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Giving It Both Barrels: Dr Rock Takes On Tracii Guns Of The LA Guns
The Quietus , June 16th, 2010 06:29

Dr Rock laughs in the face of weapons, which is why we sent him to take on Tracii Guns of the L.A. Guns to discuss reissues, Guns N'Roses, Poison and much more

This week, Dr Rock gives a 21-gun salute to one of glam metal's most underrated guitar gods, Tracii Guns of L.A. Guns - and gets the inside dirt on all things Nikki Sixx, Poison, early Guns N'Roses and the 'fake' L.A. Guns. All Hail!!!

You're just about to bring out a deluxe version of your 1999 album Shrinking Violet on Steve Vai's Favored Nations label. Why did you decide to reissue that particular record?

Tracii Guns: The connection with the Steve Vai label started about a year ago, around the same time Jizzy [Pearl, singer on Shrinking Violet] came back into the band.

Dean Schachtel, who runs the label, got a hold of me on Facebook and asked me 'Whatever happened to Shrinking Violet?' I told him we'd made that record because we were going on tour with Poison in '99, to have something to sell on the road. It was something we had to get together quickly and it never had proper distribution. So he suggested, 'Well, we love that record and your fans might not have heard it or even know about it'. So I talked to Jizzy and since we own the masters for it, it was a really easy thing to do.

What do you remember from recording the album?

TG: It was really cool, we'd just come off the road and had all these riffs ready that we'd worked on while touring. Gilby Clarke was the support act on that tour and when he overheard us talking about forthcoming recordings he said 'Hey, I have this studio, I'm actually a pretty good producer'. I went 'Well ok, when we get home let's have a trial run and see what it's like.' I'd known Gilby for years but I'd never recorded with him before so I had no idea what it would be like.

He had this little studio in his house which was half in his bedroom, and the drum and amp room were in his garage so it was really a makeshift kind of rock & roll thing. The whole record took about a month to do. When we got there the songs weren't fully written yet. We went one at a time and finished the songs up, and the chemistry was really good. It was a really fast, inexpensive record to do but it turned out really good. As far as records I've done go, it's probably the most classic rock sounding album.

When did you first meet Gilby Clarke?

TG: Well, in the very beginnings of everything for Hollywood Rose and L.A. Guns, Gilby did one of our first gigs together at a place called Madame Wong's. So the very first day I ever met him he was doing live sound for both bands. And I stayed in touch with him and we'd been friends ever since. I was about 17 and he was 19 or 20 back then. At the time he was actually in a pretty popular L.A. band called Candy, which was a very poppy group, not heavy at all. But he's slowly evolved getting more into rock. Gilby's a really even headed guy. Out of all the guys I know from that time, he's the most sensible one.

Please tell me about your involvement with Guns N'Roses.

TG: Ok, I'll try to make it as direct as possible. In the beginning Izzy [Stradlin] lived at my house, years ago. And he had Hollywood Rose with Axl [Rose] - that was their band. I never played in Hollywood Rose. And I had my highschool band and I was really looking for a cool name and I loved Hollywood Rose. And I had a girlfriend that had been calling me Mr Guns. One day me and Izzy were sitting in the living room of my house and I said 'L.A. Guns' and I made this Cheap Trick looking logo on a blank album cover, and I show it to Izzy and go 'What do you think of this for a band name?'. And he goes, 'That's great.' So that's been my band name ever since. So anyways, we had a little manager guy at the time and he hated our singer Mike Jagosz, so we fired him. So then I asked Axl to join L.A. Guns and he was in the band for about six, seven months, and then the same manager ended up hating Axl and he wanted to fire him. We're all living together at this point and Axl and I sat down and went 'What are we going to do?' So we both said 'Fuck that', and came up with the name Guns N'Roses which was going to be just a record label that we'd put singles out on.

Sadly that idea only lasted for about 10 minutes and then we decided to keep L.A. Guns going, add Izzy and call it Guns N'Roses. And that's it, that's the whole story. And then I lasted for about seven or eight months in that, and then Axl and I got into an extraordinary fight - and we had never argued ever in the past few years before. [Then] I just kind of went my own way.

What did you argue about?

TG: That fight stemmed from a girl named Michelle Young [of 'My Michelle' fame] not being put on a guest list at three in the afternoon before even sound check, and we did two shows after that argument and then I left. It just wasn't fun anymore. I was probably 19 then and I thought Great band, and I love these guys, but they're not worth the headaches.' Even at that age I didn't want to deal with it.

So when you were still playing with those guys, was the material made up of a mixture of L.A. Guns tracks as well as early Guns N' Roses material?

TG: Exactly. It's funny, no one's ever asked me that question before, but that's exactly what we did. It was a mixture of these heavier L.A. Guns songs and I had helped working on some Hollywood Rose songs, which were really the tracks that became Guns N'Roses songs later. It was cool because Izzy and I were very systematic about how we would play in the band together. It was really fun structuring the L.A. Guns and Hollywood Rose songs for two guitars. We'd spend a lot more time making two really different guitar parts and two different guitar sounds. More than anything it was an incredible experience. That's when I really learned how to play with another guy. Izzy's so talented - not like a real master and he's definitely not a shredder - but he's just got a brilliant brain for music.

Is it true that you wrote some of the famous Guns N' Roses riffs but were never credited for them?

TG: No, the reality of that is that anything from Appetite For Destruction and Use Your Illusion I didn't write from scratch. Anything that I was involved with for those songs was a combination of me, Izzy and Axl. But they consciously didn't use anything that I'd brought in from scratch because they didn't want to pay out; plus the stuff maybe didn't stick with what they wanted to do at that time. So I lay no claim to like 'Hey, I wrote 'Welcome To The Jungle' man, where's my money?' It's not like that.

You don't seem to bear any grudges about not having stayed with Guns N' Roses who obviously went on to make millions of dollars.

TG: I think I'm more proud of it than anything. I had the good time that I did with the band, and then when I got fed up I think I made the right decision to leave so I could continue to do my own thing and take the education I got from playing with those guys. And you know, it's never really been about money for me until now, because now I have a little son. So now I have to make money, but up until this point I never thought 'Oh, those guys must have gazillions of dollars and I only have thousands of dollars'. But erm... I'd love to have that money! But no, it's never been part of my depression, I have my own reasons for depression [laughs].

Are you still in touch with those guys?

TG: No, not really. Oddly enough, the people I probably talk to the most are Gilby Clarke and Matt Sorum. Slash I talk to maybe every two or three years, Axl I haven't talked to since 1989, I'm very friendly with Duff (McKagan). But you know, everybody's kind of scattered.

There's currently 2 different sets of L.A. Guns line-ups around: your band and one that's comprised of some of your old band mates. What's the deal with that?

TG: More than anything it's funny, but it's not really a problem for me. It's a good excuse to make jokes. Those guys, I guess they have nothing else to do. I was really nasty about it for a couple of months, years ago. It's just so weird, it's like Guns N'Roses without Axl or something. It's not right. They have to face the crowds when they do the shows.

Are you not worried that sometimes people might confuse them with you?

TG: They do! I get emails all the time like 'I just spent all this money and I went and saw this band and it wasn't you' and I write them back 'I don't know what to tell you, I hope it was a good show'. I can't pay attention to what other people do. I feel if that's what they need to do then that's what they need to do. I guess it's unfortunate. I don't know, I'm not sure yet.

You also perform solo. How does a Tracii Guns gig compare to an L.A. Guns show?

TG: With L.A. Guns we really concentrate on the most popular songs, and also the stuff we'd written with Jizzy. We also do some Love/Hate material in L.A. Guns now [Jizzy Pearl's old band]. It's a very structured set list. My thing is improvising; my solo thing is me and a blues based band. When I do my own thing, it's more all over the place and I play L.A. Guns songs that I would never play with L.A. Guns live - more like album cuts and bluesier stuff. I also incorporate a lot of songs that I'd done with other projects; I had a group called Brides of Destruction with Nikki Sixx and I also had a band called Contraband with Michael Schenker. And I've got this other singer Scott now, who's a real Paul Rogers / Robert Plant kind of guy so he's got the range to sing all these different things that I've done. We play bars and it's really a good time. It also takes me away from L.A. Guns for a bit. Sometimes I need to go and do other stuff, because I've been doing this for like 27 years. It's a long time!

L.A. Guns famously have had many line-up changes. Why the high turn over of personnel?

TG: Boredom probably. I get excited when I tour with new people. You learn from people and you teach people and you're always hoping to evolve - or that's how I look at it, anyway. I've always looked at music as something that grows. Some people like to do one thing they're good at and they stick to that. With me, I like a high volume of turnover. I like to keep things fresh for myself so I can play the best and I can get the most excited. If you think about it, Led Zeppelin were together for 10 years but my band have been together for 27 years, so looking at the same faces every day can get old. But I have to say the current line up, especially Jeremy [Guns] and Chad [Stewart] - the drummer and bass player - they've been in the band now for a few years now and everyone seems to be really comfortable. We have a great time, we travel together well and we understand each other. So this has been probably for me the longest line up in a quite some time. There's been something like 35 people in L.A. Guns in almost 30 years.

I hear that your current bass player Jeremy is your son, right?

TG: He's not my blood son. There's a funny story behind why I actually call him my son – the guy that produced the first Brides Of Destruction record would go to The Rainbow (Bar and Grill) and say, 'This is Tracii Guns' son, this is Jeremy Guns.' And those aren't exactly the people you'd want to bullshit, if you know what I mean. So it became this thing [of] 'Jeremy, you're now my son. In case anyone ever asks and if they find out you're not there could be trouble.' But I met Jeremy during the Brides Of Destruction time, he was friends with Nikki Sixx. He was a lot younger, he was about 18 or 19 years old and he just had this glint in his eyes. I could tell he really wanted to be playing and not hanging around, so the first opportunity I had to get him to play was actually in the Brides of Destruction, over in Europe and then he filled in for Nikki who was his hero anyways. That's been five years now - it's been a long time. He's still playing and I'm proud to call him my son.

Talking about the Brides Of Destruction, that must have been quite upsetting for you when Nikki Sixx suddenly decided to leave the band. How did you feel about it?

TG: Well, it wasn't like that exactly. He and I had always known that there was going to be a new Mötley Crüe record and a reunion. It was more the way that it went down. We had just finished the first record and were touring, and we still had another leg to do, another 18 shows. Howard Kovak, who was our manager, called me and said 'Do you mind if we started to work on the new Mötley Crüe stuff now?', and I said no and I was involved in that process too, writing for the new record. Nikki just did some typical Nikki shit. Who knows why he does the things that he does? And it's not really my business, but at the time it was my business because at the time it was interfering with plans and things that we had made. He'd say 'I want to pull down the Brides of Destruction from the internet' and 'Hey Tracii, let's put this on the back burner, let's only do the Mötley thing.' I was cool with doing the Mötley Crüe thing but I wasn't cool with just completely ending the Brides. I understood his need to put the Brides on hold for a year and a half/two years, but why completely bury it? I had never any intention of going on tour with Mötley Crüe anyways, unless it was with L.A. Guns. But that just wasn't the way it was. The Brides of Destruction at that time were my only band, it was what I was doing. So it was just really disruptive, but I've tried to take the good things from the experience. The Brides was one of the most explosive bands I've ever been in, live. And that's what's important to me, I love playing live. So yeah, it was a bummer.

Are you guys talking again these days?

TG: We do talk but the honeymoon's long over [laughs]. He's still figuring out his thing. That's what I like about Nikki, he's always searching for more. He's always looking for things to do outside of his main thing. And that's what connected us in the first place, but eventually one has to come back to reality. Sometimes, to be honest, you do your real stuff and once you've been doing it for so long it becomes a bit of a drag and you've got to take a break. But you know the whole process of being in the music business for this long it's just one lesson after another. Great things happen, but at the same time there's always a balance: shitty things you don't want to happen are just around the corner. That's life for you, I suppose. I don't think it's just the music industry. For every good thing there's one bad thing. You just have to accept it.

Please tell me about your brief stint with Poison.

TG: The Poison thing was really cool, believe it or not. They're a funny band, they have a huge fan base but no one will admit to liking them. They're one of those bands. We'd just done that Shrinking Violet tour that I was talking about earlier, and I came home and CC had quit Poison. So I got a call from each of the guys from Poison, saying 'We want you to be in the band'. It was a no brainer, they were going to release a greatest hits thing and then we'd be going to do a summer tour. So basically my commitment was just for the summer and it was for a lot of fucking money, man. So we got together and we started writing and rehearsing and figuring out what we were going to do and how I was going to fit in. And then out of nowhere, CC came back, which in my mind was a crazy-weird selfish thing. I think had it been any other guitar player he probably wouldn't have given a shit, but I'd known CC for probably 20 years at that point and I think he just really didn't like the idea of me in the band. So that all came and went very quickly. But it was cool. I never ended up playing live with Poison - it was pretty much just a couple of weeks of rehearsals and a lot of conversations and stories. So it was definitely cool, nothing bad there. And they paid me for it, so that was even better.

What's coming up for L.A. Guns?

TG: I try not to really look that far ahead, but there's a lot of touring coming up. That's what I do, I try to do a hundred shows a year, no matter who it's with, and I've been back with L.A. Guns for a few years now so I'm booked all the way to Christmas. Things are actually really good. Compared to the last 15 years, for L.A. Guns so far this has been the best year already. And I'm just going to continue and follow it where it takes me.

The reissue of L.A. Guns' 1999 album Shrinking Violet is out now on Favored Nations. L.A. Guns will play the Hard Rock Hell IV festival in Prestatyn, Wales on 4 December.