and I can go on with whatever else my next chapter of my life is. Which is the other guys, that ended up being the decision that they made, right?
Blasko: They're like, that's cool, I did that. And I did it while I lived at home with my parents, and that's cool, but now real life kicks in and I got to get real. And for me, I was the opposite. I was like, fuck you guys. I'm moving to Hollywood, get to do more of this. You know? And just stuck with it. Something I'm definitely butchering and paraphrasing this, but it's kind of like, the opportunity will present itself to anyone that's willing to put in the time. And to just stick with it. And not to say that there's any guarantees, but it's kind of like, the opportunities that I got later in life wouldn't have happened if I didn't make sacrifices and give everything up and just move to Hollywood. And just try and be in successful bands and do that thing and do whatever it took to get there. You know?
Jeff: Definitely. Definitely. Going even farther back, what influenced you to pick up the bass? Was there a band or a musical moment in your childhood where you gravitated towards that instrument?
Blasko: Well, it was Kiss, for sure. Gene Simmons, for sure.
Jeff: For sure.
Blasko: But initially, as a kid, I wanted to play drums, because drums seemed fun and you can bash on shit. And that's all cool. But that was a long time ago. And there was no way to turn the volume knob down on a drum set. So it wasn't really fun if you can't bash, right?
Blasko: So bass became the thing that was a logical step. A, because there was a volume knob on it. But also two, I wanted to be in a band and I wanted to jam with people, and there was no bass players around. Like there was plenty of people that had drums and garages that were soundproofed, so they could actually bash. And there was a lot of guitar player dudes and few singers, but no one really was a bass player. So I was like, well, if I play bass I'll be able to get bands. And sure enough, that was clearly, in hindsight, the right decision.
Jeff: Hell, yeah. Hell, yeah. No, that's awesome. And I mean, was it always metal, metal or nothing?
Jeff: Okay. So first metal that you really dug as a young kid, do you remember? Outside of Kiss, maybe?
Blasko: It definitely went Kiss... Kiss was the gateway drug-
Jeff: Of course.
Blasko: ... to ACDC, Black Sabbath. That thing, right? Which then leads to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, and all of that. And then that is the gateway into the Metallicas and Slayers, and all of that. But that was definitely my trajectory.
Blasko: For sure.
Jeff: One band from your career that I don't think is talked about enough, that I'm such a fan of. And I know you only played with them for about a year, I think, is Prong. Right?
Blasko: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: You were in that band for about a year?
Jeff: That isn't, I'm not going to say a departure, it's still metal but it's a different monster. Was that a good experience being in a band like that? Or was it different for you?
Blasko: Yeah, that was my first real experience of being in a real band.
Jeff: Real band.
Blasko: Like being in a band that had a tour bus, a band that did European festivals, a band that went to Japan, a band that played shows that weren't in bars. That was my first real experience. Like that was my next level of then going, yes, this is definitely what I want to do in my life. That was able to give me a taste of the bigger life of getting outside of the United States, and playing festivals in front of 10, 20,000 people, and whatnot. That was a whole different world. And so certainly that was the bridge to the next level. So I think that was a pretty significant stepping stone in my career. And, also too, I think that was the thing that led to Rob Zombie, because it was the same management and stuff. So whenever they were looking for players, we were on the management Rolodex, if you will.
Jeff: Right. Were you in Prong before Danzig, or after Danzig?
Blasko: But Danzig-
Jeff: It's like, quick.
Blasko: I shouldn't even really say that I was in Danzig. I mean, I played one show with the guy, and I was in the band for like a minute. But it's probably not even on his Wikipedia, you know what I mean? Like, it's-
Jeff: But, I mean, it is a thing you did. I mean [crosstalk 00:20:01]-
Blasko: Right, sure. I did it once.
Jeff: Yeah, you did it once. But yeah. I mean, going into what you said. I mean, then you start playing with Zombie. And you played with Zombie for the better part of almost a decade, I want to say. And that's a different monster because, I mean, you're talking about Prong. And then playing with Zombie, you're not even just playing in that band as a touring musician. You are, I mean, Hellbilly Deluxe is one of my top five favorite albums of all time. Constantly in my rotation. And I mean, what was it like when that record hit with that band? As tight as you guys were, touring the world on that, was that just pandemonium?
Blasko: It was because it didn't start off that was anyone intentions, other than Rob's. Whenever the Rob Zombie solo band thing started to materialize, the suits were very much like, hey, don't get comfortable here. This is just some little thing that we're going to let him do, and then he's going to go back to White Zombie because that's the cash cow. Right? That's the real business, this is his little side hustle that we're going to let him do while the other guys, or whatever, working on a new record or chilling or whatever. And so it was very much like, don't get comfortable here. This probably isn't going to last long. And that's that, right? Rob wasn't saying that, Rob was very much like, this is what happens next in my career. I'm not looking back.
Blasko: But no one else really was saying that. And so the single came out, and the video came out, and the album came out, and we had just started the tour. And it exploded. I mean, it just literally exploded. And on that tour he broke up White Zombie. He got on a conference call and it was over. And then, so at that point you're kind of like, oh, well, I guess so much for this not to get comfortable here.
Blasko: That whole thing turned around relatively shortly into the tour. Yeah, and then I hung out there for eight years, or something. And did a few records and all that. But yeah, I mean, at the time that thing was happening, I mean, it became this thing that became real very quickly. Which was very exciting because you're like, oh, cool, I get to do more of this. Which is all I ever wanted to do, because that was a real thing. That was what we did. We did real arenas, and toured with huge bands, and did big shit. And it was like, oh, I'm now in that thing. I'm now in that situation that I always wanted to be in.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah. It's crazy. And it's crazy because I can remember that record coming out. And before I had ever heard it, I was in that camp that everybody was in, being like, he's got a solo record? What about White Zombie? And thinking, oh, well this might work, this might not. And then that record hit, and myself along with the entire rest of the world was like, well this is amazing. This is a great fricking record, of course he's going to do this. It was incredible how big that got for you guys. And I also wanted to mention, cause you mentioned obviously playing with Ozzy as well. Is that an even bigger thing than Zombie? Because I mean, Zombie, especially when you guys are touring on that record, it looked like you're playing to 100,000 people in arenas and it's crazy. Is it a higher step than touring on that with Ozzy? Or is it kind of comparable?
Blasko: Yeah, it's higher. Yeah, it's higher.
Jeff: It's bigger. It's bigger.
Blasko: Yeah. And I mean, not drastic. It's not the Rolling Stones. But it's a little bit bigger.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah. And that must have also been, because you're playing with Prong, like you said. And it's this first experience where it's a real band, they got a tour bus, and I'm going to Japan. And then you're playing Rob Zombie and you're playing to arenas, and you're doing the thing that you've always wanted to do. And then getting to play for, Ozzy, like you mentioned when you were a kid. Black Sabbath was one of those first metal bands that you're you're into. So that must've been another moment where you're a part of this, and feeling like you're doing what you set out to do. Right?
Blasko: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Definitely.
Jeff: Yeah. And then that is a testament to hard work that you're putting in, because you wouldn't have made it there if you didn't put the work in to get there.
Blasko: Yeah. I mean, there was certainly a level of patience. It's like they say there's no such thing as luck, or that the definition of luck is when opportunity meets preparedness. So if you take that as semi-factual, I was prepared at the moment the opportunity present itself. And I think above and beyond that, by being in LA at the time I was giving myself a perspective for opportunities to present themselves. So I was reachable and accessible and available.
Blasko: At that time it was important because that was pre-internet. Right? So you really had to be accessible. No one is so good that they got to get on a plane and fly. It's like, who's the closest? Who's the most accessible available dude we can get onboard?
Jeff: Right. Right, right. Oh, that's so crazy. And then to culminate it all, speaking of Ozzy, speaking of that kind of thing. One of my favorite bands, Zakk Sabbath. And I talked to Zakk on this show a little bit about the inception of that, but I wanted to get your perspective of it too. To create a band that is central around Black Sabbath material is a great idea right out of the get-go. But to have you and Zakk and Joey do what you do with that music is nothing short of magic. So what was it like, was it really just an idea that you guys were kicking around and then just decided to make a reality? How did that all come to be?
Blasko: I mean, it happened organically, that's for sure. We were on this tour and we were playing. Zakk and I were on this tour, it's hard to explain. But we were just playing cover songs, and we played mostly Black Sabbath songs. And so because we were on tour and we had time to think about it, I was just like, hey, people seem to like us playing Sabbath songs. I wonder if we couldn't just do a full set of Sabbath songs and make it a thing? But the answer is, yes, you could. Because plenty of people do that. But the hilarious thing that connected the dots was calling it Zakk Sabbath. And then my buddy doing a logo, like Zakk Sabbath logo. And once you have logo, then it's fucking game on. Right?
Jeff: Oh hell yeah.
Blasko: So that's what it was. And then we booked a gig. We actually opened for a friend's band in LA, and the show was already sold out. So we're kind of like, oh, let's just put our toe in the water and see how this goes. And it went pretty well. People seemed to like it, we pulled it off. And then I was like, well, let's book some headline shows. My buddy books the Viper Room, which is a really small place. And we figure, well, it's the Viper Room. I'm sure we could do the business. Probably by the show, it's a bar, no one really buys tickets in advance.
Blasko: So we did that. I mean, and it just crushed. It exceeded our expectations in that we put a show on sale, it sold out in 45 minutes. We put another show on sale, that sold out in 45 minutes. And we're like, oh, I guess we got something here. And then we toured with Clutch, they took us out on tour. And that helped introduce the brand to the rest of the country. And we started to headline, and the first headline tour we did, every show was sold out. And went to South America, we just got back from Europe. And it's just this crazy thing that has just become its own animal.
Blasko: And it's super fun, right? It's [crosstalk 00:29:43] super fun. It's just a cool little side thing that we do that has become a real thing, and people treat it like it's a real band. I think it's because it's just a good night out, it's good music. We do it justice to our best abilities. And it's just a fun time. I think people come out and they have some drinks and listen to kick ass music and have fun. And go home feeling like that was cool, right? So that's how that all took place.
Jeff: It's totally true. Anybody who has been to a Zakk Sabbath show, if you haven't been, if you're listening to this, go out and see them the next time they're playing. But you guys just look like it is the most fun on stage. Because I mean, of course, how can you not have fun playing all that music?
Jeff: Did you and Zakk know Joey tangentially before asking him to join the band? Or, how did he get involved with you guys?
Blasko: Yeah. When I was in Danzig, he was the drummer in Danzig.
Jeff: Oh, right. That's right. Yeah.
Blasko: And I think that I knew him a little bit before that. We had never played in a band together, but just being around LA and local bands. And he was in a band called Sugar Tooth, and I was in a band, and we'd done gigs. So it was like, we were in proximity of one another and have crossed paths and stuff. But then we were in Danzig together. And then so, yeah, he's just always been a friend. And then it was just a logical thing. He was out of Queens of the Stone Age at the time. We work around everybody's schedules and stuff, and it's been fun, man. We love having him there.
Jeff: Yeah. No, it's awesome. And I'm sure I know the answer to this question, but I have to ask. What does Ozzy think of Zakk Sabbath?
Blasko: Oh yeah, he loves it. He thinks it's hilarious. And yeah, I mean, they did an Oz Fest kickoff party thing that they had us play. And then there was this New Year's Eve show at the Forum that was an Oz Fest. And they had us headline the second stage and stuff. So yeah, they've been supportive, and put us on gigs and stuff. Yeah, it's been great.
Jeff: I'm sure, from Ozzy's perspective... Being in bands myself, I always used to say, especially music that I really liked performing live. The only problem with that is, is that you can't experience the band like everyone else is because you're on stage having to do it. So I'm sure from Ozzy's perspective it's kind of cool to see you guys perform that music, because he never gets to see that.
Blasko: Right. Yeah. Yeah. No, he gets a kick out of it, man. So it's been fun times.
Jeff: That's awesome. That's awesome. Finally here, I just want to pick your brain real quick, because not only are you an incredible musician, but you've been in the management game for a while. You've seen all sides of this industry. And there's so much talk about kids starting out, starting bands. And there's tons of good advice on that. And you even said it, it's like, you put the work in and you'll be ready when the opportunity comes knocking, if you've put that work in. But what would be your advice to someone who's a musician in a band, who's on the cusp of either signing a record dealer or getting that giant tour, or putting out that seminal record? What would be your advice to them? Is there something that you think is lost on people, or maybe a tip or a trick that is just something that people don't actually think about, that now that you've seen every side of this industry, that you're like, you know?
Blasko: Yeah. I have a recipe for success I feel like can be replicated. There's obviously always exceptions to the rule, but the through line that I see in cool, credible, successful bands that I believe can be replicated on some level, my advice for a band is to be two things. One, to have your origin story be difficult to detect. Meaning that if you're into Metallica, you shouldn't sound like Metallica. If you're into Pantera, you shouldn't sound like Pantera. Because Pantera has a unique origin story that became what they became. And what they became is the second part of it, is that you want to be difficult to replicate, right? So on the front end, you want to have your origin story be difficult to identify. Right?
Blasko: It should be something unique, it should be something that is maybe a mashup of things that don't make sense together. Or whatever it is, there needs to be something overtly unique about it, because there's so much out there in the world today that if you're not unique it's so easy to get passed over. Right? And then on the backend of it, because of that you should be very difficult to replicate. And I say that because it's like whenever you're influenced by a band that is those things, hard to identify origin story and hard to replicate. Then it becomes this thing where you then are only a not as good version. The thing that you can be the best at is the thing that you do the best.
Blasko: Right? And no one can take that away from you. You don't want to be a not so good version of something that is already successful, because that's all you're ever going to be. If you're the most successful you, then no one can tear that down. Because you're you and you standalone as your brand. You take a Billie Eilish, for example, that's a newer version of this, but you can take that equation and you can plug it into bands and stuff that you're fascinated with. And you'll find that it's more or less often very true. I mean, think of Sabbath, think of Rob Zombie. Right? Think of White Zombie. Think of all that. Think about how you can't identify, really, Rob's specific origin, at least not in terms of a singer.
Blasko: Right? Like sure, Alice Cooper, but not exactly. And then White Zombie or Rob Zombie to replicate that? No, you can't replicate it without it sounding like a total ripoff. Right? And then if you're a ripoff of that, then that's all you're ever going to be. White Zombie and Rob Zombie was so unique. Right? And that's why it was so successful, because it wasn't just a rehash of something that you were already familiar with. And so, yeah, that's a long winded answer, but that's my advice.
Jeff: That is incredible advice. And I've never actually heard it put that way, but it makes so much sense. And that's really, really inspiring. Blasko, I can't thank you enough for taking time and talking with me on the show. It was killer to have you back on. It's been 170, 200 episodes since you've been on, it's ridiculous. We're going to make sure that you get back on way earlier for the third time.
Blasko: Yeah. Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.