Many groups have balked at having to record music remotely during the coronavirus pandemic. Tracii Guns relished it, bragging about never seeing her LA Guns bandmates in person while making their new album, Checkered past, released on November 12.
The namesake guitarist started writing the songs for Checkered past about a year and a half ago, sending the tracks to his bandmates – vocalist Phil Lewis, bassist Johnny Martin, rhythm guitarist Ace Von Johnson, and drummer and engineer Adam Hamilton – to record their parts at home. Hamilton, who was previously bassist and rhythm guitarist for LA Guns, played drums in place of touring drummer Scot Coogan, who Guns said couldn’t perform on the album because he didn’t have a setup. home check-in. (Coogan denied this, saying the band didn’t want to pay him his standard rate to book a studio and record drums.)
The result is a raw and steamy album reminiscent of the heyday of LA Guns in the late 80s, full of crisp punk-metal (“Cannonball”, “Better Than You”), anthemic riff-rock (“Bad Luck Charm “,” Knock Me Down “) and a dark and menacing ballad (” Let You Down “).
Before the release of Checkered past, Guns talks to UCR about the album recording process and his goals for each LA Guns release.
What’s going to make a record in the midst of the pandemic, logistically? What types of challenges have you encountered?
In the end, there is no conversation. It’s like, “Here’s the music, do your thing”, every guy. Then [cowriter] Mitch Davis works exclusively with Phil. So, I never really get rough vocal takes. It’s a bit rough but almost finished. So that really eliminates any chance of Phil and I arguing. So the process is really fluid. The band doesn’t spend time in the same room, which is such a good thing. I mean, if the records turned out to be horrible, then I would say the opposite. I’d say, “Hey guys, we really need to get in the room, we need preproduction, blah blah blah.” But I think the benefit of the songwriting experience and experience and the kind of team that makes these records now, is smooth and easy, and it’s getting done and they turn out to be great. Quality control goes to everyone when they do their part, and Adam ended up mixing this record too. He’s so talented. It’s hard to lose.
Sounds like you have the benefit of being as perfect with your parts as you want without the pressure of feeling like your bandmates are breathing behind your back in the studio.
It’s a real thing. And the other thing is trust with the people you work with. Sometimes you want to be in this situation together so that you can watch each other. And musicians tend to get lazy and think, “It’s good enough”, when it’s not good enough, and “We’re going to fix it in the mix”. I just think I’m really lucky. I just think that the people involved have really high self-esteem and [know] what they want to put on a timeless recording. And that’s what musicians should always understand, especially when they’re self-recording, is that what you send back is forever, until the Sun engulfs the Earth. These audio recordings are here forever. So some alien guy 6 million years from now is going to overhear your recording and be like, “What is this guy thinking?” You don’t want to leave it open for interpretation.
Listen to LA Guns’ Cannonball
It’s entirely possible that this is the first LA Guns album from someone he hears.
Always. Sure. And it comes back to the timeless question: is this your best album to date? And it will be up to someone. You know what I mean? Someone’s going to buy the record, and this will be their first time ever engaging with the band, and it will end up being their favorite LA Guns record because it was their first record. I’m too guilty to slack off, and this is the one area in my life where I don’t slack off, and that is recording and writing and hitting the send button in the email.
Were there any songs that you would send to the other guys and somebody would say, “Look, man, I really don’t feel this track”? Or were the songs you sent the ones that ended up on the disc?
Yeah, that’s it. I sort it out before sending. Every once in a while I think I have a great idea for a piece of music, and I don’t. And you got to know where that line is, and I’m not crossing that line. So every piece of music has to be special before I hit the send button. It must be, like I had an idea, here’s the idea and the idea came to life, and it makes sense, and it’s actually better than I thought. This is still the criterion. LA Guns has always created music this way. The music is first, before Philip is tortured. Because at the end of the day, when you write that way, it’s up to the singer to just destroy the song or make it a great song. They don’t have the benefit of “Hey, I put this song together, man, it’s groovy, look at my chorus.” It’s not like that. There were times [when] we were younger where Phil’s big line to me was, “I can’t write about jazz, man.” He would tell me that. And it’s not jazz. Listen to it just enough times, and you will see where the verse is.
The album has a very live side to it. It has a good swing and groove, and the performance is tight but not mechanical.
Johnny and I have been with enough producers in our lives to know how to play behind the beat, which is a really important part of making a professional sounding rock and roll record. If guitars and bass take precedence over drums, that’s when people say, “This is a terrible record.” They don’t know why it’s such a terrible record, but it’s one of the most important things. … If the drummer really makes an interesting track that really feels like – like, “Oh man, I don’t wanna put any music on that because I love that drum track so much, I just wanna watch the window and listen to the drums “- it’s inspiring. It’s really inspiring to have drum tracks like that. And then you just pretend the guitar is the big box of 64, 128 boxes of pencils, and you can do all those kinds of things.
Listen to LA Guns’ Knock Me Down
Nothing in this album looks like a warm and fuzzy nostalgic journey, which, 30 years after the start of your career, could very easily have happened. It sounds raw, urgent and sizzling. The first track, “Cannonball”, gives me a sort of Aerosmith “Jailbait” feel, the way Phil sings.
Yeah, I could see that. I also think the other one that’s like that reminds me a bit of “Bright Light Fright”, is Ace’s song, “Living Right Now”. He really has that super cool Aerosmith Rocks thing about it. And I guess that’s just coming from the years of Aerosmith worship that we’re all part of in this group. But that’s the problem: I never, ever, ever, ever walk into an album thinking, what do LA Guns fans need? I know what they want. They’re LA Guns fans, and LA Guns should sound like LA Guns. But we were very lucky in the fact that, from the first record, we established a certain diversity. So by having, let’s just say, “One Way Ticket” on the first record – which is really not a ballad, it’s more of a murder ballad or a suicide ballad or something like that – so on. years, just adding a little more when possible really opens the listener’s mind to accept that the next record will be different from the previous one.
With each new record, the idea is like: What do I want to hear? What song hasn’t Zeppelin written that I can write? What song did he not write by Accept? It doesn’t matter what it is. And this is more where I have fun and inspire myself: what would Keith Richards do here? What would Randy Rhoads do? What would John Bonham do here? What would Neil Peart do here? All these kinds of funny puzzle pieces constantly cross my mind as I write music. And I’m trying to keep it from becoming progressive, and I think we’re holding it very well.
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