The first rebellion started in 1986. New Jersey kids, punk and metal attitude, determined to conquer the world. All for one, banded together with single-minded purpose. The battlefield was the stage, the songs their arsenal in an us-against-them musical coup d’état. Top Ten singles. Gold and multi-platinum sales. No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. The world was theirs, the rebellion won, until there was nothing left to fight for — so they fought each other. Following an ill-advised South American tour in 1996, the band was finished. But the core camaraderie never died.
Skid Row returned to the big stage — literally — opening for Kiss in 2000. Exhilarated to tour with the heroes who rallied them in the first place, the band was reinvigorated by being underdogs who needed to come out fighting to prove themselves. ‘ThickSkin’ and ‘Revolutions Per Minute’ were battle plans for hundreds of live shows with singer Johnny Solinger out front, every night being a hard fought battle to win new fans and convince the old ones. ‘Rise Of The Damnation Army – United World Rebellion – Chapter Two’ is Skid Row coming out swinging. Rachel and guitarist Snake Sabo tapped again into the potent songwriting collaboration that built a band. New plans to conquer the world came together in an Atlanta recording studio. But it’s a different time, a different industry, so they decided to record a series of EPs but still manage to channel their signature sound. That sound is rambunctious exuberance. They got older, but Skid Row never really grew up. ‘Rise Of The Damnation Army – United World Rebellion – Chapter Two’ is still the youth gone wild, their musical spark still burning gasoline. Their rebellion continues. United World Rebellion starts now!
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with legendary Skid Row guitarist Snake Sabo as the rumbled across the land on tour to discuss his musical roots, unrelenting drive as an artist, the longevity of Skid Row and the creation of ‘Rise Of The Damnation Army – United World Rebellion – Chapter Two.’
Going back to your formative years as a young musician, what are some of your first memories of music?
Oh, man! That is a good question. It’s interesting because I am the youngest of five boys. My house, growing up, was filled with music on a daily basis. There was every different type of music you could imagine. It went to Elvis Presley to The Beach Boys to Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons to Motown to Deep Purple, Spooky Tooth, Janis Joplin, Humble Pie, Jan and Dean, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and the list goes on and on. There was so much great music going on in my house. I was given such an amazing education without even knowing I was being educated! I just got turned on to great music. There was no such thing as genres or anything like that; it was all just great music. That was such a great lesson to learn at an early age; you like a song because it is a great song and it doesn’t matter who wrote it or sang it. If it is great, you love it! I have maintained that until this day! That was probably the best education I’ve ever gotten because of all those things I listened to growing up somehow made their way into my consciousness with writing songs. To this day, I still listen to all that music. I think the most impact came from the Motown stuff, believe it or not. It was a great household to grow up in, man. There was so much joy going on there. Music made everybody happy. I remember, as I got older, going back and revisiting all that stuff we used to listen to from a songwriter’s perspective. Brian Wilson is a genius and so are all the guys who wrote the Motown stuff. The early writers of the 70s stuff, whether it was Humble Pie’s of the world or, obviously, Jimi Hendrix and things like that. Then the AM radio of the mid-70s was amazing in New Jersey. All the one-hit wonders and pop songs that came out from bands like Paper Lace with “The Night Chicago Died,’ bands like Pilot with “Magic” and First Flash doing “Beach Bohemian” left an indelible impression on me as a ten or eleven year old kid.
Was there a particular moment that made you want to take the plunge and pursue a career in music?
I think it was December 16th, 1977 — KISS at Madison Square Garden. I was thirteen years old and had been a huge fan but I had never seen them live. I got the opportunity to see them at Madison Square Garden and it changed my life forever! I walked away from that experience saying “I need to do something in music!” I hadn’t picked up an instrument at that point and it would be another year before I would but I just knew I would be in the music business. I just knew it! If that was what the music business was I wanted in! I was like “Ma! I want to breathe fire and spit blood like Gene Simmons!” Just how over the top and entertaining the show was is something I really look back and know I came home a changed person for life!
Obviously, your dreams became a reality and you have been doing what you love for a long time now. To what do you attribute the longevity of Skid Row?
An appreciation and respect for the fans, the consumer, the person who makes a conscious decision to buy a Skid Row record or a ticket to see us live. First of all, being able to play music for a living is something I feel a lot of people take for granted. We absolutely do not. We realize this isn’t a birthright; it’s a privilege to be able to get out and play music every night and as your means of living. We are incredibly humbled by it and it doesn’t get lost on us that people make a conscious decision to spend their money on what you are doing, whether it is coming to see your show or buying your record. That is such an amazing compliment that something we put together and built some 28 years ago is something people still believe in enough to support it. It is the most amazing and humbling thing I have ever experienced. We are reminded of it every day. They are the reason we are able to travel the world and make music for a living, which is the most incredible thing in the world. That is why we have longevity because we respect the audience.
Very cool to hear! The band shows no signs of slowing down. You have been hard at work on your latest EP, ‘Rise of the Damnation Army – United World Rebellion: Chapter Two.’ Did you have any particular goals or expectations for this release?
Songwriting is a very selfish act. It has to be. I say that because you have to write for yourself for it to be pure. If you are writing for radio or a particular trend, then you are not being true to yourself. When we write from the perspective of what matters to us, what appeals to us and what we want to hear. We do that to the best of our ability and then, from there, we hope it connects. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t but at least it’s for real, it’s pure and it’s not disingenuous. Once you start writing from the standpoint of “I want this song to be on the radio, so have to write it a particular way…,” I think it becomes a bit disingenuous. We have never looked at it like that. Our sensibilities from a songwriting perspective run the gamut from pop music to heavy old school metal. You take all of those things, my influences, Rachel Bolan’s influences, along with the influences of Scotti [Hill], Johnny [Solinger] and Rob [Hammersmith], put them in a pot, mix them together, it comes out a Skid Row song. First and foremost, it is always about being true and respectful of the process and to ourselves.
This record was a rediscovery of things for Rachel and I. We get in these conversations before we start writing any record. We just start peeling away the layers of life, if you will, because this is our form of expression. We started questioning each other asking “Why do we do this? What is the essence, spirit and soul of why we do this in the first place?” It is because when we first picked up a guitar, a bass or any sort of instrument and started writing music, it was because that was the only way we truly knew to express ourselves. Whatever angst moments we might have been going through in life, we got through by expressing it through music. Maybe we weren’t the greatest communicators with other people verbally or maybe we weren’t the greatest at social interactions but for us music was the great communicator. Music was our pressure valve and allowed us to release what we needed to release in order to get through life. Basically, what problems you have at 16 or 17 year old might seem mundane by the person you are today but their impact was no less severe than the things we go through today as adults. They are just as powerful expect you are dealing with it from a different age mindset but the force of it is still the same. That force we felt propelled us to write music because it was form of expression and the same holds true today. We just peeled away the layers and got to the core of life and why we do this. Once we got there, the light switch went on and everything just clicked. Again, you are writing from a really selfish standpoint and it needs to be that way. We just seemed to be on the same page throughout that time. I can honestly say I didn’t know it was going to be this way but this record was the most fun I have ever had making a Skid Row record. From start to finish, it was a lot of hard work but it was such a joyful experience. Everyone just seemed to be in lock-step with one and other.
It is great to hear you so passionate about the band’s work these days. Where there any particular challenges you encountered in bringing this EP to life and what did you learn from the process?
I have known this but it seems in this situation, less is more. You have to adjust in this world almost on a daily basis. Change is right in front of you and it is occurring all the time. Things move at the speed of light in our world now. As people, we don’t have the expendable time we used to have to invest ourselves in sitting and listening to a record that is an hour long or 15 songs long. By in large, we don’t have that luxury it seems. We wanted to do something that didn’t keep us in the studio for months at a time and allowed us to release product quicker in shorter spurts, if you will, and not browbeat the public. We are giving them something to where they hopefully want more and then they will get it eight months down the line. It is kind of the same thing as putting together a 20 song record but just cutting it up over the course of two years and releasing it in three different installments. We also wrote each EP before we recorded because we didn’t want to write all 15 or 20 tracks and just space out their release. We wanted to be very much in the moment, so that is what we have been doing and we will do that with the next EP as well. It has really served us well. It has kept everything really fresh and there is a sort of urgency and immediacy to it. I like that a lot and I think it comes across in listening back to it. I think we have also gotten to the point that we are so appreciative of what we have and are so thankful. We are really humbled by it all. I think with that comes a respect for the audience and what the band has been able to do over the course of the past 28 years. There is a respect for the songwriting, along with a respect for each other.
For these EPs, I think everything sort of presents itself at that particular time. That is what really worked for us with this last EP in particular. Rachel and I really became conscious of how fortunate we are. To still be songwriting partners, band members and best buds after all this time is really something. That doesn’t get lost on us through this whole process. We are keenly aware of being present and in the moment. It sounds cliché but when it really does happen it is something truly incredible. I think we are just going to take that philosophy and presence of mind into the next release and create from there. It is a great sampling and a great place to be in when you are both on the same page with one and other. The results are something to behold!
I think I speak for myself and many other fans when I say it has been an exciting ride over the past 28 years. Looking back at the band, what do you consider the biggest evolution along the way?
I think the jump from the first record to ‘Slave to the Grind’ was pretty incredible. It was a great leap for us and it was something where were conscious that we needed to do. I also think jumping into doing this set of three EPs was another milestone for us from a songwriting and band perspective because we are doing things differently, taking a chance, accepting change and rolling with it! For us, I am really proud of everyone embracing. We are hopefully taking this thing to a level that will propel us further into the future.
You hard work and dedication are definitely inspiring. What advice can you pass along to those looking to make a career in the music industry in today’s climate?
You have to do what you love it and love it fully. If you don’t it will beat the snot out of you. You have to love it and be able to roll through all of the adversities that come your way. While you are doing all of that, you still have to remain pure and true to your love and desire to create music. When you do all of those things, no matter what comes your way, you are going to be happy. At the end of the day, it is the love of music that gets you through everything. That holds true whether you are a songwriter, a guitar player in a weekend band or just a regular guy who sits back at home and listens to music 24/7. If it is the fabric of your life and the heartbeat of your soul, you win! You will win every day! That is what it has been for us. Music is our heartbeat and always has been. Again, to be able to do this for a living is the most incredible gift in the world!
You keep creating the music and we will continue to support it, Snake! These EPs have been great and we can’t wait to hear what else you have in store for us!
Thanks you so much, man! I really appreciate! Thank care, Jason!
Get the latest news and tour date information directly from the band via their official website at www.skidrow.com. Interact with them on Facebook and Twitter. ‘Rise of the Damnation Army – United World Rebellion: Chapter Two drops August 5th – Click Here To Pre-Order!