INTERVIEW WITH L.A. GUNS AND EX-W.A.S.P. DRUMMER STEVE RILEY
Date: December 27, 2018
WHEN THE M3 ROCK FESTIVAL ANNOUNCED ITS LINE-UP FOR ITS 2019 EDITION THAT WILL TAKE PLACE FROM MAY 3TH TO 5TH, ONE OF THE LISTED BANDS WAS L.A. GUNS. IN SHORT ORDER, WORD GOT OUT THAT THE L.A. GUNS AT THE UPCOMING M3 WOULD BE LED BY DRUMMER STEVE RILEY RILEY HAD DISAPPEARED FROM THE LIMELIGHT AT THE END OF 2016 AFTER SINGER PHIL LEWIS LEFT RILEY’S VERSION OF L.A. GUNS TO REUNITE WITH GUITARIST TRACII GUNS IN A NEW VERSION OF THE BAND. AS TO BE EXPECTED, THE INTERNET WAS ABUZZ WITH QUESTIONS SUCH AS WOULD THERE NOW BE TWO COMPETING VERSIONS OF L.A. GUNS ONCE AGAIN, WHO WOULD BE PLAYING WITH RILEY AND WHY NOW? SLEAZE ROXX CAUGHT UP WITH THE EVER PROFESSIONAL STEVE RILEY WHO HAS BEEN L.A. GUNS’ BUSINESS LEADER FOR ABOUT 30 YEARS, OWNS HALF OF THE L.A. GUNS BRAND AND OF COURSE WHO HAS PLAYED DRUMS ON ALMOST ALL OF THE L.A. GUNS DISCOGRAPHY.
Sleaze Roxx: Let’s talk about your resurgence with L.A. Guns. Your L.A. Guns has been announced at playing the M3 Rock Festival. How did that come about?
Steve Riley: They came to me Olivier. They called me last year and asked me to come. They told me that Tracii and Phil had cancelled. They had booked it and cancelled. That was going to be two years in a row with 2016 and 2017. When they called me last year, I said “No.” With them booked and then cancelling it, I didn’t like the feel of it. It felt desperate. I just told them, “Thank you very much for the offer but I don’t really have any interest in it.” And another year went by and they called me again this year. And they said, “Would you do it with just about anybody. Come with anybody and play L.A. Guns songs.” And I was flabbergasted. I said, “Really?” They said that the fans really want L.A. Guns music there and people want to hear it. Promoters wanted it too. They really really pushed for me to come. I told them, “This is really coming out of nowhere ’cause I’m doing a bunch of other stuff.” Movie scores, a documentary and some stuff with Vice. This came out of nowhere. Again, I told them, “You’re hitting me out of left field with this.” I told them, “I need a couple of days to think about it.” I called Kelly Nickels about it. I asked him. Me and him decided to do it. Me and him are gonna go down and play. We’re going to go down there and have a great band, have some fun and play some L.A. Guns music we wrote.
Sleaze Roxx: Cool! That sounds exciting! I understand that you have Scott Griffin playing guitar this time.
Steve Riley: Yeah. Scotty was playing bass in L.A. Guns just because he was just looking for a really good gig. He’s a really great guitar played but he ended up playing bass in the band because he’s a smart guy. He needed a gig and we were working a lot so he came with us and for the last number of years, he was playing bass with L.A. Guns but the guy’s a real guitar player. That’s what he really plays. He’s kind of a multi-instrumentalist so he is going to be playing guitar in this band and I think that a lot of people are going to be surprised how good this guy is because they are so used to seeing him play bass. Like I said, he did that mainly to get the gig. It was a smart move because he got to work with us for a long time. We already had a lead guitar player. But right now, with me and Kelly, we’re really excited that Scott will be playing with us.
L.A. Guns‘ “Requiem” (from the Hollywood Forever album with Steve Riley, Phil Lewis, Scott Griffin and Stacey Blades) video:
L.A. Guns – Requiem (Hollywood Forever) Album: L.A. Guns – Live In Concert (DVD+CD) Buy Now at: https://goo.gl/49pmR1 A magnificent DVD capturing the recently resurgent golden boys of Hollywood glam metal, L.A. Guns! Features an epic full length concert performance professionally filmed in digital video with multiple cameras at last year’s M3 Rock Festival in Columbia MD!
Sleaze Roxx: So who will be handling the lead vocals?
Steve Riley: Well, we’re going to be making an announcement in the next few weeks. We have a few people. I know that people were talking about that we already had a lead singer but we never really had a singer yet. We were just mentioning people that we were interested in. Olivier, we haven’t even had a rehearsal. This thing came down two months ago and so it came down really really fast. There was no grand plan to start a second L.A. Guns or else I would have done that at the beginning of 2017 when I stopped touring with Phil. I would have taken another one out if I was interested in doing that but I wasn’t interested in doing that. I was interested in doing all this other stuff that I’ve been doing in LA that I haven’t had a chance to do because I was on the road all the time. So this thing came down two months ago and it just snowballed. As soon as we announced that we were going to do it, it snowballed all over the internet. We haven’t even had a rehearsal yet. That’s how fast this thing has happened, We haven’t even got together for a rehearsal. Kelly is on the east coast, I’m on the west coast and Scotty is in Vegas. We have our eyes out on about two or three really really good singers that’s going to make the band sound great. We’re not going to go down there with an inferior product. We’re going to go down there sounding and looking really really good.
Sleaze Roxx: Were there any thoughts of getting some of the other singers that have played in L.A. Guns such as Jizzy Pearl or Chris Van Dahl?
Steve Riley: I don’t think so because those guys, even though they’re friends, they’re both doing projects on their own and that’s happened with some of the other L.A. Guns alumni. They all have their own projects and some of them are putting 100% time into those projects so they’re not able to do anything else and I totally understand it. They’ve got their own thing going on, touring and they’re recording so I totally get it.
Sleaze Roxx: So I’ll take you back a little bit. I read an interview from Legendary Rock Interviews where they mention that Tracii [Guns] had his eyes on Phil [Lewis] since 2012 or even earlier. So you must have been really surprised when all of a sudden, Phil and Tracii are playing together again in 2016?
Steve Riley: Well, yeah. It doesn’t take a genius for any fan to see how those guys don’t like each other and have been bashing each other for over 20 years. It’s actually longer. They bashed each other while they were in the original band too. These two guys never liked each other. Tracii would do anything to split up me and Phil. He probably offered him more money or he’ll take less money. Something crazy like that and Phil went for it. The funny thing is in that in our circle of people, we really know how these guys disdain each other a lot. They don’t like each other.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Steve Riley: They might put a facade in front of people like they’re getting along but I mean, take a look at That Metal Show. Take a look at some of the interviews that Tracii has done. They were bashing each other big, and I mean not just a little bit. They went after each other so to have them wind up together knowing they don’t like each other, me and Kelly Nickels, we find it quite humorous. It’s kind of hard to believe that they’re back together because of how much they don’t like each other. Throughout the entire thing, the entire run of L.A. Guns, those two guys, we had to keep them away from each other because they hated each other so much. So you know, you can take that for what it is worth and Trace would do anything to break up Phil and me. And he obviously did and now Phil is kind of stuck with him. I say that because he’s with somebody that I personally know because I’ve been so close to the two of them for years, separately, each separately and together. I know how they really feel about each other. So for them to be together right now is kind of humorous for the rest of us who were in the L.A. Guns family circle because we really know.
Sleaze Roxx: It must have felt weird for you when you’re playing in your version of L.A. Guns with Phil and then Phil is playing with Tracii in another version at the same time. Because that happened at the Rock N Skull [Festival] in 2016. Tracii’s version played one night and your version played the next night.
Steve Riley: Yeah. What was happening there was that when he [Phil] told me that he and Tracii were going to do some dates together, I knew that that was going to be like a sprint to the finish line for me because if he was going to do those dates, that means that we had to cancel M3 [Rock Festival in 2016]. That’s what we did. We had to cancel a booked M3 in 2016 because they were going to do a show. And when that happened — that was in May of 2016 — I really just had to do a sprint to the finish line to New Year’s Eve. I just wanted to get there without any major blow-ups or anything. Just finish and then move on because I knew that they were going to start dates. It wasn’t really a surprise. It was a surprise that Phil went to the internet and announced it when we still had four, five, six months of dates. So that made those dates very tense. He really didn’t have to announce it like that and he did. That’s the way those two guys do stuff. They make bad decisions. They make decisions without even thinking about it and that’s what happens. So when they announced that they were going to do dates together, it was just “Let’s finish the dates that we have.” And then I was pretty much going to move on. And that’s pretty much what I did.
For the last two years, I’ve been involved with a ton of other stuff so by no means is L.A. Guns my number one thing that I am going to do. I am not going to take it out and play 125 shows. We have one show booked right now Olivier and that’s M3. It’s me, Kelly and Scotty and a singer. What we are going to do is play high end shows — festivals, theaters or casinos. If they want us to do a show this year, we’ll definitely consider it but we’re not going to be doing any small shit holes that are 400 miles outside of Pittsburgh. We’re not going to do that. We’re not going to do small sports bars and we’re not going to match them date for date. It’s not going to be like two bands out there going at it playing the same venues at different times of the year. No, we’re going to do shows that those two wouldn’t normally want to do either because they have a problem with bills. They have a problem opening up for certain bands and they shouldn’t because it’s so hard to do anything today in rock. You really want to get on high profile bills and this is a good example with M3 being one of the best festivals of our genre and them not wanting to do it. They don’t want to do it. Me and Kelly want to do it. People really want to hear L.A. Guns material. We co-wrote that material and we’re two of the original members. If there’s more gigs, only high end gigs — festivals, theaters or casinos — but no small clubs or anything like that. We don’t want to do anything like that. We’ve done it for a long time. We have no interest in doing that right now.
Sleaze Roxx: Speaking of the writing, you and Kelly [Nickels] had a big hand in writing all the big L.A. Guns songs that are still played to this day, correct?
Steve Riley: All of us did. I’ve got to tell you, the way it worked is and the real truth of the matter is that somebody would come in with a part of a song and we would finish it, the five of us. We’d be locked out in a studio finishing it. The beginning, the end, putting a bridge, whatever we needed to finish that song out. But somebody would come in with the gist of a song. To give you an example, our biggest song — “The Ballad Of Jayne” — Kelly Nickels came in with the gist of that song. That is from Kelly Nickels and he doesn’t get a lot of respect for it because all of our names are on it as we ended up finishing the song together. But another example is Mick Cripps bringing in “Rip N Tear” in the studio. So that’s why we all co-wrote it because we would end up piecing it together in the studio and I can’t say that one person wrote more than the other. We were really all in there together, writing together, putting these albums together. It was a really nice process.
L.A. Guns‘ “The Ballad Of Jayne” (from the Cocked & Loaded album with Steve Riley, Kelly Nickels, Phil Lewis, Tracii Guns and Mick Cripps) video:
Music video by L.A. Guns performing The Ballad Of Jayne. (C) 1989 Universal Records, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.
Sleaze Roxx: Cool. What can we expect in terms of setlist from L.A. Guns at the M3 Rock Festival this year?
Steve Riley: Well you know, Kelly Nickels hasn’t been on the road for a while. He’s got his own company — Montauk Salvage Company. He’s been running it out of Long Island [New York, USA] for years now so he hasn’t been on the road and he’s chomping at the bit. I have no problem. All that I have been doing is touring for the last 30 years doing the L.A. Guns material. I’ve done so many different sets that I told Kelly, “Make this enjoyable, something that you want to play.” I am going to let him put the setlist together, something that he really wants to play. Stuff that isn’t really being played right now. It’s going to be Kelly putting the setlist together and I am happy for him because I want him to have fun out there.
Sleaze Roxx: So I understand that there might be some W.A.S.P. songs that will sneak themselves into the setlist?
Steve Riley: We are thinking about that. We are thinking about making it a fun set. You know, M3 could be hard to do that. Say we wanted to do “Wild Child”, Blackie [Lawless] is not touring anymore and hasn’t been to the US in years. You know, I am connected to that band in a big way. I recorded that song with them. The thing is, M3, the setlist time is a lot shorter than most shows so we might be locked in in doing all L.A. Guns material because the setlist is so short and if it’s a longer show like an hour, or an hour and 15 minutes, we’re thinking of throwing some nuggets in there like a “Wild Child” or a L.A. Guns song that we haven’t done for years and years but yeah, we want to have fun with it man! Like I said, this whole thing that me and Kelly are doing, we want to have fun. We don’t want a festival like this to go by again.
I’ve got to tell you about M3. Eric Baker and his partners over there, the promoters, have been so nice to L.A. Guns. They’re great friends of ours and we’ve been playing there or years and years. For the last two years, they’ve had to cancel L.A. Guns. I felt terrible about that. It was two cancellations from Phil so this year, and it was just a matter of talking to them and saying, “Come on down and have some fun. People want to hear L.A. Guns. If you and Kelly are there, it’s going to be a blast.” So the promoters really talked me into it and I just want you to know that this thing is based all on just having fun. We’re not taking this serious. We’re not getting into a pissing war with the other guys. We’re not interested in any of that high school bullshit. We just want to go out and have some fun. We feel that we have every right to do it because we’re original members and we co-wrote the songs. That’s exactly how we are going to go down there — have a blast — and hope the people have a blast with us!
W.A.S.P.‘s “Wild Child” (from The Last Command album with Blackie Lawless, Steve Riley, Chris Holmes and Randy Piper) video:
The video for the song Wild Child! It rocks the hell out of ya!
Sleaze Roxx: You must have been disappointed with some of the comments that Phil [Lewis] and Tracii [Guns] made since you announced that you’d be playing the M3 Rock Festival with L.A. Guns.
Steve Riley: Oh Olivier! I’ve been so disappointed with the comments that they have made even before while I was playing with them. They have a knack for saying the wrong things to the press that makes them look really like goof balls. I can’t play. Kelly can’t play. Well, we’re the original rhythm section that played on every one of the songs that people like from L.A. Guns. It’s me and Kelly playing and for somebody to turn around and say that we cannot play now, it sounds so goofy and I think the fans are way smarter than that and can see that it’s just a high school [level] comment to make. It baffles me because you’ll never hear me putting down a former member. If I played with a former member in any of the bands that I was with — W.A.S.P., L.A. Guns, Keel, Steppenwolf — any of those bands, I will never put a former member down and say that they can’t play because the question is, why did I play with them?
Sleaze Roxx: Sure.
Steve Riley: To go that far and say, “Yeah. He can’t play anymore.” I could never play? Really? Really? I think the fans are smarter than that and they know that if they listen to the albums, that’s us playing on them. We don’t even know how to respond! It’s like, “Wow! Really?” [laughs]
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah. Whatever happened to the rumblings of the original W.A.S.P. reunion?
Steve Riley: You know what happened with that? When Phil announced that he was going to do the dates with Tracii in 2016, I had also got a call from Randy Piper right around that time and he said, “Would you be interested in doing a 30th anniversary with me, you, Blackie [Lawless] and Chris [Holmes]?” And I said, “Of course I would. I would love to do dates with the old W.A.S.P.!” Even if I was in L.A. Guns, I still would have worked around that and tried to do the W.A.S.P, thing and do both of them. But the W.A.S.P. thing never came together. I think that Blackie is pretty much off the road and Chris has moved to Europe so it was just really a question from Randy Piper. And of course, I would love to do that. But it turned in the press to be that I was trying to get the original W.A.S.P. back together and it was so untrue. It was me getting a call asking if I’d be interested in doing some shows and I said “Absolutely” because I loved being in W.A.S.P. and I loved the material and how good we were. I’d have no problem playing a show or a bunch of shows with those guys.
Sleaze Roxx: Why did you end up leaving W.A.S.P. in the first place?
Steve Riley: Well, he — Blackie — ended up tearing it up piece by piece. First, he fired Randy Piper and that changed the dynamics of the band. And then after that, he fired me and then he fired Chris. So he was on a mission to get rid of the original band for some reason because that original band was so hot and so good. Four different personalities. It was a really good live and recording band. He broke it up steadily — one guy, and then the next guy and then the next guy. He was the only original guy left but I’ve got to thank him because at the same time, as soon as that happened, I joined L.A. Guns before they even released their first album. So you know, timing, luck and talent — that all goes together in this business.
Sleaze Roxx: If you had to pick one L.A. Guns album that you prefer out of all of the ones that you have played on, which one would it be and why?
Steve Riley: Obviously, it would be ‘Cocked & Loaded’ and it’s because, the first album did so well when it came out. It really did. It did good sales and we did some good touring. We came off of that in such a positive mode that when we went in to do ‘Cocked & Loaded’, it was such a great atmosphere with Tom Werman producing and we just wrote and wrote, and it was great. We put a great album together. The whole trajectory of the band was going up and the feeling around the studio was really cool because we knew that we were on to something with ‘Cocked & Loaded.’ We knew that we had “Never Enough”, “The Ballad of Jayne” — we had a lot of really good songs. We had videos too so the atmosphere was absolutely great doing that and the touring for ‘Cocked & Loaded.’ So that ‘Cocked & Loaded’ project — recording it and touring behind it — that was a really really nice time.
L.A. Guns‘ “Never Enough” (from the Cocked & Loaded album with Steve Riley, Kelly Nickels, Phil Lewis, Tracii Guns and Mick Cripps) video:
Kick Ass Video!
Sleaze Roxx: What about W.A.S.P. if you had to pick one of them?
Steve Riley: It’s really the identical thing because we came off that tour of the first album with W.A.S.P.! That was a year and a half touring with Iron Maiden and we came off on such a positive mode to go in and do ‘The Last Command.’ It was almost the same situation as L.A. Guns. The band was on a nice trajectory up and the feeling in the studio doing ‘The Last Command’ was so positive and Randy [Piper] was still in the band. We knew that we were putting out a good album again with “Blind In Texas”, “Wild Child.” We had a lot of good material on there and the whole touring behind that as well. That whole project ‘the Last Command’ — touring and recording — that too was similar to ‘Cocked & Loaded.’ [There was] a great feeling around the band and in the studio.
W.A.S.P.‘s “Blind In Texas” (from The Last Command album with Blackie Lawless, Steve Riley, Chris Holmes and Randy Piper) video:
W.A.S.P. – Blind In Texas OFFICIAL video in HQ and lyrics included!! The song was released on their “The Last Command” album on November 9, 1985. The Last Command is still W.A.S.P.’s highest charting album, peaking at No. 47 on the Billboard album chart.
Sleaze Roxx: You kept the L.A. Guns’ Facebook account so I was always wondering whether you’d come back with your own version of L.A. Guns after you split with Phil. How come you never did?
Steve Riley: Well you know, I told you. I had no intention of going back out in another L.A. Guns but I had every intention of keeping that L.A. Guns [Facebook] page because I worked on it. I was the guy who worked so hard to keep the band going whether it was Tracii quitting or Phil quitting. People will remember that I never quit L.A. Guns. Not once in the 30 years that I’ve been in the band, I never quit. I’m the only original member that never quit so I worked really hard to get the band going and keep going and all the way up to 2016. We built that Facebook page and there was no way that I was going to give that up. It was either that I was going to use it as a platform for new stuff that I was going to do like movie scoring, the documentary or the Vice stuff, or I was going to use it for some sort of platform. But I wasn’t going to just hand that over after working on that page because we have over 350,000 people.
Sleaze Roxx: What’s the documentary that you are working on?
Steve Riley: I am working on a documentary about the ’90s actually. It sounds odd because I’m from the ’80s but…
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Steve Riley: I am working on a documentary about the music of the ’90s, about the lead singers from the ’90s and all the situations that happened with all the lead singers from the ’90s. It’s a pretty heavy documentary. It’s coming together pretty good. The whole thing is put together. We’re looking for a production company right now to finish it off and it’s ready to go right now. I started it off as a book and somebody told me that it would make a great documentary. And then I sat down with some doc makers and they told me, “Yes. This would be a great doc!” So it’s about the ’90s singers and it’s going to be a nice documentary. I feel good about it.
Sleaze Roxx: Any parting words that you want to say?
Steve Riley: You know what, I want everyone to know there never was an intention of me taking out a second L.A. Guns out. People should know that. If I would have done it, I would have done it right after I left Phil. In 2017, in January, I would have taken a second L.A. Guns out. It wasn’t even in my orbit Olivier. So I want people to know that his M3 chased us down. They want me and Kelly to come down there. So me and Kelly Nickels are going to go down there and we hope that the fans come out and have blast with us! If we do any other shows, it’s going to be fun! Come out and have a good time with us. We can’t wait to see the fans! We’re looking forward to it!