Sebastian Bach Reflects on the Impact of Skid Row’s Debut Album – Interview
Skid Row was released in January of 1989, making the band one of the last of the '80s hard rock era to make it big. The album would eventually be certified five times platinum in the U.S. alone.
Bach and his bandmates went on to release Slave to the Grind in 1991 and Subhuman Race four years later before suffering a fall-out that would result in Bach's departure from the group. Skid Row continued on with a new singer, while Bach pursued a solo career in addition to Broadway and acting.
The vocalist has made several attempts over the years to close up the wounds with his estranged bandmates, including a recent open invitation for them to join him in performing the song's on his upcoming tour. However, they have declined time after time, even the most recent offer.
We had the chance to hop on a phone call with Bach to discuss the debut album and its impact on the band's legacy, the likelihood of a reunion, details about his upcoming new record and more.
We are here to discuss 30 years of Skid Row. How does it feel saying your debut album came out 30 years ago?
Well it feels good that I'm even around to say that. That doesn't happen too much in somebody's life, a 30-year anniversary. Unfortunately some musicians that started out around the time that I did aren't around to even say something like that, so it's a milestone. If I sold shoes for 30 years, I'd get a watch or something but in this business you go on tour [laughs].
You are going on a tour later this year and playing the album in full. You put a poll on Twitter asking if fans would prefer to see the songs played in the order they are on the album, or a surprise. What do you think you're going to end up doing?
I think it's gonna be in order because I think it's like a novelty for people to go to a show and it feels like they put the record or the CD on in their car, but it's actually the band playing it [laughs]. I think if you're gonna do these songs, some of them you've never done live in decades, then you should probably do it in the order that the record's in. That's what I'm shooting for.
The album came out at the very end of the '80s — 1989 — and that made Skid Row pretty much the last band from that era to garner success. What would you say differentiated Skid Row from the other big '80s rock bands that were around at the time?
I would have to say the answer to that would have to be the attention to the songwriting process and the songs themselves. I know that in my instance, before I was in Skid Row the bands I was in concentrated more on the look of the band, and the clothing and the hairstyles and what we were doing onstage.
Then, when I joined Skid Row, that didn't really come into play. It was more about, we got in a garage every day and came up with songs and did them over and over and recorded them. All the focus was on songs, so that was the difference that I noticed coming into the band.
The album would go on to be certified 5x platinum over time, but why do you think in the beginning when it was first released, the reception was so mixed?
Well, I mean it was mixed for maybe like two weeks [laughs]. It went gold very, very quickly and it exceeded success quite quickly. When you say it went five times platinum, that's just in one country. There's 30 countries that it went gold or platinum in, that I know of anyway. So around the world, it was a success in countries that I've never even heard of — Guam, Uruguay, Slovenia and Iceland — so it was definitely a worldwide success.
We started on tour with Bon Jovi on Jan. 26 at Reunion Arena in Dallas. After we opened for Bon Jovi, we opened for Aerosmith, Motley Crue, Guns N' Roses and then started headlining ourselves. So maybe the mixed reception you're referring to was a mix between gold and platinum [laughs].
There was so much going on at the time, at the end of the '80s is when the Seattle thing sort of started happening.
There was no Seattle thing really happening in '89, that was more like '92. In '89, "I Remember You" off the first Skid Row record was the "prom song of the year" in USA Today, which meant that out of all the songs in America, that was the one that people were slow dancing to at their prom dance that year.
Maybe Nirvana was still called "Skid Row" back then [laughs], but that was about as close as it was, because they were called "Skid Row" in the beginning. So that was about as much as Seattle had to do with Skid Row in '89, that whole thing started around '92 or '91 at the earliest. In '89, it was still in the distant future.
Going off "I Remember You,” a lot of the most successful songs from the record were ballad-like, with the exception of "Youth Gone Wild." Did you guys have any doubts on how that would affect the image of being in a hard rock band?
Well actually, going back in time for anybody who wasn't alive back then, the first single that we put out on MTV and on radio was "Youth Gone Wild." That was our introduction to the world. The second one was "Piece of Me," which was another hard rock song, which was another No. 1 video on MTV. And then our third one after that was "18 and Life," so we had already been touring for a couple of months before that came out, which kind of set up our image.
But "18 and Life" was definitely a different level of success for the band. When that video came out on MTV, it ruled the channel when it came out. Then we saved "I Remember You" for the very last single, which didn't come out til 1990. But actually, the record company wanted us to put out "I Remember You" second, right after "Youth Gone Wild" and before anything else. But we knew that would maybe pigeonhole us in a way that we couldn't release anything else, that's what we thought anyway.
We knew "I Remember You" was gonna be a hit, it just was because radio was already playing it. It was already successful on radio stations so we knew once we put out a video for that, that would be it for that song. So to put out "Piece of Me" was kind of a rebellious choice for us to make, which we made a choice like that again when we put out Slave to the Grind — which the record company was really not excited about [laughs]. That was a couple of years later.
What do you think is making rock that comes out today so different or maybe similar to how it was 30 years ago? Do you think the message is the same?
Geez, that's hard for me to answer because that was a very different time. The first obvious answer would be, a record like the first Skid Row record, there was no such thing as pro-tools, there was no such thing as in-ear monitors onstage. That's really a big, humongous difference right there [laughs]. We didn't have any other choice but to learn how to make those sounds come out of us.
Far too many recording engineers that I've worked with in recent years today are only too happy to take like a half-assed take and then say, 'Oh you're done' and then fix it up on the computer screen, and that's the way it's done these days. That didn't exist when the first Skid Row record was recorded, that's just the sound of five guys in their late teens, early-to-mid 20s, in a garage writing tunes and coming up with sounds. And that's what you get, and that's the music that lasts the test of time.
That's why the '70s music is probably everybody's favorite because that really didn't exist then! But still, when we started out it was still recording the old way of recording, which has totally changed to this day. I will say, what remains the same is that the business part remains the same, as far as who you know to be as important as what you know. I say that because I don't know if kids today realize that the same guy who put out Greta Van Fleet — Jason Flom — that's the exact same guy who put out the first Skid Row record. I don't know if people realize that the same person that signed me in 1987 or '88 is the same exact guy that signed Greta Van Fleet in their late teens, early twenties.
So congratulations to Greta Van Fleet, my interest will be what are those guys gonna be doing when they're in their fifties [laughs], if I'm still around. So there's one part of the business that remains the same, and one part that really has changed a lot.
The debut album was pretty much written before you went in —
If you don't count "I Remember You," which is the biggest hit song, you could say that. If you don't count the melody lines, which you can go listen to on YouTube, there's no "child blew a child away" or "work those fingers to the bone" — there's no screams like that. None of that was written. If you read every review of the record, it usually says that's their favorite part of the record, so it kinda gets under my skin.
It's not like anybody told me, "Sing 'a child blew a child away'" on that scream, nobody said "that's how the song goes, dude." No, that's not how the song went. I came in with all of those notes. Every time you hear it go up into a high note, that comes from me. I didn't realize when I was 19 that that's called a melody line, I didn't even realize anybody would like it.
"I Remember You" was not part of the record, "Piece of Me" was not part of the record. There was no record because there was no record deal. Skid Row was a band that was signed with three people, three people were signed by Atlantic — me, Snake [Sabo] and Rachel [Bolan]. And we're still signed to those guys to this day, as far as owning the band together.
I'm happy to say I still own 25 percent of the band financially, ownership-wise, even though I'm not onstage with them. So when somebody says, "the whole record was written before you got there," well the only person that would say that is somebody that wasn't there [laughs]. It's hilarious.
Well you gave an open invitation for your old bandmates to join you in performing parts of the album on your upcoming tour. I actually just saw Snake said a few days ago that he had no interest in that. Do you have any comment on that?
I don't really wanna get distracted by that, I already knew that would be his answer because that's been his answer for 23 years now. I don't know how it's possible to be mad at somebody that you haven't been in a room with in 23 years, but that's the way it is. He wins the fight [laughs].
Guns N' Roses did it.
Everybody did it. I mean the record Skid Row, the release of its 30th anniversary was not even a physical release. You can't call a file uploaded to the internet a "deluxe version" of a record [laughs]. That's not a "deluxe" version of anything, that's a file in the air that you can't even touch.
But the point I'm trying to make is, his "zero interest" is why there's zero physical product. Why would a record company wanna put something cool out if the band has zero interest?
Maybe someday that'll change — I hope it does because I have a whole house full of unreleased stuff that's just sitting there that I would like the fans to share in, as far as live concerts from back then on digital tape and video, that I would love to put together a box set of someday. But that would take at least like 6 percent interest, with zero interest I don't know if it's ever gonna happen.
It seems like recently the big thing has been the rock 'n' roll movies, such as Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman and The Dirt. If there were to ever come a time where the band were to agree to do a movie on Skid Row, would you be interested?
I don't know, really. it doesn't top my list of things that are interesting. My book 18 and Life on Skid Row was a very big seller, it was one of the top-selling books for the music department, if I recall, for the year. So it's not an unreasonable question when there's a book that sells that many copies, whether this book would become a movie.
But I remember this TV show on HBO called Vinyl that came out a couple of years ago, and I was so desperate to like this show because I love vinyl. I loved all the bands that were in there, but then I watched it and they had like Robert Plant yelling at roadies saying, "Get down over here!" Like, who ever thought Robert Plant was bossy and mean and yelling at people?
And I just thought to myself, you know what? If you're gonna get an actor from the year 2019 acting like Robert Plant or one of these rockstars, it's like, just don't man. Don't even bother [laughs]. It's not even the same, I only have a limited interest in some actor from now pretending to be one of my favorite rockstars because it's just like ok, that's nice.
I don't really care, I'd rather see one of my favorite rockstars act in a movie, that's more interesting to me. I don't really care about somebody pretending to be somebody that's actually cool. I mean it's okay, but it's not at the top of my list of things that are interesting. I think it's cooler when a rock star takes a chance and acts.
Would you go back into acting?
If the role was right, I would definitely go back to acting. I've had fun on Trailer Park Boys and Gilmore Girls and on Broadway, too. But right now, my whole focus is on making a new album, which is coming out soon. But I would love to do that again someday, if the role was right.
What can you tell us about your new record?
My new album, I've been working with some great guitar players. Orianthi, who's an incredible guitar player, we got two songs going. John 5 from Rob Zombie's band, this'll be our third album in a row collaborating on, which is awesome, we got two songs. And then Steve Stevens, who I play with in the side project — Royal Machines — he's on the record, which is our second album.
It's gonna be a heavy album, it's gonna rock it. It's not gonna be any wimping out or mellowing out or maturing, there's none of that here [laughs]. It's gonna be a rocking album for sure, while I still can.
Are you going to be performing any new songs on the tour or sticking straight to the Skid Row songs?
No, this is going to be concentrating on the first album in its entirety. We have two nights at the Whisky [Los Angeles, Calif.] that are both sold out five months in advance, and on the second night at the Whisky we're doing Slave to the Grind in its entirety just for fun.
So on the nights leading up to that, after we do the record in its entirety we'll be practicing the Slave to the Grind tunes [laughs]. That's the way we'll be doing it, we'll be rehearsing those so by the time we do it in its entirety we can pull it off. We have enough gigs, we have a lot of gigs.
Bach's tour kicks off Aug. 29 in Nashville, Tenn. See the dates here.
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