When Tony Iommi decided to develop his own perfume, he already knew how some Black Sabbath fans would react. “They’ll think I’ve gone mad,” he says, laughing, on a call from his home in England. “It’s something I would’ve never thought of involving myself in. But it’s been nice to be involved in it.”
Last year, when the world was on Covid lockdown, Iommi befriended Sergio Momo, the founder and creative manager of the Italian perfumier Xerjoff, after Momo asked the guitarist to play on a charity track. Unfortunately, Iommi couldn’t do it at the time, but Momo nevertheless sent him a box of perfumes as a thank you for considering it. Iommi phoned him up to say thanks and eventually Momo asked, “Would you be interested in doing your own perfume?” “I went, ‘Oh, that’s amazing,’ ” Iommi says. “I had to write down all the different smells that I like, and then he built perfume from that.” Within a few months, Iommi had both a new scent and a new song.
“Sergio also loves music, and he plays guitar,” Iommi says. “He said, ‘What about doing a tune for the scent?’ And we thought it best to do an instrumental as opposed a having a vocalist and going through all that. So I had this idea and I played it to him, and he liked it, and then I just added more parts to it to make it what it was.”
The pair wound up recording “Scent of Dark,” the first musical composition Iommi has released since writing a classical piece for the Birmingham Cathedral in 2017 and first rock song since Black Sabbath’s 2013 album 13. The track bears all the hallmarks of Iommi’s signature style — a murky, mystical intro; heavy, swaggering riffs; and, of course, a bluesy, lyrical guitar solo — though with a little more drama than usual, thanks to accents from some orchestral string players. Momo, who plays an Iommi signature model guitar, takes the first solo on the song, while Jimmy Crutchley (who introduced Iommi to Momo) plays bass, Ash Sheehan handles the drums, and Iommi’s longtime producer Mike Exeter plays keyboards; Rebecca Rose and Julianne Bourne play cello and violin, respectively. The musicians filmed the song’s clip, which features copious cologne imagery, at Sudeley Castle near Gloucestershire, England.
“The only trouble is, when I was outside filming, I had an audience,” Iommi says during an interview in which he also discussed his future music plans. “All the people that go around viewing the castle were standing there watching me, looking like, ‘What’s he doing? Oh, dear.’ “
How serious is your interest in cologne?
“Ever since [Black Sabbath] went on tour to the States, really, I started getting more and more into it. I’d go to the mall or stores, and I’d buy some different perfumes and scents until I’d find one that I really like. And then I’d stick to one for a while. Then I’d change, from Cartier to Tom Ford, or whatever. I’ve been doing that for years. Now I’ve got my own custom ones — an abundance of them now.”
When you were working with Sergio on the scent, which aromas did you tell him you liked best?
“Oh, God. I think some of them threw him because a couple of the samples were horrible. But others were great. I like the smell of when you get in a new car, the leather smell, and obviously coffee and just stuff like that. Patchouli is the main ingredient in this perfume, which just goes back to the Sixties. I knew the smell of patchouli in them days; they used to use it to mask the smell of people smoking dope [laughs].”
How did the song “Scent of Dark” come together?
“I’ve recorded a lot of riffs and tracks [in recent years] with Mike Exeter. And with this one, I couldn’t imagine who would sing on it; it just seemed ideal to put it down as an instrumental. I’ve had the main part for a while, and I just added some new parts to it. Then I added these other gloomier riffs to make it blend in with this perfume idea. I really liked the idea of using some violins and cellos and stuff, and so we did on this track.”
The strings kind of reminded me of what you did with “Supertzar” on Sabbath’s Sabotage.
“I like to experiment. I really like the sound of guitars and cellos and violins. You can get a real ‘doom’ [feeling] from it. It gives it a nice atmosphere.”
What is your frame of mind when you write a riff like “Scent of Dark”?
“It was something I that was trying to make mystical sounding. And of course then Sergio came up with these different titles and “Scent of Dark” was the one.”
Did Sergio seem intimidated to be playing next to you?
“He was a bit, I think, but it was OK. He sort of worked out a part for it. That was the whole point of it, where we’ve done the perfume together and we’ve done the music together. So it really is a collaboration from all the way through.”
How was the experience of writing this different than “How Good It Is,” the track that you did for the Birmingham Cathedral?
“That was another different thing, using a choir. That was quite different, because that was acoustic, and this was more of in my vein with the heavier stuff. When they asked me to do the one for the Cathedral, I felt a bit, “Oh, God. I can’t play anything that’s too doomy; it’s a cathedral thing. It’s got to be something a bit more sort of acceptable, especially as they used their choir.” So it was just a different approach.”
Do you see yourself recording more instrumental music? Film scores perhaps?
“Yes. I would like to do that. And as you know, I’ve got loads of riffs. It’s just trying to now get around to doing them.”
What else have you been working on, musically?
“As you’ve probably read, I worked with Ozzy for his album. I wrote the whole track and played on it and played the solo on it. It’s horrible, really. … No. I’m joking. No, it’s good. It’s really good. And I like what Ozzy sang on it. I think he did a really good job. And I think they had Chad [Smith] play drums on it. I’ve left it in their hands now.”
Ozzy has had his own health struggles lately. How your health been? You were diagnosed with lymphoma in 2012 but said you were in remission in 2016.
“Well, dare I say, it’s been OK. I go for a regular test. I’m going for another one in a couple of weeks.
I did have a bit of a setback a few weeks ago: I broke a tendon in my arm. It snapped. Funnily enough, it hasn’t affected me playing, which I can’t believe. I went to see a specialist the other day about repairing it and he said, “Well, unfortunately, it’s too late. If we do operate, it’s going to be a big job and we’d have to take a tendon from your leg and join it up.” I went, “Oh, forget it.” I said, “I’ll live with it.” It just means I can’t pick heavyweight things up now, but it hasn’t stopped me from playing. It hasn’t stopped me from doing most of the stuff I do. I can’t do any bungee jumping or skydiving, of course [laughs].”
How did you snap it?
“For the perfume, I signed 200 bottles because we’re doing a collectible edition. And they sent one guy to pick them up. And I went, “Well, they should have sent two people. I’ll give you a hand.” So as we’re carrying them out, he sort of pulled me and I fell down my step at the house. I didn’t want to break the bottles. So I went to try and grab it again, and of course it just snapped. So I thought, “Oh, just bloody typical.
“But I’d already done it a few years ago on my other arm. I broke three tendons on the shoulder, and they repaired them. And the doctor said then, “Oh, just be careful. Just don’t overdo it.” And of course, one time when we were in New York with Dio, and we were playing Madison Square Garden … in the day I was doing some exercise with those stretch ropes. And I do this exercise and it went bang. And my arm’s shaking. I couldn’t control it. So I had the guy come out and give me some injections so I could do the gig and then come back to England. And again, they said, “We can’t repair it. It’s gone too short. It’s shrunk.” So I’ve got two [injured] arms now.”
Well, at least you don’t have to help anybody move anymore.
“Well, that’s my excuse. My wife the other day said, “Can we just move this couch over here?” I said, ‘I can’t touch that.'”
Do you want to get back on the road?
“I don’t really have any plans. I really want to record some more stuff. There’s a lot of stuff I haven’t even played back yet to listen to. I just want to get the stuff I’ve already got down out the way. And yeah, I’m sort of open for various stuff at the moment. I enjoy playing. I do miss being onstage, of course, but I’m enjoying life at the moment and if something comes up and I’m interested, I’ll have a go. Because of the Covid thing, I couldn’t really get Mike Exeter around. But now it’s gotten a lot easier and he’s trying to free up some time there so we can get cracking and put some more ideas down.”
Well, at least you were able to work on the track with Ozzy. How frequently do you two keep in touch?
“We’re in touch quite a lot. We don’t really speak because we are useless on the phone, the pair of us. I think we stopped that when he used to phone me at 2 o’clock in the morning and I’d go, “Oz, it’s 2 o’clock in the morning.” “Oh, oh, sorry. Alright. Bye.” He forgets about what time it is in England, and of course when the phone goes at that time of the morning you think, “Oh, Christ. What’s that? Somebody’s died or something has happened.” And of course it’s him going, “Oh, oh, oh, oh, sorry. I didn’t know it was that time.” So we tend to sort of just text now.”