Chuck Arlund

Skid Row’s Rebirth Is a Ticking ‘Time Bomb’

Back in March, New Jersey rockers Skid Row unleashed a brand-new single called “The Gang’s All Here” as well as a new singer named Erik Grönwall. Since then the band has been on fire opening a residency for the Scorpions in Las Vegas and then ziplining through the United States with their new frontman receiving positive reviews with every performance. 

Just last week, on October 14, Skid Row released their first full-length in 16 years: The Gang’s All Here, a ten track album featuring songs “Tear It Down,” “Not Dead Yet,” “Hell Or High Water,” “World’s On Fire,” and the new single “Time Bomb.” The Gang’s All Here was produced by Nick Raskulinecz, who is known for his work with Foo Fighters, Alice In Chains, Halestorm, Evanescence, and Korn, but it’s Raskulinecz who really helps bring the band back to their classic signature sound of the band’s debut self-titled record. New singer Erik Grönwall’s vocals on this record is also a reminder of how great of a band Skid Row is. 

In the spring, I was lucky to speak to Skid Row guitarist Dave “Snake” Sabo about the new singer and new single, but now that it’s fall and the record is here, I was able to speak to one of my favorite bass players of all time and the second half of the Skid Row writing team: Rachel Bolan. We dove more into the new record, Grönwall, and Dirty Rocker Soap! Here’s how it all went down: 

So, Snake credits you for really being the catalyst to bringing Erik Grönwall into the band. What was it about this kid that really made you want to make the move to make him the new singer of Skid Row?

It all started when we were going on tour and his band HEAT were opening for Skid Row. I had to approve the video spot that they were using in the U.K. and that was the first time I heard his voice I was like, “What is this? This dude sings really amazing! Like… really amazing!” Then, all of a sudden, I went down this HEAT rabbit hole. I thought, “Holy crap! This guy is really good!” I was psyched to see them because of that. We were doing some gigs and we were listening from the dressing room all, “Wow! This dude sings really good!” I went and I watched a couple shows from the side of the stage. During the course of those few weeks, I found out that he won Sweden Idol. I said, “Wow! That’s really cool! That’s great! We have to exchange numbers or something.” I’m thinking in my head that when Skid Row has some downtime, we’ll do a side project or something. We said hello passing in the hallway I think once and never exchanged numbers or anything. Anyway, fast forward to this year, and when we knew we were going to make a change, I’m like, “Man, I’m gonna reach out to that dude Erik because I think where his vocals sit would fit Skid Row really well.” This is not knowing at that time that when he auditioned for Idol, he auditioned with “18 and Life” and he won that year! I didn’t know any of that at that point.

I contacted him on Instagram and shot him a reel. It’s funny because he still had it in his Instagram Messages and he sent it to me yesterday and said, “Here’s where it all started, dude!” That’s how we started the ball rolling. I said, “Hey, man! Here’s my email. I have a couple questions I want to ask you. If you’re interested, just hit me up.” He did right away. Then we got on a Zoom just like this and talked. It was basically to fill in for a few shows that we didn’t want to lose – they were really soon. For those who didn’t know, Erik had leukemia. He had a complete bone marrow transplant and his doctors didn’t suggest he fly and do stuff like that. Anyway, we sent him a couple songs by the urging of our producer, Nick Raskulinecz. He said, “Just send him a couple songs and see what he sounds like on them.” They came back within 24 hours and we were flippin’ out, man. That’s how it all happened. Then we asked him to be in the band and thankfully, he said yes!

Well, Erik was a huge Skid Row fan growing up. Was there any point when you finally met him in person, where he fanboyed out in front of you guys?

No, not at all! When we asked him to be in the band, it was Snake and myself on Zoom, and we asked him, “Would you like to be the new singer for Skid Row?” He just kind of rubbed his forehead and looked down at the ground, and I’m like “Oh, God! He’s gonna say no! This is such a bummer, man!” [Laughs] And I’m like, “Erik? You still there?” And he’s like “Yes! Yes! Of course I do. I was just trying to process everything.” It was never any fanboy or anything, but like you said, we’re one of his favorite bands, as well as Sammy Hagar, AC/DC, and a lot of the stuff we listen to. There’s a decent age gap, but what got him singing was his dad who is a musician. He got him into bands of the fifties and sixties and that’s what got Erik going, then he just worked his way up to heavier rock like us, so we all fit in well together because we’re all music fans. We all love music! This is all we want to do: play music and create music. That’s it! That’s all we want to do. We have the same work ethic. Now, we have another creative person in our camp and it’s non-stop with him. It’s always like “Hey, do you want to write something? I have this idea.” Whether it’s here at the house or there in Sweden… and I love that, man. I love creating all day long until I have to pay a bill or clean the cat box. [Laughs]

I feel like Erik is hungry and he brings this hunger into the band. Not saying that it was missing from Skid Row because you guys have been hitting the grind forever and have never stopped, but now add this new hunger to the band and it has to have a nice influence.

Yeah, it’s a different level now. As we all agree, we call him ‘The Game Changer’ because he really has. The fact that here we are over 35 years into a career and now we’re just as excited as that day that we signed with Atlantic Records? And we have a record coming out in a few days? It’s funny, Scotti [Hill], Snake, and myself, we’re referred to as ‘The Elders.’ When Rob Hammersmith joined the band, it ignited something inside us from a musical standpoint. It’s like this guy is so rock solid, and just so powerful, that it set a fire under three of our asses. Then we went on and we played – we played a lot – and made a couple EPs. When Erik joined the band, it did the same thing to all four of us; it elevated us. The vibe that’s around when we’re in a bus or in a van or in the dressing room, it’s just so positive and we have so many laughs. It’s definitely elevated this band without a doubt. 

I’ve listened to The Gang’s All Here quite a few times, and as an OG Skid Row fan, it’s quite refreshing to hear that classic signature Skid Row sound that we all fell in love with. I really loved that Nick Raskulinecz was able to pull that out of the band again. And, of course, he was a big Skid Row fan, as well.

Yeah, he is. The definitive Skid Row record for him is our debut. He was instrumental in helping us retrace our steps because it’s not as easy as you think it would be this far into a career. He said something during pre-production that resonates to this day. He goes, “You guys need to sound more Skid Row. Not more like Skid Row. More Skid Row.” And we’re like “Ok!!” and the lightbulb went off in our brains. For me personally, I was like, “I see what he’s saying. I get what he’s saying.” Because we’d bring in songs and he’d be like, “Nah, doesn’t sound like Skid Row. What else you got?” You really had to check your ego and just forget about that. We put 100% of our trust in Nick. He’s a creative force and he worked us, man. He would be like, “Man, I like it, but it’s just not Skid Row yet.” Having that outside perspective from a guy that was a fan and is now an incredible producer is really helpful in helping us find our roots again. Roots over 40 years go way down, so he helped us dig them up. 

The title track is still my favorite, but after listening to the album, I also really liked the new single “Time Bomb” and “When the Lights Come On,” but then I realized that all three of these tracks open with killer bass licks. Did you write these songs? I’m obviously drawn to those bass driven songs.

“When the Lights Come On” and “Time Bomb,” I did write. “The Gang’s All Here” was Snake, myself, and Paul Taylor, who plays with Winger and he’s played with Alice Cooper. He’s an incredible songwriter who doesn’t live far from me down here in Tennessee. We got together and he showed me that main riff and I go, “Man, this is really cool. Snake is coming down in like three or four days. Let’s wait in this and the three of us get in a room.” We did… and it just meshed so well. I had written with Paul before, but Snake hadn’t. Snake and I have written so much, it’s easy, and when you bring someone who’s not in the band into a situation like that…. Well, we’ve never really written with any outside writers before. We did it maybe once before, and for this album, we wrote with Paul, we wrote Marti Fredrickson, and we wrote with Johnny Andrews, and we got three really good songs out of it. I do have to give Paul Taylor the credit for that main riff because he’s like, “This just sounds like Skid Row to me.” And I was like, “Yeah, it does!” And it was actually Nick’s idea to start it with the bass. The demo has it with all of us starting together. 

Were the songs from The Gang’s All Here written during your time with ZP Theart or were they written with Erik’s vocal styling already in mind?

All the songs were written before Erik came into the fold. It always took us so long between records. I think The Gang’s All Here was started in something crazy… like 2018 or something like that. We recorded a record and we figured out we needed more songs. That’s when Nick said, “Let’s do a record.” We rerecorded stuff, and there was a lot of stuff that didn’t make the record, but, yeah, it was all pretty much done before Erik joined the band. When he was starting to do his vocals, because he did them remotely from his house in Sweden, we just said, “Do your thing! Don’t try to be anyone.” We would say, “Hey, this song has an AC/DC feel. Try and think how Brian Johnson would approach this,” or something like that. It was never like, “Hey, man! We want you to sound exactly like Brian Johnson.” And he got it. His whole approach to it is that he had to own it. Each track that came back, he owned it! He put 100% or more of himself into it. It’s funny, in “When the Lights Come On,” he’s like, “If you hear me laughing, it’s actually really me laughing because I was having so much fun recording this song because it’s so Skid Row to me, and I had such a blast recording this.” There is a couple of things where he’s just laughing out loud. One you can hear really good, but the others you have to really listen. He’s like, “I just left them on there.” I was like, “This is awesome!”

When I spoke with Snake a few months back, he mentioned that this recording process was kind of different for him with Erik recording vocals in Sweden and you guys recording everything here in the states and sending him the tracks. He also admitted to being “technologically challenged.” What were your thoughts on this recording process?

It didn’t bother me at all, but yeah, Snake shies away from technology from time to time [Laughs]. We’re always busting his balls about it. I think he had his iPhone One until about a week ago! Nah, I’m just kidding, but when we started it, that’s just the way it had to be. His doctor didn’t want him traveling – plus there were all of these COVID regulations for him getting back into Sweden, so we [couldn’t] have him come here and not go home to his wife and kid. Nick kept a close eye on him and said, “Hey, man. Try this setting on the compressor and try this mic” and blah blah blah. So, he did it and it sounded great. Nick was like, “Man, this dude really knows what he’s doing.” He did 80% of the record at his house. The other two songs he did in Las Vegas when we were doing the residency with the Scorpions on a couple days off. That was “World On Fire” and “Nowhere Fast.” We did that and all the vocal tracks were done – awesome.

He and I are having a beer and we’re just waiting for our food to come at a bar in Vegas, and I go, “Man, you nailed it on the vocals, dude. You really crushed it. I’m really proud of you and I’m really happy how it came out. How do you feel?” He goes, “I do. I feel really good about it. But I gotta tell you a secret!” I go, “What?” He goes, “I’ve never recorded my vocals before. I had to learn off of YouTube.” [Laughs] I looked at him and I go, “I am so glad that I didn’t know any of this before you did it because I would have no hair right now. It would have all fallen out from stress.” We had a good laugh over that, but he really did a great job. Nick, too! He said everything Erik was doing was really good. The tracks were easy to work with and he did a great job. Erik is just that guy. I just recently found out that he played piano because I walked into the dressing room and he was singing one of our songs to piano. I was like, “Oh, you do that too?” But he doesn’t talk about it. He once told me, “Yeah, I was once in a production of Jesus Christ Superstar.” I was like, “Cool, that’s definitely one of my favorite musicals.” That was it. That’s all he said. Then I find out he was in the Jesus Christ Superstar on NBC with John Legend and Alice Cooper a few years back. So, I call him and I go, “I was in a production of Jesus Christ Superstar? Seriously?” That’s where the conversation ended! [Laughs] It was just because it came up. He doesn’t give his resume to you. That’s just the kind of guy he is and that’s the type of guys we are. Everything just fits perfect with this band now. 

As I listen to the new record, I try to listen for flaws in these songs and I can’t find any. I can say that every time I listen, I like something new. For instance, “Resurrected” has really grown on me the last few days. The week before that, it was “Hell or High Water.” Before that, it was “Not Dead Yet.” Today, what is Rachel Bolan’s favorite track on The Gang’s All Here?

Oh, man! “Not Dead Yet” is definitely a standout for me and the way it was written so quickly. We’d never written a song with all of the guys in a rehearsal – that was Nick’s doing. He’s like, “You guys need new songs. Go to S.I.R. Studios. Get in there and bring me two new songs,” and that’s what we did. I had a riff that I was messing around with at home. I brought it in to rehearsal the next day and we all just started building on it. That’s one of the standouts. The energy and also the adlib at the end where Erik says, “But you gave it a good try,” was all off the cuff and I was like “Dude, what are you talking about there. Are you talking about a person?” And he goes, “No, I was talking about my cancer.” I was like “Right on!” So, that one stands out. You gotta understand that when we write this – and it’s one thing if you’re in a band for a while and you write a song and your singer connects to it – but when you’re not in a band, he’s singing it for the first time or hearing it for the first time as he’s recording it, and you connect with him? That’s big! That’s a really, really big win! That song is definitely my standout, but it will probably change week by week just like yours. 

Tim Louie & Rachel Bolan / Courtesy of Tim Louie

Skid Row has been playing live all summer and the online reaction to Erik Grönwall has been quite positive. How has the live reaction to Erik been and do you feel this will finally put an end to all the reunion chatter?

Yeah, that’s pretty much a dead issue now. Some people just adjust to change and that’s fine. That’s their hang up. That’s not my hang up. All I can say is that if I didn’t welcome change, I would have never have listened to Back In Black. I would never have listened to a lot of Iron Maiden records, a lot of Van Halen records, and a lot of Deep Purple records. It goes on and on and on. Black Sabbath, KISS… so people don’t like change, then they don’t like change. All I know is that I do, and as it is right now, get used to it or see ya! The general consensus, though, people are just like, “Wow! You guys are back!” I love hearing that! It sucks that we were kind of gone, whether it be musically or for whatever reason, when a hardcore Skid Row fan says, “Wow! You guys are back! This is the Skid Row I fell in love with since ‘89 until now!” That’s huge to us. It just doesn’t get lost on us. It’s just a rebirth.

Speaking of touring, I noticed you’ve been traveling with the luggage lately. Has airport security caught on yet? [Regarding his hilarious baggage claim videos on Instagram.]

[Laughs] So far – knock on wood – I’ve been alright. It’s so funny because now the guys are like, “Hey, dude! I got this idea,” or one of the crew guys are like, “I got a really idea for your baggage claim thing!” I’m just like, “Alright!” [Laughs] We’re flying to Portland, so maybe one will pop up tomorrow!

I always wanted to ask this question of the Skid Row guys – back in the late eighties, Jon Bon Jovi gave you guys the opportunity of a lifetime to open for him on his New Jersey tour, even calling it The Brotherhood Tour or the Jersey Syndicate Tour. Is there any chance that we may ever see Skid Row give a young band that same opportunity? To be clear, I’m not asking for any personal reasons (wink wink).

Yeah, that was a great tour, but we always try to pick our opening bands as much as we can with the way we do it, but we’ve been doing fly dates for so many years, that either it’s just us, or it’s us and bands like Warrant and stuff like that. That’s always a really good bill and there’s a lot of nostalgia there. But, yeah, getting on the road, there are a few bands we’ve been talking about once we get a routed tour, we gotta take them out a little here and take these guys a little there. We know what it’s like and now I think it’s even harder for someone to take you seriously if the only time they see you is on YouTube or online. People want to see you live, so we’re totally open to that. 

I bought some soap recently called Dirty Rocker Soap and my wife said that sounds gross! I told her it was Rachel Bolan’s soap and she asked if you made it from your stage sweat? Seriously, how did this business venture evolve?

Well, a long time ago, pre-pandemic, I had an idea, because we have our coffee and we’re coming out with a few other things like hot sauces, and every artist has that kind of stuff. I was thinking, “What doesn’t an artist have?” Then, I thought of soap. Why not? Why not soap? It was just kind of festering in my brain. Then a friend of mine, who actually manufactures some of the soap we have, she has her own company. So, she gave me one and I took it on the road and I was like, “Wow! This is a lot different than what I’ve been using out on the road. Yeah, I’m gonna have her teach me how to make it and start there, and then the two of us will make it. Then my girlfriend will make it.” That’s how it all came about. The name Dirty Rocker, the whole time after I thought of it, I was getting the trademarks, the licensing, and all that stuff together, and I was like, “When I have time… or if I have the time…” Then, boom, 2020 – I had all the time in the world. I launched it in April, four different scents, and it sold out in a couple hours. I’m like, “Alright, I’m onto something! Let me see!” I had my friend make some more. We doubled the amount and then that sold. Then I was like, “I need to come up with different formulas with my girlfriend!” She came up with some ideas and I came up with some ideas and now we’re up to 12 scents, it’s still going, and it’s in a few retail stores.