L.A. GUNS vocalist Phil Lewis recently spoke with Tom Leu of Sound Matters Radio. The full conversation can be streamed below. A few excerpts follow (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).
On the group's forthcoming twelfth album, "The Devil You Know":
Phil: "When you say it's our twelfth album, it is — there are 12 records out there — but this is new. This is great. [2017's] 'The Missing Peace' was [like] a new band for me. Reuniting with Tracii [Guns] and insisting that Johnny [Martin, bass] and Shane [Fitzgibbon, drums], the guys that he was playing with in his [solo] lineup, I wanted them to stay because it was so good. It's really inspiring to be around those guys. Me and Tracii, we're seasoned. We've been around for decades, but Johnny and Shane, and Ace [Von Johnson, guitars] too now, they bring an energy, an enthusiasm to it that I don't think an original lineup would. We did an original lineup [reunion] years ago, and it was great — it was nice to see everyone and catch up. We did a record [2001's 'Man In The Moon'] — it wasn't a very good record. It was all right, because we weren't really a band. We hadn't seen each other in a long time, but we were required to do it. It's just completely different [now] — we want to do it. We did 'The Missing Peace' and it turned out great, just the way we liked it, and we didn't want to stop there. We wanted to carry on. Me and Tracii, we had been estranged a long time. We got back together at a charity event, and the chemistry was there. You can't deny it, and we've been working hard and making up for lost time."
Phil: "Tracii, he's got an amazing work ethic. I can guarantee you, right now he's probably sitting at home with his guitar plugged into GarageBand, and that's what he does — he's constantly playing and writing and teaching. Music is his element, and I missed that. I've played with a lot of other guitar players, and he's played with a lot of other singers, but no one ever worked me that hard. Just competing on his level, it's a challenge, and I like a challenge... We're both older; we're both wiser; we've both been through the trenches, we've been through the wringer... I couldn't be happier right now. I've got a great band; I've got two fantastic albums under our belt and a summer's worth of touring to promote this amazing record. It's like a dream."
On the inspiration for his lyrics:
Phil: "Anger, frustration, revenge, you name it. The song starts with Tracii — starts with his riff, and whatever he comes up with and whatever he puts together – and it's our job as lyricists to interpret that. When he gives you a piece of music like 'Rage', you're not going to write a love song. It's begging for some sarcastic angst, with just a dash of humor. I want it to come across as a little bit funny. We're not that angry. It's just fun. It's not autobiographical. These emotions on this record, I'm real familiar with throughout my life, but it's not about anyone. I haven't been through this really traumatic experience recently that would inspire those kind of lyrics. The shit writes itself. When he gives me these enormous, aggressive-sounding riffs, it's pretty obvious where it's going to go lyrically. It's way more aggressive than 'The Missing Peace'. It's a punk record — not punk, like, musically, but punk attitude. 'The Missing Peace' was lush — it's got all those strings on it, and all of these wonderful musical rabbit holes it goes down. It flows beautifully. This is an angry little record."
On trying to avoid '80s rock stereotypes:
Phil: "Let's, for the sake of argument, call ourselves a hair metal band and [say] we're in a hair metal genre. There is a hair metal vocabulary, lyrically, and it's very tempting just to write songs about sex, drugs and rock n' roll, and partying and rockaholic and whatever. That's easy, and that's sort of expected. We wanted to do something [else]. Tracii's coming up with these incredible renditions, these great musical pieces. It's only fair that it's not going to be rhyming play, stay, way. It's better than that... At this point in my life, what am I going to write about — going down to [grocery store] Trader Joe's and picking up a case of Charles Shaw [wine]? My life isn't like it used to be in 'The Bitch Is Back' days. I wrote about what was going on, what I knew. I hate to break it to you, but I'm getting on a bit. I don't live like that anymore."
On the album's musical touchstones:
Phil: "Tracii and I are huge disciples of '70s music — [LED] ZEPPELIN, [BLACK] SABBATH, in my case, a lot of the English stuff [like] SLADE. You can hear that it's influencing us. It's a classic-sounding record, but it's got a modern vibe to it. I hope it doesn't sound like old geezers. It can't, with Shane and Johnny driving the motor. It's a lot of fun. We didn't have to do a new record, and the fact that we've come up with a new one so quickly after 'The Missing Peace' kind of surprised people, I think. That's Tracii — he doesn't stop. His foot's on the accelerator the whole time."
On the band's longevity:
Phil: "We're cockroaches. You can't get rid of us. We're not going away. We've had everything sprayed at us. We've been blown up, we've been gassed, we've been squashed, and we just keep coming back. We just refuse to go away, for better or worse. Right now, it's definitely better."
On his longtime former bandmate, drummer Steve Riley:
Phil: "He doesn't have a band — he's got a gig. He's got a gig that we've done several times, M3, and we were invited to do it, and logistically, we couldn't — we couldn't get there, because we had a show the night before. It was just absolutely impossible, unless we chartered a private jet to get to Maryland. The organizers got really, really bent out of shape — like, threatening us — and they went directly to [Riley], who does have a legal, [but] certainly not moral right, and they opened up the crypt and they said, 'Get a band together. You're going to be playing the M3 festival.' Like an idiot, the guy agreed to do it. The show's coming up pretty soon — he'd better find a singer. There's no legitimacy in that whatsoever. I know there's been two versions of this band, because I've been in both versions, but that... that's nothing. That's really not going to manifest into anything with any significance at all. I'll be surprised if they even do the gig, let alone put out a new record. Old Riley, I've got nothing bad to say about him. We worked together; we did thousands of shows, millions of miles. He just got tired. He got lazy. He was not into it. It was just a paycheck for him, and he was quite happy to do these festivals and take any old slot. I wasn't happy — I was frustrated by that. I wanted to do new music, and I didn't want to do these hair metal tours, so I gave him my notice. It wasn't like me and Tracii got together and I told him to fuck off. I was done with it anyway, and by coincidence, the reunion took place. But I was leaving anyway... My conscience is clear, and the new music speaks for itself."
Riley — who will perform at this year's M3 Rock Festival under the L.A. GUNS moniker — is the group's longest-tenured member, having joined shortly before the release of their 1988 self-titled debut. (While he is pictured on the album, he did not actually perform on it.) Although the band has famously featured more than 50 members in its ranks through the years, with the exception of a two-year period in the early 1990s, Riley was the sole constant from 1987 until the end of 2016, when the group that he and Lewis managed to keep alive for nearly 15 years without founding guitarist Guns (who quit the band in 2002, on the eve of the release of their acclaimed album "Waking The Dead") dissolved.
Since then, Lewis and Guns — who, after years of acrimony, buried the hatchet in 2016 — have forged ahead as L.A. GUNS while Riley focused on other projects.
The Lewis-Guns version of L.A. GUNS will release "The Devil You Know" on March 29 via Frontiers Music Srl.