Interview by Robert Cavuoto
LA Guns with Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis will be releasing their second studio CD The Devil You Know via Frontier Music SRL on March 29th.
The band is capitalizing on strength and moment from their critically acclaimed 2017 release, The Missing Peace. Sonically, The Devil You Know showcases the band in a heavier, angrier, and grittier light than ever before. Fans will love the punk ethos of “Rage,” the dark broodiness of the title track, “The Devil You Know” with its Sabbath-esque riff, and the hauntingly melodic ballad, “Another Season in Hell.”
There is an undeniable chemistry between Tracii and Phil and it is evident again on this release. These two veteran rockers are not taking their foot off the gas and deliver another powerful CD.
I caught up with Phil to talk about the creation of this CD, the chemistry that he and Tracii have, what influences his lyric writing now compared to the 80s, and to finally set the record straight on the debacle with the M3 Festival and the Steve Riley version of LA Guns.
Robert Cavuoto: I feel that The Missing Peace picked-up where Cocked and Loaded left off and this CD picks up where your self-titled record left off as The Devil You Know is angrier and grittier. What your thoughts?
Phil Lewis: You’re right in a way. The Devil You Know is grittier which is the same theme as the self-titled CD. Cocked and Loaded was a lot more of an embellished record. The Missing Peace had all the strings and lush arrangements like “Gave it all Away.” This new CD is more stripped down which was the intention. We are definitely going back to our roots on this one.
Robert Cavuoto: The CD is also very eclectic from the punk ethos of “Rage” to the dark and broodiness of “The Devil You Know” with its Tony Iommi inspired riff. Tell me about introducing all those different musical elements into the CD?
Phil Lewis: It starts with Tracii, there are no songs on this CD where I sent him a poem to put music to. It goes back to when I first joined the band before the first CD. It was his ideas and riffs. It’s about what he personally evokes musically. The Devil You Know pretty much wrote itself musically. Our challenge was to have the lyrics match the intensity of Tracii’s riffs.
Robert Cavuoto: “Another Season in Hell,” is one of the band’s best songs – what can you tell me about crafting that haunting gem?
Phil Lewis: There is a segment in our show where I just leave it to Tracii and the guys to jam and we call it “Jelly Jam.” We liked it so much we wanted to turn it into a song. That jam is the structure to the “Another Season in Hell.” We have been playing that riff for a while, and people may notice it in this song. I don’t know if we will play it live, we may try.
Robert Cavuoto: I would love to hear it performed live?
Phil Lewis: It’s a little on the slow side and when you’re doing songs like “Killing Machine” it’s hard to know where to put a song like that in the set.
Robert Cavuoto: Some of the songs have an old school LA Guns vibe, did you revisit any old demos?
Phil Lewis: Oh no, Tracii carried on in the same form he always has. On the song “Gone Honey” it’s a Blue Oyster Cult riff [laughing]. We don’t mind borrowing and embellishing; that’s what you’re supposed to do. It doesn’t sound like a Cult song; it’s just a nod to “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” It’s like when we put Deep Purple lyrics in “Speed.” We are not trying to piss anyone off. People get upset and say, “How dare use Deep Purple lyrics in his songs!” [Laughing] People were outraged, but I think it was neat. Tracii must have had the classic radio station on that day when he sat down to write the song [laughing].
Robert Cavuoto: When writing lyrics, what inspired you early in your career and what inspires you now?
Phil Lewis: Back then there was very limited vocabulary and subject matter, “Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll.” We are older and wiser with better stories to tell. These lyrics are light years ahead of “Sex Action” and “Never Enough.”
Robert Cavuoto: Do ever missing hitting that old subject matter now and again?
Phil Lewis: I don’t, we did that. It would come across as creepy to have a 60-year-old guy talking about sex.
Robert Cavuoto: Are you taken back by all the success and positive press that you are getting for the last two CDs and band’s performance?
Phil Lewis: We’ve encountered a lot of barriers from other bands and people in our genera. It’s a little bit of jealousy I think. We’ve come back to do something new and not rely on songs from the last century. We are not prepared to do certain things the old line-up would have done; which is ruffling a few feathers. In terms of praise and adulation, it’s fantastic. It’s given us strength and power. We don’t want to be just another band in a hair metal song.
Robert Cavuoto: You are Tracii have an undeniable chemistry, any regrets for all the great music the band could have made while you and he were apart?
Phil Lewis: Absolutely! I’m proud of the records I did without Tracii like Tales from the Strip and Hollywood Forever; great records that I loved doing at the time but they are not LA Guns records. Just like all the records Tracii did without me, they are great records which sound good, but it’s not fucking LA Guns. Soon as we started working on The Missing Peace, it became apparent to me of the chemistry between us. He makes me work exponentially harder than I do on my own or with another collaborator. He pushes himself and expects the same. I like that.
Robert Cavuoto: You are Tracii were going in different musical directions when you initially broke up, as mature men how do you handle musical disagreement nowadays?
Phil Lewis: When we sat down to do this reunion, and things got rolling, we decided that the shit shouldn’t hit the fan on our first disagreement. We are nowhere under the amount of pressure that we were back in the Polygram days. That’s what literally tore the band apart. Tracii wanted to go in one direction and I wanted to go in another. We decided to be open and transparent about things. We’ve had our disagreements and difference of opinions, but being older and mature we won’t let the baby shit the bed this time.
Robert Cavuoto: What do you say to the people who thought you and Tracii wouldn’t make it through the tour of the last CD?
Phil Lewis: As I mentioned there is a lot of jealousy. We sense it. It’s fine, and we are trying to do something different. We don’t want to be part of a scene. We love doing festivals and shows with other bands but honestly, it reduces our set to 45 minutes, and we can’t do much. That is why we do our own shows and play longer sets. We are trying to do two-night residences at each venue and have that be our thing to break away from the pack.
Robert Cavuoto: I have to ask; Steve Riley has his own version of LA Guns performing at the M3 Festival this May, does he have ownership of the name and allowed to perform under it?
Phil Lewis: It’s ridiculous! We were asked to do M3, and we couldn’t do it, we were playing somewhere that would have made it impossible for us to get to M3, so we declined. Strangely they offered us more money. It wasn’t about the money it was about logistically getting there. They got fucking bent out of shape about it. Knowing that Riley has legal ownership of the name; they wound him up. He hasn’t played since I started the reunion with Tracii. They persuaded him to do the show. It’s a terrible thing as he doesn’t have a band. He agreed to do it before he had a band. That date is getting close, and I’m curious to see what happens. I don’t think too bad of Riley; we were in the trenches together doing a 1000 shows and traveling millions of miles on the road. It’s a tremendous mistake, and we will never play M3 again. He will make a fool of himself; he is going to go out as a laughing stock whether he does it or not. I think it is bullshit that the M3 people got so pissy about it and created this situation. It totally created by those people.
Robert Cavuoto: It’s a shame because it’s capitalizing on the hard work you and Tracii have laid down with the reunion.
Phil Lewis: It’s totally exploiting it. I don’t think that Riley is aware of what we have done or how far we have come since The Missing Peace. He doesn’t give a fuck! I don’t think he knows what he is really up against which is even more pathetic.
Robert Cavuoto: The band has had a few guitar player changes since The Missing Peace was released; Ace Von Johnson is now with LA Guns. Tell me what he brings to the band?
Phil Lewis: He brings enthusiasm and his A-game. He is the guy I always wanted. I wanted Ace initially, and he was busy. He has integrity and agreed to complete what he was contractually committed to. He wasn’t going to pull out of it. I respect him for that. Down the line, things changed and he was able to do some work for us to see if he liked us and how we got along. It’s been great and should have always been.
While you’re here, why not check our our review of ‘The Devil You Know’!