Nick Sterling is one of the most exciting guitarists on the planet right now. Sebastian Bach’s latest axeslinger has revitalised the ex-Skid Row frontman. This year, Sterling co-wrote the excellent new album, Kicking and Screaming, Bach’s finest solo effort to date.
Only 21 years old, Sterling already has three solo albums to his name and over thirteen years’ experience playing live concerts. I called Sterling and in his thick Southwestern accent he talked about performing with Sebastian Bach and being the “Teller to Sebastian’s Penn.”
Geeks of Doom: How are the live shows going so far?
Nick Sterling: They’re going really good. I’ve been playing with Sebastian for a little while now, I started with him in December 2009. When I first started we didn’t really have any of the new songs really worked out or anything but that’s kind of what we’re starting to do with these shows now in support of the new record…but yeah the shows have been great and it’s been wonderful to be a part of the band. It’s great to get to play with everybody, the musicians are wonderful. I get to play with Bobby Jarzombeck [Sebastian Bach drummer] on stage every day. It’s pretty cool.
Geeks of Doom: How did you come to join Sebastian and Bobby?
Nick Sterling: Well like I said I started back in December ’09. Initially Sebastian had contacted me, he reached out to me on my online stuff; on Facebook and Myspace. He was looking for a new guitar player [and] he’d been just looking through guitar magazines, looking online, just trying to find anybody that he thought would be somebody that was interesting and wanted to check out or look at online and hear their music. Initially he saw an advertisement in one of the guitar magazines that I was in and looked up all the stuff I had online, you know, YouTube videos and live footage and all sorts of things like that. We started kind of conversing, talking on the internet. Shortly after that we started talking by phone and he just basically asked if I was interested in joining, if I wanted to go out there and rehearse with him. When I joined the band we went out there [to L.A. and] did about 3 or 4 days of rehearsal then we went on a 25-day trip in Europe. So yeah, it all happened pretty quick!
Geeks of Doom: You had to go straight into it!
Nick Sterling: Yeah! I mean it was kind of a strange situation because I didn’t really audition, per se, or seek him out or find out that he was looking for a guitar player…I’ve been playing live shows for a long time with my solo shows and everything like that. Playing in clubs and stuff since I was around 8 years old so I mean there was a lot of stuff out there for him to kind of stumble upon as far as footage and audio. I guess I just got lucky to get the call.
Geeks of Doom: So were you a fan of Sebastian before he got in touch with you?
Nick Sterling: Yeah I was a fan of his…the first two Skid Row records (Skid Row and Slave To The Grind) are great. They’re standards for that style and that energy and sure I grew up listening to them. I grew up listening to a lot of different stuff but, yeah, I was a fan at the time when he called me.
Geeks of Doom: When I heard Kicking and Screaming it seemed to me like the dynamic between you and Sebastian was almost like the Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhoads situation where the lead singer has this renewed fire in his belly with a new young guitarist. Did you feel that kind of connection at your first rehearsal?
Nick Sterling: Well it’s a lot of pressure to compare something to that! I guess the spirit’s there, but I don’t really want to draw any direct comparisons to, say, me or Randy or Ozzy and Sebastian or anything like that. But that’s a pretty valid statement to say because there’s certainly a new energy to the band. There’s a new energy to Sebastian personally as far as him being fired up about playing music, about writing new stuff, about releasing the new record. I can’t say that that’s all to do because of me joining or anything like that but, you know, it’s been a very productive very positive portion of both of our lives as far as what’s going on with our music we’re working on…you know those sorts of comparisons freak me out a little bit but I could agree that maybe it’s the same, sort of; it’s more of an energy and a renewed passion for what’s going on in the music rather than an actual improvement on the music or anything like that.
Geeks of Doom: Are you happy with how Kicking and Screaming turned out?
Nick Sterling: Yeah I’m really happy with it. To me, it’s a really solid rock record. Sebastian’s whole energy, his whole style, his vocals: I thought he sang really, really well on it…I feel like there’s a lot of stuff on there that for him vocally is some of the most powerful stuff he’s done…it’s a heavy rock record but there certainly are a lot of strong pop sensibilities [on there]. Getting to work with Bob [Marlette, producer] on the organization of the songs and just kind of the structure of everything, it just turned out really good. It’s a very tight, compact little rock record. Got all sorts of different tunes on there.
Geeks of Doom: Absoloutely. Some of my favorite ones actually are the ballads. Did you write them with Sebastian’s voice in mind or were they solo songs?
Nick Sterling: “I’m Alive” was initially on my solo record as well as “Wishin’”, that was released a little while ago, so I had those songs kind of around prior to being involved with Sebastian…and “Dream Forever” was just another song of mine that I had kind of laying around that didn’t make the cut from my record. It didn’t quite fit on there but when it came time to find out what we were doing with this new record I just emailed Sebastian off a bunch of these songs that I thought would kind of fit his voice and fit the energy. I sent him off a whole bunch of songs, a slew of songs, and pretty much eleven of those songs on the new record is stuff that I had sort of put together or got re-worked.
Geeks of Doom: Like you said you’ve written a lot of your own stuff – when it comes to writing with Sebastian do you have to change the way you write or do you still go about it in the same way as your solo songs?
Nick Sterling: I have different writing mindsets depending on what sort of project I’m working on. I still keep busy all the time and I try to record stuff every day and just try to make music for the sake of making music. The stuff that I work on isn’t necessarily too hard rock based or anything like that, it’s a little harder to pin down. But as far as when I’m writing stuff that is in the rock and roll vein the writing styles definitely change a lot. As far as writing with Sebastian I’ve never actually completely went out of the way to sit down and think…‘ok, I’m going to write this and think about Sebastian and how this is going to come across with him singing it’ or anything like that. Actually the songs that we’ve worked on, that weren’t already put together prior to me being involved with Sebastian, was stuff that we actually wrote together in a room. So it wasn’t necessarily that I was writing a song for Sebastian as much as we were just collaborating which works out to be a really cool situation actually because the songs get written really quick. I tend to think, especially with the rock sort of songs, the quicker they kind of come flowing out of you and the faster you get fired up on certain parts of them that the better the outcome’s going to be…it’s not rocket science, you know what I mean? But yeah it’s been cool to work with Sebastian on this sort of stuff because he’s just a singer, he doesn’t really play any instruments or anything like that.
Geeks of Doom: Working with you must be great for him because you can play pretty much any instrument can’t you?
Nick Sterling: Yeah I can; if I sit down and work at it I can make some sounds out of most things. When I’m writing with Sebastian he doesn’t play anything but I’ll write a riff and play it to him and we’ll kind of be working on hashing out a song. What he’s good at is hearing something inside of his head that’s good, you know? For some reason he just knows what’s good and he knows what he likes. I’ll be working on a riff and he’ll just kind of sing it back to me and change it just a little bit and every time it’s a lot cooler…when you’re just singing or humming a melody it’s better than when you’re technically straining with your fingers to produce a melody I guess. So when Sebastian is singing me what he wants to hear it’s coming out more natural.
Geeks of Doom: Does that bring an energy to the song as well because it feels more natural and it’s coming from someone who’s not technically trained on the guitar or anything?
Nick Sterling: I’d say so yeah. Because what you’re doing is you’re replacing the technicality with the passion. When you’re taking away the instrument you’re just letting Sebastian jump around the house and go [does a very good Sebastian Bach impression:] ‘yeah! That’s awesome!’ [sings a guitar riff] A lot of the stuff that we worked on on the record was just kind of me being the technicality aspect and Sebastian being the youthful excitement sort of thing.
Geeks of Doom: Which is quite strange considering chronologically you’re the opposite of that!
Nick Sterling: Yeah it is a little strange! It’s funny because I made a joke that I’m kind of like [thinks for second]. Penn and Teller – which one is the one that doesn’t say anything?
Geeks of Doom: Teller!
Nick Sterling: Teller! Ok well I’m kind of like the Teller to Sebastian’s Penn.
Geeks of Doom: Just going back to live shows again – your solo live shows are a bit more low-key than a Sebastian Bach rock concert. Was it a big leap to go from playing so many of your solo shows, where you are the lead singer as well, to playing a concert like that?
Nick Sterling: It’s been really cool for me to be able to focus on just being a guitar player. Whenever I was playing on my own I was always trying to front the band and sing lead vocals as well and just kind of doing all those sorts of jobs and wearing those hats, you know. But to be able to just focus on playing the guitar is great. As far as the crowds and everything go, I mean I’ve been playing on my own for a while, I’ve gotten the opportunity to play quite a few pretty big shows and everything but nothing like playing for 65,000 people in South America or anything like that. That’s a pretty crazy difference. But it doesn’t bother me or anything at all and honestly I didn’t have too much of a getting used to it period or anything like that. I’ve never really been anybody that gets freaked out by the audiences or the experience or anything, it’s really just kind of where I’m pretty natural…the guitar’s the thing that comes most easy to me, the hard stuff of the performances for me was having stuff to say in between songs and singing. Like I said, I’m more like Teller than Penn.
Geeks of Doom: What was it like going from being playing solo shows to suddenly being on tour with two giants of the genre in Sebastian Bach and Bobby Jarzombeck?
Nick Sterling: The hardest thing about touring is not playing shows at all, it’s everything else. So the difference between when I was playing solo shows [and playing with Sebastian is] I had the PA and I’d load it up in my trailer and had a light rig, load that up in the trailer and drive it out to the shows. Do it all yourself, kind of…then I join the band with Sebastian and like I said the hardest part’s not playing the show it’s everything else. It’s the airports, it’s the hauling all the stuff around. I usually have two guitars with me, an acoustic guitar, a pedal board case, a suitcase and I’m accountable for all those items at any time so I can’t lose anything.
It’s a lot of just going and going and going, not having any real time for yourself to take in where you’re at. As far as the difference between doing one off shows on your own, solo, and going out and travelling was something I never really did before as far as extensive trips and things like that. So that took a little bit of getting used to and now I’ve been in the band a little while I kind of have most of those sort of things down. There are some parts of touring that are not exactly what you would expect.
Geeks of Doom: What like?
Nick Sterling: Well it’s just that it can get not too glamorous sometimes, especially if you’re the opening band on a tour or something like that. I mean when we do our solo shows we’ll play like medium-sized venues. Out when we’re on tour like, say, with the Guns ‘n Roses trip we’ll play a couple of shows opening for them, we’d fill up their off time with a bunch of solo shows. So we’d end up doing ten shows in eleven nights where you’re just playing a show every night and you’re travelling between every show and every day get up at 11 when you go to bed at 4 the last night, set up the equipment, sit around the venue all day. It’s stuff everybody knows goes on like travelling in South America through airports when you have to fill out a customs form every 35 feet you’re walking! [laughs] While you’re carrying three guitars, an acoustic guitar, pedal board case and a suitcase and you weigh 110 pounds! [laughs] It gets kind of hard, it gets tiring.
Geeks of Doom: It’s a necessary evil!
Nick Sterling: Yeah it is definitley. You have to pay your dues that way with all the bullshit that goes on to be able to just get up on stage to be able to enjoy that moment, you know? It’s a lot of work to just get up on to the stage, but it’s worth it once you’re up there.
Geeks of Doom: And then stepping out in front of 65,000 people must be, well, I can’t imagine what that’s like!
Nick Sterling: It’s really something. It’s hard to explain because for me it almost feels like more of a private thing when I’m playing for a really, really huge audience. Because really it’s like you’re on this huge stage and you’ve got eight, ten feet between the front of the stage and the beginning of the audience and you really only get to see about really the first 20 feet of the audiences faces and then beyond that it’s just kind of a mass. So for some reason I don’t think of the mass as like individuals judging me I just think of them as a mass, like a thing almost. It doesnt really freak me out as far as like the amount of people or anything like that…with that amount of people really you feel a lot of energy from knowing that that mass is there and the focus is on the stage. I’m not saying that I don’t appreciate that or anything but as far as the feelings of individuals judging the performance or anything like that it feels a lot more like I’m just on stage with my buddies playing as well as we can. We can see the first 20 feet of people and besides that you’re just hoping it’s ok for the rest of them.
Geeks of Doom: Has it been interesting to meet the Sebastian Bach fans?
Nick Sterling: His fans have been really cool. I mean nobody’s been mean to me or anything like, “Hey! You’re not Snake Sabo!” and wanted to fight me or anything like that! Everybody’s been really cool. I’m sure there are some fans that are more passionate about the old stuff or that maybe some people don’t like me or don’t like the new band or whatever and are just stuck in nostalgia, but all the fans that I’ve met have been really great.
Geeks of Doom: Cool. Do you play a lot of the old Skid Row stuff?
Nick Sterling: I wouldn’t say we play a lot of it in the show, we don’t play like a whole set of nothing but mostly Skid Row stuff with a couple of originals…maybe a little less than half the set is older stuff off of the first two records.
We’re slowly working a little bit away from playing a lot of the older stuff from the Skid Row days because obviously it is a Sebastian Bach solo record band and…he doesn’t like the whole nostalgia act thing. But obviously you’ve got to give the people what they expect a little bit at least. Because who’s going to come to Sebastian and not expect to hear “Youth Gone Wild”?! We’re always going to play a couple songs, we’re kind of moving away from the “Piece Of Me” stuff like that…we still have fun playing those songs and everything but we would much rather be a relevant modern band and play songs off our new record and the record before that.
Geeks of Doom: And what about the next album, do you have plans for a new one?
Nick Sterling: We do have some plans for that. Like I said I’ve got a lot of material, a lot of different ideas and with the internet and stuff I can email off ideas to Sebastian. He’s on the other side of the States than I am but we’re working on some stuff. Once we’re done doing a little bit of support of this record we’re definitely going back into the studio to work on another one.
Geeks of Doom: Nick, it was good to talk to you.
Nick Sterling: Thanks for calling, good to talk to you.