Interviewed March 2019
By: Joseph Suto
LA Guns hot on the heels of their 2017 release The Missing Peace are at it again with The Devil You Know which comes out March 29 on Frontiers Records. The live band currently consists of singer Phil Lewis, guitarist Tracii Guns, bassist Johnny Martin and rhythm guitarist Ace Von Johnson. As we went to press it was just announced that drummer Shane Fitzgibbon will be leaving the band for a great opportunity working with Rick Rubin. The band has tapped Guns’ former Brides of Destruction band mate Scott Coogan to replace him. We caught up with Phil Lewis and he gave us a rundown on the new album and a few other interesting LA Guns tidbits.
Rock Show Critique: The Devil You Know comes out next week. Tell us about the album, how long did it take you to record it?
Phil Lewis: It’s an album that we wrote while we were on tour promoting the Missing Peace. It’s an album we wrote from scratch as opposed to the Missing Peace which had ideas that been lying around for quite some time. This is all squeaky brand new for all of us. This is great to start something with a complete clean slate. It’s a lot edgier than Missing Peace. There are no strings, keyboards or embellishments if you will. It’s a straight ahead four-piece band and it’s got some balls.
RSC: With such songs as ”Rage”, “Needle to the Bone” and “Another Season In Hell” it looks like you guys made another solid album. What songs standout for you?
PL: Well those three you picked out are good. We’re gonna incorporate three of the songs into our live set. We’ve already been playing “The Devil You Know”. We made a video a week ago in Topanga Canyon. I haven’t made a video in years. It was a lot of fun, I gotta say. We really enjoyed it.
RSC: How was the songwriting process?
PL: We wrote all of it on the road. We were blown away by the response of The Missing Peace. It more than inspired us to get back in and do something good quickly.
RSC: To support the album do you plan on just playing your own shows or do you plan on landing on a tour package somewhere?
PL: That’s a tricky question. We don’t want to be on a tour package. We don’t want to be part of the genre. A 35-minute set at four in the afternoon is no good to us. We’re fuckin’ serious here, we’re trying to do new music. We will carry on toughing it out playing nice venues. They’re not all going to be nice, we get that and accept that. We’ve all had our fair share of playing holes in the wall. It didn’t kill us then and it won’t kill us now. Especially if that hole in the wall is just packed to the rafters and everybody in there is having the greatest time of their life. I’ll take that over a package shed run any day.
RSC: Obviously you have played Buffalo many times over the years. Over the years LA Guns has played numerous shows. I have seen the band in arenas and clubs of all sizes. Some of the best shows I’ve seen had such small crowds but you always delivered. One thing that impressed me is that no matter how many people were in the audience you guys did not let that effect you in any way. How were you able to still put on such great shows?
PL: It’s perfectly natural. That’s how we rehearse, when nobody is there. We don’t care if there is ten people or 10,000. We’re gonna deliver the goods and we’re proud of that.
RSC: This band has one of the most unique histories. Can you even keep track of the many personnel changes that happened over the course of your tenures in the band?
PL: Yes of course I can. It is funny and we are that band that has something like 48 members. You got to remember this is a situation where you had two lineups going out. One lineup changed its personnel (mine didn’t) and Tracii was changing people every week that was still tallying on my tab (laughs). It doesn’t matter if its fifteen or fifty people, LA Guns is me and Tracii and if it doesn’t have that then it’s not LA Guns. That’s just the way I feel. I did a few records without him, music that I’m really proud of that I enjoyed but it wasn’t LA Guns. I’m not Axl, I’m not gonna make Tracii play Chinese Democracy. He wasn’t around then. I don’t want him to play songs that he didn’t play on. Just focus on the stuff that we did and the stuff that we enjoy. I know, we got a trashy reputation but who else is making these great new records? It’s different now in the old days when the record company gave you half a million bucks, you had incentive to stay together. You had people on salary, on retainers when we weren’t playing. Those days are gone. The personnel situation in bands is way more fluid than it was back then. Yet the fan perception is the band should be like a gang, the less personnel change the better and the more people like it. Yeah I get the sentimental reasons from a fans perspective. The fans have to realize its not 1988 anymore and this is what we do to make a living.
RSC: Do you feel having two versions of LA Guns touring around the same time hurt or help your version?
PL: It’s the worse thing imaginable. I know it got us press. I don’t believe that all press is good press. I was embarrassed by it. I wasn’t comfortable that there were two versions. It was ridiculous. It’s our business, that’s how we pay our bills. You don’t stop working cause there’s a war on in fact you work even harder. And no, it doesn’t do anything to the band’s reputation.
RSC: I will always consider Waking The Dead one of your best albums. It’s a shame it did not get the accolades it should have. How do you feel about that album?
PL: It was impossible to promote a record without a founding member of the band. It’s a masterpiece, I love it. Had it been a shitty album I wouldn’t have cared if he left. The fact that it was so good, it was such a great record it the first one we did with Andy Johns. I thought this was going to change everything. People are really going to take it seriously again. You know Tracii had his reasons and they were good ones. He didn’t want to open for Firehouse at three in the afternoon. He said no fuck this I’m outta here. Then he bolted. I don’t blame him. It broke my heart but it was a good reason. He gave us a fuckin good one. If Nikki had been offering me the job I would have left as well.
RSC: There is no doubt that you are the voice of LA Guns. Your voice is unique and versatile. You can go from singing a scorcher like “Rip and Tear” to ballads such as “Crystal Eyes” and “It’s Over Now’. How do you keep your voice in top notch shape?
PL: My voice has served me well. I do a little 15-minute warm up before I go onstage. It really helps a lot. I keep my trap shut after a show. I don’t go around doing interviews after a show. We don’t do meet and greets. They can go very badly. If I got consecutive shows I just go to bed. A little discipline goes a long way.
Thanks to Phil Lewis and Jon Freeman for the interview