For Snake Sabo and his bandmates in Skid Row, the journey to find themselves has been 23 years in the making.
Skid Row's odyssey can be divided into distinct chapters: part one, which saw the upstart fivesome as the proverbial East Coast answer to Guns' N Roses. Bristling with swagger and cocksure arrogance, Skid Row's music presented as generational anthems with underlying messages of positivity and remembrance for heroes of yesteryear.
But every coin has two sides, and for Skid Row, part two of their story is a bit darker, at least to start. If Skid Row (1989) and Slave to the Grind (1991) were albums for an adoring fanbase to rally behind, Subhuman Race (1995) found Skid Row a band on the rocks, seething with anger and struggling to tolerate each other.
After three records, a three-year hiatus followed, and with some healing, and a willingness to put the past behind them, Snake Sabo, Rachel Bolan, and Scotti Hill agreed to try and take on the world once more.
And through various lineup changes and two additional records, the aptly titled Thickskin (2003) and Revolutions per Minute (2006), Skid Row tried to find their sound. While the music was still good, it wasn't great, leaving the band to settle in as a legacy act amongst the touring and festival circuits.
Some 16 years later, most left Skid Row for dead, assuming there was no conceivable way the former titans of the glam metal era could reclaim their lost glory. Most believed that narrative, but the boys in Skid Row never stopped trying, never buckled, and never once catered to a reunion with original vocalist Sebastian Bach.
There have been many comeback stories in history, but here's one many never saw coming: Skid Row accomplished the unthinkable, dialing the clock back to the '80s with its latest record, The Gang's All Here. Indeed they are; on what may be the all-out rock album of the year, The Gang's All Here sees Skid Row blissfully blending the best pieces of the band's first three records.
What's more, Skid Row proved its doubters wrong, making believers out of those who felt they would never reach these heights again without the aid of Bach. Instead, now fronted by the energizing Erik Grönwall, Skid Row are heroically opening a new chapter and forging a brighter future.
As he prepares to hit the road in support of The Gang's All Here, Snake Sabo dialed in to run through the band's new music, the importance of Erik Grönwall, Skid Row's near demise, his outlook on the band's future, and beyond.
Listening to The Gang's All Here, for the first time in a long time, it feels as if Skid Row is firing on all cylinders.
“Absolutely. This record is about us being reintroduced to ourselves, and a lot of credit goes to our producer Nick Raskulinecz; he was and is just [an] incredible force. He's an amazing producer, a great musician, and a great songwriter. We could not have done this without Nick because, like I said, he made the process of reintroducing Skid Row to Skid Row possible.
“He was able to do that because, first and foremost, he's a fan. He knows our music, he's seen us live a bunch of times, and he felt that after 35 years of making music, we had gotten far away from what we were back in the day. And while that happened naturally, we still have that fire that burns like we did when we were teenagers, so it was a case of guiding us back to the essence of what Skid Row is.
“Life happens, but there's still that 16-year-old kid within you who wants to stand in front of a mirror with your guitar, pretending to be Ace Frehley.”
You've worked with other producers who ultimately couldn't accomplish that task. What made Nick different?
“I initially told Nick, ‘I don't know how you're gonna make that happen; I really don't.’ Because retracing your steps is not as easy, and we're older, we have a lot more life under our belts, and we're different people. But Nick firmly believed that the attitude and inspiration for why we wanted to play in the first place remained in place.
“So, Nick said to us, ‘Look, I want to deconstruct and rebuild all of the songs you guys have,’ and we were all like, ‘Okay, cool. What have we got to lose?’ But the thing is, we've never done that, let alone put all our trust into another person, but we knew we had reached a point where we needed to do that.
“So, we had to leave our egos in the parking lot, and once we did that – once we stripped ourselves of our egos – a whole world of possibilities reopened for us.”
To expand on that a bit more, would you say that Skid Row was stagnating?
“In many ways, yes, we were, but again, that was the natural progression. It wasn't intentional, but we had gotten far away from the original intention. I think inherently, we knew that our songs were good, but they weren't great. We felt that a few things we had were close, but we couldn't get them over the hump for some reason. And once we got to that point, it became apparent that we needed some help.”
How important has Erik Grönwall been to the revitalization of Skid Row?
“Man, Erik has been huge. His sound, his look, and his vibe are exactly what we needed and very much in keeping with Skid Row. And he's got an incredible story of his own; through that, he's grown into an absolute beast of a singer.
“With his positivity, electricity, humility, and gratitude, I cannot say enough good things about Erik and what he's meant to this band since he joined. He is one of the coolest people I've ever met, and he fits in like he's been with us for decades. But Erik's talent and work ethic are fierce, man, so much so that he finished eight of the 10 tracks while he was still in Sweden before we even got in a room with him.
“We were in a tough spot because when ZP [Theart] was still in the band, we were all dividing apart, but we kept hoping we could come back together, but it wasn't happening. We had different philosophies, wants, and needs, and there was no animosity or blowout arguments; it was just time to part ways.
“So, Erik coming on and being to do what he has, in many ways, saved this whole thing for us. I don't know what we'd have done without him, with the residency we had with the Scorpions, or with this record.
“And the very first time he took the stage with us, which was basically the first time we had seen him in person as a member of Skid Row, he hit the stage, started singing, and I was just like, ‘Holy fucking shit, dude, this is fucking awesome.’”
Invariably, people will compare Erik to Sebastian Bach. Would you go as far as to say that Skid Row is stronger now than in its heyday?
“People will compare, and we hear people calling for reunions all the time, but there's no need. Even before Erik, we never felt a need to go there. Things happened the way they did, and things had gotten very toxic by the end of a certain period in our history.
“There's a reason we didn't look back despite getting far away from who we are. Even if we were far away from that place, we knew going back to something that didn't work was not something that would make Skid Row better.
“I do think Skid Row is stronger now than ever before. Erik can hit all the notes from those early albums and does it effortlessly. He's got a ton of energy, and for us to sit here and watch him perform, man, it's a pleasure. I couldn't ask for anything better than what Erik has given us, and I wouldn't trade it for anyone from the past.”
The Gang's All Here is significant as it features more dueling solos between you and Scotti, which is not the norm for Skid Row. What led to that shift?
“I love that aspect of the record, and I'm glad you brought it up because, at its core, this record is a celebration of our friendships. A lot of us being able to find ourselves centers around our individual ability to check our egos. So, that approach to the guitar tracks was one of the things that Nick wanted to bring out, especially with the solos where Scotti and I play more stuff together.
“It's funny because Skid Row is not known for that, but as a guitar player, I love that shit. But still, this was something we'd never done before, so we had to learn and be flexible. We'd set up in the control room at the same time, with the speakers blaring, just facing and feeding off each other, and it was inspiring. I loved it because Scotti and I have been together 36 years, and we'd never done this before, so it felt so fresh and new.
“So, we're sitting there sweating, and of course, you're attempting to one-up the other guy within the song, and with that comes even better ideas. So, we did that for the whole record, creating an energy and a cohesiveness that doesn't exist on some of our other later records.”
How has your approach to the guitar evolved over the years?
“Well, I'm not as good as I used to be. That's for sure. But I've always been more about the soul and the writing than the shredding. And there are so many amazing players who use so many different techniques that are available to you on YouTube, and that's something that I make use of these days.
“I'll go on there to pick stuff up and enhance my playing as much as possible, but there is so much stuff that is beyond my capability. But there's also a lot of stuff on there that I can steal and incorporate into my playing, which helps me stay fresh.
“With the guitar, though, these days, I go in spurts where I'm carrying it around on my shoulder for eight hours a day, just riffing. And then there are other periods where I'll put it down for a day or two, but I always pick it up again. But it's not hard for me to get back into it because guitars are all over my house.
“So, not that I need one, but that's a reminder for me to get my ass in gear and start working on things. A guitar will be sitting in the corner, and it calls out to me, ‘Snake, pick me up. Play me.’ [Laughs].
“I can tell you that one thing that hasn't changed is that I have the most loving relationship with the guitar. Throughout my life, through thick and thin, through any sort of depression or hard times, that thing has always been there. It's been my friend and my confidant and has never let me down.”
I have to ask, why do you feel you're not as good as you used to be?
“I just think I used to be able to do stuff maybe cleaner and quicker. I feel that I used to have a little bit more dexterity, maybe. And I don't think I'm being hard on myself here; I'm just being honest – that's how I feel.
“The thing is, though, that it inspires me; it doesn't make me depressed or any less hopeful. If I don't feel like I can get better or that I don't need to get better, then what's the point?”
When you look back on Skid Row's first two records, what do you feel has allowed them to endure the way they have?
“We were on absolute fucking fire. We had a clear mission. We were extremely motivated and ambitious, and it was authentic, dude. You'll hear people who talk about the difference between our first and second record and how Slave to the Grind is heavier, and yeah, that was on purpose.
“Between the first and second records, we had grown as a band and had become a lot more aggressive when we played live, and we wanted to reflect that. We had started building a reputation as a formidable live band that hit the stage and jammed fucking hard. We really put on the show, and I think that that aggression led to the creation of the next record.
“And we had lived a lot of life between the creation of the first and second record, and there was nothing forced; we felt those riffs and lyrics started coming out the way they were coming out. It all felt very natural, like the correct next step. The authenticity of those records and the reflection of who we were as a band is why those records live on. They're real, and our fans picked up on that and never let go.”
I'd argue that Skid Row was never heavier than on Subhuman Race. Was that a natural progression as well?
“Well, there was a lot of angst in the band, and the cracks in the veneer were showing themselves prevalently. Rachel and I often refer to that record as the sound of a band breaking apart or being pulled apart, if you will. I'm surprised that Subhuman Race even got made because of all the shit happening.
“And I like that record; I think musically, there's some cool stuff on there – I'm just shocked that we were able to do it. There was a lot of infighting, disagreements, and ego killing the band, and also, the climate was changing; musically, you could feel it.
“And I also think that we probably needed a longer break from each other. But then again, if we had taken a longer break, maybe that would have been the end of the band. Who knows? But that record was a struggle to make, and it shows in the sound of it. So, it was natural, but not the same as we saw with the first two records.”
Was there ever a time when you thought Skid Row might not survive?
“Right after the Subhuman Race Tour, we said goodbye to a few band members. And after that, Rachel, Scotti and I all went our separate ways because we needed some time to repair our friendships. We had to do that because there was a lot of what I'll call poisonous rhetoric flying around the confines of our tour bus.
“We got to a point where we hated taking the stage together, but we did it because, at the end of the day, we loved the music and wanted to play those songs. And so, when everything fell apart between '96 and '98, we had to take a break from each other.
“But over time, Rachel, Scotti and I slowly realized that we're brothers and loved each other, and although we might not have wanted to play in the band with certain people, we did want to continue to play the songs that we wrote.
“So, we said, ‘You know what, let's go out, get a couple of new guys, and see what happens.’ We knew it would be different and take some time, but that didn't matter to us; we said, ‘Fine. We'll start at the bottom; it's okay.’ We were okay with that because of the love we have for our songs and the love Rachel, Scotti, and I share, which we knew was the core of Skid Row.
“We set out to find the guys who could be a part of it and who could keep the legacy moving forward, for better or worse. We always said, ‘When it's not fun, that's when we need to either make changes or walk away.’
“So, there was a time when we needed to walk away, but the love of the music brought us back together. But not everyone would be a part of that, and we've never felt like we needed to look back. Having said that, we have this lineup with Erik and [drummer] Rob Hammersmith that's made this all possible, and we're so excited to be back where we belong.”
- The Gang’s All Here (opens in new tab) is out now via earMUSIC.