STEVE RILEY INTERVIEW:
May 27, 2012
Journeyman drummer Steve Riley found a home in 1988 with L.A. Guns, after stints with the classic rock act Steppenwolf, Keel and W.A.S.P. Throughout the years L.A. Guns has gone through a number of changes — but Riley has been the main stay. Founding member and guitarist Tracii Guns left the band in 2002 to play full-time with Nikki Sixx in Brides Of Destruction, however by 2006 they had imploded. Tracii Guns went on to form his own version of L.A. Guns which caused quite a bit of confusion with fans, promoters and the press. Because of this Phil Lewis and Steve Riley are still doing damage control to this very day, and their new album ‘Hollywood Forever’ should help — it’s a throwback to the days of the debut album, ‘Cocked & Loaded’ and ‘Hollywood Vampires’. Sleaze Roxx caught up with Steve Riley for a no holds barred conversation about everything L.A. Guns.
Sleaze Roxx: How did you wind-up with ownership of the L.A. Guns name? That’s surprising, being that you came in after the debut album was already recorded.
Steve Riley: I was still in W.A.S.P. — we were finishing up ‘Live… In The Raw’ when L.A. Guns were working on the first album. W.A.S.P. disbanded after ‘Live… In The Raw’ and I ran into these guys — they had just recorded their debut album and they hadn’t played outside of L.A. at all. They had a couple of club dates booked and I didn’t know who they were. I joined the band right away, before the album was even pressed, that’s why I’m on the back of the album cover. They had another drummer record the album and they fired him. I stepped in and have been in the band from the beginning as they’ve never played any dates outside of L.A. without me in the band. They did some club dates without me in and around the L.A. area before the album was recorded, but I’ve run the band’s business from the very beginning.
Both Tracii Guns and I own the name outright — that’s why he’s able to take out the ‘bogus’ L.A. Guns that he has. The reason I say this isn’t because he’s a competing L.A. Guns, but because he quit this band. This is the band that he quit — he quit L.A. Guns, which features Phil Lewis and I, who are original members. He quit this band to do other stuff and then the other stuff didn’t take off so he thought he’d start his own L.A. Guns. I’ll be frank with you, we both own the name, we can do it legally but there’s no comparison. We are getting all the big shows, we’re doing all the world tours, and everybody knows you need Phil Lewis in the band if it’s going to be L.A. Guns.
Sleaze Roxx: Obviously having the voice of the band is very important. You and Phil have what appears, from the outside, a great working relationship. It’s been said that you own the name and Phil steers the ship, how accurate is that statement?
Steve Riley: Oh, yeah. Phil handles the artistic side of the band — he’ll name the albums, he came up with the title ‘Hollywood Forever’. Phil decides on photos, artwork, and anything artistic related to L.A. Guns. Everyone from the original band on has known that I had to run the business end — whether we had management or not — you need a band liaison that can run things from the band through management. I’ve always done that, it’s because I’m older than these guys — I’ve done a lot more and I know how to make things happen. I know how to make tours happen, I know how to make records happen, I know how to make things happen. Not a lot of people can do this, they might have the drive artistically but when it comes to business you have to dig in and you have to be a tough son of a bitch. If you want to survive in this business you’ve got to be tough.
Sleaze Roxx: A few years ago Phil commented that recording new music was a money losing proposition for L.A. Guns. Would you agree with that statement?
Steve Riley: (pause) Well, you’re now signing deals and you’re writing 13-14 new tracks for smaller labels, they then repackage them and move on to the next project — that’s what Phil was referring to. We’re signed to Cleopatra Records right now and we’ve got a nice little plan with them. They’re digging in, they love the new album and they’re backing us up. We’re working all year long, we’ve got something lined up every weekend. In the past six months we have done two tours through Europe where we played 17 European countries. We’ll be back to Scandinavia in August, then the U.K. and Ireland in December. In between all of that we’ll be doing some U.S. dates, Costa Rica, and whatever else comes our way. With the new album we want to play as much as we can behind it — we want to make some noise.
Sleaze Roxx: It seems like with each passing year new music sales dwindle more and more with rock music taking a big hit. What are your expectations for the new album?
Steve Riley: In the early days bands were able to move a million copies, obviously in this day and age those expectations have to drop. We just want to make some noise and sell as many records as possible. We look at a new album as a piece of merchandise that you can bring out on the road to sell to the fans.
Sleaze Roxx: If I recall correctly Tracii Guns has officially retired his version of L.A. Guns. When there were two versions of L.A. Guns on tour that was confusing for the fans, how did that impact promoters interested in booking the band?
Steve Riley: Yeah, that created a lot of confusion for a while until we started playing some gigs with Whitesnake, the Scorpions, M3 and some of these other big events. The confusion got cleared up — people still knew that he (Tracii Guns) was out there, but it’s something that we aren’t even worried about anymore. It’s got terrible reviews, it doesn’t sound good, it doesn’t look good… like we were talking about earlier, you’ve got to have Phil Lewis in the band if you want to pull things off. Tracii was doing covers of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix, we have so much original material that we can’t afford to do that. Sure we’ve recorded cover albums, but we don’t play them live. We have about 10 or 11 songs that we ‘have’ to play in the set then we can sprinkle in 2 or 3 new tracks in there. Phil is Phil, he’s the voice of L.A. Guns and I’m the backbone of all that material that we recorded. We are proud of L.A. Guns.
Sleaze Roxx: L.A. Guns has had a consistent line-up for some time now. Stacey Blades is a great fit and you work well as a rhythm section with Scott Griffin. Having a stable line-up gives you guys credibility.
Steve Riley: Stacey has been with us for a while now — he’s been a fan of the band and he stays true to the L.A. Guns sound. It’s very important when you play the older material that you stay true to it and you don’t try to turn it inside out and make it different. Fans want to hear it the way that they heard it on the album and Stacey does just that. Scotty has been a great addition to the band, he brought in a lot of material on ‘Hollywood Forever’ — he’s a multi-talented musician who plays keyboards, guitar, bass and he’s a great singer. Those guys aren’t going anywhere — the four of us have been through so much together. We’ve toured so much we’re dialed in and we sound great. We just played the M3 Festival and we were on top of our game — we have the bands that come after us on their toes (laughs)!
Sleaze Roxx: The new album ‘Hollywood Forever’, in my opinion, covers all eras of classic L.A. Guns. Was that the vision when you began to write for the album?
Steve Riley: We’re very happy with it. We went in and did it old school — we did it really fast. We did some very good pre-production and Andy Johns did a great job producing it. We wanted to make a good rock album, we didn’t want anything that would be frilly — we wanted a good old school L.A. Guns album. When it came to the writing the album we started playing around with stuff that we already had, then the guys started bringing in song ideas that they had been working on their own and things just gelled.
We like doing strong pre-production — a solid three to four weeks. That helps for once you go into the studio, we were so ready that we could lay down the songs right away. We feel that we got a really nice L.A. Guns feel on the whole album — it’s great.
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Hollywood Forever’ is loaded with great cuts, the standouts in my opinion are “Hollywood Forever”, “Vine St. Shimmy”, “Dirt Black Night”, “Queenie”, and “Venus Bomb”, which all bring back memories of classic L.A. Guns.
Steve Riley: Exactly, they’re balls out rock tunes. There’s no pretense to the songs, it’s just balls to the wall rock ‘n’ roll.
Sleaze Roxx: I also like the approach that Phil isn’t doing anything that isn’t within his comfort zone and the songs play to his strengths.
Steve Riley: Exactly. I think Phil has been smart about that with his writing over the years. Phil writes material that he can perform live. We’re getting older, and as you get older it becomes harder for singers to perform material from their early years. Like you said, Phil has been writing within his comfort zone so he’s able pull it off live. He’s also taken very good care of his voice over the years — he’s meticulous about doing vocal exercises and I think that’s really helped him a lot.
Sleaze Roxx: How did the cover of The Bicecletas’ “Arana Negara” wind up on the album?
Steve Riley: That was Phil’s idea. He went to Argentina to do a solo acoustic show opening for Duff McKagan’s band Loaded and he heard the song on the radio on the drive back to the hotel. He was like, “Wow what a great rock song!” He came back and said, “Guys I want us to do a cover of this rock song, it’s in Spanish.” We looked at each other and said, “What?!” He played it for us and we tried it and we think that it turned out really, really good. We shot a video for it and we’re going to use it as a tool to open some doors in Latin America and Spanish speaking countries that have been hard for us to tour in the past.
Sleaze Roxx: Phil’s Spanish is pretty good, it’s so good in fact that it could open the door for an L.A. Guns album where you re-cut the classics in Spanish.
Steve Riley: I know what you mean because the possibilities are endless, aren’t they? We will see what happens when Cleopatra sends out the single and video to Spain and Portugal.
Sleaze Roxx: You must have some great stories from your days as a member of Steppenwolf, Keel, W.A.S.P. and L.A. Guns. Will we see a Steve Riley book in the near future?
Steve Riley: I’d like to do one. It’s funny you should mention this because a lot of my friends have suggested that I write one. I would like it to be a book that doesn’t just cover L.A. Guns but spans my entire career in the music business. It’s in there and I’m going to do it, because like you said I have a lot of good stories to share. I have a lot of behind the scenes stories and a lot of photos that I’d like to share too that people haven’t seen. If I’m going to do it I’d have to give it 100% of my attention — right now it’s L.A. Guns for me. We have become a band that tours year round, as with many of the bands from our era. We’re constantly touring and the only time we take off is during the holidays. I’ve got a book in there for sure, I’ve just got to find the time to do it.
Sleaze Roxx: If L.A. Guns were in a position to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, do you think past members would be involved? Fans that have been following L.A. Guns would think that it would rival the Guns N’ Roses debacle.
Steve Riley: I think the past members would be involved. L.A. Guns has been such a community band — there’s been so many members in and out of the band — I think it would be a fun time if that ever happened. I think the five original members would get together for that, I think we’d all put our differences aside. Phil and I never had any issues with…
Just so you know the back story on the Brides Of Destruction thing. We thought that Tracii could do that and L.A. Guns. We pleaded with him — we had the Alice Cooper world tour and we had a Spitfire release coming out called ‘Waking The Dead’, which was getting great reviews. I said to him, “Come on, you can do this and you can do the band with Nikki Sixx.” We pleaded with him to do that and he left. Once he was gone we used three or four guitarists to fullfil the dates that we had booked — Tracii just up and left us. When we caught our breath we found Stacey Blades and he’s been here ever since.
We didn’t have any issues with Tracii going off to do other bands while in L.A. Guns. We didn’t have any issues with him playing in another band once he left L.A. Guns. Our main issue with Tracii was when he put together a band and called it L.A. Guns. He quit this band and then he formed another L.A. Guns — that is the only thing we had a problem with. It’s crazy because he’s had a revolving line-up, he had a chick singer for a month, and he’s had four or five different singers since he formed his band — it’s ridiculous and it’s confusing to some of the fans. We just did 17 countries in Europe and we called it the ‘Damage Control Tour’ because we had to show them what the ‘real’ L.A. Guns is all about. Now they know they’re getting the L.A. Guns with Phil Lewis on vocals — we did damage control in Europe and we’re still doing that here. So he’s created quite a mess but we’re getting things straightened out.