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Interview: Rob Hammersmith of Skid Row

And when I was given the opportunity to join, and trusted with such an important position, and Skid Row, the 5 of us have such a great relationship that I never had to sit down with the guys and ask what they wanted me to play it what they were looking for. You are talking about a band who has a massive history before me, and a huge catalogue of music that stands on its own.

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In 1986, New Jersey was far from the MTV show some may know it for. Back then it was a Hard Rock Haven, and Skid Row formed by bassist Rachel Bolan and guitarist Dave “Snake” Sabo, were ready and willing to not only break away from their home town but also make the world their own home town. With Scotti Hill on Guitar, Rob Hammersmith on Drums and the addition of former Dragonforce singer ZP Theart, the band have sold millions of albums, played to millions of fans and still continue to produce fantastic music to this day.

The band have Australia set in their sites, a new album in the works and we had the pleasure of getting drummer Rob Hammersmith on the line to talk all that and more. Ladies and Gentlemen, Rob Hammersmith of Skid Row

H2Z: Hey Rob, thanks for your time today.
RH: No worries man

H2Z: So, you just got back from Europe, how was that?
RH: Funny you say that, I am just getting our tour schedule up in front of me now. We just got back at the end of May. We were over there for about 4 ½ weeks. The shows were great. We hadn’t been over there in a few years, and as you know, it was a different line up, so it was super exciting for us to go back with this line up. Obviously, we love playing over there and we have a good time. It was so much fun to go back, with the band as it is now, and we were ready. We were very anxious to go.

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(L-R) Rachel Bolan, Dave “Snake” Sabo, ZP Theart, Scotti Hill, Rob Hammersmith

H2Z: Being that ZP is based in Europe I’m sure Skid Row experienced a bit of cross over from the ZP fans coming to check the show out. Would that be right?
RH: You are absolutely right! He is actually in the UK. He is about half way between Manchester and Birmingham. Obviously, he history and back story, coming from a band like Dragonforce, they did very well in Europe and still continue to do very well in Europe. They are very, I hate to say European Metal, but they do well in that environment. So, having him in the band adds that extra layer to the story and the culture of Skid Row, in an area like that, so you are totally right. It was so much fun to go with him, and you could tell the difference, in a totally positive way. It was very exciting for all of us.

H2Z: As ZP has not been down to Australia with Skid Row yet, I have only seen the fan filmed YouTube videos, and while we aren’t here to talk about any other singer, the change is completely evident.
RH: Thank you for saying that, and with no disrespect to anyone else, ZP has just come in and given new life to the band. He has bought a new energy, he is the right guy for us, and we all feel that way, and it’s nice to know that it comes across to the audience, so I do appreciate you saying that.

H2Z: Again, no disrespect but even when you were here 4 years ago, you could tell something was not right on stage. Now when you watch the videos and you see Rachel smiling, Snake smiling, and Scotti, well he is just nuts on stage.
RH: (Laughs) Well, we call him the “Never Still Scotti Hill”. That’s become his nickname. But again, its nice people see all those things. Being a part of the operation, you know the inner workings, and all the behind the scenes stuff, but you never know how people perceive things on the outside, and we have heard this from several people, including yourself, that the change is evident. It’s very obvious that the chemistry is good. And it makes us that much happier to know that other people are picking up on it too.

H2Z: One thing I have noticed is that your latest set lists seem to focus a lot on the debut album. Is that a deliberate thing or just happened organically?
RH: Deliberate, in the sense that we put the set lists together, so it’s not an accident. To be honest with you, it wasn’t a conversation we sat down and had amongst the band, it was not a calculated move necessarily. It just seems to be where our head is at these days. Everybody in this band is proud of all the different eras of the band and all the albums, now obviously the first few albums were the most commercially successful, and we have just gone through a phase where we are really just embracing that time period, and ZP does a wonderful job of representing that time period and singing those songs. Again, it’s not really something that was sat down and talked about. It just kind of happened. The sets always change, we play from a certain list of songs, and we at least try and change it each night, though it doesn’t change dramatically from show to show. We may play a specific set list for 6 months or a bit longer, then songs may fall by the wayside and we will bring new songs in to be played as alternates or to be played as part of the set. But like I said, right now, it just feels right to be playing those songs, from those albums.

H2Z: Is there any songs in the back catalogue that you have championed for, yourself?
RH: That’s a really good question. We have been doing “Livin’ On A Chain Gang”, from the second album “Slave to The Grind” for around a year or so now, and it’s just one of those songs that’s in the style of Skid Row that I absolutely love. To me that’s a very signature tone and song for Skid Row. It’s got a heavy riff mixed with a great groove and feel, which, to me, is a really iconic thing in relation to the sound of the band. It was a song that had been bought up several times. When it comes to new songs, it takes the 5 of us getting into a room, and just trying it. We always send emails back and forth with different ideas or we have conversations about it. But sometimes, you just need to get into a room, whether its soundcheck, whether its rehearsal, or whatever the case might be, you just need to start playing the riff, and then everyone joins in, and then you see everyone’s face light up, and you see that it’s a song that deserved to be played. “Livin On A Chain Gang” was one of those songs for us. We talked about it for a while, but I really pushed for that one. Once we started playing it, it all just came together, and we really love playing it now. What about you Andrew are there any songs for you?

H2Z: While I know some of the guys have a love/hate relationship with the “Subhuman Race” record, I really love “My Enemy” and think that ZP would totally own that song.
RH: Funny you say that, it is actually one of the songs that gets bought up, but for whatever reason, we haven’t done it. It might take a few of us messing around with it in a soundcheck to see what happens with it. That particular song is a favourite of mine. There are so many great songs on that album. I think “Medicine Jar” would be amazing. We did “Beat Yourself Blind” for a while, and that went over well. To be honest with you, as much as I love that album, the audience can be a little hesitant when it comes to it. For instance, songs from that album will go over much better with the audiences in Europe that what they would with the audiences in the United States. We do dabble with songs from that album, but that song you mentioned specifically would be great.

H2Z: Do you think that’s part of the reason that some bands struggle to put new music out, because their style may have grown and changed, and the audience may not be as receptive, and then the digital revolution gets added?
RH: I think you are exactly right. It’s a very touchy proposition to change your sound or maybe evolve the band. That’s the best way to put it. As an artist you want to evolve, and you want to grow. In all honesty, when you write your first album, then fast forward 7 or 8 years later, you are not the same person. You have now had the experiences you have had, and you have grown as a person, and sometimes you just are not able to recreate that sound, as you are not the same person anymore. It’s some cases it alienates your fanbase, but then some artists can get away with it, and there is no magic formula that has been proven to work over time. It’s always a gamble and you just never know. One of my favourite bands of all time, and speaking to you, I’m sure you hear this name all too often. But using the AC/DC business model. A lot of people say that their sound hasn’t changed, and they continue to stay in their lane so to speak. But even a band like AC/DC, if you listen to the early, early, early stuff, then listen to the newer music, even a band like that has a natural evolution to their sound. They have honed their sound and their style, and I think it’s necessary to be honest with you. As an artist, its risky and you never know what the future holds for you and your audience, and you do the best you can. And I think it’s important to make music that you as a band or an artist feel good about. And if you start there, I think that is the best way to approach it. But I certainly don’t claim to have it all figured out (laughs). Check with me in 5 or 10 years and I’ll let you know (laughs)

H2Z: Like they say, you have your whole life to write your first album, and only a couple of years to write your second.
RH: Well that is exactly right. You are 100% right. You get there and wonder “Ok what do I do now (laughs)?

H2Z: Well speaking of recording albums, Rachel recently mentioned that there may not be a third instalment of the “United World Rebellion” EP’s as originally planned, but it may be a full-length album. What can you tell me about that?
RH: That is true. We are planning to go full steam ahead. With a full-length album. Not that we didn’t enjoy doing the EP’s, and anyone who has been following the concept we laid out for the series of EP’s, it was to be 3 chapters or 3 instalments, so this upcoming recording would have been the 3rd chapter if you will. And this tie in to what we were talking about earlier, regarding the new energy in the band, and the new outlook on things within Skid Row. We are enjoying writing, and we are enjoying the creative process, and everything that goes along with that. Not to say we didn’t enjoy it before, but there is so much more enjoyment with the way things are now. It’s just a really good time to be a part of this organisation, and we have been given the opportunity to do a full-length recording, and we all jumped at the chance to be able to do it. So, with that comes the extra workload and all the things that go along with it, it takes you a little bit longer to finish a project like that, but we are really excited to do it. So yes! The rumours are true, it will be a full length!

H2Z: Great! So how many songs are in the can already?
RH: Well songs, that’s a tricky word. There are probably, and I am just guessing, there would be 8 or 9 complete songs. But we have a mountain of ideas, and a mountain of, I hate to say riffs, but things we have been working very hard on. They are good, but just not quite there, and we are in the process of sifting through those. We are actually meeting up in Nashville soon for a few days. We do that where we can in between show. We will fly in to Nashville for a couple of days or even a week, so in that time, what might just be a beginning of an idea, might get to a place where we are happy with it, and to be honest with you, we are sitting on a lot of ideas, and a lot of blueprints for what are going to be songs. One thing I can say is the boys have been busy, that is for sure.

H2Z: Is there a ball park to get it out
RH: To be straight up, No. We were hoping to get something out this year, but anyone who has followed our touring schedule would have seen we had an extremely busy start to 2018. We as a band also wanted to take that opportunity to get out and play. So, to me I couldn’t even give you an approximation, or even a guess

H2Z: It will be done, when it’s done?
RH: Yeah, and I hate to say that, because I don’t want anyone to think that we are being lazy or not taking it seriously, which couldn’t be further from the truth. We just want it, when its finished to be the album we can be the proudest of, and that takes time. And there are the behind the scenes things, like there really is the business side of bands which need to be taken care of too. Add to the equation that we all don’t even live in the same city, and we now have a member that lives in a totally different continent. While technology affords us certain luxuries in regard to being able to file share and email ideas back and forth, but it’s still hard for a band like Skid Row, as we are that band that gets in the room and works together. That’s the school we came from, and the school we still like to use now. Again, while the tech resources are helpful, it’s not the way we do things, so that just takes time.

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H2Z: There has been a few attempts at getting Skid Row captured live to put out on CD and DVD, which for various reasons we all know didn’t happen. Have you been recording any shows recently?
RH: (laughs) yeah, we had tried in the past. And yes, we have been recording a lot of shows. So, when we were in the UK in March, we recorded a lot of the shows. What we will do with them, I don’t know as yet. The foundation is there to do it, the desire is there to do it. We love playing live. It’s what we do. We shine at it. Skid Row fans know how much we love being on that stage. We would love to share that with everyone, I wish I could tell you when and where it would happen, but I can’t. But I can tell you, it’s always being discussed and its definitely something we want to do.

H2Z: Lets switch gears and talk about drums. What is your current set up?
RH: I’m a Pearl guy, I have been playing them forever, but officially with them since 2010. For me, if you see me live, more often than not, because with travelling the backline can change, but more often than not it will be a Pearl reference kit. As far as my set up, it’s really a traditional rock set up. I prefer a 24-inch kick, 13-inch rack toms, then 16 and 18-inch floor toms, a few cymbals, and my cowbell. And anyone who is familiar with Skid Row knows I have the cowbell up there (laughs). I’m just a real simple guy when it comes to my drums.

H2Z: Great! It’s good for fans to get a perspective of what drives the ship.
RH: Sure. We jokingly refer to it as the engine room. And like I said, the simplicity, comes from that AC/DC influence. But in saying that there were various times where I did have more drums and cymbals, and as a fan I love seeing drummers with a bunch of drums up there and do it well. For me, it’s not just the way I think when I sit down behind the instrument. There are so many drummers that have influenced me in many different ways, but most importantly for me to sit down behind a lot of drums and a lot of cymbals just feels unnatural.

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Photo Credit: Alex Ruffini

H2Z: Well regardless of the insane technical abilities in the band, Skid Row to me, remains a very meat and potatoes rock band, so to have someone like yourself not only honour the legacy of the classic songs but also yourself fit into that classic sound, it’s not only a win for the band but it’s a win for the fans.
RH: Thank You! I really appreciate you saying that. And when I was given the opportunity to join, and trusted with such an important position, and Skid Row, the 5 of us have such a great relationship that I never had to sit down with the guys and ask what they wanted me to play it what they were looking for. You are talking about a band who has a massive history before me, and a huge catalogue of music that stands on its own. And those songs are way bigger than any one member of the band, and so anything I would do to change them on the drums, it would disrespect that. It was just obvious from day one, my job was to go out and play those songs faithfully, but also, I have little moments where I get to put my stamp on them, and my own twist on it, but you would have to really be a drummer and really pay attention to notice those moments. I don’t like to deviate too much from the originals and be as close to it as I can, because those parts and those songs are great, so to mess with that would be wrong. It would be very short sighted and selfish of me to do so and would only look like I am trying to draw attention to myself, which is the wrong way to approach it.

H2Z: Before I let you go, any final words for the fans in Australia?
RH: Honestly, I just wanted to tell everybody how excited we are to be coming back, it seems like a lifetime ago, and we really wish we were doing more shows, but in saying that we would like to come back in the next year or two, once we have the album done. We are all so happy and grateful to be playing in your country. It’s beautiful and the fans are great, and we cannot wait to see you all.

H2Z: Excellent! Rob, thanks so much for taking the time out to talk to us today. We cannot wait to see yourself, Snake, Rachel, Scotti and ZP down here in a few months.
RH: Thanks Andrew, we will see you soon!

We would like to thank Rob for his time today. We appreciate when any guest can have a chat with us, and this one is one of the best.

Skid Row will be heading our way in October with thanks to the fine folk at Silverback Touring. If you do not have your tickets, what are you waiting for?

Skid Row National 2018

 

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