Ever since the self-titled debut album by US hard Rockers Skid Row in 1989, the towering figure of lead vocalist Sebastian Bach has caught the eye and the ear with his fantastic vocal delivery.
'Slave To The Grind' provided a soundtrack to thousands of people as they tackled everyday life and challenges with a title track that was irresistible and simultaneously uncompromising, whilst moments like 'Get The Fuck Out', 'Monkey Busness' and 'Riot Act' spat in the faces of the naysayers and complacent.
After recording a very different sounding album in the form of 'Subhuman Race' which definitely improves over time, Sebastian moved on to other ventures as the Skid Row we knew went on to find Johnny Solinger and the parting of the ways benefitted both. Being a fan of Sebastian's solo output ranging from his cover version of an AC/DC classic 'Little Lover' (for an AC/DC tribute album) to his many varied contributions on other recordings, eventually culminating in a series of three solo studio albums – 'Angel Down', 'Kicking & Screaming' and 'Give 'Em Hell', I had trouble containing my joy at being given the opportunity to chat with the good man himself on behalf of the mighty MetalTalk.
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Offiical video for 'Temptation'
It was a mild evening in the UK when I called him, and he greeted my voice with a contented demeanour. It felt like there was a lot going on at his end as dogs occasionally barked and sporadically I'd hear other voices in the background. I discovered during the course of the conversation that his fiancée Minnie Gupta was in close attendance which may well have added to his overall positive and upbeat tone.
I began by asking about the title of the new studio album 'Give 'Em Hell'. Why did he settle on it?
Sebastian: "I look for titles that are fun to say and roll off the tongue and I like saying give 'em hell. It's like an expression from comic books or like the 60s of like go in there and give 'em hell. It's kind of the way I feel when I go on a stage, I walk up there and I look at the crowd and I give 'em hell. Just kind of an energetic, fun expression that means go in there and give it all you've got – that's pretty much what rock'n'roll is to me."
I then pushed him a little further and enquired why he hadn't used this title before now.
Sebastian: "Good titles are rare, they're not easy to come by. I'm always looking for titles and I jot them down. My last record 'Kicking & Screaming' that title I had for ten years! But we came up with that song and I was looking for a title for that and I just scrolled through my list of ideas and that popped right out. I think part of being a writer is being organised and if you have an idea no matter where you are or what you're doing, if you're organised enough to jot it down and have it accessible at a later point then I think you're ahead of the game."
With my adrenaline rushing through my system, I confirmed the importance of the right album title and how it translates to the person who may be considering buying it. I found myself conjuring up an album title as an example which came out in enthusiastic fashion as 'Stick It Up Your Arse!'
Sebastian: "Hang on, hang on, I've got to write that down! What is that title? Was that 'Stick It Up Your Arse!'... I'm very organised; you'll have to give me a second 'cos I've got to write that down. I might use that at a later date. It's got a good ring to it..."
We're both giggling at this point and to think we've only just begun our conversation. (I was blushing, but don't tell Sebastian, we'll keep that as a secret between you and I).
Sebastian: "A good title to an album is essential. The title of the album should be something that's easy to remember and has a ring to it and flows off the tongue. That's all I have to say about that."
Noting the line-up for the recording of this latest studio album, I asked how this band came to be when approaching the recording of 'Give 'Em Hell'.
Sebastian: "'Temptation' is with John 5 on guitar and he has reinvented electric guitar for this day and age kind of like Eddie Van Halen did in the 70s, and Dimebag did in the early 90s. John 5 is the consummate professional guitar player of this day and age and he's so in demand. He is writing right now with Rod Stewart, Tony Bennett; all these unbelievable musicians. We did a song on 'Kicking & Screaming' called 'Tunnelvision' that everybody loved, so he was a natural choice for the next record."
He pauses for a brief moment and selects the next musician to talk about.
Sebastian: "Steve Stevens from Billy Idol's band - I've always wanted to work with him since about twenty years ago. He's an incredible guitar player, so talented. We did a radio show about a year ago or something live on Los Angeles radio, me and Steve Stevens and he sat down and started playing this flamenco acoustic passage on the guitar and I was just blown away. It's online - you can go and see it. He's an incredibly talented guitar player.
"Then Duff (McKagan), you know I've been a fan of Duff since 1987 when I first heard 'Appetite For Destruction' and when I'm shooting a video in 2014 and I look to my left and there's Duff McKagan, that's a very cool feeling. I'm a huge fan and good friend of Duff for many decades, so I'm extremely lucky and fortunate to play with guys of this calibre."
I backed up a bit and posed the question did they come onboard because you asked them?
Sebastian: "I remember on 'Angel Down' people couldn't believe I had Axl singing on three songs and they're like – how did you make that happen?! I just asked him!" He giggles and then adds "That was it; there was nothing else to it."
During a clarification about Axl Rose receiving a co-writing credit on 'Stuck Inside' from the 2007 album 'Angel Down', Sebastian also added "As far as the song 'Harmony' on 'Give 'Em hell' Duff brought in those riffs and I couldn't believe I was the guy to get to sing on them, they're so cool. Then he played bass on the first four songs on the record. Just very lucky what can I say? Totally lucky guy."
I went through my mental gearbox and found myself being philosophical. On the subject of luck I pointed out that surely people make their own?
Sebastian: "Well I don't know. You see I was under a deadline for this record. In the past I would never acknowledge a deadline but the CD industry is so different now who knows how long CDs are gonna last? I was like Sebastian instead of whining and complaining about the deadline, why don't you just meet the deadline?" Laughter breaks out between the two of us again.
Sebastian: "So I didn't know who was going to play bass on the album and before I asked Duff, he was my number one choice, I was like I had to get my nerve up 'cos he could say no! He could say "no thanks!" So who wants to go through that?! I was playing with Aerosmith and Van Halen in Australia and we were on our way to sound-check and I turned to Duff and I go – Hey man do you want to collaborate on some music and play on my record? He goes – what kind of music? And I said – Rude! Just totally rude! And he starts laughing, and he goes Baz I can do dirty. We started laughing and that was that. You can crank it up and can listen to Duff do dirty and me doing rude!"
I then jump in and suggest that he has another album title in there – 'Dirty & Rude'... We both laugh again. (I believe at this point I was suffering a little face ache from the occasion). Sebastian then chimes in with "That'll come after 'Stick It Up Your Arse!'"
I point out that he has worked with the producer Bob Marlette a lot after the giggles have subsided.
Sebastian: "He's a great producer; really helps me with the vocal sound in the studio. I'm always like what button are you pushing to make it sound so good? He's like that's all you dude."
I enquired whether there were any tracks that came out better than he had hoped on 'Give 'Em Hell'.
Sebastian: "There's a song on the record called 'Push Away' and that's a musical idea that Steve Stevens gave me and I got into a lover's quarrel with my lover and I wrote this poem. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I actually did. I wrote this thing called 'Push You Away' because she would say Sebastian, you love me so much it's like an avalanche, you're smothering me and when you love me that much you push me away. I go what a fucked up concept that is - I love you so much that I push you away."
Searching for the right words, Sebastian continues with this thread of thought. "I didn't write that to be on the record, I wrote that because I was bummed out and I just wrote it down – Push you away. When I was making the album I had that scrap of lyrics and thought it would fit with that Steve Stevens music. It really, really did."
One last question about the songs on the new album, I wanted to know about 'All My Friends Are Dead' which exhibits an impressive vocal performance from Mr Bach.
Sebastian: "The title is meant to be taken humorously you know, it's like a funny thing. I had a t-shirt that says all my friends are dead and has the picture of a baby dinosaur on it and every time I'd wear it I'd laugh. And again I'd always try to put lyrics with the music that seemed to fit, the way the music sounds. That just seemed to sound like a haunting musical song; a haunting lyric and a haunting melody."
This conversation as with my other experiences with different musicians had a personality all of its own and was full of a positivity and a sense of fun that I hadn't experienced previously. There was no doubt how contented Sebastian sounded during our chat and how energetic and upbeat he was about this latest studio album. He sent me on a quest at the end of the interview to seek out a copy of an album he sang on, which until my research and preparation for this meeting I had no idea about.
I look forward to wrapping my ears around a progressive rock album called 'An Absence Of Empathy' by Frameshift when it finally arrives in the post. Knowing that there are downloadable versions readily available still doesn't have the association or modest gravitas that a physical copy possesses. Once I hear it, I've been asked to let him know my thoughts. I'm good at keeping my word with such things, so Sebastian, keep an eye open for my feedback.