Bach on Track
A youth crisis is upon us. Our children are in peril, their minds atrophying like lunchmeat in the sun. Only one man has the solution. "The sad state of the fuckin' nation, dude," observes ex-Skid Row screamer Sebastian Bach, "is that the kids have never seen bands like Mötley Crüe or Skid Row or Guns n' Roses."
Can a catastrophe of this magnitude be averted? Glam-metal survivor Bach (performing in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, April 25) has a solo career gaining steam, and he may well have the attitude -- if not the musical vision -- single-handedly to make the world safe for spandex again.
Born Sebastian Bierk in the Bahamas in April 1968, Bach is the epitome of the flamboyant lead singer-type found throughout the bumper crop of butt rockers from the 1980s. With his sculpted cheekbones and supermodel tresses, he was easily the most photogenic of the lot. Skid Row's place in the pantheon once seemed secure alongside Poison, Ratt, Mötley Crüe, and other dim-bulb wig farmers, but as the '90s gave way to the Great Flannel Invasion, hard rock suffered heavy casualties. The majority of these hair bands disappeared. The rest re-formed on a miniature scale to start from scratch, playing small clubs before clambering back to the amphitheater circuit. Bach has, too -- and he's damn proud of it.
"Radio and media are always a little bit behind what's really going on in the street," he says. "Meanwhile, I'm on a stage in front of 40,000 people while their goofy fuckin' bullshit new grunge band of the week is playing some club for 20 kids. The only person talking about the shows I do is me! But that's OK, I can talk enough!"
Calling from a tour stop in Michigan, Bach's always ready to talk about himself. After languishing during the second half of the '90s, he's opted for a flashy vehicle in which to come back. Sebastian Bach & Friends includes guitarist Jimmy Flemion from Wisconsin's legendary underground troupe the Frogs; guitarist Richie Scarlet, best known for work with Kiss' Ace Frehley; drummer Mark "BamBam" McConnell, who played in Bach's first band, Madam X; and a bassist "known only as Larry." Despite the new members, the bandleader insists audiences should expect the same Bach-analia of old.
"It's pretty much hard rock, straight-up-the-fuckin'-line hard rock," he boasts. "'Cause that's what I do best. And that's what it's going to be. People will really enjoy it, and when you see the band, it's an exciting, visual band -- we totally look like future-glam from the year 2000." Whether that vision's in line with today's musical milieu is of little concern to him.
"I really think it's in the air for rock 'n' roll to make a mainstream comeback. Hard rock will never go away, no matter how many people try to kill it, because it's an actual physical thing that you need. A lot of people say, 'It's not the right time.' I got one fuckin' life, man, and I'll make the time."
Skid Row's time passed in a flash. The band's 1989 self-titled debut, immediately following Bon Jovi and the zenith of hair metal, racked up four million sales. Two massively melodic anthems ("Youth Gone Wild" and "18 and Life") sent the album to No. 6 on the Billboard charts and landed Bach's mug on the cover of Rolling Stone. The horrific "I Remember You" still defines -- for better or worse -- precisely what a power ballad is.
The second Skid Row album, 1991's Slave to the Grind, entered the charts at No. 1, but its stripped-down, punk-metal affectations didn't have the same resonance with audiences and ended up selling fewer than a million units.
But Skid Row began to show signs of stress even before success slipped away. A 1989 show in Springfield, Missouri, turned nasty when Bach was pegged in the head with a beer bottle. Bleeding and angry, he hurled the bottle back into the crowd, hitting an innocent teenager in the face and sending her to the hospital. Less than apologetic in that incident's aftermath, Bach -- on probation at the time -- was then featured in a magazine wearing a Tshirt with the phrase "AIDS Kills Fags Dead," drawing a shitstorm of bad press his way.
"It sounds like I'm taking some more shit for it right now!" he grumbles. "A Tshirt that I wore backstage at a concert when I was 19 years old is somehow worthy of talking about. All I can say is, if everybody had a microscope on them at 19 years old, we'd all be getting in a lot of shit. That's how old I was when that went down." This technicality may be lost in the fog as well -- Bach's birth date would have made him at least 21 at the time.
With that Skid Row started skidding, hitting small clubs and Holiday Inns on the way down instead of the arenas and suites waiting for them on the way up. Although MTV rotated the band's videos heavily at first, the network quickly turned fickle on glam-metal in general and Skid Row in particular. Bach -- sounding slightly stoned -- can recall the sensation, if not every detail.
"We gave MTV seven videos in a row that went to No. 1," he howls. "I'll list 'em for you: 'Youth Gone Wild,' '18 and Life,' 'Piece of Me,' 'I Remember You,' 'Slave to the Grind,' 'Monkey Business,' and, uh, that's it. That's seven, seven in a row. The next one we did, 'Quicksand Jesus,' they wouldn't even play, not even in light rotation. Just think of how wrong that is: They didn't even give us a chance to fuckin' flop. You figure that maybe, at four in the morning, they might play it once. But no. No. The public is dying to see the next Skid Row video, but five guys up in a skyscraper with three-piece suits are saying no."
Bach overestimated public demand for Skid Row product. When the Subhuman Race album sank without a trace in 1995, the band forced Bach to leave. "They kicked me out -- it's not by my choice," he sniffs.
In 1997 he resurfaced in the most unlikely of places. Creating a strange supergroup with guitarist Kelley Deal (the Breeders), Flemion, and Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, the team recorded almost 20 songs over the course of four days, but Deal's altrock streak and Bach's metallic screech canceled each other out. One cut -- a tribal take on Alice Cooper's "School's Out" -- appeared on the Scream soundtrack. The other material has yet to be released.
"It's a great theory and everything," he says. "But we do come from very different genres. Kelley and I did get into several very heated musical discussions. I mean, I'm into hard rock, and it's gotta kick ass if it's got my name on it."
Still, Flemion and Bach forged a musical kinship. The two assembled Sebastian Bach & Friends, and late last year Bring 'Em Bach Alive hit stores. Just five of its tracks are new; two of those are penned by Flemion. "He's a freak," says Bach. "He's six-foot-seven, I'm six-foot-four, and I'm a shrimp next to him on stage. Plus, he wears these green sequined wings; they're nine feet in diameter when he spreads 'em out."
The rest of Bring 'Em Bach Alive is live versions of old Skid Row songs, recorded at a Tokyo concert with the new personnel. Although most of those tunes weren't written by Bach, he still acts as if he owns them: "I love Skid Row music, and I'll be doing that music till the day I die. I didn't do it for 12 years just to stop because somebody wanted me to. That's not the way it works. I decide what the fuck songs I sing."
Calling what Bach does "singing" may be stretching the term. On Bring 'Em Bach Alive, Bach prefers to unleash a paint-peeling yowl that's never less than stadium-sized. On the new "Rock'N'Roll" and "Done Bleeding," he belts out a sore-throat scream that's practically a plea for cough drops, while his compatriots do their best to recapture late-'80s metal excess, with thick-headed riffs and squealing guitar solos. Flemion's contributions are considerably more interesting, with the tastefully strummed "Superjerk, Superstar, Supertears," coaxing a subdued wail from Bach.
Over the past two years, Bach and his Friends have toured relentlessly, scouring the continent for refugee hair-band fans. He's found them in the most unlikely of places: the Blue Loon in Fairbanks, Alaska. The Corral in Grand Prairie, Alberta. Even in Branson, Missouri. And he's found them ready to rawk. Though Bach can whip a crowd into a frenzy, audiences can't come close to his level of enthusiasm.
"I get such a rush of adrenaline when the lights go down," he shudders. "When the cheers go up and the intro tape starts playing I don't want to get all metaphysical, dude, but when I'm up there singing and everybody's groovin' with me, you can see my fingers tremble when I hit a high note and the vibrato comes out. I can feel it in the air. I know that sounds really hokey, but I swear to God there's a presence in that building that's not there when I'm just walking around or something."
Not big on humility, Bach acknowledges that he's earned whatever support he can generate these days. "I don't take any of this for granted. A lot of these guys do take it for granted, and it's gone. I always try to put a hundred percent into my shows. People remember the good times they had in the past, and they want to come have some more fun. And I'm right there. I'm right there for that."
Contact Jeff Stratton at his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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