Backspin: Sebastian Bach on His Discography and Why ‘Heavy Metal Is for Life’

Lyndsey Parker

If you’re a rock ’n’ roll fan who came of age in the ’80s, then you probably partied to “18 and Life” or “Youth Gone Wild” — two massive singles from Skid Row’s quintuple-platinum self-titled debut, one of the best-selling albums in Atlantic Records history. And you definitely slow-danced at your prom to Skid Row’s “I Remember You,” one of the most beloved power ballads of all time.

Of course, there was always more to Skid Row than just the big MTV hits, and in Yahoo Music’s Backspin interview covering his Skid Row and solo discographies, ex-Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach admits: “At the time it bugged us that we were just known as a ballad band because of our singles ‘18 and Life’ and ‘I Remember You.’ But you know, as time goes by, who cares about that kind of stuff? Just the fact that you made a song that somebody likes? That’s good enough.”

Sebastian Bach photo by Paul Rosales

Interestingly, Bach tells Yahoo Music that “I Remember You” almost wasn’t good enough for his bandmates Rachel Bolan and Dave Sabo, who “thought that the song was too wimpy. You know, we wanted to be tough guys, punks, metalheads!” Bolan and Sabo fought to keep the song off Skid Row, so Bach asked the band’s then-manager Doc McGhee (famous for also working with KISS, Bon Jovi, and Motley Crue) to check out the song during a rehearsal. “So we did it, and Doc was laughing the whole time. I didn’t know if he thought it sucked. But at the end of the song he said, ‘Ha ha ha. That’s on the record.’” And the rest was history.

“I mean, Carrie Underwood does [“I Remember You”] now. It’s a cross-platform smash hit song,” says Bach. “I’ve seen Carrie Underwood’s cover on YouTube. It is fantastic. She has a whole background vocal section where they have choreography to it. She hits every scream, all that ending heavy metal stuff. She kills it.

“Also, in the [Australian] issue of Rolling Stone magazine, they ask Norah Jones, ‘What song was it that made you want to be a rock star?’ And her answer was ‘I Remember You’ by Skid Row! That’s Norah Jones. She tells this story that she had a crush on this metalhead dude, so she tried to get into metal, but she couldn’t get into it. But she loved ‘I Remember You,’ so she made a mixtape with that song starting out and gave it to him. And she says whenever she hears our song, she gets a wave of — I hate to say it — nostalgia.”

Still, despite their first album’s pop-crossover success, Skid Row took a risk and got heavier and harder on their landmark sophomore album, Slave to the Grind. “I remember specifically when ‘I Remember You’ was a big hit on MTV, we were playing in Daytona Beach. I was walking around on the beach before the gig, and two guys were walking around and they recognized me, and they started going, “IIIII reeemember yoooooouuu,” like mocking me,” Bach recalls. “But I was, like, mocking myself with them — because I was sick of me, too.

“We knew there was a lot of goofy bands in metal at the time … and we were bugged by them, too. So our way of being different than all the goofy bands was to be pretty much a real heavy metal band.”

Bach admits “there was pressure from our label to repeat the success of the first record, but we knew what we had to do. And then we had people in the industry years later say, ‘You guys were ahead of your time. You knew what you were doing back then.’ Because not a lot of bands would have gotten heavier on their second album.” Slave to the Grind became the first metal album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, in 1991, and it was the first No. 1 album of the SoundScan era.

“Still to this day, when I hear [Slave to the Grind’s opening track] ‘Monkey Business,’ it crushes my skull,” Bach says proudly. “I have to hold my head in my hands and go, ‘How do you ever beat that one right there?’ That is a monster jam. I defy you to put that on and not bang your f***in’ head. I remember Lars Ulrich [of Metallica] being in the studio with me when I cut that vocal. I was literally looking at him, going, ‘I’m gonna show you somethin’ right now, buddy.’ I asked him, ‘How is it?’ He said, ‘It’s roaring.’”

Unfortunately, despite all this success, by the time Skid Row got around to recording their third album (and their final one with Bach), Subhuman Race, everything was falling apart. “There were a lot of tensions. I wasn’t as aware of it as the other guys were, I guess,” chuckles Bach. “I never thought we would break up, because we were so big. I didn’t know you could make it that big and then just say, ‘F*** it, man.’

“Our last show was in Rio de Janeiro on the Monsters of Rock tour in 1996, with Motorhead and Biohazard and Mercyful Fate, King Diamond — all these scary metal bands. And the crowd didn’t like us on this bill. And that was our last show.” Skid Row was offered one more gig, opening for Bach’s childhood heroes KISS, but when the rest of the band turned it down, that was the last straw. “I left these s***ty messages on their answering machines, and they called me up and said, ‘You don’t have a band anymore.’ So I took that as, ‘I guess I’m out of the band.’ Because that was the only band I was in!”

Bach took his firing in stride at the time. “How did I handle it? We had just sold about 20 million records, and I had a 3.5-acre estate. So I watched videos, I drank a lot of beer, I smoked the best weed in the world. I was pretty set, y’know? It wasn’t like I was sad in my big house with a bunch of money in the bank. I was concerned, maybe. But I had just made it big. I was eating at Italian restaurants and partying.”

Bach’s ousting from Skid Row coincided with the rise of alternative rock and grunge, when almost all bands of the genre dubbed “hair-metal” (a tag Bach despises) were falling by the wayside. But Bach wasn’t sad about that musical changing-of-the-guard, either. “I know you want me to answer, ‘Oh, I was so sad,'” he says, “but I don’t care about other bands. I have a voice that has a life of its own… Metal laughs at this s***. Grunge? Bye. Techno? Later! Boy bands? What’s the name of your band again? Heavy metal is not a fad. Heavy metal is for life.”

When asked if the original Skid Row lineup would ever reunite, Bach, who says he hears that question “a thousand times every f***in’ day,” quips: “I am open to singing the same songs that I sing every night with a different bass player, yes. I can do it! I can handle the situation! If they wanna go around to every town in the world and collect cash, they can give me a buzz.” But, he adds, “It’s between the managers at this point. I don’t know what to say. There’s no words I can make, coming out of mouth, that can change the situation. … Someday maybe all of us will realize that collectively we were a force that had a real kind of chemistry, possibly more than without each other.”

Bach covers all of this and much more in his new memoir, 18 and Life on Skid Row, but he skips over some of the juicier, more sordid details of his ’80s rock-star exploits. “There is a section on my computer hard drive which is called ‘Cut Out of Book.’ This isn’t really a tell-all book. It’s a tell-some book,” he laughs. So, what’s hidden on his hard drive? “I did write down a lot of sex. In my brain, before I wrote it down, I thought, ‘This’ll be killer in my book! This’ll be great!’ And then I’m reading it back, and it’s like, ‘Then she unzipped my fly and reached in for my manhood…” And I’m like, ‘What the f***? This is like being trapped on a tour bus with Billy Bush and the president. You’re like a creep! Get this out of your book, dude. This is gross.’”

Watch all of Sebastian Bach’s multipart, in-depth Backspin interview for talk about the time he blew out his voice, his friendship with Axl Rose, his short-lived alt-rock band with the Breeders’ Kelley Deal and Smashing Pumpkins’ Jimmy Chamberlain, why it’s hard for him to listen to his lyrically dark last two solo albums, and more.

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