Interview: LA Guns Lead Singer Phil Lewis

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 what’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, “You Better Not Love Me,” 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 we’re influenced heavily, well certainly me and Steve [Riley, drums] anyway, very influenced by the “˜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 can’t put as much music on vinyl as you can on CD, so it’s gonna be like side A and side B. Think it’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 it’s a good idea to have some physical music and I don’t think it’s a bad idea for people to pay for it either…[there is the] assumption now that they’re doing you a big favor if they download your music for free. That doesn’t help the band at all, that doesn’t support us a bit. I’m sure they’ll be people that upload it and file share it but it won’t be the same because it won’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. It’s inevitable that it’s going to happen, but I’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, that’s what I used to feel when I was a kid. I’d go up to Virgin [music shop] on Notting Hill Gate and just spend all afternoon listening to music that I’d never heard before. Those days are gone and it’s because of all the file sharing all the record shops are gone. So I don’t know exactly where the hell we’re going to sell it! [laughs] But we are putting it out on CD, we’ll be selling it at concerts, there will be outlets but…I’m not expecting this thing to do a million copies. We are aware of the reality but it didn’t stop us from making a great record anyway.

Geeks of Doom: It will be seven years since the last original album you recorded – 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. Everyone’s all like, “˜well it’s two LA Guns and that’s fine, I dig them both.’ But they don’t realize supporting Tracii and his sham of a band it actually impedes us making records, making great music. It looks like he’s actually had enough and he’s going to go off and do something else now. I mean it’s a major pain having this idiot that quit the band and doesn’t know what else the fuck to do, so he just recruits anyone he can get hold of and calls it LA Guns and that’s total bullshit. It rips off the fans and it really impedes us to progress. So yeah, that’s why it’s taken so long.

Geeks of Doom: So he’s created hurdles that you have to jump just to get your music made?

Phil Lewis: Huge hurdles and this is a guy that hasn’t released a single song in the seven or eight years that he’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 what’s up and most people know what’s going on. As frustrating as it is it’s been really great publicity for us, we’ve been in Rolling Stone and LA Times, so a little bit of controversy didn’t hurt. But his name’s not on it and his picture’s not on it, so I don’t suppose anyone would assume he’s still in the band, he’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? I’ve got a rock solid line-up that we’ve had now for almost five years. I’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 there’s no weirdness at all, it’s just that’s then and this is now. Kelly wouldn’t really want to join the band, but he likes hanging out and that’s fine. We like hanging out, too. We don’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 it’s impossible for LA Guns to have a settled band?

Phil Lewis: No, this is it. No one’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 don’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. What’s he like to work with?

Phil Lewis: For me he’s the best producer I’ve ever worked with. I mean he’s one of the best producers in the world…he’s done some absolutely amazing work and this will be his fourth album that we’ve done together. He was telling us he’s done two and three albums with other people, but we’re the only band he’s ever done four with, so I guess we like him! [laughs]…sonically he does have a sonic signature, there’s no question about that and it goes really well with our old school sensibilities.

Geeks of Doom: Like you said you’re influenced by a lot of ’70s music and he was prolific in the ’70s.

Phil Lewis: And we talk about albums I’m crazy about and he goes, “˜Oh yeah, I produced that.’ “˜Oh fuck me, so you did!’

Geeks of Doom: How do you write together as LA Guns?

Phil Lewis: Good question. We didn’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 didn’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 everybody’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 it’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 doesn’t work out for me because I can’t give away more of a song than I’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. It’s different maybe when it’s a new young band or something and they can all get together, but we’re seasoned old dogs, we should go home and write a song [it] shouldn’t be a big deal.

Geeks of Doom: And you’re happy with the way the songs turned out, so obviously you’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 that’s the way we are. We’re not AC/DC, we’re not Motorhead, we like to mix it up. They’re good at doing that one trick thing, but we like to mix it up.

Geeks of Doom: What’s your relationship with Stacey Blades like? You’ve been in the band together a long time now.

Phil Lewis: He’s brilliant, he really is. He’s just [an] amazing guitarist. I’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 he’s just knocked it out the park as far as I’m concerned. He’s just such a brilliant guitar player, in fact if anything he needs to pull back because he’s starting to touch on the [Joe] Satriani kind of style! He’s really motivated, he knows that he’s going to be compared to a very iconic guitarist and a lot of people love the old guy, so Stacey knows he’s got his work cut out replacing a bit of an icon and he’s rose to the challenge. He sounds great, he’s playing great. Brought in some good songs. He’s got the title track of the record so that’s pretty good for someone that hasn’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 – do you have any plans to do something special to commemorate that?

Phil Lewis: No! [laughs] Not really, I don’t care about the old stuff, I just care about the new. It’s like, “˜so what?’ 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 that’s water long under the bridge. For me anyway.

Geeks of Doom: Now, I know you said you don’t want to dwell on what’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 don’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 don’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. It’s my own fault, I shouldn’t have signed with Don Arden. Everybody warned me not to but, you know, I was just like, “˜Fuck it, let’s see how it goes!’ But I got through it and it wasn’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. I’m not interested in doing it and I know for sure Phil Collen ain’t. I haven’t heard from him in probably about twenty years either, so I’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 don’t think I could live there unless I had lots and lots of money, it’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 wasn’t going to last forever, but it was great while it lasted.

Geeks of Doom: And you’re actually coming over to Europe later in the year with LA Guns.

Phil Lewis: Yeah, we’re coming over a couple of times actually. We’ve gotten really, really busy, we’ve got a bunch of festivals over in Sweden that we have to do and then we’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, we’re flat out booked now.

Geeks of Doom: Excellent. Do you think there’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 “˜oh yeah we’ve seen that.’ You know they’ve got everything in Hollywood, so they’re a little bit more jaded! [laughs] They just seem to be a bit more enthusiastic over there, but I’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: It’s been a pleasure, sir, thank you.

Hollywood Forever is due out in the U.S. on June 5, 2012 and is available for pre-order now. Visit the band on Facebook, Twitter, and at their official site, laguns.net.

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