Rachel Bolan of Skid Row: Taking on the World!

By Jeb Wright

Skid Row is a band that is truly a ‘slave to the grind’!  They keep slogging out their brand of ‘80s Metal across the world, nearly non-stop.  The only time they seem to take a break is when they have new music to record, which they have recently done and those tunes are now released.  

Classic Rock Revisited caught up with bassist Rachel Bolan about Skid’s newest EP, titled United World Rebellion - Part 2.  The band prefers putting out smaller batches of songs rather than full albums in today’s tumultuous music marketplace.  It seems to be working, as it gives fans a constant stream of new music instead of waiting years between albums.

Part rockers, part punks, and full of attitude, Skid Row is a band that pushes ahead with a purpose.  They have such a rock and roll attitude that they will give their “all”, whether they are performing in front of 300 or 300,000 fans. 

United World Rebellion - Part 2 is a throwback to the band’s earliest days, a mix of early Skid with the bands who influenced them to take the stage in the first place.  Throw in a couple of killer classic remakes by the bands Queen and Aerosmith, and you have some kick-ass tunes that harken to the hard-rock days of yore! 

In the interview that follows, Bolan discusses the new tunes, Skid Row’s unrelenting tenacity, as well as how much fun it was to remake those classic songs.  We discuss how the band is taking their future into their own hands and building their fan base around the world.  Oh yeah, we also talk about that blond-haired guy who used to sing for them and why Rachel gets the finger pointed at him for poo-pooing any kind of reunion. 

Read on…this is a good one!

Jeb: The traditional record company is no more.  I like how you are releasing music in batches.  Is that the way of the future for Skid Row?

Rachel: Over in Europe they call these mini-albums, and over here they call them EP's.  Back in 2012 we were kicking around the idea of doing this.  I think Snake [Sabo] may have brought it up, I am not sure.  A few bands had done it, and it seemed like a cool way of doing things.  Logistically, it works out great, as we all live in different parts of the country.  It takes a lot to get together, as everyone has families and stuff. 

It takes a lot of pressure off.  Instead of writing thirty songs, choosing ten and then riding on that for two years, we write ten and pick five.  We are doing it three years in a row. We are going to do three chapters for United World Rebellion.  It works out well.  In today's world of ‘information overload’, it keeps things fresh.  It’s economically easier on Skid Row fans to throw down six, or seven bucks instead of throwing down fifteen, or twenty.  We really enjoy doing things this way.  It keeps it fresh and it keeps it fun, as we are out there pushing new records and we all stay very involved. 

Jeb: Are you recording this on the road, or do you still go into the studio?

Rachel: We still go into the studio.  We will throw ideas on our iPhones and we will start bouncing ideas off of each other.  It is pretty much the same way we used to do it, but instead of a Dictaphone we use our cell phones.  We like to be in the room with each other when we record, and we like to feed off of each other, and we like to make last minute changes on the fly.  It is just the way we like doing things.  We are not just in the back of a tour bus recording.  We like bringing in a whole bunch of guitars and finding what works for what song, and stuff like that. 

Jeb: All chapters make up an entire album.

Rachel: People ask me if this is a concept, and I would say that it is not but that it is a theme.  They will all go together.  Skid Row is a band that has always believed in standing up for themselves and believing in themselves.  United World Rebellion takes that attitude to a global level. 

We have sectors popping up all over the world on Twitter.  Because of social media, our fans can all come together.  We will see a guy who is the sector leader in France and then another one will open up somewhere else.  We were in Spain and there were sector leaders from South America there.  They were hanging out with the sector leader from Spain.  It was really cool.  It really joins all of our fans together and gets all of the fans involved.  It really worked out well and we couldn't be happier. 

Jeb: It’s kind of like what Zakk Wylde did with Black Label Society.

Rachel:  It is.  He has his chapters and we have our sectors.  It's a pretty cool thing, you know.  I had mentioned calling a street team a ‘sector’ and I guess it went from there.  I am a race guy and I got the idea from watching Formula One, as they break the track up into sectors in terms of timing and scoring.  I just kind of put it out there and everyone latched onto it.  I didn't think it would go as far as it has, and it is really cool how it has snowballed. 

Jeb: I saw something that read ‘Skid Row rises up’ when people are ready to push you aside.  Does all of this being of your own volition really fuel the fire?

Rachel: It really does.  Just to have control of everything... anything that comes out of Skid Row goes through Skid Row first, unless its bootlegs.  We design the shirts and we make our own merchandise---we don't literally 'make' it, but we come up with the concepts.  Everything that is Skid Row belongs to us. 

Jeb: You sound as if you were going back to your roots this last time around…

Rachel: During the making of the first chapter, I am super proud of how it came out.  As cliché as it sounds, we were really trying to find our roots.  Our band has a twenty-five year history, and it is not as easy to retrace your steps after that long.  A year before we wrote Chapter One, I didn't listen to anything new.  I just listened to the stuff that influenced me to write when we wrote the first few records.  I listened to Aerosmith and Kiss and the Ramones and AC/DC and the stuff that inspired me in the first place.  We did the same thing with Chapter Two, and we just ran with it.  I think we all stepped up.  Each EP, we put a little more of ourselves into. 

Jeb:  Johnny [Solinger] sounds good on this latest batch of songs.   Vocally, this was good.  Not that I am saying he was not good before, but this time out he really did good. 

Rachel: He worked really hard, and I think it really translated onto ProTools [laughter]. 

Jeb: You have five songs and then two remakes.  I think the five Skid Row songs have more of a traditional hard rock theme and less Rachel punk flavored stuff. 

Rachel: Snake and I were adamant to having this sound like Skid Row, and we wanted it to feel like Skid Row.  I think the closest thing to the punkiness is our version of “Sheer Heart Attack.” 

Jeb: “We Are the Damned” could be on Youth Gone Wild.

Rachel: Everyone that I have done an interview with has said the same damn thing.  Let’s hope it does well at radio. 

Jeb: Radio is a hard thing to deal with these days. 

Rachel: We just hope for the best at this point because commercial radio is just not the same.  Satellite radio will play us.  Commercial radio is a different animal now.  The bands that get played are newer bands.  You have your media darling bands like Foo Fighters and I don't mean that in a bad way, but you just know they will get their new song played. Five Finger Death Punch will get on there.  When you have bands that were influenced by bands from our era they get the door opened first. We hope for the best, and we hope we can get on there. 

Jeb: How many of these songs can you fit in the set in your allotted time? 

Rachel: We manage to do it.  The set keeps getting longer.  It gets really tough when you go to festivals where you have a limited set time.  You have to pull songs out as there are five or six songs that we have to do.  We like to add new stuff as well.  You can't go overboard with new stuff, especially this day and age when we are not selling millions of records.  You have to pick songs that will get the audience going.  As far as new ones go, we have “Kings of Demolition” which is a good one from Chapter One.  It is a different ballgame here than it is in Europe, as we are still on the radio in Europe.  You just have to hope for the best, and you have to pick a song and go for it.  If it gets the band off, then there is a good chance it will get the crowd off, too.  That is our barometer. 

Jeb: “We are the Damned” is one you need to put in.

Rachel: We are going to probably do it the last few shows of this run and we will do it at some of the festivals we play on the European tour.  We are going to play a festival in Poland where there is going to be like a half a million people.  We are probably going to make a DVD from that concert. 

Jeb: Has your approach to the music changed over the years?  You make the music and you are a businessman... it has to be different than being a bright-eyed kid who signed on the dotted line.

Rachel: We've grown a lot wiser and we've learned a lot.  We've asked a lot of questions over the last twenty five years.  I consider Snake and I ‘wise businessmen’.  You have to protect the brand and you have to do what is right.  It may mean more money, or less money, but you have to do what is right and what makes you happy. 

We still get to go on the road and play music for a living... a comfortable living.  That is a really cool thing.  We get a lot of flack for playing small places, but what is better, having a night off, or playing some little rock club?  Tonight, we are playing a small rock club in Manhattan, Kansas, which I have never heard of before.  We will get about three hundred people and we are going to go in there and tear it up.  If one of my favorite bands played a small bar in Atlanta I would be first in line for tickets, and it would be very memorable.  We want our fans to feel that way.  It is working out great for us. 

Jeb: The drawback is the guys on the Internet who are going to harass you and say, for lack of a better term, that you've hit skid row!

Rachel: [laughter] That's funny.  The haters... I feel bad for them, but at the same time I laugh at them.  There are so many people that tell me to give it up.  I am like, just because you hate your job does not mean I hate mine.  We still love playing for Skid Row fans and they love us playing for them.  We are not going away anytime soon. 

Facebook is something I call Rantbook.  You see people well into their fifties and they are ranting about everything.  It is funny, but Facebook is a big help.  Fans can keep up with you and they can listen to your music and they can see where we will be playing.  We try to stay up-to-date with all of that stuff.  We are new to Instagram and our web guy has to remind us to make posts.  Facebook has been good.  We passed one million ‘Likes’, which is big for a band like us.  We are about a hundred million behind Lady Gaga, but so be it. 

Jeb: Are you satisfied with Skid Row's legacy, or do you think you're still making it?

Rachel: A little bit of both.  I am really proud of what we've accomplished.  Every time I think we've hit our absolute peak something else comes up.  It could be a show that is so amazing, or you get booked to play at a huge festival where you play in front of a half a million people.  That will be the biggest show we will ever play in our career.  I think that is safe to say.  We played Hellfest a few weeks ago in France and we were on in the middle of the day, and we were a little bummed out about it.  We went out, and there were sixty thousand people there!  After the show we were thrilled, as we could not even see the end of the crowd.  We were wondering what a half a million people will look like. 

Jeb: If it was just about money, then you would tour with Sebastian Bach.  Everyone points the finger at you as to why this won't happen… 

Rachel: Well, there are a couple of things.  We've been offered money.  It’s not as much as people would think, but we've been offered money to do it.  I think us not doing it kind of says that it is not about money as to why we are not doing it.  I am not patting myself on the back, but with our past success, I have plenty of money.  I am more about being happy at what I do.  As far as everyone pointing the finger at me, that came from one person.  We are all individuals.  If they wanted to do it, then I am sure I would have heard about it by now, as they are my best friends.  It is what it is, and certain people say certain things, and you've just got to sit back and laugh. 

Jeb: Does it ever surprise you that people are still pushing for it, and that people like me still ask you about it?

Rachel: Sometimes I think it is just a go-to question.  I usually don't answer them because it doesn't make sense to, but because you and I are friends, that's why I am answering you. 

Jeb: Johnny has had to put up with a lot of shit.  You have all survived the anti-fans out there… 

Rachel: You have the purists that are scared of change.  That is why we called the album Thickskin... the first one with Johnny.  You have to have thick skin.  You know what's funny, Jeb?  We had about 85% supporters, especially outside of the United States.  People like Skid Row music and they welcomed Johnny in.  I am on the inside and it is not as bad as people would think. 

Jeb: You are a punker, and I just wanted to ask you about losing the last original Ramone…

Rachel: I was not aware he had cancer.  I woke up that day in my bunk and the text messages just kept coming in.  I opened one up and it said “Did you hear about Tommy Ramone?”  It is the end of an era, but they have such a cool legacy.  It is sad, but their music lives on.  They are the first band that got me into Punk.  They are together again, making noise somewhere. 

Jeb: Have you ever thought of doing a punk solo album?

Rachel: Absolutely.  I actually have a solo album almost complete, but it is Skid Row world now.  Until we have all three of these done, I would not contemplate going out on the road.  I have a whole bunch of songs and one of these days I will do that. 

Jeb: Let's end talking about these two remakes on Chapter Two.  You cover Aerosmith and Queen.  Dude, you chose two cool-ass songs to cover.

Rachel: On the first EP we released two bonus tracks in Europe, and it received such a good response that we wanted to do it for everyone this time.  It is really hard finding a song that is well-known that has not been covered a million times.  We decided to do what we did with the first one, and we picked songs that fit the theme of United World Rebellion

Snake came up with “Rats in the Cellar.”  One of Johnny's favorite bands is Queen, and we were contemplating a few different Queen songs, and we went online and they had been covered by well known bands.  We thought of “Sheer Heart Attack” and the lyrics are so perfect.  We went in and just kind of rocked it out in the studio. We recorded both tunes in a day.  We knocked them out and had fun with it.  Jeff Tomei, who engineered the record, did a great job. 

That is one of my favorite Queen songs.  When I heard what is sounded like before it was even mixed I was blown away.  When I was 13 years old, I loved that song so much and I used to crank it up so loud that my parents would say, “Hey, would you turn that down a little bit?”  I was just so into it.  To hear us doing it… I never expected to hear us do that.  It was like Jeff read our minds.  When I heard what he did with it, I was so happy.

Jeb: Queen could get dirty on songs like this, but they were a clean band.  Brian May has a clean sound and Freddie's vocals are clean and mean.  They are classy all the way.  They could be dirty when they wanted to.  Skid Row is already dirty and they made this song so dirty sounding.  It works. 

Rachel: That's awesome.  I read up on the origin of the song.  Roger Taylor went in and played everything but the guitar licks that Brian May does.  He was that guy that always wrote the tracks that were in left field.  Roger originally sang the song, but he was already singing another song on the record, so they thought Freddie should sing it.  That shows these guys really understood each other.  It blew me away when I read that he played everything.  You can tell a drummer was playing a rhythm guitar when you listen to it.  That made it even better and it made it the icing on the cake. 

Jeb: “Rats in the Cellar” is cool as hell.  When Snake plays this song you hear his Joe Perry influence. 

Rachel: I am not sure if that song is all Joe, as Brad Whitford played a lot of really popular licks that I always thought was Joe Perry.  The solo that goes out at the end of our version is one take.  Snake did that all in one take.  He wanted to go back and fix a few things and Scotty [Hill] was like, “No way.  This is magic on tape.  Do not mess with it.  You got it.  You nailed it.”  I went in and I was like, “This is awesome.”  He left it.  It was a tough sell with Snake, as he likes to get everything precise.  He did a great song, and he did a great job. 

Jeb: Last one:  Many of your peers are relying on the past.  I think with this chapter you are not. 

Rachel: That's awesome dude, thank you.  We take a lot of pride in these and the whole process is just great.