Interview: Snake Sabo from Skid Row

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By Andra Jenkin

I caught up with Snake Sabo of Skid Row and discovered he was a lot more profound and positive that I expected from a guy named Snake. It just goes to show that you shouldn’t be prejudiced, and that you never know what you’ll hear if you drop the preconceived notions and pay attention.

He’s a guy who is still rebelling in a meaningful way against the tyranny and injustice that seem so commonplace now, and doing what he loves with compassion and kindness, which in the society that we live in today, is a rebellion in and of itself. He’s put in his 10,000 hours and is an expert musician. On all fronts, he’s worth a listen.

So instead of turning the interview into a bunch of palatable sound bites, I’m going to reproduce it wholesale. I think his words are worth it. Bit of a fan to be honest.

Snake Sabo: Hello this is Snake.

Andra: Oh hi, I’m Andra from Libel Music, how are you doing this morning?

Snake Sabo: How are you?

Good. Guess it’s not morning where you are. It’s Tuesday morning here in New Zealand, but I’m not sure exactly where or when you are right now.

Oh I’m in Nashville; it’s about early, late afternoon, early evening here.

Oh, evening in Nashville sounds amazing.

Haha

So you’ve got an amazing tour coming up, the third in the United World Rebellion trilogy. What’s Skid Row rebelling against at the moment?

Old age (laughs).

(laughing) I know how that feels.

Yeah, you know what? There’s always been an edge to the music and there’s always been an edge to our soul. But we’re very positive individuals. The theme that’s always run throughout our music, whether it’s really aggressive or non-aggressive, is a sense of positivity, that runs through, a thread which runs through everything that we’ve ever done with Skid Row, because that’s just who we are as people. We don’t tend to rest on the negative aspects of life but address them and move on and find the positivity in our lives. So we find that as we go through life in this day and age with politics being as polarising as they are and just so much separation and divisiveness going on, it just enforces our strength of positivity even further. So it’s what we’re rebelling against. It’s about the current climate and temperament of where the world sits right now as far as our politics and the abject racism and abuses that occur and it seems to be that it’s more in the limelight and it’s more tolerated, which is terrible so we, we’re not a political band at all but those are negative things so we rebel against that.

I actually wanted to ask you about that because it’s not just the music industry, the whole world has changed culturally and politically while you’ve been making music and I wondered if you felt there was anything musicians should do to respond.

I think that, if you’re a human being and you’re living life, and you’re even remotely paying attention to the world around you you’re no doubt going to be affected.by the seismic shifts that are occurring. It’s not just from a political standpoint at all, it’s from an environment standpoint, it’sfrom an overall one to one emotional standpoint as well. We’ve always tried to tell people, be kind to each other, be good people to each other and man it seems like by and large we’ve lost our way, like that, again, I don’t stand on the soapbox, or anything like that, I’m not an outspoken politically-based individual, I just like being good to people and people being good to me. That’s who we are. That’s one of the great things about being in this band, is that we really, really, enjoy hanging out with each other, not only creating music and performing music but doing things in life as a group. And that just comes from a respect and an admiration for each other as well as just a liking that person, and, I don’t know, I kind get freaked out because it seems that by and large people are finding it really easy to be mean to one another, treat one another with a lack of respect, and the feeling that it’s ok to dehumanise people. And it happens no matter what side of the political spectrum that you’re on. It happens on all sides, where agendas become far more important than being good to human beings.

In light of that I can see that, you’re making a living doing what you love, and you’re on record as being really clear that you’re not going to compromise the makeup of your band for money, and you’re on record as being really positive about ZP and saying he’s a great fit, what makes that the case? Why is this evolution of the band the right one?

Well I think ZP fits so well because he’s about the band, he’s not about how can Skid Row make ZP a bigger star or more famous, it’s about having ZP help Skid Row become a better band, a more prominent band and so it’s about all of us together, there was never a hidden agenda, and he’s also got a great sense of positivity about him. Where if there’s a choice, a fork in the road, or ok, this side is the positive way, of looking at something, and this side is the negative way of looking at something, he always chooses the positive way, he’s always choosing the positive aspects of situations, so with that, that becomes infectious, that starts infiltrating everybody else’s psyche. That’s not to say that everybody in the band isn’t a positive person by nature but you know, you can become jaded after all this time and with this life that we all live, everybody who is in the music business who plays in a band who’s been there for a while understands that it’s a crazy, crazy roller-coaster and that one of the keys to be able to ride it out is being able to see the silver lining of it. And there’s going to be great highs and great lows but if you realise, which we all do, how lucky we are to be able to be doing this and be humbled by the fact that we get to play music for a living, as opposed to believing it’s a birth right, that’s the big difference. He reaffirms that, just the way that he approaches the music that we’ve already created as well as music that we’re creating now. He understands that there’s a long history here and that needs to be respected. He does a great job of respecting the history and the songs that were created before he joined the band and in the performance of those songs. You can see that it’s great to be able to go on stage with a group of people and you look across the stage and you realise that they’re enjoying themselves as much as you are and that you’re all just enjoying this moment, this gift of being able to music for people and for people to react positively towards it, celebrate in the whole experience and that’s what it’s always been about man. It’s always the essence of what this is it still goes back to the reasons that you started playing in the first place. And the reasons we started playing is that we wanted to emulate our heroes We saw people like KISS, Van Halen, Iron Maiden, and David Bowie, the Ramones and all these great artists that had such profound influences upon us, we saw what they were doing and we wanted to emulate that, we wanted to be a part of that because of the joy that seeing them do that gave us and just being able, the band started in 1986, so only 2 years later to be able to still have that core emotion, or force that overrides everything else is really something special, it’s a gift.

That’s amazing. You have had longevity in this crazy roller coaster; you’ve mentioned highs and lows. What’s changed about rock and rock, what’s changed about the music industry, in that time?

What was the last part of that question?

What has changed? How do the tours differ now from what they were like back in the day? What’s different about rock and roll from when you first started?

From our standpoint and the emotion that we put in and get out of it, it hasn’t changed at all. It’s still the same, I mean, the reason why we do this, going back to what I said a second ago, is still the same. It’s the love of music and the love of being able to create something out of nothing and the ability to hopefully touch people with what we’ve created, and connect with them. One of the great things that I learned a long, long, long, time ago and still as much now as it ever it still holds true, is that music is the great unifier, it’s the only thing that I have seen in life, more so than anything else that can connect people at their core and thus bring people together. More so, certainly more so than politics, certainly more so than religion, and I’ve found that over all, by and large, more so, it supersedes boundaries, geographical, political, religious… language, everything. It supersedes all of it. It was shown In 1989 when we were in Russia we were walking through Red Square at about two o’clock in the morning there was a kid at Red Square playing with just a guitar, and he couldn’t speak a word of English and obviously I couldn’t speak a word of Russian, but I was about I don’t know I was with a group of people and we were having an amazing time. And this kid started singing Yesterday by the Beatles and it was so amazing, because here I am in a land we were taught was the enemy, growing up in school we were taught Russia’s the enemy, Russia’s the devil. Turned out that in the middle of where this devil was supposed to exist was this moment of this guy singing ‘Yesterday,’ by the Beatles. He couldn’t speak English; I couldn’t speak Russian, but was connected to this guy. I stopped dead in my tracks and just watched him perform beautifully. And right there I was like “Oh my gosh, this thing is so much bigger. Music is so much bigger than I even imagined.” Like - What just happened?

It was one of those moments that you go, “Holy crap! I wish I knew how to share this with somebody else that’s not here right now.” But when you have this experience, it just goes to show that above and beyond anything else music is the great communicator, the great unifier. So that has not changed for me.

I mean there are so many obvious changes. The way music is delivered and consumed and where people gather their music from and to a certain degree, what music might mean to a younger generation, and what it might mean to an older generation. It seems to be that a younger generation, it just may affect them differently than the way I and the people of my generation and before me were affected by music. It’s in a different way that’s all.

Thanks for that. That’s a really profound, beautiful and inspiring way of talking about doing what you love. I don’t have a lot of time left but I would like to ask what fans can expect from the concert coming up, the tour coming to New Zealand, now that you’ve got some outside writers and ZPs got input into your songs, it’s not just yourself and Bowen doing the songs. What can they expect from the concert?

See the thing about us is we’re all about having an experience. People walk away going “I’m so happy that I went to that show tonight.” It’s one thing that, I don’t know whether other people take it for granted or not, but we certainly don’t take for granted the fact that for a person to be at the show man, they got to sit there, it’s time, they got to sit there and say ‘OK, Skid Row’s playing so and so, let’s go get tickets, let’s get a babysitter, let’s do whatever it takes, but we’re going to go.’ Life is complicated man, so if people think enough of us that they’re going to fit us into their life is really something special to us, something that we don’t take lightly and it’s important for us that we make sure that for the couple of hours that we’re all there together, there’s a smile on their face and they’re walking away going “I just had such a great time. I can’t wait to do that again and I’m so happy that I did that.” It’s a community and you’re sharing something, a connection, for that 2 hours. It’s a celebration. So that’s kind of the way we look at it. It’s very important to us that we hold up our end of the deal.

Well I really appreciate you speaking with me, it’s been an absolute honour and a pleasure.

Oh, thank you, thank you very much.

I’m looking forward to your tour.

So we’ll see you the third week of October right?

Yeah, yeah that’s it.

Well we’re looking forward to it too.

SKID ROW AUSTRALIA & NZ TOUR

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Tickets via Silverback Touring