Over the past decade or so, if you were planning on seeing L.A. Guns, you first had to check which version of the band you’d be getting.
Starting in 2003, guitarist Tracii Guns and singer Phil Lewis -- the duo behind gold albums like L.A. Guns' 1988 debut and 1989 follow-up Cocked and Loaded, which featured the No. 33 Billboard Hot 100 hit “The Ballad of Jayne” -- each had their own touring version of the band until 2012, since both have legal rights to the name. However, last year, the two reconciled, and the result, The Missing Peace, will be the first album from the Los Angeles hard rockers in 15 years featuring both musicians.
As the youngest member of the group he assembled in 1983, Guns said the other members of his band always second-guessed him. “I was always wrong,” says Guns of what ultimately led him to leave the act in 2003. “That gets old quick. I was like, ‘Guys, I put this band together. I put Guns N’ Roses together. I’m pretty good at putting bands together.’ I had a pretty crystal-clear vision of what we should sound like and what our persona should be as a rock band trying to fit in with, even at that time, an overly saturated market for hard rock.”
The success of L.A. Guns’ self-titled debut factored into Guns taking the band and his connection with Lewis for granted at the time. “When we got signed, I was 20 years old,” explains Guns. “A year later, we’re on tour with AC/DC playing arenas. I was happy as hell, but everyone was always complaining. You go up there and play 32 minutes a night, our album was 35 minutes long, and it was selling like hotcakes. But people are passing out on the couch on the bus every night from drinking, and I just really wasn’t into it.”
Guns formed the band Killing Machine, which released an album in 1998. He claimed that unlike L.A. Guns, which “spent millions of dollars on comfort that resulted later in not-so-many dollars for comfort,” Killing Machine made money, and as the leader of that band, he finally got the respect he’d craved. He then joined Brides of Destruction with Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx in 2002.
“Instantly, having a band with Nikki, who obviously has a lot of visibility, that train was a lot easier to navigate,” he says. “Having someone that had been through what I’d been through but on a bigger level, everything was much more lubricated.” When Guns started touring with The Tracii Guns Band, it put Brides of Destruction on hiatus in 2006, and The Tracii Guns Band eventually evolved into the second L.A. Guns.
Through it all, even though two versions of L.A. Guns existed, Lewis and Guns kept in touch. Lewis would sometimes do acoustic shows with Guns playing guitar for him. Then offers started coming in for the classic lineup to play; the first one they agreed to do was for the 25th anniversary of the Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas in 2016. The guitarist says the chemistry was immediate. “It was just so obvious live, the way my guitar interacts with his voice,” he remembers. “There’s something really unique about it, and something I’ve taken for granted more than half my life. It became really exciting, and that’s really the point of playing music, to be excited about it.”
When it came time to record The Missing Peace, they had a lot of material to choose from. Guns said he had 25 pieces of music ready, of which they used six or seven. He then wrote five new songs. Bassist Johnny Martin contributed a song, and second guitarist Michael Grant wrote two. (Drummer Shane Fitzgibbon rounds out the lineup.) Of those songs, the band whittled them down to 12. Guns again gives Lewis credit for the album gelling as well as it did. “Phil is the sound, he’s the voice of L.A. Guns, and that’s a hard lesson to learn for any rock band,” he says. “Everybody loses their singer at some point, and you lie to yourself the whole time on tour: ‘This is better.’ But it’s not. It’s not better.”
When it came time for Lewis to contribute lyrics to the album, he collaborated with producer-songwriter Mitch Davis. “I asked if he wanted to have a go at the songs, and he’s a huge L.A. Guns fan, so he and Phil collaborated, and he actually recorded Phil singing on this record,” says Guns. “Mitch was really motivational, and he really understands L.A. Guns’ music and what we try to say, which is, ‘Hot chicks will dump you.’ That’s what L.A. Guns is all about. We love women, and they dump us. So the writing process, once we had the triangle going, went fairly quickly.” The band recorded the album in just two sessions.
The Missing Peace, which will arrive Oct. 13 on Frontiers Records, will feel instantly familiar to the band’s fans. Lewis’ recognizable voice stands out on the more driving, heavier songs like “A Drop of Bleach” and “Sticky Fingers.” “The Flood’s the Fault of the Rain” is a slow-burning bluesy number. And of course, there’s a ballad, “Christine,” and like L.A. Guns’ biggest hit, it’s named after a woman. However, Guns says it’s not necessarily about one. “It's the perfect L.A. Guns-style ballad,” he says. “Shane cleverly wrote the lyrics about Phil and I, and disguised it as a love affair,” he says, laughing.
Billboard is exclusively premiering “Christine” today. Listen to it below:
As far as touring goes, there will be plenty of upcoming opportunities to see the re-formed L.A. Guns. The group has done over 100 dates since regrouping a year ago, and Guns says they’ll “be everywhere, and immediately” once the album comes out -- which is even better now, knowing that there’s only one current version of the band.
L.A. Guns tour dates:
Sept. 23 Lawton, Okla.@Comanche Nation Fair
Sept. 30 Macul, Chile@Estadio Monumental
Oct. 6 Salt Lake City@Liquid Joe's
Oct. 7 Denver@Herman's Hideaway
Oct. 13 Vallejo, Calif.@Empress Theater
Oct. 14 Sacramento, Calif.@Holy Diver
Oct. 27 Knoxville, Tenn.@The Open Chord
Oct. 29 Pekin, Ill.@Avantis Dome
Dec. 14 Houston @ Proof Rooftop Lounge
Dec. 29-30 Las Vegas@Vampd Vegas
Dec. 31 West Hollywood@The Whiskey A-Go-Go
Jan. 26, 2018 Scottsdale, Ariz.@BLK Live
Jan. 27 Anaheim, Calif.@The Parish Room at HOB Anaheim
Feb. 9 Lakeland, Fla.@Masons Live
Feb. 10 Fort Lauderdale, Fla.@The Culture Room
Feb. 11 Miami@Monsters of Rock Cruise