Written by Lucas P. Jones
For those among us in the heavy metal fan club, Skid Row is a name that is synonymous with metal. Known primarily for the anthemic “Youth Gone Wild,” and the big ballads, “18 and Life,” and “I Remember You,” Skid Row has cemented their place in music history. But they refuse to rest on their laurels and recently released two EPs, United World Rebellion: Chapter One in 2013, and Rise of the Damnation Army- United World Rebellion: Chapter Two in 2014.
The band formed in 1986 in Toms River, New Jersey, and after just 10 short years had already sold 20 million records. They went on hiatus in 1996, and no one was quite sure if we would see them again. But a 2000 tour with Kiss, and albums in 2003 (Thickskin) and 2006 (Revolutions per Minute) showed the heavy metal world that they were back and here to stay. As a huge fan, I jumped at the chance to talk to Rachel Bolan, founding bassist of the band. We talked about the new EP, changes in the music industry, and what it’s like to navigate the waters of being in a band for 25 years.
What is the bands process for writing material? Is it all done together or are riffs and ideas combined later on?
Rachel Bolan: The way Snake (Sabo) and I work is we’ll compile stuff because we don’t live down the street from each other anymore, he lives in North Beach and I live in the south. We compile riffs and when we get together to write at his house or mine we’ll just play stuff for each other, like, ‘Hey I got this idea, I got that idea,’ and as soon as one or the other is like ‘Oh yeah, let’s work on that,’ then we run with it. We are very critical of ourselves, so we’ll write in and do a bunch of re-writes. We try and get it as precise as possible before we bring it to the band, because it doesn’t truly become a Skid Row song until everyone gets their feel on it. Sometimes we work really hard on something and we’ll love it, but we bring it to the guys and they’re just not feeling it. So we’ll go back and make changes or someone will come up with ideas, that’s kind of how it’s always been. Snake and I will build a strong foundation and everyone just builds on it.
If material doesn’t make the cut for the band, does it get scrapped? Does it get shelved to be worked on later?
RB: All of the above actually. Sometimes we’ll have something and we’ll say ‘Let’s revisit it, maybe we’ll come up with other ideas for it.’ And then it’ll work and we’ll come up with something really cool. But sometimes there’s stuff … there’s a reason why it just doesn’t make the record and we just kind of forget about it and put it by the wayside.
Why the shift from making full albums to EPs?
RB: Well, it was seven years in between releases of the first Chapter and Revolutions Per Minute and for no other reason than we just lost track of time. We were touring so much, and one day we were in the dressing room and Snake said, ‘Man, how long is it since we’ve put out a record?’ when the idea came up to do EPs, it seemed like something really cool to do from a bunch of standpoints. From a songwriter’s standpoint, it’s a lot less pressure to write ten songs and pick five than it is to write 30 and pick 10. From an economic standpoint, it’s easier for a Skid Row fan to throw down six bucks than to throw down fifteen bucks, and in these economic times it’s just kind of the right thing to do. And the fact that it keeps us fresh, it keeps new stuff coming out, so that it’s not seven years between records, and it keeps us out on the road and our fans keep getting doses of music in eight to twelve month intervals instead of seven year intervals.
What was the biggest challenge you guys faced while working on the EP?
RB: You know what? I guess if there was any challenges it was just kind of…well there weren’t really any but I guess it was just logistics because everyone lives in different states except for Rob our drummer, we both live in Atlanta. But other than that, everything goes really smooth. We get in, we rehearse for a couple of weeks and do pre-production and then we’ll head into the studio and just let it fly.
For this newest release, would you say this is a continuation of classic Skid Row, or going off in a new musical direction?
RB: I think it’s definitely a continuation. Before we started writing the first Chapter, we made an effort to retrace our steps to where we came from, to the guys that wrote the first few records, and we wanted to have that feel to it. You know, over the course of twenty-five years, retracing your steps isn’t as simple as it may sound. We worked hard, and the first one had a lot of writers block. Just getting back to the form where we were, and once it happened it was like the floodgates opened and ideas kept coming back like, ‘Oh yea this how we used to approach that’, and it felt really natural. Reading the reviews and just talking to the people in general who have heard the newest Chapter, and the first one for that matter they’re like, ‘Okay this is where you guys left off, and we’re glad to hear you back to where you were’. You know we’re proud of every record we put out, Thickskin, and Revolutions Per Minute, you know Revolutions Per Minute was an experimental record. And I think that helps get stuff out of our system. Thickskin I thought was really, really, cool and we are very proud of it, but that kind of went off in different directions. These EPs I believe are Skid Row true to form.
You have had the privilege to see the music industry grow and change. What is the biggest difference between performing and writing now, and performing and writing back in the late 80s and early 90s?
RB: Well after doing it for 25 years, the writing, with the exception of everything I just said, just kind of losing sight our roots. We’re back to where we were, but the business and industry as a whole is so completely different with social media, and with record companies disappearing. You have to take a hands on approach and a D.I.Y. approach, which is fine by me. We’re into it, we’re self-managed, and everything is self-contained, with the exception of the record companies. We work with two great labels, Megaforce and UDR, they’re two labels that really understand us and what we are trying to accomplish. But the days of the big dollar advances are gone, which is fine, because we don’t spend two months in the studio anymore or however long it used to take us. We get in and we rehearse it and we get it to where we love it and just hope that our fans get off on it too.
What keeps the band going and motivated after 25 years of being together? Does being in control of the music help?
RB: That’s part of it, I mean making new music is a huge part of it. We’re all about the nostalgia aspect of it, but we love making new music and playing new music live, and seeing people get into it whether they bought the EP or not is a big win for us. We have over a million likes on Facebook which is a big milestone for a band like Skid Row. We like the way we’re doing things.
PB: Do you guys have a favorite song to play live? Either something you love or something that gets the crowd really worked up?
RB: Well “Youth Gone Wild” is always that song, it’s been our closer for 25 years, and it’s always that song where people just absolutely lose their mind. There’s a couple more we do that I can’t wait to get to that part of the set just to play — right now its “Kings of Demolition” off of the first United Rebellion Chapter. When we get to that song, it just awesome, watching people get into it, and being that its relatively new, it makes you feel really good when you’re standing up there.
Skid Row will perform at The Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey on Friday August 15th. Click here for tickets.
Skid Row on Tour
08.06.2014 Rock Planet – Ravenna, Italy
08.08.2014 Picture On Festival – Bildein, Austria
08.09.2014 Gataway Rock Fest – Gavle, Sweden
08.15.2014 Starland Ballroom – Sayreville, NJ
08.17.2014 Obsession Live Lounge – Ottawa, ON
08.19.2014 Virgin Mobile Corona Theater – Montreal, QU
08.20.2014 Virgin Mobile Mod Club – Toronto, Ontario
08.21.2014 Alter Bar – Pittsburgh, PA
08.22.2014 Live and Loud – Sterling Heights, MI
08.23.2014 London Music Hall – London, ON