Interview by Robert Cavuoto
The one and only, the original L.A. Guns with Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis will be releasing their next studio album, Checkered Past, via Frontier Music SRL on November 11th.
The band capitalizes on the strength and moment from their critically acclaimed 2017 release, The Missing Peace, and their 2019 The Devil You Know. Tracii and Phil are joined by Johnny Martin [bass], Ace Von Johnson [guitar], and Adam Hamilton [drums], who together craft songs that have revitalized and redefined L.A. Guns for the new millennium.
L.A. Guns is a band that truly embodies the spirit of Rock & Roll. Checkered Past continues to see their rebellious spirit drive the band to double down on their combination of tightly wound riffs, rhythmic fury, naked emotions, and pushed-to-the-edge vocals, all fired up with melodic precision and tightly crafted songs like “Cannonball,” “Dog,” and “Bad Luck Charm.”
No L.A. Guns album would be complete without one or two powerfully haunting ballads, and the boys do not disappoint with “Let You Down” and “If It’s All Over Now,” which are sung with a true sense of passion. The undeniable chemistry between Tracii and Phil is evident again on this release. These two veteran rockers are not taking their foot off the gas to deliver another powerful album.
I had the pleasure of speaking with legendary vocalist Phil Lewis to talk about the creation of Checked Past, the chemistry that he and Tracii share, and why he knew Cocked & Loaded would be a classic album in the making!
Video Interview (full transcript is below):
Robert Cavuoto: This record seems to be more in line with The Missing Peace rather than The Devil You Know, which had a darker vibe. What’s your take on it?
Phil Lewis: I do agree. I think there is quite a unique sound to each release. I’m always focused on the new one, but just as a body of work, we put this together under difficult circumstances. We were all isolated and did it from our homes in different parts of the world. It turned out really good. With that in itself, it gives it its own personality, which is a very different procedure from recording the prior albums. When I say prior, I’m talking about the records we put together since the reunion. As far as I’m concerned, this is L.A. Guns Mark II. We do music from the last century [laughing] and put incredible focus on writing and recording new music, being fully aware that 70% of it will never be played live. That is just the nature of the band we are. I would love to come out and play this record from top to bottom in its entirety, and that would be great. I don’t think there would be much of a market for that; you have to mix it with songs that our friends and fans who have been with us since the beginning enjoy. It’s not fair that they should miss out because we have an artistic vision that we want to get across. It’s got a vibe to it, and if I had to compare it to any one of these, I would think you are right on that.
Robert Cavuoto: With members being spread all across the world, how did you get this album get recorded during the lockdown?
Phil Lewis: Technically, Tracii can knock out a song in ten minutes. He is glued in with the songwriting process with me in mind and the way I sing. I’m old school, verse, chorus, verse, middle eight, chorus, and out. That is pretty much the template that we have always done. He puts the music together pretty quickly, like two or three weeks. The next part was for us to digest it come up with ideas, and do our parts. That took considerably longer because we wanted to do it proud. We have become accustomed to such a high standard that we have to do that. We are obviously not going to get the recognition for being such a fucking amazing band because we are tied with a legacy. I love it, and we have to respect it. Sometimes I feel like we are treading water a bit, but it doesn’t matter because we have nothing else to fucking do [laughing]. I went into my studio and had to get my engineering chops back up. It was great to record in a booth. It was cool, but it had a bit of a lonely vibe. When we added all our parts and Adam Hamilton, who played drums on the album, compiled it, and we heard it back, we were like, “This is really great!” We didn’t want to come up with a pandemic title, just Checkered Past. These album titles are all sly innuendos of Tracii and my relationship. He came up with the title, and I think it sums it up really well.
Robert Cavuoto: Checkered Past implies there have been some questionable decisions; is that part of it?
Phil Lewis: When we first came together as a band and were signed, we were solid tight and friends. Then the business and success took over all the pitfalls and minefields that go with success. We had a lot of people around us like managers, accountants, and publicists who were considered essential who drove a stake in the band. All of a sudden, we just wanted to go off and do our own thing. Tracii said it best that L.A. Guns was his wife, but whatever project he was working on at the time was his girlfriend. That was the root of a lot of the problems, and of course, we don’t have that anymore, so we really don’t have that many problems. When you have known somebody as long as we have, pushing like 35 years, there are going to be some highs and lows.
Robert Cavuoto: The band has seen some member’s changes since The Missing Peace, is the band in a good place now with the right people?
Phil Lewis: Well, I would like to say yeah, but not really. Everything is cool with Johnny, our bass player, and Adam, who is our engineer. He has done everything from playing bass, rhythm guitar, and this time he played drums. Because of the pandemic, we needed to record with someone who had their own setup, and Adam had it. As much as we would have liked to have brought our touring drummer Scot Coogan in, it just wasn’t possible. He didn’t have a studio, and we didn’t have a way to get him over to Adam. So, unfortunately, he decided to quit. Which is fine; he is a busy guy and involved in a lot of other projects. We wish him well, and I understand his frustration that we have an album coming out, and he isn’t on it. So, we got Shane Fitzgibbon back on drums. He is a wonderful boy; I mean, a cool guy who played on the first two albums during the reunion. He agreed to come back and fill in for a bunch of shows. We are not sure how long he will stick around because he is committed to other projects in LA. That’s the reason he is not in the band in the first place. So, we have been in a little bit of turmoil there, finding a great drummer with a great personality. We did take a hit, and I’m really upset about it; we just have to roll with it and move on.
Robert Cavuoto: “Cannonball” and “Bad Luck Charm” are perfect examples of what L.A. Guns does best with the frantic and furious sound.
Phil Lewis: That interesting as those are my two favorites. It’s difficult to pick favorites because I like living right now. “Cannonball” is a balls-out and punky sort of early Billy Idol vibe. I knew when I was recording it was a monster. It would have to be with the power of the music. At one point, we were going to call the album Cannonballs, but that’s a little silly or too AC/DC, so we went with something more appropriate. I went all out on the video, and lyrically it’s spot on. I’m dressed up as a pirate; I have swords and wearing big wigs and hats. It’s very funny if you haven’t seen it! It became apparent very early in the process that it would be the opening track. It comes out like a cannon. With “Bad Luck Charm,” it’s a funny song! It’s so rare to get humor out of metal nowadays or ever. Actually, it’s never been a particularly funny subject. It’s got a checky vibe, “If I didn’t have any bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all!” It has a nice tasty bit of blues too. We had fun with it, and it’s a big contrast to “Cannonball,” which is so visual and immediate. Everyone should check out the video for “Cannonball.”
Robert Cavuoto: Another great song and one of my favorites is the haunting ballad “If It’s All Over Now,” was someone the inspiration for that song as it is sung with such passion and emotion?
Phil Lewis: Thank you, that was hard work for me! Mitch Davis was involved in the lyrics and helped me a lot with the vocals. He would Zoom in a lot when we were recording. I wasn’t sure about the song at first because I love “Let You Down” so much, and I was so focused on that. I really need to pull something out; otherwise, it would be another bland ballad. I have to thank Mitch big time for that! There was stuff I was doing that was coming across as corny. I wish I had recorded some of the vocal sessions that I did with him and when we got Tracii on the call. It was a lot of fun, and I appreciate that. Some songs come easier than others, like “Bad Luck Charm” and “Cannonball,” but that song took a little longer but turned out great. I got it in my head that it sounded like a Sixx AM song. Once I could got away from thinking like that, I felt a lot better about it. A good singer should sing it from the heart. It’s difficult to know where the inspiration comes from. It is certainly not anything going on at the moment. I have been stuck in the house for the last two years, so there is nothing like that to write about. I want it to sound personal, but it’s not really about anyone.
Robert Cavuoto: When crafting lyrics, what topics do you like to focus on or gravitate towards?
Phil Lewis: You hear the music, and that is the biggest inspiration. Tracii and I have been a team since The Missing Peace. It’s been great as we come up with concepts that we pick up on Tracii’s vibe. We go with that rather than trying to make any social statement.
Robert Cavuoto: The band has matured, and the song topics along with it.
Phil Lewis: We are held to such a high standard. I can’t write songs like “I Wanna Be Your Man” as we have transcended.
Robert Cavuoto: I have to ask about the chemistry between you and Tracii. When you come together is quite remarkable. You both are musically stronger since you reunited.
Phil Lewis: You have Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, Joe Perry and Steven Tyler, Steve Stevens, and Billy Idol, so it’s quite traditional that the singer and guitar player gel. I have played with hundreds of guitar players, really good ones, but no one has his drive, which inspired me. Sometimes it frightens me to not fuck up and deliver the very best that I can. It’s taken seriously. To feel that, it’s just us and how I feel. He brings out something good inside of me. He wouldn’t send me any rubbish; he wouldn’t send anything that he was 100% confident in and felt proud of. I wouldn’t send him lyrics or lead vocal that I didn’t think was the very best. It has always been that way. For me, that is an integral part, I don’t know what it is for him, but that’s what it is for me.
Robert Cavuoto: When can we see L.A. Guns back on a full tour?
Phil Lewis: We are finally are going to venture out from our hibernation in November, just some local stuff in L.A. and Vegas. The album drops on November 11th, and we have a show that night. No big tour of the east coast or foreign travel. Just to get our feet wet to feel like we are a band again. We have a new album coming out, and we have to celebrate it. We have six or seven shows between now and the new year, along with our traditional New Year’s Eve at the Whiskey on Sunset. We couldn’t do it last year, but this year they held our spot, and we will be back there and loving every minute of it. We will be out there next year.
Robert Cavuoto: You talked about how you would love to play the entire album live. What songs are you looking forward to playing live?
Phil Lewis: I think “Cannonball” is a song I’m seriously invested in! I get really Elton John on the video [laughing]. That will be the opening song in the set, and I want to bring the captain character from the video into the live set. I wouldn’t say it’s a difficult song to sing, but it’s not easy. I’m going to be working my ass off on how to sing it live while pulling off this charade that I seem to got myself into [laughing]. We have three or four days of rehearsals prior to our first show and need to get Shane up to speed. It’s something to be excited about, and I’m looking forward to it. I have pre-stage butterflies again. We will have “Let You Down” in the set, which we have done live before, which sounds great, and “Get Along,” which sounds like something off Led Zeppelin III. Those are the three new ones.
Robert Cavuoto: You should add “Dog” in there, too; it’s a great song with serious energy!
Phil Lewis: “Dog” is a great song! That bridge is great [singing]. I’m glad you like that song.
Robert Cavuoto: Did you know when you were working on the Cocked & Loaded did you know it was a classic in the making?
Phil Lewis: I can’t say that I was 100% sure, but I was very confident! I’m singing on the debut record, but I wasn’t involved in its inception; with Cocked & Loaded, it was a clean slate, a completely blank canvas. I was heavily involved in it and loved the way it developed. When I went back to London with that under my belt for interviews and got a little whiff of people’s reaction, I felt really good about it.
Robert Cavuoto: That album still stands the test of time.
Phil Lewis: It sure does, I’m real proud of it, and it’s fun. It’s not trying to be anything it’s not. Recently popped out of our holes and did a live stream of the full record in its entirety in a bar in Vegas.