Why Tracii Guns Doesn’t ‘Give a S—‘ About Being a Guitar Hero
Tracii Guns has been to the top of several proverbial mountains. What he learned from the experience is that he doesn't "give a shit" about being a guitar hero or proving the worth of L.A. Guns. Quite simply, it's been done and is all well-accounted for at this point.
The Los Angeles hard rock veterans have just released Black Diamonds, their 14th studio album and fourth since Guns and vocalist Phil Lewis reunited in 2016, putting 14 years of acrimony to the side at long last. The swaggering new LP maintains the hot streak that began with 2017's The Missing Peace and continued through 2019's The Devil You Know and 2021's Checkered Past.
Guns recently caught up with UCR via Zoom to discuss Black Diamonds and how L.A. Guns has managed to weather shifting musical tides and intraband friction. He also reflected on how his experiences as a founding member of Guns N' Roses affected what he's done with L.A. Guns.
It's really inspiring how L.A. Guns has just been turning out album after album in recent years. What's the evolution that you've seen happening from your perspective?
It's just been really like a dream. I mean, I never imagined 30-something years later that we would have this kind of success. We could always rest on our laurels and do the nostalgia trip, but it’s so boring to do that. [Laughs] We got the deal with [record label] Frontiers, and it’s just been really fun to write and record and kind of approach it in such a different way than when I was in my early 20s. [At that time], everything was so serious. I had to be a guitar hero. I had to flex all of this muscle and I had to prove something. Now, to be honest, I just don't give a shit. [Laughs] It's like, here we are and we do make great records. We make better records now than we did then. I think that the records we made then are definitely a lifestyle. Our fans were at an age where those records were really meaningful to the teenage years and people in their early 20s at the time. But now, the songwriting is better, the production is better. It's cheaper to do. [Laughs] You know, all of the important shit like that. But yeah, it's been a dream. It's been so much better this time around than all of the stress and mystery of when you're starting out. When I talk about stress and mystery, I mean, that was still going on in my 30s. Now, I'm in my 50s and it's like, "Wow, we actually make money now!" It's amazing. It's like, really? I guess if you stick to it long enough, things work out!
Watch the Video for 'Diamonds' by L.A. Guns
That makes me think of when we spoke with you in 2021. You talked about how in the early days of Guns N' Roses, there were all of these conversations happening, what to do and what not to do. When you left the band to start up L.A. Guns again, you had those same conversations. How important do you think that was when you look back at the groundwork you were laying then?
That's a really great question. You know, the greatest thing about Axl [Rose] and me being a pair in the beginning was that we were very sober. We were very serious about music and not relying on our influences, but becoming a sum of those influences. It was about becoming the sum of everything from Nazareth to W.A.S.P., and [to] not be exactly like anybody else. At the time, before Guns N’ Roses — before Izzy [Stradlin] hopped in — we were very metal. We were very hip to everything: Accept, Scorpions, some heavier stuff. But at the same time, we really loved Nazareth and Aerosmith and stuff like that. When Izzy came in, he insisted, it was like, "Guys, guys. OK, yeah, you like Nazareth and that's almost heavy metal. What about Hanoi Rocks? What about the Rolling Stones? What about the Beatles?" Which was stuff we all loved. We had a lot of conversations, like, "OK, look, Izzy, you play rock and roll. Tracii, you play metal. We're going to swing it and we're going to be loud. We're going to kick it up the ass and Axl is going to be Axl. The lyrics are going to be about how we're living. It's going to be our lifestyle." It was that kind of thing. We all agreed on that. It was so cute that Izzy was like, "You're always going to play a white Les Paul and I'm always going to play a black Les Paul." I mean, that's how designed it was at that point in GN'R. But that design has always stuck with me. I'm not sure what Izzy is doing, but it was a great idea. I just kind of stick to that original idea, that thought. It makes a great band by sticking to that. If you're really critical of L.A. Guns, listen to our recordings and watch us live. It's hard to compete with. It's a great rock band, it really is.
How much does the vision of that rock band measure up to what you're getting on record at this point?
You know, I think that everybody has a vision, meaning the audience and the rock band. I was just on the '80s Cruise, which Living Colour was on there, Devo, the Smithereens, Kim Wilde, a little bit of genre-meshing. The one thing that all of the bands had in common is that they're very unique to themselves. That's really the key, and that uniqueness really comes from the personality of the four or five members of a band. That becomes its own personality. If the songs are good, you kind of already win. If you can get four or five people together doing something that's unique, well, you win already. Because it's very hard to be unique. It's like, when I produce younger bands now, they're so goddamn focused on another band. One of the bands that most metal kids are focused on is really Metallica. Not so much Pantera or Black Sabbath, but really, Metallica. Because Metallica has this commercial thing while still maintaining a certain amount of heavy. A lot of the kids I talk to, they're just like, "Oh, I want to be like Metallica. We want to sound like Metallica." It's like, "Yeah, but what about Metallica?" You can't be Metallica part two. Is anybody else in your band into anything else? Like, maybe the Scorpions? Maybe Van Halen? "No, we all listen to Metallica!" [Laughs] Three different bands I've worked with in the last 10 years, it was like, "We want to be like Metallica." I did everything in my power to make the guitars sound like Metallica and everything else sound like something else. But I mean, that's the key, I think, to the longevity of any art, is that it's unique in some way. [If that happens], the audience and the consumer, they want to own that art, and then it becomes their art. We're lucky, we get to keep making new stuff. People keep buying it and we keep touring and it's a great relationship. But at the end of the day, Phil and I are just serious about having a great time and putting out great records. We're not freaking out about anything. We're not stressing out because we didn't do this or we didn't do that. Which we spent a lot of time doing that when we were younger, really stressing out on shit that's not realistic, I guess.
I think one thing that's great about the new album is that you guys can have moments where you go, "You know what? We're going to really channel Led Zeppelin for this song." And that's OK, because people know where you came from. You've already established your own thing.
It's so many years later, right? It's like Jeff Beck doing a tribute to rockabilly or something like that. I love Led Zeppelin so much and there's no mistaking that. I've said it a zillion times: I steal from the masters of theft. You know why? Because there's nothing better, that’s why. I love my original music, yes, it's great. But it's not fucking as good as Led Zeppelin! [Laughs] I'm sorry, it's not! It's the best L.A. Guns ever, but when [drummer] Adam [Hamilton] sent me that drum track for "You Betray," it was like, that's the fuckin' "Immigrant Song," kind of, mostly. I'm like, "OK, how can I turn this up?" You know what I mean? If I'm going to rip off Zeppelin, it's gonna be bad to the fuckin' bone. It's not going to be kind of ripping off Zeppelin, it's going to say, "Hey, here's the 'Immigrant Song,' what can you do to bring it into 2023?" We absolutely did that. That song is so frightening, even to me. I put it on the real speakers and it fuckin' scares the shit out of me! It's so heavy. That's all I want. But yeah, anytime someone says, "Hey, that's Zep-y," they're absolutely right. I love that.
Listen to 'You Betray' by L.A. Guns