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Sebastian Bach (Interview)

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“Get ready for Bas-Fest!” Always a tornado of excitable energy, Sebastian Bach is more than ready to talk about his new solo album, Give ‘Em Hell. In fact, Bach is excited to talk about everything. To remain this positive, this downright happy, is somewhat quizzical after going through a life like his in the music business. He is not without scars or burned bridges. He has fronted a hugely popular band, scored hit singles and been loved and adored by many, many fans. He has also fallen out of favor with some of those same fans as well as the musical mediums that once played “18 & Life,” “Youth Gone Wild” and “Slave To The Grind” ad nauseam. He reinvented himself as an actor with a recurring role on Gilmore Girls and on a different lighted stage in the lead roles of Jekyll & Hyde and Jesus Christ Superstar. He lost his home in the wrath of Hurricane Irene in 2011 but found love with girlfriend Minnie Gupta, who has appeared in several of his music videos. This has been the life of Sebastian Bach, warts and all.

“Bach is the Peter Pan of rock & roll,” singer Franky Perez told me a few days ago. “The guy doesn’t age in appearance or outlook on life. It’s fucking refreshing. Making records is a walk in the park when you’re enjoying yourself. The afternoon I played harp on that tune, we did just that.” That album became Give ‘Em Hell, which is chock full of hard rocking tunes like the first singles, “Temptation” and “All My Friends Are Dead.” “The one thing I’m a little bummed about,” continued Perez. “Is that he didn’t go with the album title he was considering that day: ABACHalypse Now!!!”

What’s going on in your world, Bas?

I have a new CD called Give ‘Em Hell and it’s the number three top selling album on the Billboard Hard Rock Album chart as we speak, so that’s awesome. I got three new videos out – “Temptation,” “All My Friends Are Dead” and “Taking Back Tomorrow.” Getting ready to go on tour all summer. I also have a new TV show premiering May 31 on ABC-TV called Sing Your Face Off. That’s eight episodes of crazy American culture. And I’m also doing a book. Other than that I’m just taking it easy (laughs)

Tell us about the new record. It sounds harder than Kicking & Screaming.

The last album, Kicking & Screaming, was written by one little kid. Not the whole album but a lot of it came from one guy. And the album before that, Angel Down, I wrote more on that and also on Give ‘Em Hell I wrote more. My taste is kind of heavy, kind of dark, heavy, grooving rock & roll; like “Monkey Business” by Skid Row is probably my favorite Skid Row song that I ever did. I try to put music in your phone and your iPod that you expect from me. There are ballads on there too, there’s three ballads. I’ve got some great guest stars, Duff McKagan and Steve Stevens and John 5. I’m just super happy with it. It’s a great album and it just jams in the car, man. It’s very good for getting through traffic very quickly (laughs)

You kept the drummer but got a new guitar player.

Well, I actually got three guitar players. I’ve always been a fan of Steve Stevens and Duff McKagan and John 5. On the last record, Kicking & Screaming, we did a song with John 5 called “Tunnelvision,” so it was great to work with him again. But you got to be able to keep up with me if you’re in my band. It’s fast-paced and there’s always something going on. So if you’re not with the train, you’re off the train (laughs). [singing] Train kept-a rolling all night long (laughs)

Why did you decide to call this Give ‘Em Hell?

It’s like an expression from comic books that I would buy as a kid, like war comics: “Get in there and give ‘em hell.” I always look for a title that rolls off the tongue and fun to say. I called up the artist who was doing the cover and he goes, “Ok, cool, I’m just going to put you in hell.” (laughs) And I just said alright! Heavy metal! Go for it.

Yeah, that cover is kind of scary

Yeah, it kind of reminds me of one of the pictures I did when I was in Jekyll & Hyde, the Broadway show. I did a lot of pictures to kind of look like that. It’s just fantasy and fun and something fun to do.

sebastian bach 2014 (2)

You said you wrote more on this album.

I’ve written on every album that I’ve done but my primary objective is to get the album done. So if somebody writes something that’s great, I don’t see a need to change it just to get my name on it, like I know some songwriters do. If something’s finished, it’s finished. But I was under deadline for this album and I tried to meet the deadline, so I just did it myself (laughs) I co-wrote five of the songs on Slave To The Grind back in 1991 and five more on Subhuman Race after that. I’ve always written songs so now is no different.

What was the so-called surprise song on this album – the one that came in at the last minute or the one that completely changed from it’s original version?

Well, the song that changed from it’s original version would be “Rock N Roll Is A Vicious Game” because it’s a cover of April Wine, an old Canadian band, a great band. And I like ballads that tell a story, going back to “18 & Life.” That song tells a story and I get to sing in a more ballad-style. My friend Franky Perez plays the harmonica in that song. He’s awesome and it’s a great harmonica solo, amazing. So that would be the one that was the most different from the original.

You come from a big family. Do you think that had any influence on your stage persona being so vivacious, like you had to show off to be noticed and heard?

Wow, what an interesting question.

sebastian bach 2014We can’t call you a wallflower, that’s for sure.

Yeah (laughs). My dad was the center of attention in the room whenever he was in the room. He was a painter and artist, he had his own art gallery that he started and that’s all I ever heard about when I was a little boy at the dinner table. He would just go on and on and on about his art, and his skin would be covered in paint at all times. He wouldn’t wash it off and just be covered in this paint the whole time. And I remember one night at dinner I said, “Dad, can we talk about something other than art please!” (laughs) And everybody started laughing. But I also learned from him 100% to take something in life that you love to do and then you’re never truly working. I mean, I play rock & roll and I tour the world and I sing music. What could be better than that? I learned that from him.

What would you say was THE song or album that literally changed your life, that made you want to do this?

Well, the album that changed my life was the first Skid Row album. That album made me a wealthy man and I bought a home and a car and I bought cars as gifts for other people. And this all happened when I was twenty years old or twenty-one. So that’s the album that changed my life for sure, without a doubt. The album that made me want to do this would be Motley Crue’s Shout At The Devil. Maybe, yeah (laughs)

You’ve been playing gigs for a long time, since you were in your early teens. What was it like before Skid Row when you were doing the clubs?

It was a life that needed or wanted nothing more than rock & roll. Nothing mattered to me ever, and still to this day. We didn’t give a shit about anything else. We rehearsed, we played gigs, we partied after the show and then we went on to the next town. I did my first tour of America in a band called Madam X. I was maybe sixteen or seventeen. And here I am at forty-six still doing the same thing. Pretty amazing life, if you think about it.

What was the hardest lesson you learned on your own when you first became a professional musician?

This is a very standard answer to that: It’s the business side of it. Sign your own checks. Don’t let anyone else sign your checks. Very simple concept. Anybody that knows the music industry knows you have to fight for that to happen. Very simple. Be the guy that signs the fucking checks, which I am. That’s a very solid, useful, practical, meaningful lesson.

Do you believe that the voice is the hardest instrument to actually master and perfect?

Not for me it’s not. The other ones are very much harder (laughs)

How do you take care of your voice because it sounds amazing?

I don’t drink anymore so I don’t know what that means but I have a scale called Bel Canto. You know, I’m still singing higher than ever. Even my speaking voice is quite high. I’m 6’4 and my arms are super long, my legs are super long, my fingers are super long and I’ve always thought that maybe my vocal cords are super long (laughs). Because like when I listen to “Push Away” on the new record, I’m singing higher than I‘ve ever sang in my life. And that’s insane to think about. But maybe I have tall vocal cords like the rest of me (laughs). Maybe I have a bigger depth of scales that matches my range of my voice. That would make sense, you know.

You’re going to be touring over the summer. Is that how your year is going to go?

Yeah, I’m booked right now from late June until October so that’s like a real rock tour. Where are you?

I’m near New Orleans

I don’t know if we’re playing New Orleans but I played the House Of Blues in New Orleans on one of my solo tours and I also did Jesus Christ Superstar there at the Saenger Theater and Phil Anselmo of Pantera came to see Jesus Christ Superstar with me in it and I’m pretty sure that’s the only Broadway musical Phil Anselmo has attended (laughs)

How different is the preparation of doing a rock show vs doing a Broadway stage show? Is it a different mindset?

It depends on the show. In the mid-nineties when grunge was really big, it wasn’t very cool to sing in the style of Sebastian Bach or Steve Perry or metal-style. It was considered not cool to scream and sing ballads, you know what I’m saying. That was not cool, like in 1995 or 1996. So for a couple of years there, I didn’t try so hard to sing like Sebastian Bach is known to sing. Like when I listen to my first solo record, Bring ‘Em Bach Alive, I’m not even trying really to do all the things I am capable of.

In Jekyll & Hyde, there was only one or two times in the show where I was allowed to scream in that upper range. But in Jesus Christ Superstar, there were all of these high screams that Ted Neeley did in the movie and that Ian Gillan did on the original album that I was learning to do the role. And that was the first time that I got my voice warmed up again in that super high range. And it felt incredible to walk on the stage and fucking scream like so high and people couldn’t believe it. They were like, “Wow, Dude, you should do this for a living.” (laughs) So it was in that production, when I was really singing high again, that I said, “Ok, that’s the way I’m going to sing in my rock & roll now again. I’m not going to try to not sing to the best of my ability. That’s bullshit. I’m going to be the best I can be no matter what other bands are doing. I’m going to be singing in that way for as long as I can.” And Give ‘Em Hell is a perfect example of that way of thinking.

Does it surprise you that at your age you are still hitting the high notes?

Yeah, it 100% does. In the mid-nineties, when I told you before that I didn’t really try so hard cause I didn’t think people wanted to hear that, I maybe would sometimes try and I wouldn’t be able to do it because I didn’t have those muscles revved up and going. But once I get them going, I know how to keep them. It’s just a way of singing. I save all my power for those super high notes and I get it going like that and I try to sing as clean as possible and save the dirty part of my voice to use as little as possible. It’s kind of like a trick (laughs)

You’re blessed with great vocal cords and great stamina

And great hair! You can’t forget that (laughs) I’m not follicly challenged.

Do you think you are at your happiest moment now?

I’ve been through a lot of personal things. I’m in love deeply with this girl for over three years now and she makes me very, very happy in my personal life. So that’s good. But yeah, I’m pretty happy. Yeah, I would say so.

Who was the first real rock star you ever met?

Steve Harris from Iron Maiden. Or Dave Murray. They were staying at the hotel in Toronto and we were waiting outside the hotel and they came out. And I have pictures of this. Maybe before that, Stephen Pearcy of Ratt. There’s a TV show in Toronto called The NewMusic and they were interviewing Ratt on their first tour in store and I was in line to get their autographs and they said, “Ok, we want somebody in the line to ask Ratt a question on television.” And they picked me. Wow. I was thirteen or something. So I’m on TV, and there’s footage of this of me at the age of thirteen interviewing Ratt on a Canadian television program. So that might have been the first.

What do you think of Halestorm’s version of “Slave To The Grind?”

I love it! What an honor that a band would do your song so many years later. It’s incredible. I got to do that song with them at the Revolver Golden Gods Awards. They’re a great, great band.

What still excites you about making music?

You know, some rock bands get really fixated and obsessed with one or two songs or albums in their life. I don’t get that. What excites me is adding to the catalog. If you like the albums I’ve done before, I want to give you another one that you’re going to rock out to. That’s exciting to me. Playing live is fun but that is more of a physical test – traveling and getting to the next town and blah, blah, blah, dealing with the airport and then customs and all that kind of thing. But albums are for forever and ever and ever. So I really enjoy making records. It’s exciting to me.

Anything you’d like to say to your fans?

Yeah, go get the new CD so I can do another one (laughs).

For more on Sebastian Bach, check out our interview from 2011

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