One of my favorite bands out of the hair metal era besides Mötley Crüe and Guns N’ Roses was always Skid Row. I remember seeing these guys at Studio One in Newark and the Birch Hill Nite Club in Old Bridge back in the day, but then seeing them open for Bon Jovi at the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford in 1989 was so mind-blowing for me. I found my new heroes who sang about youth and rebellion. One of the members that really stood out to me back then, since I too was a bass player, was Rachel Bolan, the punk rocking four-stringer who was most recognized for having a nose ring with a chain that connected to his ear. I didn’t admire Rachel for his look. I admired his bass playing and his bass tone; two characteristics that helped mold me as a bass player. Yes, Rachel was one of my bass playing idols.
Back in 1996, their charismatic former lead singer, whose name shall not be mentioned but we all know who he was, was fired from the band and it seemed that Skid Row’s future was coming to a quick end. The core of the band, which included Rachel, guitarists Dave “Snake” Sabo and Scotti Hill from day one, decided that they weren’t ready to pack it in just yet. Drummer Rob Affuso was replaced by a number of drummers after he left the band, but today the throne belongs to Rob Hammersmith, and the guy with the biggest shoes to fill was lead singer Johnny Solinger. In 2000, Skid Row returned with a whole new lineup to open for their heroes KISS, which helped invigorate the band. Skid Row was back!
Since 2000, Skid Row have been on a steady diet of tour dates, and they’ve even released two full-length CDs with Solinger at the helm, Thick Skin and Revolutions Per Minute. These two releases helped show the fans, old and new, that Solinger was here to stay and play with the big boys. Currently, Skid Row have decided to release their new songs as EPs as opposed to releasing full-length CDs. In 2013, they released the EP, United World Rebellion: Chapter One, which was really well-received by critics. Last week, Skid Row released the second chapter to their EP collection, Rise Of The Damnation Army – United World Rebellion: Chapter Two, and I’ll be the first to admit that I actually like this one. Songs like “We Are The Damned,” “Damnation Army” and “Give It The Gun” really bring you back to Slave To The Grind and Subhuman Race.
Anyway, my hero, Rachel Bolan, called me a couple weeks ago to talk about the new EP, and no, I did not even bother asking him about a Skid Row reunion with you know who, even though in my opinion that would bring these boys a lot of money. Here’s what Rachel Bolan had to say:
So, I’ve been listening to Rise Of The Damnation Army – United World Rebellion: Chapter Two for a couple of days now, and being a longtime Skid Row fan from your days of actually playing the club circuit, I have to say the EP has grown on me like every Skid Row record does, and yours and Snake’s songwriting still hits a soft spot with me.
That’s awesome, man. That’s really awesome to hear! We tried to retrace our steps. We’ve been around for 25 years and sometimes you lose focus and a lot of life gets in the way. We made a conscious effort, with the first EP as well as this one, to really retrace our steps and recreate the sound to find our roots again. A lot of people have been telling us that it picks up where we left off. You know? Where Slave To The Grind left off. So, that’s a good feeling.
It’s funny that you say that because I actually focus on the music, and being a fan of your bass playing for many years, I actually felt that this EP was more in line with the music of Slave To The Grind and Subhuman Race. Musically, it just hit that stride.
Well, that’s awesome, man. I really appreciate hearing that because it’s kind of mission accomplished for us when you get an old-school Skid Row fan that says something like that. That really means something.
Now, Down have been doing these series of EPs as opposed to releasing full LPs, and now you guys are doing it as well. Do you think this method will be as effective when trying to reach new fans, while maintaining the old ones?
Well, you know the reason that we did it is because the idea of staying fresh and keeping a flow of new material out really appealed to us. It beats the days of information overload right now. So you don’t have to keep up with something that you can’t and plus, a band like Skid Row can’t just put something out and let it go for two or three years and expect people to keep paying attention. So, we decided to do it. That was one reason.
The other reason, economically it worked out for the fans and for us. We can keep the cost down for our fans, and just from a songwriter’s standpoint, it takes a lot of pressure off. You don’t have to write 30 songs and pick 10. You write 10 and pick five. Everything just seemed like a win-win situation to us. So, we tried it and we’re really digging it. Are we going to keep doing this forever? I’m not sure. We’ll see. As of right now, we’ll do another United World Rebellion chapter and that will come out next year sometime and then we’ll reevaluate.
Do you guys geographically still live close to each other to the point where you’re still able to write together or is it more like, “I’ll send my ideas to Snake and Snake will send it to Scotti” through email?
You know, we don’t leave live near each other. Snake moved back to the Northeast. I’m in Atlanta. Rob, our drummer, lives in Atlanta. So, it takes a little bit more planning, but we’ve tried to send files through the mail and stuff and it just did not work for us.
Snake will fly down. We rehearse at my house and I have a project studio down there, so Snake and I will convene down there and just kind of shut off the cell phones and buy a 12-pack of beer and sit there and throw ideas at each other until something sticks, and then we’ll write a song around it. And then once we get a few songs, all the guys fly in and we lay it on them and hopefully they dig it. Then, we’ll take it from there and we’ll demo it while it’s fresh in our heads, and then we’ll all take the demo home and rework parts. That’s just the system we’re working at now, being that we don’t live down the street from each other anymore.
I was just going to say, you, Snake and Scotti have been the core of Skid Row since the beginning of time. At this point, are you guys literally finishing each other’s ideas when it comes to songwriting?
Snake and I do that all the time. Let me just say this: Snake and I write the bulk of the songs, but it’s not a Skid Row song until it gets into the room and the other three guys get to put their creativity into it. So, we’ll write a song and just look at each other and just be like, “Man, Scotti just did his thing right there! (Laughs) Johnny can let go of that scream that he does!” So, we are writing with those guys in mind complementing each other, so to speak.
This might be the best I’ve heard Johnny Solinger’s voice out of the four studio records that he’s on. For some reason, his vocals sounded a bit more diverse on these songs like on “Catch Your Fall,” but then he hits certain high notes on “We Are The Damned” and “Damnation Army” where I find myself grabbing for my nuts.
(Laughs) Yeah, I don’t know. Something really gelled right on this last EP. We were getting back to something on Chapter One, but with the second chapter, man, something just magically gelled, and we haven’t heard anything [negative] about it, which makes you feel good when you work really hard on something. It makes you feel really good. Am I expecting a platinum record in the mail? Who knows? I doubt it, but we’re really proud of these records, and we’re hoping more people go out and get it.
Out of all the members in the band, Johnny’s had the biggest shoes to fill, so I’m sure he’ll get the recognition he deserves because of this EP.
Yeah, a lot of people have been talking about how much they really appreciate his vocals on this.
As a live personal preference, do you ever find yourself wanting to play songs off of “Thick Skin” or “Revolutions Per Minute” and the new EPs rather than the old stuff?
Well, they’re all Skid Row songs, so it’s whatever our fans like. We can pretty much pick songs that we know we like that we have a feeling our fans will like. We do something off of Thick. We do two songs off of the first EP, but the majority of our set right now is older songs because we’re not going to ignore those. Those are a rich part of the Skid Row history. We’re not gonna sit there and not do them because they’re old.
We appreciate the nostalgia. Every night that we step on stage, I’m like, “Man, we’re such a lucky band to be in it 25 years and people are still singing these songs back to us.” Now, we have new stuff out that their kids are like, “Oh, yeah. I got your album and it’s my favorite Skid Row album or whatever.” I’m always like, “Did you know about these other ones?” They would say, “Yeah, my parents told me about them, but I heard this one first.” (Laughs) It’s just really cool because you never think that you’ll be around for that long.
Now, that being said, is there a song in the set that has you saying, “I can do without that playing that song tonight?”
Right now, no. There has been in the past, but right now the set that we have, I really enjoy playing.
Now, I’m not sure if you’ve heard this before or not, but I’ve read in so many interviews that Skid Row’s signature sound was Snake and Scotti’s dual guitar work, which is awesome, but for me it’s always been the Rachel Bolan bass tone that signified Skid Row was on the radio. For instance, if someone played me the opening lick to “Damnation Army” and asked me who that was, my answer would have been without hesitation, “That’s Rachel Bolan!” How often have you heard that?
(Laughs) That’s awesome, man! That’s really cool! That’s what makes a great band. There’s a bunch of signature stuff I guess and different people can pick out different things. Like when I listen to Van Halen, their signature sound to me is Michael Anthony’s high harmony. That’s the first thing that pops into my head. If they didn’t have those, it didn’t sound like Van Halen. But hey, man, if it’s bass, if it’s guitar, if it’s vocals, whatever it is that people enjoy Skid Row for or see as signature, that’s fine with me, because I’m in Skid Row (laughs).
I’ve been following you and Snake on Facebook and stuff, and you guys never seem to take breaks. You’re constantly either recording or touring. Where do you find the time for side-projects like The Quazimotors?
Quazimotors is pretty much gone. I do have a couple of side-projects on the burner with a few people I have met over the years, but with scheduling it’s kind of hard. Right now, we’re just swinging for the fences. We did 100 shows last year and we have 103 booked for this year and we still have to make that third chapter. So, hopefully after some downtime, at some point, I’d like to put out a solo record and whatnot, but it’s all Skid Row all the time right now, and that’s all I care about.
Now that places like the Birch Hill and Studio One are no longer around, it seems Starland Ballroom has to be the place that Skid Row can now call home. How does it feel to come home and play in front of your home crowd like you’ll be doing on Aug. 15?
It’s awesome, man, because I don’t live in Jersey anymore. So, I hardly get to see my friends that I grew up with and my family. It’s just one of those things; you go home and the show was part of it. Plus, the real excitement happens when you’re hanging out with your buddies doing shots and getting ridiculous (laughs).
One last question before I let you go, and you know I have to ask it being a huge Skid Row fan: Will there ever be a reunion…
…with the original drummer of Skid Row, Rob Affuso?
Oh… Rob Affuso? (Laughs) You know what? Skid Row is Skid Row right now. It’s solid and the way we like to do it and we’re having fun doing it. Maybe if this lineup were to break up, we’d do a reunion of this band, but that’s that!
Skid Row will be playing at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ on Aug. 15, with Crobot, Psychoprism, Lyken 21 and Stone Cold Fever opening. Rise Of The Damnation Army – United World Rebellion: Chapter Two is available now. For more information, go to skidrow.com.