Tuesday, September 20, 2011

L.A. Guns: Still Sleazy After All These Years

L.A. Guns burst upon the metal scene in 1988 with their self titled debut album. There were plenty of pretty boy metal bands around, but L.A. Guns were different. They were cocky and sleazy and didn’t want to fit the mold of the bands who were garnering plenty of airplay. That debut, featuring the video hits “Sex Action” and “One More Reason”, was certified gold with sales of 500,000 copies and the band had made an impact on the music scene.

1988 saw the follow up Cocked and Loaded released and it went on to be certified platinum with sales of one million copies. It also featured the bands only Top 40 hit “The Ballad of Jayne”. Their third album, Hollywood Vampires, was released in 1991 and then things started to turn sour.

Grunge started to infect the industry and that movement became the new “favorite” and it seemed as if that was the prime focus of the industry. Internal problems saw numerous personnel changes and soon the band split into two separate entities, but both using the name L.A. Guns. One version featuring founder Tracii Guns and another featuring lead singer Phil Lewis continued to tour abroad.

I was fortunate to talk to lead singer Phil Lewis before his version of L.A. Guns took the stage in Winston Salem, NC before a packed house of rabid fans.

Hey Phil, it’s awesome to be able to finally talk to you. You guys are out playing dates and showing a whole new generation of kids why you guys were the masters of sleaze rock. How’s this tour going so far?

Well, this is not really like a tour; at least not by the conventional definition of preconceived notion of what a tour is. I mean, we don’t all pack up on a bus and travel the road going from city to city. We mostly play Thursday through the weekend and then we fly back home and sleep in our own beds. I think we have become the poster boys for South Western Airlines! It’s really hard to find a decent show during the weekdays, so we focus on the weekend. With that being said, we have been having a blast. Detroit was awesome and so was Chicago, but there were a few shows in Dakota that weren’t very good. We’ve always done really well in Virginia and North Carolina, so we are glad to be coming back to play. It’s definitely been a while since we played here.

There certainly seems to be a lot of young people at your shows. I think some may be kids of parents who grew up on you guys, but a lot of them just absolutely love that era.

Oh, absolutely! That era, the 80s, was such a fun time. We were all playing dress up and guys really wanted to be in a band and the girls wanted to be with those guys! Then, grunge came along and killed it all. I mean, who still listens to grunge anymore? The young people out there don’t want to hear about all that doom and gloom. They want to have a good time!

Ok, let’s just jump right into this. I have been seeing a lot of posts when L.A. Guns dates are posted. It seems one of the first questions is ‘Which version is it? Is it Phil’s or Tracii’s?’ I have to ask because so many fans want me to ask you. Where do things stand with Tracii?

Tracii walked out on us, he quit, during a photo shoot for Waking the Dead. He left because of his side project, Brides of Destruction with Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue. Tracii seemed to think that was going to lead him to becoming the Crue’s lead singer. We decided to move forward. We recorded three more records and toured for them. The whole thing has worked for us in a way because it has created a sort of curiosity factor. We don’t want Tracii back, we are doing just fine doing things our way. I do wish him well and I wish that he would do something. His last version of the band was playing a lot of covers of Hendrix and Zeppelin material. We tend to play all L.A. Guns material; we primarily focus on the first four albums.

I have read the message boards online when it comes to you guys and the fans do prefer “Phil’s version” as they tend to call it. Your current lineup with Scott (Griffin), Stacey (Blades) and Steve (Riley) have such great chemistry together. Is there any chance of new material from you guys in the near future?

The industry is so different right now and it’s in such a state of change. There has been so much irreparable damage done and it’s ongoing. I really don’t see us putting out a new album anytime soon because it just costs so much. There’s very little money being made by selling CDs these days. It’s very hard as an artist to pour your heart and soul into making your music and then have it leak out early and people get it for free. After it does come out, you can download it for a buck or two, which is crazy. I see these bands selling a song for 89 cents and to me that comes across as a little needy and desperate. The money these days is on touring and that’s what we will focus on until the market picks up. Don’t get me wrong, we would love to release some new material, but we just can’t justify it at the moment. I am hoping that vinyl makes a re-emerge and it looks like it slowly is. There is a whole generation who has missed out on that. Vinyl was such an experience.

I can totally relate to that! There was a smell to vinyl and to have that big piece of art in your hands. It was not uncommon to spend hours in a great record store discovering things.

Exactly! That is lost on the youth of today. They can download an album to an MP3 and there is no cover, no liner notes, no artwork, nothing but the music. They are missing the total experience.

So, with all of these changes in the industry, how do you keep motivated and focused after doing this for over 20 years?

Well, all I know is that we have a great band right now and we’re having a blast. The audience loves it and the turnout at our shows keeps growing. That’s inspiring to us. We are seeing two generations and sometimes even three at our shows! I love traveling with these guys too. You can call it what you want. Call it hair metal, sleaze rock, cock rock, whatever, but you have to have a sense of humor about it. I mean, we’re not trying to be Phish out there. The day that it stops being fun, that’s when I will call it quits.

I have two quick questions from the fans if you don’t mind. The first pertains to your classic power ballad and one of my all time favorite songs ‘The Ballad of Jayne’. If you look it up online and research it to see who it is about, on sites such as Songfacts.com, you will see that most people say it’s about Jayne Mansfield. I don’t think it is at all. Can you clear this up?

That’s silly; it’s not about her at all. It’s about a fictitious character, but I based it on so many of these young girls who leave their small towns and go out to LA to become a star. I went into a coffee shop and up on the wall were all of these 8x10 headshots of people who you have no idea who they are. They all came in there with their bags packed and a dream of making it big. For most of them, it didn’t work out. That’s what the song is really about. I did re-write the lyrics a bit after our friend Jani Lane passed away and played it at a few shows in his honor. I called it ‘The Ballad of Lane’.

One last question, do you have any guilty pleasures that would surprise even you most hardcore fans?

Well, I guess it would be that I like going to cat shows. I just recently rode my bike down to Santa Monica and went to one. There are all sorts of types of cats there and cat toys. The people there are pretty great too. I had a great time there.

So, when it’s all said and done, what do you want people to look back and remember you for?

I was a working class kid who came from nothing and made it. I had no musical background and I made something of myself in the music business. I don’t have a big mansion or a fancy car because I don’t care about all of that. I’m the real deal.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bulletboys Refuse To Phone It In

The Bulletboys emerged on the metal scene in 1988 in a sea that was oversaturated with bands. The guys did stand out from the crowd. They did have the hair and the attitude, but the makeup was minimal. They also had a sound that stood out from the rest and a charismatic lead singer who would start drawing some unwanted comparisons.

The band’s debut self-titled album was released in 1988 and came out of the gates blazing. It contained two huge MTV hits (yes, back when you actually could see music videos on the channel) “For the Love of Money” and “Smooth Up in Ya”. The combination of being produced by Ted Templeman of Van Halen fame and the on-stage comparisons of lead singer Marq Torien to David Lee Roth lead to an unfair stigma. The band was quickly labeled as a Van Halen clone and that seemed to follow them wherever they went.

The band saw many lineup changes throughout the 90s, but Marq was determined to keep the band going and he kept marching on. The band has continued to record and tour throughout the years. Now, with a new generation hungry for the sound and feel of the 80s, the Bulletboys are gaining a whole new audience. I had the privilege of sitting down to talk with lead singer Marq Torien after a hot and sweaty show in Roanoke, Virginia recently.

Hey Marq, how’s it going man? That show tonight was just amazing. You guys looked like you were having a blast up there on stage and it was very infectious to us in the crowd.

Thanks man! We were having fun up there; that was genuine. There are too many bands out on the road today who just “phone it in”. They either try to fake it on stage or they stand up there with a major attitude and act like you owe them something. That’s just not us man. I am doing this for my kids, so I can leave some type of legacy for them. It’s been pretty tough her of late with Jani (Lane) passing away and all. That really hurt, it hit me pretty bad. I mean, we’re all getting a little older and you look up and see that one of your fellow rockers has passed away. Amy (Winehouse) passed away too and she was such a good gal. She loved my voice. We had a couple of really cool chats. These artists get ridiculed all the time now. We use to revere our artists and that’s not happening anymore.

There seems to have been a lot of greats in the industry who have left us too soon in the last few years. How do you keep it together and keep marching on?

I feel very fortunate and very blessed. God has blessed me and people can say what they want, but he has enabled me to carry on with what I love doing. I’m a musician man and I think that if you are able to bring something musically that’s relevant and people want to hear it, then you keep going. I love our audience and it’s not a fan thing anymore because these people are our family. I get a chance to see people that I have been seeing for years and I have seen them grow up and get married and have kids and now their kids are fans too. We’ve always been a kind of underground hard rock band. I mean, we’ve sold millions of albums, but we never made it to that next level. We didn’t follow trends. We were never a ballad band even though it seemed like every band from that era was doing ballads. That was purposely done on our part because we were against those bands that did those just to get signed.

Let’s talk about those early days because I have always wanted to ask you about this. The whole “Van Halen Junior” label or clone or whatever you want to call it. How unfair was that?

Well, it was great working with Ted. That cat had worked with the Doobie Brothers and Van Halen and Van Morrison and he taught us so much stuff. I mean, we were young teenagers and out of control and he just kind of let us do out thing. The Van Halen comparisons were really appreciated and we threw our arms around it and loved it, but it was a double edge sword for us because we were not that. We were this aggressive, piss and vinegar rock band that hated the Sunset Strip. We wanted nothing to do with that! We played the Troubadour and that was our home. We were a different band. We were a mix of a lot of things. Here is this R&B, hard rock soul singer and surfer/skater type guy with Lonnie, here’s Nick who loves metal, but can also write a pop song and here’s Jimmy who is hardcore. You mix all of that up and we had a unique sound. We were way less of a hair band and more like this weird cartoon character coming to life.

I agree with you because your sound did have a different edge to you that was unlike anything out there. Your voice was very distinct.

Thanks man! I wasn’t that typical rock and roll screamer guy. I have a Motown base to my sound. I worked, at an early age, with a Benny Medina and Kerry Ashby Gordy, who was Berry Gordy’s son. I met some amazing people and worked with some great people in the Motown family and not too many people in my genre can say that. They taught me to be humble with my talent and I wish I would have done that more in my early career.

You had copies of your 10cent Billionaire CD here tonight. That thing seems to be taking on a second life. I think it’s one of your best and definitely much underrated.

Thanks man! It’s a bizarre story behind it. I was signed with the label and when the recession hit the poor guy’s company went down and he couldn’t get behind it and push it. The record basically went away. We are resurrecting this record, with help from friends and family, and people seem to be loving it. People are just starting to hear it now. It’s been out for over a year and a half and got shuffled to the side. We had some people who were coming out to the last tour who were practically begging us to play some material from it. So, we did and people were singing along with it and actually knew all of the words. The reaction was so strong and we looked at each other and especially Lonnie was like ‘We need to go out and do this record. Let’s forget the old and move forward.’ So, that’s what we did. Even the response tonight was great to the songs we played off of it. We’re basically dusting it off and making people more aware of it again.

There seems to be a hunger for the 80s and the music from it. It was such a fun period that gets raked over the coals, but here we are 25 years later and a lot of these bands are finally getting some props. Have you noticed that while out on the road?

Yeah, I think a lot of times people think of our genre with a lot of contempt. I look at it as something that will never, ever happen again. Everybody was their own person. You had Axl Rose, Sebastian Bach, Mark Torien, Taime Down, Phil Lewis. We all had our own vocal style. That small bit of time carries on until this day and a lot of people still are into that music. People really want to hear rock; real people singing it and playing it. I think you notice that in popular music too. Lady Gaga, a brilliant lady who is so full of love and her music is just amazing. She has guitar players ripping real solos up there and that’s rock and roll. She doesn’t use tapes, she is a real artist. People don’t want to hear tapes and pre-recorded stuff, they want the real deal. That’s what we were and continue to be to this day. Yeah, I may miss a note every now and then and somebody may ask me why I didn’t tune up. I mean, did Keith Richards tune up? Hell no! That’s rock and roll man! Don’t phone it in man. Like tonight, my guitar strap completely fell off! Nowadays, kids panic on-stage when that happens, but you have to roll with it. If it’s too real and polished, then it’s not real rock and roll.

So, what’s next for you guys?

We are going to be doing more shows here in the states and then over to Australia by the end of the year. I’m excited because I have never been there. I hope it works out because there are a lot of fans over there with a lot of love in their hearts for us. I am also looking at making some additions to the band. I may add some back-up singers and maybe a keyboardist. You have to constantly re-invent yourself.

I have to tell you Marq, the show was awesome and this interview has been a blast. I can’t wait to see and hear what you guys have lined up for us next. Is there anything you to say to your fans to wrap this up?

I feel great that the fans give me a chance to be out here still doing what it is that I love to do. It’s been a wild ride and I am glad it’s not ending. We’re out driving 10-12 hour drives between cities to these shows, but I love it. There are a lot of people out there who want to see the band and I want to reach them all. Thank you for wanting to see us after all of these years.

UPDATE: There have been a few major things that have happened in the world of the Bulletboys since this interview. The band lost a former band mate and friend in August when former drummer Johnny G. was killed in a car accident.
On a lighter note, the Bulletboys just released a covers CD entitled Rocked and Ripped.