As 'Skid Row' Turns 30, Sebastian Bach Preps for a Tour and Reflects on His Past
The singer says his former band's self-titled debut "has a life of its own."
“You only get so many 30-year anniversaries.”
So says former Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach on why he’ll perform the rock band’s 1989 self-titled debut album in its entirety on a solo tour, despite a contentious 1996 split from the band and lingering animosity that has hindered a reunion.
The idea for the tour percolated when, in January, Rhino Records released a remastered 30th-anniversary digital deluxe edition of the multiplatinum album, expanded with a bonus track and previously unreleased live recordings.
“It’s like it’s from a different time,” says Bach, 51. And indeed, 30 years is the span of a generation.
Since the release of Skid Row, grunge was born, nu-metal had its moment, emo experienced mainstream success, and rap rose to worldwide domination. But the appeal of songs like “Youth Gone Wild,” “18 and Life” and “I Remember You” endures.
“The music has a life of its own,” says Bach. “When people hear it, they get an overwhelming sense of nostalgia, which you can take as a compliment or cringe. People especially have a lot of memories attached to ‘I Remember You,’ which was the No. 1 prom song in 1990, according to USA Today.”
The Canadian-raised Bach was 19 when he joined the New Jersey-based band after a chance encounter at a wedding with Jon Bon Jovi’s parents. (Bon Jovi was childhood friends with Skid Row guitarist Dave “The Snake” Sabo and helped launch the group’s career.)
Not long after, the band was in the studio recording its fateful debut, which peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard 200, was certified five-times platinum by the RIAA and spawned the three aforementioned Billboard Hot 100 hits. (Skid Row’s 1991 sophomore set, Slave to the Grind, was the first heavy metal album in the SoundScan era to debut at No. 1.)
“One thing that really stands out about the recording process is that, in those days, the record company would fly the band to some exotic locale to get away from distractions and find inspiration. So they flew us to middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin -- Lake Geneva -- to Hugh Hefner’s original Playboy club, which had been converted into a recording studio,” recalls Bach. “We rode jet skis on the lake, went to concerts at Alpine Valley and went to Six Flags. It was like living in the Duran Duran ‘Rio’ video, which sounds like a totally different world now that people make music in their basements and bedrooms.”
Another thing that's changed when it comes to making an album? “We used to think about stuff like the sequence of the record: What song was going to open side two [of a cassette] was very important, as was what song would end the album. All this stuff we thought about seems ancient now in the age of streaming and playlists. But we used to really plan that stuff out, as we did on this record.”
Despite their bad-boy image and infamous hard-partying ways, Bach is quick to point out that they were “pretty good boys” while making the album. “As far as I remember, ‘Sweet Little Sister’ was the only song we smoked a joint before [recording]. That behavior was verboten by our producer, Michael Wagener. Plus it was 1988 and still very, very illegal.”
First single “Youth Gone Wild” made a splash on MTV, back when Headbanger’s Ball and Dial MTV were must-watch TV. And standing at a gangly, leather-clad 6-foot-4 with long golden blond hair, chiseled cheekbones and a multi-octave voice, Bach himself also made quite an impression. The band had a sound hard-edged enough for guys and a lead singer pretty enough for girls, who were the bread and butter of late-’80s and early-’90s glam metal. (Just don’t call it “hair metal”: “That is the goofiest term,” says Bach. “There was no such term in 1989. It was just rock’n’roll. ‘Hair metal’ was coined by a late-night, late-’90s infomercial.”)
Second single “18 and Life” was the band’s biggest mainstream hit, peaking at No. 4 on the Hot 100. But based on virtually nonstop rotation on MTV, an argument could be made that “I Remember You” (No. 6) is its signature song. A song that, if it were up to other members of the band -- which consisted of Bach, Sabo, guitarist Scotti Hill, bassist Rachel Bolan and drummer Rob Affuso at the time -- would not have made it onto the album. According to his 2016 memoir, 18 and Life on Skid Row, Bach says Bolan especially thought the song was “too soft” and didn’t fit their tough-guy image. Bach and then-manager Doc McGhee thought otherwise -- and won.
Despite two power ballads being its biggest hits, Skid Row fell more musically in line with Guns N’ Roses than, say, Poison. Yet it still often gets lumped in with other “hair metal” bands.
“It used to bother me,” admits Bach, “because I’ve played 100 times more shows with Guns N’ Roses than Poison. But when you get older, things change. I’m not an angry young man anymore. Now I’m just proud to be associated with musicians who go out and headline sheds every single summer. I make a great living touring on these songs.”
When he hits the road on Aug. 29 for his 45-city U.S. tour celebrating the album’s anniversary, fans will hear songs that haven’t seen the light of day in three decades -- if ever. “I don’t think I’ve ever sang ‘Can’t Stand the Heartache’ live before. And I haven’t done songs like ‘Midnight’ and ‘Makin’ a Mess’ in quite a long time. But then there are songs that I’ve been doing for 30 years, like ‘18 and Life,’ which I love, especially since I can still do it. We haven’t tuned it down, and it feels good to still hit the high notes.”
In June, Bach extended a public invitation to his former bandmates to join him onstage. So far, only one has accepted: Affuso, who left the band in 1998. (Skid Row, which remains active, currently comprises Sabo, Bolan, Hill, drummer Rob Hammersmith and singer ZP Theart.)
Bach has not been in a room with his former bandmates (aside from Affuso) in 23 years because, he says, “they fucking hate me.” But he’s still hoping a reunion is in the cards someday. “For the fans, and for me as a fan, yes, I’d like to do it. My father died at age 57, and his father also died at 57 -- and every time I go online, somebody in rock is dying or getting cancer or just getting too old to do it anymore. I don’t know if I’ll be around for the next 30 years, so why not do it while I’m still physically capable?”
What would it take to get to that point? “If they’d just let my manager, Rick Sales, take them out to dinner, the [original] band would be on the road again. But they don’t like dealing with managers. Unlike them, it is physically and mentally impossible for me to be mad at somebody for so long -- 23 years! That’s like being mad at someone from grade school. But it’s a thin line between love and hate. I don’t love anything about the situation now with the band. But I love everything about when the album came out.”
For information about tour dates, visit sebastianbach.com.