Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Interview: Phil Lewis of L.A. GUNS

© 2016 Ron Lyon Photo

“I think we owe this to our fans who have stuck with us during the many ups and downs of the band’s long and checkered career” – Phil Lewis.

L.A. GunsAfter almost 15 years, fans can expect to enjoy the true sound of L.A. Guns once again, as TRACII AND PHIL REUNITE, hit the road, and promise a ‘ferocious sounding’ new record for 2017. The band will tour the UK in March 2017 and release their new album via Frontiers Music in Summer 2017. I had the opportunity to catch up with half of the famous partnership to see if this latest reunion would prove an end to the soap saga of different band lineups and name-calling which has blighted the L.A. Guns name in recent years.

AH: Hi Phil, great to be able to chat with you. You’re finally back playing with Tracii again in L.A. Guns – a long overdue and much anticipated reunion for the fans. I just wondered how that came about?

Phil Lewis: Well, after a ten-year separation, we bumped into each other by accident at a bar in a club at a gig, and we just started talking, and I was like, “Hey … I’ve got an acoustic show, solo acoustic show coming up. Why don’t you come do a few songs with me? … Surprise people.” And he was like, “Yeah, sure.” “If you could up and do a couple songs with my band.” His version of L.A. Guns. That was a little bit more than a year ago, and we started talking and started playing each other musical ideas. And he already had a record deal lined up with Frontiers. And he invited me to do a couple of songs on the record, and I was like, “Yeah, okay, I could do that.” And then once we started working in earnest, then it was obvious that we were going to do the whole record together. And the chemistry’s there. It always has been. We’ve never had a problem creatively. Socially, perhaps, yeah. You know? But, wow, it’s great chemistry. It’s like Jagger/Richards, Tyler/Perry combo. And I’ve worked with lots of other guitar players and other musicians, but nothing is quite like working with Tracii.

AH:  So there’s been no awkwardness even at the start? It’s genuinely that simple?

Phil Lewis: It really was. He pissed me off eleven years ago, and you hold a grudge any more than that, you’re just punching yourself in the face. It’s just like…It sounds a bit cheesy, but definitely for the fans. They deserve this. They put up with all our shenanigans, all our ups and downs. But this new record is really exceptional. And it was very much the music, it’s been very instrumental in the healing process of me and Tracii.

AH: Who else is going to be in the band for the forthcoming live shows including Britain?  There have been many names suggested. So, I just wondered who the other guys are going to be?

Phil Lewis:  Well, Tracii’s been playing with the drummer and the bass player. Shane Fitzgibbon is the drummer. And Johnny Martin on bass. And they’ve been together now for a year or so. And it’s a good rhythm section. Tracii’s a complicated musician, and he sets incredibly high standards. And Shane and Johnny are really up to [those standards]. As good as you can get. When we started talking about getting back together, and he was like, “We’re going to need another guitar player.” I’ve been playing rhythm guitar for the last couple years, and that’s been all right, but I’m not playing with him next to Tracii. He’s too fucking good. So, I asked, “Who did you have in mind?” A few names came up. We talked about people from our past. And I said, “Well, the guy I’ve got right now, Michael Grant, is fantastic. Why don’t you give him a shot?” And he said, “All right. Bring him down, see how it goes.” And they got on really well, and they’re compatible musically. So again, it worked out. So, I brought Michael over with me.

AH: Did you find it personally sad going from the glory days of what L.A. Guns had achieved in the eighties to what it became in recent years? Did it hit you hard personally as well?

Phil Lewis:  Well, it did a long time ago, when the shit hit the fan, when Nirvana came out, when the bubble burst. But you have to decide why you do it. Are you doing it because you want to sell millions of records and you want to be on the cover of magazines? Or are you doing it because you really like it? You really like getting in the band? You really like that feeling of when you’ve written a song, and you play it back, and you go, “Yeah, that’s really fucking good.” Those, for me are the things that are more important. The accolades and the gold records and the screaming fans lined up around the block. That’s just extra. That’s just the icing on top. But being in a band and making music and performing and getting that immediate feedback. I live for that.

AH: Talking about this sort of soap opera saga that sort of took place over the last few years. Where there were different lineups of the band going around. Do you find that actually damaged the band’s legacy?

Phil Lewis:  Absolutely! It was a terrible time, but that’s… We have to work. That’s how we make our living. Yeah, it got ugly. It got stupid. And it must’ve been incredibly frustrating for the fans to put up with that. I think we held the record for the amount of member lineups that we’ve had. We’ve got something like forty fucking people in L.A. Guns. Which is … It’s funny and everything. And that’s what I feel now, us releasing this new record, and showing people, all right, this is the nucleus. This is what L.A. Guns is, was, and always will be. I think that’s going to hopefully forgive us for our terrible sins.

AH: Have you started the tour rehearsals yet? How did it feel to be back in a room playing L.A. Guns music with Tracii again?

Phil Lewis:  Magic. I mean, it’s the only word. It’s just magic, the songs that we wrote together, and they sound great. And no one else plays them like he does. And no one’s as loud as he is, and he’s really fucking good. And no one makes me work as hard as I do than he does as well. We’re Cain and Abel. We wind each other up, and we’ve been rehearsing. We’re doing gigs. We have Seattle on Thursday, Portland on Friday. We’re doing, as far as rehearsals go, we did rehearse, obviously, for the tour. That was more towards like the end of last year, the end of the summer. And then we do new material rehearsals. Which is great, when we’re figuring out what we’re going to record. We’re real busy at the moment.

AH: What about the set list then for the Brit shows? Will you be focusing on the three classic albums?

Phil Lewis:  Well, yeah, of course. The nuggets, as we call ’em. But the thing is, we’re trying to at least one song on every record that we’ve done together. So, that includes like Vicious Circle and Waking the Dead, and not just the Cocked and Loaded and the Hollywood Vampires, obvious hits. That’s what people want. But, we’re going to shoot for a different set, different songs every night. Not completely different. Every night’s going to be a bit different. We’ve been booked over here. We’re getting a lot of weekend residencies. They want us to play at the Whiskey in March. They want us to play Friday and Saturday.

AH: Just like old times?

Phil Lewis:  Yeah, yeah. So, we’re doing that. In Vegas, too, there’s another one, and the shows in the UK are all very close to each other, so it’s more or less the same kind of thing. So, we’re going to be mixing it up. We’re going to make it different, so that, if you do come to shows, it’s not going to be exactly the same. It’s not poison.

AH: How do you attempt to explain the enduring appeal of a lot of those songs which are, what, getting on for thirty years old now?

Phil Lewis:   Unbelievable. I mean, how time flies. It just blows my mind that it … we are coming up to our thirtieth anniversary. In hindsight, it’s seems like yesterday when I got dragged down by Santa Monica Boulevard and the places that were new and exciting to me. It doesn’t seem that long ago. And then when I think about it. I’ve had like daughters that are grown up since then, and just, it really is … It’s incredible.

AH: What about now, are your British roots still proudly upheld by you personally? Is playing those British dates something that’s going to be particularly enjoyable for you? Do you still have links back there? Family and stuff back in the UK?

Phil Lewis:  I’m really excited about this particular tour. I’ve been over in various lineups, I’ve been over by myself, I’ve been over a lot. And I always enjoy it, but this time, going up with Tracii, armed with a new record and a good attitude, I’m as excited about this tour as I was the very first time I came back. And the first time I came back to London after moving to L.A. and coming back with L.A. Guns, obviously, that was just a monumental moment for me, that first tour. I was as excited for this one as I was for that. We’re playing great venues and they’re selling out, and it’s going to be great.

AH:  Outside of the L.A. Guns band, over the years you have done a lot of various musical projects. Was it hard to step away from the L.A. Guns label? For you to forge ahead and get a career on your own?

Phil Lewis:  Yeah, yeah. It opened a lot of doors, obviously. But I like challenges. I’ve done a lot of session work. I’ve done music that I’m not very familiar with like some of the covers and stuff that I’ve done. Like Styx covers and Journey-style songs and songs that I wouldn’t write in a million years, but they’re offering me good money to sing them. So, I got my shit together, and I sang ’em, and I sang ’em more, and that was a good challenge. I like a challenge. I’m delighted at the end of it when I hear it back and I go, “Yeah, all right, I nailed that.” So, it’s a good education.

AH: You mentioned a couple of times a new album. Is that all recorded and good to go? What sort of stage is that at?

Phil Lewis:  We’re pretty much done. I’ve got to do two more vocals. I was in New York this weekend. Last weekend, last couple of days, finishing off the last four that Tracii and I wrote together. And now, I’ve got to do all this press stuff.

AH:  Sorry (laughs)

Phil Lewis:  After next week when we come back from Seattle, I’ll record two more songs in L.A., and then we’re good to go, then we’ll start mixing. We’ve got a March 1 deadline.

AH: I was actually surprised, just did a little bit of research, that you had an acting role on your CV. I just wondered if you’d done any of that or that’s something maybe you’d like to develop further?

Phil Lewis:  Eh, not really. It was just … It was the right place at the right time. They offered me a part in a couple of things, and I was like, I have a little bit of a thespian background in my earlier days. So, I’ll do that, but no, it’s not something I would really like.

AH:  Outside of music then, what do you do in your spare time? Do you have any sort of hobbies? Any interests there?

Phil Lewis:  Just music really. I love writing, and I like collecting instruments, and for the most part, I’m a boring cunt actually. I’ve been thinking about getting back into flying, but I just don’t have time right now. It’s all about this album and this tour and … I like shopping.

AH: Online? Or actually go out?

Phil Lewis:  I like the markets. I like going to thrift stores. I like treasure hunting, we call it. I like that a lot. I like online. I’m a bit of an Amazon junkie as well.

AH: So, you’re in a good place mentally these days?

Phil Lewis: Very much, yeah. I’m happy and healthy. I just had a milestone birthday a few weeks ago, and I feel great about it. I feel good. I think that all the ducks are lined up nice, and I’m happy.

AH: What about thoughts on maybe writing a book?

Phil Lewis: Yeah, I should think really … get started on that before I start forgetting. Because I’ve got some really good stories.

AH: I would imagine.

Phil Lewis: It’s where to start. My early, early days, the early girl stuff in my life. Don Arden, Sharon, and Ozzy, and all that. Just that alone would be a great book. But, there’s lots of other stuff.

AH: Just touching on that right there, did you keep in touch with Phil Collen over the years?

Phil Lewis: We run into each other, but we’re both busy. He’s touring, and I am, but we’re still mates, and whenever we run into each other, we pick up right where we left off, and he’s a lovely guy, and I’m real proud of how brilliant he is for his age, how good he looks, how well he’s taking care of himself, how good he plays. His enthusiasm, his lust for life is unreal, and I’m proud of him for that.

AH: Looking back at your own musical legacy, is it something that fills you with pride? 

Phil Lewis: Yeah, very much. There are a few cringe-worthy moments growing up in public since my early twenties. There’s some dodgy haircuts, there’s some weird outfits, and there’s some musical ideas that didn’t quite hit the mark. But for the most part, I’d say pretty much, yeah, I feel good about what I’ve done, my legacy.

AH: There’s been many changes in the music business since you first started out. Is it more difficult to sustain a career these days?

Phil Lewis: I imagine for a new, up-and-coming act, it must be incredibly difficult. Fortunately, I got my foot in the door, and there’ll always be a gaggle of punksters that want to see some eighties rock, and God bless them, and I love them for it, and I imagine it must be incredibly difficult to get something off the ground. Especially in rock right now. I know it’s coming around, but it’s nothing like when I grew up in the seventies and eighties. Everybody played guitar, everyone was in a band, everyone knew a band … do lights or something like that. It was a lifestyle. And there’s nothing like that now, of course.

AH: Who would be the most inspiring musician that you’ve worked with?

Phil Lewis: It was a real honor meeting Alice Cooper. And I’ve been a fan for so long, and we did a show in Sweden couple of years back, and he was headlining. And he watched us, and after that he invited us to play his annual Christmas charity event, Christmas Pudding, in Phoenix, and that was just an incredible honor to be invited to do something. But my biggest, biggest idol … I mean, I look to Alice Cooper when he first came to Wembley, and did that “Welcome to My Nightmare,” and for me, no one has ever topped that. No front man. I know Freddie’s good, Freddie Mercury … There’s always a big debate who’s the best front man, but it’s without a doubt Alice Cooper. Let’s face it. I mean, he’s not the greatest singer; some of the songs were a bit corny, but wow, what a performer, what a … you just … when you watch him play, there’s nothing else … I can’t think of anything else. He’s compelling, absolutely compelling. And working and being friends with him was … That’s a great honor.

AH: Do you still have hopes and dreams?

Phil Lewis: Yeah, I hope this record sells a million copies, but I might well be dreaming. I just really want the music to be especially new stuff, and go … When other people hear it, be, “Oh, Phil’s still got it. Phil still sounds great. These new songs are great.” I live for that.

AH: Just a final one, who would you like to sit down and interview? Maybe not even a musician.

Phil Lewis: Oh, that’s a good question. I’d go back to Alice I suppose. My early heroes people don’t really know like Alex Harvey, Steve Marriot, and Gary Holton. Alex Harvey, that was a … He was a character. And if ever I could’ve sat down with someone and really peeled back a few layers of the onion, it would’ve been with Alex. He was a remarkable, fascinating man. To actually be on the other side of a microphone with him and Phil Lynott, Phil Lynott too. Somebody else that I had the honor and pleasure of becoming friends with through my music connections. Those were great times.

AH: Sounds like more material for that book then?

Phil Lewis: Yeah, plenty. I’ve got to put a flame up my ass. Get me going. I think once I get started I’m not going to stop. It’s just getting that start.

AH: Good luck with the UK tour. Good luck with the album. Maybe we can get to do this again when the album comes out.

Phil Lewis: Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate your support. Thank you.

L.A. Guns
© 2016 Ron Lyon Photo

About Mark Dean

I'm a 40+ music fan. Fond mostly of rock and metal - my staple musical food delights. Originally from Northern Ireland, I am now based in the UK-Manchester. I have a hectic musical existence with regular shows and interviews. Been writing freelance for five years now with several international websites. Passionate about what I do, I have been fortunate already to interview many of my all-time musical heroes. My music passion was first created by seeing Status Quo at the tender age of 15. While I still am passionate about my rock and metal, I have found that with age my taste has diversified so that now I am actually dipping into different musical genres and styles for the first time. Photo: Mark Dean with Jeff Kendrick of Devildriver - Photography by Olga Kuzmenko

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