It is said that "In life, what you really want; will never come easy," and vocalist/songwriter Phil Lewis of the Hollywood 80's glam-metal band, L.A. Guns, is living proof of this. Throughout his 30 year plus career, Lewis has faced much adversity, with a roller coaster ride of ups and downs. And while many seasoned musicians are now simply living through pass accomplishment, with little effort on creating anything fresh and new, Lewis continues feverishly working on improving his skills as a singer/songwriter. This is especially evident on L.A. Guns’ criminally ignored, but brilliant 2012 studio release, “Hollywood Forever.”
And even with the challenge of band members coming and going through the years in L.A. Guns, Lewis’ efforts, especially over the last decade, has been the reason that L.A. Guns are still a pertinent and creative force. In addition to Lewis, L.A. Guns currently consists of long time member Steve Riley (drums) with Scott Griffin (bass) and new comer Michael Grant (guitar). The band plans on touring extensively this spring and summer, with plans to hit the studio soon after.
What follows is an exclusive RockMusicStar interview with Phil Lewis. During this interview we talk about the brand new L.A. Guns DVD/CD set entitled “Live in Concert,” which hits the shelves today! We also discuss the band’s new guitarist, past history, and much more. So please read on, and afterwards make sure that you rush out and purchase the incredible “Live in Concert” DVD/CD set. Crank it up, these Hollywood vampires are back and ready to take another bite.
RockMusicStar: You have a new live DVD/CD- “Live in Concert,” coming out on Feb. 26.th Tell us a little bit about it.
Phil Lewis: It’s a DVD and CD that has our performance from last year’s M3 concert. It also has interviews with all four of the band members and behind the scenes of the making of our last studio album, “Hollywood Forever.” And also, three music videos that we made for the CD as well. It’s really cool.
RMS: L.A. Guns was one of the stand out bands on the M3 festival. I’m surprised that you were not asked to play it again this year. Would you like to play it again?
PL: I’m not saying that I wouldn’t want to do it again. But last year was pretty amazing. We weren’t booked on the festival originally. It was because Cinderella had to cancel, so they had to add another band. And on the festival’s facebook page, there were people demanding that we get added to the bill. So, we were added, and we got a great time slot on the big stage. We got all the lights, in front of 15,000 people. And I really don’t think it can ever get any better than that, to be honest. They are not going to give us a better slot than that. So, maybe it best to leave it for a year, and then maybe go back and come back fresh. We would not have said no if we were asked, but we’ll get over it. We have a very busy summer ahead of us.
RMS: In watching all of the footage of that festival, I felt that L.A. Guns and Stryper stood out the most and really stole the show.
PL: Yeah, Stryper went on before us, and they really put on a great performance. So we had to go out there and kick ass. But they are nice guys, we hung out together backstage afterwards.
RMS: It seemed like after that performance and then with the release of your incredible record, “Hollywood Forever,” that line-up has some serious momentum going. But, then early this year, your guitarist Stacey Blades left the band. Why did he decide to leave, especially at this point?
PL: Well, you would have to ask Stacey. He wasn’t let go or fired or anything. He was in the band for almost ten years, and sometimes being on the road, you can have good days and bad days. And sometimes, you just have to roll with the punches. And he was just getting burned out by it. He wanted to do something that didn’t involve all of the travel. You could just see it. When someone is unhappy on the road, it’s impossible to hide that. But, he graciously agreed to finish the shows that we had booked until the end of last year. And we knew that the first thing that we had to do this year was to get someone to replace him, which we did. It was amazingly lucky; we got Michael Grant from Endeverafter. He sounds great and looks great. He has a great sense of humor, and you need that on the road. And I’m looking forward to working with him. We have done a couple of shows, and people really, really dig it. And we are doing a couple shows now to get warmed up for all of our upcoming summer shows.
RMS: Well, before Michael, joined the band you had another guitarist, Frankie Wilsey from the Seahags and the Stephen Pearcy band. He only lasted a few days, what happened with him.
PL: …Well, I think he didn’t realize how much work was going to be involved. But, I don’t know, it was just one of those things. You can rehearse hundreds of times, and it doesn’t show, but then you do a live performance and it makes sense. During rehearsals he was great, but during the shows, he seemed a bit distracted. It wasn’t the same Frankie that we were rehearsing with. But, it’s no big deal, no hard feelings. He’s still a friend and is a great player. It just didn’t work out.
RMS: So was it your decision to let him go?
PL: I think it was mutual. We were looking for someone a bit more focused and dedicated.
RMS: Was there ever a though to maybe bring Tracii Guns back into the line-up?
PL: Oh no, of course not. That would be completely out of the question. Tracii has said some very terrible things, and he has done some really terrible things to the name of LA Guns. He put his own version of L.A. Guns together, after the Brides of Destruction failed, because there was nothing else for him to do. And nobody wanted to play with him. So we had two bands with the name L.A. Guns out there. In the few years he had the other band, he had four different singers, and one was a chick. How can you have a chick sing “I Wanna be You Man.?” (Laughs) It was just really insulting to the band and most importantly to the fans of the band. It would be very hypocritical for us to bring him back. Things ended pretty badly with us and Tracii. He left us high and dry when he left the band. He told us he was leaving the band right before “Waking the Dead” came out. He told us during a photo shoot for the record that he was leaving the band. He doesn’t really have a good reputation in the business either. So, I don’t want all that baggage that he has accumulated over the years to be brought onto this band now anyways.
RMS: I think that L.A. Guns has done well without him, to be quite honest.
PL: Yeah, thank you.
RMS: For your upcoming shows, do you still plan to play a lot of tracks from your “Hollywood Forever” release?
PL: We can’t do too much from it because we have some many of our popular songs that we have to play. We would love to play 5 or 6 songs from the album, and believe me, we can do them live, that’s not the problem. But when most people go out to see us, they want to hear the hits. I love the new record, and you love it, and a lot of our fans do, but not all of them know of it. But, we will try to play at least a couple of them in each set and maybe switch them up every show.
RMS: That’s cool that you mix the setlist up a bit. Many bands from the 80’s get criticized for playing the same old stale set list year after year, especially Poison.
PL: What that tells me is that they don’t have a lot of confidence in their other material. I feel that we are a different band from a lot of those bands. We came out at the same time, but we are nothing like them. We are not a hair band, we are not. That was never us. We were leather jackets and greasy hair, not bright colored spandex and poofy hair.
RMS: Right… Yeah, I feel your last two releases were very solid and would hate if those songs were never performed live again.
PL: No, that will never happen. We take our songwriting very seriously. And we are very proud of every record that we put out. From “Waking the Dead” to “Hollywood Forever” we have been really strong and I feel that my songwriting has come a long way, and I’m very proud of that. And I can’t wait to get back into the studio to do another record. That’s the plan, at the end of summer for us.
RMS: Great! It’s cool that you are still motivated at this point in your career to create new music.
PL: Writing music is a very important aspect of what we do. It’s like how can you be a painter, and not paint for 10-15 and still call yourself a painter. That’s the way that I fell about it.
RMS: In what ways will the songwriting process change in L.A. Guns now that you have a new member in the band?
PL: I think Michael will bring some great songs to our new record. He understands the songwriting process very well. And we seem to be getting better with each record, and I think that Michael will help us continue in that direction.
RMS: I can’t wait to hear it. What are your upcoming summer tour plans. Last year, rumor has it that you turned down the opening slot on the Def Leppard/Poison tour. Is that true?
PL: That’s not true. We were never actually offered it. We really weren’t. Our name came up, but we weren’t actually offered it, to be honest with you. So there was all this talk about us going on tour with the big arena acts, so my answer to that at the time, was that I really didn’t want to do something like that. We had “Hollywood Forever” coming out, and you know how it is on these big tours for the opening band. Nobody is there when they go on at 6pm. And you’re lucky if you get to play a 30 minute long set. And it would be really difficult for us to play anything new during such a short amount of time. Given a choice, I would much rather go out and headline our own set and play what we want to play. Yeah, I know it’s not dancing girls, pyro and exploding drums, but we have never really been that much into that, to be honest. But, some people think we are crazy for not doing a tour like that, but we weren’t really offered it.
RMS: Ok then, let’s say you were offered an opening slot on a big tour this summer, would you consider taking it?
PL: This summer, maybe. But we’re not going to get it. A band would be crazy to have us open for them.
RMS: Why, because you would smoke them off the stage?
PL: You said it. (Laughs) I didn’t say it, you did. We don’t use any gimmicks, it’s just about the music. We sound good and we look good. And we have a great relationship with our fans and that’s important to me. But we plan on being very busy this summer and playing some places that we haven’t played in a while. And we are really looking forward to it.
RMS: I want to end this interview by discussing what you feel contributed to the downfall of the classic 80’s L.A. Guns line-up? In retrospect, it seems that the downward spiral started when “Hollywood Vampires” came out in 1991. I feel that the production on that release was just way too polished.
PL: Yes, I had a terrible relationship with the producer, Michael James Jackson. We really didn’t get along at all. It was a really difficult process working with the guy. It was our label that insisted that he was the guy that should produce the record. But it was a miserable time, for the most part. We had some great songs, like “Over the Edge” and “I Found You.” But when we did our prior record, “Cocked and Loaded,” we did it ourselves. It was our songs, our ideas, and it was with people that we wanted to work with. But, when it came time to record “Hollywood Vampires,” the band had become really corporate. Our management and record company were so desperate to have a major hit record that they brought in outside writers. So, we recorded “Over the Edge” and we were very happy with it. We assumed that it would be the first single from the record. But then right at the very end of recording process, our manager at the time Alan Kovac come in, and said that he had this song, “Kiss My Love Goodbye.” He asked if we could just try it and see how it sounds, if we don’t like it, it doesn’t have to go on the record. If it did make the record, it would just be a bonus track. So reluctantly we did it, and wouldn’t you know that the following week, it was announced as our first single. It was out of our control. It wasn’t that I hated the song. It was catchy, but it wasn’t our song, we didn’t write it. But because of that, “Over the Edge” was thrown by the wayside, and our strongest song was ignored.
RMS: I can imagine that it must have cost a ton to make that release as well.
PL: Oh my God!!! Are you kidding me. We were recording it simultaneously at four of the biggest studios in L.A. It was insane the money that was put into it. Just crazy, it was such a waste.
RMS: Do you feel that it contributed to the beginning of the end for the classic line-up?
PL: Yeah. It was funny because the record company was telling us to fasten our seatbelts because we were about the hit the big time. We were going to become this mega popular band. But, it never happened. And the music climate was changing around that time as well. So, it was no big deal for the label, we didn’t hit the big time, so they just found another band.
RMS: It seemed that all the things that your fans loved about the band were disregarded and changed by your record company.
PL: Well, that was the trouble with being on the same record label as Bon Jovi and Cinderella. Yes, we got a gold record with “Cocked and Loaded” but that wasn’t enough. We need to get to 6x platinum with the next one, is what they were thinking. So making money was the main object of the label. But we were doing fine prior to that with our own songs and sound, but it just wasn’t good enough. And like you said, “Hollywood Vampires” was too slick and over produced. It hardly had any grit at all. It was a shiny, over produced, record producer’s wet dream. We had a megalomaniac at the controls, and I hated it.
Special thanks to Deborah Brosseau for setting up this interview.