Without a doubt one of the greatest hard rock singer of all time, Sebastian Bach can also boast about the fact that with his previous band Skid Row, he sang on albums that had a huge impact on this style: their first eponymous album of course, but also the exhilarating Slave To The Grind. Sadly enough, what followed hasn’t been this bright despite a very well made third album: the singer and the band ended up splitting up painfully.
And yet Bach still didn’t stop. The fair-haired singer distinguished himself in 2007 with Angel Down, a record he signed with his own name. A true success that do justice to the talent we know he is, and proved that the ex-Skid Row member still has guts. Besides, Bach is back this year with a new album entitled Kicking & Screaming that will be out the 23th of September. Needless to say, the singer carries on the same path and isn’t disappointing.
We had to talk to Sebastian Bach to acknowledge that. An extremely nice character, both rock’n’roll and funny. In what he’s saying, two things are striking: the first one is his deep honesty, a quality that owned him his reputation as a loudmouth, and probably some interpersonal conflicts. The second one is the striking passion he shows. But after all, maybe you can’t have one without the other. As a result, here is a fascinating, colorful interview which will undoubtedly delight both dedicated and casual fans.
It features his album of course, but also Skid Row, the death of the late singer from Warrant Jani Lane for whom Bach wrote a tribute, rock-star life, Guns N’Roses’ frontman Axl Rose, a good friend of his, and a lot of other subjects.
Read the interview...
Radio Metal: Hey Sebastian!
Sebastian Bach: Hey, are you in France?
Yes, I’m in France!
I’m in Lyons!
Oh, that’s cool. I’ve been there one time. We did a whole French tour and we went to all the little towns in France. It was great. It was a really cool tour.
So would you like to come back?
Yes, absolutely! (In french) Moi parle un peu de français, parce que j’habite dans le Canada depuis quand je suis enfant et j’ai étudié français dans l’école!
Ok, that’s cool! So do you want to do it in french?
No, I don’t think I want to do the interview in French! (Laughs)
Ok, no problem! Your last critically acclaimed solo effort, Angel Down, was released in 2007. Why did it take you so long – four years – to record a follow-up?
I don’t think four years is too long, especially in this day and age. The record industry changed a lot. And it came a little quicker than Chinese Democracy! (Laughs) It’s important to make albums that stand the test of time. You’ve been listening to these Skid Row albums for twenty years now, so I pretty have to make CDs you can listen to for decades. It has to stand up to the other ones I’ve done, and these other ones are very popular still, to this day. That’s what I’m trying to do.
It sounds like the Skid Row albums you played on are a point of reference for you…
You see, a lot of people are so attached to the Skid Row albums. For some reason, they think they’re amazing, that they can’t be beaten or something. But that’s just me recording in a studio. I don’t do anything different now with my solo band than I did with Skid Row. It’s all the same thing. For me, I love those records, but I’d rather have like twenty albums than three or four or five. I’d like to have a complete body of work, not just five or six CDs. My intention is to have fifteen or twenty CDs by the time I die. That’s what I would like, that’s what I’m trying to do.
You have called this album the most satisfying experience you have had creatively in a long time. So what made it so satisfying? What was the difference compared to previous experiences?
There’s a lot of things. First of all, I have a new guitar player, named Nick Sterling, who’s very young. It’s very easy for me to write songs with him, we don’t argue. He brings a guitar in the room, he plays and I add a melody to it, put some words. It’s a very easy process. The other thing that made this very different for me was my love for a girl. That made it fun to go to the studio every day, have this feeling of being in love and singing for her, seeing her all the time. Meeting this incredibly cool girl that I fell in love with just made it very joyous, and it made it easy for me to put a lot of emotions into the lyrics. When I listen to the music, it reminds me of all of those things. It reminds me of meeting Nick and meeting Minnie. That’s what the record kind of is: it’s about romance. I got divorced last year, so some of the songs are about breaking up, and some of the songs are about finding new love. A lot of the best songs in rock’n’roll are about chicks, and these songs are about that, too! (Laughs)
Angel Down was extremely well received. Are there things you have learned from this album and kept in mind while composing and recording Kicking & Screaming?
Yeah, I learned some things from that album. I love all the albums I’ve done, because I wouldn’t put them out if I didn’t love them. I can’t put out an album unless I really love it. So I really love this album, but I put the same emotions into all the albums.
In the music you are making now there are some quite heavy moments. Are you attached to the heaviness of the music?
I love heavy metal, yeah. I think the Slave To The Grind album is very heavy, so it’s one of my favorite records. Music like heavy metal is so hard-driving; once it gets in your system, you kind of need it. Yeah, I like heavy music.
The album is called Kicking & Screaming. Do you think it is what best defines rock’n’roll and metal?
Yeah, Kicking & Screaming is a good title. It just sums up rock’n’roll. But the chorus is actually about having sex! “In the night we’ll be kicking and screaming… make me go insane.” So it’s about making love… and fucking. (Laughs) I guess it’s the same thing… No, it’s not! (Laughs) But it’s also about having a good time. And it just sounds good, too! You have to have a good title. I’m getting pretty naughty right now… (Laughs)
When you presented the cover artwork for Kicking & Screaming to the world, you were extremely passionate about it, going as far as saying that it was the wildest cover artwork this year. Why is it so important to you?
When I was a kid, we had records. You could look at the covers, and it was like an art-form to have a really cool album cover, something that meant something, something that told a story in and of itself, to go with the music. Most album covers these days are just a headshot of the singer with the name of the album next to it. That’s so boring to me. So I wanted to make a cover that reflected the lyrics of the record. It shows the goddess Khali, who is the most loving of all goddesses, but also does the most terrifying massage. (Laughs) That’s a French word ‘massage’! Isn’t it? I’ve made some mistakes in my life, and this cover, with its sharp knives and being dragged into Hell, says that maybe I deserve that! (Laughs)
Do you think that the kind of devaluation of music we’ve been witnessing in the last couple of years makes an album’s artwork and packaging even more important?
What I do in my career is be true to myself and make art that I like. So I never really look at what other bands are doing, or what the trend is, or what’s going on with other bands, even though everybody else does that. I kind of go the other way; I kind of look inside myself and imagine what I would really like. And that’s what I try to create. I think I got that from my dad, who was a painter. He spent every day of his life painting pictures and doing what he wanted to do, and that’s what I do in my music. I make music that I myself really love. I feel that, if I can put emotions into it, then the listener will feel those emotions. That’s the way it’s been, my whole career.
One of the strongest videos in hard rock history is the one you did with Skid Row for “18 And Life”. On the other hand, the video for your latest single is much lighter and is clearly on the fun and rock’n’roll side. Does this mean you don’t want to get too serious nowadays?
To be honest with you, the money we spent for the three videos we shot for Kicking & Screaming was less than the money for the catering truck on the “18 And Life” video. Those are 300,000-dollar videos. Since there’s no TV stations, at least in America, that will play the videos, we’re very lucky to even be doing videos. But the technology is so advanced, the filming is all high def, and it looks really clear and cool. The Kicking & Screaming video is basically just video performance with us, and because I wrote the lyrics for my girlfriend, she’s in the video when the lyrics are talking about her. She makes the video look a lot prettier than just us three greasy rockers! (Laughs) It’s just fun. I read online a comment like: “Why is he smiling?” Number one, nobody told me I couldn’t smile, and number two, I’m so happy with the music and the way my girl looks, I’m smiling because I’m really happy! I’m like: “I love this song, I love the lyrics and I’m having fun”. To me, that song is so heavy and cool that it makes me smile. This is fucking really cool, I really like it! I didn’t know you weren’t allowed to smile, I didn’t know there was a rule against that!
Why would somebody ask why you’re smiling? That’s strange…
I don’t know. Even my manager said that at first. Again, the song is very heavy, so I guess I should be making a mean face! (Laughs) I don’t think about what face I should make, I’m not that contrived. I don’t plan things out like that, I just try to have emotion. It always comes down to emotion, that’s what music is to me. It’s about feeling things. And above all, rock’n’roll should be a lot of fun, and it is, if you let it be.
Everybody has an idea about what is metal and what is not, so I guess smiling is not metal!
Smiling is not metal, but on the Van Halen-David Lee Roth “Jump” video, which was just a performance piece, they’re smiling and having fun. I’m a Van Halen fan, and I think those videos are some of the best videos ever. Rock’n’roll is totally fun, it should be about escaping normal, conventional life. Yeah, Rock’n’roll is fun. Ozzy Osbourne has fun!
I saw him on stage this summer, and, yeah, he was smiling!
Yes, rock’n’roll is fun, man! It makes me smile!
"If those guys in Skid Row wanted to get together and possibly write some new songs and record them, and then go on tour with a new record, I’d be interested in that. But nobody’s talking about that. It’s all about reunion tours, go and get the money, play old songs… It just doesn’t interest me at all."
It’s now been over ten years that you’ve been releasing music as a solo artist. Aren’t you missing playing in a real, stable band context, being equal with your band mates and not a singer with a backing band?
I guess you’re referring to my old band, Skid Row. I think if you listen to the music they make without me, and then to Angel Down and Kicking & Screaming, you would realize why we’re not together. I don’t want to brag, but my albums just blow their fucking albums away, and anybody with two ears would tell you that. To me, my albums sound more like original Skid Row than the new Skid Row sounds like Skid Row.
That was actually one of my questions: your solo albums are much more aggressive and heavy than what Skid Row does today. Does this mean that the heaviness and aggressiveness of the older Skid Row albums, especially Slave To The Grind, came from you?
Yes, it did. I’m not gonna lie to you: I am a guy that makes sure his CDs sound like that. People can say I’m hard to work with. I’m not hard to work with. I just refuse to suck! I will not put out a fucking CD that sucks. I have a good ear. We don’t like each other, but even Snake from Skid Row said in an interview: “Sebastian’s biggest contribution to Skid Row was that he could take a good song”. And I can. If I feel a song in my heart, like “18 And Life”, then I can really sing it emotionally, and that’s what people relate to, it’s emotion. Snake’s a manager now, he manages other bands, he’s into the business side of things. I’m not into that. I’m more into the creative side of music. That’s why I got in it. I didn’t get in it as a job, I got in it ‘cause I’ve always been a singer, and my voice just has a life of its own. I was the metalhead in Skid Row. I was the guy that would be in the studio when those guys would be playing golf or doing business. I was the guy that was in there all the time, making sure that those albums sounded like they sound. And I will keep doing that for the rest of my life. I love making CDs, it’s very fun to me. I like writing songs, doing album covers and making videos. It’s very fun, I get very excited about it. Ask my girlfriend, I even get too excited! (Laughs)
(Talking to his girlfriend) Say hi! Come on, say ‘bonjour’! She’s Shy…
She shouldn’t be!
Don’t be shy! Say bonjour in France, ‘bonjour Lyon’… She’s being shy!
Ok. (Laughs) There’s kind of a trend lately for bands reformation. But you and Skid Row seem to be one of the last bands still resisting that trend. Is your relationship with the other guys still that bad after all these years?
I don’t have a relationship with them. In fact the drummer just asked for my cell phone number and I told him that he could go get fucked! (Laughs) That happened about five minutes ago! I know that’s the trend, I know that every other band is together, I know Mötley Crüe is together, and Poison… I know they are, but I’m not in those bands. My band’s different. What interests me in life is making new music. If those guys in Skid Row wanted to get together and possibly write some new songs and record them, and then go on tour with a new record, I’d be interested in that. But nobody’s talking about that. It’s all about reunion tours, go and get the money, play old songs… It just doesn’t interest me at all. To me, making Kicking & Screaming is more important than going on tour and playing old songs. Contributing to my body of work is what I want to do, that’s my thing. To be honest with you, when we’re all dead and gone, the CDs will be what remains. They’ll be around when we’re all dead and gone. Everybody will have the CDs forever. So to me, that’s more important, it lasts forever. Like books: you write a book, it will be around long after you’re dead. That’s the same with music. That’s why I really enjoy it. It’s like a form of immortality; it’s a way to make your presence on this Earth known for ever and ever. People will always be listening to these songs, and that’s really amazing to me. Incredible.
It’s too bad there was never any proper live album recorded at the time…
I don’t understand why there’s not like a boxed set. Every band has a boxed set of a retrospective of their career, with all the DVDs and all the CDs. We never did that. That would be a very easy way for us to put something out, but… I don’t know, I don’t control those guys. They’re doing their thing, playing at bowling alleys and restaurants, they’re happy playing on cruise ships. I am happy making my CDs and playing with Whitesnake next week.
You wrote a very moving tribute to the late Jani Lane, Warrant’s former singer. You seemed particularity touched by his death and the circumstances of his death. Has this sad event somehow opened your eyes on some aspects of your own present or past life?
Yes. It just scares me that there’s a new death in rock’n’roll like every week. Amy Winehouse two weeks ago, at the age of 27, and then last week, Jani Lane, at the age of 47. There’s not many rock stars around, and when they keep dying, I’m like: “Am I next?” or whatever. It’s kind of scary. It’s an extreme lifestyle, it’s an extreme way of living; there’s a lot of travelling and hard work that comes into it. I want to be around for as long as I can, but when a guy like that dies, in his forties, it’s quite frightening. It’s quite a wake-up call. I feel very sorry for his children, that they don’t have a dad. That’s very heart-breaking and sad. And of course I feel for his family, and most of all for him. For him to die alone in a hotel room, it’s so scary. I feel very sad for him. If I think about it too much, I could probably sob right now. It’s a very sad situation. Nobody likes to be alone; no girl does, no guy does. But it’s part of life, and you have to deal with it.
When reading your tribute, it sounds like the rock’n’roll life is clearly not as fun as people think it is… Many young rockers aren’t conscious of the dangerous side of the rock’n’roll life and are first and foremost attracted by the fun side of it. Do you think this is kind of like a trap?
Very, very good question. You’re asking really cool questions here. Do I think it’s a trap? Honestly, what I think happens is, when you start out really young, everything is one big party, and everybody is always partying all the time. And that becomes kind of your way of life. And as you get older, you can either go down that road further, or try to become healthier or whatever. I don’t do cocaine, I don’t drink hard alcohol. I do drink wine, and I can drink a lot of it! (Laughs) But that’s all I drink. I probably drink too much – in fact, I know I do. But I limit it to wine, and maybe in the future I’ll drink even less. It happens when you’re travelling all the time and you’re alone all the time: sometimes you do things just to alleviate boredom, being away from home and being by yourself. You have to make a conscious decision as you get older: do you want to live healthy or die alone in a hotel room? I really enjoy running, I go running every single day if I can: five, six, seven miles a day. I try to eat healthy, not bullshit, and I have some wine with dinner. That’s pretty much my lifestyle, and it’s good for my body. I changed my body around when I learned how to eat right and stuff like that. But maybe a guy like Jani Lane didn’t. Something as basic and simple as running is actually not basic and simple. If you have something like that in your life, that is very healthy and focuses you on being healthy, then I think it helps. If Jani had come and run with me every day, he wouldn’t have been able to drink vodka like that, in a hotel room by himself. I go running because it clears my head, it keeps me healthy, and it also keeps me away from boredom and maybe doing stuff that I should do. So I think you just have to make a conscious decision on how you want to live, or if you want to live. And I definitely want to live.
Both Jani and you respectively were separated and not in good terms with the band that made you famous. Did you feel close to him because of that?
No. I don’t base what I do on other people. His situation was probably different from mine. I’m a really hyper guy, I have a lot of energy. With my old band, I would come in to a rehearsal completely sober, sometimes, and I would have all this energy and I would be kind of bossy – telling people what to do, bossing them around… I remember Rachel and Snake going: “Sebastian, what’s going on?” And I was like: “Nothing”, so they said: “Could you go smoke a joint and then come back?” (laughs) They would actually tell me to smoke pot and come back to the rehearsal, because I was being too bossy and telling people what to do. So I was like: “OK!” But at the same time, it would hurt my feelings, like: “Are you serious? You want me to go smoke pot and then come back?” And they were like: “Yes, please go do that!” At the same time, I’d be like: “Fuck you, guys. Why don’t you go fuck yourselves?” I mean, bands are very intricate relationships. It’s kind of like being married: personality conflicts, it’s all there. I could tell you a lot of stories about that, but I don’t want to just talk about that.
You have recently partly blamed the Internet for the demise of your marriage. Do you think it’s even harder than before to be a rock star in the Internet age because of all the rumors that get emphasized?
I’d like to kind of clarify what I meant by that. Nobody was responsible for the demise of my marriage except me. I was the one responsible, not the Internet. Sometimes I say things in interviews because I’m trying to make you laugh, or trying to be funny. But some things aren’t funny. When I said it takes a strong girl to be with a rock’n’roller, or a girl who can’t work a computer, I was trying to make a joke. But it’s actually not a joke, and it’s not funny. If I’m with a girl and she’s with me, just because I’m on the road doesn’t mean I have any right to do whatever I want to do. I would like to apologize to my ex-wife for saying that, and also to my current girlfriend for saying really stupid shit sometimes that I think is funny, and it’s not. When I read it in print, it doesn’t come across the same as I was saying it, out of my mouth. If I cheat on the one I love, it’s not the Internet’s fault, it’s my fault. I shouldn’t have said that, and I should own up to being a jerk. That’s reality. I shouldn’t blame others for the things I do, I should take responsibility for what I do. That’s the truth.
It’s very good of you to say that…
Is it? Cause it’s not easy for me to say that.
On to another subject: these recent years, you have made multiple appearances during some Guns N’ Roses concerts. Axl Rose sang on Angel Down and you did backing vocals on the Guns N’ Roses song “Sorry”. What has drawn you together to the point of creating what looks like a strong friendship with Axl?
I met Axl in 1989, when I was opening up for Aerosmith at the L.A. Farm. He came and sang a song with Steven Tyler, and he didn’t know the words, so I taught him the words right before he went on. We’ve been friends ever since. We’re extremely close, Axl is very close to me. I’ve known him for a long time. Nobody helps me in rock’n’roll more than him. He’s helped me out immensely. He brought Skid Row on tour back in ’92 or ‘91, and then he brought my solo band on tour like three or four years in a row. That’s rare in this business. He could take any band out on tour with him, but he takes me out, and it’s really nice. As for me singing on his album, yes, I sang on Chinese Democracy, and then I asked him off-handedly: “Hey dude, I sang on your record, when are you going to sing on mine?” He was like: “Tell me when and where”, and I couldn’t believe it: “What?! You’re really gonna sing on my record?!” He showed up at the studio and we had a great night, and he sang incredibly. He was going to sing on Kicking & Screaming too, he said : “Baz, what’s the last day I can sing on this record?” I gave him a day, and that day came and went, so… (laughs) He didn’t make it this time, but maybe he could be on the next record. He’s a great singer, I love the sound of his voice.
So, you think you will collaborate further with Axl in the future?
We definitely will, sometime in the future. But he has his own schedule, to say the least. He has his own clock, he’s on Axl time! (Laughs) When we did the concerts, people asked me when Guns N’ Roses would go on, and I would say: “They’re going on Axl time!” (Laughs)
I interviewed Bumblefoot, his guitarist, and he said there’s nothing you can predict with Guns N’ Roses. Bumblefoot himself didn’t know what was happening with Guns N’ Roses the following week!
When I was playing with them last year in South America, sometimes we didn’t know if we would be playing the next show. We have to be paid to play; it costs a lot of money to fly to El Salvador or Uruguay, it’s insane how much money it costs. So I would be in Bogota, Colombia, and I would ask: “Are we playing in El Salvador?” And they would tell us yes or no at 6 o’clock. We wouldn’t know if we were playing the next day. One time we flew to Costa Rica, and they’d cancelled the show, so we were in Costa Rica for like three days, just being silly! (Laughs) We didn’t even play! It was very funny. They’re a wild band, and you cannot predict what Axl’s going to do. You never can.
I have read that you intend to release a country album…
Where did you read that? Did you read that on Wikipedia?
Not only on Wikipedia, I think there was a news about that a year ago…
Maybe a couple of years ago I might have said something like that, but that’s not happening. I’m not doing a country album. I did a television show called “Gone Country”, here in America, with John Rich from Big And Rich, and I won the show. I did a video for the song “Battle With The Bottle”, with which I won. We did another song, “Jumping Off The Wagon”, which will be on the deluxe version of Kicking & Screaming. But that’s it, as far as country goes. I’m not doing a country album. Rock’n’roll has taken over. Kicking & Screaming is coming out in Europe on September 24th, and then there’s a deluxe edition, with a DVD that has the three videos that we shot for the record and an hour-long live concert from around the world, with pro shot, five-camera-angle on the video and pro tools on the sound board. It’s a fucking amazing DVD, it’s really good, I’m really proud of it. Then we’re also putting out the record on vinyl, with a gatefold sleeve, which is really amazing in this day and age. I collect vinyl, so I’m really happy with that. I can’t wait to see the album cover all fucking big and colorful on the record, I’m very excited about that. We are tentatively booking a tour right now for Europe in January and February, so hopefully we’ll see you in France then.
Are you going to play in Lyons?
I don’t know, not a lot of band play there. But if you guys want to book me, I’ll play there! It’s kind of a smaller town, but I hope so. I’ll play anywhere, dude!
It’s the second city in France after Paris!
OK, I’m there, dude! I’m there, I’d love to play in Lyons! Anytime!
Interview conducted on August, 16th, 2011 by phone.
Transcription by Saff.
Sebastian Bach's official website : www.sebastianbach.com
This post is also available in: French