Sebastian Bach talks about the true power of rock ‘n’ roll
To truly appreciate a conversation with Sebastian Bach, one needs to be within listening distance. The man is a gifted storyteller, quick to laugh and free with the four-letter words for dramatic emphasis. It is obvious that Bach knows how fortunate his position is, and does not take his place in popular culture for granted. The man has that rare ability in using his sense of humor and intelligence to interpret what makes sense around him as well as what is blatantly absurd.
Bach led Skid Row, which stormed the charts in the late ‘80s with its self-titled platinum seller, followed by the tough, uncompromising sophomore effort, Slave to the Grind, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album charts. Recently Bach has done Broadway ("Evil has never looked so good!"—Jekyll and Hyde) and television’s Gilmore Girls and Trailer Park Boys from Canada. Last summer saw Bach collaborating with fellow metal gods (including Ted Nugent) on VH1’s reality series Supergroup, which showed Bach as a pure fan of music—and music making.
Speaking by phone from his hotel room in Calgary, Canada, he was quick to offer up his positive take on reality TV, rock ‘n’ roll and Savage Animal.
CN&R: You have a new album called Angel Down due sometime in the next year, correct?
Sebastian Bach: Well, we now have three of the biggest labels in the world at the table that we are talking to …
If you were to cast season two of Supergroup, whom might you toss into the mix?
Um … Vinnie Paul from Pantera, Zakk Wylde would be crazy [laughs] … maybe Ace Frehley? Oh my god, this is my dream show! Because I like real, true rockers, man, you know?
Who would take your place?
Ummm … geez … um, I don’t know [laughs]. I don’t know … I can’t think of that …
What did you learn about yourself while filming Supergroup?
Uhhhh … maybe I gained a little too much weight. I mean, I lived there for 12 days. They gave me all this wine, and the whole place was stacked with booze, no food … and then it’s like, “How did you feel when your dad died of leukemia? Like really how does it make you feel? Does it hurt? Like, like, how does it feel that he’s dead and he’s not here anymore? Have another glass of wine.” You know, “How does it feel?” Well, it fucking hurts, you fucking pricks!
It sounds very predatory.
That’s when you see me crying about my dead father. The thing is, it’s obviously uncomfortable for me to watch that, but I get e-mails, hundreds if not thousands, that are so long and detailed, and people come up to me in the street and tell me that they cried with me and about the parent or whoever it is that they are relating to in just the most detailed, heartfelt letters and e-mails that are really heavy to read. So, I guess, maybe people dug it, but obviously for me that’s hard to watch. The thing is I’m usually pretty astute at how I’m going to get fucked over and the thing is, I said to myself on the plane ride home, I’m going, “Well I cried once about my dad’s death in 12 days—that’s not so bad,” but I didn’t think they would play it in three of the 12 episodes, the same clip over and over, and like put it in commercials. I was like, “Oh fuck!” So, if I was to do it again, that might be the most I would give away. But that’s reality TV—you sign up for it, that’s what it is. What the reality is, is that it does hurt me, it does make me sad, so that’s reality, and I’m not ashamed of that …
What made Supergroup compelling is that you were the one with enthusiasm that was so infectious, as if it were your first band—you were 16 again. Your love of music was so out there, unfettered by politics or concern for fashion …
Yeah, I hate all that … I fucking hate corporate bullshit. I really do because it’s about the fans, and the bands that make the music. I mean, really, you’d be surprised at who my artists are that I look up to. One of my favorites ever is Neil Young, man … because he just does what he wants to do and is who he is, and fuck it! And he just keeps doin’ it! And that’s what I do [chuckles]. I’m not puttin’ myself in his category, but I don’t change what I do because somebody tells me to do that. I mean, I look at rock ‘n’ roll like a heart full of self expression. You mean to tell me that Jimi Hendrix wore that hat with the fucking feather in it, and the scarves, and the paisley jackets, and the felt jackets, and the boots, and the bracelets, and the belts because somebody bought it for him and gave it to him, and said, “Wear this?” I don’t think so for fuck’s sakes! I design my own shit. I like doing that. I dig it. That’s what I thought KISS did. That’s what David Lee Roth did. Fuckin’ Nikki Sixx—guys that I thought looked cool. I thought they designed all their own shit. Maybe I was wrong. I’d like to think it was them that designed it and everything.
When was the point in your life when you first realized that you wanted to do what you are doing now?
To me what I do is sing, even though, for some crazy weird reason, I do all this acting now, and made a great living acting. You know, I’m on Gilmore Girls, and it’s a great career just on the side, which is amazing, but my first love is, and always will be, singing. I love singing. I was the lead soprano in my church choir when I was a little boy and I could remember singing at Christmas and it was in Canada, and I was about 9 or something—8. It was Dec. 24, midnight mass, and the snow was coming down, and it was like 4 feet of snow … the congregation was paaaaacked! It was like a fuckin’ rock concert. We were the choir, and it was just eee-lec-tric, and we hit the high harmony in “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” and I’m waaaiiiling at the top of my lungs. It was just like I was taking flight. And the whole crowd is just at the top of their lungs. And it was just snowing, and the next morning, it was Christmas morning, and that is when I said, “I want to sing, dude! I love it! I dig it!” I love singing. That’s why I do Broadway and other things too, I don’t just do rock. I love singing even more than I love rock.
What was the first rock band that helped you recognize, “I love singing, but now I want to do it this way"?
Elton John was the very, very, very, very first one that I loved. My dad used to play “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.” And I never heard anything so heavy as that. Right after that it was KISS, [takes deep breath] and it was all downhill from there [laughing].
You know KISS had their own Marvel Comic I used to collect and I still do. Now that I have kids I do. My Marvel Comics range from the silver age in the late ‘60s through the ‘70s. And I collect all that shit, and I mean KISS had their own comic! And it was printed in their own BLOOD! And I was like 9 and I was like, “Are you kidding me?! It’s their own blood on the pages!?” That fucking tripped me out [laughs]. They were real superheroes that captured every kid’s imagination.
My first rock album was KISS ALIVE II.
Yeah, yeah … and that was just when you were a kid, and you didn’t know what their real faces looked like. That was so insane. That was truly like Clark Kent and Superman, you know? So that was cool.
You have stated publicly that your hopes for the new recording (Angel Down) are to meet or exceed the high standards of the critically lauded Skid Row album Slave to the Grind. What makes this album the standard to beat?
Just put it on. Listen to it on a set of good headphones. Cruuu-shing! I hear “Monkey Business” and … I cannot believe how heavy that sounds and cool … it’s just like badass and cool rock [laughs]. I love it! It just sounds great. When I haven’t heard that in awhile, and I hear it, “Monkey Business” on a good set of headphones or on a great stereo, I just have to stop and fucking catch my breath, and like hold my fucking head in my hands. Like it’s like really fucking heavy to me, man … it sounds amazing, it just sounds great. You know, certain albums sound great, like Back in Black—you can’t beat that! Fucking Led Zeppelin II, ya’ know. I do hold Slave to the Grind not maybe quite up with that but it’s almost up there [laughs]. It’s a great album.
In the early ‘90s upon the arrival of Nirvana (who, strangely enough, were once called Skid Row), many successful metal bands from the late ‘80s appeared negative toward the shifting trends (from metal to “grunge/punk") and I don’t see that you have been this way at all.
I’m not because I already knew that in rock! It’s show business. That’s what it is! It’s always been like that, it always will be. The cream rises to the top. I just put my head down like a bulldog and scream my fuckin’ ass off as loud as I can, all the time! Like an athlete almost. I just dig it. And me and Axl Rose on the same stage is just nuts! We know how to scream, man … like, really good [laughs] … we did last night, “My Michelle” in Winnipeg in front of 20,000 people, and I think it was one of the greatest days in my whole fuckin’ life. It was nuts. It was crazy. You know, the voice is a muscle; if you use it properly from the diaphragm and don’t, you know, push it so hard that it breaks—it’s a fine line between giving it all that you’ve got and blowing it out. So if you keep doing it, it gets even better, like Steven Tyler or James Brown. There are singers that are singing great, and getting up there in age, you know, so it can be done.
A few years ago you were in a short lived band called The Last Hard Men (featuring The Breeders’ Kelley Deal, Jimmy Chamberlin—drummer of the Smashing Pumpkins—and James Flemion of The Frogs).
[Laughing] Oh my god, yeah …
I love that if you want to do something, you just do it …
That’s right. I don’t have any rules. To me rock ‘n’ roll is about breaking rules and doing whatever the fuck you wanna’ do, and just being yourselves and being free, like in the ‘60s that’s what they all said. Like that’s when I was born, and the way I lived, you know? It’s like what you were talking before about what you loved about Supergroup, that I don’t really care, and just tell people, “This is what I’m doing” and, “Like it or leave it,” you know? And to me that’s like a punk rock attitude. That’s just what I do. And when I saw that show, I’m like, fuck, some people said I have a punk rock edge to me. I’ve heard that a long time, even though I might not see that, you get to know me, you might think that.
Kelley Deal, just out of nowhere, calls me up, got my number from my manager Doc (McGhee) at the time, and he says, “Kelley Deal, this girl from The Breeders, wants to fuckin’ work with you!” and I was like, “Why?!” She calls me up, and the first thing she goes, “You’re like a punk rocker, Sebastian! You don’t give a fuck, and I love your voice, and I love your attitude, and I want to do some music with you.” And I was like, “OK, let’s do it—killer!” And I didn’t really understand what she meant about attitude, but when I see Supergroup, I see that …
I mean, you’re jogging in a Ramones shirt for god’s sake …
Am I?! I didn’t even realize that! Well, you know, I dig the Ramones …
… and exercise.
All the time, dude—that’s part of the gig!
For some reason, that is nothing the public puts with rock-'n'-roll musicians.
But they don’t get it why I’m still doing it 15 years later. Like some dudes, I don’t want to name names, but some of my heroes like never stopped doing blow. But what I want to do, I want to keep it together kinda … and I like running, that’s something to be able to run around and sing without being out of breath, you have got to go running! I learned that when I was 19; it’s not some new thing that I’m doing—that’s what I’ve done since I was a teenager. I used to run in high school as part of the curriculum, cross-country running, so that was put in my brain at a young age. But then I remember doing a gig in upstate New York—I was 19, with Skid Row. I had just joined the band, and I just gave it a hundred percent and I came off stage and I almost fucking died! I was like so out of breath, I couldn’t talk for hours, I couldn’t breathe, I was fucking like almost fainting. I was only 19 years old and I was like, “I can’t do this every night” [laughs]. I was partying, you know, just like a kid does, and I almost passed right out. It was the worst I ever felt. So I said, “Fuck it, I have to approach this seriously.” I started running back then when I was 19 and taking kung fu, you know, like David Lee Roth did. I recommend running to everybody; it’ll make you feel good.
Are you familiar with the band Sonic Youth?
I did meet them. I met them on the set of Gilmore Girls.
Sonic Youth dedicated a song to Damnocracy (the name of VH1’s Supergroup featuring Bach, Ted Nugent, Scott Ian of Anthrax and Evan Seinfeld of Biohazard)
Are you kidding me?! [laughing] Why?
Apparently the band was keeping up with the reality series. I think they enjoyed it.
What was it called? The song?
“Jams Run Free,” I believe …
Wow …"Jams Run Free.” Well I know the Foo Fighters loved it ‘cause I played a gig in Japan with Taylor Hawkins [Foo Fighters’ drummer], and he told me that they would organize their rehearsals, Dave Grohl and Taylor, around the show. They would say, “We gotta’ watch the fuckin’ show,” and the next day, “Did you see the fucking show last night?!” Oh my god! Just freaking out. And I thought, Dave Grohl?!?! Wow! They loved it! And I heard the same thing from Duff McKagen [former Guns ‘n Roses bassist], and a bunch of people I heard that from that they would just be glued to it. I was glued to it! It made my heart race. I don’t know if you felt the same thing, but a commercial break would come, and I would just go, “Oh my fucking god!” and would have to recuperate for a second.
You have done movies, television, stage …
I haven’t done very many movies. I’ve done one really bad one that for some reason is on Showtime all the time … you seen that? [laughing]
With Richard Grieco and Angie Everhart?
Don’t watch it! Please don’t … don’t …
I promise you I won’t.
Very good, dude. Why are they fucking playing it all the time?! I was like, “Oh my god …”
It seems like you to constantly …
[Interrupting good naturedly] I like to be busy, yeah … Joey Ramone was like that, you know that? He influenced me like that. Skid Row would take these ridiculously long breaks between records where I’d be fucking bored outta my skull! Like years! I’ve only got so many years, dude! So, Joey Ramone was actually my buddy. ‘Cause I hung out in all the New York clubs back then, and so did he, every fuckin’ night. Joey would call me on the phone and talk about singing. He loved our version of “Little Wing.” We were beside ourselves. He called me and goes, “That is so beautiful.” I remember the message he left—he goes, “You did a great job on that … blah blah blah.” I sang on the Ramones’ Acid Eaters record, came in, recorded all day with Joey.
I was not aware of that.
Yeah, but here’s the story behind that [laughing] … I did my usual thing, singing high, screaming, and Joey, Joey loved it, but Johnny came in—he wasn’t there when I was doing it—and erased me [laughs]. So my name is on the record, but I don’t think my voice is … maybe waaaaaaay in the back. On the other hand, I am the only person in the world that’s got it. I’ve got the one with me and Joey goin’ off … and you will hear that on the Sebastian Bach box set.
That should definitely see the light of day
Yeah? I have a song with Ian Astbury of The Cult, doing a ballad that’s so gorgeous, in the studio, that no one’s ever heard; I got me and Alex Lifeson of Rush in his basement doing a song from his solo album called Promise that nobody’s ever heard. I’ve got me and Rob Halford [Judas Priest] doing “Beyond the Realms of Death” in rehearsal. I’ve got me and Chris Cornell doing “Train Kept a’ Rolling” live with Skid Row—perfect fucking board sound, me and Chris Cornell going off screaming. I’ve got shit that nobody’s got. I’ve got shit that Skid Row don’t got. I collect shit … if anybody ever wants to put out anything meaningful, they’ve got come to me. I’ve got every show on DAT … hundreds of shows … I’m a collector. I collect me [laughing].
I was unaware that in 2006 Skid Row was still around …
… as is the rest of the world.
Is that relevant in any way?
You hear a lot of talk in 2006. You know, branding—brand this, brand that. I think they’re [Skid Row] wrecking the brand, which sucks. You know, I don’t think Journey should tour without Steve Perry. To me, Steve Perry is Journey, and that’s like a travesty of rock. Like when Bonzo died, Led Zeppelin never played again—it’s to be respected, I think. What they’re [Skid Row] doing is confusing to the public. I wouldn’t go back to them now. I’m playing 20,000-seaters with Guns ‘n Roses on my own. If they would have left that alone, that name, that would be a different story, but now it’s fucked! [laughing] There’s your headline!
And how do you intend to challenge yourself in the coming the year?
Uh … sleep. No, I gotta get the record out, dude! Gotta do it, it’s gotta be good timing. There’s some touring plans starting to take shape, starting in February. Got all of January to totally finish my record and get it out, and that is my main No. 1 objective.
Come to the show in Chico. We’ll be kicking ass. Definitely let people know who’s in my band—Bobby Jarzombek, Metal Mike Chlasciak from Halford.
Would you still fight for the band name Savage Animal? (Savage Animal being the name Bach fought valiantly, yet unsuccessfully to dub VH1’s Supergroup)
Dude, I trademarked it with the U.S. Government, I own it. I fucking trademarked it the day after I fucking thought it up. And I also trademarked Damnocracy.
Did you really trademark those?
Yes, I really did! Go on the internet and fucking see who owns it and it’s meeeeeeeeeeeee! Get Off My Back Productions! Sebastian Bach copyright by the world international holdings. You can fucking fool me once, man. Guess what else I own?!? Sebastian Bach—look it up! I own it!