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L.A. GUNS – Armistice
Anthony Morgan
October 2017

L.A. Guns (l-r): Shane Fitzgibbon, Phil Lewis, Tracii Guns, Johnny Martin and Michael Grant

On December 19th, 2013, Las Vegas, Nevada-based hard rock group Sin City Sinners convened at local venue Count’s Vamp’d. Sin City Sinner’s line-up that evening consisted of Brent Muscat (guitars, ex-Faster Pussycat), Scotty Griffin (bass), Rob Cournoyer (drums), and Michael T. Ross (keyboards, ex-Hardline). Rounding out the line-up solely that evening happened to be vocalist Phil Lewis and guitarist Tracii Guns, then former longtime bandmates within Los Angeles, California-based hard rock outfit L.A. Guns. The concert marked the first occasion in a number of years the pair had performed alongside one another.

“It was around Christmas time of 2013,” Phil Lewis remembers. “A charity event takes place in Las Vegas every year called Toys For Tots, and it’s to raise money for underprivileged kids. It’s toys for Christmas – you get in for free if you bring an unopened toy. You can donate. All of the money goes to this charity, and Tracii signed up to do it – for nothing, of course. The event organiser gave me a call, and said ‘Look, Tracii’s doing this. Would you be interested in getting up and doing a few songs?’

“Just the nature of the event seemed like a nice thing, a good thing to do. We got together, and we didn’t rehearse. We didn’t even soundcheck – I just showed up an hour or so before. I played; it was just four songs, and we just got on great. We got on like a house on fire. We hadn’t seen each other at all in over a decade, not even by accident. We hadn’t run into each other in a club, or a music store, or anywhere. It was very nice, great, just talking with him briefly. When we played, I got the vibe of course. There’s that magic that we have when we play together, and that was the beginning of The Missing Peace.”

October 2017 outing The Missing Peace – L.A. Guns’ 11th full-length studio affair – unites the pair, two incarnations of L.A. Guns having existed between 2006 and 2012. “It was a terrible time for the band,” the frontman views. “It’s definitely our lowest point. As many as 47 – and it might be up to 50 now… I don’t know – people out there lay claim to having been a member of L.A. Guns, and if that’s not Spinal Tap then I don’t know what is. None of that matters, though. Me and him are back together back working, and all of that other stuff is history.”

Tracii Guns had exited the fold in October 2002, two months following the release of eighth studio LP Waking The Dead. “Tracii was a little disillusioned with the band, and he had a side project with Nikki Sixx – Brides Of Destruction,” Phil recalls. “He was just fed up, and said ‘Look, I’m gonna concentrate a 100% on Brides, and you guys sort yourselves out. Make wise decisions.’ As I just said, we had recorded and released Waking The Dead. It was up to me and Steve Riley, like ‘Are we gonna quit, or are we gonna go out and find another guitar player and promote this great record we had just produced?’ That’s exactly what we did.”

Phil Lewis’ respective incarnation of L.A. Guns, featuring Steve Riley behind the drumkit, performed its last concert on December 31st, 2016. “I’ve got nothing bad to say about Steve Riley,” the singer ponders. “We’ve done hundreds of shows together, great shows. We’ve recorded many albums; the three albums that we recorded together without Tracii we’re incredibly proud of. It was just that after we had released Hollywood Forever (June 2012), one year, two years, three or four years went by, and I wanted to record another album. He wasn’t very keen on it; I couldn’t get him enthusiastic about going back into the studio, and it was like… I like recording, I like writing… I mean, I like the gigging and everything, and touring as well, but I got really frustrated. He was dragging his feet on recording, even before this reunion came about.

Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis

“I had given my notice in with Steve, saying in October 2015 that I was gonna be leaving on December 1st, 2016 after the New Years Eve show at the Whisky, which is exactly what I did. It wasn’t to jump from one thing onto another, though. As far as I was concerned, I was just gonna go out and put a solo band together, or even just go out and play solo acoustic. I was pretty much done, though, playing with the usual suspects and doing the same old circuit. I was a bit bored, so with this reunion thing, the timing couldn’t have been better.”

Reuniting, the duo recruited several musicians to round out L.A. Guns’ line-up. “Tracii had been working with Shane Fitzgibbon, the drummer,” Phil divulges. “He had Johnny Martin on bass. When I did that charity gig with him, I was really impressed with both of those guys when they played and their attitude, so there was no reason to change anything there. We needed a second guitar player and I suggested Michael, who had been playing with me in my version for almost three years. Tracii was delighted with that suggestion, and it has all fallen nicely into place.”

The lyricist describes songwriting sessions in aid of The Missing Peace as being ‘a group effort’. “Everybody’s contributed to the writing and lyrics, and brought in songs,” he credits. “It’s not just me and Tracii. We didn’t say ‘Okay, we’re gonna write this record.’ For example, Shane the drummer wrote the lyrics for ‘Christine’, Johnny Martin wrote ‘Baby Gotta Fever’, and Michael Grant brought in ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’ and ‘Don’t Bring A Knife To A Gunfight’. They’re songs that everyone contributed, but when we got together and played them, they became very typical L.A. Guns.”

Having listened to The Missing Peace’s 12 musical offerings, certain fans and critics have arrived at a specific conclusion. “When we started recording, we didn’t wanna make a nostalgic record, but a lot of people have said that it sounds like it could’ve been released after Cocked & Loaded (August 1989),” Phil tells. “It’s just something I’ve heard from fans and from journalists, and alike. It does have that vibe; even though we didn’t set out to do something like Cocked & Loaded, it just has that vibe. I don’t know if it sounds like it that.

“Songs like ‘Fever’ and ‘Speed’ do sound like they could have been on Cocked & Loaded, but musical pieces like ‘Gave It All Away’ and ‘The Missing Peace’ are musically way beyond anything we would’ve done back then, so it’s like we’ve evolved. I mean, ‘Speed’ and ‘Fever’ could be on Cocked & Loaded, but ‘The Missing Peace’ and ‘Gave It All Away’? There’s no way, so it’s quite a wide spectrum on this one. Wider than perhaps we’ve ever done in the past. We’ve gotten better, and with better musicians. We’re better people. It’s like a fine wine, and it really shows on this record.”

Had a reunion between the vocalist and Tracii not taken place, Tracii’s musical ideas may have taken on a different shape. “Before there was even the reunion, Tracii already had had the deal with the label, with Frontiers,” the vocalist notes. “He was about to embark on a solo record, but once I heard a couple of his ideas… Once he played the ideas that he had for his solo record, I was like ‘Oh, yeah. I’ve gotta be a part of this. I really like this a lot.’ We started off on a couple of songs, and before I knew it, me and him were immersed in making a new record together.”

The lyrical fare included on The Missing Peace is largely self-explanatory. “They’re not really about anything,” Phil judges. “I mean, I can tell you that the lyrics on ‘Christine’ are about me and Tracii (laughs), which I didn’t know. I found out fairly recently, because as I said, Shane wrote them. I thought that he was writing about his grandparents, his uncle, or something like that. It was about this old couple that had been together, and were really understanding of each other. I thought that it was a love song, and I only found out recently that the cheeky bugger was writing about me and Tracii (laughs), which I think is charming. I’m really happy about that, but the lyrics…. ‘Don’t Bring A Knife To A Gunpoint’ is self-explanatory, and ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’. I don’t really like to go into deep meanings, because I like people to come to their own conclusions of what the songs are about.”

The Missing Peace

Recording sessions for The Missing Peace began in a modest fashion. “We did pre-production in a rehearsal room, in a basement, just locked away without amps,” the entertainer begins. “We worked in like a sweatbox, and went through the music over and over. I was tweaking lyrics. When we came to record it, we did the drums in a big, old school recording studio, which you’re supposed to do for drums. Mostly all of the guitars Tracii did at his house, in his garage – his home studio. I did a lot of the vocals with Mitch Davis in his studio in New York, in Pull Studios, over a four-day period. It was recorded very quickly; once we decided on the songs, we pretty much had the album done in about eight weeks. As a fun fact, the record cost less to make than our catering budget on Hollywood Vampires (June 1991). I don’t know how much it cost exactly, but it’s just a funny observation. The catering budget back then would’ve been $20-25,000, easy (laughs).”

Phil has supplied vocals to a number of full-lengths across four decades, beginning with Girl’s January 1980 debut Sheer Greed, and continuing to do so 37 years later. “I like to think that my singing has evolved,” he observes. “They say that whatever you focus on, after about 5-10,000 years, you should become an expert in whatever it is. I have certainly put my hours in as far as singing goes. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but I’ve definitely developed. My range is better, and I’m stronger. In the early Girl days, I pretty much just shouted. I take care of my voice; I do warm-ups before a show. I make sure that I keep my trap shut after a show, especially if I’ve got a bunch of consecutive gigs. I have to; if I don’t have a voice, then we can’t play. Then we don’t make money and I become the bad guy, so I’m very disciplined on the road, which has consequently made me a better artist I think.”

Vocally, the frontman likes to push himself to an extent. “I like doing stuff that is a challenge, but I don’t want to set the bar too high because I’m gonna have to do it live,” he clarifies. “Now I’m gonna have to sing maybe four or five nights a week, so I’ve got to bear that in mind when I record that it has to sound the same, and not be in a different key, or me singing it an octave lower. So, yes to both of those. I do like to push myself, but not so much that I’m not gonna be able to pull it off every night.”

Among the tracks Phil lent vocals to in aid of the full-length is the title cut itself. “You’d have to explain the spelling of the word ‘peace’ in The Missing Peace,” he offers. “It’s not like a piece; it’s just a double entendre on me and Tracii’s relationship. We have both been fine playing without each other and doing alright, but there was always something missing – for me, anyway. When we play, I feel that there’s a certain completeness that we have. It was missing and we missed it, and it’s an absolutely perfect title for the record.”

Besides the title composition and a further 11 fellow tunes, three additional tracks were recorded. “I think we recorded about 15 songs,” the singer estimates. “We tried to make it as interesting a record as possible and not make it too same-y, so we’ve still got a few in the can that we could probably put out down the line. We just wanted the best songs that we had, but there’s nothing wrong with the ones that we didn’t put on. We just didn’t need what they were, because the 12 songs that we picked are perfect. Sometimes if you make an album too long, it puts people off. It just gets a bit tiresome. The running order is important, and the length of the record is important. It just seemed like exactly the right amount for us to do. The few in the can are all done though, and good to go. We’ve started work on new ones, as well. We’re not short of stuff.”

Leading the charge with fresh material as it were is Tracii. “Tracii is a consummate guitar player,” Phil compliments. “He plays guitar on the road, and the first thing he does when he gets home is play guitar. He’s just one of these guys; it’s like an extension of his body, and he’s just always sitting there playing riffs and coming up with ideas. Then it’s up to me to interpret his ideas into a verse or a chorus, or middle sections. It’s a lot of fun, because he’s always got something interesting up his sleeve.”

A follow-up to The Missing Peace will likely arrive during 2019 or so. “That’s what we’re looking at,” the wordsmith confirms.

Phil Lewis and Tracii Guns

The prospect of a solo jaunt has been placed on the back-burner. “I’m not thinking about that at the moment, because I’m so immersed in this,” Phil explains. “Eventually I’d like to do a solo record, but at the moment, the schedule on this is insane. There’s just absolutely no time for me to think about doing a solo record for at least another 18 months.”

Such comments suggest that L.A. Guns will be a full-time proposition for the vocalist. “Balls to the wall,” he enthuses.

Returning to the topic of The Missing Peace, an official lyric video was created for the track ‘The Flood’s The Fault Of The Rain’ in an effort to aid its promotion. “We did a live performance video for ‘Speed’, and that was fun,” the performer reckons. “We’re not actors; I don’t particularly want to dress up and act for the video. The song is a little bit on the sad side, so it was best covered graphically using animation. They did a good job. It’s something we’ve never done before. It didn’t cost that much to make, and they did it very quickly. We thought we’d have a go at a lyric video, and see how we fared. It turned out great.”

Further videos will likely be issued to promote The Missing Peace. “I reckon we’ll probably do one for ‘Fever’, and maybe even one for ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’,” Phil muses. “It depends on how much this thing snowballs. Right now, it’s through the roof. Amazon have sold out, Best Buy sold out. Some record outlets are completely sold out. Classic Rock voted it as one of the best albums of 2017, and Rolling Stone voted us the top five new albums to stream this month, so we’re getting a lot of attention. We haven’t had too many thumbs down from people, fortunately. So yeah, we’re doing something right. We’ll probably end up doing at least one more video from the record, maybe more.”

Designing the cover artwork for The Missing Peace, wife of the frontman. “She’s an amazing artist; her and I have collaborated on a lot of stuff,” he raves. “If you look at the video off of the record Hollywood Forever, she’s the sexy black widow in ‘Araña Negra’. She’s as clever as she is cute. She was Tracii’s first choice to do the cover for the record, and that was great – having it in the family. I think she did a bloody good job.”

The Missing Peace was released on October 13th, 2017 via Frontiers Music Srl.

Interview published in October 2017. All promotional photographs by Dustin Jack.

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