Interview: Sebastian Bach Answers Readers' Questions, Discusses New Album, Tours, Collaborations and More
This week, GuitarWorld.com readers, I have an interview with one of my all-time favorite singers. The man needs no introduction, but I'll give him one anyway. SAVAGE ANIMAL!!!
Sebastian, your voice is amazing. And since this is a musician's magazine, I thought it would be really cool to get some tips on how you vocally look at warm-ups and cool-downs and how you keep your voice in great shape.
SEBASTIAN BACH: Yeah, no problem. This is for Guitar World, right?
Well, first I have to credit Guitar World with me finding my new guitar player, Nick Sterling, in your magazine.
My vocal style is called bel canto, which is an old Italian vocal style going back hundreds of years. It was taught to me by a guy named Don Lawrence out in New York and I've been doing it since 1987. It really helps get my voice going good, and after I sing through the scales I'll sing to some old Journey and some old Judas Priest. Rob Halford hits the highest notes that I can hit, so once I can hit those notes, I know I'm ready to go on the road. And I warm up before every time I sing and that’s how I have kept my voice over the years. It’s that bel canto singing technique.
So yeah, you know I keep it going and if you sing properly your voice can get better over time like Steven Tyler and James Brown. Like James Brown went out screaming till the end. And so my voice really has a life of its own, and I kind of just have to get out of the way of it. I mean there are all these stories about me and celebrity and stuff, but all I try to do is put all of my effort into singing more than anything else, obviously. And the more you do it properly, the stronger your voice gets.
Thats like an interview I read with Scott Ian about the show Supergroup that you were on where he said they didn't show the countless hours you put into to what you do getting ready for a vocal performance. They just show the tiny bit they edit it down to. You don't see how much you actually work at it.
Oh yeah, man. I spend hours doing it. It's pretty much every day, and that's not even counting the hours I spend running to stay in shape. Doing sit-ups and push-ups and fucking all this crap (laughs). But I signed up to be the lead singer, so I know the rules. Nobody wants a fat lead singer (laughs).
So before you do a show, how long does it take for you to warm up?
I start an hour before, and the warm-up is 30 minutes; then I take 30 minutes after that and just let the voice bring brightness to it. I don’t sing for like a half an hour before I go on. I just get ready for the show and then when I hit the stage, it's ready to scream (laughs).
As a fan, I appreciate the amount of work you put into it.
Thank you, dude! I'm glad you realize that. It’s just like a guitar player practicing with his hands. If I’m doing a show I’ll have to start weeks before the show to get my voice going, and if I’m doing an album I’ll start weeks and weeks before to get the muscles ready to do it. Neil Peart from Rush had a great quote. He said, "I try to make the impossible sound easy." I kind of try to do that with my vocals.
I saw you on your tour last year playing at The Palladium in Worcester, Mass., and you were killing it.
Oh, yeah! Yeah that was a good one.
How is your DVD coming along? There will be a live DVD at some point, right?
It’s out, actually. There is a DVD in the deluxe version of Kicking & Screaming, which is an hour-long concert movie. It's really cool.
You mentioned Rob Halford earlier. One of the legendary YouTube videos floating around is Rob and you singing the Judas Priest classic "Delivering The Goods" together. I really love that one. I saw you guys on MTV years ago doing that, and I never forgot it. Would you guys ever do an original song together?
I’d be honored to do that.
One of our Guitar World readers wants to know how you approach writing lyrics.
Well, you can only write what you feel, you know? One of my friends, John Rich from Big & Rich, told me, "Sebastian, don't ever be scared to write what you're feeling because there is always somebody who is feeling like you're feeling." And I thought that was really smart, and it's true. Nick wrote a lot of the lyrics on this record too. A lot of them have to do with breaking up with a loved one or losing love, and then songs deal with finding new love; a lot of the best songs in rock 'n' roll are about chicks, and I wanted to talk on this record about chicks (laughs). It’s like Eric Clapton doing "Layla" for George Harrison's ex-wife Pattie, who he couldn't have. That’s like his best song, you know, and you can only write what you feel. Thats all you can do.
Here’s a question from Nicole in Sacramento. Who in modern music do you really like these days?
I really like the album by Black Veil Brides, Set The World On Fire. Thats a great guitar record with blistering solos, and I really like Asking Alexandria from England. There are a lot of bands that are coming out now that are really into just straight-up rock and straight-up heavy metal, and I really love that Black Veil Brides album. I think thats an incredible album.
You mentioned Rush a little earlier; one of my readers wants to know -- because you were in the Rush movie -- how well do you know those guys? Do you hang out with them much?
Yeah, I've known Rush for a long time and I actually did a song with Alex Lifeson for his solo album, Victor, but he got another singer after that. But I do have a recording of me singing one of those songs on Alex's solo record, and that was a lot of fun. I know Alex probably the best, and I know Geddy. He's very nice. I've met Neil twice, and just like Jack Black says, "He's the dark one" (laughs). But Rush is an inspiration to me because they just keep releasing great music and keep going.
Another fan wants to know if you've ever had any Zen moments on stage that you can think of.
The most recent one I had was when we first did the song "Kicking & Screaming" live on the beach summer stage in New Jersey, and we had worked really hard on the record for years, and that was the last song we wrote. So right before I sang the first line onstage, I just looked at Nick and I said, “Dude we did it” and had a Zen moment. I opened my eyes and we started the song and I felt like we had accomplished a lot. And it feels good, you know? The new record is doing really well on the charts. It's the highest I've ever charted with any solo project, so that's very very satisfying, and I'd really like to bang out another record as quickly as possible and capitalize on the momentum.
Luigi in Italy wants to know about Madam X.
That was a band I was in when I was like 17 from Detroit, Michigan, and it was a weird period in my life. We didn't really concentrate on songs so much. It was more the clothes and the hair and the staging. It wasn't so much based on music. Skid Row was far more based on songs and music than Madam X, and that's putting it lightly (laughs).
One of my favorite records of all time is Skid Row’s Slave To The Grind.
Oh cool, me too. Yeah, that’s great. I think Kicking & Screaming fits along with that album perfectly. Like in my iPod, to me it sounds like a natural progression.
Yeah, Kicking & Screaming, man, I like it a lot. It's a great record and I'm really digging a lot of the tunes on it. Some of them I haven’t even gotten to yet because every time I put it in I just start it over again.
Oh, right on! That's a good sign. I worked on it like that so you don't even have to press shuffle. All the tempos and the keys and the grooves all go together well, one right after the other. So yeah, I am really proud of it. I'm super super proud of it.
You have an amazing tone in your vocals, and to me very few people can pull you into a song the way that you do. Any advice on tone?
Well, about the tone of the voice, I'll get a lot of people that come up to me and try to sing my songs in my face, and they're always yelling too hard and screaming too much. It’s more of a spoken voice singing style. So it's more of a speech kind of style of singing, like I'm trying to make people understand the words and what I'm saying, and I save all of my power for the big high screams. A lot of people when they try to sing Skid Row songs, they're screaming and yelling too much. It’s more singing than screaming.
Lifetime fan Josh in Kentucky wants to know what has been your favorite tour you've even done. He was kind of curious if it was the tour you did in the '90s with Guns N' Roses when Skid Row hit No. 1 on the charts.
No. My favorite tour was the one I did with Guns N' Roses in 2010 in South America. Because when you're on the top of the charts and you're on tour, you kind of expect to have a great tour. But nowadays when I go on a big arena tour, it’s very satisfying because I’ve lasted so long in the industry. So last year when we went to South America with Guns N' Roses, it was incredible. We were playing to 40,000 or 50,000 people in my solo band and it just felt really good to establish myself away from my old band. It was very satisfying.
Who would be your dream team band if you could put together a band of anybody living or dead -- a bassist, a guitar player, a drummer -- the whole thing? Who would you want to make a record with?
I don’t know. I'm really happy with Nick Sterling on guitar. The only other guys I would like to play with who are around now are Steve Stevens (The guys in Camp Freddy, we talked about doing something together) and Nuno Bettencourt from Extreme (We talked about doing something together). But it would be cool with Jimi Hendrix, Geddy Lee on bass, Neil Peart on drums probably (laughs). Yeah that would be great.
A fan wants to know if you've had any thoughts on the passing of Gary Moore.
Well. I used to love that song "End Of The World" by Gary Moore. That was a really great song.
We played with him at Norway Rock last year and that was the last time I saw him on stage, so that was very sad. It’s always sad to lose one of the greats.
I saw on your website something that says "Dimebag Darrell, I Will Remember You" and I was curious because Dimebag was such a special guy you must have had some really cool interactions with him. Do you have a good story for us?
Well, we took Pantera on their first tour in America, and then recently when I was looking for a house out here in Los Angeles, Rita, Dimebag’s long-time girlfriend, put me up at her house for like a month. I mean that's not directly about him, but it’s an amazing story.
Do you have a bucket list, and is there still anything you want to accomplish?
Yeah, I want to establish myself touring wise as a solo artist, away from the band like I have now on record. So I would like promoters to kind of look at the content of what’s going on sometimes more than the form, you know.
What is on your iPod that you love to listen to that your fans might be surprised by?
Probably Neil Young. What impresses me about him is his writing is very dark and his melodies are dark, and he keeps making great albums. You have to go to the store like every eight months to get his new album, and I just think that's awesome. I think thats it’s so cool that he is so relentless.
Over the years, you have met and played with so many amazing musicians you grew up on. Could you share any cool stories from a fan's perspective what it was like to jam with some of these great guys?
Jamming with Lemmy from Motorhead is the loudest experience I can think of (laughs). I don't know how he hears his vocals up there, but when I go up there with Motorhead, it’s just an amazing experience. Playing with Axl is amazing. When I do duets with him, it's always fun. He's a great singer. I've jammed with Chris Cornell; I've jammed with Halford. Halford is probably the loudest singer. Angry Anderson of Rose Tattoo is extremely loud on stage. But of course I’m jamming with my band more than other bands (laughs).
Well, cool bro. I thank you -- and all the fans thank you. Rock on!
Dave Reffett is a Berklee College of Music graduate and has worked with some of the best players in rock and metal. He is an instructor at (and the head of) the Hard Rock and Heavy Metal department at The Real School of Music in the metro Boston area. He also is a master clinician and a highly-in-demand private guitar teacher. He teaches lessons in person and worldwide via Skype. As an artist and performer, he is working on some soon-to-be revealed high-profile projects with A-list players in rock and metal. In 2009, he formed the musical project Shredding The Envelope and released the critically acclaimed album The Call Of The Flames. Dave also is an official artist endorsee for companies like Seymour Duncan, Gibson, Eminence and Esoterik Guitars, which in 2011 released a Dave Reffett signature model guitar, the DR-1. Dave has worked in the past at Sanctuary Records and Virgin Records, where he promoting acts like The Rolling Stones, Janet Jackson, Korn and Meat Loaf.
Dave Reffett headshot photo by Yolanda Sutherland