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Kerby’s Exclusive Interview With LA Guns Vocalist Phil Lewis

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Monday, November 28, 2005 @ 10:01 AM

"When I am guzzling champagne

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Any band that has stayed together for any appreciable period of time is bound to have had to deal with at least a small amount of adversity during their tenure, and certainly LA Guns is no exception. If anything, the fact that this group is even around at all in the year 2005 is quite an accomplishment considering that three years ago, band founder and lead guitar player Tracii Guns suddenly dropped the bombshell that he would soon be leaving the band he helped create in order to form Brides of Destruction with Nikki Sixx….now, it’s one issue for a group to lose a second run drummer or be going through even a fifth bass player, but it’s an infinitely more complex dilemma for a collective to watch as their leader announces that he’s exiting his current group in order to pursue another endeavor that he believes will prove more lucrative for him in the future. Even though some of the specifics of Gun’s exit from the band remain the subject of debate, some may consider the possibility that karma may have indeed been a factor as Brides managed only one lackluster record before Tracii got a little taste of lineup upheaval himself when Nikki announced that he was abruptly leaving Brides in order to do the current Motley Crue reunion.

Instead of packing it in when faced with such a high level of adversity, Phil Lewis and drummer Steve Riley, formerly of WASP fame, decided instead to simply recruit another guitarist, Stacey Blades, and continue creating more melodic, sexually-charged metal. What eventually followed was an underrated record, Waking The Dead that was followed up recently by a new album--Tales From the Strip, which is simply better than anything the group has previously ever done—pre or post Tracii. In support of their glam metal masterpiece, L.A. Guns embarked on a summer tour with WASP and Armored Saint entitled the American Metal Blast Tour before eventually hitting Europe earlier this fall. In an era where the metal marketplace can sometimes be unkind to bands who are so closely affiliated with the “Hair Metal” genre, it’s quite an anomaly to see a group that is doing more than merely surviving, and in fact, finds itself actually thriving artistically in an era where public tastes have changed so substantially over the last twenty-five years. In this interview Phil states at one point that when it comes to his singing that he never really thought of doing anything else--here’s hoping that the world always has a place for those souls who appear powerless but to follow their own dreams and aspirations in the face a multitude of factors that don’t always make that quest easy.

KNAC.COM: How do you explain L.A. Guns recording an album that is in many ways superior to any that the band created even during the height of its popularity…and without Tracii Guns?

LEWIS: I think we just made a conscious decision as a band to write about what we knew and take our time and put together a record we were really happy with and not just record the first ten songs that came up. We basically locked ourselves away and came up with something really good. We felt like we had a lot to prove because the record we made before called Waking The Dead was really good too. We tried to keep as many elements from that as we could for this new one Tales From The Strip. There was a lot of emphasis on songwriting and breaking Stacey into the band.

KNAC.COM: He seems like a great fit in that the solos he writes appear to actually fit the songs rather than just providing an abrupt break to showcase his skills.

LEWIS: He has a classical background. He used to play classical piano before switching over to guitar--Stacey really is a virtuoso type of guy and player. It was really fortunate that we found him and that he’s another Hollywood guy. I’ve read reviews where they called him a Tracii clone, but he’s not. He is definitely his own man.

KNAC.COM: Did you find that there were a lot of people who were expecting a huge drop off in the level of your material after Tracii left?

LEWIS: Yeah, but it hasn’t really made that much difference to be honest with you. When Tracii left, we made the decision to pick up the pieces as best we could. We feel pretty good about the way things are right now, but we aren’t gloating or anything. We’ve had a pretty good year, and we put out a good record and did a great summer tour in America, and we just got back from Europe. Everybody loves the record, and that’s a pretty good feeling. It seems to translate well into Italian or Greek--those people really get it. I just think the real secret both lyrically and conceptually is that we needed to stick with what we knew--that is the real strength of this record.

KNAC.COM: When you look at the Hollywood scene now--a place where you live--do you find yourself consciously or unconsciously comparing it to the way it was back in it’s heyday?

LEWIS: It has its moments now, but it went through a really dry spell. I remember back in the day when a person could walk around anytime from Thursday to Sunday from 9 PM to 2 AM and you might not be able to see the sidewalk or the curb of the road because of all the band fliers that were lying around in different colors like greens and reds and orange. It was like the whole street was camouflaged in band fliers--like a festival. Then, it got quiet and there wasn’t much happening, but now there are isolated times where it feels like it used to--just a good rock scene. The LA scene is still alive and kicking.

KNAC.COM: Do you think that what the LA scene afforded more than anything else was an avenue for people to enjoy themselves without feeling the need to take anything too seriously?

LEWIS: Yeah, a little parody of oneself never hurt at all. It is an important thing in life. Certainly being in a touring band that works all the time, we see a lot of funny things--we see some amusing sites with people letting their guards down and enjoying themselves. For the most part, we see the best side of people.

KNAC.COM: Have you ever found yourself feeling as though being in say Italy or Belgium is no longer a cause for excitement? Or do you constantly feel as though you are uncovering something new when you‘re on the road?

LEWIS: Traveling itself is tiresome. You have to go through security and do a show at midnight and not get back to the hotel until two or three in the morning only to get back up for a seven o’clock flight. That’s when it gets kind of old and doesn’t seem quite so glamorous or adventurous. Those moments are few and far between though, and for the most part it’s really great. Without having millions spent on us or huge radio campaigns, I still feel like there’s nothing quite like being in a great band and having a great record out. That’s just a priceless feeling for someone who has been on both sides, and I’ll take this any day.

KNAC.COM: It’s undeniable that 80’s LA glam metal was sexually driven music. How does that change--or does it even change when one gets older? Is the emphasis just as strong as ever?

LEWIS: It is absolutely 100% essential. They are an integral part of the psyche of this town and the band. For LA Guns to come out with a record without women or some type of reference to femme de jour, it wouldn’t be the same--we are totally synonymous with that scene. We don’t make any apologies for that whatsoever.

KNAC.COM: That’s an important point to make because that was always supposed to be the demarcation line between the serious musicians and the pussies. “We don’t write songs about girls.” That kind of thing.

LEWIS: Yeah, there were so many of those dichotomies, and I had to endure that. The irony is definitely there, and we found that out doing the summer tour with WASP. They drew a mostly male audience, and I think we were brought on tour to kind of change that a little bit. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Not that you would necessarily tell me anyway…but, there is this perception that being around Blackie in any capacity can be kind of a negative experience. Did you find that to be the case at all?

LEWIS: Not personally, no. It was ok. He put on a hell of a show every night. He’s very different as a person and a performer and an artist than we are. We’re more sort of spontaneous and accessible and kind of like just regular guys. He’s more of like a showman with the rock and roll circus and everything has to be perfect and right--that’s another huge difference. I actually found him to be quite generous though with the room and the lights and the PA that we were getting. He could have totally been a dick about that, but he wasn’t. I’ve heard a lot of rumors too, but I think you pretty much have to judge people by how they are to you, and I found him to be all right.

KNAC.COM: I’m going to assume for a minute that being in LA Guns meant that you occasionally indulged in some extra curricular activities with the female form--was there ever any romance about it though or maybe a sense that that when you rolled into a city that you might fall into some type of real love? More than just a physical entanglement, maybe?

LEWIS: Ahhh, no. I mean, it’s all relative, and I’ve been very poetically inspired by women over my travels. Yeah, I don’t deny that at all. Women can be very inspiring creatures like muses.

KNAC.COM: Would there have to be an intellectual connection there as well?

LEWIS: Not necessarily. (Laughs)

KNAC.COM: So the beauty itself can be inspirational regardless of the mind behind the face?

LEWIS: Beauty often distracts us from the path of truth. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Thanks for the honest answer. How have your expectations for the release of a new LA Guns record changed? I mean, how do you reconcile the issue of sales? Can you put a price on people coming up to you and going, “the new record is great!”?

LEWIS: I knew that getting back into this after I had been out for a while that we weren’t going to sell the amount of records that we did back in the day because we simply aren’t part of that machinery anymore. That’s ok though because there was a lot of shit that went with that machinery and the bureaucracy that we had to deal with back in the day. Even if we were with a major label, we wouldn’t be selling those types of numbers anyway. Like I said, it really means a lot to me to have a great record that people discover on their own versus having a mediocre record that kind of gets shoved down peoples’ throats. Yeah, if that’s the case, give me this any day.

KNAC.COM: Do you think enough musicians realize that the drop off in sales among 80’s bands doesn’t have as much to do with them personally as it does with just a general diminishing of a movement in music? I mean, you can’t replicate a time.

LEWIS: No. I do feel good about the future of this genre though--we are playing to a lot of kids these days who are like 14 or 15. In Europe and over here they get it. These kids have just been spoon-fed this music for so long, and I think it’s really cool that they are kind of breaking out from that.

KNAC.COM: Do you feel that the European metal fan is a bit more loyal and a bit less preoccupied with what’s in fashion than the American fan is?

LEWIS: I think they are way more into discovering bands for themselves over here than the metal fan may be here. Many here really do need to be told what they should be listening to, and that is the biggest difference between the Europeans and the Americans. They are much more into going out and taking a chance on a band with an open mind.

KNAC.COM: Have you found the whole perception that LA audiences are too cool to enjoy themselves to be accurate, or is that just a fabricated view?

LEWIS: I’ve got to say that for us that LA fans are the greatest. You know, we don’t expect them to start moshing or anything because we aren’t that type of band. We do get the place on its feet though. All that stuff about LA audiences standing with their arms folded has never been the case for us at all. I know that we are fortunate, and that is a perk of being a local band. Sometimes though, we may be in a place like Nottingham, and people will look at us like that, but whether or not it is Nottingham or Los Angeles, if people are giving us attitude at the beginning of the show, they will be screaming for us at the end. That is a hundred percent guarantee.

KNAC.COM: When you see somebody from the scene just kicking around LA today, do you feel a sense of kinship with them now that the competition aspect has diminished? Are you able to be friendlier with them than you may have been back in the day?

LEWIS: Yeah, I do. One of the things I really love about this town is that it has a really, really good music scene. People are just getting out and jamming all the time. There are a lot of cool places to go and do that like the Cat Club or the Whisky on Sunset. They may be having jam nights or certain situations where musicians from maybe very different types of bands can get together and play in the same room. That is cool--you couldn’t do that in Casper for example. (laughs) You may not run into these people at the store or the super market, but if you go out, yeah, you’re going to see a lot of the same people. It’s not a big town geographically--it’s quite small when compared to the area of a lot of other downtowns. Yeah, it’s pretty much the same cast of characters or the same band of players.

KNAC.COM: Did you think that when you first met some of these people that they would still be an active part of your life twenty years down the road or that you would still be playing music with them at this point either?

LEWIS: Yeah, it didn’t occur to me that I would be doing anything else, actually.

KNAC.COM: So for you, there was just pretty much one option and that was it?

LEWIS: Pretty much. Yeah.

KNAC.COM: Do you think that with the great ones or even the very good ones that there has to be this inherent belief that you’re not going to be selling insurance in a month?

LEWIS: I think that I feel fortunate every day that goes by and every tour that we complete that I have been afforded to do this for another day or another period of time. I have been fortunate to do what I love to do the most and am able to pay the bills doing it. I’m not driving a forklift truck--you’d better believe I’m thankful.

KNAC.COM: Have you found that with many of the people who grow older in this business that some feel extremely blessed for what they have been given while others seem to spend every day insisting they were slighted? There just doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground.

LEWIS: It’s true. There are some people who just look back on things and see only the highs while others look back and see only the lows. Yeah, it’s a difficult profession.

KNAC.COM: I’m sure that you have worked with some musicians who repeatedly look back at the highs though and resent the hell out of the fact that their lives aren’t that way anymore. Whereas, you just seem happy to be doing what you’re doing.

LEWIS: I’ve always just pretty much had that kind of perspective. When I am guzzling champagne with a couple of bimbos in the back of a limo, that’s just kind of a bonus (laughs), but it isn’t why I got into this in the first place. That wasn’t the main motivation…but it didn’t hurt either.

KNAC.COM: When the genre took a downspin, was there a sudden epiphany for you where you realized what you had just been through and were able to then assess those around you and see them for what they really were?

LEWIS: Yeah, it was definitely a reality check, but I was pretty much over it at that point as well though. I think we all were really--we didn’t want to carry on this goofy spandex party forever. There were a lot of really trite hair metal bands that were jumping on the bandwagon and really, really saturating the scene. It all became very insipid, and I, for one, welcomed the change. We got through it and are still around though--so I’m not complaining.

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