Dear Planet Earth: An Interview with Sebastian Bach
Through reality shows, theater appearances, and Hep Alien, the enthusiastic Bach keeps his focus (and his funding) on his music, even if the industry is a bitchslap.
Brash ... outspoken ... irrepressible ... Sebastian Bach crashed the party two decades ago, and still can be the life of said party as required. Most recognized as the face and voice of hard rocking Skid Row, Baz is gifted with one of the most impressive sets of vocal chords the music business has ever seen. In addition to proving his metal mettle over the years, Baz has also enjoyed a successful career in theater and television, evidence that even youth gone wild can mature into a renaissance man. Yet, no matter what segment of the arts he's immersed in at a given time, Baz was born to rock ... hard ... as his new album, Angel Down, attests.
I first crossed paths with Baz early last year, via a bit of Internet commerce. He'd offered a unique piece of memorabilia for sale (Vince Neil's Dr. Feelgood tour jacket), which I purchased without a second thought. Numerous persons, who became aware of our deal, voiced their opinions, unanimously condemning Baz for parting with the item. "How could he sell that?" they cried in unison, taking personal affront to the transaction, as if our business was their business. But Baz had his reasons, and yes, there was a definite method to his madness, as I recently found out.
Currently promoting Angel Down, Baz' excitement about his newest endeavor permeated our conversation, and his passion for creating quality art was on full display. Gregarious and accommodating, the former slave to the grind was in rare form, taking a few moments with PopMatters to wax poetic on various topics, including how Angel Down came to fruition, dueting with Axl Rose, and why Gilmore Girls was a means to an end.
Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages ... the one, the only ... Sebastian Bach.
Hey, Baz. What's up, man?
I don't know you from Adam.
You don't know me from Adam ... I bet you know me as the Mötley Töur Whöre with Vince's jacket, though.
Is that you?
That would be me.
Oh my God! Well, I've got to thank you because you helped pay for the album Angel Down.
Did I get any credit?
Okay, that's alright. I've got to send a photo to you.
Congratulations on this album, it's fantastic.
Thanks, brother. Thank you very much.
I've listened to it quite a few times in the last couple of days and I'm actually surprised that it is ... it's a really powerful statement. It's pretty amazing.
I don't know why you're surprised, because I think Slave to the Grind is a powerful statement. I think Jekyll & Hyde -- The Musical is a powerful statement. I think SuperGroup was a far less powerful statement [laughing]. You know, you're not the first person to say that, and I don't really understand why. The only thing I can figure out is, since you're a Mötley Crüe fan ... I guess Tommy Lee is getting sued because he was on too many reality shows or whatever, and all I can say is that maybe I'm in the same boat of doing so much celebrity stuff, that, like some reviewer said, "One almost forgets that he's a rock singer." And I'm like, "I know!" But the thing is, the thing that the people don't know ... if there was no Gilmore Girls there would be no Angel Down. I did not have a record deal when Spitfire folded, and if I didn't have the money to finish what I started, there would be no album. Rob Halford paid for Resurrection with the money he made from Priest. And it's like, it's shocking to fans. But I even think that Van Halen doesn't have a record deal right now. It's just unbelievable that people have this image of, "Why didn't you do a record instead of a TV show?" I didn't have a record deal [laughs]. How 'bout that?
It's a sign of the industry.
I paid for the record from all the other shit that I did, you know what I'm sayin'? And if you like Angel Down, you should kiss the ground for Gilmore Girls, because there would be no Angel Down if there wasn't a way for me to fund it after Spitfire Records folded in the middle of it. Then I was fortunate enough to get a great record deal with MRV, Merovingian Music. Jack Ponti and Jason Flom, they're the ones that put my voice back on a CD for you, but I basically finished Angel Down and plopped it, like, in their lap, you know, like completed. Except for the drum sounds and the mastering, I did it all myself. So, if I didn't have those TV shows and people like you buying Vince Neil's jacket off me, then I wouldn't have been able to pay for the record. So, that's the reality of rock.
With major labels on the decline and a lot of artists like yourself releasing their own material ... when you go in and record something like Angel Down, is your focus on how and what to record different from 10, 15 or 20 years ago?
Absolutely not, no, not at all. Never. I'm a real ... people can say I got a big ego, or that I'm hard to work with, and that all is probably, definitely true, because if I didn't love rock 'n' roll so much ... You're literally hearing my love of rock 'n' roll on this record, that's what you're hearing. You're hearing me lay it all out, man, in a world where an album like this is extremely rare, and is only going to become more rare. And the reason is ... I know how to sing because I've been doing this all of my life. These kids that think that getting on American Idol and doing a cover version one time is going to make you a star, that's not gonna ... you know, the way I do it, is really, it's like a muscle. I know how to do it ... it's just like, it's a talent, you know what I mean? Like Mötley Crüe are better now than they ever were. They've been doing it for 30 years. We used to think, "I hope I die before I get old," but people like Aerosmith, the Stones, Kiss -- they've all proven that music is something that you get better at if you know what you're doing. And that's what I hear in Angel Down, I hear me more mature and stronger than I was when I was a little kid. That's what I hear; it's a man. It's like the difference between a man's album and a little boy's album.
That's kind of along the line of when I said I was surprised. I wasn't surprised by the quality of your voice, I was more surprised in terms of having an album (like this) come out in a very weak market, and going, 'Wow.'
Well, I have the luxury of, you know ... I've made a good living, and that's what you're hearing, too. It's like I didn't buy myself a Ferrari, I bought myself Angel Down. I bought it for you, too. Really, honest to God. That's really the honest to God truth. That's really the truth.
It was a work in progress for a while, wasn't it?
I mean if you really want to get into all of that ... really what happened was, you know I was signed to this label, Spitfire, and we started recording, and we had a budget, and I agreed to the producer and all of the band members, "Here is what you are going to get paid if you do this," right? Then half way through, they went bankrupt, and they didn't give me half the money. So everyone's looking at me going, "What's up dude?" And I was like, "Oh my God, what do I do?" That's where I say thank God for Gilmore Girls. Because that's where I said, most musicians I know would buy themselves a Ferrari, or would not go into their personal funds to pay their mortgage or whatever, but I just said fuck it ... I go, 'This is it.' I go, 'I don't care, this is worth it to me.' It's worth more than a Ferrari to me, you know? A lot more. And again, my inspiration really is Halford because he did the same thing. He went the same direction, paid for the whole thing himself. I remember reading that and going, 'Is that really what it takes?' You can be the best singer in the world, Rob Halford, and nobody's going to help you out to make a record. Is that really what is going on now? So I go, 'Wow, okay, well, I'm in the same position.' So I got signed on the strength of the record, that's the good thing, you know. I didn't get signed because of my haircut, or the clothes I wear, or what I did in 1989. I got signed for the sound of the CD, and that's precious to me.
Over the process of the whole project coming together, with the ups and the downs, did you ever have a concern that the album would lack any consistency?
Yes, definitely. Definitely. Great question. If you really research things, Classic Rock asked me about five years ago, 'What's taking so long?' And my answer was, well, I've played with all of these different guys, and my challenge is to put this together and make it sound like one record because it's done with all of these different people. The guy looked at me like I was nuts, but you know exactly what I'm talking about. And the guy that really made it cohesive, one unique, unified sound is obviously Roy Z. He's the producer, and he knows how to produce a record. And the players on my album are super duper heavy metal guys ... Steve DiGiorgio, Metal Mike [Chlasciak], Bobby [Jarzombek], are all metal guys.
So we already had "American Metalhead", "Negative Light", "Take You Down With Me", "Angel Down", we had all the really heavy songs. And then Roy said, "Dude, this is killer, you need straight up rock.' And I did not know what he meant, because if you're the artist, you are way too close to everything. And then he goes, "What do you think of this?", and he pulls out a guitar and plays me the riff to "(Love Is) A Bitchslap", and I go, "Oh yeah!" I go, "Wow! That's cool!" 'Cause it's not wimpy, it's heavy. It's cool. It's rock.
That happens to be my favorite song on the album.
Cool, I love it, too. I love every song because they're all so different. But I love that one. It's rude!
When you go into the studio with a guy like Roy Z., who has an extensive resume of clients, did you find it intimidating to work with him at all?
Yeah, yeah, but one weird thing about this record is that I've never done an album ever that I did just coming straight off the road. Like, we literally played a festival in Vienna, Austria one night. Actually, we played in the afternoon, we played with Tool and Guns N' Roses ... a killer show ... Nova Rock it was called. Then we, right after Guns' set, I gave Axl my copy of The Tao of Willie ... I remember, I was just like, "What the fuck is this?" [laughs] We were hanging out with Nina ... you know, "99 Luft Balloons".
Oh sure, yeah.
[Laughing] It was a weird night ... Anyway, I digress. We got right on the bus after that, go straight to the airport, and then right to Sound City Studios in Hollywood. We check into the hotel, and the very next day we are rocking, 'cause we only had two weeks before we had to get back on the road. So I've never done an album like that, and there's a lot of screams on the record, and when you say was I intimidated, it was kind of funny because I was intimidated to follow in Halford's footsteps. But the way it worked out was that my voice was so hot and high from screaming on the tour, that is was way easier for me to scream on an album than it ever was. 'Cause the way my voice works, it's a very strange instrument. I am literally one of the only singers I know that gets better the more I sing. That's really the truth. Tyler's like that ... but my voice is like a muscle, and like on Broadway, if I was doing six nights a week, I would sing the strongest on the sixth night. I'm very lucky like that. So I can hear that on the record, like the energy coming from the road.
Three of the tracks feature Axl, a guy you've got a lot of time in with. When you were recording those three tracks, you've gotta tell me honestly, were there any surreal moments when you were just standing there doing what you're doing, and you're thinking to yourself, 'Shit man, I'm recording with Axl'?
The whole thing was definitely surreal because I just can't believe that he actually did it. It's never going to sink in really, and then to read what he wrote about it on his web site was another crazy moment when I was staring at the computer going, 'I can't believe this.' All I can really say is the ending of "Stuck Inside" where we figured out where he would sing, and then he wrote what he was going to sing. And then he just ... his voice is just ... I thought he was done when he sang the part where I'm solo, where the riff stops and it's just me a-cappella. I thought he was just going to double that up with me, and then he just soared up to this crazy ass note, like a demon. You can hear it, it's on there. That's the one we kept. And it's so eerie sounding, and it's so evil. It sounds so evil to me! That's what I dig about it.
How did you end up deciding to cover "Back in the Saddle"?
That was 100 percent Roy Z.'s suggestion. He was ... again, a perfect suggestion. That's the one the people on radio are digging. That's for sure an exciting take. I didn't want to do any covers, I just wanted to prove that I could do a record with all brand new songs, but that was a great suggestion. I'm glad he made it. And what I really love about it is how Metal Mike and Bobby dig in to the chorus. It sounds exactly like the Aerosmith version, but then it doesn't sound nothing like it, it's weird. I don't know how, because they didn't reinvent it, because you don't need to reinvent perfection, but they made it their own, that's for sure.
With the undercurrent of real metal power throughout this album ... you have a ballad in there, what have you ... but did you expect the album to come out as heavy as it did?
I guess if you're not a musician, you have one aspect, or one way that you think that you make records. It's so not an exact science, it's like, I go in there with nothing, like I'm just walking around, you know what I mean? Like, just ideas ... I mean, how do you totally make something that is going to please everybody? It's virtually impossible, because how do you guess what everybody wants to hear? All I can do is make something that I like, that's all I can do. Because then I can stand by it. You know? Then no matter what, if I can listen to it myself, I won't go mentally insane. Like at the end of the day, I have to love it or I'm not doing it. And I love this album, and I've never had a record in my life that's got the reviews that this record's got. None of the Skid Row albums got reviewed this good. I'm not saying that to put them down, I have the reviews [laughs]. That's all you can do as a musician. What are you suppose to do, take a poll from everybody? That's all you can do is make something that you dig and hope everybody else digs it.
For people who haven't gotten the press kit and didn't see you on Kat Von D's show getting tattooed, can you tell us the importance of the album's cover art?
It's extremely meaningful, it's a painting my dad did in 1990 called "David Watching" ... he has since passed on, so when we had the song "Angel Down" picked for the title track, a lot of the lyrics have to do with the war ... and I don't have to explain to any soldier's family what an angel down is. Obviously, that can refer to a soldier, so that painting that my dad did totally fit in with the title Angel Down. That's basically why it got picked.
Venturing into television and theater, stage, and having done that successfully, when you went back into record Angel Down, did you feel compelled to prove to critics that you could still blow things up with a new album?
What a great question! Because SuperGroup was airing exactly, when we were recording this, for the first time. Like literally, I was watching myself fall down the stairs drunk off my ass with Roy Z. and Bobby, and we were all looking at each other going, "That's insane!" So they're 100 percent, "Okay, take this on!" Great question, nobody asked me that. The song "You Don't Understand", to me vocally, is a very special song. One of my favorite songs I ever sang is called "In a Darkened Room", and there's a verse in there, the second verse, where I go into this high, clean sound in my voice that always was shocking to me, so I tried to put some more of that on this record. And the song "You Don't Understand" ... I can remember watching SuperGroup going, "Fuck this shit!" Being really pissed off, and saying, "I'm gonna make this song, 'You Don't Understand', so beautiful ... shove it up your motherfucking ass, Planet Earth!" I still remember watching that show and flicking a switch in my head saying, "That's it!" Great question, so yes I do. Once I flick that switch in my head, you better look out! 'Cause that's like a real thing up there.
With the involvement in SuperGroup, with the surge of reality based television programs ... you saw what happened with Rockstar SuperNova ...
No, I didn't see that one.
It got so much press, but commercially it didn't do that well.
Because there's nothing to it.
It was a TV creation ... bring superstars together and see if they can make an album with an amateur. It didn't particularly work, but if someone was to come to you and say, "Okay Baz, you can pick a bassist, drummer, and guitar player to make a legitimate super group to record an album," who would you pick?
Well, I would've picked Ted Nugent.
Uncle Ted, alright.
No, no, no [laughs]. The reason I just answered you like that is 'cause I fully expected us to make a record, and do a couple of shows ... it would've been simple, it would've been easy, but they didn't want to. Um, who would I pick? I'd definitely pick Vinnie Paul on the drums. Bobby I love just as much, but Vinnie knows how to produce records and has his own label and all this stuff. He's like a businessman. I love Bobby just as much as Vinnie on the drums, they're both equally as good to me, but I love the album Hellyeah so much that I'd love to do some work with Vinnie Paul, definitely. Um, bass? Geddy Lee, put him on there.
That's an interesting choice.
Guitar ... hmmm ... I don't know ... God. I love my guys. I guess I'm not allowed to say my guys. Um, guitar ... well I love Ace Frehley. I'd love it if Ace had like, the tone of Rock and Roll Over. I love that guitar sound. That would be so great. I don't know dude, I'm not really thinking about other bands these days, so much.
Fair enough. With respect to what you've done in your career, how would you compare the transition from music into acting, versus acting back into music?
Number one, acting in theater is totally different than acting on TV. That's two different things. They're not the same. Theater is much more like rock 'n' roll because there's an audience. So right there it's different, there's no audience in television. So that's different. Theater is way more similar to rock 'n' roll. How would I describe the transition?
Was it easier to go from one to the other?
It's basically ... okay, I've done a lot of TV, so it's hard to compare I Love the '70s or I Love the '80s to Trailer Park Boys or Gilmore Girls. Trailer Park Boys is the coolest thing I ever did on television. I don't know if you've seen it, it's in Canada, but you can see it on YouTube, I believe. That's the best thing, and Gilmore Girls too, that's very creative, and fun. The difference between music and TV is you can't even compare the two. There is no art form like music that makes you feel in your heart the way that you feel when you hear a song that you love. There's nothing that will transport you back to the place where you first heard it. I can guarantee you in 10 years from now, we will play Angel Down and we will think of this time right now. That's why I bristle when I hear the word '80s, whatever, it's 'cause I don't look at one certain time of my life, I look at my whole life, like my dad did. He painted every day, and he didn't paint any different in '79 and '89, he just painted. So it's like music defines the time.
Angel Down will only grow in importance. Just like Subhuman Race when it came out, people weren't ready for it. But over time, people loved that album, because it's a good album. And the cream always rises to the top. That's what she said! [laughing] But that's true too, and it's like, it's such a personal thing. I chuckle because I just think of anybody that got the record and put it in their iPod and put in their headphones and pressed play, and turned it up and got their fucking head blown off by the opening riff. I'm chuckling right now, because I know it kicks ass, I don't need anybody to tell me. And I don't even need sales to tell me, because it's such a fucked up world that we live in, I can't go by that. I just have to go by my heart, you know, the way I always have done, and the way I always will.
Feeling so good about the album, and what you've created, are you anxious to get it out on the road?
To be honest with you ... I'm 39 years old now and I'm not old by any means, but touring clubs is a very different lifestyle, and hours and everything, than touring arenas, and touring theaters, Broadway shows. It's just a different scene. I don't look forward to going and playing every club in the world, just 'cause I just did the whole Guns N' Roses tour and we sold out Madison Square Garden, and the Meadowlands, and everywhere, so I mean I'd obviously love to keep doing that, but I'm not gonna wait around either. So I'm going to try my best. My whole point of this is it's a hard fuckin' life touring around clubs, you know? It just is, it's not easy going on stage at midnight on a Wednesday night, and pulling out of town at 6am and driving and getting there at three in the afternoon. It's just ridiculous, dude ... but I'm gonna go do it. [laughs]. After all that, we're going! Let's go! Yeah!
We look forward to seeing you.
Woo! Let's do it! I'll try my hardest.
I have two more questions. For you, who's done a lot professionally, what's more challenging, taking the stage in front of a sold out Madison Square Garden or a packed Broadway theater?
You can't compare the two, only because on a rock 'n' roll stage, I'm in charge ... unless Ted Nugent's in my band [laughs]. But on a Broadway stage, Andrew Lloyd Weber is in charge. You know what I mean? Everything is scripted and disciplined on a Broadway stage, and everything is unscripted and undisciplined on a rock 'n' roll stage, if it's any good. I mean the set list is scripted, but you know, it's always something different. So Broadway is pretty much the same thing all the time. That's the big difference.
Last one, and this is the obligatory question. You look back at 2007, you see Led Zeppelin , Heaven and Hell, the Police, and Van Halen. Do you ever envision a time when you could be standing in front of Skid Row again?
I had to ask that because everybody is so jacked up on reunions and reunion tours.
Then they can go reunite with their fucking people. Have fun, that's you, that's not me.
Understood. I appreciate that answer. Leave the past where the past is and look towards the future.
Right on. All right buddy, enjoy that jacket.
I will, and we'll see you some place, somewhere, sometime, soon.
Hey, were me or Vince ever that skinny?