L.A. Guns: Diamonds In The Rough
Chatting with frontman Phil Lewis about the band’s best album in decades
It seems appropriate that hard rockers L.A. Guns are releasing their fourteenth studio album, Black Diamonds, on the 14th of April (via Frontiers Music) – and vocalist Phil Lewis promises that it’s everything the band’s longtime fans could want.
“Black Diamonds is an interesting record because we’ve got your heavies, and then we’ve got your ballads, and then we’ve got your sing alongs,” Lewis says, calling from his home in Las Vegas. “That’s what I love about this band: it’s not one-dimensional. We’re not AC/DC. We’re not Motörhead. We’re L.A. Guns, and we’re a mixed bag of nuts.”
The album title, he says, “describes Tracii [Guns, guitarist] and me, the relationship between the two of us. We’re a couple of black diamonds. There is a certain chemistry that we have – he makes me work harder than any other musician that I work with. He is, without doubt, the most gifted musician that I’ve ever worked with. I’ve learned a lot from him. And he’s a good friend.”
Tracii Guns is also the band’s founding member, and is what Lewis calls “the nucleus of the songwriting,” with the rest of the band members then adding their respective parts. This time, Lewis says, it was immediately apparent that they were onto something special.
“I just knew, when I first heard the music [for this album], that we were going to knock it out of the park. I knew that we were going to deliver another high-quality record of interesting songs,” Lewis says.
The band members were so enthusiastic about the material, in fact, that they even started recording this album while they were still out on tour last year. “It made me so happy. God, it just felt so fucking good to be in a band again, and to be on the road and to be constructing new songs. It was a great, great summer,” Lewis says, though he admits that it wasn’t always easy to work so intensively: “I hadn’t been on tour like that, six weeks solid, since my twenties – and doing four, five, six shows in a row a week, it was a challenge.”
But that situation was still far better than having each member recording remotely, like they did during the pandemic for the last L.A. Guns album, 2021’s Checkered Past – and which, Lewis says, led to some unfair criticism. “I read some less than kind reviews, people with the opinion that it was horribly recorded,” he says. “But you’ve got to remember, chances are that people who are bitching about it are probably listening to it on their phone, or at best, the speakers on their computer. So I take any kind of criticism like that with just a pinch of salt. It would be different if they were going to the same trouble as we are. We know it sounds good. But I can’t guarantee that it’s going to sound good on their shitty Android phone.”
Returning to in-person recording was, Lewis says, “really a breath of fresh air, looking at people in the face, being in the same room, and hearing the playback at the same time. Little things like that, I was aware of, and I really enjoyed a lot. I like being in the fray. I like the chemistry.”
That chemistry was immediately apparent the moment Lewis auditioned for L.A. Guns in 1987. By then, Lewis had played in a few hard rock bands in his native England (including Girl, which also included future Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen), but he had been growing increasingly frustrated there.
“The rock scene in London really sucked,” he says. “It was all about Boy George and Rick Astley and Thompson Twins – it was frustrating being in a great rock band in London at that time.” Given that environment, it was an easy choice to take the job with L.A. Guns and move to the other side of the world.
Living in Los Angeles felt “like dying and going to Heaven. The weather, the girls, the food – everything was the polar opposite of cold, rainy, bleak London at that time.” But, as excited as Lewis was about his new home and work situation, he tempered his expectations: “It was a great opportunity for me – but honestly, I thought I might be in L.A. for a month.”
It soon became clear that he wouldn’t have to move back to England anytime soon, though. After becoming the darlings in L.A.’s famed Sunset Strip club scene, the band released their debut album, L.A. Guns, in 1988.
“When [that album] came out, we were like, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we sold 10,000 copies? Can you imagine?’ And of course, we did that the first week it came out, and then in subsequent weeks, it was [selling] ten, fifteen, twenty thousand a week,” Lewis says. “Before we knew it, we were into hundreds of thousands.” L.A. Guns eventually reached the 500,000 copies sold needed to attain gold record status in America.
VIDEO: L.A. Guns “The Ballad Of Jayne”
Their next release, Cocked and Loaded (1989), was even more successful, thanks in large part to the evocative “The Ballad of Jayne,” which went into heavy rotation on MTV and radio. Like its predecessor, this album charted in the U.S. and U.K.; it also did well in Japan.
Feeling vindicated, “I went back [to England] with two gold records under my arm,” Lewis says, adding with a laugh, “I’ve got to tell you, there are few feelings as good as that. Talk about the prodigal son returning like a champion!”
Now, with Black Diamonds, the band make it clear that they’re not going to slow down (or mellow out) anytime soon. Lewis has a theory about why L.A. Guns have lasted this long: “We are not banging out filler songs. We’re doing important songs, passionate songs. We’re creating art and enjoying it. We know we’re not going to sell millions of records. It doesn’t matter. That’s not the point. We enjoy the process.
“We’re happy, we’re all getting along really well, and we’ve got a great band,” he continues. “I’ve been so fortunate being able to make a career out of it, and being able to do what I love, for decades.”
VIDEO: L.A. Guns “Diamonds”
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