Interview and Live Photos By Robert Cavuoto
What once seemed like a distant memory with no hope of returning has now come full circle. Seventeen years after LA Guns disbanded, Phil Lewis and Tracii Guns have reunited to put together a solid rocking masterpiece – The Missing Peace due out October 13th on Frontier Records. Tracii and Phil and joined by Shane Fitzgibbon [drums], Johnny Martin [bass], and Michael Grant [guitar] to form the band. These are members from the two versions of LA Guns joining forces to write songs that will redefine LA Guns.
The Missing Peace picks up where Cocked and Loaded left off in 1989. Songs like “Speed,” “Baby Gotta Fever,” and “Don’t Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight” capture the essence of hard rock while offering exciting riffs, big hooks, sung with tons of attitude.
I caught up with Phil Lewis to discuss how he and Tracii reconnected, the writing process for the new CD, and whether original members of LA Guns were invited to the party!
Robert Cavuoto: The Missing Peace is a tremendous CD as I can’t say enough great things about it.
Phil Lewis: Thank you very much! My manager just brought over a box of gatefold LPs for me to sign for the people who purchased them through the pre-orders. It’s the first time that I have seen it in a tangible form; something I can finally touch. I’ve signed about 200 or 300 copies, and it’s so cool that people are buying vinyl. Can you believe that? I’m happy with the way it turned out and the response to it. It’s a good time to be Phil Lewis [laughing].
Robert Cavuoto: What was the catalyst for you and Tracii to finally reunite after 17 years?
Phil Lewis: There was a charity event that took place in December 2014 in Las Vegas. It was Toys for Tots to raise money for kids at Christmas time. Tracii had agreed to perform at the event, and the organizer called to ask me if I would be willing to do a few songs with him. I couldn’t refuse as it’s such a great cause. I haven’t seen or run into Tracii at a music store, club, or venue the entire time. I felt as if we had both fallen off each other’s planet. I agreed to do a few songs, and we had a great vibe while performing. I had a solo acoustic show the following week and asked Tracii to come down to do a few songs with me. He was like, “I’d be glad to.” That day I went up to his house to run through the songs. He wanted me to hear a few songs he was working on for his new solo CD with Frontier Records. It was at the point I was like, “Wow, I’m excited about it and something I could get my teeth into!” Originally I was only going to sing on a couple of songs to help him out. I believe he was going to get different singers for each song. Once I heard what he had in mind, I wasn’t going to let ANYBODY else in front of a microphone! I was determined that it was going to be our record. That was the beginning of it all.
Robert Cavuoto: Did things fall back into place like old times when you start writing together?
Phil Lewis: It was like comfortable old shoes.
Robert Cavuoto: The CD has a vibe of the past yet with a fresh, modern flair; did you go back to old demos for this CD?
Phil Lewis: Everything is completely brand new. It wasn’t entirely written by Tracii, and I. Everyone brought in songs and ideas. They have to be recognized and credited for that. Everyone was involved including Mitch Davis. I flew out to New York to record vocals at his studio. It was very much collaboration.
Robert Cavuoto: In August I saw Mitch join the band on stage at the Gramercy Theatre in New York, it was a fantastic show.
Phil Lewis: It was a fantastic show, Mitch is such a cool guy, and Tracii calls him our secret weapon which he is. It was good to have somebody outside of the band giving us their opinion.
Robert Cavuoto: That night in New York, you wore a white outfit resembling a Droog from the movie Clockwork Orange. Was that a tip of the hat to the movie?
Phil Lewis: A little bit. I like to mix it up. There is a lot of boring black out there. I love wearing black but not for every show. I got a bitchin’ snakeskin suit I wear as well. I like to a have a little bit of flair.
Robert Cavuoto: I’m assuming the CD has been done for a while as you played three new songs live that night?
Phil Lewis: It was supposed to come out in June, and we finished it the end of last year. We missed our deadline, but it worked in our favor. I don’t think summer releases are all that memorable. It’s not really the time people buy music; fall, winter, and Christmas are much better times.
Robert Cavuoto: I thought the title of the CD; The Missing Peace was an interesting play on you and Tracii getting back together. Is my assumption correct?
Phil Lewis: That’s right! This something that Tracii had in his mind long before there was a reunion. Ideas that have been knocking around in his head for 10 or 15 years. He had the lined up a deal with Frontiers before there was a reunion.
Robert Cavuoto: Your voice is every bit as good as it was back in the day, what do you do to keep it in good shape?
Phil Lewis: I think it’s the Jack Daniels! [Laughing] Singers have a discipline where they need to loosen up and do warm-up excises like making warbly noises an hour before a show. I never used to do that when I was a kid in my twenties, I was like “Fuck that!” But the discipline of doing it has made me a much better singer. When I have several shows in a row, I have to be careful about not blowing out my voice. So after the show, I’m not holding court or doing interviews. I’m just relaxing and cooling my jets. After decades of doing this, I’ve figured out what worked and what doesn’t. I have to say my voice has served me well and I’m happy to take care of it.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you consider yourself a better songwriter now compared to your first LP?
Phil Lewis: I got lucky back then. We had some songs that I’m tremendously proud of. I feel I’m a better musician and feel we are all better musicians. I think that comes with age. We didn’t set out to do a nostalgia record; we didn’t set out to do anything new. We got together and did what we have always done, which was to make great LA Guns records.
Robert Cavuoto: Was there ever consideration of getting the original band members together or have them at least make a guest appearance on this CD?
Phil Lewis: When Tracii and I decided that we were going to get back together, we put it out there and let Mick Cripps and Kelly Nickels know. Mick couldn’t do it, and Kelly didn’t want to do it. So we went ahead as planned with Tracii’s band of Shane and Johnny and never looked back. I brought in Michael who was playing in my version of LA Guns. I think Tracii and Michael have great chemistry.
Robert Cavuoto: If I had to pick my two favorite songs on the CD, they would be “Don’t Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight” and “Baby Gotta Fever.” What can you tell me about their creation?
Phil Lewis: “Don’t Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight” is a song that Michael wrote. It’s no secret there were two versions of the band touring for a while. In my version with Steve Riley we wrote and produced the record Hollywood Forever. That came out five or six years ago, and I was ready to do another record with him and that line-up. Unfortunately, Steve didn’t want to do it. He was dragging his feet as he didn’t see the point. He wasn’t enthusiastic about it at all. Around this time Michael Grant and Kenny Kweens, who was the bass player in the band, started to bring bringing song ideas in for a possible new CD; that was one of the songs that they brought in. We were hoping that it would inspire Steve to get off his ass to do another CD. Steve was more than our drummer; he was the manager, he booked the shows, he booked the rooms, and so on. He was a bit of a control freak, to be honest, and if he didn’t want to do a CD there was no way we could do one; so we didn’t even though they brought this great song in. He wasn’t having any of it. Tracii and I started working on ideas with Shane and Johnny and needed a few more great songs, so we used that song as well as another one that Michael and Kenny wrote called “Devil Made Me Do It.” Both fit perfectly on the CD.
Johnny wrote “Baby Gotta Fever.” I was delighted when I first heard it. I was like “Fuck that’s great!” Johnny and Mitch then put it together. It was a no-brainer to add that one to the record too.
Robert Cavuoto: Are you planning a tour to promote The Missing Peace and will you come back to New York?
Phil Lewis: Always! It will be early next year. We are going to Japan next week, then England, then Italy, and then finishing the year up in Texas. An East Coast tour without a New York date won’t be right!
Robert Cavuoto: Early on in your career, LA Guns opened for AC/DC, what was that like and what were some of your more memorable moments from it?
Phil Lewis: It was truly amazing to be on tour with AC/DC as I’ve been a fan of them all my life. Becoming friends with them was incredible. They were all so gracious and down to Earth guys. Brian liked to drink a little, but the rest of the guys liked to do the English thing and drink tea in the afternoons. I enjoyed having tea with Malcolm and Angus. During the AC/DC show, Angus would play an extensive guitar solo for 10-15 minutes. Underneath the stage they built a little bar for Brian, we would sit down there and drink while watching Angus through the grate do his duck walk above us. [Laughing] It was a real honor for us to promote ourselves as it was around the Cocked and Loaded CD. I look back on those days very fondly.