By David E. Gehlke
There is never a dull moment in the L.A. GUNS camp. Whether it's lawsuits and mudslinging with former drummer Steve Riley, lineup changes or the complicated relationship between longtime vocalist Phil Lewis and founding member / guitarist Tracii Guns, L.A. GUNS have generated so much news and internet fodder that it has sometimes overshadowed their studio output and 1980s catalog, which has aged as well as any of their peers. Guns and Lewis have been productive since they reunited in 2017, releasing four LPs, including their latest, the LED ZEPPELIN-inspired "Black Diamonds", but not all has been rosy between the two, with both men admitting they nearly parted ways in late 2022 after their manager split.
But with the Riley lawsuit regarding the L.A. GUNS name now put to bed (the drummer has received permission to tour and record as "RILEY's L.A. GUNS") and a new relationship with Australian guitarist Orianthi now in full bloom, the storm clouds over Tracii Guns appear to be subsiding. When the guitarist rang BLABBERMOUTH.NET, he was in excellent spirits and more than willing to field a variety of topics — starting with a very personal Instagram post he made in February detailing his turbulent 2022.
Blabbermouth: You made a social media post about your new relationship with Ori and everything you went through in 2022. Can you delve into that?
Tracii: "It was crazy because I had to record two albums going through… It's so hard to describe because everyone's situation is different when you split up from somebody. Everybody's situation is unique to them. In my case, there was no betrayal. When you split with somebody you love and have 'adult' commitments, not 'dating' commitments or weird things, it's like leaving a family member. That's the best way I can describe it. You don't get sad. You get confused. Within the confusion leads to frustration and with the frustration, there are a lot of reactions, like a lot of fast reactions, between the two people. There's a child involved and I live in two countries. It's very expensive to have that relationship. There's a lot of time, money and a lot of life invested. We're still living together when I'm writing these records and we're broken up. We get along great, but there's this impending doom knowing that I must leave Denmark; I need to get on a tour bus and tour for ten weeks. All that music came out when my nervous system was completely unregulated. It's just a weird, limbo kind of feeling. A lot of rain in Denmark, which adds to the miserable darkness. To say that I'm glad 2022 is in the past, yes! Absolutely. There is newfound freedom, obviously. I have two kids that don't live with me. I left this house when I met my ex-wife when my son was ten. His mom and I hadn't been together in a couple of years, but we still lived together. Then I left, and that was a huge scene. Commit to this other thing and really commit and move to Denmark, then it all comes down. The best way to look at it is, 'Damn, that was a good time.' That's how you wrap it up. Like, 'Wow, that was really fun. Summer camp is over now.' [Laughs]
Blabbermouth: You've lived the rock and roll life, but wouldn't having some cohesion and peace be nice? Or would that be boring?
Tracii: "Do I need to be honest?'
Blabbermouth: If you want.
Tracii: "It's fucking boring! I got to lay it out there. I'm not taking anything away from my ex-wife. She's a beautiful, stunning, amazing woman. So beautiful. She went way beyond any expected duties as a wife. She's incredible. But I gotta say the friction that did arise, and I'm glad you asked this question because people are scared to go here, but a lot of the friction that arose in that relationship was because I was really fucking bored. We don't have television. We don't have many of the things I'm used to. You wake up, walk the baby to daycare, come home, work on music, we're in the same living space, and she's trying to get her career together. Then I would have downtime and during that downtime in Aarhus, Denmark, it's wonderful. It's a small town. The town is the size of Disneyland and the outskirts beyond. I'm living in Disneyland. You can walk around and do stuff like that, which is great. But I felt like I had seen or bought everything after a while. Our apartment is in the best location in the city overlooking the ocean. I set up what appears to be on the outside to be a perfect life. It really was, and we bought into it. Then I realized, at some point, that I really missed my other son when I was there. I called him in the middle of the night every so often. It would be the afternoon here. I would express to him how much I missed him and loved him. That started adding to the psychology of the whole thing. Then I look at my little boy and don't want to leave him, nor do I want to leave my big boy. Besides being a remote father to one or the other, I started feeling that my purpose in that family lifestyle was pretty… I'm a great dad, but still meaningless. What am I doing for myself? If you don't take care of yourself and do the things you enjoy…"
Blabbermouth: What good are you to anyone else?
Tracii: "Exactly. That's where it was headed. She had the foresight to be like, 'Hey, what's going on with you?' I said, 'I don't fucking know!' [Laughs] I finally had to go on tour. Sitting on a tour bus, 24 hours a day, literally, for ten weeks, sometimes those weeks had three days off in a row, just processing this insanity was wild. But that time on the stage was valuable. It was like, 'This is awesome.' My shit is so loud that you can feel it while standing in front of it. I would be so bummed when we would come offstage. I would be like, 'All right, now what? I'm not going to fuck any chicks or get loaded. I guess I will watch this other band and be nice to people.' That was 2022. Every Wednesday, I had therapy sessions over Zoom. Then, I came back and around Thanksgiving, I met Ori. She got Covid immediately. She was sick as a dog. She had the house doctor over a couple of times, and we finally got together in the middle of January. We're cool."
Blabbermouth: You and Ori seem like a nice story since L.A. GUNS usually has a bad run of news. It was refreshing to read your post.
Tracii: "The L.A. GUNS thing, I'll tell you how I look at all that weird friction and betrayal internally. What a fucking story. It's a wild story. It's what rock and roll really is. Without a story, talk about boring." [Laughs]
Blabbermouth: But how much has this worn on you at some point? You did BRIDES OF DESTRUCTION. You came back into the band, Phil came back, here's Steve over to the side saying he's the band, and here's you. That has to be a drag to keep going through all that.
Tracii: "I never quit L.A. GUNS, which is the really weird misconception in the story that Steve Riley tells. 'He abandoned us!' It's very dramatic and totally untrue. I called Nikki [Sixx, MÖTLEY CRÜE] on a break. We had just released 'Waking The Dead'. I said, 'Hey. I need a break from my band. The decisions that are being made, it's just not fun right now. Do you want to do something?' He was like, 'Absolutely.' 'Waking The Dead' comes out and we're going on tour. A couple of weeks into the tour, I let everybody know. I said, 'Guys. I'm going to do two records with Nikki. I don't know what we're doing. I'm going to take a break from L.A. GUNS. You guys can continue. Do whatever you want to do. I don't want to take money out of your pockets. This is something I need to do.' Everybody was totally cool. Everybody was like, 'Man, we get it. Cool. It's fine.' Then they got Chris Holmes [W.A.S.P. ], which I thought, 'Wow! Fucking amazing.' Then he got in it and didn't like it. Spitfire Records' president [Paul Bibeau], he called me and went, 'Hey man. I got a quick question. Since you're not in the band right now, do you want to separate your royalties?' I'm like, 'What royalties?' They're an independent label. I never expected that from the indies. He said, 'We've sent 152,000 dollars to Steve Riley over the past three years.' I'm like, 'What?' He's like, 'Yeah. You guys get royalties.' There was still physical product. We were still selling mainly CDs and whatever was available. Excuse me, it was 49,000 dollars, and later, I found the rest from CMC International. There had been this collection of money. I immediately called Steve and said, 'I just got this phone call and they said this and now they will send my royalties to me. What did you do with those other royalties?' He said, 'We have bills, bro.' I said, 'That's not the responsibility for my performance on record. That money gets dispersed to the people in the band at the time and Phil. Then if you have bills, you can ask us. We have band bills. Would you guys mind pitching in?' I'm thinking about that six-year spread where we were with CMC through Spitfire, but how did he spend 152,000 dollars on bills? We made money. There was never a time in the career of L.A. GUNS that we didn't make a lot of money. That's what happened. At that point, he goes, 'We had bills.' I said, 'I have to go through the accountings with you now.' He said, 'No!' And he hung up. I was like, 'What the fuck just happened? How could this happen? Why did this happen? Why did this man I literally gave a career to, do this to me and then hang up on me?' Of course, at that point, I'm never playing with that man again. I'm the kind of guy — I'm a super-nice guy, but I'm little, and if I feel trapped, I got Napoleon's disease. I will fuck you up so fast and hard and be finished and not even remember what I did. It's the nature of the person I am. Instead of getting mad, I was like, 'I got scissors. I'm cutting this away. I'm going to do this with Nikki and have a great time. When that's done, I'll have to figure out what I will do.' The whole fable that I left my own band is pretty silly. The band might as well be called 'TRACII GUNS'. Hey, Tracii Guns, I'm leaving, so you guys be TRACII GUNS.' It doesn't make any sense. This came out of nowhere when my baby was born in 2020: Some guy goes, 'I'll pay your legal fees because I hate this guy [referring to Riley].' I'm like, 'That's an expensive hatred.' I wasn't excited about that battle, even though I didn't have to pay a dime. I knew that was going to be stressful. Evidence, talking, we had multiple lawyers, tons of lawyers. I have a brand-new baby. I'm living in Denmark. Covid lockdown started. Everything at once. A perfect storm. I'm doing depositions at three a.m. in Denmark while I should be sticking the bottle in my kid's mouth. But I sat through it, I did it and we came to the weirdest fucking agreement. That's what it is. There is more in the end for me so that people would shut the fuck up with their baseless opinions. People have so much self-importance on the Internet. They never let things go looking for attention. I said it straight out on Eddie Trunk's show: That motherfucker is a thief, a liar. He is! A duck is a duck. A thief and a liar is a thief and a liar. I had my day in court and that's all I got out of it."
Blabbermouth: I'm paraphrasing, but you said you could have taken Steve for much more than you did, correct?
Tracii: "I've never been a vindictive guy. I have a big mouth. I'll burn somebody to the ground, but I'm not vindictive. I don't want to cause anyone pain or loss of wages. I certainly don't want to defame anybody. That's not part of the game. That's cowardly shit. When Phil and I were younger, we had a go at each other on the internet, which was very cringe-worthy. I don't even want to go back into it with each other. [Laughs] That stems from, now that I'm very therapized, a lot of pain that each of us has. We always had a great relationship, but somebody else always seemed to muddy the water and drive the wedge between Phil and me. We had this conversation again because our manager quit at the end of the year. Phil almost left. I get on the phone and ask, 'What's the problem?' He's like, 'Well, [the manager] was this buffer between you and me.' I go, "Haven't you noticed that every time we get in this position, it's because of somebody else? Somebody else is there and being selfish about something that they don't feel they're being rewarded for, so they'll point the fingers at you or me." He, very quickly, turned around and was like, 'Yeah. You're right.' The strength of L.A. GUNS lies with Phil and me."
Blabbermouth: What would you have done had Phil left?
Tracii: "Just really boring the shit out of my fans with not-L.A. GUNS." [Laughs]
Blabbermouth: It must feel nice to get "Black Diamonds" out and start thinking about new material, all things considered.
Tracii: "I just started writing the next SUNBOMB record with Michael Sweet [STRYPER]. I didn't think I had that much metal in me. I told my girlfriend, 'I don't want to do this.' She said, 'Why not?' I said, 'I don't think I have it in me.' The first SUNBOMB record is pretty rad."
Blabbermouth: It really is. And let's not forget that you have a metal side.
Tracii: "It's a whole different perspective. You got this guy and this guy and this guy. But the metal guy, I have to be really inspired to be in that mood. I have to be listening to fucking BURZUM and [BLACK] SABBATH. If I'm in that headspace, I'm like, 'Oh man…"
Blabbermouth: Tracii Guns listening to BURZUM. Who would have thought? His (Varg Vikernes) political and racial views are horrible, of course, but musically, those early BURZUM records are some of the best black metal.
Tracii: "I agree. To me, BURZUM, more so than DARKTHRONE, really encompasses what punk rock tried to say in the '70s. BURZUM is just all angst. His voice is so tortured, and the music is beautiful. The music is amazing. If I listen to that, Randy Rhoads play live, SABBATH and old SCORPIONS, I'm right there. Ori played me something. She's a fucking heavy guitar player. She can play really heavy. She goes, 'Look at these dynamics. She plays this E and C chord and does this riff. She goes, 'You can play that.' Then my friend, Julie Tan, recently purchased AEA Ribbon Mics, which are really awesome. They are big-time television-quality microphones. She came over and left some mics here. I threw some in front of my Marshall and started playing. I wrote seven songs in three hours. I wrote one and sent it to Adam [Hamilton], the drummer who plays on all my records. He goes, 'Let those floodgates open. This is the shit.' I sat back down and popped all that shit out. Now I'm demoing it up. But what will a frictionless L.A. GUNS record sound like? I sent Phil all the songs when we got together in 2017. He was texting me every day, 'Oh, this is great.' Then I get the text, 'I don't know what to write. I'm so happy right now. I have nothing.' I'm like, 'Oh, wow. That's a weird position to be in.' I have a co-writer, Mitch Davis, in New York. I have already been working on music with Mitch for other stuff. I said, 'Hey, Mitch. Do you want to write the whole L.A. GUNS record with me? He's like, 'Yeah!' I introduced Phil to Mitch. They instantly got along, and those two have been collaborating ever since. The process is really smooth. When I approach a new L.A. GUNS record, I don't listen to the last one. I always love the last record we do, but I'm in danger of, 'Oh, I can do that again if I tweak this and that.' With 'Black Diamonds', starting with 'Immigrant Song Part II' [referring to 'You Betray'] I needed that power. I needed to open an album with that power to let my body scream the emotions out. It goes into some pretty cool shit."
Blabbermouth: This is your ZEPPELIN album. "Gonna Lose" is another good one.
Tracii: "I wished we would have released that one instead of 'Shattered Glass'. That seems to be the one everyone gravitates towards. The drums are savage. If you listen to only the drum tracks, you'd be satisfied. There's a lot of ZEPPELIN influence because when you get depressed, you always go to your favorite music. I was like, 'I know this sounds like 'Out On The Tiles' and 'Immigrant Song', but I will put so much distortion on the guitar that it will be a new thing.' People love it. If I were going to do a ZEPPELIN cover record, I would never try to replicate what they did. You can never top it. All you can do is add modern technology and power."
Blabbermouth: Are you learning anything from Ori on the guitar?
Tracii: "I have never been in the presence of such an amazing guitar player. She's blues-based. We're cut from the same cloth, same influences, but oh my fucking god, the strength of her fingers, right hand and left hand. It's amazing. Her thing right now is that she plays out of one combo amp live. It makes me so jealous. I would give anything to bring my Marshall combo to a gig. She fucking does it and it sounds better than anybody else. She plays her ass off. She's an inspiration not just to me but to many people. Your girlfriend is home and you're sitting on the couch watching 'Ted Lasso', but she's got the acoustic out and blowing your mind. She's like, 'Oh, I'm just watching the show.' It's surreal. I'm sure I will pick up many of her incredible traits as a guitar player as time goes on. But just to hear her play personally from day-to-day is such a privilege."