In the ‘80’s, L.A. Guns cemented themselves as soldiers of the Sunset Strip, playing the legendary clubs and helping create the scene, myths, legends and historical aura that live on through DVD’s, documentaries and biographies. And they can still say they got played on MTV, when it was cool.
With their 2017 reunion release The Missing Peace, departed guitarist Tracii Guns rejoined the gypsies, reinvigorating their sound and delivery and returning to the road with renewed infused energy. This year they’ve given us The Devil You Know, the next chapter of the Guns reunion.
The new record is a lot heavier and experimental than previous efforts, including the shrieking vocals of Going High. “They’re talking about doing it live and I’m scared to death,” vocalist Phil Lewis laughed. “I work very close with Mitch Davis in New York. He collaborated with us, writing. I fly out and work in a studio for three or four days. We track vocals, about three or four songs a day, and it comes together very quickly because he’s an easy guy to work with. Recording vocals is not a spectators sport…people don’t last more than three or four minutes in a vocal session. It’s so boring.” It helps having someone who can multitask as a singer, songwriter and engineer getting things done.
Lewis joked that Going High was Sabbath, but blacker. The record opens with Rage, a screaming banshee ceremony with accompanying performance YouTube video from The Whisky A Go Go. “That’s a compilation,” Lewis said “Scotty, our manager sent a mass message saying anyone that has footage please send it in and put it together for the Rage video.”
Since the late ’80’s, the Guns have played The Whisky A Go Go about twice a year, excluding a brief period of booking staff issues. Lewis says now they do a fantastic job, bringing back credibility to the venue. They’ve played there since the beginning, “Probably more than anywhere else, for sure, 50, 60, 100 times even. I’m glad to be part of it, for an Englishman, so embroiled in the Sunset Strip mythology.”
MTV and Headbangers Ball romanticized the scene, “Yeah, it was very romantic,” he remembers. “It really was.” Although the history’s been lost a bit over time, “The places that were there were absolutely hallowed ground.” Now to some, they’re just quick spots and stops on Hollywood tours. “Oh, that’s the world famous Whisky A Go Go, made famous by Jim Morrison in 1966, next.”
Gazzarri’s was another iconic venue where countless up and coming ‘80’s bands applied their trade, appearing in The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years documentary. “It was great, but it was a rinky dink version of The Whisky. Bill Gazzarri, rock n’ roll is my ace in the hole. He was a funny old fellow. When I first moved out to L.A., he took a shine to me. I was at The Rainbow; he invited me to his table. He was always surrounded by gorgeous girls, young enough to be his great granddaughter. He always used to be real sweet to me. Pick a girl, anyone, no, that’s my wife, just kidding. It was definitely a fun time. He was the real deal, that old Italian gangster with fedora hat.”
The video for The Devil You Know is a grave experience with the band playing in a private cemetery as cultish concubines danced, spellcasting ceremonies. “I gotta be honest with you,” he admits. “You probably saw the video the same time I did. All the stuff with the girls was done months before. I really didn’t know. I think it’s a rough concept on what the thing was gonna be about. I had no idea they’d already shot it. It goes great with the song.”
In the ‘80s, a video was paramount for a band to be seen and heard, “We don’t have to make them, there’s so few out there. We don’t have to make records either,” Lewis reveals. “We’re not making money at this but we’re having fun. We just have a play it forward mentality instead of, you know, we were so big back in the day and will never sell that many records, maybe not. You don’t wanna stop trying and the video shoot itself, wasn’t bad. I used to hate them but it was quick, great location, it was a fun day. It looked good, good for us.”
The video was shot at a private hippie estate in Topanga Canyon, 30 minutes outside Hollywood. “It was really off the beaten track. We had no phone service, no GPS, anything like that. It was very isolated.”
He says lyric videos are very popular, “They can do them quick. Get a good graphic artist and editor. It gets people interested in the band. They’ll go, ‘oh yeah, what’s that?’ It’s good that we have it.”
Though the band is often lumped into the same category as other ‘80’s metal bands, he’s not a fan of the “hair metal” moniker. An overly misused, blanket term to some. “I don’t really like it,” Lewis declares. “There’s worse things it could be called. It’s kind of derogatory but if that’s what it takes to define a movement, so be it. Hair, is that the best they can come up with? Sleaze, glam, any of those things, you know, hair? I guess that’s safe.”
He’s seen The Dirt, “It was pretty funny and quite close to the book. Anything that will inspire 15, 16 year-old-kids to learn to play a guitar or pick up a bass, is a good thing and I think that’s definitely gonna inspire some kids to wanna be that. That’s healthy.”
Music is a great distraction from social media and technology, “We gotta get them away from these fucking phones. Music’s one way of doing it. It’s good therapy to get away from it.” When they record and rehearse, phones are off.”
Phones in the crowd are a necessary evil to Lewis, “I think it’s rotten; or rotten for anyone standing behind somebody filming the entire show. A ticket doesn’t give you the right or ownership to record the entire performance. Nothing I can do about it. Nothing anyone can do about it unless they have a blanket ban on phones before you go in and I don’t wanna be that band. I don’t wanna stop a song because somebody’s holding up a camera. We look good, we sound good. I don’t care. If you’re having a bad night, I hate it.”
If L.A. Guns ever gets nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Lewis had this to say, “It’s expensive. If you wanna get in it you got to spend like $20,000. I don’t see that as money well spent. We made an album for less than that. We’re so far from that. It’s not rock n’ roll, they just inducted Janet Jackson. What the fuck is Janet Jackson doing in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? If that’s the direction they’re going in, then I don’t think so. It’s a bit like The Grammys, very corporate with very little to do with ability. It’s all about sales. It’s pretty blatantly obvious to anyone who knows.”
In the early days, Electric Gypsy was their mission statement tune and in hindsight, a time stamp of the era. “At the time it was what we had going on. What we were doing, all that early stuff, very autobiographical. Now it’s a lot less autobiographical, more of a story, more salacious. We were talking about it last night on the bus. There was no helmet law (back then); there were bikes because the weather in L.A. is so fantastic. There were just hundreds of bikes lying around, fixer uppers. I didn’t have a car for my first three years in L.A., I just had bikes. It was a lot of fun.”
The video for Ballad of Jayne was filmed in Pasadena. The tenth president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos was said to have been deported there in the mid-‘80’s, staying in the mansion. “His wife is famous for having a house just for shoes,” Lewis explains. “She had like 200,000 pairs. It was their escape in Pasadena but the house was gone. There was just a concrete slab where the house used to be. Just the gardens were left. We shot there, it was the tackiest. A trailer park built for a billionaire.”
Asked if Jayne could be their version of Beth, Lewis says “I guess so. They wouldn’t let us leave the room if we didn’t play it,” he smirked.
They’re going to be touring for the foreseeable future. “I think so,” Lewis predicts. “I don’t think we have plans to make another record anytime soon. Tracii’s gonna do a solo record. Get his dark, death metal thing out of his system. I’m happy to tour. We have two new records under our belts that will serve us well over the next few years.”
The Devil You Know is available on all media platforms.
Facebook – www.facebook.com/L.A.GunsOfficial/
Website – www.lagunsmusic.com/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/laguns