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Skid Row: The machine rocks on

Skid Row
Skid Row
Evan Bartleson

When discussing Skid Row’s seven-year absence from the recording world from 2006 to 2013, I was expecting to hear a Chinese Democracy-esque tale from bassist and co-founder Rachel Bolan. Instead, I got a different response.

“Because we’re idiots,” laughed Bolan. “We were playing so much and touring so much and one night after a show we were just talking about songwriting and (guitarist and co-founder) Snake (Sabo) is like ‘when did we put out our last record?’ At that point it was about six years. So it sounds really stupid and it is really stupid, but we just kind of lost track of time. Then we were like ‘wow, we better get in and write.’”

And write they did, with two EPs – 2013’s United World Rebellion: Chapter One and this August’s Rise of the Damnation Army, United World Rebellion: Chapter Two – being the result. Yet the two releases weren’t done to keep a record company happy or just to have some product on the shelves (virtual or otherwise). Instead, both see the New Jersey-born band paying homage to their roots while still staying modern and relevant. That’s a tight line to walk, but the five-piece (Bolan, Sabo, Scotti Hill, Johnny Solinger, Rob Hammersmith) pull it off, sounding like a young, hungry band, not a bunch of 40 and 50-somethings trying to recapture past glories.

“This may sound cliché, but we really, really love what we do,” said Bolan, who just hit the big 5-0, as hard as that is to fathom for those of us who grew up along with the band. “Doing these EPs and just getting back into recording has breathed new life into all of us. Getting back to our roots was a lot harder than you think. It’s 25 years later and we’re all in our late 40s and early 50s, so we really concentrated on ‘who were those guys that wrote the first couple records?’ and we had to get our head around it because there was so much life in between then and now. Then we started writing and started recording and everyone was just into the songs and putting so much creativity into them and we were playing a lot, and I think that kind of does it, because in a sense, we are hungry. We never sit back and say ‘well, that’s the best we can do and that’s the most we’re ever going to achieve.’ We still go out there and it always seems like we’re the underdogs and I kind of like it like that. Maybe that’s what transfers onto the CD.”

It does, and in addition to the energy of the songs, the mix of hooks and heaviness that became Skid Row’s trademark back when they were the toast of the hard rock / heavy metal world back in the late-80s and early 90s remains. But does it feel like 25 years since the fresh-faced kids from Jersey toured the world with their neighbors Bon Jovi?

“It seems to have gone by really fast,” laughs Bolan. “When I sit there and think about it, Snake will be at my house and we’ll be writing or something, and we’ll just talk about stuff that happened in 1986 like it happened yesterday. We realized that at one point. We’re like ‘man, that 25 years went by pretty quick.’”

Yet through those years and the ups and downs, which included their split with singer Sebastian Bach and drummer Rob Affuso, the band has soldiered on and made good music. Even more importantly, unlike some of their peers from that era, they’ve stayed on the road and kept their chops up. Subsequently, they don’t sound like an oldies act.

“None of us ever got into the whole drug thing and I don’t know whether that had anything to do with it because we always appreciated where we were,” he said. “So I think it’s the appreciation that we can do it, and every night we go out there, just before my foot steps on stage, I’m like ‘I am so fortunate and so happy to be able to do this.’ And that’s the attitude we all have, so that might keep things fresh. And also writing new music. I love playing the old songs, don’t get me wrong, but if we didn’t create new music, I think I’d go nuts.”

Fresh from a series of June dates in Europe, the Skids begin a July tour of the United States tonight at the Montage Music Hall in Rochester, New York before heading back overseas, and while here at home, they’re taking the road less traveled – literally.

“We’re playing in small towns that never have nationals come through,” said Bolan. “We know we’re gonna take flack for it. People are gonna say ‘you guys used to play arenas and now you’re playing 300 seaters in wherever.’ Yeah we are, and bands should kiss your ass to get into those towns and they should all play them. We could have a day off and sit on the bus or sit in a hotel room, or we could do something really special. I’m not by any means comparing us to AC/DC, but if AC/DC came and played the little Star (Community) Bar in the middle of Atlanta, I’d be the first one on line for tickets because it would be something I’d remember for the rest of my life. It’s just showing appreciation to the people who put you where you are. I’m afforded this life because of these people who are fans of the band, so we said we’re going to play everywhere. And that’s why we’re doing a hundred shows a year now. We’ll play all the festivals and theaters and all that cool stuff, but we’re also going to play in Manhattan, Kansas and tiny little towns that most people never even heard of. It’s become so much fun doing it because of the appreciation you get when you go in and do stuff like that, and it carries over to everything else, and it makes everything around you really positive.”

When you hear that, it reminds you of Bolan’s comment about the band being underdogs, and they were when they were coming up. There was no question that they were initially seen as Bon Jovi’s little brothers on the Jersey circuit, and once they hit the big time, they were constantly compared to Guns ‘N Roses and then to the hair metal crowd which they had nothing to do with musically. Then when they split with Bach, it was assumed that they would go away, but Solinger, who has actually been with the band for over 14 years, jumped in without missing a beat. Are they selling millions of records like they did? No, but few are these days. What Skid Row is doing is making good music, staying on the road, and giving fans old and new what they want to hear. Is that making it? To Rachel Bolan and his bandmates it certainly is.

“Not patting myself on the back or putting myself on a pedestal, but we made tons of money in the past and we’re still making money now,” he said. “And we all live so well within our means because we’re just regular guys from small towns and it was never one of those things where it was ‘okay, I have to have 40 cars and a whole bunch of shiny stuff.’ (Laughs) That comes from our upbringing. And every time I think that we’ve hit our peak, something else pops up and gives you that shot of adrenalin. We’re going to keep riding this until the wheels fall off because we love what we’re doing, and obviously there are lots of people that love what we’re doing, so we’re just going to keep doing it. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.”

Skid Row begins their United States tour tonight, July 9, at Montage Music Hall in Rochester, NY. For tickets, click here

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