Please explain what just happened.

Jani Lane (Warrant) was just found dead. This is really weird — I’m just sitting down now to do this interview, and my inboxes are flooded with the news. Even though his cause of death is unknown at this moment, Jani did have a history -– like too many of us -– of alcohol problems. I planned on taking half a day off because it is absolutely gorgeous outside this morning, but this sets a different tone for me for the rest of the day. Mostly because I’m thinking about how his kids must feel.

What is your earliest memory?

Being told that my art was going to fail. I was around 8 years old I guess, and I was trying to make a submarine (like the one used in “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”), out of oak-tag paper — big enough that I could get into it and go in the water. I remember coloring it with crayon for days and days on my bedroom floor. My cousin had stopped over at our house, saw what I was doing, and said “that’s going to sink like a rock.” I believe I had a revelation at that moment: I completely understood the meaning of the phrase “fuck you” after he hit me with his comment. Negative criticism is usually traumatizing for artists, because we take it as a personal attack. In my case, I have always used it as fuel. I finished the submarine, got into it, and realized it was too big to get through my doorway. The sinking fears my jealous cousin stirred in me would never have a conclusion.

If you weren’t a filmmaker, what other profession would you choose?

Teacher! However, working in a non-creative field has proven disastrous in my past. The main thing I would like to teach is how to satisfy your creative addiction and be happy even if you can’t do it on a full-time…okay, profitable basis. I have figured it out, and my primary purpose is to share this with other artists. Hence my new film.

 

Describe a typical work day.

Give thanks to God and ask that my day be steered in the right direction before I get out of bed. Start coffee pot. Pee. Put on the same clothes I wore yesterday. Look out front window at all the yard work I should do. Ignore yard work. Go down to studio to start up computers. Go back up to get two full mugs of coffee. Answer email, social network messages, accept friend requests, and get administrative crap out of my way. Fire up Premiere, Photoshop and After Effects and realize that there’s not much I can afford to do with my new film unless I raise enough funds. The rest of the day is whatever it is, creatively or task-driven. But whatever it is, I’ve been at it (filmmaking / editing/ design/ writing) for 70 hours a week for 12 years now.

Is there a time you wish you’d lied?

Never. The truth will always work, and be your answer, for the simple reason that it is truth. I regret having feared the truth many times, because the truth wasn’t what I wanted to hear, or tell. If you have the capacity to be honest with yourself, you can truly live in freedom.

What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and have a conversation with yourself at age thirteen?

“I traveled your path kid — don’t chase money, but be aware of it. Don’t sign any contract for any reason unless you understand what you’re signing. The party doesn’t last forever. Don’t expect anyone to truly understand the way you feel, because they won’t. Every day is an opportunity you’ll never get back; stop sleeping so much, get up and go and do it! Don’t ever assume you will survive your mistakes. Second chances aren’t an entitlement. Even though you don’t understand mom and dad now, I promise one day you will!”

If you could have only one album to get you through a breakup, what would it be?

I don’t think there is one. When I am disturbed, I like quiet time with myself. When I drive, I like a lot of quiet time. Come to think of it, most of the time I like quiet time. That’s why I get up so early…it’s a quiet time before the rest of the world wakes up.

What are three websites — other than your email — that you check on a daily basis?

Facebook…once you establish fan connections, you have to maintain them. I enjoy the conversations but the commitment of time is very hard to maintain.

Ebay, because I always keep an eye open for good production equipment.

That’s it. I rarely, if ever, “surf” the web. Ain’t got the time and I don’t care that much. I go to the web to find specific info for specific reasons, not as random activity.

From what or whom do you derive your greatest inspiration?

Inspiration finds me. I can’t choose to find it. I’m thankful that my inspiration never comes from anything specific. I am inspired by so many different things, such as the colors used in an advertisement, a piece of music, the voice inflection or facial expression of an actor. Certain things “click” for me that most others probably never even realize exist. Inspiration is something I believe you can never actually control- it comes from something passing you by that you retain when your mind is in a receptive state.

Name three books that have impacted your life.

Alcoholics Anonymous (aka “The Big Book”), Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, by Kay Redfield Jamison.

If you could relive one moment over and over again, what would it be?

Being in the delivery room when my first son, Steven, was born… indescribably incredible on every level of consciousness.

How are you six degrees from Kevin Bacon?

Kevin Bacon was in A Few Good Men with Tom Cruise, who was in Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles with Stephen Rea, who was in Sisters with Brian De Palma. Brian is my wife’s cousin.

Also, Kevin Bacon was in End of the Line with Levon Helm, who was in Roger Waters’ The Wall: Live in Berlin with the Scorpions who were in Metal Shop: Adrenaline Edition with my friend David Ellefson who plays bass for Megadeth.

What makes you feel most guilty?

Sometimes I feel guilty that I can enjoy what I do as much as I do, knowing that most other people are miserable for more than 40 hours in their money-driven occupations. Then again, I am addicted to creativity, and it keeps me from committing suicide.
How do you incorporate the work of other artists into your own?

I freely admit to “borrowing” — or possibly blatantly ripping off — bits and pieces here and there in my career. I drew one of the most identifiable band logos in the heavy metal genre (according to the experts) for my band “Overkill.”  In this logo, I took the EXACT letter “O” from Iron Maiden. To this day, they still use my lime-green logo along with a modified Harley-Davidson “skull with bat wings.”  Hey, I was 19 years old and I didn’t think about things like lawsuits. As honest as I am about where these ideas came from, I knew the fans could see it too. In my documentary Born in the Basement, there is a section on the thinking behind band logos. Bans logos are notorious for “borrowing” the ideas of others.

Please explain the motivation/inspiration behind your film Welcome to the Dream — The Rude Awakening of Rock Stardom.

My bewilderment from listening to young artists tell me about their dreams and how they are trying to get there. The unresolved collision of art, money, fear and success has resulted in epidemic levels of artist overdosing and suicide that we sadly accept as common. There is at least one musician in over 55% of U.S. households! Artists and writers experience two to three times the rate of psychosis, suicide attempts, mood disorders, and substance abuse than do comparably successful people in business, science, and public life, according to a study by Dr. Arnold M. Ludwig, a psychiatrist at the University of Kentucky Medical School. Our kids are used as disposable talent in the media-controlled trend window, recklessly chasing a dangerous and unknown dream. They’re traveling a path alone, lost and vulnerable with no map or directions, as their baggage of fear and anxiety gets heavier. As a former major-label recording artist, I can no longer sit idly by and watch the young artists -– the kids, including my own — wander down the same path of mistakes that we all made. My film’s mission, and the coalition forming behind it, is not just another current social issue. See how many filmmakers are in Afghanistan doing docs about taking out Bin Laden…there’s already a built-in audience; it’s a no brainer. But artists’ struggles with manic depression, drug abuse and suicide is an epidemic that we as a culture, suffer through every day. Amy Winehouse is a perfect example of the consequences that young artists face if we continue to ignore the problem. I will not.

What is the best advice you’ve ever given to someone else?

Accept the things you cannot change. Don’t be scared to change the things you can, and ask for strength to know the difference.

List your favorite in the following categories: Comedian, Musician, Author, Actor.

John Cleese, Elton John, too many authors to list, Robert DeNiro.

If you had complete creative license and an unlimited budget, what would your next project be?

None of us will ever have enough of a budget. I concentrate on the idea, which then generates finance possibilities. With that said, I am already scripting this film, tentatively titled Me, Myself and I. It reveals the decay and implosion of humanity as our fears trigger our self-centeredness.  By the way, I don’t think relinquishing absolute / executive creative control should ever be a consideration for an artist. The more we give up, the more we are expected to keep giving up.

What do you want to know?

Who has my royalty checks! How I could have sold over 100,000 units on Atlantic records and not received one penny! I also want to know how other filmmakers got their funding, what they spent, what they lost, and how many people paid their bills and supported them through it all. I also wonder if we artists are ever really happy, or is it just that creativity keeps us “sane.”

What would you like your last words to be?

LESS IS MORE.

Please explain what will happen.

I will go out and enjoy the beautiful weather of this day, while I can… and probably work all night to make up for it.

 

 

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Our culture is splattered with the wreckage of lives destroyed by the double fists of fame and fortune. Whether it’s some lottery winner in Middle America found lying at the bottom of his dollar-shaped swimming pool or a gun-toting NFL rookie caught misbehaving outside of a strip club, one thing is certain: fame and fortune ain’t free. In fact, they are often fatal.

Professional sports leagues around the world have accepted the realities of how profoundly celebrity can corrupt a young, talented athlete and they have implemented programs to prepare rookies for the experience, requiring mandatory training in areas of health, finance and basic common sense. And while some young Turk will always insist on learning things the hard way, at least the problem is being addressed.

But what of the artists of the world? Who is there to prepare them for the rapacious effects of notoriety on their art and their emotional well-being? Until recently, there was no one. The rock stars, artists and actors of the world have absorbed these lessons the old-fashioned way -- through a fiery baptism that many fail to survive.

Enter RAT SKATES.

Rat swaggered onto the music scene in the late 80s with his band Overkill, credited as one of the founders of modern heavy metal. As the band’s drummer and one of its principal songwriters, Skates relentlessly promoted the band while writing, arranging and performing on two full-length albums and touring to the furthest reaches of the globe. It was two years into the band that Skates found that the sex, drugs and rock and roll had somehow been transformed into depression, alcoholism and a very difficult job. He left Overkill in 1987.

Getting sober and finding solutions were only half of the battle for Rat as he entered the 90s. A fiercely creative spirit, he started channeling his inspiration into filmmaking and television, learning across-the-board skills, from camera man to audio engineer to film editor. Eventually he began co-producing documentaries such as Get Thrashed(2008), which received screenings around the globe and which earned six awards.

Currently guest appearing on A&E Television/Biography Channel documentary programs, he also speaks frequently on radio and in person to many different organizations on issues from art and culture to addiction and recovery. In furtherance of those causes, he conceived the movie Welcome to the Dream- The Rude Awakening of Rock Stardom as a vehicle for raising awareness to and developing solutions for the challenges of young artists in search of profitable and fulfilling careers. Welcome to the Dream features a cast of rock and roll legends who have fallen into and recovered from the many pitfalls of superstardom, candidly sharing their experiences in the hopes of helping the artists coming up behind them from making the same mistakes. Rounded out with a deeply-qualified panel of clinical experts, Welcome to the Dream is scheduled for release in 2012.

In addition to his music and filmmaking, Rat owns and operates Kundrat Productions LLC, a New Jersey-based production studio. He is married and a proud father of three boys.

4 responses to “21 Questions with Rat Skates”

  1. Joe Daly says:

    Rat-

    Love the answers. The Iron Maiden bit was funny, as I have Maiden’s “From Fear to Eternity” poster inside of my garage, which features their logo in bright green. Since reading your answers, when I drive into the garage now and see that poster in front of me, I think of Overkill and not Maiden.

    Philosophical question- what lessons can be effectively imparted to young musicians and which ones must simply be lived to be asborbed?

  2. Rat Skates says:

    It’s like when your mother used to say “DON’T TOUCH THE STOVE! YOU’LL GET BURNED!” Well how did find that out for ourselves? We go ahead a touch the freakin’ stove. We kind of HAD to touch it. We had to experience the pain for those words to make sense.

    The ENORMOUS difference for Musicians is we NEVER – EVER- had anyone tell us about the hot stove! Our kitchens are full of unaddressed mental illnesses, zero business sense, and more creative distractions than ever before. We’re dying of starvation in our OWN kitchens! The stories we’ve all heard about bankruptcy, collapse, etc. are something that we really don’t take too seriously. We think “That won’t happen to me”, “I’ll be smarter than they were”, but the simple truth is that we’re NOT. If simply hearing stories about the dangers of “The Dream” could have created a safer future for Artists THEN IT WOULD HAVE.

    All we can – and MUST do – is grab the young artist by the arm, look them dead in the eye, and tell them what’s lies up ahead…”We’ve walked your path. Here’s a map of the landmines” And, undoubtedly, young artists will still take some wrong turns; they’ll still go touch the stove. But without a warning from mom, they’re going to get burned a helluva lot worse!

    Surviving the entertainment business is a GIFT, NOT an ENTITLEMENT. By giving guidance to young artists (that we never had) we’re giving back for the gift.

    Thanks for reading…

  3. Metal Mom2 says:

    Hi Rat ,

    Curious if that’s your chineese zodiac.
    I enjoyed your interview . I can relate to alot. Relating alot to partying , and recovery. I am now recovering since 1987 . November 11 ,2011 ( Vetern’s Day ) I will have 24 years free from being a slave to a bottle and no longer a puppet.

    My life got better a whole lot for years. I’m not Bipolar , but have Major Depression . As depressed as I can get the last thing I would do would be use to medicate or commit suicide. Never will it make anything better. ( Fact ). In fact my luck I’d probably not die but get WET BRAIN .

    At this time I am physically disabled and unable to work. I had everything then lost it all due to illness and divorce . Ive been homeless/ foodless / car less/ illness untreated . With very little or no help. But still I don’t want to use.

  4. Rat Skates says:

    Hi Metal Mom!

    It’s cool you relate to the article. I drank so much that I don’t even know what a Chinese Zodiac is! (Sounds like it could be the name of a drink)

    Congrats on your sobriety today; you should be proud. Depression does suck, but keep in mind that it’s only a moment, and moments go on to new moments yet to be experienced. Think POSITIVE.

    You are doing well for someone thats has lost as much as you have. Get to a meeting, and help someone else who needs you. You’ll feel better. I’ll keep you in my prayers.

    Thanks for reading…(one word at a time)

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