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Volume 90, Issue 82
Thursday, February 20, 1997
Cocked, loaded and firing again
©Gazette file photo
TATTOO YOU. L.A. Guns brandish some body art as they crawl out of the California sewer system to play The Embassy tonight.
By Paul Fruitman
L.A. Guns Interview No. 1: Monday, February 17, 3:47 p.m. E.S.T., drummer Steve Riley
The Gazette: "Hello?"
Steve Riley: "Hello, this is Steve from L.A. Guns. I'm sitting in for Tracii. He had to go to the airport."
G: "Where are you calling from?"
SR: "We're in Superior now. We're playing here tonight and then. . . what the. . . shit. . . fuck this shit."
Steve hangs up.
L.A. Guns Interview No. 2: Monday, February 17, 3:53 p.m. E.S.T., Steve Riley again.
SR: "Hello, sorry about that. I'm calling from a club phone and it's not working too well."
Our first, mishandled conversation says a lot about L.A. Guns' rock 'n' roll road a band with its tongue in the gutter that has just always seemed unable to get over the hump. The group formed a decade ago when founding member Tracii Guns left a then-unknown Guns 'n' Roses to start his own metal outfit a career move that ranks with the executive who decided 'New' Coke would be a refreshing change for the American public.
Guns 'n' Roses went on to have a half-decade stint as one of the world's biggest rock acts while L.A.G. toiled in the overcrowded California glam-metal scene. That is until 1991, when the Seattle grunge monster sat on the L.A. scene and crushed glam-metal 10 bands at a time. For his part, Riley believes the whole grunge phenomenon was a farce, that it was just metal draped in flannel instead of leather.
"Every grunge band was a metal band," says Riley in a Bostonian accent augmented by years of living in southern California. "Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains; metal, man, metal. I don't care how anybody packages it. When L.A. was at its peak, all those bands were dressing just like us and playing just like us. As soon as someone started dressing down, metal got a bad name."
And metal did get a bad name as Spandex, hair extensions and all-treble, wank-off guitar licks became the laughingstock of the music industry. But was the packaging the only difference between '80s metal and '90s grunge? Say Steve, what about the countless songs about dressing up in leathers, riding motorbikes and grabbing chicks?
"That would be the biggest difference, in lyrics," admits Riley, who rejoined LA. Guns after a stint with W.A.S.P. "It's not so much the party atmosphere anymore. Now it's writing about real-life experiences instead of 'Baby, Baby.' [Metal bands in the '80s] were just writing for the time."
Now that times have changed even L.A. Guns have given their lyrics a more serious edge. New vocalist/lyricist Chris Van Dahl who recently came over from Boneyard to L.A.G. with bassist Johnny Crypt has laced the band's latest release, American Hardcore, with more personal, realistic poetry. And the new members have allowed the reformed quartet to carry its reckless attitude into the music.
"There's no boundaries," Riley says proudly. "There's everything from heavy, heavy metal to jazz to rap. We're not crafting any songs for radio or video."
That's good, because radio and video apparently want no part of L.A. Guns. For the last few years, metal has been "ignored right across the board." But Riley is not content to simply blame it on the radio. He insists that while metal is being stonewalled on the airwaves, the genre is still thriving hard in live format.
"Metal is packing 'em in across the country. We're filling clubs and bars. Pantera and [White] Zombie are packing arenas. And watch what happens this year, there's going to be tonnes of metal on the road."
After an ill-fated tour with Warrant late last year, L.A.G. will traverse Canada and the U.S. eastern seaboard on its own before heading off to Japan and then to South America with Motorhead.
L.A.G. is still playing because the members love it and probably because they wouldn't know what to do if they stopped. L.A.G. also holds the belief that metal still has a viable place in the post-grunge '90s.
"I really don't think that metal ever left," Riley says confidently. "There's a huge market that will still follow it and ours is a fuckin' rockin' show."
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Copyright © The Gazette 1997