INTERVIEW AND LIVE PICS BY MARKO SYRJALA
L.A. Guns is one of the authentic originals of the 80’s Sunset Strip’s hair metal scene. The band was formed in 1983 by guitarist Tracii Guns. It took several years and line-up changes before the Guns’ classic lineup, vocalist Phil Lewis, drummer Steve Riley, bassist Kelly Nickels, and guitarist Mick Cripps, was born. The albums: L.A. GUNS, COCKED AND LOADED, and HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES were highly successful, but the ’90s proved to be a difficult time for L.A. Guns. Riley left the band in 1992, and Lewis, Cripps, and Nickels departures followed in 1995 after the unsuccessful VICIOUS CIRCLE album. Guns then continued to tour and record under L.A. Guns names, whereas Lewis focused on other things like a solo album and various band projects, including Filthy Lucre and Liberators. The classic line-up was put together again in 1999.
The band released re-recorded versions of the first two L.A. Guns albums, and a new studio album, MAN ON THE MOON, was released in 2001. WAKING THE DEAD followed in 2002, and although the album was a critical success, Tracii Guns decided to quit with the band and concentrate on his new band project titled Brides of Destruction. Despite all the difficulties, the band lost their record deal and a tour with Alice Cooper; they decided to continue with a new guitar player Stacey Blades (ex –Roxx Gang). The new line-up released the album TALES FROM THE STRIP in 2005. Since then, the band has remained active and a touring act; they have released a pair of covers albums and a live album LOUD AND DANGEROUS. Tracii Guns, in turn, formed his own version of L.A. Guns, and for years there were confusingly two bands touring under the same name. However, last July, Tracii announced that he’s done with his version and will start a new project instead. L.A. Guns now consists of Lewis, Riley, Blades, and bassist Scotty Griffin released its latest studio album HOLLYWOOD FOREVER last June. The band returned to Finland for a four-date tour in late July (their first time here since 1991). In Helsinki, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Mr. Lewis and discussing various topics, including HOLLYWOOD FOREVER, L.A. Guns history, Lewis’s other projects, and his current relationship with some of his old bandmates… Read on!!
First of all, thanks for the excellent show yesterday in Helsinki!
Phil Lewis: Thank you.
Metal-Rules.com: I’ve seen L. A Guns live for a couple of times, and the first time was in ’91…
Phil Lewis: Right.
Metal-Rules.com: … and maybe four times after that. Once in Stockholm and a few times in London, and honestly, this was so far the best and the longest show of what I have seen from you ever!
Phil Lewis: Well, you know we had a day off, a couple of days off so that we could blow it out a little bit. Quite often, when a couple of the shows you’ve mentioned maybe we have five, six shows together, so I got to rest my voice, you know, but last night I was feeling good. I had a day off before, and I knew I had a day off the next day, so I went for it. It was such a good crowd, and my deal was with the encores. I’d play a new one for me, and then I’d play an old one for the fans, which worked out pretty good.
Metal-Rules.com: That’s good, and for sure the new album got some new listeners now?
Phil Lewis: Yeah. That’s right. I think we played something like five songs from it. So there aren’t many bands that do that.
Metal-Rules.com: Yeah, you’re right. Usually, bands do play only one or two tracks from the latest release. So what if we next talk a bit about the new album?
Phil Lewis: Sure.
Metal-Rules.com: The new album HOLLYWOOD FOREVER… Is it been out for a while, like one month already?
Phil Lewis: About a month.
Metal-Rules.com: Now afterward, how do you like the results, and would you now change anything on it?
Phil Lewis: The results. I’m very happy about that. You know we wrote it and recorded it incredibly quickly. We wrote it in four weeks, and we recorded it in six. There are a few things that I would like to have changed, not changed but improved, but that’s all… you always have that even if you spend six months and $1 million on a record. I think still you’re going to at the end of it go, oh if only I added this or you know, but yeah, I’m 99.9% happy with it.
Metal-Rules.com: That’s good to hear. I have read a couple of reviews, and it’s been all positive. Overall, what kind of feedback have you got from the press and fans?
Phil Lewis: Everything, every review has been amazing. I haven’t read a bad review. The only negative comment that I’ve seen or heard from the… is that there are too many songs on it, and I never understand that criticism because if you don’t like a song or if it’s too many songs on it, then don’t play it all. You know, skip over it, but I think it’s a good running order, and it’s very important that everybody in the band got to showcase their work, their songs. When we started recording, the original plan was everybody would bring in five songs each, and then we’d work out the best 14 or 15 from that. So that’s why there are so many songs, and quite honestly, most bands have a hard time coming up with ten songs. So I think we’re doing pretty well.
Metal-Rules.com: Some people say that it’s “a curse” of CD when you can place too many songs on it.
Phil Lewis: It can be, and I understand that, but, you know, just skip track over if you don’t like it.
Metal-Rules.com: Yeah. I agree. You had a really, really long break between this album and TALES FROM THE STRIP? It was like seven years; why on earth it took so long to make it happen?
Phil Lewis: Because we couldn’t get a record deal because Tracii Guns was fucking things up for us. It was so difficult. No record company would touch us because of the confusion. Eventually, our friend Brian Perera at Cleopatra Records gave us a record deal. I think that’s the final thing that blew Tracii out the water once he realized we were going to carry on writing good records and releasing good records, and people were going to be excited by the band. He couldn’t compete with that.
Metal-Rules.com: We’ll get back to that thing later but right… On HOLLYWOOD FOREVER, you once again worked with legendary producer Andy Johns.
Phil Lewis: Yes, he is a legend.
Metal-Rules.com: The man has been working with everybody in the past. (Led Zeppelin, Free, Humble Pie, etc.) Does it seem that you do have some kind of special relationship with him since you have been working with him for ten years already?
Phil Lewis: Ten years now, yes. This will be our fourth record together. I can’t imagine working with any other producer. My biggest regret is that we didn’t have him in the early days because I think that would have really changed our career. We would have done a lot better, not just because of the way he sounds, makes a band sound, but because of the musical input, he gives while we’re writing and recording. If the guy who recorded “Stairway to Heaven” says that I did an excellent vocal, I’d take his word for it, and if he says he would do it again, I will do it again. You know, I have such a respect for him and his opinions, and we still fight a little bit in the studio, of course, but I love Andy, and he’s just given the band and me so much confidence.
Metal-Rules.com: How did you manage to get the original bassist Kelly Nickels to guest on the album?
Phil Lewis: He begged us (laughs). Once he heard the songs, he was like, “Wow! I really like this album. I want to play on a track” – and so we just told him to pick whatever song you want to play on and come down and do it. He came down. We drunk some beers and had some fun. It was just like old times. It was great.
Metal-Rules.com: What is he up to now?
Phil Lewis: He’s kind of wrapped up being in a family thing, and he now does a lot of graphic work, but he doesn’t make music anymore.
Metal-Rules.com: Yeah, not at all. Okay. There’s the one really weird track about the songs on the album, if you ask me, and it’s “Araña Negra”?
Phil Lewis: “Araña Negra” right.
Metal-Rules.com: Yeah, tell us something about that one?
Phil Lewis: Well, I was in Argentina last year. I go to Buenos Aires a lot. It’s my favorite place. You know, one day, if I get rich, I’m going to buy a big house down there. I was coming home from a gig, and this song came on the radio. It was late, but it was early. The sun was coming up, and it just started, and I heard it, and I was thinking,g “God, I love this song!” From the beginning, I just loved it. By the end of the song, I knew that we could do this after the first time I heard it. This was a song that we could do, and it’s a song that we could do because we like it, and it could also be incredibly useful for us in South American in the Latin market, and we’ll see. The album has only been out a little while now. I don’t suppose they really know about it too much yet, but they will.
Metal-Rules.com: I can’t hesitate to ask but was it challenging for you to sing in Spanish?
Phil Lewis: That was a huge challenge. It was one of the most challenging things in my life, but I like challenges. I have a friend, an Argentine friend, who helped me through it every syllable of the way, and fortunately, by the time I got into the studio, I already knew it. So I…
Metal-Rules.com: So your friend was… he was like your vocal coach?
Phil Lewis: So totally yeah, I needed a coach.
Metal-Rules.com: It sounds good, although at first, I was thinking like, “What the hell is this?”
Phil Lewis: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
Metal-Rules.com: But it still sounds like L. A GUNS song, though…
Phil Lewis: Yeah. I’m glad that the guys… Of course, it’s the cover, and the guys that I first asked permission if they’d mind if I recorded it, and they were cool. Then I sent them the copy, and they were delighted. Then they saw the video, and they just loved it.
Metal-Rules.com: Yeah. It’s a good one. Actually, the pair of videos you did for the album, those are hilariously and made with a bit of “tongue in cheek,” right?
Phil Lewis: The girl in both videos, the girl with the red hair, she’s a very, very creative girl. She designed the album cover. She painted the band picture on the back, and she edited and filmed both videos. So she’s an amazing ally for the band.
Metal-Rules.com: What’s her name?
Phil Lewis: Kayla Witkowski and she is just amazing. I mean, she’s really young. She’s about only 24, but she’s just so incredibly talented.
Metal-Rules.com: Great. I have to check her webpage.
Phil Lewis: Sure. Well, if you go to my Facebook, you’ll see that she’s at my top and follow that, and she’s an incredible artist.
Metal-Rules.com: One more thing about HOLLYWOOD FOREVER, the album title…
Phil Lewis: Yes.
Metal-Rules.com: It seems that, in a way, you are a bit stuck on the word “Hollywood” since it’s always been present in your music…
Phil Lewis: Well, “Brixton Forever” doesn’t quite have the same ring, you know. There’s a certain vocabulary for 80s bands that we have to stick to. There’s a certain… there’s no point in us trying to do something fancy because it will piss off fans. So I just feel that it’s… well, we came up with the title first, and then we put the songs together to go around it. It doesn’t really mean anything specifically. It’s just, in my opinion, a cool title,e and it works well. You know that was the first and really only suggestion we came up with, and you know I said, look if someone comes up with a better suggestion, we’ll do it but. So that was pretty much the working title, and it just stuck.
L.A Guns 2012: Scotty Griffin, Steve Riley, Phil, and Stacey Blades
THE EARLY YEARS
Metal-Rules.com: Since you’re originally an English guy…
Phil Lewis: Yes.
Metal-Rules.com: What is the meaning of Hollywood and L.A. lifestyle for you?
Phil Lewis: Well, I mean, that’s where I blew into town in the late 80s and liked it and decided to stay. I’ve had good times there. I’ve had bad times there. Of course, it’s a shallow town, but it’s been a lot kinder to me than London ever was. So I think I’ll stay for a while.
Metal-Rules.com: Since the days you moved to L.A., is there anything left from that hard rock/glam scene anymore?
Phil Lewis: Yeah, I mean there is if you know where to look, and of course it’s nothing as exciting as it was. A Saturday night on the Sunset Strip in the late 80s was like heaven. It was just full of rockers, and rock chicks and guys in bands, cool cars, and it was just the most exciting place in the world, no doubt. Bands were playing in like four or five, six different venues, all within half a mile. You could walk everywhere. You knew everyone. It was an incredibly exciting time. I was very fortunate to get out of a really shitty life in London at that point and to be allowed to come out, and it was a dream, actually.
Metal-Rules.com: I just thought that in the early 80s, when you did live in London and played with bands like Tormé and Girl, it must have been was the entirely different musical scene and trends there compared to L.A.?
Phil Lewis: Oh yeah, sure no, listen. I got so much crap from the English press, the English fans, and the English music business from Girl all the way in Tormé. We were a great, great band. We had some great songs, and we did good albums. We had good shows, but record companies wouldn’t sign us. They wanted like two boys and two girls doing like that stupid shit, and I knew that…. Actually, even Guns N’ Roses would not have got signed in London at that time, okay. If they just… it wasn’t possible to get anything done if you were a rock band in London in the late 80s. You were fucked, and I knew that. That’s why I had to get out.
Metal-Rules.com: Yeah, at that time, you had to be either in a punk or metal band to make it, right?
Phil Lewis: Well… I mean, it did help. I mean, yeah, there were many the New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands there, but I never considered myself a metal singer. I had little tinges of it here and there, and I was getting shit from Kerrang! and Sounds because we weren’t metal enough. I never wanted to be metal, you know. We got thrown into this category of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and we were a glam band. So we were an obvious easy target for, you know, the fucking Viking guys, you know, the sausage fest, and they gave us shit. It’s pretty amazing. I put up with it, and it didn’t kill me. It made me really strong, but it did hurt, and it wasn’t easy.
Metal-Rules.com: There was one well-known Finnish band that moved from Finland to London in the early ’80s. How well did you know the band Hanoi Rocks back then?
Phil Lewis: I did, and I remember them really well, and I know that they were going through the same thing that we were going through, too, just because they wanted to be original and have their own identity. They just… l loved them, and I loved their attitude, and they were such nice guys. Mike and I have stayed friends, and I tried to do something with Andy, but it was impossible, but yeah, I love Hanoi Rocks, and I’m glad that when Guns N’ Roses hit it big, they gave credit to Hanoi for being a huge well “Welcome to the Jungle.” I mean, that’s… Mike Monroe came up with that line, you know, and Axl admits that. So yeah, I’m glad for Michael. I’m glad that he’s back on his feet. I’ve seen a couple of his shows, and they were incredible. I’m jealous of his energy.
THE EARLY YEARS OF L.A GUNS
Metal-Rules.com: When you quit with Tormé and moved over to L.A, did you do auditions for other bands besides L.A. Guns before joining them?
Phil Lewis: No, no, I went over to join L.A. Guns. I knew about them. They needed a singer. They sent me some demos and some pictures, so I went over specifically to do that, but we didn’t have a record deal. So we had to… there was interest in the band, but it took me. It took them six months, six, eight months before we could convince them that this was the band. This was the line-up, and then we got signed.
Metal-Rules.com: It took then like two years since you joined before the first album was released?
Phil Lewis: Right. Yeah.
Metal-Rules: Since the other guys were Americans, how they accepted you at first when you came from an entirely different world, and you were speaking a foreign accent to them?
Phil Lewis: They gave me a hard time… they called me “a teabag.” It was tough, you know, and they were very friendly and sometimes they were a little bit mean but you know it was like going to college, like joining a fraternity and I had to prove myself. They really made me do that.
Metal-Rules.com: As you said, most of the songs which ended up for that first album were already written when you joined?
Phil Lewis: Yes.
Metal-Rules.com: But you also did some writing for the album?
Phil Lewis: I had to, what I call salvage, the record. They had a singer that wasn’t very good.
Metal-Rules.com: You’re talkin’ about Paul Black here?
Phil Lewis: Yeah, and Paul wasn’t a very good singer.
Metal-Rules.com: He was originally a drummer, wasn’t he?
Phil Lewis: Yeah, he was a drummer. Then he decided he wanted to be a singer. He should have stuck with drumming. His lyrics didn’t make sense. So they had the music. They had the music recorded, so it was my job to rework it, and it’s possible that “Never Enough” was once called “Looking Over My Shoulder” or something like that, and it was always interesting. When Paul Black and Tracii did the reunion after Tracii Gun started his second version, well, this is the original band. I could never understand why they did my version of the songs and not Paul’s. So you know that lost all credibility for me when I saw that.
Metal-Rules.com: Yeah, I have heard some of the original recordings…
Phil Lewis: Pretty bad, huh? “Laughs”
Metal-Rules.com: Nickey Alexander was the drummer who played on the first album, but Steve Riley soon replaced him. Do you remember how Steve ended up in the picture?
Phil Lewis: Yes. Well, Nickey was the drummer, and Nickey was a good guy, and he but not a very good drummer. Then, once the record came out and started to do well, it was obvious that we would be doing a lot of touring, and Nickey quit. He said that it wasn’t for him. He wanted to like to stay in Hollywood. He had his whole system, his friends, his whole lifestyle, and he didn’t want to give that up. So we had to get another drummer, and I didn’t know Steve at the time. Tracii was a big W.A.S.P. fan, and he said that he met Steve at The Rainbow and invited him down to play, and I just couldn’t believe what it was like to play with him. I’ve never played with a drummer as good as Steve before. Somebody that hit that hard and knew understood music and understood rock as well as him. It just blew my mind, and it was just all of a sudden we went from sort of a glam sort of cult sort of cool band to this rock-solid machine, and Riley came, and he brought everyone’s game up. He made Kelly a better bass player, and I think he made Tracii a better guitarist. He made us all better musicians.
Metal-Rules.com: I remember when I spoke with Steve a couple of years ago, and he said when he was still in W.A.S.P., Blackie was then looking for a new bass player, and Kelly Nickels was one of the candidates?
Phil Lewis: That’s right. It’s funny how things work out, huh. It’s a small world. He remembers Kelly’s audition, and he was… he voted for Kelly. It worked out in the end.
THE RISE AND FALL OF L.A. GUNS
Metal-Rules.com: The second album is COCKED AND LOADED. I think that was the commercial peak in your career?
Phil Lewis: I think so. I felt like, for me, that was the first album. That was the first album that we wrote from scratch. We started all together on the same field and we… I think we developed a lot because we had toured so much promoting the first album. When we got into the studio to start the second record, we had good chemistry, and we wanted to write an album better than APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION. Our first album couldn’t compare with it. It sounds like demos. So we were driven to make our record sound… I don’t believe we did. I mean, a couple of things were highlights on there, but no one could ever beat that APPETITE. That was just a phenomenal record, and even they couldn’t beat it, but that was our template. That was what we were lining for.
Metal-Rules.com: You’ve said in many interviews that the time around the first two albums was great both creatively and within the band, but then something changed in the early ’90s?
Phil Lewis: Just you know there were too many fluffy… the genre, the 80s rock got stupid you know like bands like Nelson and at the time… I’m good friends with them now but Warrant and Slaughter. It was ridiculous, you know, with the big hair and the big teeth. It was, you know… the music… there was no edge. There was no danger to it. There was no, and I always felt like L.Guns was just a little bit scarier than those guys. I’m glad that the people that know the difference accepted that we were different from that, and I think that those guys, the fluffy, were the ones that brought it down. And it needed to come down because it was weak and then something good came along like a good songwriter. Seattle came out with some great, a little depressing, but you know, after the big party of the 80s, it was obvious something was going to change.
Metal-Rules.com: At one point, it did seem that the only thing that mattered was how you looked, not how good you were with your music, right?
Phil Lewis: Exactly. It didn’t matter. Pretty Boy Floyd, the worst band you’ve ever heard in your life, got like a… they’re spending half a million dollars on an album and $100,000 on videos, and they stank. You know, it was really time for a change.
Metal-Rules.com: What kind of memories you have from the tour you did with Skid Row in 1991?
Phil Lewis: Well, I don’t remember playing Finland. I don’t, and I was really surprised because I thought this was the first time we played here, and I was reminded that we’d played once before with them, and it was a long tour. It was a long time ago, and it was a long tour. We were playing all over the place and being honest, we were only in town for a night, and I don’t remember anything about it but this tour I’m going to change the name of your country to Funland from now on because I just love it here. The shows have been great, and I’m hoping that we can come back here every year now.
Metal-Rules.com: You have been regular visitors to Sweden for years, so it would be cool to see you more here as well…
Phil Lewis: Yeah, I know. I know, and Sweden is honestly is not as much fun with it. We have not been embraced. Maybe because we’d played Sweden, and people are like, “Oh, those guys again.” I think the fact that we hadn’t played here in such a long time. It got people curious and interested. I love it. I’m going to be sad to leave.
Metal-Rules.com: Still a bit more about the Skid Row tour in 1991…
Phil Lewis: Yes.
Metal-Rules.com: After that tour, the severe problems started within the band and…
Phil Lewis: Yeah. A lot of bands… I mean, Sebastian left Skid Row. It was just… it was just the end, you know. When we recorded HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES, we were very corporate. At that point, we were very corporate. We were being controlled by managers, lawyers, accountants, record company executives. Every song that I’d contribute had to go through five different people and the band. Oh, I don’t like it. Oh, my wife doesn’t like the lyrics on that song. Seriously? That was reality. I was dealing with the accountant’s wife, who was offended by my lyrics. So you know I’m glad it went down.
Metal-Rules.com: So the main idea of creating music kind of got lost?
Phil Lewis: Yes, it did. It diluted.
Metal-Rules.com: Then, L. A GUNS had a couple of years off before you returned with VICIOUS CIRCLE in 1994. Steve was gone, and things were different from the past…
Phil Lewis: Yeah, yeah, we did that. It was a terrible time after Steve left. It’s like the dark ages, I call it, and us… on VICIOUS CIRCLE, I think we had seven drummers. We had like a different drummer on each song. We had lost our identity, and Tracii was no longer interested in the band. He was doing Killing Machine, and he wouldn’t even come in. If I were in the studio, he wouldn’t even be there. So I was basically left in charge, and right at the end, he came in and just played solos, and that was his contribution to the record.
Metal-Rules.com: Yeah, and that’s a terrible time for all kinds of hard rock and melodic bands.
Phil Lewis: Oh yeah.
The classic L.A Guns line up in the late ’80s
OTHER THINGS OUTSIDE OF L.A GUNS
Metal-Rules.com: You quit with the band in 1995 and started to do other things like working on the solo album MORE PURPLE THAN BLACK.
Phil Lewis: Yeah, but it was just for fun. You see, I became a family guy. I had a daughter. Not a family guy, I became a dad, and I was really… I wanted to be a good dad.
Metal-Rules.com: Were you kind of fed up with the whole music business thing?
Phil Lewis: Oh yeah. I was fed up, and I was… I found I had more fascination for my daughter than I did for the music business, not for the music. I still love music, but the whole business, so sick of it, and you know what? I’ve been pulled, pushed and kicked, punched. I was just… I just wanted to write music. I didn’t care… that I liked. When I was thinking of the record’s title, it occurred that it was MORE PURPLE THAN BLACK. You know black is dark and heavy, and I didn’t want to be dark and heavy. I wanted to write some… I mean, I was listening to Oasis at the time, and I was like yeah, I like that sort of “Beatlesque” kind of. So I had my own studio, and I was recording other bands. I was producing. I was learning to engineer, and in between sessions, I would just do my own. I learned a lot. I became a much better musician by recording my own album.
Metal-Rules.com: So you learned to see and do things from a different view?
Phil Lewis: Totally. Yeah, totally!
Metal-Rules.com: You also had some interesting bands at the time, like Filthy Lucre?
Phil Lewis: Yeah, there was Filthy Lucre, but all that stuff was like… oh with Filthy Lucre was actually was something that I was doing when at the… well, VICIOUS CIRCLE because Tracii wouldn’t come in the studio. I’m sitting around. I have so much time. Then we start recording… I was just basically recording two albums at the same time. I was doing with Filthy Lucre and VICIOUS CIRCLE at the same time.
Metal-Rules.com: You had some of the same guys playing on both albums, right?
Phil Lewis: No, different guys. Well, the same drummer. Steve Dior was the guitar player, and we were working together, but he liked “Kiss of Death.” A few of the songs on VICIOUS CIRCLE he wrote, we wrote together. So it was weird. I was in the studio with… the same studio, different guys… two bands.
Metal-Rules.com: So there was actually material worth of double album in works at that time.
Phil Lewis: Well, the thing is that both bands were… L. A GUNS were doing songs like “Kill that Girl” and “Killing Machine,” and Filthy Lucre was doing stuff like “Black Cadillac,” more sort of Clash, sort of bluesy, and Tracii just wanted to be so heavy and metal and Pantera and macho. It was crazy. It was just completed on two different ends of the spectrum.
Metal-Rules.com: So it wasn’t difficult to separate those two things?
Phil Lewis: No, no, not at all. It was very obvious.
Metal-Rules.com: Okay. How about the band Liberators?
Phil Lewis: That was just… I became friends with Brent Muscat from Faster Pussycat, and we were just having fun. We did some recording. We did some shows, but it was never really very serious.
Metal-Rules.com: I would say that it’s a fun album.
Phil Lewis: It was fun just about having fun again because I’d been burned and I was just like I’m so scared of the music industry that it was really good to do something for fun and renew my love for music and going out and playing and for just for fun.
Metal-Rules.com: What was the reason that the Liberators album was re-released a couple of years later under your name, like a solo album titled ACCESS DENIED?
Phil Lewis: Oh, I don’t know. I mean, it’s just taped lying around, and one company bought it and put it out. It wasn’t… probably if you look it up. It’s a different label. Maybe the first one came out in Japan, and the second version came out in the States because when I released it in Japan, it was an exclusively Japanese release.
Metal-Rules.com: So maybe someone just bought the rights?
Phil Lewis: Most likely.
Metal-Rules.com: Okay, and there’s the one strange but interesting album which I found a couple of days ago, and it’s called HOLLYWOOD REHEARSALS. Can you tell us something about that?
Phil Lewis: Yeah, we (me, Kelly, and Mick) just had some old tapes lying around, rehearsal tapes from the early days that we recorded… well, we recorded the originals, and then we’re like, well, let’s see if we can do something. Digital technology had just become affordable, and so we put it… we have digitized it. Then we added some parts to it, cleaned it up, fixed it, and we spent about two weeks working, and it sounded great, and then one day we’re in the studio. We switched on the computer, and Mick Cripps pressed the wrong button, and everything was erased. It was all our hard work was gone in a digital second. So we only had like three more days to… so we basically had to salvage it in like three days. So it sat.
Metal-Rules.com: So you had to re-record all the stuff?
Phil Lewis: We did what we could, but there was no quality control at all. It was just a race, and it sounds terrible.
Metal-Rules.com: Right, but still, I can say that it’s a funny collector’s item.
Phil Lewis: Collector’s item, yeah. That’s a polite way of putting it.
Metal-Rules.com: Do you remember when you were out of L.A. GUNS, and the other guys decided to continue under the name.
Phil Lewis: Yes, of course.
Metal-Rules.com: So how do you like the albums they put out at that time?
Phil Lewis: I think they’re absolute shit.
Metal-Rules.com: Especially AMERICAN HARDCORE…
Phil Lewis: That’s absolutely terrible shit because that was Tracii trying to be Pantera. And for him to steal the name L.A. Guns, put something out and confuse the fans, confuse the industry, and it’s incredibly disrespectful. I just… I hated it.
Metal-Rules.com: How do you like SHRINKING VIOLET, the album he did with Jizzy Pearl on vocals?
Phil Lewis: It’s terrible. I mean, not just because they called it L.A. Guns. If they called it Blue Sky, I still think it sounded terrible because Tracii doesn’t know how to write songs.
Metal-Rules.com: So in any circumstances would you…
Phil Lewis: Never.
Metal-Rules.com: You wouldn’t sing…
Phil Lewis: Never. I’m never going to work with Tracii. I might be his friend maybe down the line, you know. We might meet out with our kids or something. I don’t hate him, but I’ll never work…
Metal-Rules.com: Right, I got the point, but what I was going to ask was, in any circumstances, would you ever even think about signing any of those era songs?
Phil Lewis: No, of course not. No. I only sing songs I like (Laughs).
Metal-Rules.com: In 1999 the things changed, and you decided to put the original band together.
Phil Lewis: Yeah.
Metal-Rules.com: After all the things that had happened in the past, what was the reason to do it back then?
Phil Lewis: Money. Somebody offered us a lot of money to re-record the first two albums, and we took it.
Metal-Rules.com: How did you like the idea of re-recording all the old stuff?
Phil Lewis: It was terrible, but it made sense financially. The rights, the publishing rights, had expired from Polygram. So if we did re-record it and people did buy it, we could make some money, strictly money.
Metal-Rules.com: Well, then it was the time of MAN IN THE MOON.
Phil Lewis: Yeah.
Metal-Rules.com: That was kind of reunion album since it was your first L.A. GUNS album in ten years.
Phil Lewis: True.
Metal-Rules.com: I think that the album didn’t get too much attention, at least here in Europe?
Phil Lewis: No, because it wasn’t a very good album either. There are a couple of good songs on there, but the production is terrible. The production is so bad, and it’s a lifeless record. There’s no soul in it at all, and you know I think we… Gilby Clarke did a terrible job as a producer and as an engineer. It just sounds flat, and of course, we don’t play any songs from that record live, and I just don’t have a very good feeling about it.
Metal-Rules.com: It soon got forgotten.
Phil Lewis: Yeah, good. I forgot it too, “Laughs,” but it’s okay. You know, that’s the thing about music or any art. You go through phases when you’re… when it’s good it’s really good, and other times it’s not, and over the space of 30 years, of course, it’s going to go up and down, but you know once we got past that, and actually, it was the first time we recorded with Andy Johns. After we released WAKING THE DEAD, we realized there was potential for this band.
Metal-Rules.com: Yeah, with that album… Was it like the band coming back from the dead?
Phil Lewis: Totally, I couldn’t agree more. That’s right.
Metal-Rules.com: It was, I think it was an excellent album, and it’s even better than HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES, if you ask me?
Phil Lewis: Well, HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES was a bit messy album because of all the different problems, but oh yeah, WAKING THE DEAD is a much better album.
Metal-Rules.com: The band’s future looked really bright after the album came out, but then things started to go wrong…
Phil Lewis: Very, very quickly, it went bad. We had a good album. Like what you said, people were saying this band is back from the dead, and then Tracii quit. He quit the band during the photoshoot while we were doing the photoshoot for the cover. He said, “I’m leaving. I’m going to do a side project with Nikki Sixx,” and we’re like, “Really, why? Why do you have to like…” We were like, we gave him our blessing. “Of course, go play with Nikki. That’s great. Don’t quit your own band to do that; why?” He says, “Oh, fuck you guys. You’d never understand. You’re holding me back. I’m going to move on.”
Metal-Rules.com: It’s interesting to hear since Tracii has claimed that he actually never quit with the band…
Phil Lewis: Oh, that’s absolute bullshit. That is complete and utter bullshit. He says he didn’t, and in other interviews, he says he admits that he did, and he’s a little fucking liar. If he were sitting here, I would look him right in the eye, and I’d say, “You’re a lying motherfucker. You quit, and you left us in deep shit.” We lost our record deal. We lost the Alice Cooper tour, and we went right back to square one, but we got our shit together, and we wrote TALES FROM THE STRIP, and that was a big “fuck you” to Tracii Guns. There were some great songs. We had Stacey in the band at that point, who is a far better musician than Tracii, and we came out with an album that we could never have made with Tracii.
Metal-Rules.com: Did Tracii ever say anything in public about TALES FROM THE STRIP?
Phil Lewis: He said that we took no chances. He said it was a very safe album, but this is coming from a guy that hasn’t released one song since he left the band. We’re on like our fifth album now. He hasn’t released one song, so I don’t give a fuck what he thinks.
Metal-Rules.com: Once he said he would leave, was it hard to decide that you’re going to continue as a band together?
Phil Lewis: No, it wasn’t hard at all because we had the album, and we were so confident with the album. If he had left after MAN IN THE MOON, we would have quit. We would have broken up, but we refused to give up because we had such a solid record.
THE NEW ERA
Metal-Rules.com: How did Stacey Blades actually end up in the band? I know that he had played with Roxx Gang before, but I don’t know not much more about him overall?
Phil Lewis: It was a mutual friend who suggested that we give Stacey a call, and we were doing a covers record at the time, and my plan was to have a different guitar player on each song like Brent Muscat, Keri Kelly, and Stacey came in. I wanted him to play some slide on “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” and he came. He played it great, and then I was like, “We’ve got these other songs. Would you be interested in learning them?” He goes, “I already know them,” and so he convinced us that he was the guy.
Metal-Rules.com: So, he was an easy person to work with?
Phil Lewis: Oh, compared after Tracii, yeah. I mean, Hitler would be easier to work with after Tracii.
Metal-Rules.com: I do remember when TALES ON THE STRIP came out, and you were kind of pissed off because the record company who put the album out didn’t support you enough back then?
Phil Lewis: Yeah, it was a terrible label we had. It was Shrapnel, and Mike Varney didn’t… I don’t think he really appreciated what a good record he had, and I don’t think, to this day, he really knows how good it is. So we were going to do a second record, but we both didn’t want to work with him. He didn’t want to work with us, so we just said okay. It was a mutual decision, which was good, and I know it took us a long time to come up with another record, but we were busy. We were working. We were touring. We were making money, so, you know?
Metal-Rules.com: How much are you actually touring these days?
Phil Lewis: We are doing about 150 shows a year. Oh yeah, and so it’s 150 shows, and there are 365 days, but there’s the day to get to the show and a day to leave the show.
Metal-Rules.com: Of course, of course.
Phil Lewis: So it’s pretty solid.
Metal-Rules.com: Do you ever have time to have decent holidays then?
Phil Lewis: We don’t have holidays. There’s no such thing as holidays. I’ve never been on holiday, haven’t been on holiday in 30 years. You know when I go on a holiday I’m sitting around bored all day. What are we going to do? What time is the soundcheck? I need to… I’m no good. I need to keep moving. When are we going to do something? That’s how it is.
TWO VERSIONS OF L.A. GUNS
Metal-Rules.com: For years, there were two versions of L.A. Guns touring, but recently Tracii announced he’s done with his version. Do you believe that he’s finished with that thing?
Phil Lewis: Not really, not 100%. I think that he realized once this album came out, he would be foolish to continue. So he’s doing another project, and I wish him good luck, but I would be naïve to think that this isn’t going to come again, especially if we succeed with this record. Of course, he has the legal right to do it, so there is no dirty trick that I would put past him.
Metal-Rules.com: When you heard about his statement, was it a kind of relief for you?
Phil Lewis: You know I’ve been in a fighting mode for a long time, so as far as I’m concerned, we’d been in a long time ago, and this is just like official surrender, but yeah, I’m glad. I’m glad he had the guts to come up and do something else. I think he got a lot of pressure from the fans, people who’ve become friends of people like that were running his Spanish fan club, just… they defected and said, “Phil, can we be friends? I know we’re with Tracii’s fan club, but we really love you, and we love what you’re doing in the new music, and we’re really sorry. Can we come on your side?” So I was like, “Yes, of course. Come on. I need all the help we can get.” So yeah, it’s an official surrender, and I appreciate that, and that’s why I wish him luck, and I don’t hate him. I don’t hate him anymore. I’m not going to carry this big hatred on my back for the rest of my life. I hope he does well with what with his own name because it should be his own name. To go through four singers in one year and one of them to be a girl is ridiculous.
Metal-Rules.com: In recent years, he’s been talking a lot of negative things about Steve Riley. He calls Steve a thief and stuff like that. In your opinion, what’s the thing behind those statements?
Phil Lewis: Yeah, yeah well, I mean, you know he’s accusing Steve of embezzling, stealing a lot of money. Now it’s… we’re not talking about cash on the table here. We’re talking about royalties. We’re talking about money that and a one-year accountant could figure out where this money is. It’s… there’s no evidence. He can’t say well he took it from this account. It’s ludicrous. It’s a ludicrous accusation, and it cost us more. Well, people do say, “Well, why don’t you take him to court?” But that costs a lot of money, and he doesn’t have any money at the end of the day anyway. So all it is a personal attack. So we don’t give a fuck what he says, to be honest with you, and there’s no proof in it. In America, you have to pay your taxes every year, and every $100 is accounted for. So to say that, Steve… I don’t know how much the amount was $10, $20, or $100. You can’t hide that kind of money, so it’s bullshit.
Metal-Rules.com: It’s easy to say that kind of thing in public…
Phil Lewis: It’s so easy. It’s such an easy, and Steve’s such an easy target. He won’t say those things about me because, at the back of his mind, I think he hopes one of these days that maybe that there might be some kind of possibility that we’d work together. He doesn’t care if he works with Steve or not, but he wants to stay on good with me. If that wasn’t the case, I’m sure I would be the dirty bastard.
Metal-Rules.com: Steve told me last year that it’s him and Tracii who do own the name L.A. GUNS in half?
Phil Lewis: That’s true.
Metal-Rules.com: I was just wondering, why don’t you buy him out?
Phil Lewis: He doesn’t want to sell it. We offered him some money, and he wasn’t interested, so he might make more money hanging onto it, maybe from merchandising or something like that. The band wasn’t registered until long after I left. The name wasn’t registered until the… I think they were doing SHRINKING VIOLET then. Was it like in the late 90s?
Metal-Rules.com: That was in 1998 or something?
Phil Lewis: Yeah, so it was a discovery, so Steve did all the paperwork, and they just signed it 50/50 with no conditions, and it wasn’t a problem until like 15 years later.
Metal-Rules.com: So, in a way, it’s a good thing for Tracii when you were doing well because he’s getting some share as well then, right?
Phil Lewis: Well, I wouldn’t say he’s getting… he’s not getting a share from our work, but of course, if our album does good and it generates interest from our early work, then he’ll benefit from that, yeah!
Metal-Rules.com: I can’t help thinking when you have had this ongoing battle with him for like ten years…
Phil Lewis: Sure.
Metal-Rules.com: Did you ever think about having a new band under a different name, or do you think that L.A GUNS is a too-viable name to waste?
Phil Lewis: You know, it is so difficult to start something new. L.A. GUNS is an established name. When we first started, the first albums came out, we had a huge record company, and it made it global, and for us to call it, you know, Two Chickens and go back and start again, it would be impossible no matter how good we were. I would love to have come up with a new project and a new name, but it’s not practical.
Metal-Rules.com: Our time seems to be up now, but there’s one more question, the future of L.A GUNS, what’s going to happen next?
Phil Lewis: Well, we’re going to record another album as soon as possible. I didn’t want to stop recording this one. I think that this album will keep us very busy for the next 12 months, but we’ve discovered that we’re really good at recording, writing, and recording quickly. I think if we continue to do that and not get… not pretend to be the Beatles and go into the studio for eight months, I think we can come up with new albums every two or three years.
Metal-Rules.com: So, do you have a deal for the next album already?
Phil Lewis: No, no, no. This is a one-offer deal, but after this, I think we can get a deal.
Metal-Rules.com: By the way, who owns the rights for the early L.A GUNS album now?
Phil Lewis: Well, Polygram would hold the rights for the originals, but that’s why we re-recorded them so that we could… It’s complicated stuff. I don’t know, and I don’t really care. There’s not that much money in it. If it was hundreds of thousands, yeah, I might be interested. It’s really not.
Metal-Rules.com: I was just hoping to see re-mastered versions of those early albums someday….
Phil Lewis: Nah, it’s all about the future.
Metal-Rules.com: Okay, we briefly already talked about Girl, but I’ve heard that maybe there are some DVDs in works from that band. Is there any truth behind that rumor?
Phil Lewis: I don’t know. That’s Gerry Laffy’s department. He lives for those two years that Girl was together. It’s been the focus of his whole life, and he’s always running around looking for old Japanese bootlegs and finding stuff and putting it together. I don’t really have that much say in it.
Metal-Rules.com: Okay. That was about it.
Phil Lewis: Okay. Thank you very much.
Metal-Rules.com: Thank you… 51 minutes, wow
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