L.A. GUNS – “The Focus Is The Future And Not The Past”

March 21, 2019, 7 months ago

Aaron Small

feature hard rock l.a. guns

L.A. GUNS – “The Focus Is The Future And Not The Past”

“It was important for us to keep up the momentum from The Missing Peace (released in 2017); we didn’t want to slow down. We didn’t want to get caught up in a boring touring routine doing the nostalgia circuit,” says L.A. Guns vocalist Phil Lewis. “We’re trying our hardest to keep away from that, and to put out new music; and continue to play the old music, cause that’s what the fans want of course. But really, the focus is the future and not the past.”

Before plunging into the new L.A. Guns album, The Devil You Know, due March 29th via Frontiers, Lewis offers one more comment on his fellow Sunset Strip prodigies. “I’m not going to mention any bands by name, but it’s something we didn’t want to be part of. Good luck to them. They’re nice guys and they’re making a living from music they recorded in the last century. It just wasn’t for us. We want to celebrate this release and come out fresh and enthusiastic about it.”

The opening track on The Devil You Know, a song called “Rage”, proves L.A. Guns is even more energetic in 2019 than they’ve ever been; there’s a signature Tracii Guns guitar solo in the leadoff number. And the lyrics, right off the bat, ‘Don’t give me no bullshit baby.’ That sets the tone. There is no bullshit on this album. “That’s right,” agrees Phil. “This album is quite a bit different from The Missing Peace, in the fact that it’s way more punk, it’s way more aggressive. There are no ballads on it, and of course, there’s no strings. The Missing Peace was full of lush string arrangements; none of that on this one. It’s real stripped down.”

Back in July 2018, when L.A. Guns played The Rockpile in Toronto, Tracii revealed exclusively to BraveWords that the new album was going to be called Wasn’t Tomorrow Great. Obviously, that’s since changed. Phil takes us down that road of choosing the new title, The Devil You Know. “Well, over the course of an album’s manifestation, it will get different names. That was a working title; it was cute and quirky. We were trying to do a double entendre, like The Missing Peace. But when you play back an album like that, the word great isn’t right. Wasn’t Tomorrow Great; that just didn’t work. So, the working title changed to Gravity’s In Control. There’s a song on the record called ‘Down That Hole’, there’s a refrain throughout the song and that line comes up. It’s very, very memorable. As writers and players on the record, we thought, that sums it up nicely. Then our manager told us we were all out of our fucking minds and high; there was nothing we could do with those kinds of titles – and give him something he could fucking work with. Something visual, something strong. It was like, oh, yeah. So, we ended up sticking with our old pal, The Devil. And it works really well as the final title of the record.”

Phil’s wife came up with the artwork. “Yeah, she does all our stuff. We did a mock-up cover for Gravity’s In Control. It was a typical sort of space shot. Some dude on his own, 150 miles above the Earth’s surface. It was cute, but there was nothing. You can’t make that into a t-shirt. Maybe if we were Supertramp it would work, but this is L.A. Guns.” The new image obviously bears resemblance to both the self-titled debut from in 1988, and The Missing Peace, seeing as it’s a new take on the iconic shield. “Exactly.” And the continuity keep on flowing; a highlight of The Missing Peace is a song called “The Devil Made Me Do It”, and now we have The Devil You Know. “Yeah, when in doubt, pull out The Devil.”

Delving into Phil’s words, on “Loaded Bomb” he sings, ‘Don’t you see the difference between you and I, you can’t play the victim when you’re always playing sides.’ Who inspired that line? “You know… I wish I could say it was about this uppity minx I knew a year ago in New York. But it starts with Tracii and his music. Then the lyrics come after that, and it’s what’s appropriate for that riff, for that energy. That is the challenge for me, and Mitch Davis; he collaborates with us writing, and I record all my vocals with him in New York. The challenge is to make this amazing riff into something lyrically tangible; and everybody has a hand in that. As I said, I’d love to say it was about some bitch who burnt me, but it’s not. It’s theatre of the mind, it’s a play.”

Another ear-catcher is “Don’t Need To Win”, in which Phil espouses, ‘I don’t need to win the game, but I’m gonna be in it.’ That seems a little unusual, doesn’t everyone play to win? “I know, it’s a very strange thing. When we started working on that song, after Tracii gave us the music, we always ask him what he was thinking about, what was on his mind (when he wrote it). And he said, ‘This sort of gambler, this loser who keeps going back, he never learns. He says he’s going to quit but he never does.’ And that’s what we went with. That was the brief he gave us; it’s a very strange lyric. Of course, everyone wants to win, and that would be the stereotypical anthem for something like that. But it’s a little bit darker, this one. It really delves into a gambler’s warped psyche.” Given the fact that Phil lives in Las Vegas, those lyrics could basically write themselves. “I do see a lot of losers here, I’ve got to say. I don’t gamble, I’m not interested. It’s something I’ve never been into doing; of course, it’s everywhere. But, it’s a great subject lyrically.”

Vegas residencies for rock bands are becoming ultra-popular. L.A. Guns can very easily play two nights back to back at The Whisky in West Hollywood, is a Vegas residency a possibility? “Well, the difference between us and most bands who do residencies is, if we did one, we’d be playing a different set every night. You guarantee that these bands who are doing residencies, are pretty much going through the motions. And I’ve got to tell you, in Vegas, these residencies are only 60 minutes long. They don’t want the punters in a room when they could be gambling. It’s literally always a 60-minute set; we can’t even get started on 60 minutes. We’re just getting warmed up at that. So, the thing we like to do the most is to play two nights consecutively in a room. The first night – we’ll do a classic set, stuff from the first records. The second night – take it from Vicious Circle on. It makes it really interesting for us, and I like to think for our fans. It’s not the same old, same old. We’ve got so many songs, and we’ve got this new record coming out. It’s a little depressing at the end of the day. Now, we play about two songs from The Missing Peace. At one time, we were playing five. It’s cause stuff’s got to move. We’ve got a new record coming out, we’ve got to make room. We certainly can’t drop songs like ‘Sex Action’, ‘Electric Gypsy’, or ‘Never Enough’ from our set; so unfortunately, the newer stuff suffers.”

L.A. Guns’ work ethic is reminiscent of KISS in the early days of their career – 18 months between The Missing Peace and The Devil You Know – sandwiched between those two studio efforts was a live album, Made In Milan; LAG are on fire. “Thank you. The Milan record was a concept from our label, Frontiers. They have a big festival every year in Milan, and they get all their bands; Tyketto played with us. They record everything! Part of our deal was to have a live record – and it really is a live record! There are no overdubs on it; it is what it is. It’s nicely recorded, and it’s got good energy. My only… it’s got ‘Speed’ – it’s only got one song from The Missing Peace. Apart from that, it’s a pretty good record.”

Phil and Tracii are certainly making up for lost time, after having spent 15 years apart. “Yeah, definitely. When we did decide to go through with the reunion, we made it very clear that we did not want it to be a glorious trip down memory lane, by any means. The first thing was actually playing these new ideas, and it was really good! It reminded me, and him, of the early days; there’s definitely a vibe between us. We’ve got good chemistry, we wind each other up. I work a lot harder with Tracii than I do anyone else, and vice-versa. It was a stupid estrangement, in hindsight. Looking back on it, neither of us know what it was really about. Yeah, I know it had something to do with Brides Of Destruction – but that was so fucking long ago! For us to deprive our fans of what they expect… it’s disingenuous. It was worth a try, and as it happened, we got some traction. We’ve got some stuff that sounds good, that sounds new, but in the style of our early recordings.”

There are a couple of different songs on The Devil You Know, the first being “Gone Honey”. Tracii’s compared that to Sonic Temple by The Cult. “Well it is. It’s actually The Cult meets The Cult. The riff, the opening chords are the same as ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ by Blue Oyster Cult, then we go into a Cult-vibe song; it’s hysterical. I love that song! ‘Gone Honey’ is just great, and once again, as bitchy a set of lyrics that you could ever imagine. Maybe not autobiographical now, but certainly something that may have happened in the past and has remained in my psyche for sure.”

Additionally, “Another Season In Hell” stands on its own being the longest song on the album, at almost six and a half minutes. It’s also the closest thing to a ballad – starting off that way; but building to a truly epic piece of music. “Conceptually, it’s been called ‘The Jelly Jam’ for a couple of years,” reveals Phil. “It’s been a segue in our set; it’s usually a time for me to have a break; Tracii and the guys jam on that. We thought, let’s see if we can turn it into a song. That’s how things develop and evolve on the road, going from a jam into this big epic song, which is probably the closest track to The Missing Peace.”

When it comes to touring in support of The Devil You Know, “From April ‘til December, it’s going to be non-stop. We’ll be out promoting a new record; we’ve got a lot to do. We want to do a good job. We worked fucking hard on this record, and the last one too. We’re separating ourselves from the pack a little bit… we’re not making it easy on ourselves, but as long as that’s being appreciated, then it’s worth it.”

The majority of 2019’s gigs will see L.A. Guns headlining clubs, as Phil and Tracii are not looking to open for somebody else. “It’s great fun, and it would probably do the band’s profile a lot of good, but the trouble with opening is, we’re so limited on time. We’ve got 45 minutes; we just don’t know what to do with that. I mean, we can if we have to, but we’d rather not. It’s a little bit harder to play 90-minute sets four times a week, but if we want to play new stuff – and we do – there’s a price to pay for that, and we’re happy to pay it.”

Being on a big tour, going on stage from say, 7pm to 7:45pm on a Monday or Tuesday night, you’re playing to empty seats. People are still trying to get home from work, get the kids off to the babysitter, find parking near the arena; they might catch the last two songs. “I appreciate you saying that because there are so many people that go, ‘You’ve got the opportunity of a lifetime here! You can play to all of Poison’s crowd.’ No, fuck that. Everyone’s just getting in, they’re buying beers. Even Cheap Trick couldn’t get people in the seats on these ridiculous bills. I don’t want to be part of that. We don’t want to play that game, we really don’t.”

(Photos by: Jason Christopher)


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