Following Skid Row’s lighter-waving version of their power ballad I Remember You, their new frontman Erik Grönwall soaks up the adulation, lets the applause fade, and then gestures to the balcony of London’s Forum.
Grönwall – who first found fame singing Skid Row’s 18 And Life on Swedish Idol – informs the packed audience how three years ago, after performing there with his previous band, H.e.a.t, he was sitting up in the gallery of this venue watching headliners Skid Row and fantasising over some day joining the New Jersey hard rockers.
“I just want to say, dreams do come true, man!” he announces with a massive grin.
What an unlikely journey it’s been. The day after that Forum show, during Classic Rock’s meeting with Erik and his new bandmates, Grönwall reveals that not only did he not meet the members of Skid Row on that fateful night back in 2019, but they still hadn’t met in the flesh – even after becoming their frontman – when he began recording his parts for The Gang’s All Here, the album that introduced him to the group’s fans.
“In my time with H.e.a.t we decided that when we opened for other bands we would do our part of the show and then party elsewhere,” he says, smiling. “So no, I didn’t meet the guys until four days before my first performance with them.”
Growing up in Knivsta, a small town 30 miles outside of Stockholm, Grönwall had no opportunity to see Skid Row live during their MTV-enhanced heyday. But he was deeply moved by their first two, multi-platinum-selling releases: Skid Row and Slave To The Grind.
“I had a high-school band that played Skid Row covers,” he explains. “It was singing those songs that taught me to hit the really high notes. For the longest time my karaoke song was 18 And Life, long before I did it on Swedish Idol.”
“The way that this whole thing came together is crazy but it’s serendipitous,” states bass player Rachel Bolan. “It’s just too good to be true. When we reached out to Erik, there was no Plan B. It was either this or we’d be sitting at home for an awful long time.”
Skid Row had begun recording the album with their previous singer of eight years standing, former DragonForce frontman ZP Theart, before realising it just wasn’t working out. They offered Grönwall the gig after he added his vocals to a handful of tracks for the album, sent via the internet.
Although Grönwall was a free agent at the time, having left H.e.a.t in late 2020 after four albums, he was extremely ill, battling acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a type of cancer that attacks white blood cells.
“I was diagnosed in March of last year and had a transplant in August, and five months later I was on stage with Skid Row,” he marvels. “Back in January I was so exhausted that I couldn’t sing an entire song. But gradually my strength returned and the doctors gave me permission to give it a try.”
“It’s official – Skid Row cures cancer,” Sabo says, laughing.
Joking aside, these songs are pretty pointless without the stratospheric delivery by Sebastian Bach on their original studio versions. No disrespect to ZP, to the late Johnny Solinger or former TNT frontman Tony Harnell who had a short spell in Skid Row in 2015, but they have now regained the explosiveness that was lacking for quite a while.
“That’s completely true, and it’s why he [Grönwall] is here in the band,” Bolan acknowledges. “When we were on tour with H.e.a.t we were glued to the dressing room door, listening to Erik sing on stage. When the time came to make a change, he was the guy.”
Grönwall: “Because I love those first two albums, when I heard the new songs, I knew right away what I wanted to do with them. It was my chance to give something back.”
Such is Grönwall’s importance to Skid Row that when Bolan introduced him in London he described him as “the greatest change we ever made”. It’s quite a statement.
“Down the years we’ve made a lot of changes – band members, even stylistic ones... y’know, whatever,” Bolan says, “but this one has brought us back to where we are working like Skid Row again. Everything has fallen back into place. Erik was the missing piece.”
Skid Row are thrilled by the overwhelmingly positive response to The Gang’s All Here, which Classic Rock said was “a truly remarkable comeback”. Inspired by its Grammy-winning producer Nick Raskulinecz to channel the spirit of those early records, the quintet’s sixth full-length record is something of a watershed moment in their 36-year history.
“Nick was a fan of ours from even before he became a producer and he wanted to make his favourite Skid Row record,” Bolan explains. “When we first met Nick he told us he wanted to produce the most kick-ass Skid Row record there’s ever been. And you know, what we’ve accomplished in a relatively short time frame is pretty unbelievable. It’s a really good feeling for guys as long in the tooth as we are.”
Sabo admits that teaming up with Raskulinecz, who over the years has established something of a reputation for helping bands such as Rush and Alice In Chains to revisit their pasts without selling them down the river, was a challenge at first.
“Nick took us out of our comfort zone, and when we began to let down our guard it really worked,” he says. “In the studio he would throw a curve-ball, saying: ‘Okay, I really like that part of the song, but for the next one try coming up with something like what you wrote for the second verse of Big Guns [from the band’s self-titled debut]. It really worked. He reintroduced us to the original essence of Skid Row.”
Despite the cultural differences due to their nationalities, Grönwall has had little difficulty tapping in to Skid Row’s sense of humour. Sabo tells the story of meeting him at JFK airport in New York for the first time, immediately prior to their residency with the Scorpions.
“Right off the bat we started laughing at the stupidest shit; it was very, very strange,” the guitarist recalls. “We almost felt like long-lost brothers that hadn’t seen each other in decades. Rachel was already in Vegas so I called him and said: ‘Dude, we’ve got a big problem. This guy’s a dick. He’s completely egotistical and doesn’t care about the band at all. It ain’t gonna work.’ Rachel replied: ‘Oh no, you’ve gotta be kidding.’ And then he heard Erik laughing in the background and realised that we were fucking with him.”
What a brilliant wind-up!
“Yeah,” Bolan says, chuckling. “I think I hung up on him. Bear in mind that when Snake met him for that first time in New York, Erik had already sung eighty per cent of the record.
“Maybe the coolest thing about what we have is that we can be incredibly honest, in terms of feedback,” he continues. “If somebody doesn’t like a song, or if an idea is put forward, then we feel completely free to voice an objection. In the history of this band, that wasn’t always the case.”
Looking back, Bolan and Sabo relate the growing sense of joy as the Grönwall-fronted material began to drop into their respective inboxes.
“I think the first one that Erik did was the title track The Gang’s All Here,” Snake considers.
“Yeah,” Bolan says. “As we went it around the band everyone went: ‘Holy fuck’, each of us adding another exclamation point.”
All the same, in 2022 and moving into 2023, to those who stopped following their career with interest Skid Row find themselves in an unusual place. Despite their latest reinvention, some continue to dismiss them simply as a dated hair-metal band from the 1990s. The term doesn’t sit too well with a group that takes to the stage to Ramones’ Blitzkrieg Bop and whose set includes Bolan taking the mic for the same band’s Psychotherapy. They certainly have a more complex DNA than their critics give them credit for.
“I guess that except for Erik we have long hair, but it’s weird,” the bassist says. “I’ve never really understood the need for so many different categories. When the band first came out we were called hair-metal, pop-metal... all sorts of things. I’ve never seen us as anything more than a hard rock band.”
All the same, do they perhaps feel a little misunderstood?
“Unfortunately it happens to a lot of bands – you can get lumped into a genre where you don’t really belong,” Snake pipes up. “I agree with Rachel, I always viewed Skid Row as an American hard rock band, and I still think of us that way even though we have a Swedish lead singer.”
Although Skid Row’s main priority is to capitalise on the response to The Gang’s All Here, plans are being put in place for a follow-up, this time with creative input from Grönwall. In the meantime, there will be a live DVD recorded at the Forum in London.
“We’ve already started writing a new album,” the singer confirms. “There are a few demos, and we will keep on writing. I guess maybe we’ll start recording next year, but I won’t make any promises about that.
“Right now we are just focused on the songs. It’s going really well. I’ve had some ideas that I’m bringing in, and I’ve heard the demos from the others that sound incredible.”
So for Skid Row, 2023 is a case of tour, tour, tour?
“Yeah. We start up again in March,” Sabo affirms.
Will there be any further UK dates for this album?
“Oh, I’d said that’s a definite,” Bolan says with a broad smile.
And we managed to get through the conversation without mentioning you know who (a certain beanpole Canadian lead singer who remains firmly estranged from the group).
“Ha ha ha! Thanks a lot for that, dude,” Snake says, laughing. “I really appreciate it.”