If you walked up to eighteen year old me and told her that someday she’d be sitting in a British-style pub with a beer in hand interviewing Phil Lewis of LA Guns, the original Hollywood Vampire himself, she would’ve told you that you were nuts and walked away. It happened though. On a sunny Vegas day, I sat at Crown & Anchor and ordered a Blackthorn cider. In walked Phil, sporting his usual bandana and jeans, as well as a ZRock’R shirt. After a hug hello and our order in for food and a Pinot Grigio for Phil, I turned on the recorder and we got down to business. I’d seen LA Guns the weekend before at Vegas’ beloved Vamp’d on Valentine’s Day, and as usual was not disappointed. With everything coming up for Phil and the boys, we figured it’d be great to sit down and finally get to talk about everything LA Guns related.
ZR: How did it feel to play home?
Lewis: Do you mean the Whisky or Vamp’d?
ZR: Both, actually.
Lewis: Well, the Whisky is always going to be home because of the history there as well as my own personal history. Before we got our record deal, the first time I played the Whisky, I got signed. So, I will always have fond memories of it. For a while I hated it. It got really shabby, and they over did it with the pay to play. There would be like eleven bands that people hadn’t heard of and they’d all have to pay to open for us. So, they were making so much money just on the opening bands, but fortunately that practice has slowed down. It’s not the sole source of their income for that night. I didn’t want to be part of that. So, yeah, that was good playing there. I still haven’t told them I moved to Vegas. I haven’t told anyone actually. On my Facebook it still says Hollywood. We’re in negotiations now talking about making another record, and I can’t imagine writing it here. I’d have to go back to LA to write it. Everything else is fine. I can meet the guys at any airport, but to actually get an LA Guns vibe it has to be in LA; for me anyway. Go and find a studio somewhere and live in it for a month. Write some songs. Maybe in November or December when things slow down a bit. Playing home here is wonderful, especially over at Vamp’d. They make me feel so welcome. From the second I walked in it was “Hey, Phil. How’s it going?” I thought they were joking for a while because they were being so nice to me. I figured it was a joke, and I had a sign on my back or something, but no. They are all really personable people over there, and it’s a great venue. We had a good turn out. It was really, really nice. It’s wonderful. I do think of that place as being my home gig now. I don’t get that whole desperate thing. It’s very different being on the Sunset Strip and being on Sahara. Anyway, the album is going to be very strong with this lineup. Kenny and Michael are both front men in their own fields. Michael being an Assassin and Kenny in Villains of Vaudeville. It will be really good for me to have those guys help me with my songs. Hopefully they’ll bring some stuff in, and I can help them with theirs. We’ll make it a legitimate sounding record cohesively.
ZR: Do you think it will sound any different from what you’ve done in the past, even from the last album Hollywood Forever?
Lewis: If you listen to everything that we’ve done since Waking the Dead, it’s gotten consistently better. I don’t see this record as being an exception to that. In fact, I expect really good things from it. My only, not fear, but it’s going to be weird not having Andy Johns producing it. Just on a personal, spiritual level. I’m going to miss having him do it. Having the guy who recorded “Stairway to Heaven” tell you that your vocals are good, you take his word for it. He made me laugh in the studio too. We had this sort of relationship where we were best mates, but we fought a lot. We were both very opinionated. We thought it was hysterical, but it got a little tiresome for other people around. So, I’m going to miss that a bit; my sparring buddy, but we’re going to do it in the same studio. We’re going to use Bruce the engineer who did all the other records. I think we’ll get it. Obviously it will be dedicated to Andy, but it’ll be strange going into the studio. The band that recorded Hollywood Forever is gone. Forever my ass. Stacey went within a year. Junko, my wife, who at the time was really involved in helping me write, playing keyboards: gone. Scott: gone. Andy: gone. I think I can pull it off. I think Steve and I have what it takes to be the nucleus for this thing, and we can put out another good record. It’s just for us. We could literally go in and make a crap record, and we’d still make the same money whether it’s good or bad, but it’s important for it to be good and to continue to go up.
ZR: So, going back in history for a moment, I’ve been wanting to ask you this. I saw an episode of That Metal Show not long ago with you and Riley, and of course they played the clip of Tracii. There was a point where Eddie asked if you’d ever share the stage with Tracii again, and you said never, but then you did.
Lewis: I anticipated Eddie’s question of, “Would Tracii ever be back in the band?” The answer to that is absolutely not, no.
ZR: What did it take for you guys to play again? I was at the Vamp’d “reunion” show. It was amazing, but what did it take?
Lewis: It was for a really good cause. It was for Toys for Tots, and Jason called me and said Tracii was doing it, and that it would be really magical if I could do it as well for at least a couple of songs. It would really help the cause. So, I agreed to do it as long as nobody got paid. I didn’t want to get paid. I made sure Tracii didn’t get paid. It was strictly a charity event. So, I thought it would be a good cause. I hadn’t seen him in something like a decade. So, it was a bit weird, but he was very involved in Raiding the Rock Vault at the time, and then I found out he was parting ways with that just before we did the show, and I thought, “Oh shit. This is going to be awkward.” It was over before I knew it. I showed up, and I saw him backstage at Vamp’d. He was like a little kid. He was just sitting there drinking a White Russian. He looked like a kid drinking a glass of milk, and I thought to myself, “This is my nemesis. This is the guy that I’ve let get under my skin for so long. Never again.” I’m better than that, and I’m stronger than that. So, it was alright. It was good to see him. It was good to see him, and it was for a good cause, and it sounded fucking great. It’s magic when he and I are on stage together. It gave us a chance to talk. He went on to put Devil City Angels together, which I think has great potential. I think they might have some problems relating to what a young, new band has to deal with. They all come from well known bands, and they don’t seem to crazy about going back to square one. I think in some ways it might hinder or break them up which logically leaves Tracii one option: to use his LA Guns card. He has it. I’m hoping he won’t, but I’m not the one to say he can’t play LA Guns songs that he wrote. Of course he can. When there were two LA Guns, and it got so fucked up that he actually had a girl singing… A girl singing “I Wanna Be Your Man” is just so, so lame. I can’t see him getting that desperate again. He went down in flames with that, and we won fair and square. He might come back and do something. He’s working with Rudy Sarzo, which I think is great. He’s doing the Quiet Riot/Great White tour. I wrote him and said I’d be happy to do a few shows with him and Rudy as long as he doesn’t call it LA Guns. Call it whatever you want, just don’t call it LA Guns, and I’ll get involved and help. It would be good for him and good for the tour. Him going out and calling it LA Guns is asking for trouble, but he has the right. So, we’ll see what he does.
ZR: Is it weird for you being the same city as former band members?
Lewis: Scott and Stacey followed me to Vegas. I’ve ran into Stacey since I’ve been here, and it’s alright. There’s no problem there. I believe Scotty and I have buried the hatchet. There were no serious problems. I just really felt that he needed a break. I felt like I needed a break from him.
ZR: Have you two talked?
Lewis: No, but we’ve shot messages over each other through friends. I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable. I wish him well. The last thing I wanted to do was fuck his world up. I just thought that he was making unnecessary waves in the band. A band is a team. I have to have team players. At times it turned into the Scotty Griffin show, and I thought that maybe it was time for him to do his own thing. I’m a real passive person. I’m a hippie at heart, but sometimes you’ve got to crack the whip. Stacey wasn’t right. He was morphed into something out of Steel Panther. That wasn’t the guy that joined the band. Something weird happened, and it made it really difficult for me to take him seriously. He’s a great player, but I’ve got to spend a lot of time with these people, and I don’t want to be a babysitter. I don’t expect anyone to babysit me, and I’m not going to do it for anyone else.
ZR: How did you come across Michael and Kenny?
Lewis: I found Michael in a rehearsal complex. We were auditioning for two days after Stacey left, and frankly, the auditions weren’t going well. We saw eleven people in one day, and the problem was the ones who looked great couldn’t play, and the ones that could play looked, not like shit, but we had a guy come down who was clearly into that whole ska/No Doubt thing. He had the little hat on and such. He looked great, and boy, could he play guitar, but obviously you can’t have a ska dude in LA Guns. So, we had an afternoon of frustration. So, after our third cigarette break. We were outside Cascade on Santa Monica Boulevard. This good looking boy came around the corner with a Les Paul case under his arm. The handle was broken. So, he had it under his arm like a machine gun or something. He didn’t even look at anybody, and he shot around the corner and into a room. It was like, “Who the fuck is that?” So, I broke the cardinal rule. I walked into another band’s rehearsal room with the intention of poaching this guy. So, we made eye contact in front of everyone, and I said, “Can I have a word with you outside for a second?” As it turned out, it was his band and his rehearsal. I told him he looked great and was sure he could play. I said, “If you’re into it, learn a few songs, and we can change your life. I can’t offer you mansions and private jets, but enough money to let you stay in music a hundred percent.” He was playing that night at the Viper Room. So, he invited us down, and we went to check him out, and he was fronting the band, Michael Grant and the Assassins. He was singing. He was doing Prince songs and his own songs, and he was fantastic! My only concern was that he wouldn’t want to do it because he had his own thing, but he did, and he’s such a great guitarist. He was a gift from God. No doubt about that. My guardian angel was with me going, “Psst! Him! Him! Him!” As for Kenny, he’s been a friend of the band. Even before he was in Beautiful Creatures I had my eye on him. I wanted to get him in. For a long time, the timing was off, and then we got him. We got him for a year. Unfortunately, he had a day gig over at Disney, and he was making a lot of money. It was a strain on him to do both, so we lost him.
ZR: And that’s when you brought Scott in?
Lewis: Yeah. It was Scotty then, but it’s Scott now. He came and joined, and it was great for a while. I had Scotty and Stacey when they were both focused. I called them the “book ends”. They were so dialed in with the way they looked and presented themselves in interviews. It was great. They were a really strong team. It was like I was a center-forward with these two great wing-men. Things got a little weird. The road will do that. It will fuck with you, and it will make you into somebody you’re not. The fatigue, the lack of stability, some people can’t handle it. For me, that’s all I know. Riley too. Some people can’t take the heat.
ZR: How do you cope with the road?
Lewis: I throw myself into it a thousand percent. I do every interview I can. I do every photo I can. I take pictures with everyone I can. I do everything I can to make every show as good as it can be, and when I come home I do fuck all. I do nothing. I go out and see a band if it’s a friend of mine. It’s just completely different when I get home, and that seems to help. Things are good though. We have an album in the works. We have a summer full of dates. I’m going to Japan next month with Brent Muscat.
ZR: How did the Japan tour with Brent come about?
Lewis: I’m always sniffing around to see. I went an did an English tour in January, playing small pubs. I love it. I played with a band I’d never met. I landed in Heathrow at seven, they picked me up around ten, arrived at the venue at four, and played at eight. We hit the ground running. Japan is going to be a bit more structured. Brent and I are going to fly over and have a day or two rehearsing with the house band. We’ll be doing three shows. I’m not sure how it came about. Brent called me and said that someone was interested in taking us over and asked if I would be up for doing it. I love playing with him. There’s some video out of the show we did in England. It was a great lineup. It was Brent, Adam Hamilton, Keri Kelli, me, and Steve. We played the show in Bradford, and fortunately there weren’t many people that night. They put the cameras on tracks in the front of the stage, it was a four or five camera shoot. So, it wasn’t this mad adrenaline rush. We had time to figure it out. It turned out really cool. It’s called “Caught in the Act”. I’ve seen a couple of clips from it, and it’s really cool for LA Guns fans. Great versions. Keri Kelli of course is a great guitarist, and when you put him and Brent together, it’s dynamite. I also do as many solo shows as I can. I’ve yet to do a proper solo show here. I will. It’s just a question of time. I don’t want it to be lame.
ZR: Do you have a favorite Vegas band?
Lewis: I do like Systemec. They’re really good. I give them my vote as being the best local. I haven’t seen many local bands, but with those guys there is always something to look at.
So, there you have it, folks! A little fun, a little gossip, and all things LA Guns! Be sure to check them out on their tour, as they may be coming to a town near you! If you are in Japan, do not miss Brent Muscat (Faster Pussycat/Sin City Sinners) and Phil Lewis!
One thing I unfortunately did not have a chance to discuss with Phil is his fragrance, Gypsy! It is the perfect gift for any LA Guns or Phil Lewis fan. Hell, a few of us here at ZRock’R wear it (and so does Phil himself)!
For tour dates check out: http://www.laguns.net/tour/
For more information on Gypsy by Phil Lewis, as well as information to purchase it, check out: http://www.gypsyfragrance.com/
Thank you for your time, Phil! See you soon!
All photos © Stephy Hayward/ ZRock’R Magazine. Tour flier used with permission.