Steve Riley of L.A. Guns (feat. Riley and Nickels) Interview

Photo by Christopher Carroll ROCK Photography

Date: May 14, 2020
Interviewer: Ruben Mosqueda
Photos: Christopher Carroll ROCK Photography (first photo)

“I was forced out of the band before that recording [‘Vicious Circle’] by Phil [Lewis]. We had a falling out and they used a bunch of drummers on that album. I was on one track, “Crystal Eyes” that they pulled from ‘Hollywood Vampires’ and re-released it on that album. They ended up calling me back to do that world tour for ‘Vicious Circle.’ I guess that ‘Bones’ was in for a short time and they let him go,” recalls drummer Steve Riley. Sleaze Roxx caught up with Riley as he’s begun to do some promotion for the upcoming album ‘Renegades’ where he reunites with bassist Kelly Nickels, guitarist Scott Griffin and frontman Kurt Frohlich. The band was christened at the M3 Rock Festival in Maryland in May of 2019.

The opening quote by Riley is important, as during our interview, he mentioned that he “never left” L.A. Guns. If he was asked to leave during the making of the ‘Vicious Circle’ in 1994, then you could make the case that he ‘never left.’ Riley was asked back for the album’s touring cycle and Riley remained in the band through the various line-up changes, and the ups and downs. Riley, as mentioned, has formed his version of L.A. Guns, which will compete with Tracii Guns’ and Phil Lewis’ version of the band. Case in point, Riley & Co. released a preview of ‘Renegades’ with the single “Crawl” which is very reminiscent of something that, well L.A. Guns

would write and record. Not to be outdone, Lewis and Guns released “Let You Down” which is as far as one can get from the classic sound, go figure. On with the interview.

Sleaze Roxx: It’s been a while since I’ve spoken with you Steve. The last time we caught up, you were doing press for ‘Hollywood Forever,’ you were stoked about it and you were hopeful that the Spanish track “Arana Negra” would perhaps open some doors in the Latin market for the band.

Steve Riley: That’s right! I remember. It’s been a long time! That song didn’t quite do what we hoped that it would do for us [laughs]. I really liked ‘Hollywood Forever.’ There’s some great songs on that record.

Sleaze Roxx: So like I said, I last spoke with you when you were doing promo for ‘Hollywood Forever.’ Things appeared to be going full steam ahead. You and Phil were doing L.A. Guns, and Tracii was doing his thing.

Steve Riley: Well, first I’d like to say that I’m the only member from the ‘classic line-up’ that hasn’t ever left the band. I’m the guy that was handling all the business side of the band and I’d put things together, put together tours and made records happen. I’m the only guy that hasn’t ever left the band. I’ve always been the guy that has tried to talk the ‘classic’ members out of leaving, because I think it’s important to keep the ‘classic’ line-up whenever possible. This goes back to my experience with the line-up of W.A.S.P., that I was a part of, breaking up. It changed the band. Unfortunately, all of the ‘classic’ members left at one point or another. Mick [Cripps] and Kelly [Nickels] left in the mid-’90s. Tracii [Guns] left in 2002. Phil [Lewis] and I kept the band’s legacy alive and well for 15 years after that. Then Phil decides that he wanted to leave. That was the second time that he left.

I’ve always kept L.A. Guns going and that’s what I’m doing right now. Kelly is back on board and I have been a member of the ‘classic’ L.A. Guns line-up since 1987 and I’ve never quit on the band. I consider this L.A. Guns and with Kelly back, this is just awesome. I know there’s a lot of confusion out there right now. We’re designing our logo to set us apart from Phil and Tracii. We’re also listing the band members on everything that we are doing. It’s sad, but it’s one of those things that happens with ‘classic’ line-ups — they break-up. You have one member trying to keep things together and trying to convince people to not leave but they do. I’m going forward and moving on brother.

L.A. Guns‘ “Araña Negra” video (from Hollywood Forever album):

Sleaze Roxx: Steve, was there ever a point where you thought, “Hey, maybe we should call this something else?” I think something like Cocked & Loaded would be a great name and has ties to L.A. Guns.

Steve Riley: Ruben, I NEVER went down that road. The reason that it didn’t cross my mind is because I kept the name, the brand going for all those years. I saw ‘classic’ band members come and go and I kept the band going for all those years. Let me say this, I haven’t been opposed to the ‘classic’ band members from coming back. I welcomed them with open arms. I’ve always been open to people coming back and have always pushed forward. I’m doing that with Kelly. I don’t think that most people are aware that Kelly wrote the band’s biggest hit “[The] Ballad of Jayne.” It’s so awesome to have him back.

I NEVER considered calling it something different. I think if someone wants to go out and do something, THEY should call it something else. No, I won’t call it something else. I own half the name. This is almost like what happened in 1995 when the ‘classic’ members left and Tracii and I decided to keep moving forward. So then Tracii leaves in 2002 and Phil comes back, and we keep going. I’ve invested too much in my 35 years, between handling the business end of things, getting tours and putting together record deals. I never considered calling it something else because I’ve never been one of the guys that has quit the band. It’s great to have Kelly back in the band, a guy who wrote some of the band’s hits. Tracii can call it L.A. Guns if he wants. Unfortunately, I can’t fight it because he and I own the name.

Sleaze Roxx: How did you reconnect with Kelly and did anyone reach out to Mick about being a part of the band again?

Steve Riley: Kelly contacted Phil and I in 2012. He wanted to rejoin the band, before we recorded ‘Hollywood Forever.’ I was totally into it. He’s a ‘classic’ member of the band and I was in favour of him coming back. As much as I was into it, Phil was equally against it. I was disappointed that it didn’t happen because of that. I’ve been friends with Kelly since 1987 until the present day. He was sent some material by those guys [Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis]. They wanted him to join them. He said he listened to it and he didn’t like it. He wanted to start from scratch with some fresh ideas and according to him, they were offended [and] that’s [when] they went online and tore him up and said all this crap about him. I was sad. He’s not like they said. He is, he’s a sweet guy. They were upset and that’s how they dealt with it.

After all of that took place, he called me and said “I’d like to come back.” I said “Kell, come back. You’re my brother, you always have a place here. Let’s do this.” He was really hurt by the guys, but I welcomed him with open arms and we got to work. We were offered the M3 show, we asked Mick [Cripps] if he wanted to be a part of it. He was working on his own thing. That was cool. We’re both cool with Mick. He gave us his blessing and we did the M3 Festival. Things happened so quick. We got management and then we got an offer to do a record. The response has been positive and very quick. So we’re on Golden Robot Records, we have an album ready to go and I have my brother Kelly Nickels, the other half of the ‘classic’ rhythm section, back.

Sleaze Roxx: When Phil left this last time, how was that for you? In looking from the perspective of a fan, there’s betrayal there, no?

Steve Riley: Well, when Trace left in 2002, Phil was upset. He went on a rant online about how much he disliked the guy and how he’d NEVER share a stage with him again. I stayed out of it. I didn’t go on the internet and sling mud at him. I don’t like putting people down. I don’t like those situations. It’s not me. Unfortunately, Phil did, and it was 15 years of him putting Tracii down. When he decided during the middle of our 2016 tour that he was going to do some shows with Tracii, I was taken aback. I was like “Whoa, really?” Well, then he was doing some shows with him in 2017. It was strange that we had shows booked from June 2016 through New Year’s Eve 2016. The whole time I’m thinking, “You’re going to be doing shows with this guy that you claim you dislike so much?” I wasn’t really mad. I was more disappointed than anything. I was confused. He went off on Trace every chance he got for 15 years then he left to work with him again. I was at a loss for words.

I was fine with him working with Trace. Phil said “Listen, I’ll only be doing six months worth of shows. I can’t do anymore than that because I can’t stand the guy.” So when he decided he was going out as Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis of L.A. Guns, then I had to figure out how I was going to regroup and keep L.A. Guns going, because I never stopped being L.A. Guns. Then they decided to start calling themselves L.A. Guns. I think that they created the confusion. They called themselves one thing, then called themselves something else. They started another L.A. Guns when L.A. Guns never ended. They can’t stop saying shitty stuff about us [laughs]! We’re not going to go there. We’re just not. I think the fans are aware that Kelly and I are taking the high road in this whole thing.

Sleaze Roxx: You’ve been pretty consistent in staying out of the mudslinging, which is refreshing. I recall years ago when Tracii was on That Metal Show, he went off on you on the show, which made for an uncomfortable moment. I don’t recall you taking the bait on that.

Steve Riley: You know what Ruben? When I saw that show with Eddie Trunk who’s a good friend, going back to my days in W.A.S.P. — when I saw that show and Trace said what he said, Eddie Trunk asked me if I wanted to go on his [show to] reply back to him. I accepted, but I wanted Phil to come on the show too. It was only fair as we were ‘classic’ members of the band. Eddie was in favour of it. So Phil and I appeared on That Metal Show, but it was like two-three months after Tracii’s rant had aired. I thought it was funny that everyone was expecting me to go after Trace [laughs]! They were prepared for me to dig into him and say all sorts of shit! If you recall in the episode, I was basically only able to say that I was disappointed that he said those things, before Phil went off on Tracii [laughs]! I didn’t get to say much! I wasn’t going to. I didn’t need to stoop to that level. Pull up that episode and watch it again. I didn’t say much, then Phil who was seething goes off on Tracii. It’s unbelievable that he said all that about Trace on camera and a few years later, he goes back with the guy for a little bit more money? It’s just so disappointing.

Sleaze Roxx: Have you checked out any of the albums that Phil and Tracii had recorded since they’ve teamed up? If you have, what do you think?

Steve Riley: I haven’t purposely been avoiding their albums. I just haven’t had a chance to listen to them. So I haven’t heard anything from the two albums that they’ve done, but I was checking out a poll online where the site had our single “Crawl” and their new single “Let You Down.” It was there in front of me so I clicked it and listened to that. It was this slow tempo song. It’s the first thing that I have heard from those guys. I wasn’t avoiding it purposely. I just didn’t get the chance. I was too busy putting this band back together so we could get back on the road. So I have listened to their single… I don’t know. I’m not going to put it down. I don’t think I can judge that. It doesn’t have an L.A. Guns feel to it. I think “Crawl” is more true to what L.A. Guns is. Kelly and I don’t want to drift too far away from what we are.

Sleaze Roxx: That new song is not very characteristic of what the two albums have been. As I have told you, I follow their music too and I agree that “Crawl” does capture the L.A. Guns attitude and vibe.

Steve Riley: Thank you. It was a conscientious thing we did. That’s what we wanted to come across to the fans. We want to be true to who and what we are and we want to be proud of the music we release. I was surprised their song wasn’t something close to what we had done in the past and that it was such a departure for the L.A. Guns sound. Who am I to say that it’s good or bad. It’s just such a departure.

L.A. Guns (feat. Steve Riley and Kelly Nickels) ‘Making of “Crawl” Behind the Scenes” video:

Sleaze Roxx: I’m a cynic to begin with but do you really think it’s a coincidence that Tracii and Phil put together a song just as you release “Crawl” to get the word that you have new music coming? That simply muddies the waters even further…

Steve Riley: It seemed funny to me too. I don’t know if they have an album ready to go right now. When “Crawl” came out, it got some great responses and it went over well with a lot of people. It just looked odd to me. From what I have read, that song was put together by sharing files. Not one of them were in the studio [together]. I don’t even think Trace is even in the country [looks like he is located in Denmark]. I don’t know if they were trying to keep up with what we’re doing because ‘Renegades’ is done and ready for release. Did they rush to get a single out there to compete with “Crawl”? I don’t know, but I did find it odd.

Sleaze Roxx: So ‘Renegades’ is ready to go. We have heard “Crawl” and you’re telling me that it is representative of what we will hear throughout the album.

Steve Riley: The next song is going to hit you over the head! It’s pretty close to something that would come from L.A. Guns in the early days. Everyone contributed to the album. We all wrote. We brought in song ideas and we put the songs together as a band. You’re going to love it. It’s got a lot of depth to it — rockers, ballads and everything that you’d want from an L.A. Guns record. I’m so proud of it.

Sleaze Roxx: What are you looking for as far as a release date? And are live performances on hold until 2021?

Steve Riley: The initial plan was to release “Crawl,” then hit the road. There were a lot of festival dates booked. Then we’d release the record. So we had plans to do festivals and ‘soft ticket shows’ lined up. It was going to be a lot of fun. Well, then the pandemic ruined the original plan. We went ahead and got “Crawl” out there. In June, we’ll release single number two and work it through July, and then the record will come out at the end of July or early August. Right now, the tour is set to start in August. We have our fingers crossed because it’s beyond our control at this point in time. If everything gets cancelled this year, God forbid but it might, we’ll have to figure something else and probably do another single and release the album in the fall.

Sleaze Roxx: Would you be open to doing a track by track as we get closer to the release of ‘Renegades’?

Steve Riley: Oh, absolutely man! You’re on!

L.A. Guns (feat. Steve Riley and Kelly Nickels) performing “Over The Edge”, Never Enough” and Electric Gypsy” live at the M3 Rock Festival in Columbia, Maryland, USA on May 4, 2019: