Every week, Breaking Band introduces an up and coming artist to a rock n’ roll legend. This week, the Finnish heavy metal band Santa Cruz meets Skid Row front man Sebastian Bach. They’ll get to spend the day with Bach, jam to Twisted Sister and get some practical advice about the industry.
I got to speak with Bach when he attended AXS TV’s reception for the Television Critics Association. He gave me some straight talk about the rock n’ roll lifestyle too, and hinted at his plans to return to Gilmore Girls on Netflix. Breaking Band airs Sunday nights at 9:30pm on AXS.
Sebastian Bach Interview:
Have all the music shows on TV made it appealing for musicians to go on TV in some format other than performing?
Sebastian Bach: “Not to me. I can’t imagine being a kid from the Midwest having a dream, like, ‘Oh, I’m going to be a professional singer.’ And then standing up in front of three celebrities and have them tell you, ‘No, you’re not.’ That is so not rock n’ roll. That is just not rock n’ roll. Rock n’ roll is supposed to be fun. There’s a place for those shows but that’s more like karaoke. News flash: You don’t become an American idol by covering other songs. That’s not an American idol.”
My thing is people vote on the performers they think have the best voice, then they release an album and it’s all filtered digital noise.
Sebastian Bach: “Right, but it’s also they’re not coming up with their own songs. There are stars from that show. Carrie Underwood is incredible. Her singing is amazing and she’s a star, but I can’t even name half the other people or most of the other people on that show. Ruben Studdard, is that guy really an idol of America? There are so many of them that just come and go and I think the difference between those kind of shows and this show, Breaking Band, the show that I did with these guys, they’re like four scrappy kids in a van driving to the gig, setting up their amps, writing their own material, selling it on the road in a rock band. To me that’s more actually real of what it’s about.”
Who is Yngwie Malmsteen, the guitarist you compared Santa Cruz to?
Sebastian Bach: “He’s known as a shredder. He’s one of the fastest guitar players in the world. You can Google that.”
I really liked your advice to Santa Cruz, like take vocal lessons.
Sebastian Bach: “Oh yeah. There’s a big difference between singing on the weekend and then booking six shows in a week and charging money to have people come hear you. You have to know how to do that without blowing it out. It’s a fine line. The guy in Nickelback just cancelled six months of shows. Knock on wood, I’ve never cancelled a show.”
When did you take your vocal lessons?
Sebastian Bach: “When I told my dad that I was going to do this for real for a living, he goes, ‘No, you’re not.’ And I go, ‘Yes, I am.’ He goes, ‘No, you’re not.’ I go, ‘Yes, I am.’ He goes, ‘Well, okay, if you are, you’re going to do this for real. You will go every Thursday to this address and take vocal lessons with this opera singer. I’m going to pay for it, and if you don’t show up then I’m not paying for it.’ And I showed up every Thursday and took vocal lessons since I was 13, 14.
There’s a technique called speech level singing where you can sing the melody of the song and save your power for these screams and stuff. If you go too hard throughout the whole song, you won’t be able to get the really high notes. I don’t just show up and sing. I sing every day for a week before anybody like you gets to hear me. My wife hears me all the time but if I’m charging money for you to come hear me sing, I have to get the muscles going days ahead of time.”
The advice that really impacted me was “say no.” I’m still trying to learn that.
Sebastian Bach: “Dave Grohl said that and I fell out of my chair because you really do have to say that all the time. You have to retain your cool. People that aren’t cool will have you do some sh*t that’s not cool.”
What did you say no to early on?
Sebastian Bach: “Oh God, that’s a crazy question. Here’s one I said no to. You can do to the video ‘Slave to the Grind’ by Skid Row. When we showed up there, they had this chick in a bikini. She was supposed to be in the video and she was going to be objectified sexually in the video. I was going to be the front man, like a groupie. I go, ‘She’s not going to be in this video.’ Everybody’s mad. I go, ‘That’s not what the song’s about. We don’t need to have hot chicks. That’s not what we’re doing.’ I had to cause a big scene. I said, ‘No, we’re not doing that kind of video. That sh*t’s tired.’ The director came and goes, ‘You know, you’re right. That’s good that you say things like that.’ At the time, you don’t want to piss people off or make them mad, but that’s what separated Skid Row from some of the other bands at that time. Our videos weren’t objectifying ‘Cherry Pie’ with a piece of pie in the crotch. I would say no to sh*t like that all the time.”
But you said yes to Gilmore Girls, didn’t you?
Sebastian Bach: “Well, yeah. I like working with professionals who are excited about what they do. The vibe on that show, Gilmore Girls, was so much energy and creativity. Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband would write these dialogues. You’ve seen the show. I would say these lines as fast as I could and they’d go, ‘Faster!’ Because they would have so many words, right? I would feel like I’m talking like an auctioneer. Then I got an audition, they wanted me to be on the show Law & Order. I went in for the audition and I spoke at the speed of Gilmore Girls. They go, ‘Slow down, dude.’ And I go, ‘Well, I’m on this show Gilmore Girls where they talk really fast.’ With Netflix, that show’s huge again. Everywhere I go, people talk about it.”
They’re doing a new one.
Sebastian Bach: “I know all about it.” [Winks]
Are you going to be involved?
Sebastian Bach: “I think the fans would love that. We shall see.”
Travel kills me. How do you do the road every night?
Sebastian Bach: “Well, I learned this years ago and my wife had to learn this recently. When I’m playing that night, I rest all day. When I first started in Skid Row, I would try to go sightseeing. I would try to go jogging or do things during the day. When you’re traveling every day, if you have a gig that night, as the years go on, you realize that’s enough. You can’t go sightseeing at nine in the morning and then be good at nine o’clock at night. When you talk about the travel, my advice to you is do your work and the rest of the time, f***ing rest.”
You chose to play Twisted Sister “I Wanna Rock.” Were you a big fan and had you ever played together back in the day?
Sebastian Bach: “Well, lyrically, you can cite brilliant words in the history of music, like John Lennon, ‘Imagine all the people living life in peace.’ I put Twisted Sister ‘I wanna rock’ right up there. You wanna know why? Because I want to rock. This says everything I need to say. I wanna rock. Do you wanna rock? It’s a simple sentiment that means oh so much. I wanna rock. I really do.”
Have you kept up with Santa Cruz since the show?
Sebastian Bach: “Just on Instagram because they’re in Finland which is kind of far. It’s just great. They’re just kids. They’re like mini Sebastians. They’re like my children, my proteges, my brethren. They’re just fun and I hope this does something for them.”