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Kerby’s Exclusive Interview with Skid Row Bassist Rachel Bolan

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Monday, July 14, 2003 @ 3:52 PM

With Skid Row's First Album Wi

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When Skid Row released their self titled debut in 1989, many MTV bred fans were primarily familiar with the seminal power ballad “I Remember You” or the over the top drama incorporated into the video for “18 and Life.” During this time, nearly every band in mainstream metal was trying to release numerous sultry, chick-friendly songs perfectly suited for heavy rotation on FM radio. As a result, it became difficult at first glance to differentiate Skid Row from its peers. Difficult, that is, until the first song on their impressive debut hit the cassette player and “Big Guns” slammed your woofer into your tweeter and left you standing charred and dazed in the middle of your bedroom wondering just what in the hell you were supposed to do with your lighter now. Skid Row, along with Cinderella, might have been two of the most talented bands to ever get stigmatized during that period. The sad thing is, they remained labeled to a certain extent even though every true metal aficionado knows that there was so much more to their repertoire than ballads that simultaneously made the girls moist and the boys teary-eyed and sentimental.

Although subsequent albums like Slave to the Grind were respectable, Sebastian, Rachel, Snake and company were never quite able to build upon and sustain the momentum that they had started with that first disc. Hell, Bach’s embarrassing shadow punching during the video for “Monkey Business” alone should have been a foreshadowing of what was to come. Eventually, as everyone knows, tastes changed, and the band fell on tough times and anyone who has ever viewed an episode of Behind the Music just knew that inner turmoil and line up changes were sure to follow. Obviously, replacing a vocalist as recognizable as Sebastian Bach while still maintaining the group’s image and credibility was going to be difficult.

The only way the band felt it could deal with this type of dilemma was to try to find someone they could believe in professionally as well as get along with creatively—something that hadn’t happened during the latter days of the Bach era. Once Skid Row found singer Johnny Solinger, they knew they had found someone that they could feel comfortable with even if various trends and the music buying public continued to prove resistant. Now, Skid Row stands poised this summer to release a new disc entitled Thickskin, as well as a DVD which chronicles the last two and a half years in the life of a band committed to playing music and doing what feels natural to them. After all, these days Skid Row doesn’t really have to prove anything to anyone—they’ve already been on MTV and made the youth go wild--so remaining true to their enduring love of music and the belief that they still have some good songs left to write and perform, is basically all that’s left.

KNAC.COM: I know that recently Skid Row had to cancel a show due to inclement weather, and everyone knows that the fans hate that, but is it just as much of a drag for the band as well?
BOLAN: Yeah, it wasn’t even so much the fact that we had traveled over six hundred miles to get there as much as the fact that we had geared ourselves up to play that show. When a tour just starts, you want to go out and play as much as possible. Any time you get to an outdoor venue like that and it’s raining, you just hope that it’ll clear up, but on that day it just kept getting worse and worse. We hate to cancel or postpone shows basically because we just love to play—especially when we’re on the road with someone else who’s doing a short set and we get to do our longer set, it’s really a bummer.

KNAC.COM: You’re currently touring with Vince Neil, and I read something the other day where Nikki Sixx was quoted as saying that Vince plays too much Motley Crue during his sets. When a band kind of splits into separate groups, who—in your view-- has the right to play the old material? For instance, would it be cool if Sebastian went out and just played Skid Row songs?
BOLAN: It’s kinda weird, but for me personally…Motley isn’t doing stuff right now, so why shouldn’t he do it? Whoever is in the band kind of has a right to play certain songs whether they wrote them or not--which was our situation. Snake and I wrote all the material, but we’re in a full-fledged band now, and it would be kind of weird if someone broke off and started doing Skid Row songs. If Sebastian wanted to do it, then yeah, everyone has a right to do it. If someone wanted to go off and start a Skid Row tribute band, then they could do it. Ultimately, it just ends up being a little confusing to the fans. We’re Skid Row, and that’s the name we’ll always have, and we’ll always do Skid Row songs. It doesn’t really affect me one way or the other.

KNAC.COM: There was a show recently where you played the third floor of a club in Everett, Washington. During your set, the lower two levels were evacuated due to safety concerns—how were you guys allowed to continue your set under those circumstances?
BOLAN: We had no idea what was going on, and we were playing. I just happened to look at the front of the stage where the monitors were and then over at the PA stacks, and all of it was just shaking really bad. I thought to myself, “what’s going on here?” Everything just felt so weird—it was just really springy and spongy on stage. Evidently, the support beam on the second level roof—our floor—had sort of broken, and there was a big crack in the ceiling. They decided to evacuate that level and the casino below it, but we were allowed to just keep on playing. I guess they were just like, “let all the rock n’ rollers fall through the ceiling.”

KNAC.COM: In retrospect, how much does that bother you—especially in the wake of the Great White tragedy?
BOLAN: It was just a situation where we didn’t know how bad it was.

KNAC.COM: Don’t you think that the club owners or whoever was privy to this information had an obligation to make you guys aware of the situation?
BOLAN: I was pretty pissed that night after we found out, and I was like, “so we were taking the chance at dropping 500 people through the floor? For what? So somebody could reach their guidelines as far as, you know, how much they promoted the show?”

KNAC.COM: So you think that the possibility of having to give out all those refunds was the primary factor in the information not getting disclosed?
BOLAN: Yeah, but hell, I’d rather give a fan a refund than have something terrible happen. I mean, we’re all about the fans, and that was just a really serious safety issue.

KNAC.COM: Well, when I read that, it was difficult to believe that anyone could think that a situation was serious enough to evacuate the bottom two floors of a building but allow those on the top to continue about their business---at least no one was hurt though.
BOLAN: Yeah, luckily.

KNAC.COM: You alluded to the fans earlier and how much you appreciate them, but was there ever a time when you were riding the highest wave of success maybe, in the late eighties, that you could see that you weren’t as nice or appreciative as you could have been? Or do you think you were able to stay level headed during the whole period?
BOLAN: I think for the most part I was able to keep a level heard, but there were times when…I don’t know…it wasn’t anyone’s fault except human nature. Maybe I’d get up early in the morning to eat breakfast, and I’m not a morning person, and someone could have come up, and maybe I wasn’t as receptive as I could have been. But hell, it could have been my own mom coming up to me right then, and I probably would have been the same way. I never yelled at anyone though unless they really invaded my privacy. Something like when a person walks into my hotel room because they got a key from the front desk—that’s when it crosses the line. But for the most part, people have been pretty cool. There haven’t been any home invasions or anything.

KNAC.COM: Have you noticed your fans growing even more mindful of your space over the years?
BOLAN: Yeah, and I think that part of that is because we’ve seen so many of our fans so many times that they’ve almost become like friends of ours. You still run into the “I’ve got to have all your attention and I’ve got to have it right now” type of fan, every now and then, but for the most part they’re pretty cool.

KNAC.COM: The new album was recorded twice because, and I believe these were your own words, “the first mix didn’t sound like Skid Row.” What does that mean specifically? What did you think it was lacking?
BOLAN: It was lacking the punch or the crunch that Skid Row is known for. It was cool, and it sounded good, but it sounded too….friendly…too nice. It was mainly the guitar tones and the approach to certain things.

KNAC.COM: A little too polished, maybe?
BOLAN: Yeah.

KNAC.COM: So were you going for a bit more of a live sound the second time around?
BOLAN: Yeah, we went in and redid the guitars and just played a lot of the stuff live. We fixed a lot of the little things that needed to be fixed. We just went for the energy level—not perfection.

KNAC.COM: So it wasn’t a case of the material being weak or anything? It was just the way the songs had been executed?
BOLAN: Exactly.

KNAC.COM: How would you characterize the subject matter for the new tunes? Are the themes the same type of fare that fans have come to expect, or have you branched out into different areas?
BOLAN: A little bit of both. Skid Row has always been either lumped in with the wrong genre or we’ve just always been kind of an underdog. We still feel that way, so that’s the perspective that we write from, but there is also some deeper stuff here that isn’t just like “oh baby baby” ballads or that kind of crap. I really think that this new album is a lot deeper than most Skid Row albums are, but the essence of the band is still there.

KNAC.COM: What would you say that is? I mean, if you had to put it in a microcosm?
BOLAN: If I had to put it on a t-shirt, I’d just say that it stands for being yourself, and if you’re a creative person, create what you want to create and don’t let anybody dictate it for you.

KNAC.COM: How hard was it for you to maintain that sensibility in the early nineties when public tastes began to change and musical tastes began to change? Was there a part of you that thought that maybe you should move on to doing something else?
BOLAN: The thought would cross, but I couldn’t just abandon what I was doing and go, “I want to be a country music writer.”

KNAC.COM: You mean you didn’t want to follow in Ron Keel’s footsteps?
BOLAN: Well, maybe I could or maybe I couldn’t, but I couldn’t just abandon what I was doing. If I’m just plucking around on an acoustic guitar and something comes out that sounds like it might have come from a country song, then that’s one thing, but to just switch because I was part of a so-called dead genre wasn’t something I was going to do. I wasn’t just going to go off to Nashville and start writing country. It has to be a natural process—not forced.

”I am happier now with this band regardless of the amount of success that we may or may not have than I’ve ever been.”
KNAC.COM: Is there a part of you that wishes Skid Row would have come out about three or four years before it did, so that maybe you could have enjoyed some more mainstream type success?
BOLAN: No, because I think that everything happens for a reason. I am happier now with this band regardless of the amount of success that we may or may not have than I’ve ever been. We’re all really happy, and it feels the way a band should feel. We can just go out on a club run—in a van—and just love it. We can just totally do things old school and do it ourselves and it just feels gratifying.

KNAC.COM: How new of a feeling is that for you? Is it even better than when you were selling more albums?
BOLAN: Absolutely. There’s no question.

KNAC.COM: Does that have more to do with your personal maturation? The band’s? Or does it have more to do with certain line-up changes?
BOLAN: The line-up issue was sure a big part of it. It was just one of those things where you could have all of the success in the world, but if you’re not happy doing it, then what’s the point? I got into playing because it just happened. It wasn’t anything planned. Now, we’re just making music to be creative and to just play just for the love.

KNAC.COM: You can see all the bands touring now, and do you think that the majority of them share your enthusiasm? Do you think they are in it for similar reasons or do you think it may be more economically motivated?
BOLAN: It may be both. I can’t really speak for other bands, but as for Skid Row, we wouldn’t have gone through recording the new album twice so that it could get released by the end of July if it wasn’t just for the fact that this is what we do. This is what we love to do. If we really wanted to cop out, we could just go and put the old band back together and just be miserable again. That isn’t even to say that that would pay off economically. It just wouldn’t be worth it.

KNAC.COM: How is it when you first start writing with a new vocalist?
BOLAN: Well, Johnny’s just a really great springboard for ideas. He has a different approach to writing things, and I think it really came across in the recording.

KNAC.COM: In what way? Was it just a more collaborative type effort?
BOLAN: It just has to do with the way Johnny sings. He’s a very soulful type singer, great rock n’ roll singer—he’s almost a crooner at times. He definitely has a cool way of singing. Sometimes the way he would sing a melody might take the song in a whole new direction. It just worked out really well.

KNAC.COM: Did you know many of the songs on the first Skid Row album were going to live on for years and years and be important to so many people?
BOLAN: No, man. You never know--you want them to. Hell, me and Snake didn’t even want “I Remember You” on the album.

KNAC.COM: Why? Did you think it was a little too mellow? Was it a stereotype issue?
BOLAN: Yeah, at that time it was like every video you saw was a power ballad. We were afraid of getting lumped in with those guys. We didn’t want to be a power ballad band—we wanted to be a rock and roll band. Our manager and some of the others were like, “you guys are way too close to this song--it has to be on the record.” Eventually they convinced us, and I’m pretty glad we put it on the record. When it comes down to it, I’m really proud of that song. Sometimes, we’ll be on stage and we’ll be playing it, and the whole crowd will be singing it and Johnny and Snake will have chills on their arms. I just look at them and think, “we did good.” It just goes beyond having a commercial hit, and it becomes part of peoples’ lives. You know, you look out and see a guy put his arm around his girlfriend. You may see two buddies swaying back and forth because it was their high school graduation song. It just went way beyond our expectations.

KNAC.COM: Do you still get letters or emails about that song specifically?
BOLAN: Even though we play it every night, we still get people asking us, “You are going to play ‘I Remember You’ tonight, right?” People will ask if we could dedicate it to a friend of theirs who just passed away. Even though I didn’t want it on the record, whenever I look out at that crowd, I’m just like, “Whew, thank God.”

KNAC.COM: Let’s say, the first time you played it with Johnny rather than Sebastian, was it strange? Were you cognizant of the difference?
BOLAN: Well, it just felt natural. It mostly has to do with his approach to things. It’s just that southern soul. It brought new life to it.

KNAC.COM: Is he just as excited about singing it? Is there ever a sense of “that’s old material”?
BOLAN: No, no, no. He knew what he was getting into, and he was up for the challenge. Obviously, the band has had it’s previous success and all that shit, but he still managed to take the song and make it his own. I’m not saying that he changed the melody or the arrangement or anything, he just did something to it, and the people love it. He does everything the people expect with it, but he just does something else to it as well.

KNAC.COM: When you were gathering material for the upcoming DVD, did you find yourself not doing certain things because of the cameras, or did you just do whatever you wanted and figured that they could edit it out later?
BOLAN: Being the ultra private person that I am, it really bothered me at first. I found myself kind of avoiding it. Finally though, I just said, “Screw it,” and I got used to it being around. After awhile, I just forgot about it, and then I got to the point where I thought, “If I fart, I’ll just have them edit it out later.”

KNAC.COM: Was it strange to go back and look at the film afterwards?
BOLAN: I had forgot just how much we had filmed. There was about sixty or seventy hours worth of footage. Everybody had went through about three different hair colors and the seasons changing and all that made it weird. It was cool though because you’d be like, “Hey, remember that?” It affected me because of all the things that we did in that two and a half year period. We got a new singer, and we got a new drummer. We went on tour with Kiss, and we went on the “Rock Never Stops Tour” as well as two of our own tours while recording the new album twice. I mean, when you live in an apartment, and it’s lease time, you’re like, “has it been a year already?” After looking at the film, we were just realized how much work we had packed into that time. It was gratifying too because we realize that we’re right where we want to be.

KNAC.COM: Was touring with Kiss pretty much everything someone would expect that it would be?
BOLAN: Pretty much.

KNAC.COM: Really?
BOLAN: I watched them just about every night. Those guys were really, really great to us.

KNAC.COM: Was there a lot of interaction backstage or were they kind of separated from everyone?
BOLAN: No, Gene would always come in and tell us the daily joke, which was usually some bad joke that my dad probably told me when I was a kid. Paul would always hang out and ask us what we were doing that night or what we did last night. That kind of thing. It was just cool shit. Peter and Ace were Peter and Ace. We saw them occasionally. Peter is a funny guy though—he has a great sense of humor. We’re both bands from the northeast, and even though they were like our idols growing up, they were still pretty easy to talk to.

KNAC.COM: Even the first time?
BOLAN: The first time I met Gene was in LA, and that freaked me right out. I was thinking, “Oh, my God! I’m speaking to the God of Thunder.” We were talking about session bass players, and we were talking shop, and I was thinking, “This is pretty cool.”

KNAC.COM: Does it ever occur to you that maybe sometimes when you talk to someone—whether it's a kid or an adult—that maybe they have butterflies talking to you? Maybe meeting you is a similar experience for them?
BOLAN: There’s a scene on the DVD about just that. I had told Gene, “I know you hear this constantly, but you’re the reason I started playing bass.” I didn’t know what his reaction was going to be because I’m always a little bit scared to say something to the people who are my influences. But what he did was, he said to me, “Some day, some kid is going to tell you that exact same thing.” It just so happened that someone did come up to me, and they did say that. We caught the whole moment on film. It couldn’t have worked out better. When that does happen, I just think about how cool that is. To think that you might have that kind of affect on a person is amazing.

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