By David E. Gehlke
Lost in the never-ending SKID ROW reunion chatter with you-know-who is the fact that "The Gang's All Here", the band's recent studio album with new Swedish vocalist Erik Grönwall, is pretty strong. SKID ROW was wise to hook up with noted producer Nick Raskulinecz, who has deftly turned the knobs for RUSH, DEATH ANGEL, MASTODON and STONE SOUR, to name a few. Raskulinecz enabled SKID ROW to tap back into the aggression and anthem-laden choruses that made them a post-hair metal favorite. The result is an album close to all killer, no filler, and the band didn't even take the power ballad bait for good measure. Whether "The Gang's All Here" will suffer a fate similar to other recent albums released by legacy '80s bands remains to be seen, but SKID ROW, for all their issues with vocalists (past and present),is finally on the right path.
Promotional activities for "The Gang's All Here" hit a recent snag when guitarist Dave "Snake" Sabo revealed he needed neck surgery. Years on the road have worn down the guitarist's body, but Sabo was in good spirits when he rang BLABBERMOUTH.NET to talk about the latest in the never-dull world of SKID ROW.
Blabbermouth: Rachel [Bolan, bass] shared some recent health updates about you. How is your neck?
Snake: "I'm good. This is something that had increased over time when I took a bad fall in 2000. Not only did I break every bone in my ankle, but I hit really hard, falling backward. I thought I hurt my head. But I'm so Polish and thick-headed, so that didn't have an effect, but it had an effect on my neck. I started having issues with my nerves going down from my neck to my left arm. A few years later, as it was getting worse and causing more issues, I started attending physical therapy. In Los Angeles, I went to a couple of people who helped, but it was momentary. It wasn't long-lasting. I just let it go and it got gradually worse. Until this past year, going out on tour, which has been happening for the past few years, my arm would freeze up in the middle of a show. I'd be in the middle of a song and my arm would freeze. I could feel it coming when a song was ending. I knew these couple of pressure points on my arm and shoulder that I could loosen up to get me through the next couple of solos. Then I had to ingest some salt, and that loosened it up. It's never to the point where I had free mobility. This nerve stuff always blocked it. I got a few MRIs and they saw three pretty degenerative discs in my neck. They're impeding my spinal column, causing chronic pain in my neck, shoulders and arms. Obviously, being a guitar player, when it starts impeding your ability to play live…"
Blabbermouth: That has to be tough, especially given the nature of your live shows.
Snake: "From a mental aspect, before every show, I'm sitting in my head, 'How am I going to handle it when it happens?' I handle it every time, but it's when I'm in the middle of a song and I go to do a solo and it's impossible to do because you can't move your arm. They're going to replace a couple of discs in my neck. Everyone I've talked to who has gotten similar surgeries said it was life changing. The rehab time is about six-to-eight weeks, but knowing me, it will be shorter."
Blabbermouth: What do you do when you are getting ready to do a solo and your arm freezes up? Do you nod to Scotti [Hill, guitar] and have him take it?
Snake: "I've improvised. [Laughs] It's an ego thing that I will power through this. I just hope we're not recording live! [Laughs] I don't want to listen to that show. Often, I can improvise through it. I refer to it as 'artistic license.' [Laughs] It's one of those things where I've found a way with the help of some people — what a weird thing that is guzzling a couple of tablespoons of salt will actually loosen it up. It's really bizarre."
Blabbermouth: Erik will have been in SKID ROW for a year in January. Not to overgeneralize, but what's been the best thing about having him in the band thus far?
Snake: "It's his positivity, appreciation and respect for life, what he does for a living and his humility. He's got an incredible story. Anything I'm going through pales compared to what he's gone through. [Grönwall was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2021]. To come out of it with the mindset that he has and to be so dedicated to the gift he's given of being able to sing…the guy sings all day long. He shows up to the venue two hours before showtime and he's warming up, playing guitar, or if there's a piano in the dressing room, he's playing that. It's his love of music and singing and playing. It's really inspiring. He has brought new life and positivity to a band that has been doing this for 36 years. To be able to have a guy like that come in and adjust your mindset, we've always been humble guys. We've always been very thankful that we get to do this for a living. It's true. We say it every night onstage because it's the god's-honest truth. We feel very fortunate and thankful. He reinforces that."
Blabbermouth: Erik is also a little younger than you guys. Did it take long for him to fit in?
Snake: "It's funny: We met him four days before the SCORPIONS residency started. We were never in the same room."
Blabbermouth: What a risk.
Snake: "This whole thing was based on gut instinct and nothing more. We knew we were taking a big chance. We were done with the record musically and had about two or three songs cut vocally when we decided we needed to make a change. We all looked at each other, 'What are we doing?' Instinctually, we knew. It sucked to come to that realization. We all liked [previous vocalist] ZP [Theart]. We had a lot of fun with him. He's a good guy and there was no ill will or anything. In reality, we really were moving in different directions. He was moving in one direction; the rest of the band was moving in another. We hoped those paths would converge through discussion and spending time together. They just didn't. We realized this record isn't what we wanted it to be and had to make a change."
Blabbermouth: How did Erik handle the recording of "The Gang's All Here" under these circumstances?
Snake: "He made them his own immediately. That was the thing we noticed: He owned those songs. He could relate to the lyrics. When we talked to him and sent him 'The Gang's All Here' the song, he said, 'This is why I fell in love with SKID ROW.' We thought, 'That's an amazing compliment.' He finished eight songs of the record working with Nick Raskulinecz. Nick was in Nashville and Erik was in Stockholm, and he finished eight songs before we met him. [Laughs] He showed up at JFK [International Airport] on a layover from Vegas, where I fly out from. I got there two hours early to hang out. As soon as I saw him, I hugged him like two long-lost brothers. Immediately, he was like, 'Let's go to the bar and get a couple of beers.' We got a few beers and we started talking. It was like a friend from high school I hadn't seen in a couple of years. His mannerisms and lingo were the same as ours, the same as his sense of humor. I'm going, 'This is amazing. This is too good to be true. A shoe has to drop somewhere and we'll run into a problem due to the nature of the business and what we've been through.' It was going so well.
"Rachel was in Vegas. I called him and said, 'Dude. We got a problem.' Erik was standing next to me. Rachel said, 'What?' I said, 'This dude is an asshole. He's all about himself. He can't stop talking about himself. Nothing about the band.' I go, 'I don't know what we're going to do. We're in a shitload of trouble.' He said, 'You got to be kidding me.' He heard Erik laughing in the background. He asked who it was and I said it was Erik, he's absolutely great. Rachel said, 'You're such an asshole. I was ready to freak out.' When we got to Vegas, it was the same reaction with everybody. We got together, dropped our stuff off in a hotel room, grabbed a couple of cocktails and had dinner. I took a step back when we were at dinner and seeing us all talking together and seeing us getting along the way we were getting along, I said, 'This is one of those things that is meant to be.' It felt so great. It felt so stress-free, easy and comfortable and relaxed. Then we went into rehearsal the next day — man, homeboy did his homework. He knew the songs better than we did. We were all very grateful for the time and effort Erik put in. He made it easy. Playing the songs with him was easy. We just had to get used to each other onstage."
Blabbermouth: Nick Raskulinecz produced the album. He's done everyone from RUSH to DEATH ANGEL to MASTODON. What kind of an impact did he have?
Snake: "This started with Nick expressing his desire to do a record with the band. His vision ignited this whole thing. He came up to Rachel. They met in Nashville. The music community is quite small down there. I shouldn't say 'small,' it's more close-knit. They met through mutual friends and Nick said to Rachel, 'I'd love to do a SKID ROW record.' Rachel called me up and asked if I was familiar with him and I said, 'Yeah.' We both cynically came to the conclusion that he was being nice. We didn't pursue it any further. The next time Rachel sees him, Nick says, 'Dude. I'm really serious. I want to make a SKID ROW record.' Rachel goes, 'Dude. This guy is serious.' We both looked at each other and said, 'Let's pursue this immediately.' We were this in nowhere-land with our record at that point. We had written a bunch of stuff. We thought a lot of it was good; some of it was really good, but it wasn't there. We got on a Zoom call with Nick and he said, 'I want to make a quintessential SKID ROW record. We said, 'That sounds good, but how do you do that?' He said he was familiar with our music and had been a fan since day one. He said, 'Through the years, you have gotten away from what I see as the reason you started to do this. You have gotten away from the essence of SKID ROW. That's going to happen.' Then we thought about it and it was like, 'We don't want to repeat ourselves. We want to move forward with every record.' Sometimes it doesn't happen. Thirty-five years down the road, you move pretty far away. Then he said, 'We need to get in a room, deconstruct everything and rebuild it.' We said, 'We've never done that.' The first thing you need to do is agree to put your trust in this guy who will guide you. Look, what have we got to lose? Let's throw our hands down. Give him everything. Do what he says. Follow his lead. Leave our egos in the parking lot. That was the biggest thing. Just let go. Don't be so emotionally attached to something that you're unwilling to change it. Once we started that, we got in a room and started banging out these songs. He started walking around and said, 'That's great. That's cool, but it could be better. Then he'd say something like, 'That part doesn't work. Why don't you try something like when you came out of the second chorus of 'Monkey Business'? I said, 'I know that guy! Yeah!' It was such a fulfilling and gratifying process."