L.A. GUNS was formed in 1982 by guitar player Tracii Guns and, then unknown singer, Axl Rose on lead vocals. The “classic lineup” of Guns, former Girl singer Phil Lewis, drummer Steve Riley, guitar player Mick Cripps and bassist Kelly Nickels have sold 6.5 million records, including 1988’s L.A. Guns and 1990’s Cocked and Loaded, both of which were certified Gold. Cocked and Loaded contained the hit single Ballad of Jayne that went to #33 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and #25 on the Mainstream Rock charts.
After a nearly fifteen-year break, Philip Lewis and Tracii Guns are back together for another chapter in their partnership that began in 1986, four years after Tracii formed L.A. GUNS in 1982. Their writing partnership spawned classic L.A. GUNS songs such as Sex Action, Never Enough, Electric Gypsy, The Ballad Of Jayne, and countless more in an impressive catalogue of fan favourites. Phil Lewis speaks to Hi Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles about the tour.
It really does sound like the Australian tour is really shaping up to be an awesome one, teaming up with Tracii Guns.
For the first time, we’ve teamed up again after quite a long time estranged but, yeah, this is actually a first for me and him to be there together. We’ve both been there of course, but this will be the first time that we’ve been together and also New Zealand as well, which is something that, we’ve never set foot there. So, it should be an adventure, we’re looking forward to it, and Australians are known for being friendly and renowned for their warmth. Don’t be offended if I’m starting to talk with an Aussie accent by the end of this interview because I’m showing affection.
How did you get yourself reacquainted again with Tracii? Was that just by chance?
Well, it started in Christmas time 2014. There was a charity event taking place in Las Vegas to raise money for kids at Christmas for toys, toys for tots and Tracii had agreed to play. The promoter of the event called me and said, “Look, Tracii’s doing it, would you be interested in getting up and singing a couple of songs? It’d be a great plug for the event and bound to raise a lot of money?” So, I couldn’t think of a good reason why I shouldn’t do it, so I agreed to do it, but I didn’t want to rehearse, I didn’t want to do sound check, I just wanted to like show up five, ten, minutes before. I don’t need to rehearse these songs, I’ve been playing them now for so many years.
So, we got there, and I got there around ten, fifteen minutes before we are on stage, we did Over The Edge, Never Enough, and it felt really good. It felt, I played those songs with countless other guitar players, amazing guitar players, but just something about the chemistry with Tracii, the way he plays it, or his intensity, I don’t know what it is, but it’s there, and I felt it right away and I was like, “Damn.” There was an electricity but, it wasn’t at that point like, okay, let’s get together and make a new record. I didn’t even know he was thinking about making a new record. I had some solo acoustic shows later on that month, and I invited him to come on and play, a bit of acoustic guitar with me, which he agreed to do, and while we were working on those sessions, working on those shows, over at his house, he started playing me ideas that he had in mind for this record, which, ultimately became the missing piece.
I was like blown away, right away, he played me a demo and I was hooked, I’ve got to say. So, about a year after this charity event in Las Vegas, was pretty much the time that we decided, yeah this is it. It’s a full on reunion with a new record, with a new record to announce the reunion. Now, bands they get together and they haven’t played in a while, it’s fantastic, like Guns ‘n Roses got together and reformed, but, you know, they’re not going to do a new record are they? That’s really disappointing, and we just didn’t want to be that, we wanted to prove that not only were we a nostalgic act, but we could be contemporary as well.
Did you feel like it was literally picking things up where you left off?
You know, I’m not sure about that. It seems from people’s reaction to it, it seems people think of it as having a classic, culture loaded, vibe but still being something new, a little less, I don’t know, cheesy perhaps, because let’s face it the 80s were very cheesy and we were just as guilty of that as lots of other bands too. There was a distinct lack of cheese on this record but still having that sort of sleaze rock, hair metal, whatever you call it, that sound, and it was recorded in segments as opposed to the old days, where you go into the studio and do the drums and the bass, then the guitars, then the vocals and then you would mix it.
We were doing it all over the place. I flew to New York to do vocals with Mitch Davis, and we were literally mixing, making final mixes on the road on laptops to make our deadline, which is very different from the old, sit down in the studios with the faders experience. So, we did it on the fly and I loved that as opposed to being grounded in a specific studio in LA or anywhere, it was a fun way to do it different.
Do you think there’s more albums left in the tank there now that you’ve had a bit of a taste of it now, will you do another?
I’d say we’re about two thirds of our way into the next one already.
Yeah, oh yeah, we’re on it. It’s something we do, we like doing it, love writing, love creating, making new songs and, yeah, we’re on a roll, so why would we stop?
Are you really enjoying playing these shows, being out on the road again, it must be a real buzz seeing what these songs mean to people and seeing their reactions?
Yeah, of course, what do you think? It’s fantastic, of course it’s a good feeling, you know everybody loves a comeback and this one’s got a big story to it.
Do you get nostalgic when you play some of these classic songs live? Particularly when you see, possibly even the generational shift in the fan base as well?
They’re just songs to me, I like doing new songs, it keeps things fresh, but I understand that for us to play a show and not play Over the Edge, or Ballad of Jane, particularly in a country, in a market, that we haven’t played together ever. I think fans would feel a bit cheated. So, we have to do those songs, and we like doing those songs, Sex Action, Never Enough, Like a Gypsy, Ballad of Jane, and to be honest, it wouldn’t kill me if we didn’t do that song for a while, and perhaps did other ballad songs like Crystal Eyes, or even Christine, on the new record but, it’s not meant to be, you know, we’re not really a ballad band.
So, we have to pick one, and invariably it’s going to be Jane because that’s what put us on the map. It all depends, it all depends how long they give us, if we get thirty minutes, sixty, ninety, or play as long as you want we’ll have fun, we’ll play the old stuff, we’ll play new stuff, we jam a lot. We don’t do solos, we don’t do self-indulgent exercises in dexterity, that’s not our thing at all but there are these impromptu jams that Tracii pulls out of the hat, in the middle, it could happen at any time, it’s very sporadic, it keeps it fun and keeps us on our toes.
That sounds really, really, cool. I wish you guys were coming to Adelaide…
Why do you suppose that didn’t happen?
No idea! Probably logistics and scheduling.
Well, I’m sorry about that, it’s geographically challenging. Its logistics man, it’s not us, I was reading some comments on the fan page and people were a little disgruntled. I’m truly sorry about that but, hopefully we’ll come back again and do it more frequently.
In terms of the new album, did it take a bit of thinking about what LA Guns would sound like today if they were doing a new record? Was that something that was hard to get your head around?
No, not really, whatever Tracii does is going to sound like LA Guns, and I didn’t really go into it thinking, “Well, what are we expected to put out? What are our fans expecting?” That was never part of the plan, it was just like, the song’s good, I like the sound of it, this is going to be great, and this one is tricky, but it’s a challenge. Perhaps, crossing over into genres that maybe we don’t do too often, like The Missing Piece, and Gave it all Away, that’s metal, that’s metal man. The last time we did anything metal must have been something like Magdalene, off Hollywood Vampires. It’s going to sound like LA Guns because it’s me and Tracii, we’re working together. We’ve got a great team, we’ve got a great band, all contributing to the writing and I’m really proud of them all.
There’s talk that you’re writing a book, is that something that’s happening or still in the works?
Oh yeah, that’s something that I started doing and I should have it done by the end of the year. It’s kind of therapeutic for me to put it all down for future generations, even if it’s just for my kids and my kid’s kids. It’s a good story and I honestly think, you know, I’m no spring chicken, I’ve been around, it’s a good book, it’s a good story, and it’s something I recommend everyone to do at this stage in their life just for sort of therapy.
Interview by Rob Lyon
Catch L.A. Guns on the following dates…