Star Scene: Phil Lewis ~ LA GUNS

Phil Lewis’ scene is “music and motorbikes”. The LA GUNS singer states: “When I’m not on a motorcycle, I’m at home listening to records, or tinkering around with … I’ve got five or six collections of motorbikes, different styles. Like a trail bike, I’ve got a big cruiser. I’ve got a motorized bicycle. You know it’s something of a collection and, when I’m not on tour, I like to mess around with bikes. That’s my scene.”

Lewis was influenced by “the big three: Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath”, but he continues, “there are other more obscure bands that I was listening to in London in the early seventies. Bands like Heavy Metal Kids, Alex Harvey, a band called Family, Humble Pie, of course. I was very much a child of the seventies. I grew up in a wonderful time, a wonderful era, when record players and vinyls were king, and everybody knew how to play a few cords on the guitar, everybody was either in a band or involved with a band. It was a wonderful time to go and meet girls on a Saturday afternoon, at the record shop and sadly those days are behind us, but I’m a product of that and very proud of it.”

Still, the call to the US came at the perfect time. Lewis states: “Well, it came at a really good time. I was a little bit depressed in London, a wee bit depressed, as they say. It would have been like ‘86, and there wasn’t much of a … well, actually that’s not true, there was a really decent rock scene in London, but the labels, the record companies, they weren’t interested in it at all. It was a really dry time, and like the rest of the world, we became aware of the energy and vitality that was coming out from Los Angles at that time, the LA scene. Everybody wanted to be part of it, wanted to check it out, and rather like a game of snakes and ladders, I went from like, you know, on my ass in London, to being a key player in the LA music scene almost overnight. That was pretty amazing I have to say.” 

I went from like, you know, on my ass in London, to being a key player in the LA music scene almost overnight.

Though L.A. GUNS was formed in 1982 by guitar player Tracii Guns and, then unknown singer, Axl Rose on lead vocals, the classic lineup for LA GUNS was about four years later, with Guns, Lewis, drummer Steve Riley, guitar player Mick Cripps and bassist Kelly Nickels. Together they sold 6.5 million records, including 1988’s L.A. Guns and 1990’s Cocked and Loaded, both of which were certified Gold. Their writing partnership produced classic L.A. GUNS songs such as Sex Action, Never Enough, Electric Gypsy, and countless more in an impressive catalog of fan favorites. Now, after a nearly 15-year break, Lewis and Guns are back together for the next stage, where they made peace and filled in The Missing Peace, the perfect title for their latest album, released in October 2017. Guns had started working on the album. Lewis states: “Mostly it was music. He had been working closely with our friend Mitch, Mitch Davis, who had already started work on lyrics. Of course, it was very much a group effort. Everyone was like bringing something to the table and just before we really committed to recording, we all contributed to just tightening it up and making it cohesive and sound like a band, sound like LA Guns. Yeah, very much a group effort on that. Tracii had already written a lot of the record, like musically, like The Missing Peace, Gave It All Away, you know, those big sort of like classic kind of pieces. He was already well into that.”

Lewis doesn’t forget his influences, and many of the tracks on this new album honour his idols through either the lyrics or the music, such as Queen with The Missing Peace and Gave It All Away, Deep Purple with Speed, and The Animals with The Flood’s the Fault of the Rain. With the latter, Lewis states: “You know that song, it actually may be my favorite song on the record. It certainly is one of my favourites to do live. It’s kind of a tribute to The House of the Rising Sun, by The Animals which they of course covered. It’s an old traditional song. We wanted to do something in that vein, but not do a cover. We got the vibe and just started bouncing lyrics, ideas, just to see what worked, timing-wise, for the phrasing in the song. It didn’t take too long before the thing was pretty much writing itself. The chorus, the verse is great. And then this chorus is just this huge anthem of a chorus, in my opinion. Very much a collaboration between me, Tracii, and Mitch Davis on that one.”

Similarly with the other tracks, they was much collaboration with the writing of the tracks. The music giving rise to some hot and heavy lyrics at times. With the track Baby Gotta Fever, which Lewis co-wrote the lyrics with Davis to music by Martin, Lewis states: “Johnny brought in the music for that. Me and Mitch, we got the lyrics for that, and that was something that came together seamlessly. It’s a fun song. You know, it’s one of those sort of sex, drugs, rock and roll songs, a bit like Speed.”

Although Lewis didn’t write the lyrics for The Devil Made Me Do It, he does relate to them and states: “The lyrics are very strong. They depict a man torn with guilt and doubt, and ‘The demons are calling. I tried to resist, but give in. The reckoning is dawning, the danger is too alarming. I feel the possession, a flag to all my obsessions. The evil takes over. I can’t fight if off anymore, any longer’. It sounds a bit like a desperate plea. ‘A wretched human being. Please make it stop’, but he can’t stop himself. He’s in too deep.” Lewis is proud of all the tracks on this new album, and its running order, and hopes it is played from start to finish. “You know the great thing about this record,” he states. “it’s multi-faceted. It’s got the Saturday night specials, like Speed, and like, Fever, and like Sticky Fingers. Then you’ve got these epic musical interludes towards the end, and it’s great to be in this band, because it’s always interesting. As much as I love bands like Motorhead and AC/DC, they are all really one-dimensional, and I would be bored as fuck after no time at all. I never ever get bored in this band.  It’s always so interesting.”

Lewis continues: “We worked so hard, figuring out a running order, to be exactly what song should go where; it took a long time doing that. It’s such an important aspect. When we started this record, we wanted it to be like an LP.

We envisaged, the punter, the person buying it, and buying it on vinyl, getting it home, taking it out of the sleeve, and putting it on the record player, and hopefully listening to the whole thing, in one sitting, to really appreciate and care what the album’s about.

Not a CD, not a download, not an MP3. There are songs that you can put on, like Speed or Fever anytime, put it in the car, and it sounds great, but I’m hoping that the people that don’t know us that well, or just bought the record, I hope they get an opportunity to actually sit down and listen to it from top to bottom, in one sitting, because then you really get to see the full dimension of the record. It’s important. Yeah, it’s important for us, as a band. When we got back together for all the right reasons, we hadn’t seen each other in a very long time; we hadn’t seen each other in over fifteen years. A lot of bands, they’ll reform and it’s great. People like that, Guns N Roses, for example. It’s awesome that they’ve reformed. Poison as well. But they’re not putting out new material. They are not putting out a new record, and that’s what separates us from those bands. I’m really proud of this band because of that. We didn’t have an objective about how we should sound, when we started. We are very influenced by the seventies. I’m no spring chicken. I grew up in the seventies, and I feel so fortunate because I did, and so much more opportunities for a new mission and somebody with my type of ambition. I didn’t want to go and work in a factory. I didn’t want to join the army. There was a lot of things that I could do in the music business, in the seventies, because you could just go work in a record shop. That was fun. You can’t do that anymore. It’s a shame. Yeah, so it’s inevitable that it’s going to have a vintage sound, but it’s contemporary in lyrical approach, and musically. It was a challenging, fun album to make.” 

This reunion, it didn’t come overnight. It took easily a year before we were both really comfortable, in going forward with it. It’s really important that the people understand it, it isn’t just a nostalgia reunion.

Lewis continues: “Definitely. Well, you know, the thing about Tracii, me and Tracii, we have this chemistry. We’ve always had it. When we worked together, when I’m on stage, when I’m playing with him, he makes me work a little bit harder than anyone else I’ve ever worked with. It’s something, he just turns the heat up, and he gets stuff out of me that nobody else does and I like to think, it’s the same way for him too. I keep going back to these two songs at the end of the record, The Missing Peace, and Gave It All Away. I had never sung like that before. I had never done it. I’ve sung songs like Seed, and Sticky Fingers, you know, full-sleeved rock stuff, I can sing that in my sleep, but the more metal for the want of a better word. I’m sort of rock vocalist, but I hadn’t done that, and I kind of surprise myself actually. I sort of turned out all right.  I’ve always been a rocker, so for me to get my metal on, it was fun.”

The importance of the running order of the album then becomes a challenge to translate in to a live set. Lewis states: “It’s very difficult to do that. It depends on how long they give us. If they give us a thirty-minute set, sixty minutes, or ninety, or the best-case scenario is: play as long as you want. Then generally, we will go into the two hour, pass the two hour, mark pretty easily. We do a lot of this new record live. We’re doing five songs, maybe not all five in one night, but we are covering five songs from the record: Devil Made Me Do It, Fever, Sticky Fingers, Blood, Speed. We haven’t tried to do anything else yet. The difficult thing about the ethics at the end, is they’re real strings you know, it’s a real cello’s, real violins, so it’s not like we have a master track that we could play to. It’s not like it’s midi, so to do those songs properly would require a chamber orchestra. Hopefully that would be down the line. That would be amazing. Yeah, so you know for the most part we do the rock stuff live, in a set. The thing is, it is very difficult, especially coming to a place like Australia, where we haven’t played before, we’ve got songs people have been waiting a long time to hear. They want to hear Never Enough, they want to hear Over the Edge, and we want to play them too, so it’s always difficult but hopefully we will get a good seventy-five, ninety-minute set, and do a good mix of both.”

Catch Lewis and the LA GUNS on tour next month!

Australia finally get to experience The Missing Peace!

L.A. Guns 2018 Australian Tour Dates

May 17th BRISBANE, Wooly Mammoth

May 18th MELBOURNE, Max Watts

May 19th SYDNEY, Max Watts

May 20th, SYDNEY, Frankie’s Pizza (Acoustic Show only)

TICKETS: On Sale now from: https://www.ontourpresents.com/laguns

PLEASE NOTE: Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances LA Guns are canceling part of Australia / New Zealand Tour scheduled to take place on May 23 (Perth) May 25 (Wellington) and May 26 (Auckland). Refunds will be provided to ticket purchasers at the point of sale. The remaining dates will go ahead, as originally planned.

 

About Mary Boukouvalas 823 Articles
Mary is a music photographer and reviewer.

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