Interview: Phil Lewis, LA Guns

Phil Lewis n' Tracii Guns

All Fired Up

Think of Hollywood Vampires LA Guns and one automatically remembers great rock 'n' roll numbers like Sex Action or Ballad Of Jayne, which were brought to life through the spirited vocals of British-born frontman Phil Lewis, formerly in the early 80's rock band Girl along with Phil Collen of Def Leppard. We caught up with Mr. Lewis to discuss the rift between himself and guitarist Tracii Guns that led to the band splitting, life away from the rock biz and how the reformed line-up brought him salvation

Over the years LA Guns who incidentally have sold over six million albums worldwide, have had a few line-up changes. But none on them held that special magic of the original members Phil Lewis, Tracii Guns, Steve Riley and Mike Cripps. Synonymous with other legendary bands of that era including Guns 'N' Roses, LA Guns are back (with the help of Muddy on bass taking over from Kelly Nickels) to show the younger bands how it's done. Phil Lewis and Tracii Guns have finally resolved their differences and moved on, producing what is probably one of their finest albums. Man In The Moon took just two months to complete.

Phil Lewis begins. "It's the most impulsive album I've ever worked on. We threw it together because we knew what we wanted. When we got back together we knew it was important for us to bury all the past bullshit and figure out what it is about the band that we and our fans love the most."

With the rift between Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis now firmly put behind them, Phil can now look back and see where things went wrong.

"We were really unhappy with each other. Tracii wanted to take the band in one direction - dark and heavy - like Pantera, and I wanted a completely different sound - more like Tom Petty or Oasis and of course it's LA Guns! It took us a little time apart for us to come to that conclusion."

A little time being a five-year gap in which Phil took time out to pursue solo projects. This included his band The Liberators working alongside musical comrades Eric Stacey and Brent Muscat of Faster Pussycat. But at one point he stepped out of the music world altogether. Phil looks back on this period in his life as a time of personal growth.

"After we finished recording Vicious Circle in 1994 I decided I didn't want to be in a band anymore... I didn't want to be connected with the music business... I just wanted to stay at home with my kid. But I was aware of the realities. I was going to have to get a day job."

Having sampled the rock 'n' roll lifestyle Lewis was not content to work in any old mundane job. Changing spark plugs or working in McDonalds held no appeal for the ex-rock musician.

"I got a job at Fox Sports Network as a sound editor, but I didn't put ex-rockstar on my resume," reflects Phil.

Even though he was working with other ex-musicians, most of his contemporaries were unaware of his high profile past with LA Guns, though it was only going to be a matter of time before his anonymity was blown.

Phil explains. "I was still doing weekend gigs at that time. I asked my drummer to fax me over a bunch of local dates that we were going to be doing over the weekend. The next morning it had been intercepted by my work colleagues.

They'd put two and two together and gone to a website where they had dug up this old picture of me with huge teased hair and eye shadow - it was on every monitor of every studio of the whole facility. It was agony."

Agony or not, once a rock star always a rock star at heart.

"I began to yearn for it a little bit more," remembers Phil. "I did an Alice Cooper tribute which George Lynch played guitar on. When I did Billion Dollar Babies I got a real sweat up. I noticed Tracii had started coming down for some of my local gigs."

This was a turning point for Lewis. Once again he felt the need to return to his musical roots and with changes taking place in his personal life too, the timing was right.

"My kid and her mum moved back to Texas, so there was no point in me staying on at Fox. The only reason I was doing it was for her."

Going back into LA Guns was very therapeutic for their former frontman.

"It was ironic that the very band I'd run away from came to my rescue. You see I had sheltered in domestic bliss and when that bliss turned into a fireball, the band gave me salvation. I lived with somebody with severe mental problems and that freaked me out - it wasn't pretty."

With that particular trauma now behind him, Phil has managed to air a few ghosts through his songwriting. This is very evident on tracks Don't Call Me Crazy and Beautiful off the new album.

"I write about things that happen to me now. Those songs are autobiographical. In the old Girl days I wrote these little vignettes - whirlwind concepts. I was trying to be something that people wanted me to be, rather than being myself."

Looking back Lewis has mixed feelings about where 'Girl' was coming from.

"Girl weren't exactly prolific musicians - it was about bluffing it. Whatever they wanted to hear, we'd make it up!" he quips referring to the music press.

Phil pauses for a moment before changing the subject.

"Do you want to hear my list of my favourite British people? Starting with Eddie Izzard. He made a little bit of a splash over here in America. But they didn't like him; he was just way too weird. The next one is Richard E. Grant - they went bananas over him. But my big English hero at the moment is Shirley Manson of Garbage [NOTE: Manson is actually Scottish]. I think she is brilliant - I grab every magazine that she is featured in. I love her singing, her music."

It's obvious Phil is still very much a Brit at heart as he goes on to reel off the next few names including author Will Self who wrote a book called How The Dead Live, all about 'the other side'.

"Its just fucking amazing," enthuses the vocalist. "If you read it you won't ever want to die. All that spiritual thing and bright lights - it just turns it on its head. There's more to all this than meets the eye - a bit more than they teach in Sunday school."

Lewis now has a philosophical approach life.

"I think I'm a better person now. I came over to LA in the middle of a raging storm. I could basically get away with pulling all kinds of shit that I shouldn't have. I've run into people that I did stuff to. I realise I was a prick; it was due to bravado and insecurity. I make my apologies to anyone that I was mean to."

He pauses for a moment.

"I know we can make great music - great albums. I don't need to be a prick anymore."

Suzi Elizabeth
Black Velvet
29th August, 2001

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