Interview with Skid Row co-founder and guitarist Dave “Snake” Sabo
INTERVIEW WITH SKID ROW CO-FOUNDER AND GUITARIST DAVE “SNAKE” SABO
Date: April 5, 2023
Photos: Joe Schaeffer Photography (first, third and fourth photos), Christopher Carroll ROCK Photography (second photo)
BACK IN 1989, ONE OF MY MOST PLAYED ALBUMS WAS SKID ROW’S DEBUT SELF-TITLED RECORD. BY THE TIME THAT SEBASTIAN BACH LEFT THE GROUP IN 1996, MY INTEREST IN THE GROUP DISSIPATED AND REALLY ONLY GOT RENEWED WHEN THE BAND MEMBERS CONSISTING OF GUITARISTS DAVE “SNAKE” SABO AND SCOTTI HILL, BASSIST RACHEL BOLAN AND DRUMMER ROB HAMMERSMITH SWITCHED LEAD VOCALISTS FROM ZP THEART TO FORMER H.E.A.T FRONTMAN ERIK GRÖNWALL. NOT ONLY DID GRÖNWALL SEEM TO REALLY REVITALIZE THE BAND BUT SKID ROW WENT ON TO RELEASE THEIR BEST ALBUM SINCE 1991’S ‘SLAVE TO THE GRIND‘ WITH 2022’S ‘THE GANG’S ALL HERE.’ HOW GOOD IS SKID ROW’S NEW ALBUM? SLEAZE ROXX READERS VOTED IT AS THE #1 ALBUM OF 2022 AND IT FIGURED ON A RATHER IMPRESSIVE 48% OF THE VOTES THAT WERE CASTED.
I RECENTLY HAD THE PLEASURE OF INTERVIEWING ONE OF SKID ROW’S FOUNDING MEMBERS — GUITARIST DAVE “SNAKE” SABO. WHAT I WASN’T EXPECTING WHEN SPEAKING WITH “SNAKE” WAS HOW DOWN TO EARTH AND HUMBLE THAT HE CAME ACROSS. IT LITERALLY FELT LIKE HE WOULD BE A GREAT GUY TO HANG OUT WITH. YET AT THE SAME TIME, IT ALSO FELT LIKE HE WAS A TOTAL PRO WHEN DOING THE INTERVIEW. FUNNY ENOUGH, I WAS ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE THAT WANTED SKID ROW TO REUNITE WITH BACH BUT AFTER SPEAKING WITH “SNAKE”, I NOW FINALLY GET WHY THAT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA AND FRANKLY WHY IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN.
Sleaze Roxx: Thank you for doing the interview. Let’s get started since I know time is limited. I’m going to try to ask you some questions that you haven’t been asked before because I know that you have done a ton of interviews since Erik has been in the band. Let’s start off with an easy one. How was the co-headlining tour with Buckcherry?
Dave “Snake” Sabo: Man, it’s been an even better tour than I had anticipated. Not as far as touring with Buckcherry [because] we’ve toured with them before. They’re great people. They’re a great band. They bring it every night. They have great energy. And it’s one of those things where we’re familiar. We’re touring with people that we know and people are coming to the shows! People are coming out. We’re selling out a bunch of the dates and if not, near sellouts, so it’s been a really, really amazing experience so far. So we’re going to go out and do two or three more legs of it together throughout the rest of the year and into next year. And again, I didn’t expect this great of a response and I am really, really grateful for everybody that is coming out and I am humbled any that shows of support that they have been giving this tour.
Sleaze Roxx: Cool! Since you’re going to be doing other legs, is it all going to be in the US or are you doing other countries as well?
Dave “Snake” Sabo: We’re going to do Canada as well. We’re going to do an extensive tour of Canada.
Sleaze Roxx: Fantastic! And are you surprised by the reaction to ‘The Gang’s All Here’, the album, because every review that I’ve seen has been fantastic. The Sleaze Roxx readers named it the number one album of 2022. So are you surprised by how good the reaction has been?
Dave “Snake” Sabo: I mean, look — yes, I am surprised by it. Obviously, pleasantly surprised. To have the Sleaze Roxx readers voting us to number one is pretty incredible. It’s one of those things where we go into making a record the same way every time. We need to be really selfish about it. I know it sounds weird but what I mean by that is that we have to think about pleasing ourselves first so we’re not disingenuous when we put it out to the public. We need to like the songs to the best of our ability and the ones that have 100% of our attention, our heart and our soul. As long as we do that, then it’s out of our hands. It’s up to the public to decide how they feel about it and so the fact that this record has connected so well with the public, it’s just, it’s really humbling. And to find out that it has debuted in the Top 20 in 10 or 11 countries, I can’t even begin to tell you what that means. Just from a standpoint that we haven’t been able to accomplish that in 27 years!
It’s just incredible that after all this time, we never stopped touring, we never stopped making music [but] it’s just that in this particular time and place, the way Skid Row is now and the people that we surround ourselves with — our record label as well — it just clicked and just worked. Like I said a little bit ago, you always hope — the big hope — is that you can connect with people. That what you are writing about and the music that you’re making can somehow make its way to connect with people because that’s what it is all about. That’s the only reason that we’re still around — because we’ve been able to connect with people for the last 36 years. And I never ever thought that we could still be making music 36 years down the line. But that was always the goal. When we made our first record, everybody had their delusions of grandeur — you know, sell millions of records and all that.
Sleaze Roxx: Which you did! Which you did though [laughs].
Dave “Snake” Sabo: We did and we all wanted that of course but the truth of the matter and the heart of where we’re at, and still are, is that we just wanted to make records that were good enough to allow us to make another record. And that’s the way it has always been because we’ve always at the heart of it wanted to make music for a living and we’ve been able to do so, and again, that’s because of the fans and people that have supported Skid Row. That really is what the basis is because we don’t know how to do anything else. We wanted to be afforded the opportunity to make music for a living, and thank God that is what has occurred in our careers.
Sleaze Roxx: Did you lose faith that you would get back to that level, like you know getting into the Billboard charts or getting into the Top 20?
Dave “Snake” Sabo: No!
Sleaze Roxx: Or did you always think that it would happen after what you can call a 27 year drought?
Dave “Snake” Sabo: I didn’t think… I’ll be honest with you, I kind of wasn’t paying attention to that until the record company brought it to our attention.
Sleaze Roxx: OK.
Dave “Snake” Sabo: I was just happy — I knew when it was done that it was a pretty cool record. And we all felt it when we were in the process of making it. There’s so many things that happened when we made the record. There was so much serendipity involved throughout the course of this process that it wasn’t supposed to happen the way it did. It was completely unlikely and the way we went about it, you really can’t even write this stuff. It’s crazy ’cause no one would believe you the way it all came to be. So to be able to look back at the last few years, the touring that we did, the decision to get Erik in the band, the record that we made with — the pandemic was thrown it there too — and the record that we were able to make with Nick Raskulinecz, it was just…. Yeah, without Nick, this record just doesn’t exist. That’s just a fact. I mean, he was the captain of this ship and we put all our trust in him. We followed and he led us down the path to where we’re at now. And I can’t overstate enough how critical and important he is to Skid Row and will continue to be.
Sleaze Roxx: Cool! Now one thing that struck me about the band getting Erik in the band is that you guys really did a leap of faith to have him join the band. You have a history where things didn’t work out with Sebastian [Bach]…
Dave “Snake” Sabo: [Laughs]
Sleaze Roxx: So personalities clash kind of thing and then all of a sudden, you take this guy that you have never met before and bang! He’s in the band! So how did that process work out?
Dave “Snake” Sabo: If you’re looking at it from the outside from where you’re sitting, I’m sure it looks crazy!
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Dave “Snake” Sabo: If you had been in the room with us when all of this was going down, you would absolutely think it’s crazy. Now, obviously it [turned out to be] was the right thing to do but we had no idea. We were going on gut instinct alone because as far as being level headed about it [laughs] and practical or whatever, it was completely out of line with that. You know, we had shows that we had committed to with the Scorpions residency. We had to finish this record. At one point, we didn’t know how we were going to do. We knew that we needed to make a change with ZP [Theart]. Things were just going in different directions. There was no animosity whatsoever. I think that he’s a really talented guy and I had a lot of fun with him but we, the band, and him were moving in different directions. We had hoped that we could bridge that gap and it just didn’t work out that way. The gap widened.
So when we made that decision, ‘OK, we have to part ways with Z’, we had the whole record recorded without the vocals. There were maybe two to three guide vocals on there but it was obvious that we needed to make a change. We didn’t know what we were going to do and Rachel had suggested Erik. We had been aware of Erik for quite some time. In 2019, his band H.E.A.T toured with us in Europe. We never really got to know him but we got to hear him every night and we always commented on how great of a singer that he was. And we were aware — or at least, I was aware — about the Swedish idol thing that he did with “18 And Life.” I was aware of that.
Erik Grönwall performing “18 And Life” on Swedish Idol back in 2009:
Dave “Snake” Sabo: Oddly enough, around 2015-2016, it was mentioned to us a couple of times, ‘We know that you guys are doing good.’ These are other people talking. ‘We know you guys are cool and everything like that but should everything fall apart, there’s this guy in Sweden.’ We were like, ‘Yeah, we know. He’s great. He’s great.’ And then, Erik was posting a lot of YouTube stuff and Rachel said, ‘Why don’t we see if this guy is interested?’ And so, we didn’t want to come out right off the bat and say, ‘Hey, do you want to audition for Skid Row?’ We just called him up or Rachel ‘pm-ed’ him [sent him a personal message] and we said, ‘We have some songs that we’re fooling around with. We would love to hear what your voice sounds like on them.’ And immediately, his wife told him, ‘They’re full of crap. They’re auditioning you.’
Erik Grönwall‘s “18 And Life” video (released in 2021):
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Dave “Snake” Sabo: She was right. We sent him “The Gang’s All Here” and it was great. It was really great. I remember I was in an airport lounge and Rachel was in another airport, and we were all kind of scattered. We were all in the middle of traveling home after some shows. Rachel asked me, ‘Did you listen to it yet?’ And I said, ‘No.’ [Rachel responded] ‘You’ve got to listen to it.’ I said, ‘OK but I’ve got no privacy.’ So I went into the bathroom, went in the stall and put it up to my ear and listened to it and I texted back, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ Everybody was like ‘Holy shit!’ It was a ‘holy shit’ moment for sure. And Nick included! And so, we were like ‘This is great’ but we’re very guarded and cynical and skeptical so we’re like, ‘Let’s send him a couple more songs. Make sure that this isn’t an anomaly. He’s really nailing these songs.’ We sent him two songs and he sent them back and we were blown away. Like ‘You’ve got to be kidding me? This is what we were hearing for these songs.’ He was bringing what our vision was for these songs. He was bringing what our vision was to bring these songs to life.
It was absolutely the perfect missing piece of the puzzle. And when we got those two songs back, even Nick was like, ‘This is next level shit man! This is the real deal!’ And so we couldn’t fly him over to the States at that particular time because he still had health issues he was dealing with as I am sure that you are aware of his recovery and his battle with cancer. So he was still in recovery from that. He sang eight of the ten songs on the record remotely. Now this is all happening while we’ve never sat in a room with this guy and have a beer or played one note of music. So it’s incredible. It’s surreal. Like asking him to join the band happens on a Zoom call. You know, we had never been in a room with this guy and we’re asking him to join the band. It’s crazy! Life doesn’t work like that. We weren’t questioning it to a point where it would be debilitating. We were just questioning actually how is this happening this way? It doesn’t work like this but we just followed our instincts. And so when we went to go — he was well enough to do the Scorpions residency.
So quick story, the Scorpions’ residency starts on March 26th last year. We didn’t meet him until March 22nd. He flew in to JFK. I met him at the airport because that’s where I was flying out of and all of a sudden, I see him and it was like a friend seeing a friend from 30 years ago. It was hugs, laughing, let’s go to the bar and get a beer together, talking about our influences… We all have the same influences and the same stupid sense of humour. It just clicked. I just kept looking up above and going, ‘Who’s ever up there, thank you so much [laughs]’ because it was incredible. So we flew to [Las] Vegas and we meet with the rest of the guys, and it’s the same thing — hugs, laughs, drinking beer and eating dinners. We went into rehearsal the next day and it was great. The only problem that we had — it wasn’t even a problem — we had to figure out who we were with each other in this incarnation of the band on stage. We were also familiar with how he projected himself on stage and that will affect everybody else. And also just segways for going from one song to another, cues and things like that. That would come with time but musically, it was great! He had done his homework. He knew these songs inside and out. So the next day, we spent again rehearsing — that was the Thursday. So he flew in on Tuesday. We jammed on Wednesday and Thursday. We felt so good about it that we took Friday off and we played our first show on Saturday.
Sleaze Roxx: Ha [laughs]! That’s cool!
Dave “Snake” Sabo: That’s incredible.
Skid Row‘s “Time Bomb” video (from The Gang’s All Here album):
Sleaze Roxx: That’s very cool! Now as much as it is working with Erik, ZP on the other hand, I noticed that he has a couple of co-writing credits on the album so obviously, he was contributing at that point. The vocals aren’t on the album yet. Is that when you made your decision, ‘We should part with ZP.’
Dave “Snake” Sabo: Yes. There was a — again, one of those things that we saw coming for a while and we hoped that it would work itself out, and it just wasn’t. It’s all of our faults for it not working out. We’re all to blame because we’re all part of it. We had a bunch of good years with him but again, we all got to that point where we realized that we were travelling in different directions, and the record was just not coming out the way that we had envisioned it. And so we kind of had to make a change and we were interested in finishing this record.
Sleaze Roxx: How come it took so long to release this album because I think it was about eight years since your last EP [‘United World Rebellion: Chapter Two’ which was released on August 5, 2014] and this one here [‘The Gang’s All Here’]?
Dave “Snake” Sabo: Errrr. Obviously, our track record proves that we don’t have quick releases of records. I don’t know why that is. We’re really particular. We really want the songs to be as good as they can. And again, you hope to connect to an audience, and sometimes you do, and sometimes you don’t. But in our brains, we’re out there making records but it’s got to be the best that it can possibly be at that particular juncture of our lives. Maybe that has something to do with it. We’ve been touring non-stop. We haven’t stopped touring [laughs]. We don’t write very well on the road so that’s definitely something to factor about. And of course, the [Covid] pandemic affected people in many different ways. It completely suffocated my creativity. I was worthless as far as ideas during the pandemic. A lot of people were very productive. I was not one of them [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: Fair enough. I wanted to ask you — I thought that your [new] album title was super witty — ‘The Gang’s All Here’….
Dave “Snake” Sabo: [Laughs]
Sleaze Roxx: So how did you come up with it and obviously, you knew that it would send a certain message as well? So what were the discussions in that regard?
Dave “Snake” Sabo: Well, we had written the song. The song had been written along with the rest of the record. And we had toyed with a bunch of names and we kept coming back to — and especially after Erik joined the band — and we felt that ‘Yeah, this is just right. This feels like a situation where the total is greater than the sum of its parts.’ Where together as a unit, we’re much more powerful than we are as individuals added up to one another if that makes any sense.
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah.
Dave “Snake” Sabo: So we felt that song title was appropriate on a bunch of different levels. It felt like ‘Yeah. here we are.’ And we are in terms of our solidarity, we are a gang. So it just seemed to be the right choice because we kept coming back to it.
Skid Row‘s “The Gang’s All Here” video (from The Gang’s All Here album):
Sleaze Roxx: With the new album’s success and everyone seemingly really excited to have Erik in Skid Row, do you find that the whole Sebastian Bach reuniting with you guys had died down or completely? Because I don’t hear much of that anymore.
Dave “Snake” Sabo: I don’t really hear it at all.
Sleaze Roxx: So it must be a really welcomed thing for you guys because for a while, that’s all that you were answering [about].
Dave “Snake” Sabo: Yeah, it was like four years’ worth.
Sleaze Roxx: Ha [laughs]!
Dave “Snake” Sabo: You know, it’s silly. It’s just silly. We’re so focused on the here and now, and what we’ve been able to accomplish, and what we feel we have an opportunity to accomplish in our future, so that’s not even part of the thought process. And it hasn’t been for 20 something years. You know, there was a brief moment in time that it was being considered but that fizzled out really quick. We’ve been really staunched in our position and remained. This is who we are now. We’ve gone through several iterations of the band and everybody who’s been in the band has played an important role, one way or another, in allowing us to continue on. And this is where we are now and Erik is our singer, and we’re proud of that. We’re proud of the record that we were able to make together, and again, we’re already writing songs for the next record. Erik is involved in that and I feel the world has opened up again for us in a sense. And I am really grateful for that. Again, like I said, the response for this record has been really, really humbling, and we’ll continue touring and we’ll continue to release some product as well along the way. There’s some other stuff in the works for later on in the late summer. All this time, we’ll be doing Europe dates with KISS. It’s just another unbelievable opportunity. We toured with them on their first ‘farewell’ tour in 2000, and to be involved with this one, it’s just — on a small level of course — it’s just such an honour to be asked to you know support them and open up for them on this last go around for them.
Sleaze Roxx: Right. That’s cool! What about the setlist for you guys? It must be really hard to do. You have two multi-platinum albums that people love but I noticed that there are only two new songs in the setlist. I remember when Accept got Mark Tornillo as their new lead vocalist, they kind of forced the new songs [from ‘Blood of The Nations‘]. It was a great album. They had like five new songs [in their setlist]. I find that ‘The Gang’s All Here’ is a fantastic album and from a fan’s perspective, I’m like ‘Why don’t you play more new songs?’ because they’re great….
Dave “Snake” Sabo: Well, thank you.
Sleaze Roxx: … And I think that people would want to hear them [live].
Dave “Snake” Sabo: When we do a 60-minute set, which is the setlist that you’re looking at, we feel that to attempt to please as many people as we can, we have to play certain songs from our past and we have to make sure that the new songs that we are putting in fit within the rest of the set and the older stuff. Sometimes, it looks good on paper but you try it in the set and it just doesn’t work. Songs like “The Gang’s All Here” fit perfectly next to songs like “Makin’ A Mess” or “Riot Act.” “Time Bomb” fits in well with a song like “The Threat.” These songs work with one another and so we’re experimenting as we go along. When we play longer sets, we throw more new songs in there.
Sleaze Roxx: Fair enough. Any thoughts on doing a live album?
Dave “Snake” Sabo: Yes!
Sleaze Roxx: Yes?
Dave “Snake” Sabo: Absolutely. We recorded a bunch of stuff when we were last in Europe and we’re going through that right now to see if this is something that we want to pursue further.
Sleaze Roxx: Cool! I hope that you do release it. My last question for you and it’s a little bit off the cuff, in your “thank you’s” [in ‘The Gang’s All Here’ CD booklet], you thank a couple of people that I thought was interesting. Two of them are wrestlers. One of them is Chris Jericho. One of them is Bubba Ray Dudley. Obviously, Chris Jericho has a lot of ties to the music business so I’m not surprised there but how do you know Bubba Ray Dudley and what has he meant that he would be included in your “thank you’s” for the album?
Dave “Snake” Sabo: Well, Bubba and I go back to when he first started in ECW [Extreme Championship Wrestling]. I would be going to the ECW house shows whenever they were in New Jersey and that’s where he got his start — his real start — was in ECW. So we met through that and we’ve always became — we hit it off really well — and he’s always been an incredible supporter of us and me. So we always maintained a friendship throughout the years. And then he started co-hosting ‘Busted Open’ with Dave LaGreca, and he asked me to come on. Even before he was a co-host on there, he would be on there frequently as a guest — not a commentator but a guest host. He would always call me and say, ‘Dude, call into this show right now and it will freak my co-worker out, which was Dave LaGreca.’ So I would and from there, we just kept building our relationship, hanging out together. Him and his buddies are my buddies. He’s such a loyal straight ahead pure person. He stands behind what he says. He believes what he says. He is such a kind benevolent guy but he’s straight up. He doesn’t mess around and I love that about him. And he’s honest with me as I am with him. And we have great, great conversations about the music business, the wrestling business, and how it affects our lives.
I consider him a really dear friend as I do with Chris. I have known Chris since ’95. We met in Japan during one of the wrestling matches in Japan. And he was on the card. I guess that he knew I was coming. I guess that the promoter told him that I was coming. We had just released ‘Subhuman Race’ . He knew everything about that record, probably more so than I did. So he’s been a friend ever since and we’ve always kept our friendship alive. You know, I am not shocked by the success that he’s achieved with Fozzy. That’s just who he is. He is a determined, never say no, type of guy. He’s got a great work ethic and you know, he just doesn’t get discouraged. He just powers through and keeps moving forward. That’s shown in his wrestling career. He’s one of the best to ever do it for real and that’s saying a lot. I’m a fanatic. I’m a total mark. I have been since I’ve been a child. Since I’ve been eight years old, I’ve been going to wrestling matches at Madison Square Garden. Meeting Chris — I was a fanboy. And so through the years, we’ve kept in contact as friends do and still remain great friends to this day. We break each other’s balls as much as we can but I have tremendous, tremendous respect for him for all that he has been able to accomplish both in the wrestling ring and musically. And he earns every bit of it. He earns it! That guy is non-stop!
Sleaze Roxx: Well, thank you very much for doing the interview with me. It was a lot of fun hearing your stories and your thoughts.
Dave “Snake” Sabo: Well, I appreciate the time bud! I really do. I appreciate the time.
Skid Row‘s “Tear It Down” video (from The Gang’s All Here album):