Skid Row have had a long and illustrious history. Rising to megastardom on the back of 1989’s self-titled debut and 1991 follow-up ‘Slave To The Grind’, the New Jersey five-piece crashed and burned just a few years later with the muddled ‘Subhuman Race’. Reforming without firebrand front man Sebastian Bach in the years since, they’re now settled with former Dragonforce singer ZP Theart at the helm. We sat down for an in-depth chat with founder Rachel Bolan about changing times, changing singers, and a Brush over the band's name. Livin' on a chain gang; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Rachel, welcome back to Dublin.
It’s good to be here. I’m glad we were able to reschedule as quick as possible. Four of the other shows were rescheduled as well because a couple of the guys got sick on our U.K. run, so we had to postpone the shows. But it worked out, and now we’re here.
The last time you were here, in 2013, was towards the end of Johnny Solinger’s run fronting the band; did you know at that time that things were going change?
Kind of. We just had feelings, you know, of it might be time to make a change. But we didn’t know for sure because he’s our brother, you know what I mean? You just want everything to work out, and things happen the way they happen, and thankfully we knew ZP [Theart], and he just stepped in. Once we got around to ZP, we just killed it, and he’s out there killing it and has been a really, really strong addition to the band. No more singers; we’re done, WE’RE DONE!
In between times you had Tony Harnell fronting the band; was that more of a good idea on paper than it was in reality?
Yeah, and it was more of a, we had show obligations and we didn’t want to just completely blow them out and possibly end up with law suits. But yeah, on paper it sounded really great. But, you know, it wasn’t a good match; he knows it, we know it. It just is want it is.
How did ZP come to be the new singer in Skid Row?
Him and I met about four years ago. We had a mutual friend and he goes; “Hey man, ZP left Dragonforce, and he’s looking to put something together”, and he goes; “You should talk to him.” So we chatted a little over the phone, and then Rob [Hammersmith, drummer] and I flew to London and we met and hung out, and we became friends and said; “Okay, let’s do something together”. And then he got busy with his band I Am I, and then Skid Row got busy, and so time just kind of got away from us. And then it came to the point where we were like; “We should see what he sounds like for Skid Row.” I guess it was 2015, he came in, and we had rehearsals and it was just like; “Did this guy write the songs, because he’s singing them like he wrote them!” Even Doc McGhee - who doesn’t manage us anymore but is still a dear friend of ours – goes; “Where was this guy in 1986?!”
What has ZP brought to the band?
He has brought a newness to it. First of all, the band comes first with him, always; it’s always about what is better for Skid Row, and what’s going to better our situation, not what’s going to better my situation. He brings a very positive outlook on things. He’s a very talented singer and a fantastic front man, and since he’s joined the band, we saw an immediate change in people’s perspective.
We’re here in Dublin, and it was this city that birthed a band called Skid Row that featured Gary Moore on guitar; rumours have suggested that Atlantic records had to buy out band leader Brush Shiels to acquire the name.
That’s all just complete rumours. To be honest, and no disrespect to him, but I didn’t know who Brush Shiels was until about almost ‘Slave To The Grind’ time . We had heard once we put the record out that there was a band around in the late sixties called ‘Skid Row’, and we were like; “What? Do we have to change our name?”, and we were told; “No, you don’t”. There were a couple of bands that came out after us called ‘Skid Row’, but we were using the name longer in the States, so we had it copyrighted. And then there was always this story that you just said; that the record company bought out Brush Shiels, and that we bought out Gary Moore and all this stuff, and none of it is true. There was no money ever exchanged. We just owned the copyright. It’s funny, during the MySpace days, I got not the nicest email from him on the inbox; I was just like; “There wasn’t internet back then – we’d never heard.” That name just never got to the States.
Do you ever get confusion in Ireland from people thinking you’re the other band?
Sometimes with guys a bit older than us, they’ll give us a hard time. Like, I think somebody in the press said; “There’s only one Skid Row”, and he said something not nice, whatever; we’ve been doing this for thirty years, and it wasn’t like we were trying to use the same name, it’s just that’s the name we came up with. I had no idea.
Moving on, and you mentioned ‘Slave To The Grind’; it's a much harder-edged album than your debut.
It was a natural progression. I don’t know how it happened, but it just did. You have your whole life to write your first record, and when we started writing for ‘Slave’, it was just heavier riffs, and we went for heavier guitar tones and stuff like that. So I think all that combined, and when Snake had that intro for ‘Slave’, I was like; that’s going to be HUGE [sounding]! Then we went on to record it, and I was like; “Wow, this is a lot different than ‘I Remember You’”, but it all seemed to fit. We lost a lot of our female contingent as fans but we gained a lot of dudes, and then when we brought Pantera out with us to open [on the U.S. leg of the ‘Slave To The Grind’ tour], everything just kind of matched up.
That tour happened before Pantera broke big.
I know Philip [Anselmo] was apprehensive about going out with Skid Row because we were considered a hair band to some. But it seemed it meshed really well. That was a really, really fun tour.
The passing of Vinnie Paul must have come as a huge shock for you.
I was very shocked, as I was for Dime. Maybe even more so. It’s sad, man; not only those guys being gone and being as talented as they were at their craft, but the fact that those dudes will never play something again together again, Vinnie and Dime. They left behind a really great legacy, I guess is the only upside to it. Dime was probably the most creative person I’ve ever met in my life; whether it was playing his guitar, or his video camera, or just making up shit; he was probably the most talented and creative person I ever met in my whole life. So, it sucks that they’re gone, it really does.
After 'Slave To The Grind', ‘Subhuman Race’ was a very divisive album for Skid Row.
Well, everything was internally horrible with the band. We were putting songs together just to put songs together, just to meet obligations. Bands like us were essentially put out of business by grunge, but that’s the nature of the business, the nature of the beast. So, it happened, and we put that record out. Is it one of my favourite records? No. I don’t like the way it came out. The songs were changed so much that for me, it kind of lost the essence. It wasn’t the best recording experience that I’ve had, just from a producer standpoint, and just internal shit with the band standpoint. It’s not a great memory.
What would you say are the better songs on the album?
I listen to those songs, and every now and then we’ll pull one out and do it. I like them, I’m proud of them, it’s just that, you know, sometimes you just have an experience that you don’t look back on fondly. I like ‘Medicine Jar’, it’s one of my favourites. ‘Beat yourself Blind’, I think that’s a cool one, ‘My Enemy’ and probably ‘Into Another’.
‘Breakin’ Down’ was the single from that album.
Yeah, that’s a good song. Scotti [Hill]’s playing the B-Bender [guitar accessory that enables a player to mechanically bend the B-string up] on that. Snake [Sabo, guitarist] wrote that, that was all him.
Even the cover on ‘Subhuman Race’ was unusual.
That’s what you call a compromise, that album cover. There was a lot of different viewpoints on what we wanted so, yeah, that was a big, gigantic compromise! [*Laughing*] You know, we’re not a band known for our great album covers, that’s for sure, but yeah, that was looking in five different directions for sure.
If you zoom in, there appears to be a painting in a similar style to ‘Slave To The Grind’s cover, which was done by David Bierk, Sebastian’s father.
I don’t think he painted it. He may have re-painted it; he’d take famous works and do cool shit to it. I don’t know if that was one of them or not, but, someone wanted that for the cover, and then someone wanted a blue cover, and then someone wanted a new Skid Row logo, and another person wanted the old Skid Row logo. So if you look at it, you have the blue cover with that stupid picture, and then you have the outline of the old logo and then the blocky new logo, and there you have it!
The band came to an end a short time later and you formed Ozone Monday.
The three of us got Ozone Monday together with a friend of ours, this guy Shawn McCabe, and just wrote some really cool songs. It’s funny, because a lot of people saw it as he was the new singer for Skid Row. And that’s why we didn’t use the Skid Row name, because we didn’t do Skid Row songs, we just wrote a whole bunch of songs that were on the poppier side of things. But we had fun with it. We had some serious label interest, but a lot of labels couldn’t get past the fact that it wasn’t Skid Row. They were like; “Well, call it ‘Skid Row’” – “No, we can’t call it ‘Skid Row’. It doesn’t sound anything like Skid Row, and we can’t combine the songs”, so that kind of went.
What was it that prompted you to restart Skid Row in 1999?
We didn’t want our history just to fade off into rock and roll obscurity. There was a lot of, not social media the way it is today, but you did have your MySpace and whatever, and people that had your email, they got in touch with you, and they were like; “We miss hearing those songs”. So Scotti, Snake and I got together and just started talking, and we were like; “Let’s try it. Let’s try to get with a new singer”, so that’s what we did. Once Doc McGhee [former Manager] heard what we sounded like, he said; “I’m going to check with Paul [Stanley] and Gene [Simmons] and see if we can put you out with them to open the show.” So, we weren’t expecting anything and then Paul and Gene gave us the thumbs up. So we were supposed to do one leg of the tour, and we ended up doing three legs in nine months, and things went well for us.
And that led to something more permanent in place with Johnny Solinger at the helm?
We put out a couple of records and did a few tours, and then things kind of deteriorated in some aspects.
I wanted to ask about the leaked poster for Sonisphere 2012, that appeared to show a reunited Skid Row on the bill.
The story behind that was we were offered a tonne of money for the original line-up to get back together, and, we didn’t want to do. Snake, Scotti, and myself were just like; “No. What are we going to do; one show?!”, you know what I mean? But I guess whoever made the posters, didn’t take that into consideration and made that anyway. I saw that come out, and I was like; “Oh shit.” So I called Doc at the time, because he’s the one that approached us with it, and I said; “Did you know about this?”, and he was like; “No. You’re kidding me”, and I was like; “It’s out there, man, it’s out there!”, and he goes; “Okay, I’m going to make a call.”
Finally, with ZP now well established in the band; how far along are plans along for the new album?
We’re working on that as we speak. It’s going to be a full length record. We are finishing up the deal with the label, and we’ll make an announcement on that soon. We’ve written a lot of really cool songs. We’ve already started pre-production with [Producer] Michael Wagener who did our first two records and ‘Revolutions Per Minute’. We’re very excited about the songs because we’re just like; “You know What? If we like it, let’s do it; let’s not worry about any kind of guidelines with radio or whatever”, because you never know. Everything is so different nowadays, and we’re just going to write songs that we like.
Are you looking towards a 2019 release?
Absolutely, yeah. We’re hoping before the summer.
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Skid Row return to the U.K. with Backyard Babies, H.E.A.T, Vega and Killit in 2019. For tickets, click on the links below.
22 Jan 2019 - Manchester O2 Ritz
23 Jan 2019 - Sheffield O2 Academy
25 Jan 2019 - Bristol O2 Academy
26 Jan 2019 - London O2 Forum Kentish Town
27 Jan 2019 - Giants of Rock Festival - Minehead