Sebastian Bach On His New Record, Van Halen Bootlegs + Why The Eagles Are Awesome
Sebastian Bach is a walking example of truth in advertising. His 2011 solo release ‘Kicking & Screaming’ was all balls to the wall and not a single bit of monkey business, to use a reference to his previous band.
With the release of ‘Give ‘Em Hell,’ his newest solo effort, the former Skid Row frontman is back with his most melodic release to date, featuring guest appearances from guitarists John 5, Steve Stevens and his longtime comrade Duff McKagan. ‘Kicking & Screaming’ producer Bob Marlette was on board once again to collaborate with Bach on the sessions for the album.
As Bach revealed to Ultimate Classic Rock during a recent conversation, he drew important inspiration for ‘Give ‘Em Hell’ from the world of classic rock.
“As I get older, I find myself listening mostly on my iPhone to ‘70s music, mostly because of the vocals and the harmonies. This is before ProTools and it’s from a time when singers had to actually make the sound come out of their mouths. So for me as a singer, this is what I find myself always listening to, even more than metal, just purely because of the vocals — and that’s what I do for a living. It interests me, and the human voice hits me really hard and singing hits me really hard.”
Bach elaborated further on that as he spoke about ‘Temptation,’ one of the tracks from ‘Give ‘Em Hell,’ telling us that “the chorus harmonies that I’m doing with myself remind me of the Eagles. I listen to it and it gives me the same kind of chills on my arms and the back of my spine as some of the good singing that I hear from the ‘70s records that I really like. John 5 from Rob Zombie’s band plays the guitar on that song and Duff McKagan plays the bass.”
He’s very enthused about the collaborations on the new album and says that it’s “really cool for the fans of Skid Row and Guns ‘N’ Roses to have me and Duff collaborating in 2014. We share a lot of the same fans. It’s exciting for me too, because I’m a fan of Duff McKagan. I’m a huge fan of John 5. I’m a huge fan of Steve Stevens. So I’m a big fan of my own record. [Laughs.]”
We spoke with Bach to get the scoop on ‘Give ‘Em Hell’ and along the way, we also got his thoughts on the Eagles and David Lee Roth-era Van Halen and, knowing that he’s a big fan, we threw a couple of Kiss questions his way as well.
Have you seen the Eagles on this current tour they’re doing?
I almost did. I wish I did. I wanted to but the only night I could get a ticket for the Forum was Valentine’s Day and my chick doesn’t like the Eagles. [Laughs.] So I was like, “F—, f—ing f—, why is this the only day I can get a ticket?” So I wasn’t able to go. But I watched ‘The History Of The Eagles’ about a hundred times and that show is by far the best rock documentary I’ve ever seen and also, it NEVER gets old!
Every time it comes on, I watch it. I don’t know why. Joe Walsh comes off so cool in that documentary. It blows my mind how cool he comes off. These are real rock musicians to me. This is who I look up to — guys that have been doing it forever. That’s my plan and I’m making it happen. [Laughs.]
Yeah, I loved that part! I loved Joe Walsh describing how he loved to party and they play a snippet of such a cool melody from one of his solo records that I’m still trying to find. I don’t know what song it is, but then he says, “You know, could Jimi Hendrix have come up with that music if he didn’t take acid,” and Joe Walsh says, “I used to say that all of the time and I conveniently left out the part that he’s dead!” [Laughs.] There’s so many great moments in that film.
The Eagles have a reputation for having a mechanically robotic live show. But what was really cool about this current tour was that they played two sets, and the first set was a great storytellers-type vibe, with them playing all of the songs that you’d ever want to hear them play that aren’t the hits — and you probably never thought you’d hear them play them again. So it was interesting to see them on this tour loosening up by their standards.
For me, getting older, I have to approach the stage differently and I have to kind of ask myself what do I appreciate about stage performance. When you look at the Eagles sing those perfect harmonies, they are not running around the stage like David Lee Roth, jumping off of the drum riser and doing spread-eagle kicks in the air and being cheerleaders like a lot of heavy metal frontmen do because the audience expects that.
For me, when I’m in the studio singing, I’m standing there. [Laughs.] I’m not running as fast as I can across the stage the size of a football field. Now everything we do is filmed for YouTube by all of the fans and you know when I first came out, I would always read that, “Sebastian Bach is like a combination of David Lee Roth and Rob Halford.” But I have to laugh when I think of what it would be like if we would have had YouTube in the early days of Van Halen.
Because I have bootlegs where David Lee Roth just walks out there and goes, “I forgot the f—ing words!” And the whole place goes “YEAAAAAAAH.” These days it would be like, “David Lee Roth doesn’t sing like the record; This is bulls—. It doesn’t sound the same as my phone and the record.” Endless bulls—.
It’s like, rock ‘n’ roll live is not meant to be perfect like the record, every f—ing thing exactly perfect. When I was a kid, it was like a celebration of rock to go see Van Halen. It wasn’t about filming it on your phone and then critiquing every note under the comments section. It’s so ridiculous. In the studio, it’s a more controlled environment for the sound — and watching the Eagles, while they just stand there and sing, that’s probably going to be more the direction I’m going in, thanks to YouTube. [Laughs.]
When you first started recording records, there weren’t a lot of tricks to help you cheat.
No, there were none. When we cut and pasted, we really cut and pasted. [Laughs.] We took a razor blade and we cut the tape and then we took a piece of tape and we pasted it up and it wasn’t on a computer screen. It was with scissors and tape, and that’s how long ago that was.
But there was also probably a lot of hearing, “Just sing it again!”
Absolutely. You had to know how to do it. You had to know how to do it. Now, sometimes when I work with younger musicians in the studio, I’ll sing the first chorus and the first verse and the second verse and they’ll say, “OK, you’re done” and I’ll say, “What about the rest of the song?” They’ll say, “Oh, just f—in’ fly it in” and I go, “What the f—? What?”
I don’t want it to be exactly the same, every single chorus! I want it to have dynamics and little licks and little screams or inflections that give you something to listen to as the song goes on. But that’s a rare thing these days — you sing it once and they put it in the rest of the song and it all sounds perfect. Rock ‘n’ roll’s not meant to be perfect. I mean, humans aren’t perfect. We’re not perfect — we’re f—ed up! [Laughs.]
This album seems really melodic, particularly coming on the heels of ‘Kicking & Screaming.’ Was that a focus point for you?
I never set out with a direction. I was under a deadline on this record and I just asked my friends, “Do you want to collaborate on some music?” And my friends happened to be Duff McKagan, Steve Stevens and John 5 — and they’re all, like, “Yes!” I’m so lucky.
‘Kicking & Screaming’ was an album I made with a very young guitar player who had like 30 great songs that I didn’t see any need to change. Whereas this record, I was under a deadline and I called all of my buddies and collaborated with many different guitar players — not just one, that have a very different feel.
The song ‘Harmony,’ that Duff McKagan wrote the music for and plays guitar on, is such a cool f—ing song. It’s Guns ‘N Roses meets Skid Row, because that’s what it is! It’s Duff’s riffs with my voice! What could be better? It’s like peanut butter and chocolate. Who f—ing knew?
Once you got into things, how quickly did things move in the recording process? You mentioned that you were on a deadline.
Yeah, I want to thank publicly my record label Frontiers Records — I want to thank them. I don’t read my record contracts when I sign them. I just assume that the contract says: “You are Sebastian, you make a record, we’ll put it out.” But I don’t know what else would need to be said, because I’m not going to put something out that sucks. [Laughs.]
I made this live album, ‘ABachalypse Now,’ a DVD. I turned it in and then they said: “Hey, you owe us the new record now,” and I go “I f—ing just gave you a record like a month ago — what are you talking about?” [Laughs.] They held me to this contract that I signed like 10 years ago with them — a long time ago. And I’m glad they did. I’m saying thank you, because when I go to Best Buy or Wal-Mart, the CD section is like two aisles — the magazine section is bigger than the CD section — and my albums are in there!
I’m one of the last guys to make CDs in the world! [Laughs.] I’m designing vinyl packaging and stuff like that and I’m like, “This is f—ing amazing.” As we watch CDs themselves cease to exist, I’m one of the last dudes still making them. So I’m kind of honored by that.
Some guys these days have trouble thinking in terms of albums, just because they’re not sure what to do because of how things are.
No! I’m f—ing not interested in releasing one single. Not interested in doing an EP. I like albums. I don’t give a f— what anybody else likes — I like albums! [Laughs.] And I always will! I don’t care! I don’t look around at what other people are doing and base what I’m doing on that. I like ‘Back In Black’ by AC/DC. I like ‘Dr. Feelgood’. I like f—ing ‘Slave To The Grind.’ I mean, I like ‘Give ‘Em Hell.’ I put this album up with any album I’ve ever put out, and that’s saying something. I’ve put out some good albums.
It definitely does hang as an album. There seems to be a lot of themes running through the record.
This album I approached a little different lyrically, working under a deadline. Sometimes I wouldn’t be prepared the night before I was supposed to go in and I would tell my producer Bob Marlette, “I can’t come — I’m not ready. I don’t have all of the words written and I don’t have all of the melody done. There’s no way I can come in the studio if I’m not prepared.” Bob would say, “Shut the f— up and get in your f—in’ car and just show up,” and I’d go, “Dude, I’m not ready” and he’d go, “Just COME!” I go, “Okay, okay — this isn’t the way we did it in ‘89!”
So, I would go and then kind of throw scat vocals over this music and we would both figure out, me and him, what works with vowels and what range. Because with my voice, I can either go super-low and deep or really high, and clean or dirty or in the middle. I don’t just have a limited range to work with. I can work many different octaves and textures. I’m blessed with a versatile voice. He would help me figure out how to approach different melody lines, which was awesome.
It sounds like he wears the producer hat and kicks your ass when you need it.
Yeah, but he’s also very good with melodies. He’ll be the first to tell you that he’s not into lyrics so much, but melodies. He’s very, very helpful with me and that’s something I need.
This is the second record you’ve done with him. Did you see things evolve from how you both did the last record to what you wanted to do with this one?
We learned that we work well together. There’s a high level of musicianship on these records, with John 5 and Steve Stevens and Bobby Jarzombek on the drums. We would have some musicians come in and find out that what we require are top-level guys. Bob says to me, “Try this, Sebastian, with your voice,” and I’ve been singing so long that I can do what he says. I can come up with ideas and execute them on the spot.
Some musicians we would try to work with, he’d say, “Try this” and they would not be able to do it! [Laughs.] So they wouldn’t last long. But Steve Stevens, Bobby Jarzombek, Duff McKagan, John 5, these are the best guys I can find and I’m very lucky to have them on the record.
You could have a bunch of name guys and throw them in the room and it might not necessarily work, but it seems like these guys that you have, they’re seasoned enough and they’re all such noted players that they can all probably hang pretty well.
I’ve known Duff since ‘89 and we did a lot of touring together with Guns N’ Roses and Skid Row. I did a song with John 5 on ‘Kicking & Screaming’ called ‘TunnelVision’ that everybody loves and he came through again. I’m really lucky to play with a guy like John 5 who is in demand so much. He tells me that I’m one of his all-time favorites and I’m like, “That’s great for me!” [Laughs]
I know you’re a Kiss fan — what’s your favorite song?
My favorite Kiss song — so many songs! One that always comes to mind is ‘Take Me’ off ‘Rock & Roll Over.’ People don’t talk about that one so much. It’s not one of their hits, but when I think to myself, “What is Kiss?” [that’s the one that I think of].
When I was a kid and I knew that there was a lyric that said, “Put your hand in my pocket/ Grab onto my rocket,” I was like, “What could be more rock ‘n’ roll than those lyrics?” We used to think it said, “Baby got to know/ Do you want to blow.” We would walk around the f—in’ playground saying, “Man, she’s f—ing blowing him!” So I think ‘Take Me’ might be my favorite Kiss song. I love that song.
What about your favorite underrated Kiss song?
For that, I would maybe say ‘All The Way’ off ‘Hotter Than Hell.’ Side two, cut one, “1-2-3-4!” [Bach imitates the song’s riffs]. Either that or ‘Strange Ways.’ ‘Anything For My Baby,’ ‘Love Her All I Can,’ ‘Almost Human,’ ‘Larger Than Life,’ what a f—in’ song that is. ‘All-American Man.’ Those are some underrated ones.
Were you a fan of ‘The Elder’ album?
I love the song ‘The Oath.’ Love that one. Yes, I was — when it came out, I was definitely a fan.
It’s always interesting to find out from people who are Kiss fans whether they like that one or not.
I think the mystery about the record is what the f— does Christopher Makepeace have to do with this? [Laughs.] What is his involvement? You should track down Christopher Makepeace and ask him about ‘The Elder,’ because he’s on the credits and it’s like, what does he have to do with this? [Laughs.]
What do you think about the whole Kiss/Rock Hall controversy that went down?
As a fan, I understand why people would want to see that. But as a 46-year old man that has worked with Gene Simmons and Ace Frehley, I understand why Gene Simmons doesn’t work with Ace Frehley. Ace has sides to him that maybe the fans don’t see. That’s all I can say. I’m writing a book now that will explain more of that topic. But I understand why Gene doesn’t play with him.
That book is going to be a page turner.
Yeah, well, it will read like my album sounds. [Laughs.]
Your ‘Angel Down’ solo album was a big deal, because it features your buddy Axl Rose. I think a lot of people would wonder how you can get two intense personalities into the studio and avoid what seems like it would be a clash.
Axl explained that to me. He explained to me that when we first came out, Skid Row, he told me that everybody said to him, “This guy Sebastian is your f—in’ competition and you have to hate him. He’s your enemy — you can’t like him.” He told me that so many people told him that that he decided in his brain that he would make me one of his best friends. [Laughs.] He’s told me that story more than once.
I respect him as a singer and an artist and a friend. You know, you’ll notice as you go through this business that the nicest guys are usually the most talented guys and the biggest douchebags are the ones that are bitter about something or other. I’ve got nothing to complain about other than losing everything I ever had in a hurricane. [Laughs.] But in rock ‘n’ roll, I can’t complain about it — I love it. It’s something you can never take away from me.