INTERVIEW WITH L.A. GUNS BASSIST KELLY NICKELS
Date: January 18, 2019
WE’VE HEARD FROM DRUMMER STEVE RILEY ON WHY HE AND BASSIST KELLY NICKELS WILL BE PLAYING UNDER THE L.A GUNS NAME ALONG WITH SCOTT GRIFFIN (ON GUITAR) AT THE UPCOMING M3 ROCK FESTIVAL IN EARLY MAY 2019. WE’VE RECEIVED SOME REACTION ON SOCIAL MEDIA FROM SINGER PHIL LEWIS AND GUITARIST TRACII GUNS TO RILEY AND NICKELS’ NEW VERSION OF L.A. GUNS. BUT WHAT ABOUT KELLY NICKELS? WHAT DOES HE HAVE TO SAY? SLEAZE ROXX CAUGHT UP WITH NICKELS WHO ALONG WITH RILEY, LEWIS, GUNS AND GUITARIST MICK CRIPPS, WAS PART OF L.A. GUNS’ CLASSIC LINE-UP THAT RELEASED SOME OF THE BAND’S MOST WELL KNOWN ALBUMS INCLUDING ‘COCKED & LOADED’ (1989) AND ‘HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES’ (1991). NICKELS HASN’T PLAYED LIVE IN THE BAND SINCE IN OR ABOUT YEAR 2000 BUT WILL BE PLAYING WITH RILEY AND GRIFFIN UNDER THE L.A GUNS NAME AT THE M3 ROCK FESTIVAL.
Sleaze Roxx: What is prompting your M3 [Rock Festival] appearance after all these years?
Kelly Nickels: [Laughs] That’s a pretty good question! Well, I got a call from Steve Riley and he told me what was going on and asked me if I wanted to do it. We talked about it for a couple of hours. I had questions and I wanted to make sure that things were like set up pretty good. I just want to have fun man! I just want to have fun [laughs]. It’s all about just going out and having a good time. The timing is right. My daughter just turned 18 so she’s got her stuff going on. I got time to go out and do it. I am so looking forward to it. It’s really the perfect timing. That’s it man!
Sleaze Roxx: What type of questions did you have for Steve during your conversation lasting hours?
Kelly Nickels: My questions were like ‘Who else is going to be in it so far?’ I was cool with all that. And then, ‘How far does he want to take this?’ So right now, it’s just for this one show. There’s possibilities of others. There’s a little talk of Europe and stuff. That might be jumping the gun but we’re looking at some other stuff. I don’t know where this is going to go. I’m just curious with where we could take this. I’m always got along well with Steve so really had no problems discussing it.
Sleaze Roxx: When I spoke to Steve, you guys hadn’t secured a singer yet. Given that you sang lead vocals on one song for L.A. Guns [“Nothing Better To Do” off the 1994’s ‘Vicious Circles’ album], had you thought that perhaps you could handle the lead vocals?
Kelly Nickels: Oh no! “Nothing Better To Do” was a total fluke because we had written the music, we were in the studio, and everybody went to dinner. I stayed there with the producer. I wrote down some lyrics and was doing it as guide vocals for Phil. So I just wrote down off the top of my head. I sang it in one shot. When Phil, when all of them, came back from lunch, they were playing it for him and I was like, ‘OK. You could do something like that.’ And he was like, ‘No way man! This song is done!’ I was like, ‘What [laughs]?’ He was like, ‘That song is finished man. I’m not changing that.’ It just ended up. It was never meant for me to sing a song on the record so that’s as far as that will ever go [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] Fair enough.
Kelly Nickels: Thanks for asking! I have enough trouble with the bass [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Kelly Nickels: I have enough trouble wrestling that bass all night [laughs]!
Sleaze Roxx: Will you play that song at M3?
Kelly Nickels: I don’t know yet man. We haven’t really talked about that. We have a tentative setlist together and there’s going to some changes for sure. We plan on meeting in February and going through a week of rehearsals and again in March so we’re going to see what happens. Everybody’s on the same page. You know, we’re just trying to keep it light, have fun and do a gig man! There’s no ill intent towards anybody else. I just came back because of that, because I wanted to. And of course, I love the band. I always have. I put a lot of work into it. What a great opportunity to go back on stage and play a little bit. People still like it. There’s still an interest in stuff. It’s just cool.
L.A. Guns‘ “Nothing Better To Do” song:
Good quality, complete video for the song, sung by Kelly Nichels, off of the album “Vicious Circle”.
Sleaze Roxx: So I think that it will be your first time playing without Phil [Lewis] or Tracii [Guns] in the band. How does that feel?
Kelly Nickels: Ummm. You know, I never even thought about that [laughs] until now. It’s unfortunate of course. I wish that it was all for one, one for all, type of thing. It’s not like that but everybody’s got a right to be free [laughs]. We’ve got a right to play man! You know, Steve and I definitely have a right to those songs as anybody. I don’t have a problem there. It is what it is. It’s just going to be another version. It’s a rock n’ roll soap opera. They’ve made it a rock n’ roll soap opera. Steve loves to play. I’ve always played. Even if you haven’t seen me or heard of me, I play. I have a bass in my house, in my room. It’s right there. I always play. I teach out here where I live. I made a killer band out of some 14 and 15 year old prodigies that were just incredible. Had them gigging and stuff. Music has always been in there. I never put it away so I just remember a little bit of the bass lines, we should be alright [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: Cool! Speaking of the rock soap opera, what were your thoughts on Phil and Tracii’s comments when you and Tracii announced that you would be playing under the L.A. Guns name at M3?
Kelly Nickels: I never heard or read what they said. I only heard about what Phil said through Sleaze Roxx.
[Note from Interviewer: In an interview with the White Line Fever Podcast in September 2018, Lewis advised that Nickels and Mick Cripps had been asked if they wanted to take part in the L.A. Guns reunion featuring Lewis and Guns but that both declined. When Nickels posted a Facebook comment that he and Cripps had never been asked, Lewis replied stating that “Not only would Nickels have lasted less than a week away from his “privileged lifestyle’, Nickels couldn’t hold a candle to current L.A. Guns bassist Johnny Martins’ playing.]
Kelly Nickels: OK?
Sleaze Roxx: OK.
Kelly Nickels: So yeah sure, that was a little hurtful but I still love him. I still love Tracii and they’re still brothers who are part of my life. I was Phil’s best man at one of his weddings [laughs]. You know, I know that if I saw Phil, he’d just give me a great big hug. I still love them. Tracii gave me a gig when I had a broken leg [Nickels was badly injured in a motorcycle accident in October 1986 while a member of Faster Pussycat. He was replaced in that band but then got the gig in L.A. Guns while he was still recuperating.] You know, I could never be mad at Tracii either. I just want [them] to know that we just love playing music and our songs. We’re just trying to have a little fun man [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: I learned through an interview with Steve that he gave to Blabbermouth that you were interested in rejoining L.A. Guns in 2012. So what happened there? It was around ‘Hollywood Forever’ album.
Kelly Nickels: Well, I did do one track on ‘Hollywood Forever.’ I flew to L.A., did one track. I got to work with [producer] Andy Johns and the guys and everything. So that was a great experience ’cause we were on good terms. We’ve always been on good terms really. There’s nothing to be not on good terms about. I’ve done nothing to nobody [laughs]. I’ve gone to see them, played and jumped up on stage a few times. [But] me and Phil don’t hang out. He doesn’t come over. He doesn’t really know how I live. There’s no need for that you know.
Sleaze Roxx: OK but when you played on that one track, were there any talks about you perhaps joining L.A. Guns at that point or any interest in you joining L.A. Guns?
Kelly Nickels: I don’t think that it was possible at that time. I think it just happened to work out well but I don’t think that I was ready at that time, no.
Sleaze Roxx: I know that you keep in touch with Mick. Obviously, you keep in touch with Steve. But what about Phil and Tracii? Have you kept in touch with them over the years or when is the last time that you’ve seen each of them?
Kelly Nickels: I’ve probably seen them in the last 20 years, three to four times, and that would be at a show that they would be playing where I went to go see them. When they would come near where I lived, if I could go see them, I would go see them. We’d be hanging out. It would be totally fine. I’d ask if I could do a couple of songs and they were like, ‘Of course man! Anytime.’ It was always cool. There was never a problem. Everybody did their thing man. Everybody went their ways. It was a long time. They’ve been doing it a long time. They’ve been through a lot. We lived through a lot. They lived through a lot and it’s still going! It’s like crazy you know?
Sleaze Roxx: What about….
Kelly Nickels: It’s like a fucking soap opera!
Sleaze Roxx: I know it’s a soap opera [laughs]! Getting back to the soap opera, one thing that Steve indicated was that Phil and Tracii didn’t like each other when you guys were in the band. So what’s your take on that?
Kelly Nickels: There were moments man! There were moments. They were the two more dynamic personalities that got attention.
Sleaze Roxx: Were they clashing as bad as Steve has made them out to be?
Kelly Nickels: I would say it’s pretty damn close!
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Kelly Nickels: Yeah, it’s possible.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] Alright. So getting back to your time in L.A. Guns, why did you leave the first time?
Kelly Nickels: Well, because Nirvana came out… It was a whole new ball of wax. I think that Phil had left at that time already. I think that Phil left first. I think that we had different singers and stuff, and I felt like we couldn’t go up anymore. I always wanted the band to be the best it could be. We did every interview. We did every record store. We did every meet and greet. We did phone interviews. We did everything we could man — all the time. We’d get fucked up during the day — whatever — but the show was always tight. We had to be onstage tight. That was it. That was our livelihood. We did a lot of concerts. You know, you could get drunk three times but by the time you hit the stage, you gotta be tight. That’s how we survived and that’s how we kept it going. It was a good live band but fuck, I forgot the question [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: Why did you leave?
Kelly Nickels: Why did I leave? Like I said, when Phil left, we didn’t progress anymore. We were going to start hashing out the same kind of thing and I felt like I kind of wasn’t into it anymore. It was like it kind of plateaued. It wasn’t really moving. It was just trying to keep it alive. It was just like kind of hanging on. It felt like time to move on and stuff so I got into computer design and graphics. That’s what I do now. I have a design company — Montauk Salvage — with my business partner Scott Hewett. He’s just a fucking insane illustrator. I do the computer stuff. We’ve got a pretty successful business going. I just moved on you know? It just felt it was time to go.
L.A. Guns‘ “Rip And Tear” video:
Music video by L.A. Guns performing Rip and Tear. (C) 1989 Universal Records
Sleaze Roxx: But you did rejoin in the fall of 1999 with Phil and Mick so what prompted the reunion?
Kelly Nickels: Well you know, the same thing that prompted this reunion man. We’d always loved to have kept it going like the Rolling Stones for like 50 years. It just wasn’t very good. It was good but it’s hard to say. You can’t travel comfortable enough and too much…. When it was happening, it was good. It was a lot of fun and it happened. At the end, it was not as good as it was.
Sleaze Roxx: So your second time around, you were there for about a year. I know L.A. Guns released the live album ‘Live: A Nite On The Strip’ which I absolutely love.
Kelly Nickels: Oh cool!
Sleaze Roxx: L.A. Guns also re-released ‘Cocked & Loaded’ and released it as ‘Cocked & Re-Loaded.’ Why did you guys do that?
Kelly Nickels: You know, I don’t think that we had anything to do with that. That was just a marketing thing ’cause I don’t remember recording the record again. I don’t even know anything about that record.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] Fair enough.
Kelly Nickels: I like the cover.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Kelly Nickels: I remember the cover. Either another version of the band without me put it out or that it was remastered or some kind of bullshit thing. I never even thought about that record [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: Why did you leave the second time?
Kelly Nickels: I don’t know the year that it was but if it was 2001, it would have been because my daughter is born.
Sleaze Roxx: It was summer of 2000 I think.
Kelly Nickels: Summer 2000? I don’t know. Yeah, my wife was pregnant probably because my daughter was born in January 2001 so that could have been it. That would have probably been it. I didn’t want to do it when I had a kid. I had a beautiful step-daughter so was kind of already going that route.
Sleaze Roxx: Steve mentioned that he thinks the only thing left for L.A. Guns would be to have the classic L.A. Guns line-up one more time. What are your thoughts on that and would you be up for it if that would happen?
Kelly Nickels: Well, obviously, I’m up for anything, right [laughs]? I’m doing this thing again. You know, I don’t know how deep these wounds are man between the other guys. Me? I’m like ‘Whatever man.’ I know that you said that it doesn’t really make any sense so I can’t be too pissed off about it. So I would probably be OK with it if again, it was worth it and everybody was cool with it [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: Do you think that there’s any chance that Mick would rejoin the line-up?
Kelly Nickels: Never.
Sleaze Roxx: Never?
Kelly Nickels: Never.
Sleaze Roxx: Why do you say that?
Kelly Nickels: ‘Cause Mick is on another planet.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] You’re going to have to expand on that.
Kelly Nickels: Mick has probably changed the most out of everyone I think. Most of us I think are pretty much the same guys but Mick has totally changed. For the good as well. He’s a super good guy. We talk quite often, quite frequently. At least a couple of times, we’ll shoot some texts back and forth still. I just saw him when I was out in LA. I went out to his Christmas party at a bar in Rosita [California, USA] and we had a great night with a whole group of friends that he’s still in touch with. So that was great. Mick and I were always like brothers in the band. We always roomed together when we had to share a room. Always shared a room with Mick. Always got in trouble with Mick. Mick and I wrote “The Ballad Of Jayne” and I was always hanging with Mick. He would never do it because he’s in a different thing. He’s got his band The Brutalists. Shout out to The Brutalists! Very cool project going. Very British kind of vibe. So he’s in another world man.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] Speaking of songwriting, can you take me through how the songwriting was for L.A. Guns when you were in the band?
Kelly Nickels: Well, when I was in the band, everybody got equal shares. Everything in the band musically was always 50 — well, not 50 [laughs] — 50, 50, 50.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] Sure.
Kelly Nickels: It was equal shares for everybody in the band so everybody, you know, brought in as much as they could. We all enjoyed writing songs and bringing them in. If they were good, they would wind up on the record. If they weren’t good, they wouldn’t end up anywhere. So we went through a lot of songs but everybody brought in songs. Everybody got an equal share of the songs financially.
Sleaze Roxx: I’m going to take you back to that one article that you did read on Sleaze Roxx where Phil indicated that you and Mick were invited to join the reunion that he was having recently with Tracii Guns in L.A. Guns. You wrote back saying that you had never been invited. What happened there?
Kelly Nickels: [Laughs] Again, we weren’t invited. That’s it. That’s it man. It’s no big deal. They didn’t have to invite us. They definitely didn’t have to. You know, I’ve been out of the band for a long time. They don’t owe me nothing. They didn’t have to and all I said was they didn’t. And that’s it. And like Phil said, I wouldn’t last a week on tour. Does that sound like I was invited back into the band? C’mon? Everything he said… Of course, I wasn’t invited. Like you know, I live under a rock [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Kelly Nickels: It’s the nicest fuckin’ rock you’ve ever seen!
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Kelly Nickels: No. Oh God! I’m kidding man.
Sleaze Roxx: Well, what about this? After you said that you weren’t invited, he indicated that he called you up to work on a song together and you said that you didn’t like the song or something like that, and that was it.
Kelly Nickels: Yeah. That’s pretty much true. He called me up one day and asked me what was going on and to see if I’d be interested in working on this song with him. And I was like, ‘Yeah, cool. Let me listen to the song.’ He played me the song and I didn’t feel like it was really up there to call it a song yet. I felt like, ‘Why don’t we just start from scratch man? Why don’t we write something together and stuff, and start from scratch?’ That was kind of it. I said that I didn’t want to work on that song. I just didn’t feel strong enough about it. I would have rather worked on an original song with him and you know, that was kind of it man.
Sleaze Roxx: Fair enough. What’s your favourite L.A. Guns album and why?
Kelly Nickels: Well, I don’t know what my favourite album is but my favourite songs have to be “Magdalaine” and “Over The Edge.” I don’t know which favourite record I got but there’s something about that first one. It had that energy. It was a lot of fun finally getting into the studio. We were like, ‘We get to do this thing for real.’ It was a really good time man!
L.A. Guns‘ “Over The Edge” song (which was part of the soundtrack for the 1991 Point Break movie):
Point Break 1991…….
Sleaze Roxx: So you’ve had a chance over the last 20 years to sit back and see how L.A. Guns is doing. So what have you thought about L.A. Guns and how it’s been doing over the last 20 years?
Kelly Nickels: Well, I’ve always wanted them to do well. I’ve always enjoyed reading good things about them — you know, the show was good, Phil was good, everything is good. I want them all to do well. There’s no reason to want otherwise than to do well because they represent all of us out there. I always wanted them to do well.
Sleaze Roxx: What about to the fact that they are almost up to the 50th member? What are your thoughts about that?
Kelly Nickels: Well you know, that’s kind of like… That’s kind of crazy, uniquely cool in a way. People just want to play so it’s like, it’s hard to do all that work and then one guy leaves and you can’t do it anymore. It’s hard to put all that together man — the hours and hours in the studio spilling your guts out — and then the singer quits. That’s it? It’s over? I can’t do it anymore? So I don’t really see giving other people a chance to do it in different ways [to be a bad thing]. It’s flattering that people want to do it and keep it going. It’s all flattering so I’m OK with it I guess [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] Alright. I know that right now, you just have M3 in the books but do you think that we’ll see a lot more of you in the future?
Kelly Nickels: Well, I don’t know yet. I’m kind of keeping it open. You know, we’ll see how M3 goes and rehearsals go. It’s kind of like putting a whole new band together. I’ve never played with Scott — Scott Griffin — because he was the bassist. When I would come up to do a couple of songs, he was the guy who graciously stepped down for a second. So I never really got a chance to play with him but I’ve only heard great things about him so I know we gel personality wise. We met and I know we’re cool. I get along great with Steve — always have. Got lots of great memories with Steve. He’s a unique character man. He’s a fuckin’ crazy dude man but you know, he’s never quit. He’s never quit the band. He’s the only one. He’s always been back there beating his ass off [with] these guys and it’s not easy man.