Hanging with Skid Row at the Rainbow
By Dave Schwartz  davybass@dabelly.com
Photos Courtesy of www.skidrow.net

The arrangements were made, meet Snake and Phil of Skid Row over at the Rainbow to interview them about their new album.  While doing the research for this interview, I realized that I hadn't seen a recent photo of the band.  So we contacted the PR company, Chipster Entertainment, and soon we had an e-mail.   DaBelly editor Michelle and I took one look at the photo and started to laugh.  These guys look like a rock band!  No, I don't mean it like that!  The problem is that so does everyone else at the Rainbow!  Sleeved tattoos, nose rings, this was going to be like looking for Jell-O in a bowl of Jell-O!  I guess I would just have to trust fate. 

It wasn't much of a surprise when I heard that the interview would be at the legendary Rainbow.  It seemed like the perfect place to meet Snake and Phil.  After all, the Rainbow is home away from home for many rock stars and Skid Row is famous for living the lifestyle.  A trail of Crown Royal bottles and condom wrappers will attest to a road of excess.  You see, Hollywood is a funny place.  It's a place where anything can happen.  And if it's happened in Hollywood, chances are it has happened at the Rainbow! 

From my position at the outdoor bar, I noticed two guys approaching, laughing like two kids on their way home from school.  With a bounce in their step, Snake was wearing a sleeveless flannel shirt and Phil touted a dark T-shirt with more tattoos than you could count.  There was no mistake, they ARE rock and roll.  Snake and Phil walked into the Rainbow and immediately recognized me.  As much as I hate to admit it, journalists have a look about them too.  Squinty eyes from staring at a monitor all day and a bit out of shape from the discovery that, rather than walking, you can roll a good office chair almost anywhere.  Yes, guilty as charged!

We introduced ourselves and, as Snake and Phil took a seat, they shared the blur that was the previous couple of days.  After flying in from Salt Lake City, they spent the last two days remarking their territory in Hollywood.  As the attractive young waitress, a detail that didn't go unnoticed by the boys, began taking their orders, Snake explained where this current tour began.

"We started in Mankato, Michigan.  On the 23rd of May I'm thinking." 

Phil attempts to correct him, "Mankato, Minneapolis?"

"It was Mankato, Minnesota!" they both agreed. 

Wow, it has been a blur hasn't it!  Skid Row has been out on tour almost non-stop since reforming in 2000.  Currently, they are out in support of Poison and Vince Neil. 

Snake continued, "We've been out with all these guys for years so it make things a lot easier.  For us, it's a great thing because we have a record that came out on August fifth.  So this gives us a chance to play new material in the set and turning people on to what we're doing now.  The thing that amazes me most about this tour is, we're playing for anywhere from 6 - 12 thousand people a night and most of the people are there when we hit that stage.  That means so much to us.  It's unbelievable.  The people are coming out early and that's so important to us.  And every one of the motherfuckers are on their feet at the end of the show!"

Snake and Phil laughed together as they reflected on their good fortune.  Skid Row has survived a hard life on the road, such are the trials and tribulations of being in a rock band.

 Snake was proud to announce, "The fact that we're still kicking 14 years later is a testament to this band.  It's a tough business, but we get along so well.  We've known Phil since 1991 and it feels like he always should've been in the band but never was.  And all of a sudden, boom, he's in the band and it's like this is how it always should've been.  We're all friends.  We're like brothers anyhow, so it makes this so much easier.  Our singer, John Solenger, has been in the band over three years now.  He's just one of the most genuine souls I have ever met.  So when I tell you that we have never had an argument amongst ourselves, since January of 2000, it's the truth.  We do everything together.  We hang out together, we live together, we ride the bus together, we have dinner together, we plan our vacations together...  That's just unheard of, especially in this day and age, it really is!"

In a most surreal twist of fate, Skid Row found their current singer, John Solenger, on the Internet.  But Snake is rather a matter of about it, "Again that's just an indicator of the state of our world.  You don't have to put an ad in the newspaper anymore!" 

 Our waitress returned with water and menus.  She introduced herself as Sarah as the two continued to inspect her as closely as the menu.  Eventually they both settled on a bowl of chicken soup.  It was a telling comment as they explained that they hadn't eaten in a couple days.  But it was the smiles as Sarah walked away that spoke volumes!   

Snake eventually found his way back to the story, "So a friend of ours up in Boston knew we were looking for a singer.  And we weren't really advertising or anything like that.  We had auditioned maybe three or four guys.  And all of a sudden she goes, 'You got to check out this guy's Web site.'  So Rachel goes and checks out the site and he calls me up and said, 'Dude, I think we found our guy!'  I'm like, 'Where?' And he says, 'The Internet!'  And I'm like, 'Get out of here!'  I was as skeptical as you could possibly be.  And so I go to the Web site.  He's got his own band, he's releasing records on his own.  He's a big fish in a small pond, Dallas.  He really had his shit together.  He had streaming audio and video on it and I listened to it, and I'm going holy shit!  Where did this come from?  So Rachel sent him a vague e-mail saying that we're looking for a singer and we're thinking about putting the band back together, you know, the old Blues Brothers' story."

Al right, I'm no different than anyone reading this interview and I felt compelled to share with the boys,  "If I'm John Solenger, at this point, I'm the one yelling bull shit!"

"Exactly!" Snake agreed.  "So they exchanged vague e-mails and finally, cut to the chase, we finally had him come up to New Jersey, January 4 of 2000.  And sitting there in the airport with his big cowboy hat on and smiling face was just this unassuming unpretentious individual.  You know you can sort of read people right off the bat.  The minute I started talking to him I said, man, this guy is the real deal; there's nothing disingenuous about this guy at all.  Here this guy comes down and you could tell that he's got this quiet confidence and he walks into my house, there are strange people that he's never met before.  I've got some of my buddies there.  We're getting tanked and we go into my studio and start jamming and in the middle of the second song, Rachel was looking down and he kind of looks over to me and was like (Snake nods toward Phil) and I look at him and I'm like (Snake gestures with his eyes).  But we didn't tell him.  So we sent him home and about two weeks later Rachel calls him up and says, 'Dude, I've got good news and I've got bad news.'  And Johnny said, 'Al right, what's the bad news?'  And Rachel says, 'The Dallas Cowboys aren't going to the Super Bowl this year!  The good news is you're in the band and you've got to learn 17 songs because we're going on tour with KISS in six weeks!'"

Soon Sarah was back with the beers.  Blonde hair, short skirt, great legs, I could see the checklist slowly developing in both Snake's and Phil's eyes! 

Distracted sure, but Snake isn't one to miss telling a great story.  It was trial by fire for Solenger and Skid Row wouldn't have it any other way.  "The thing that most people do is to put the pieces of the puzzle back together and then immediately go do a record.  But we decided to do the opposite.  Going on the road helped build the foundation for the record.  We weren't these guys going in the studio without knowing each other.  We went on stage and we built our band, back together from touring constantly.  There's really no greater way to do it except in front of 20,000 people a night with KISS."

Now after several years of being a band again the members of Skid Row feel that they have hit their stride.  It was time to make the record that this band was intended to make.  The new effort is called "Thickskin" and Snake feels it's a direct product of 14 years in the business.  A product that is true to the name Skid Row.

"That's not to say that we're being nostalgic or anything, it's just that we do what we do" Snake continued.  "Rachel and I are still the core songwriters so to speak and we've always done what we've done.  I mean there's definitely no scratching or rapping on our record, you know?"

I asked if there were any adjustments necessary to accommodate the new members of the band. 

"No, actually we never gave that very much thought.  Johnny can sing almost anything you throw at him.  And I have to give props to Sebastian (Bach) because he was the same way.  I just think this may be a more personal record for us.  We definitely had things we wanted to express.  But for some reason there just seemed to be this great anxiety or desire to make sure we represented ourselves exactly as we wanted to be represented in 2003.  So we were very conscious, as we always are.   Maybe there was a slight sense of urgency too, but in a good way."

Sarah returned with the chicken soup and the boys got their first nourishment in days!  As they ate, we began discussing their private lives.  It's fairly common knowledge that Rachel has been doing some racing.  I asked Snake and Phil about their hobbies and downtime at home. 

"Well Phil and I drink!" Snake kidded. 

Phil, distracted from his chicken soup, added, "Yeah, you can do that anywhere!  It's a hobby that easily goes with you!"

"Pretty much right to the grave!" Snake finished. 

"Actually I don't do much," Phil shared.  " just relax when I'm at home.  The road is so hectic and crazy, when I get home I relax with the remote."

Sarah came walking past the table the table and Phil ordered another beer saying,  "I'm not sure I like this beer.  You better give me another just to make sure!"

As Phil continued to flirt with Sarah, Snake said, "I used to do everything athletic.  I used to snow board and play baseball, golf, anything that I could do athletically.  But then I suffered a very bad ankle injury.  I fell in some puke at the Hard Rock casino!  I turned my foot completely backwards, broke every bone in my ankle and now I have nine screws and a plate in my ankle.  The other day, we were playing softball and I ran down to first base a couple times and then someone had to run for me.  It was very frustrating."

At this point we had yet another distraction.  A young band was working their way through the Rainbow handing out flyers, trying to promote their show.  The unsuspecting musician approached the table and asked, "Are you guys from around here?"

Snake took point on this one, "Ahh, sort of, kind of."

"Are you going to be around town tonight?" the musician asked.

Smiling Snake replied, "Ahh, no!"

Then the musician began to explain, "We're playing our first show at the Whiskey tonight and-- "

"Oh yeah, good for you!" Snake interrupted.  "Good luck man!"

The musician began paying closer attention to who he was talking to and asked, "Are you in a band?"

Snake smiled at me and replied, "Ahh, yes we are-- Skid Row!".

Astonished the musician replied, "Holy shit, really?  What's your name?"

"I'm Snake," he answered.

While Snake got up from his seat and shook their hands, Phil and I are exchanged glances.

"Does this happen often?" I asked.

Laughing Phil replied, "All the time!"

Snake introduced Phil and I to the musician and he introduced the remaining members of his band.  Soon there were high-fives and photographs all around!

As the band moved on to continue promoting their show, Snake returned to the table.  "Oh God, do I remember those days!"

Reflecting Phil said, "You know, sometimes when you're out on the road and everything is coming down on you, I remember those good old days when you had a job during the day and all you really cared about was rehearsal.  It meant so much to you.  Sometimes that makes me relax for a second.  Sometimes you're so out of your fucking head that you just want to kill somebody.  This puts it in perspective."

Snake and Phil began teasing each other, exchanging lines from old movie bits.  Then Phil opened up, "Last night, when Snake decided to bend down and pet this dog, he fell!"  Mocking Snake he said, "'Here poochie!' and smash, down he fell!  He was out black!  Remember, never pet a pooch at five in the morning when you're drunk!"

"I hadn't eaten in two days!" Snake explained.  "The only thing in my system was vodka and Red Bull!"

"We flew out of Salt Lake City at noon" Phil offered.  "We decided to hit the bar because, you know, it was noon!  The plane was like a cattle call.  We got there only an hour before so we got the 'B' boarding pass.  We had to wait for all of 'A' people to board.  And naturally, because of the way we look, we get the cavity search, which I did enjoy by the way!  So we end up getting on the plane and he was up in the front and I was in back.  Eventually one of the stewardess came over and asked if we were in a band!  I'm like, 'Yeah how did you guess?'   She asked which band, I told her and explained that Snake was up front and that we were trying to get seats together.  They ended up letting us stay in the back with them!  So we got hammered in the back of the plane!  That's why this whole trip has been a blur.  At least from what I remember!"

About this time, our favorite waitress made yet another appearance.  She approached the table, looked down and saw the tape recorder in my hand.  "What? A tape recorder?" she asked.  "You're just trying to incriminate me!"  Both Snake and Phil were smiling at her.  I suspect that incriminating her was exactly what they had in mind!

With that, we ended the interview with a final question.  I asked if there was anything that Snake or Phil wanted to say. 

Snake ended the interview from the heart, "We have great respect for anyone, especially kids who are willing to lay down their money to come see a show. Concerts are so expensive and itís so hard to make a living these days. We are grateful that people enjoy seeing Skid Row and we look forward to playing for everyone."

With that I thanked Snake and Phil for their time. Did I mention that they are living life like rock stars? Yes, well it would seem that some things never change! I have no idea whatever happened with Sarah. When I left the Rainbow, Snake and Phil were enjoying a cold beer and I suspect even colder chicken soup. And since they were meeting another journalist about a half hour after me, they had plenty of time to add to the history of the Rainbow!

For more information go to the Skid Row web site at:  www.skidrow.com

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