Courtesy of Atom Splitter PR

When It Comes to Skid Row, the Gang’s All Here!

Kicking off today in Tulsa, Oklahoma is the latest, and potentially greatest, Skid Row tour that heavy metal fans have seen… at least, in quite some time. Whether it’s the new members or new songs, there is something working exquisitely for the “18 And Life” veterans in 2022.

Back in late March, I was listening in on my bud’s talk show, Eddie Trunk for Trunk Nation on Sirius/XM, when he mentioned that he had some Skid Row news along with new music from the band. Being a lifelong fan of the band, as well as having some sort of friendship with the band members, I had to tune in and listen. When Eddie delivered the news, I was shocked to hear that Skid Row had parted ways with their latest singer ZP Theart, who some might remember from the band Dragonforce, and replaced him with a kid named Erik Grönwall, who used to sing for the Swedish band H.E.A.T. and was the 2009 winner of Swedish Idol. Um, what? 

Eddie followed up his news with the first new single from Skid Row in eight years with their brand new front man, Erik Grönwall, in a song called “The Gang’s All Here,” which also happens to be the title of their upcoming album. “The Gang’s All Here” blew my mind! Erik Grönwall’s voice was very similar to the voice of the original Skid Row singer that fans keep pining for a reunion with, but after hearing Erik belt out “The Gang’s All Here,” I can see those reunion requests simmering down. This kid can sing! I was so enamored with his vocals that I had to hear him sing some Skid Row stuff and there was an actual video of him performing my favorite SR classic, “18 and Life,” on Swedish Idol. It was mind-blowing how amazing he sounded. 

I emailed guitarist Dave “The Snake” Sabo almost immediately to congratulate him on this amazing new singer and even more amazing new single. Snake was so happy with the reception Erik and the band were receiving that he wanted to discuss it further, so we finally found some time for a Zoom chat after Skid Row got home from their Las Vegas residency with the Scorpions. Here’s what Snake had to say: 

So, the question everyone wants to know: Where the hell did you find Erik Grönwall? He is absolutely amazing!

Well, he was on our radar for a while, in the sense that when he won the Swedish version of American Idol, we got contacted by a bunch of people who saw him doing “18 and Life” and that was put forth to us and we were very flattered, obviously. He did an incredible rendition of it. And then a few years back, we were on tour in Europe, and his band at the time was called H.E.A.T. and they were opening for us. They were one of the bands on the bill, so we were aware of them then. And then within the last year or so, he did another version of “18 and Life,” which we were made aware of, and it was really it was pretty incredible, really flattering and very humbling, and so when things came to pass with ZP, we had to make a move, and I believe it was Rachel (Bolan) who said, “We should check out the kid from Sweden.” So, we reached out to him, talked to him for a bit, sent him a song, which was “The Gang’s All Here,” and he sang and got it back to us within 24-hours, and it was great! And we’re like “Oh, man! This kid is really for real! So, I sent him a couple more songs, and they were just great! And we just kind of kept doing that and low and behold, we were nearly finished with the record while he was still in Sweden. It’s insane that the record was nearly done before we sat with him face to face in a rehearsal studio. 

So the new album is fully recorded?

Yeah, it is now! Picture this process: we’re sitting there, he flies into New York, I meet him at the airport, and we’re in the airline lounge. I’m with him for two hours, but it felt like 15 minutes and it felt like I knew this guy forever. He’s just that kind of personality. He’s very humble, inviting, funny, and gracious. He wears his character very well. So, we get to Las Vegas because we’re getting ready to do the residency and we got into the rehearsal room. We rehearsed twice. It was the first time we ever played with him and it felt like we’ve been doing this with him forever. It was crazy. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s the truth. We all kind of looked at each other a verse or two into the first song, which might have been “Slave To The Grind” because we had a set list we had sent him, so he went down the set list chronologically, and he just knocked it out of the park and we all looked at each other like “Is this for real? Are we believing something that isn’t true? Is this really happening?” Then we did the whole set and it is crazy. It felt really good! Like, obviously, there’s going to be things since nothing is perfect, but it was better than we all thought it would be the first time around. We ended up jamming for a few hours. It all just felt really easy. There was no uncomfortability. There was anxiousness at first because you don’t know what’s gonna happen, because we might have flown this person all the way in from Stockholm and it’s crap. Then you’re all, “Oh no! Now, what do we do? We have a residency. We have a new record coming out.” It was nothing like that. We were so fortunate. 

Where else to take a gamble like that than in Vegas, right? 

[Laughs] You know, I didn’t even think about that! That was great!

Did it help that Erik was a huge Skid Row fan coming into this? He knew the songs….

Oh, he knew the songs! He did his homework. That’s another thing – he has this incredible work ethic. His story is incredible. He’s the one that deserves to tell his own personal path, but he has such an amazing appreciation for music and for singing. It shows. He’s not just up there singing and doing a job. He’s living it. He’s living those lyrics and owning all of that stuff; that’s one of the things that we noticed with the songs on the new record is that he owned it! He owned it! We finished the vocals while we were in Las Vegas because we had such great success with him doing it remotely from Sweden with our producer Nick Raskulinecz that we said we can do it on our days off to finish the record (which we did). We did a bunch of different vocal tracks and did some comping and stuff, but it wasn’t a lot of takes. That’s for sure. Rachel and I were in the studio and were like, “Man, we don’t even need to be here.” That’s how much he owned these new songs. You can see the live performances, too. He owns our whole catalog, as well!

I was just about to say that I’ve been watching the live stuff from Vegas on YouTube and this kid is just brilliant! When “The Gang’s All Here” first came out, I let lifelong Skid Row fans listen to the new track, and nothing against your previous singers, but they all agreed Erik might be the best singer you’ve had since the original guy. You know, Matt Fallon?

[Laughs] Good job, Tim! I mean, we obviously feel that way. This whole thing has been serendipity in some way. I don’t know how else to describe it other than when the stars align and all that stuff, but they did, and this last month-and-a-half has been a great experience. Everything we’ve done with this record has been brand new to us. We’ve never done a record like this before. I don’t think we’ve ever checked our egos at the door the way we have with this record and allowing us basically take control and kind of guide us every step of the way reminding us of who we are. With every successful record, you don’t want to distance yourself from what you’ve created, but you’d like to expand upon that hopefully and move forward. Sometimes you get so far away from what you were, you don’t even realize it, because it’s been this gradual thing that’s been occurring over the course of 35 years. It took Nick Raskulinecz coming in as a lifelong fan of our band and saying, “I gotta remind you guys of who you are as a band and who you are as songwriters and guitar players and bass players and drummers. I have to remind you of that and I’m going to.” So, we were like “Hey, man, we’re at a stage in our lives where you just throw caution to the wind and hopefully you’re confident enough with yourself that you don’t have that insecurity of leaving your ego outside in the parking lot.” Then coming in and allowing this criticism to occur. because for quite a long period of time, we would be writing and these things would be sacred to us in the sense that no one was going to touch it and that is the way that it is. Not that we were a dictatorship or anything like that, but we were very protective of what we were creating. The way it worked was very simple: Rachel and I, for the most part, would come in with a skeleton of a song, bring it to the band, get in a jam room, and start jamming out, and then everybody combined makes it a Skid Row song. But if anybody outside of that circle, came in and started shuffling stuff around, it would take a very significant person for us to allow to do that. We did that less and less, to be honest. This time we were like, “Whatever this guys says, let’s just put our trust him.” That was the hardest thing. Rachel had become really good friends with him. I, on the other hand, didn’t know him. I knew of his reputation. Scotti didn’t know him, nor did Rob, but I admired him so much for the work he had been a part of, whether it was Alice In Chains or Stone Sour or Foo Fighters or Halestorm or RUSH, it was all fantastic. It was a very wide range of artists and material he’s worked on. I came to found out rather quickly that he’s a creative force. His creativity flows nonstop.

One of the really cool things was that he challenges you and not in a condescending way. He’s got this psychology about him that makes you want to succeed for him! He’ll challenge us. For example, what we did was we started working in a circle in the live room of his studio – it’s the four of us and Nick – ad we just started playing the songs and he would go, “Okay, I love that part, I kind of like that part,” but then he would say, “Why don’t you do something here, kind of like what you did in the second verse of ‘Big Guns’” and I’m like “Okay!” That’s where it start to click. First of all, he knew our history very well, and, again, there’s a first step of remembering who you are. He would say to me and Scotti, “Dude, those squeals! We need those squeals!” And I would be like, “Oh, crap! Okay!” and the clouds and the floodgates open and I’m jumping into this world that I’m familiar with, but I just haven’t visited it in a very long time. I remember reading about KISS’s experience on Destroyer with Bob Ezrin and I found that to be fascinating that they would, after all of the success that they had, but they were able to lay down their arms, so to speak, and trust in his direction, and it’s one of my favorite KISS records. We did the same thing with Nick. We sat in that room and jammed and he started going “That’s great! Can you try this? Do something like this?” So, we basically deconstructed and reconstructed all the songs. In the midst of that, ended up writing even more songs. We’ve never really done that before. We’ve never written more material while we’ve been in the studio recording. The creativity was infectious that he was putting forth, and, like I said, he would challenge you. “Dude, that’s a great solo, but now I want you to do it on the baritone, tune down to this with a Capo.” And your just like, “Uhhhhhhh?” I’m not the most musically intelligent guitar player, that’s for sure, but it was great because you would sit there and he would force you to dig within yourself, and it showed him as a producer that, “Yeah, we’re in this now. We’re in this full on 100%. Throw at us what you may and we will stand up and rise to the challenge.” All of these forces converged in a very positive light and the process has been cathartic. The relationships that we’ve had forever are even more solid, too. My friendships with the guys in the band and my working relationships with them and our creative partnerships, all of them have flourished during this process. 

You mentioned YouTube earlier. I was watching one of the performances and I heard Erik relate this experience to the movie Rock Star, where he used to have the posters of Skid Row on his wall and now he’s singing for you.

It is kind of storybook how all these paths converged into this positive space and time. We just got done doing this residency – and playing with the Scorpions was such an honor. We’re huge fans. We haven’t played with them in a really long time. I think it might have been 1989 at the Moscow Peace Festival and we learned a really valuable lesson that day in how to be a freakin’ machine. Because those guys are a machine… still! Watching them from the side of the stage, it was an educational and inspiring experience of how a band should run. How you play at the top of your game every night, engage the audience, entertain the audience, write great songs… I mean, it was all a lesson. And you know what? It’s still the same band. I’m listening to these songs, and I think their new single, “Rock Believer,” is a really good song, but live it’s even better. It was a great experience to be able to do that and it was the perfect thing that we needed to get Erik acclimated into the band. Every night was a learning experience for all of us. We’re all trying to get our footing here together. There’s a new dynamic now. The last thing you want to do is look like the Three Stooges on stage bumping into each other and make things uncomfortable. There was nothing uncomfortable about it. That’s what the great thing about this whole thing is: nothing is uncomfortable about it. There’s no weirdness. There are no cringe-worthy moments. There is nothing like that. 

How was Erik received by the crowd in Vegas?

The first night, during the first half of our set, there were people going, “Hmmmm, what is this all about?” By the time, we were at “Monkey Business,” which is our third to last song, though…. When we started “Monkey Business,” I knew that we had them. We all felt it. And at the end of “Youth Gone Wild,” everyone was on their feet! Here’s a great thing about this guy – that show was a Saturday night, the first show, and Sunday morning he sends out a text to all of us, “Can we all get together and discuss last night’s show? You guys can let me know what I did wrong and how I can improve and what it is that you need from me as a front man.” To me, that was a great aspect of his work ethic. To be able to be that open to criticism at such an early stage! Being a musician is a fragile existence for a lot of people. Most people have a difficult time with being critiqued. I certainly have in my history, that’s for sure. To have that self-confidence to go, “Yeah, man, tell me how I can get better? How can I be a better front man for Skid Row? What do I need to do? What did I do wrong last night? Let’s go through it.” As it turned out, we had a collective discussion and not about him, but about us. That was a big breakthrough, I thought, that it wasn’t about what we thought he needed to do better. It was about what we all, collectively, needed to do better. That’s the way it should be because you’re all up there. You’re all on that stage together. You’re all fighting for the same thing. You want to connect with that audience as a unit and you want to create a symbiotic relationship with that audience for that hour that you’re playing. It’s been such an amazing experience and we’re all thankful that we can be part of this whole thing the way it’s turned out, and it’s so exciting to see where it’s going. 

Back to the singer thing for a second – was this a surprise to ZP (Theart) or was it a mutual split? Because the move kind of came out of nowhere. It was like the best kept secret in music.

I don’t think it was a surprise, and I say that only because of the way he responded when we spoke about it: no animosity at all. There were no harsh words and I have no harsh words for him at all. We had a lot of good times together. We really did. We just got to a place where it just was not working anymore. I believe in my heart because I said this to him, “I think you feel this, too. Something’s not working right and maybe we’ve been masking it for a little while, or whatever it may be, but just something’s not working right.” It was just two different pathways and the fork in the road came where we were heading down one path and maybe he was heading down another. I have not one disparaging word to say about the guy. I have nothing but gratitude towards him for the time that he was in the band and all the good times we had together. Yeah, I’ll never say a bad word about the guy. He’s gonna be successful because he’s very talented. 

The Gang’s All Here comes out on October 14. As of right now, which track would you say is your favorite on the record?

I have one and it’s a song called “Hell Or High Water.” I think right now that’s my favorite, but that can change in 15 minutes from now. Right now, that’s my favorite. The record is certainly not one-dimensional. There are a lot of different aspects and a lot of different emotional ebbs and flows, but I’m not sick of it. I like listening to it and that hasn’t happened in a really long time. That’s not to say anything bad about the records we’ve worked on together, but I’m one of those guys that as soon as it’s done, I don’t want to hear it anymore. I mean I’ll play it every night, but I don’t want hear it anymore unless it’s coming from someone else’s stereo or someone else’s iPhone. But I’m not sick of it – this. It’s been an absolute labor of love and I’m so thankful for the process that occurred in getting to this point, and the belief in us as a band that Nick Raskulinecz has in us to be able to see that there is still a heart beating in this band, and that we needed to have our eyes re-opened to re-acquaint ourselves with the heartbeat of what Skid Row is. 

You seem to have the rest of 2022 booked up. What happens next for Skid Row?

I’ll tell you what. We’re in one of those modes where, because of Nick’s influence, we’re all very creative right now and have this brand-new voice in the band who is also very good songwriter as well as a singer. I look forward to collaborating with him within the framework of Skid Row. I absolutely look forward to sitting down with him and seeing where it can go, so we’re going to continue writing for another record because we don’t want to lose this feeling that we have right now. We’ll be doing stuff on the road, which is something that we’ve never been able to do, much like we’ve never been able to write songs in the studio. We were never able to write on the road. I mean we would come up with riffs here and there, but actually writing full songs? We were never really capable of it for whatever reason. I was always so envious of any artist that was writing a record while they were touring.