Sebastian Bach: Rock Ní Rollís a Vicious Game

By Jeb Wright

Sebastian Bach is as much known for his personality as he is for being a rock star.  He was at the helm as the front man of ‘80s bad boys Skid Row, but it only took a few years and a little success before band members took sides which destroyed the band.  Bach was the only one in Skid Row that took his own side.  Left to his own devices, he went on as a solo artist and then branched out in television and Broadway, both of which worked out well for him. 

Bach has had his problems… problems with drinking… problems with women… problems with saying stupid things… problems with throwing tantrums.  Yet, despite these problems, he is still standing tall in 2014, ready to release what is hands-down the best solo album he has ever recorded. 

Give ‘Em Hell is a heavy slab of rock and roll…the kind that made Bach famous.  The album is solid.  It’s loud.  It rocks.  Bach’s voice sounds amazing.  After all of the B.S., Sebastian is a professional singer.  He does not just ‘wing it’.  He practices.  He keeps himself in shape, now more than ever, as Give ‘Em Hell is the first album in his career that he has recorded sober.  The result will have his true fans raising fists of joy, while his detractors will have to stand quietly as Bach has done what Joe Perry of Aerosmith advised us a long time ago… let the music do the talking.

In the following interview, Bach discusses the album in detail.  He opens up about how Kiss saved his life and is responsible for his love of music, and how he just can’t sing a song that he doesn’t love. 

This is an open and honest chat with one of hard rock’s most famous front men.

Jeb: Dude, you remade “Rock N’ Roll is a Vicious Game” by April Wine.  I am the biggest April Wine fan in the world.  Why did you choose that song?

Sebastian: Well, cool.  I chose that song because of the lyrics.  I specifically chose that song to sing because I’ve been doing this for twenty or thirty years now, and I meet so many young musicians.  Actually, not even musicians, but young people that get into rock and roll and one thing that I have found nowadays, is that these young people that I meet or work with, have this huge sense of entitlement.  Just because they play in a rock band, they don’t understand why they don’t have a mansion, or a fucking helicopter, and they whine and moan.  I am like, “Isn’t it a pity.  Isn’t it a shame?  No one ever warned the boy, rock and roll is a vicious game.” 

Jeb:  Myles [Goodwyn] was singing that thirty years ago and now you have found a truth in that song today.

Sebastian: It might have been a different meaning for him, but for me, it is like I have always felt so lucky to be able to sing rock and roll for a living.  It is a dream come true for me.  I, myself, never feel like anything was owed to me.  I am like grateful to rock and I understand what it means.  It is a hard physical thing to go on tour.  It is hard mentally to do it decade after decade.  You really have to understand that rock and roll is a vicious game or you won’t last very long.

Jeb: The last time I talked with Zakk Wylde he was telling me these young bands are like, “I think we will just do what Black Label Society did.  That would be cool.”  He was like “Fuck you.  I worked twenty years on BLS.”

Sebastian: Exactly.  You know, I think it has something to do with technology.  I will record in the studio with younger guys and I will sing the first chorus to a song and they will look up at me and they will go, “You’re done.”  I am like, “What?”  They go, “We’ve got it.  We are just going to cut and paste from here.”  I tell them, “No we’re not.”  I’ve actually gotten in arguments with kids telling me that they don’t have time to sing the whole song.  I am like, “You sit the fuck down and let me take you to fucking school.  This isn’t about cut and paste; this is about fucking rock and roll.” 

I meet a lot of musicians that are very talented, but it is hard for them to get to the lobby at eight in the morning to get to the airport.  It doesn’t matter how talented you are if you can’t be on time, or be dependable.  I don’t see what the point is of practicing in your room your entire life and then missing the flight to the gig.  That shit doesn’t work with me.  If I tell you I am going to play, then nothing is going to stop me.  I just consider myself lucky and that song, the lyrics, are kind of directed to people who have a big sense of entitlement.  We’re very lucky to do this for a living.  That really is why I chose that song.

Jeb: I got very excited about it and I have jammed on it a hundred times.

Sebastian: I love that you’ve listened to it over and over.  I’ve done some interviews with journalists who say they are playing the record and then that song comes on and look over to the stereo and think, “Is this same record?”  They are like ‘there is a harmonica on there’.  Nobody tells me what instruments to use.  If I want a harmonica, then I will put a fucking harmonica on there. 

Jeb: I remember going to the record store and buying all of these April Wine albums.

Sebastian: If you want to talk about April Wine, I am a giant fan.  The song “I Like to Rock” is pure Sebastian Bach attitude that I learned that I was a little kid.  (singing) “I like to rock… some like it hot… I like it you like it… I like to rock.”  Maybe I’ll cover that song on the next album.

Jeb: That would be cool…

Sebastian: Let me keep talking about April Wine.  I also love the song, “Come on, come on, come on baby, come on and love me tonight…Oowatanite..” that song is incredible, “Oowatanite.” I love “All Over Town” off of Nature of the Beast.  And “Roller” how can I forget that one?  I love all of that music.

Jeb: You do have some songs in your past, like April Wine.  What I mean by that is not that you copy them but that you both have songs that are not rocket science.  They are standard chords, a great hook, a decent solo and tons of attitude. 

Sebastian:  I lose myself in my music that I make.  When my album is done, like the album you’ve been listening too, I have listened to that for every day for over a year and that is not an exaggeration.  Some of my fans love “18 and Life,” “I Remember You” and “Monkey Business” and I love all of that too.  They think these great songs are an accident.  It is no accident; it is a lot of hours and attention to detail. 

I can go in and make a record and just put it out, but I need to love it with all of my heart in order to not go crazy.  Nobody can take away the pride I have when I listen to Give 'Em Hell.  It is right up there with Slave to the Grind for me as a music fan.  The producer, Bob Marlette, helps me so much and he captures my voice on the record.  I can’t believe how he makes it sound. 

Jeb: There a lot of people on the internet that love to hate you.  I think your solo career has been hit and miss.  Some I like better than others.  On Give 'Em Hell I admit your voice is stronger than ever.  This sounds as good as the Skid Row days, man. 

Sebastian:  That’s cool man.  You’re not hurting my feelings.  A lot of people have different opinions.  Some journalists tell me they like Angel Down the best and some of them tell me they like Kicking & Screaming the best.  If I have different journalist telling me they like different albums as the best one, then I win. 

Jeb: The haters are going to say, “Bach sounds too good.  He’s got to be doctoring his voice.”

Sebastian: If somebody thinks it’s an expression of hate to tell me that I sound too good then they have got to do better than that.  That is my voice.  If you’ve been listening to me since my first album…I wasn’t doing anything on my first album in the studio.  I am not sure what ‘doctoring up my voice’ even means.  What do they think I am going to do to it?

Jeb:  My guess is that you worked very hard on the recording of this album.

Sebastian: I worked extremely hard, but anybody that wants to say something weird… well…  Number one, I don’t know what that means because that is me singing.  Number two, if somebody says I sound too good, I will just play them “Quicksand Jesus” or “Living on a Chain Gang.”  Every song of mine sounds great, so that is not a fluke, and if somebody thinks there is some kind of robot in the studio instead of me then I can’t do that on a Broadway stage, starring in not one Broadway show, but in four Broadway shows.  I don’t star in Jesus Christ Superstar eight shows a week for six months and not know how to sing.  You don’t star in Broadway shows if you’re faking it.  I don’t get that.  I didn’t do just one, I did fucking four Broadway shows.  Don’t talk to me about singing until you star in three or four Broadway shows (laughing).

Jeb: One of your strengths is that you a have a unique sound to your voice in a genre and a time period that does not have a lot of unique sounding vocalists. 

Sebastian: The way I sing is not the typical heavy metal way.  I don’t shout and yell.  I save all of my power for those high screams.  I know how to focus my energy into those high screams.  Sometimes, if you watch me on YouTube and I am yelling at the monitor man, it is because it is frustrating, on a rock and roll stage, for me, because, if I am in a situation where I am yelling over the drum kit, or the bass amp, then I am not singing.  If I come off like I am mad at the fucking monitor man it’s because when I am doing a record like Give 'Em Hell, I am singing in the studio and I am not shouting over the cymbals or the drum kit.  You know what I’m saying? 

When you say I have a unique sound, then I have to remind you that the sound on a song like “I’ll Remember You” is not yelling, its singing and it is different than shouting at the top of your lungs.  It is a totally different style, and that is how I got to do Broadway.  I know how to do that, but when I listen to Give 'Em Hell, I could not be more proud of my voice.  If somebody wants to put me down by telling me I sound too good, then the jokes on you (laughter).

Jeb: We are close in age.  I have parts of my body that I need to take care of and I am not a professional singer.  Do you have a regimen to keep your voice in shape?

Sebastian:  There is a vocal scale called Bel canto that is an old method of singing that was taught to me by a guy named Don Lawrence in New York City that Jon Bon Jovi sent me to in 1987.  This style of singing is used by guys like Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera, Dee Snyder and others.  We all use this same scale.  It is just like going to the gym.  I also sing along, when I am getting ready to go on tour, to old Steve Perry records like Journey.  I sing along to Judas Priest records because of Rob Halford.  Those high notes that I am known for…I can only really find those on a couple of records. 

Another great album that has incredible screams on it is by a band called Malice.  The album is called In the Beginning.  If you really want to find out the origins of my vocal style, then go dig up Malice In the Beginning and you will notice a lot of Skid Row-Sebastian Bach style vocals on that. 

Jeb:  You have some famous guys playing with you on this record.  Oops, I called it a record.

Sebastian: This is a record.  Oh yeah, it is a record, man.  Duff McKagan played the bass on half of the record and he also played the guitar on the songs “Harmony” which he wrote the music and brought to me.  This is like Guns ‘N Roses meets Skid Row.  It is Duff’s riffs and my voice and it is fucking crazy sounding to me; it’s so cool.  He not only plays on the record and is in the videos, he introduced me to the guitar player Devin Bronson, who is on most of the record.  He hooked me up with that guy, and he is also in my live band, which is killer.

Steve Stevens gave me three songs.  He is unbelievable as a musician.  He gave me three songs right off the bat and John 5 gave me the song “Temptation.”  We did a song on Kicking & Screaming called “Tunnel Vision” that everybody really dug.  “Temptation” is the first video.  That song has Duff on bass with John 5 on guitar; my girl Minnie [Gupta] cast the video and brought in all of her friends.  The song is called “Temptation,” and I think every man is going to feel temptation when he sees this video.  Wait till you see this one.  This is my favorite video I have ever done.

Jeb: It is great to hear you genuinely excited about this album. 

Sebastian: I can’t release it if I am not excited about it. 

Jeb: Yeah, but I’ve talked to you before, and you’re even more excited than usual.

Sebastian: I can’t release it if I don’t love it.  Maybe some guys can, but I can’t.  I can’t spend hours on the phone doing interviews for something I don’t dig.  I wouldn’t show up for the interview if I didn’t dig it.  I have to love it or I hate it. 

I am an audiophile.  I love good production and good sound.  When I am going on a long plane flight, I go through my phone to listen to stuff, and I always find myself playing Steely Dan and a lot of ‘70s rock and roll, because of the production, and because of the recording techniques that they had back then, instead of the cut and paste like we were talking about earlier. 

The Eagles Hotel California…I have heard that a billion fucking times, but it still stops me in my tracks every time it comes on.  It has to do with the harmonies of the singing and the guitar player and the recording techniques.  I just think that I’ve done so many records that I really know how to make records sound really good.  I’m not bragging, I’m just listening to the fucking record and it sounds great.  Bob Marlette and Tom Baker combined is an unbeatable combo to me, as far as sound goes. 

I am also really excited about this Neil Young thing called Pono that is like full studio sound, instead of little MP3 files.  It’s frustrating for an artist to spend a hundred grand on a record and have it exist in the recording studio as this incredible level of quality and then you, the fan, get it as a tiny little MP3 file.  Do you know what I’m saying?  It’s like almost impossible to get the fans to hear really what the fuck it is…like really what it is in the studio, the resolution of the sound.  When I say that I’ve reached a new level, I mean just the quality of the recording to me is special.  If you like the first Skid Row record, then I don’t know how you cannot like this album.  It is just good quality sound of that kind of vibe. 

Jeb:  The first time I listened to this, I realized that you’re not chasing a modern sound, yet you’re not being totally retro.  It is a true album where you want to listen to the entire album, not just a song or two. 

Sebastian: Cool.  I’m with ya.  I’m really lucky to have all of these great musicians on the record.  For those fans out there that wish I’d reunite with the old band…that is like a whole different art than Give ‘Em Hell.  I created a new album with guys like Duff and Steve Stevens and John 5 and I could never have done that if I was just on tour with the old band.  I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but this is a different thing.  This is something that will last forever.  That’s what I love about putting out CDs, or albums…they last forever.  That’s fucking heavy.  Concerts you go to, and then they are done… but albums are forever. 

Jeb: I did an interview with Paul Rodgers the other day. 

Sebastian: Nobody is cutting and pasting that guy’s voice. 

Jeb: His last album was done analog.  He told me that when he was recording his last album that he had to put himself into the lyrics.  If he is singing about his heart being broken, then at that moment his heart is broken.  Do you approach things like that?

Sebastian: Every word is like that.  The first song on the record is called “Hell Inside my Head” and when I sing that, I am there.  You alluded to some of the personal things I went through in my life, and I draw on those when I sing a song like that. 

When I was a little kid my mom was a huge Willie Nelson fan.  I was into Willie Nelson, and I remember when the IRS took his house away because he owed back taxes.  He did an album called The IRS Tapes: Who'll Buy My Memories?  I remember he did an auction and all of his friends bought all of his shit and then gave it back to him.  I remember following all of that when I was ten, or eleven, and I was like, “Why is Willie Nelson going through all of this shit? Why is the government taking away Willie’s house?  What is the point of that?”  Then I go through crazy stuff on my own, and then I write about things that have gone on with me.  When I write about that stuff, I really feel that there is a hell inside my head.  The cover of Kicking & Screaming was the goddess Kali Ma dragging me into hell.  The cover of Give ‘Em Hell is me in hell.  It is like the next frame of the cartoon. 

Jeb:  Did your dad have something to do with that cover?

Sebastian: If you look closely in the background of the cover, there is a silhouette that you will see looking over my shoulder.  That is one of my dad’s original pieces.  The entire piece is in the packaging when you open it up.  The phrase “Give ‘Em Hell” is a funny old phrase that I remember from comic books.  Like Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, or Enemy Ace or Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. I would see them say, “Give them hell, boy!” and it is like a phrase from the ‘60s or the ‘50s.  You tell your son before he goes up to bat in the baseball game, “Give ‘em hell” and it is a fun phrase.  When I told the artist the name of the record he said, “I am going to put you in hell.”  I was like, “Okay.” 

Jeb:  You strike me as a positive person, even though it has not been an easy ride.  Of course, I get that you’re Sebastian Bach and you’re a rock star with a hot girlfriend and all that, but there is another side to the story. 

Sebastian: When I was a kid my parents got divorced when I was ten years old.  Any kid that goes through that knows it is a painful experience.  My reflex right when that happened, was to become a Kiss freak on the level of obsession, like a lot of kids in the ‘70s were.  I was a complete fanatic.  Every inch of my room was covered in Kiss.  I had everything you could get.  I didn’t have a lot of money, but I would find ways to get Kiss stuff. 

The reason I did that was because I had no family anymore as a little boy.  It was gone.  I subconsciously said, “Nobody is going to take rock and roll away from me.  This is going to be mine.  I love it more than anything. I will never let anybody take this away from me.”  When I lose things like a house, or whatever, it is so big that it is almost hard to fathom.  I have my rock and roll, still. 

I escape into rock and roll, just the way fans do.  When I put the headphones on and I listen to Give ‘Em Hell I don’t care that I lost my house; I don’t give a shit.  I put the fucking headphones on and all that I feel is rock music.  I love it, and when it sounds the way I want it to sound, then nobody can take that away from me.  Rock and roll is the most permanent thing in my life. 

Maybe I am not always positive, or in a great mood, but most of the time when I am doing interviews and I am talking about rock music, then that is my favorite thing, so you get me in a good mood (laughter).  When I put the phone down and I have to deal with buying plane flights for guys that can’t show up to the airport, or whatever other garbage that I’ve got to deal with, then I am not always in a good mood.  When I talk about the album Give ‘Em Hell, then I am in a great mood. 

Jeb:  I love that rock and roll attitude.  It makes me wonder why some people go out of their way to piss you off. 

Sebastian: I kind of understand.  I’ve been told in the past that it is fun to piss me off.  Tommy Lee used to tell me, “Dude it is so fucking hilarious to watch you get wound up and go off.”  I said, “What are you talking about” and he would just laugh, and he would wind me up till I was mad and going, “This is fucking bullshit, fuck this shit!”  He would just be laughing.  Minnie tells me the same thing.  She says when I get mad, I just go crazy, and she says it’s just hilarious.

I remember an episode of Supergroup, the VH1 show, I completely didn’t understand why they did an entire episode about us trying to rehearse and I couldn’t find my in-ear monitors. All I was doing in the episode was looking for my monitors so I could go to rehearse.  The whole show ended up being ten or fifteen minutes of me being mad because I couldn’t find my in-ears.  I was going, “Where’s my fucking in-ears? I’ve got to get to rehearsal.”  As soon as I found them and walked into rehearsal then the show was over.  I was like, “How is it that me, looking for my in-ears, is more worth putting on TV then when I find them and we start rehearsing?”  How is that what gets to go on the show and not us actually jamming? What does that say about me?  Am I really that entertaining?

Jeb: Maybe you are an easy mark.

Sebastian: I don’t plan on my looking for my in-ears to be entertaining.  I am not trying to be entertaining.  I am just looking for my fucking stuff.  It’s weird. 

Jeb: You are a genuine person.  The good, or the bad, you are genuine about who you are.  Has that hurt you at times in your career?  You are honest to a fault. 

Sebastian:  That is the reason my old band isn’t together with me.  You just hit it on the head; that’s the reason.  If you listen to the records that I do without them, and the records that they do without me, which, honest to God, would you rather fucking listen to?  I am not saying I am better than anybody else.  I know that my solo records sound more like classic Skid Row records than the Skid Row records that I am not on.  That is a fact. 

When somebody comes to me with a song and it is not as good as “I Remember You” or “18 and Life” and I am expected to sing it, but I don’t feel it, and I am the guy that has to tell somebody that I am not going to sing their song, then they hate my guts.  They hate me. 

I have no choice.  I really don’t have a choice.  I don’t know how to sing a song that I don’t like.  I don’t do that.  I didn’t get into rock and roll to sing songs that I don’t like.  I don’t.  I can’t.  I can’t do that.  I have to love it.  I have to fucking believe in it with all of my heart, or I am not going to show up.  It is not going to be me; it is going to be somebody else.  So, in that way, that has hurt me, but when all is said and done, and you put the CDs on, and you listen to them, it has helped me. 

Jeb: You do stuff sometimes that you are not supposed to do. 

Sebastian: I don’t drink anymore, so maybe that had something to do with it.  What is the saying they say?  I don’t get in trouble every time I drink, but every time I got in trouble, I was drinking.  This is the first record that I’ve ever done in my whole career not drinking.  It is the first one, so maybe that will be something that you would want to put in the article.  Maybe that is the reason it sounds so great… I don’t fucking know. 

Jeb: Is there a tour coming up?

Sebastian: I am about to announce forty tour dates all across Europe, Canada and America.  I am playing in London at Sonisphere with Metallica, Alice in Chains and Iron Maiden.  That will be a big show.  That is huge. 

Jeb:  Last one: Do you still collect signed memorabilia?  I know you had a lot of weather damage to your house and wondered if that survived. 

Sebastian:  Yeah, I do.  The house…I am still kind of dealing with my living situation, so I don’t collect as much as I used to.  The weirdest thing was that I didn’t cry so much when I was at the house…it’s a five acre property.  The time that I cried is when I was walking on the paths in the woods that I had cut.  I am a runner, and over twenty years of living there, I had all my own paths throughout the whole woods that were all mine.  I knew every rock, every tree, every leaf and every little piece of dirt…I knew where everything was in those woods.  That’s what fucking hit me.  When I was alone in the woods, walking through my paths, that is when I cried.  That is kind of crazy because I still own the land and I can go walk on them anytime (laughter).