For the best part of the last decade Phil Lewis has been fighting to keep his version of LA Guns as the one true band. It is clear from this interview the lead singer is not amused by his ex-bandmate guitarist Tracii Guns launching his own band under the same name with, it has to be said, often disastrous results.
But Phil Lewis is not a man who dwells on whatâ€™s passed. With new album Hollywood Forever due for release in early June in the U.S, he is excited to show the world once again that his is the only LA Guns worth listening to. With the first single from the album, â€œYou Better Not Love Me,â€ it is immediately clear that Lewis and his merry band of rockers will smash any obstacles placed in front them.
The band will release Hollywood Forever on CD, but in the age where download is king, they have also taken the step of releasing the album on vinyl.
Geeks of Doom: What made you go for a vinyl release?
Phil Lewis: Well weâ€™re influenced heavily, well certainly me and Steve [Riley, drums] anyway, very influenced by the â€˜70s. When we grew up the format the music we were listening to was on vinyl. Actually sounds better than CDs and infinitely better than MP3s…with the vinyl you get the nice big artwork and the fold gatesleeve and all the sleeve notes and so it looks really, really good on a 12-inch frame. It looks awesome and it will sound good. Unfortunately you canâ€™t put as much music on vinyl as you can on CD, so itâ€™s gonna be like side A and side B. Think itâ€™s like 20 minutes each side so we had to cull a few of the songs for the vinyl. But yeah, turned out great.
Geeks of Doom: So are you making a stand for physical music?
Phil Lewis: Well I think itâ€™s a good idea to have some physical music and I donâ€™t think itâ€™s a bad idea for people to pay for it either…[there is the] assumption now that theyâ€™re doing you a big favor if they download your music for free. That doesnâ€™t help the band at all, that doesnâ€™t support us a bit. Iâ€™m sure theyâ€™ll be people that upload it and file share it but it wonâ€™t be the same because it wonâ€™t sound as good as vinyl and like the artwork and the whole package, you lose so much by just picking a couple of songs and downloading them. Itâ€™s inevitable that itâ€™s going to happen, but Iâ€™d like to do what I can to discourage that.
Geeks of Doom: I agree with you there. I much prefer a physical thing and some artwork to look at. I think it adds to the whole experience and you feel more part of the band.
Phil Lewis: Yeah, thatâ€™s what I used to feel when I was a kid. Iâ€™d go up to Virgin [music shop] on Notting Hill Gate and just spend all afternoon listening to music that Iâ€™d never heard before. Those days are gone and itâ€™s because of all the file sharing all the record shops are gone. So I donâ€™t know exactly where the hell weâ€™re going to sell it! [laughs] But we are putting it out on CD, weâ€™ll be selling it at concerts, there will be outlets but…Iâ€™m not expecting this thing to do a million copies. We are aware of the reality but it didnâ€™t stop us from making a great record anyway.
Geeks of Doom: It will be seven years since the last original album you recorded â€“ what prompted you to go back into the studio again?
Phil Lewis: Well Tracii [Guns] fucked us up, man. Him going out with his shit versions [of LA Guns] made it really, really difficult for us to get a record deal. It was basically depriving the fans of music. Everyoneâ€™s all like, â€˜well itâ€™s two LA Guns and thatâ€™s fine, I dig them both.â€™ But they donâ€™t realize supporting Tracii and his sham of a band it actually impedes us making records, making great music. It looks like heâ€™s actually had enough and heâ€™s going to go off and do something else now. I mean itâ€™s a major pain having this idiot that quit the band and doesnâ€™t know what else the fuck to do, so he just recruits anyone he can get hold of and calls it LA Guns and thatâ€™s total bullshit. It rips off the fans and it really impedes us to progress. So yeah, thatâ€™s why itâ€™s taken so long.
Geeks of Doom: So heâ€™s created hurdles that you have to jump just to get your music made?
Phil Lewis: Huge hurdles and this is a guy that hasnâ€™t released a single song in the seven or eight years that heâ€™s been going around with his so-called version. I mean not one new song, let alone a new album, a new CD. Nothing.
Geeks of Doom: Is there ever a danger for you that people will think the new albums will feature Tracii?
Phil Lewis: You know there might be. I mean people like me and you, the rockers, they know whatâ€™s up and most people know whatâ€™s going on. As frustrating as it is itâ€™s been really great publicity for us, weâ€™ve been in Rolling Stone and LA Times, so a little bit of controversy didnâ€™t hurt. But his nameâ€™s not on it and his pictureâ€™s not on it, so I donâ€™t suppose anyone would assume heâ€™s still in the band, heâ€™s been gone now for almost a decade.
Geeks of Doom: Have you ever considered, not necessarily with Tracii, but a consolidation of LA Guns?
Phil Lewis: No, not really. Why? Why would I want to consolidate? Iâ€™ve got a rock solid line-up that weâ€™ve had now for almost five years. Iâ€™m friends with everybody else that has been in the band, in fact, we had Kelly Nickels come and play on a couple of tracks on the album, so thereâ€™s no weirdness at all, itâ€™s just thatâ€™s then and this is now. Kelly wouldnâ€™t really want to join the band, but he likes hanging out and thatâ€™s fine. We like hanging out, too. We donâ€™t hang out with Tracii.
Geeks of Doom: Since Scott [Griffin, bassist] came back, do you feel like this is going to be it now or do you think itâ€™s impossible for LA Guns to have a settled band?
Phil Lewis: No, this is it. No oneâ€™s going anywhere. Scotty went off to do something for a year and we got Kenny Kweens in, but it was fine. Scotty wanted to get back in and we were glad to have him back, so, no, I donâ€™t envisage any line up changes at all any time soon.
Geeks of Doom: On Hollywood Forever you worked with producer Andy Johns [Led Zeppelin, Free, Chickenfoot] again. Whatâ€™s he like to work with?
Phil Lewis: For me heâ€™s the best producer Iâ€™ve ever worked with. I mean heâ€™s one of the best producers in the world…heâ€™s done some absolutely amazing work and this will be his fourth album that weâ€™ve done together. He was telling us heâ€™s done two and three albums with other people, but weâ€™re the only band heâ€™s ever done four with, so I guess we like him! [laughs]…sonically he does have a sonic signature, thereâ€™s no question about that and it goes really well with our old school sensibilities.
Geeks of Doom: Like you said youâ€™re influenced by a lot of ’70s music and he was prolific in the ’70s.
Phil Lewis: And we talk about albums Iâ€™m crazy about and he goes, â€˜Oh yeah, I produced that.â€™ â€˜Oh fuck me, so you did!â€™
Geeks of Doom: How do you write together as LA Guns?
Phil Lewis: Good question. We didnâ€™t have a record deal at the end of last year, right at the end like in December we got signed so prior to that we didnâ€™t have a single song ready. So we took January off from the road and February; took January off to write and February to record and we were on a very, very strict, disciplined writing pre-production schedule. Everybody had to write two songs a week, everybody in the band. You had to come in with a new song at the beginning of the week and at the end of the week and we all had to learn everybodyâ€™s songs and we ended up accumulating twenty by the end of January. So we tracked twenty and then we started culling them a bit and then we got it down to sixteen and then we got it down to fifteen and sixteen is going to be an extra bonus track on the Japanese CD. So everybody would bring in a song and everybody would contribute and help on the song. There are a couple of songs that are co-written, but not very much and itâ€™s pretty spelled out whose song is whose on this record. In the old days we used to just split everything four ways, but that doesnâ€™t work out for me because I canâ€™t give away more of a song than Iâ€™m getting myself, you know what I mean? So I think that really inspired us all to bring in the best material that we possibly could because it was no longer a group effort. In the songwriting it was pretty much every man for himself and sometimes you just have to do that. Itâ€™s different maybe when itâ€™s a new young band or something and they can all get together, but weâ€™re seasoned old dogs, we should go home and write a song [it] shouldnâ€™t be a big deal.
Geeks of Doom: And youâ€™re happy with the way the songs turned out, so obviously youâ€™re all very talented songwriters!
Phil Lewis: Yeah, not bad at all! And different styles as well. Typical LA Guns record, every song sounds different and thatâ€™s the way we are. Weâ€™re not AC/DC, weâ€™re not Motorhead, we like to mix it up. Theyâ€™re good at doing that one trick thing, but we like to mix it up.
Geeks of Doom: Whatâ€™s your relationship with Stacey Blades like? Youâ€™ve been in the band together a long time now.
Phil Lewis: Heâ€™s brilliant, he really is. Heâ€™s just [an] amazing guitarist. Iâ€™ve seen him develop; first thing he did when he came in was work on a cover record that we did and he was good then but heâ€™s just knocked it out the park as far as Iâ€™m concerned. Heâ€™s just such a brilliant guitar player, in fact if anything he needs to pull back because heâ€™s starting to touch on the [Joe] Satriani kind of style! Heâ€™s really motivated, he knows that heâ€™s going to be compared to a very iconic guitarist and a lot of people love the old guy, so Stacey knows heâ€™s got his work cut out replacing a bit of an icon and heâ€™s rose to the challenge. He sounds great, heâ€™s playing great. Brought in some good songs. Heâ€™s got the title track of the record so thatâ€™s pretty good for someone that hasnâ€™t had a great deal of recording experience. Certainly not as much as me and Steve, so he aced that. He aced the opening title track so good for him.
Geeks of Doom: The very first LA Guns album is going to be 25 years old next year â€“ do you have any plans to do something special to commemorate that?
Phil Lewis: No! [laughs] Not really, I donâ€™t care about the old stuff, I just care about the new. Itâ€™s like, â€˜so what?â€™ Boy, though, is it really 25 years?! Fuck, how time flies. But no, no, no, no, there might be some sort of release or something somewhere but, no, for the most part thatâ€™s water long under the bridge. For me anyway.
Geeks of Doom: Now, I know you said you donâ€™t want to dwell on whatâ€™s passed, but I want to ask you about one of your other bands. This year the Girl album Wasted Youth is 30 years old…
Phil Lewis: Bloody hell!
Geeks of Doom: What do you remember of the recording of that?
Phil Lewis: Just the band being in total disarray, doomed to fail, hated by every journalist in the rock press, despised by most of the rock fans. Especially the New Wave Of British Heavy Metallers hated us [laughing]. I donâ€™t have particularly good memories at all from that era to be honest with you. Don Arden strapped me over a desk and tied down my career for like three years. Just fucking awful, doing copious amounts of horrible Iranian heroin. No, I donâ€™t have good memories about Girl stuff. I like Sheer Greed stuff, the first [album]. It was exciting getting signed and going and doing the first record but, boy, did I ever get to see the ugly side of the music business really, really quickly. Itâ€™s my own fault, I shouldnâ€™t have signed with Don Arden. Everybody warned me not to but, you know, I was just like, â€˜Fuck it, letâ€™s see how it goes!â€™ But I got through it and it wasnâ€™t the end of the world, but it almost was.
Geeks of Doom: Is there any chance that we might see that line up together again?
Phil Lewis: Never…not interested. Iâ€™m not interested in doing it and I know for sure Phil Collen ainâ€™t. I havenâ€™t heard from him in probably about twenty years either, so Iâ€™ve got no plans to do that.
Geeks of Doom: Do you still come back to the UK?
Phil Lewis: I do, I love to. I like to come over at least once a year usually in the summer, hopefully touring. I do miss it, I do love the old country. I donâ€™t think I could live there unless I had lots and lots of money, itâ€™s really, really expensive! But I do love it.
I have lots of friends over there and I hang out. Last year I was over there with the Heavy Metal Kids, remember?…That was great, I really enjoyed being back in London in an English band. I knew it wasnâ€™t going to last forever, but it was great while it lasted.
Geeks of Doom: And youâ€™re actually coming over to Europe later in the year with LA Guns.
Phil Lewis: Yeah, weâ€™re coming over a couple of times actually. Weâ€™ve gotten really, really busy, weâ€™ve got a bunch of festivals over in Sweden that we have to do and then weâ€™ve got to come back and do some shows in the States and then go back to the southern half of Europe towards the end of the year. So yeah, weâ€™re flat out booked now.
Geeks of Doom: Excellent. Do you think thereâ€™s a different reaction to when you play, say, Hollywood and when you play London or anywhere else in Europe?
Phil Lewis: Well dare I say the English audiences are really enthusiastic. Hollywood kind of a has its â€˜oh yeah weâ€™ve seen that.â€™ You know theyâ€™ve got everything in Hollywood, so theyâ€™re a little bit more jaded! [laughs] They just seem to be a bit more enthusiastic over there, but Iâ€™ve had some shit gigs over there as well so, you know, it varies!
Geeks of Doom: Phil, thank you so much for your time.
Phil Lewis: Itâ€™s been a pleasure, sir, thank you.