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L.A. Guns – Phil Lewis

L.A. Guns – Phil Lewis

By: Lori Smerilson Carson

Special moments that happen in one’s life truly matter and Lead Vocalist/Guitarist/Songwriter Phil Lewis learned this at a young age. His particular experience launched him on his path to become a professional musician. Starting his career co-founding metal band Girl in 1978, he made his mark in the music industry which led him to join Tracii Guns of L.A. Guns and in 1988, they released their self-titled debut album which reached Gold RIAA status, propelling them to solidify fans worldwide. Now, these extraordinarily talented musicians are releasing their latest LP Black Diamonds on April 14th, which displays their amazing variety of hard rock riffs, vocals and all-around sound that only L.A. Guns can deliver.

Catching up with Lewis, prior to the release of the album and upcoming tour with bandmates Lead Guitarist Tracii Guns, Rhythm Guitarist/Vocalist Ace Von Johnson, Bassist/Vocalist Johnny Martin and Drummer Shawn Duncan, he revealed some details about the new album, a bit about his past and what fans can look forward to.

SFL Music: The last time we spoke was for the release of CHECKERED PAST (in 2021) and you explained how all of the recording was done remotely. How did BLACK DIAMONDS come together? I know you all were on the road with Tom Keifer.
Phil Lewis: Well, it was completely polar opposite. It was a breath of fresh air. It was a dream come true and after, as you say we did the last record locked up, just being in the same room as other people. Being in the same room as your band of brothers and working on music. That was amazing! Then as you also said, we were tracking. Tracking guitars and bass, certainly bass and guitar on the tour bus. On days off or even days on if we got hours to kill. You know on the road, once you get into your rhythm really, the hardest thing to do is, what to do with the other twenty-three hours of the day that you’re not required. So, to be in the same proximity and to have these great, great songs that were coming together and writing and recording on the bus was, it was amazing! And the tour, I haven’t done a tour like that since my thirties. Like a six-week solid. We were gone for six weeks, two months actually. I haven’t done that, and so I had a great time actually. Great summer. It was great recording, and when we finished the tour and all the tracks were recorded, I flew to New York and I did all the vocals with Mitch Davis. His studio in the city. I couldn’t tell you I mean, just the fact that I didn’t have to dick around with the computer and exchange files and all that bullshit. I just want to sing (he laughed). Sitting here you know, what frequency of it. I don’t care.

SFL Music: What was the inspiration for the album? I heard the single “Shattered Glass”. Is there a theme?
Lewis: Yeah, little bit of a theme. I mean, it wasn’t planned that way. It wasn’t designed to be any kind of concept or have a theme, but there is definitely a break-up undercurrent going on with this and the prior album, and that makes sense. How its manifest itself lyrically is interesting because it starts with the music, and if it has a melancholic vibe which some of the songs do in a cool way, in a sort of a heroic way, then it took shape as that. As it turned out, Tracii was going through a breakup during that tour and before we went on tour. Things were pretty rocky for him, and it just sort of manifest itself into being something of a breakup record, but as I say, with kind of a silver lining. I mean, it’s not like a oh God, what we gonna do? As it turns out, maybe breaking up isn’t the worst thing in the world after all.

SFL Music: What inspired “Shattered Glass”? That’s a great rock song with the L.A. Guns style, and your vocal range is still amazing.
Lewis: Thank you. Thank you very much. It’s very similar musically to something, a song that people that know us might remember. A song called “Magdalaine” (from Cocked & Loaded released in 1989), and that just has this galloping kind of a vibe to it. It’s funny because you’ve not heard the whole record. I mean, I like the song a lot. I like them all a lot, but I was kind of surprised when they picked it as a single. Whatever that means nowadays, but to release it. To highlight it. I don’t mind, but there’s a song at the end of the record called “Like A Drug” that I honestly have to say, it’s such a knockout rock song. Like three and half minute rock song that I think kind of fell through the cracks to be honest, but its early days yet, and that was a song that actually Ace Von Johnson brought in. When we finish chatting, go check that out. My two favorite songs are “Like A Drug” and then of course “Diamonds” which just turned out so fantastic. It took us, I don’t know like fifteen minutes to do the verse and hours and hours and hours to do those choruses. Just layer upon layer. It all came together when we were compiling it. It sounded like Pink Floyd.

SFL Music: How do you keep your voice in shape?
Lewis: What keeps my voice going? I don’t smoke. I take care of myself. I don’t make a lot of noise after a show. I tend to keep quiet and it’s about pacing yourself, but it’s so inspiring, these fantastic machines that Tracii builds. It’s just such a pleasure to drive them (he laughed). That’s the way I see it. He builds these incredible machines and I drive it, and I drive it as fast as I can and hard as I can because he inspires me that way. There’s nothing else more important to him than this record. When he’s focused on playing. Nothing more important than what he’s doing. Be it recording or gigging or writing. He’s very, very, very, very focused.

SFL Music: One thing we never really talked about before is, what inspired you to become a singer? I know you were inspired by the ‘70’s music scene in London.
Lewis: Yeah, that’s a great question and it’s a very, very easy one for me to answer because I remember the moment, the second. See, when I was about in my teens, mid-teens. I don’t know, thirteen or fourteen, fifteen, I was a big soccer nut. I love what we call football in England and I played it a lot and I was pretty good at it, and I was fit. I was really fit and I was like being picked out for teams, you know divisions, first, second division school teams and what not. I had pictures of soccer players. Posters on my bedroom wall. It was something that was really important to me. Then one evening, I came home and I walked into the living room. The T.V. was on and we had this show called Top of the Pops and it was half an hour every week on Thursday. I believe it was 7:00 to 7:30 and it was happening musically, and I wasn’t planning on watching it. I just happened to walk in the room at that time and Alice Cooper was on T.V. doing “School’s Out”, and I never played soccer again in my life. I can remember the cleats were on my neck, you know tied with a string around the back of my neck, and I walked in and I just stared and then I dropped. I dropped to my knees (he laughed) and it was like, oh my God! This is it! I want to do that. If I don’t do it personally, I want to be involved in something like that. This was fantastic! It was mime, it was theater, it was music, it was funny, it was everything. It was like yeah, that was it. That was the very moment. When was “School’s Out”? I mean, that would have to be about, I don’t know ’73, ’74. Changed my life.

SFL Music: Did you ever get the opportunity to tell him that?
Lewis: I sure did. He’s the loveliest guy and we were laughing about it. Yeah, I’ve done a few shows with him and I’m real close with his band. You know, Ryan (Roxie) and Tommy (Henriksen) and as you know Tracii’s quite close with his ex-guitar player too now, Orianthi. So, it’s kind of a community. And he’s so normal. He’s so down to earth. There’s nothing remotely rock star about him when it’s just one on one, but the second he hits the stage, its immediate showman and I’m inspired by that. I like to be the same way too. I don’t think I could do it 24/7 you know, be that showman. When it’s your job up there doing it, yeah, I love it. I was born to do it, but that was the moment.

SFL Music: What would you say is the secret to the success that you and Tracii have with L.A. Guns?
Lewis: I wish it had been success. We’ve had numerous pitfalls. We didn’t talk to each other for fifteen years. I think we got kind of the record of band members that have been, that have said they’re members of L.A. Guns. I think it’s something like in the fifties now because you’ve got to remember, for a time, there were two versions running at the same time. Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of a joke in the industry how many people have been in L.A. Guns, but really ultimately, it just comes down to two. It comes down to the nucleus and that’s me and him. And players come and go, and it’s not like the old days. When somebody joined a band, that was your career. That was your life. You were set for twenty or thirty years if you had a record deal. It’s not like that now. It’s much more fluid. People can’t stay as long. We can’t offer as much and it’s become a profession, a job as opposed to a lifestyle. I think fans have a little bit of a hard time accepting that. They think we’re like the parents. We stay together, always together, everything’s fine. I wish it was that functional. We’ve been incredibly lucky. The day we got signed. The day we met each other. We’ve had some fantastic highs you know, getting gold records, doing incredible tours, going around the world. That, I think we deserve because we’re a good band. I don’t believe that’s luck. I do consider ourselves incredibly fortunate, but not lucky. I think we absolutely earned it, and when you’re dealing with me and him, we’re absolutely lifers, for life and we don’t fuck around. This is really, really important to us and you can hear it in the music, and I think that’s attractive. I think that fascinates people. We look alright and we’ve got good energy. If you’re into that kind of a thing, we’re definitely worth checking out.

SFL Music: Definitely, and what you mentioned about nowadays, it sounds like something that newer band can learn from, right?
Lewis: Yeah, I tell ya, it must be so difficult to start a new band right now. I mean, just the concept of a band has changed so much. After seeing Alice Cooper in ’72 on the T.V., my next move was to go and find myself a six-string guitar and learn how to write songs and sing, and it was easy back then because there were lots of guitars and lots of people played a few chords and lots of people were in bands. New people that were in bands, and it was a happening thing. It was amazing to be honest with you. I wouldn’t change that for anything. It must be so hard now ‘cause so few bands and so few places to play, and fucking Simon Cowell has just really turned the whole fucking thing on its head. So yeah, my absolute big respect for any bands that can manage to get something together, break through and play their instruments. If they’re playing their instruments and writing their songs. If they’re dancing around chairs, I got no time for that.

SFL Music: That is good advice. I see some California show dates, but are there any other tour dates set up yet?
Lewis: It’s all coming together. At the end of last year, we went through quite a few changes with the band’s infrastructure. We got new management. We got a new agent, and these things take a little while to get up to speed, but they’re putting stuff together for us. Lots of stuff. We’re going on this amazing cruise, hope it’s gonna be amazing, the day after tomorrow, Thursday. It’s an 80’s cruise, but it’s not like 80’s hair, whatever you want to call it. It’s bands like Devo and XTC. We happen to be on it ‘cause we represent the 80’s as does Bret Michaels whose doing it too, and Vixen. We’re the only three like whatever you want to call it, hair or glam or you know, from that scene. The rest of it is all sort of like Hall & Oates kind of stuff. So, that’s gonna be very, very interesting. We’ve got that, and then the last thing l know we’ve got in August is Rocklahoma. I’ve never done that before. I’m really looking forward to doing that. Then stuff in between that’s coming together thick and fast, but to be honest, I can’t tell you ‘cause I don’t really know very much myself because it’s changing every day.

SFL Music: I know you read a lot of books. Was there anything new you were able to read? Any time for that?
Lewis: Yeah, there’s a great book, it’s called Everybody Knows (Jordan Harper) and its set in L.A. and it’s not musical at all. It’s the world of like publicists and agents and like movies and stuff. It’s sort of a Harvey Weinstein kind of an environment. It’s all people lying and back-biting and you know, trying to get ahead in the whole L.A. scene. The Movie scene. The T.V. scene. It’s not musical, but it’s really, really, really well written, very good. It’s a great read. And then my birthday was a little while ago. My beloved bought me The Case For Mars which is this fascinating professor, scientist whose absolutely made it his life mission to get us to the red planet. Maybe not in his lifetime, but he just lays out how it’s gonna be possible. Why it’s possible and why we have to do it. Fascinating stuff. I mean, it’s quite lofty, so it’s a really good one to knock you out (he laughed). It’s a good one to read in bed. You won’t last long, but it’s amazing because it’s so within our grasp to do it, and we will. Whether we do it soon or whether we do it later. We will do it, and he explains how we’re gonna do it. Fascinating stuff. So, two things I’m reading, and then I’m bringing an actual book for Fitz our tour manager. I like a drop of wine every now and then and he’s shown interest, and he’d like to know the difference between good wine and bad wine. So, I bought Wine for dummies for both of us to give us something to read while we’re on the ship. So yeah, to answer your question. Those are the three things that I’m currently reading.

SFL Music: Was there anything else you guys are getting ready to release? Any new videos for fans to look forward to?
Lewis: So, the three songs from this record we did “You Betray” which is a lyric video. Then we made this last one “Shattered Glass” and then we’ve already made one for “Diamonds”, a very, very different theme which I think will probably be released in about a month or so because that’s where we’re going next. They’ll be going with the big ballad.

SFL Music: Was there anything else you wanted to add?
Lewis: Go check out the “Like A Drug” song.

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