Phil Lewis of L.A. Guns Interview

INTERVIEW WITH L.A. GUNS LEAD VOCALIST PHIL LEWIS
Date: March 18, 2019
Interviewer: Olivier
Photos: Christopher Carroll ROCK Photography (photos 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8)

FRESH OFF WHAT MANY PEOPLE CONSIDER TO BE THEIR BEST ALBUM SINCE BACK DURING THEIR LATE ’80S / EARLY ’90S, L.A. GUNS FEATURING SINGER PHIL LEWIS AND GUITARIST TRACII GUNS ALONG WITH BASSIST JOHNNY MARTIN, DRUMMER SHANE FITZGIBBON AND (TOURING) GUITARIST ACE VON JOHNSON ARE BACK WITH A NEW ALBUM TITLED ‘THE DEVIL YOU KNOW.’ THE NEW RECORD IS SCHEDULED TO BE RELEASED VIA FRONTIERS MUSIC SRL ON MARCH 29, 2019. L.A GUNS’ LAST STUDIO ALBUM ‘THE MISSING PEACE’ FEATURING THE REUNITED DUO OF LEWIS AND GUNS ENDED UP #1 ON THE SLEAZE ROXX READERS’ TOP 20 ALBUMS OF 2017 AND JUDGING BY THE MATERIAL RELEASED SO FAR FROM ‘THE DEVIL YOU KNOW’, L.A. GUNS ARE WELL POISED TO HAVE A REAL SHOT AT BEING THE ONLY BAND IN SLEAZE ROXX’S HISTORY TO FINISH AT THE TOP OF ITS READERS’ YEAR END TOP ALBUMS FOR A SECOND TIME. SLEAZE ROXX CAUGHT UP WITH THE VOICE OF L.A. GUNS — PHIL LEWIS — TO FIND OUT ABOUT THE NEW ALBUM AND MUCH MORE.

Sleaze Roxx: Congratulations on the new album that is coming out. How is it different from ‘The Missing Peace’?

Phil Lewis: Ummm. Well, it’s a lot grittier than ‘The Missing Peace.’ We have a bit more of a punk feel to it. It doesn’t have any strings or embellishment. It’s pretty much a tighter unit banging it out. The things for ‘The Missing Peace’ were floating around a little but before the reunion — before Tracii and I’s reunion — so where’s on this new one, we started from scratch all together.

Sleaze Roxx: If you had to pick one, which one would be your favorite?

Phil Lewis: You know, I’d go with ‘The Devil [You Know]’ of course. We tend to do that. We always think that the latest album, the last one that you did, is the best. It’s hard to tell. There’s some tremendous moments on ‘The Missing Peace’ and it’s always going to be an album really dear to my heart because it changed so much. But this new album, it’s so much more powerful and written how the songs are going to sound live. With a lot of the stuff on ‘The Missing Peace’, we knew for some of the longer tracks, we knew we weren’t going to be performing [them] live but everything is on the table for this record.

Sleaze Roxx: Who wrote most of the material for the new album?

Phil Lewis: You know, Tracii would often come up with the riffs. Him and Johnny [Martin] wrote “Rage” together when we were in Australia last year or the year before that. Lyrically, we collaborate with Mitch Davis. I do my vocals with Mitch in New York. Everyone has a hand in lyrics and you know, in every aspect. Like Shane [Fitzgibbon], the drummer, also writes lyrics and does great backing vocals. [He] engineered pretty much 80% of the record so it’s all very much in-house.

L.A. Guns‘ “Rage” video (from upcoming The Devil You Know album):

L.A. Guns – “Rage” (Official) #RockAintDead

Subscribe here for more videos – http://radi.al/SubscribeFrontiers | From the album THE DEVIL YOU KNOW. Get your copy NOW: http://radi.al/TheDevilYouKnow | S…

Sleaze Roxx: So I understand that only Tracii played guitar on the album, is that correct?

Phil Lewis: Yes sir. And that makes sense you know. Tracii’s writing the songs on the road. All the stuff was written on the tour bus going and playing like it’s a garage band so you know, it would just sort of hamper, it would hinder the recording process to have him show somebody else his ideas. It’s quicker for him just to play them and to show them to a second guitar player after the recording. That’s why that happened.

Sleaze Roxx: In terms of the differences between L.A. Guns — Steve Riley’s version versus Tracii Guns’ [version] — aside from the personnel stuff, one thing that I noticed is that now that you’re with Tracii, you’re much more prolific in terms of releasing albums. You’ve released really a new album every year since you’ve been with Tracii.

Phil Lewis: Yeah. Well, that was a big part of my frustration. With Steve and that line-up, we weren’t putting anything out. We put out ‘Hollywood Forever’ [in 2012] and it was like years went by and it was like, “C’moonnn! We’ve got to do some recording. Put some new material out and it just wasn’t budging. You know, I have to say with honesty that I have nothing bad to say about Riley or any of that line-up. We did thousands of shows, millions of miles together and we got on. We were never really friends but we were very… We were associates and we had a lot of respect for each other, and that’s all good. We made some records. We made some good records. We made some records that I am immensely proud of but they’re not L.A. Guns records. And they’re not L.A. Guns records because Tracii is not on them. And it’s like any record that Tracii may have done, and called it L.A. Guns and I’m not on it, it’s not really L.A. Guns. You know, I accept that. I’m real proud of it and it’s just the way it is.

Sleaze Roxx: So speaking of that, what I gather from what you are saying is that you and Tracii are the heart of L.A. Guns.

Phil Lewis: The nucleus for sure.

Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] OK, I guess that I’ve always found it odd and it depends on the business side of it, but at the end of the day, Steve and Tracii ended up owning the L.A. Guns name but…

Phil Lewis: Oh yeah.

Sleaze Roxx: Obviously, you, Kelly [Nickels] and Mick [Cripps] were part of it at the beginning. So did it feel weird when you went back into the band and you’re not an owner but Steve is….

Phil Lewis: Yeah! All that stuff went down when I wasn’t in the band. I guess it had never been registered — the trademark or whatever — the rubber stamp. And I wasn’t in the band. I wasn’t even in music. I was working at Fox and I really couldn’t care less what they did. I guess it was as simple as writing out an application, standing in line at the courthouse downtown and having it stamped, and they made no stipulations. They said, “OK. We got the name 50-50.” And that was it. That was the legacy that ensued after that. That’s the piece of paper. It’s ridiculous and Tracii should have never have done it. He knows that but he did. Just have to deal with that.

Sleaze Roxx: Fair enough.

Phil Lewis: Some might say that I have benefited — 15 years’ worth of work out of it — which is very true. I did. Had Steve not had the rights, we couldn’t have gone out as L.A. Guns and that would have been difficult. That would have been challenging. So you know, I have to accept that but that being said, I don’t think that the records that were made without Tracii were real legitimate L.A. Guns [records]. That’s the trade off.

Sleaze Roxx: When Steve announced that he was going to play the M3 Rock Festival as L.A. Guns with some alumni, you and Tracii were quite vocal about it. Have you had a change of heart or are you still feeling the same way?

Phil Lewis: I’m laughing my head off. I’m absolutely — this is fucking comic gold that Riley is even stupid enough to accept this offer and the offer came about only because the organizers at M3 are mad at us for not doing it. We have this on full authority. You know, they dug up some people. They told him put a band together. They’ll give him a slot. And very stupidly without thinking, he agreed to do it without having any band personnel. He hasn’t played in years. He managed to persuade our old bass player [Kelly Nickels] to do it. Two old bass players — he’s got Scotty Griffin from the ‘Hollywood Forever’ album. He’s actually taking it upon himself to play guitar in the band. Scotty’s nice guy, a good bass player but as far as guitar playing goes, he ain’t no Tracii Guns. Let’s face it. So there you go, we’ve got a drummer that can’t play anymore, a bass player that never could, a bass player that’s going to be playing guitar parts that he can’t play and the icing, the cherry on top is they don’t have a fucking singer!

Sleaze Roxx: Well, they haven’t announced one yet.

Phil Lewis: No. They don’t. No one wants to do it. You know, all the people that Riley had in mind, you know like Jizzy [Pearl], Chris Van Dahl, they won’t touch it. They won’t go near it because they know how busy we are and what’s going on. Riley has not — he’s been under a rock since I’ve been doing this reunion. He has no idea what’s going on. He hasn’t heard “Speed” or any of this new stuff that me and Tracii are doing. As far as he’s concerned, we’re out playing sports bars [laughs].

Sleaze Roxx: You mention that Steve can’t play, Kelly couldn’t play as well, but you did play with them for years in L.A. Guns so it’s kind of weird for you to say that they can’t play when you’ve played with them for so many years.

Phil Lewis: Errr. You know, Riley was an animal. He was a machine when he came from W.A.S.P. — he was such a good drummer. His playing just deteriorated. His tempo — it slowed down. All the songs turned into a mid-tempo shuffle. It’s a shame. Shane Michael “Fucking” Fitzgibbon — that’s drumming. That’s what I need. That’s what we needed. And it’s been years since Riley has been able to play like that. And Kelly, look. His idol, his bass playing idol, is Sid “Fucking” Vicious.

Sleaze Roxx: Yeah.

Phil Lewis: C’mon! You know, really? Sid Vicious is his star bass player. So no, I am not giving him anymore credit than that. I stand by my words.

Sleaze Roxx: Alright. Fair enough. What’s going to happen with [L.A. Guns guitarist] Ace Von Johnson because as far as I know, he is still a member of Faster Pussycat and I understand that they are going t0 be touring during the summer. 

Phil Lewis: Right.

Sleaze Roxx: So what happens with that guitar position in L.A. Guns?

Phil Lewis: Well, you’re going to have to ask Mr. Ace Von Johnson. I thought that we were doing an interview about the new record?

Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] Well, we are but I am asking what’s going to happen with the tour?

Phil Lewis: I don’t know, you know. He’s going to have to work it out. He’s real happy with us and we’re happy with him. I’ve always wanted — I always wanted him back in the day. He couldn’t do it because he’s an honourable guy and he had commitments. Things are a little more opened up now. Things have opened up a little bit more. We’ll see what happens. You know, there’s nothing… We’re not malicious about it. So far, he has not had any jeopardy but he’s really the person to ask you know if that arises.

Sleaze Roxx: Fair enough.

Phil Lewis: I am pretty sure. I think we’re both pretty sure what his decision will be, don’t you?

Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]

Phil Lewis: [Laughs]

Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] OK, let’s get back to the new album. What are your favorite tracks and why?

Phil Lewis: Hmmm. Well, I love “Rage.” I like “Going High” ’cause Mitch and I, we worked so diligently on that and took my voice into realms which I never thought imaginable. Whether I’ll ever be able to pull that one live, I don’t know. I am so, so excited that “Rage” is in the set and we’re going to do it live. We’ll probably open the set with it and you know, songs get better as you do them. We’ve only played them a few times. “Speed” and all the stuff from ‘The Missing Peace’ — we only played them a handful of times before we played them live. Like ‘The Flood’s The Fault Of The Rain”, we had never done that. I had never sang it live before a show at The Marquee. I was supposed to do it at soundcheck and we had technical issues and I never got time. So the first time that I ever sang it was at The Marquee and it turned out great. Now, I am really looking forward on how great these songs are going to be once we get a few weeks or months touring under our belt.

L.A. Guns‘ “Speed” video (from The Missing Peace album):

L.A. Guns – “Speed” (Official Music Video)

Subscribe To Be Alerted When We Add New Videos – http://radi.al/SubscribeFrontiers From the album THE MISSING PEACE. Get your copy NOW: http://radi.al/Missin…

Sleaze Roxx: In terms of new material and material from ‘The Missing Peace’, how much can we expect to be in the live set?

Phil Lewis: Well, that’s the thing you know. It’s a real challenge for us to figure out what songs. You know, we’re L.A. Guns. We have to play “Never Enough.” We have to play “Electric Gypsy.” We have to play “The Ballad of Jayne”, etc. You wonder what can’t we do and how much time do we have. And quite often, it’s not very much at all, which is why we try to steer clear of packages and festivals because it’s no good to you. We need a lot more time than that. Forty five minutes — that’s no good to us. We’re just getting started then so we’re sticking to our guns. Ha, ha, ha. We’re playing our own shows and ultimately, what we like to do the most is do a two-night residency at each venue and play a classic set the first night and stuff off this new record and you know, stuff like “Killing Machine” and stuff from ‘Waking The Dead’ and ‘Vicious Circle.’ Heavier.

Sleaze Roxx: So is that something that you’ll be doing for the next tour, doing these two-night residency wherever you can?

Phil Lewis: Whenever we can, yes sir! That’s the plan.

Sleaze Roxx: Cool! That sounds exciting. So I have one more question for you and it’s taking you back a year or so. It looks like you brought [guitarist] Michael Grant into L.A. Guns, you brought him into Tracii’s version and it looks like you were the architect that got him out of the band. So what happened with Michael?

Phil Lewis: That’s none of your business mate. This is just band stuff you know. That’s just stuff that goes on. You know, there’s a great sense of entitlement due to the internet. Everybody wants to know what’s going on and what you had for breakfast, and bla, bla, bla. I come from an age in the ’70s where if you even caught a glimpse of Stevie Nicks getting on the tour bus, that was the highlight of your life. It’s nobody’s business what goes on band wise. Do you know what I mean?

Sleaze Roxx: I guess what happens is there are conflicting stories. He said that he got fired. You guys sort of said that he just left the band. So it’s unclear exactly what happened.

Phil Lewis: Well, I mean, working with him was little bit like running a marathon with a stone in my shoe.

Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]

Phil Lewis: And that’s about as much as I am going to say.

L.A. Guns‘ “Stay Away” song (from upcoming The Devil You Know album):

L.A. Guns – “Stay Away” (Official Audio) #RockAintDead

Subscribe here for more videos – http://radi.al/SubscribeFrontiers | From the album THE DEVIL YOU KNOW. Get your copy NOW: http://radi.al/TheDevilYouKnow | S…