Hollywood rock institution L.A. Guns are about to tour Australia in September 2010. A week out from his first visit here with the band he originally formed as a 17-year old in 1983 with Axl Rose, guitarist Tracii Guns is eager to get Down Under and enjoy a respite from the southern California heatwave. He’s keen to play a few shows too.
“Those were pretty high-energy shows, huh?” Tracii Guns says with a laugh about the two gigs his former band Brides of Destruction played in Australia in 2004–the first and only time the guitarist has toured here. I’m not too embarrassed to admit to him that the Sydney show was one of the best rock n’ roll nights I’d ever been to, and he promises that the LA Guns tour, which starts on September 2, will be more of the same.
“That’s always been the intention,” he says, “to put together a set list of, number one, the most popular songs, and also to keep about 75% of the set as high energy as possible, because that was always the main objective of LA Guns from the beginning. To create that kind of a vibe you got at the Brides show… really intense, loud, fun music. The thing that’s a little bit different is that we have a few ballad-type songs that we put in the middle of the set. So it’s a three-part set where we come out, smack everyone around for about half an hour, then we sit down for about 20 minutes and the 45 minutes after that is just a good time!”
Following 29 line-up changes over 27 years and various periods where Guns himself wasn’t even in the band (leading to the current situation that has two bands called LA Guns, the other one featuring “classic” line-up members Phil Lewis and Steve Riley), it appears that this version, which has been together just over a year, could be his favourite.
“This line-up of the band with Jizzy Pearl singing is pretty much on the money,” Guns says. “Out of all the people I’ve played with in this band, in particular Chad Stewart whose been playing drums for five years, he adds so much because he’s also a great vocalist. We have a good amount of really, really heavy duty vocal melodies, which was really goin’ on on those early LA Guns records but we never did it live because we didn’t have the capabilities, because Phil Lewis was the only guy in the band who was really a singer. It’s nice to have three guys in the band now who really sing well, over this heavily distorted, fast rock n’ roll. It’s pretty good!”
With the benefit of considerable hindsight after such a long and chequered history, Tracii reckons that if he’d started LA Guns with the group he has now things would have been very different.
“Had this been the band that started it, it wouldn’t have started with the bang that it did. The luxury of having Mick Cripps and Nickey Alexander the original drummer, and Phil, was that… what they didn’t have as musicians, they definitely had in attitude and song-writing skills and it was definitely a more visual kind of pry-your-face-open attitude. I guess everything happens for a reason, but I’m glad that its definitely ended up where it has.”
As a prominent member of the Hollywood glam n’ sleaze scene of the mid-late 80s, Tracii Guns was part of a music phenomonon that kicked off an industry feeding frenzy the likes of which had never been seen. Bands with big hair and flashy guitarists were snapped up by the truckload, eventually leaving little more than piles of broken egos and drug habits. Somehow, Tracii seems to have made it through without attracting the levels of controversy and infamy of many of those who were there with him.
“I think that’s where my talent lies. I’m good at staying away from jerks!” After a laugh and a pause, he admits: “Actually, no I’m not. I’m actually a magnet for these people who are loaded with controversy. Which is fine, because I get to work with these special people. And people who are that special, they can’t be straight and narrow people to have that kind of fire and that kind of emotion that comes with performance and songwriting. Because I play rock n roll, and the most boring thing in rock n’ roll is four lawyers standing on stage playing. It’s not a good time and it’s not rock n’ roll.”
Unlike so many of those who flocked to the Sunset Strip to be swept up and spat out by the fame and money machine, Tracii Guns is a Hollywood native who had seen what the place did to people from a very early age.
“Luckily,” he says, “I grew up in Hollywood. I was born here, and right through the 70s I watched my parents’ friends and my parents and other adults completely ruin their lives with drugs. There’s a time and a place for everything, and I was educated in what not to do in my life before I learned what to do.”
To illustrate the point, Tracii relates the tale of his contemporary and colleague Derek Frigo, the tragic guitarist of Enuff Z’nuff who succumbed to an overdose in 2004, and works it into a personal observation of the Hollywood dream.
“He had a career playing guitar before Enuff Z’nuff,” he says. “And then they had sort of a hit song, and they got known, and then that went away and that’s when Derek got involved with heroin. And ultimately it killed him. That’s just one story, but that’s someone I really respected as a musician. More than just as an icon, he was just a really good musician who got caught up in it… not actually being from LA, but he died in LA from an overdose. That seems to be the story of Hollywood, starting from the 20s and 30s with moving pictures, people moving here to live this grand lifestyle. But it’s not a grand lifestyle. Everything’s cool up to a point. But when it affects what you’re trying to do, then it’s all bad, and I have managed to not let that affect my life. On the other hand, it seems the people I am most attracted to and create new projects with are all usually AA people. Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous. And they’re still just as lunatic as always.”
One of those people is of course W. Axl Rose, with whom Tracii formed Guns N Roses in 1985. While he only lasted a few months with that band, he has since worked on projects with other former members including Steven Adler, Izzy Stradlin’ and Gilby Clarke. Outside of LA Guns, he was also a member of the critically-reviled Contraband with Michael Schenker, Bobby Blotzer and Share Pedersen (of Vixen), a band that should have worked but didn’t. Yet apart from Rose, by far his best known colloborator is Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx. In 2002 after years of mutual respect, the pair formed Brides of Destruction — originally as Cockstar — that went on to record the Billboard Top 100 album Here Come the Brides. Even six years since Sixx left to put the Crue back on the road, the pair’s songs seem to keep re-appearing, most recently on Vince Neil’s solo album Tattoos and Tequila. Could there be further colloboration from the Sixx/Guns team?
“Probably no,” Tracii says before explaining the origin of “Another Bad Day”. “That song came out of when I was writing with Nikki and James Michael for the Red White and Crue record which came out right after the Brides’ first record. That was a leftover song. I remember Vince liked it and I think Tommy vetoed it and it didn’t end up getting used. I do notice that a lot of the leftover songs that Nikki and I wrote, people have interest in. We keep sending them out to various people that want the colloboration. Because I guess we wrote some pretty good stuff together. I have some songs that we wrote that I’m holding onto for the right project. I’m not sure if they’re suited for LA Guns, but we have some other stuff that hasn’t been put out yet. We were a pretty good damn team!”
LA Guns’ current singer is also no stranger to the rock n’ roll lifestyle. Jizzy Pearl, who made six albums with Love/Hate before spending the next half-dozen years fronting Ratt, has obviously been around the block a few times himself.
“Absolutely!” Tracii says with a laugh. “And before he joined the band, he was a real drinker man! He earned the nicknamed Jizzilla because after a certain point, he turned into a completely different person. He’s really not that guy anymore. He knows how to have a few drinks and he stays in the same room with me, coz I’m usually smokin’ weed!”
“By the way,” he adds, speaking with the voice of experience that comes from being surrounded by crazy people and substance abusers his entire life, “I suggest to anybody who’s tryin’ to get sober to just buy an ounce of weed and get it over with! If it comes from the earth and it’s not altered by somebody you don’t know, it’s probably good for you!”
With any luck, Tracii’s LA Guns will have an album out next year. The problem they have at the moment is that with their intensive touring schedule, they simply don’t have the time to even write it. “We have a really nice record deal with Favored Nations, which is Steve Vai’s label. He’s starting to prod us a bit, but it’s very difficult to demo anything at the moment because we’re on the road! We’re pretty much on the road until Christmas. So the real writing in going to happen in January and if we can finish writing in the middle of February we can get in the studio and at least get something out by the middle of next summer, maybe earlier. That’s the nice thing about the music business now,” Guns says.”You can make a record today, and put it out tomorrow.”