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Please feel free to look around the forum as a guest, I hope you will find something of interest. If you want to join the discussions or contribute in other ways then you need to become a member. We especially welcome anyone who wants to share documents for our archive or would be interested in translating or transcribing articles and interviews.

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Interview with Tracii Guns - Classic Hard Rock Examiner, November 9, 2011

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Interview with Tracii Guns - Classic Hard Rock Examiner, November 9, 2011 Empty Interview with Tracii Guns - Classic Hard Rock Examiner, November 9, 2011

Post by Soulmonster Sun 27 Nov 2011 - 14:44

Tracii Guns is best-known for his role as guitarist and founding member of the Hollywood-based rock group L.A. Guns, which became one of the leading lights of the Sunset Strip scene in the 1980s with its self-titled debut album.

Guns was also a founding member of Guns N' Roses, which he formed with Axl Rose in 1985. Guns left that group to return to L.A. Guns in 1987, just before the group signed with Polygram. Its debut went platinum, as did 1989's Cocked and Loaded and Hollywood Vampires in 1991.The group has soldiered on in various permutations virtually ever since, with Guns also taking several musical side trips with Brides of Destruction, Contraband, and even brief stints in Poison and Quiet Riot.

In September L.A. Guns released a new album entitled Acoustic Gypsy Live, a collection of past hits, new material and two covers all re-arranged in acoustic versions that are very different from L.A. Guns' usual bluesy hard rock and metal.

Tracii Guns spoke to about the new album, the process of re-arranging older songs in a new way, bad reality television, Warrant singer Jani Lane, why Axl Rose isn't really that weird and much more in the following interview. Thanks to Tracii Guns, and to Carol Kaye at Kayos Productions for arranging this interview

What inspired Acoustic Gypsy Live?

It was an idea that really came from my management and my label, Favored Nations. They were going through growing pains like everybody else as far as how to sell music to our audience, or any specific audience. The times have changed, and the idea of putting out a 12-song album of all new material on a band whose fan base, in their heyday, was over 20 years ago . . . the cost of having a studio and doing it correctly to where it will stand up to 1988 standards is a very expensive thing to do.

So the idea that was presented to me was, "Hey, how would you feel about doing an unplugged thing in sort of a greatest hits kind of a way?" Because L.A. Guns has never done that before.

I didn't really like the way that sounded, so I said, "Give me some time to think about what you're saying here." And I went back and I said, "Can I hire three or four more musicians? Can I pick the set list? Can I do it at a venue that's appropriate? Can I record it over two nights?" A lot of variables to make it where it didn't just seem like an attempt to steal money from L.A. Guns fans. It had to be of the quality of our best work. And since we're doing old songs in a new format, that doesn't mean that those songs naturally transform into great-sounding acoustic songs! (Laughs).

So after putting a couple of weeks of thought into it, I got back to the label and I said, "This is how I'd like to do it." And they said, "Great. If you can pull that off, and make these songs songs seem as though they were written on acoustic guitar, all the better. What do you need?"

So we're getting closer to the two show days, and at rehearsal my fingers are just starting to get raw. (Laughs). Rehearsing seven hours a day on acoustic guitar, which I pick up about once a month in my normal everyday life. And I'm thinking, 'Oh my God, these rehearsals are so good, but my fingers aren't going to function on the two nights of the show!'

So we took the last day of rehearsal off just so everybody could chill and loosen up, and we went into The Hotel Cafe, which is right here at the bottom of the hill in the Hollywood Hills, and we banged it out on a Saturday and Sunday night. We ended up using the second night of recording. No overdubs, no extra delays or reverb or fairy dust. And it turned out pretty damn good.

So this is really live, as opposed to live with overdubs?

Yeah. I've done a bunch of live records over the years, and this one is a hundred percent live. On the electric records you always go in and fix something, whether somebody sang something out of key, or a guitar cable fell out in the middle of a song. (Laughs). You know, you run into those things. But that was the reason for recording two nights, so in case we had to patch anything, it wouldn't have to be an overdub. It could be something flown in from the other night. But we pulled it off. We got lucky that day. (Laughs).

You must have been a little nervous to change up your approach that dramatically.

Oh man, I'm still terrified when I listen to it! (Laughter). You know that dream you have when you're a kid where you're in front of the class in your underwear? Every time I put the record on - because I really do enjoy the record, particularly the Otis Redding cover. I've been wanting to do that song my entire life.

But I know the spots where I didn't nail what my heart was telling me. So when I hear it, there's certain spots on the record where I'm like, "Oh my God!" It was a big ordeal for me to do something like this, and at the end of the day actually a big confidence booster, because I feel more comfortable playing acoustically live now. You know, at my age I probably should be playing a little bit more acoustically. (Laughs).

What did you have to change about the way you play to approach these songs acoustically?

When you're playing an electric guitar through an amplifier, the way that I play is, the power on which I play the guitar gets the dynamics. Meaning that I can turn the volume down a little bit on my guitar to play cleaner, I can turn it up and hit the guitar harder to get the implied heavier feel.

On an acoustic guitar you're kind of on one setting, so all the dynamics have to come from your hands. There's no volume pedal, no volume knob, there's no mushy delay to get lost in if you're just not feeling it that night. So the approach is, be impeccable with playing. I can't improvise as loosely as I can on an electric guitar, because then I'm standing up and feeling the crowd. That's a pure feel feel thing, whereas on acoustic guitar, for me it's a little bit more heady, to actually be thinking a little bit and to make sure that notes are ringing out when I am playing a solo.

If on the electric version there's some crazy lead guitar run, I had to replace those types of runs with, for lack of a better term, some adult chording and movement. I had to re-write these little parts. And in the end I actually learned a lot by pretending that these songs were brand-new and written for acoustic guitar.

The other guys had no problem; the ukulele player and the sitar player is the same guy, and that guy, man, he was sitting in there whipping this stuff off like he could do it in his sleep, and I'm going home after seven days of rehearsal and I'm still practicing it at home!

Is your upcoming tour going to be all acoustic?

No, absolutely not! (Laughs). Probably not even one all-acoustic song. I told everybody that if the record does well enough that in a year people are asking for an all-acoustic set, that we would definitely do a small run, meaning New York City, Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles . . . places where I know people would show up and want to see just an acoustic set. Because I'd have to have the whole band there to re-produce that live, and the expense of doing an acoustic tour like that at our level right now, it would cost a fortune. But you know, I'd love to do it. In a perfect world that would be what we would be doing.

But no, we're going out there and turning the amps all the way up, and doing it L.A. Guns style.

I know you list Jimmy Page as a primary influence, and he's a great acoustic player. Did you turn to any of those Zeppelin records at all and say, "How would Jimmy Page do this?"

Well, that's what every one of my records should be called, is What Would Jimmy Page Do? I've never been scared to admit that. But then again, knowing that, what would Link Wray do? What would Bert Jansch do? What would all these guys do?

Oddly enough, because this particular set list isn't very Celtic, and Page had a tendency to be kinda folkish and Celtic with his acoustic style . . . these were more kinda straight-up block chord songs. I really listened to Neil Young a lot before I approached re-arranging these, because Neil has a way of playing a single acoustic guitar and it sounding like two or three things happening at once. Particularly on "The Needle and the Damage Done", where he's singing and playing the guitar, and the guitar has a lot of movement.

We have a new song on the album called "Little Soldier," and when it was originally written a few months earlier, it was kind of a strum-along folky thing, and then I started listening to stuff like Brad Paisley and early, early Hank Williams, and I thought, 'Man, I could use this whole style in playing over the song.' So there's the song, and then there's me playing a solo over the entire song, with a break for a harmonica solo.

So that's kind of how my brain worked in building textures for these tunes. Not as much Page as I feel comfortable with, because Page is my comfort zone. But maybe that's why people like this record, because maybe there isn't as much of a Led Zeppelin feel about it or Jimmy Page feel about it. Maybe it has a life of its own, which is a very difficult thing for any artist to do. Even when I listen to it, I don't hear any of my normal influence in playing coming through it.

It's great to stretch out, especially since as most bands get older, it winds up becoming more and more about going out and simply re-capitulating the familiar songs for money.

Yeah, I'm really hard on myself about that. That's the one thing that I can't do. I can't just go do it for money. If I don't dig it, then I won't do it. Because there's plenty of opportunity for musicians, if they open their eyes, to go play music and have fun and make money doing it. The cool thing about L.A. Guns has always been, I've always had the ability to walk on stage every night and play the songs exactly the way I wanted to play them, regardless of what the band was doing. That helps when you write the music. That's what keeps me motivated to do it.

With a thing like this, for me it was a re-invention of the top twelve L.A. Guns songs, let's say, and that keeps me excited. That's the key for me to keep doing it. If I can get excited by the music, then it's worth doing it. Ten grand to leave home and not see my three-year-old son for three weeks . . . that doesn't sound so good! (Laughs).

You obviously were a pioneer in that Sunset Strip metal scene that's been chronicled a lot in The Decline of Western Civilization movie, and the book Bang Your Head. It's always done with a little bit of a wink and a nudge, like it doesn't really take it seriously. Do you feel that scene gets the musical respect it deserves, or did the imaging take it over?

This is a point that Hendrix made, isn't it? Gimmicks, and how, particularly when he had all the other guys on stage with him at Woodstock, he wanted everyone to look at him as a musical force. And although he was a musical force, he felt that he wasn't treated with that respect.

I think particularly in the eighties, I thought the guys in Guns 'N Roses looked great. I don't think their image overpowered their music. Maybe their hype and storytelling did, but the music was great. I think for a lot of bands, that's where they feel their stigma came from, is their image. I like the L.A. Guns image. There's some silly photos out there, but nothing too bad.

I like Funkadelic, man, so I like when people are just out of their minds. (Laughs). It's a creative place.

I think when people start refining an image - and not to take a stab at Warrant or Jani, God bless his soul; he was a really good friend of mine. But coming out wearing the white leather suits and stuff like that, that was a little over the top, and I don't think things like that were well thought out for the future. Or Vanilla Ice, with that silly-ass haircut. Sure, he got on top, he made money, and he's been able to turn that money into a mogul, but as a serious artist - which he probably really is at this time of his life - he has that stigma of the haircut.

But there was certainly great music from our time. Motley Crue made some credible music at one time, some very credible music. Ratt did, and Great White; man, they've got some real songs. But yeah, it is overshadowed by the whole image and the overall vibe of the scene. I would agree with that a hundred percent.

Mentioning Jani Lane, of course his cause of death was recently confirmed as alcohol, which wasn't a big surprise, I don't think. But in doing the research to write that article I watched that VH1 thing, I'm sure you've seen it - it's that really sad clip where he's sitting there just lamenting ever having written "Cherry Pie."

Oh, yeah, and I mean, I've sat on the couch with him a few times when we've been on tour together where he laments over it. And that's a classic example of what we were just talking about, where a guy's image and stigma overpowered his true talent. Because look, man, the guy, beyond being a songwriter - which he was a fantastic songwriter [with] an incredible voice. He could sit down with an acoustic guitar and make you cry. He could sit behind a kit and make you think it was John Bonham, too. But people don't know this. Because you get to pick and choose what you put in your media, and I think that he always just felt that he picked the wrong things to put in his media trying to gain success during that time.

I understand his pain. I don't think he understood his pain. I think maybe in his mind, being such a serious musician, that he took the stigma a little too seriously and self-medicated, and went to that dark place where so many musicians go. You don't have to be the guy that wrote "Cherry Pie" to get that depressed about your music and the way it's viewed. Music is so psychological, and you can't let it get you. Music is supposed to be your outlet, not your bane. You know, it's not supposed to kill you.

It's so sad that such a long line of artists don't seem to get that, somehow.

Well, you know, because we have huge egos, and the crushing of one's ego is sometimes very hard to deal with. Me, I've never taken - beyond the music I write and perform; that's the only thing I take seriously. But as far as imaging stigma, things like that, it's just drama, and I don't care if it's good or bad. If you're getting attention, you're getting attention. Alice Cooper, man, I think he wrote a whole book about that.

Musicians are very sensitive people, and with low self-esteem. Not all of them, but a great deal of them. A lot of them get agoraphobic, a lot of them get panic disorder. A lot of them go through extreme mental stress. Especially the good ones. The more talented you are, sometimes the more nutty you get.

Somewhat along those lines, you worked with Axl Rose prior to him becoming the Howard Hughes of rock that he's viewed as now . . .

(Laughing) That's a good analogy!

Was it apparent back then that that was in him? You know, that kind of . . . he comes off as a pretty weird guy.

Well . . . (long pause) . . . you know, I think . . . he really isn't a really weird guy.


He's more of a simple guy who got thrown into a complicated world. That's really the best way that I can describe that. 'Cause I knew him . . . [Guitarist] Izzy [Stradlin] was already living with me at my Mom's house when Axl came up to LA to be in a band with Izzy. So a very young, nineteen-or-twenty-year-old Axl was soft-spoken, intelligent . . .would kick anyone's ass for you if he was your friend. He always had the fight in him, there's no denying that. He always had the fight in him.

But I also think - which is one of the reasons I left Guns 'N Roses in the first place - once we started having this very minor success here in L.A., Izzy and I were running into problems with him. His extended speeches on stage, this newfound power . . . the power of his voice to communicate how he felt about situations on stage. At that time we were allotted an hour; you know, you go up there, you've got an hour to play your songs and then get the hell off the stage.

The first show we did ten songs, a couple of shows we did nine songs, and then the last few shows I did, we were literally playing five or six songs and then letting Axl just stand there and talk, and tell everybody what he thought. Which is great, but for me personally, I wasn't playing music to support any cause, or any local clothes maker or whatever.

And I think that he found that that worked for him; that he could be a voice to be reckoned with, and you're not gonna cross him. And he stuck to those simple values of, "You say something bad about me, I'm gonna f*ck you up." To the point where he is a Howard Hughes type, where he took forever to make a record, it came out, some people like it and some people don't . . . he's got a band of great musicians now. They don't play very often; when they do, there seems to be a little bit of iffiness about it.

You know, he's doing it his way, but I don't think he's that weird a cat. I think that he has an unrealistic view of the world. That doesn't necessarily make him weird. It just means . . . Michael Jackson kinda went through the same thing of really not having a childhood, for instance. How do you cope in the adult world when you already have everything, you can have anything, and then you have to deal with an adult on an adult, educated level?

Here's what my Dad says: "The day you get your record deal is the day you stop maturing."

(Laughing) I have said those exact words over and over!

There you go. It's a great analogy. Axl got signed when he was 22, got massive success, got his pockets loaded with money, everybody listened to everything he said. Why should he think that things are any different now?

I'm not necessarily saying that I support that and that's a wonderful thing for him. In a lot of ways it's unfortunate for him. Yet he's done it his way, he continues doing it his way, and people still keep coming to see him. Bottom line. That's the reality.

I read somewhere that you were part of a reality series that might be airing for VH1. Did that ever come through?

My opinion is that that is the most expensive home movie ever made. I got involved with a guy, a really cool guy up in Canada who for some reason had lottery kind of money. I don't know where it came from, don't know why, but he was spending it like it was the first time he ever had a ten dollar bill in his life. And we built a studio up in Canada that's out of this world, had a full camera crew documenting every square inch of our life, and at the end of the day it's like, "Okay, you've got maybe the best record I've ever made, you've got all this video stuff . . . where's your distribution, where's this, where's that?" And he just kinda said, "Oh, don't worry about that, I'm just going to go in to the head of Warner Brothers and have a talk with him, and we'll get this rolling."

And you've just gotta chuckle at being naive like that. So that's why the reality of that project ever seeing the light of day is pretty grim. If the album ever comes out, it would be because it got leaked by me somehow, or by Marty Casey who sang on it. And the video footage - which has been edited over and over, I'm sure - there's just not enough content. It's just boring watching guys sitting around writing songs and recording. There's no Kardashian t*ts in it. (Laughs). There's nothing interesting about it!

You know, it's so sad, because most of the so-called reality TV that's based around rock music sucks so badly.

Of course it does!

It's so terrible, and they get these people to do all this stupid stuff so they'll have something to broadcast, and everyone involved comes off looking like a moron.

Well, that's the deal. Rock and roll is supposed to hold a certain amount of mystique, isn't it? As soon as you see how dopey we all are, it just kinda ends it right there. (Laughs).

There are certain things that are great, like the making of Dark Side of the Moon. Wonderful! There are certain exceptions to every rule. But the idea of following any knucklehead around who's dumb enough - like me - to put a complete body tattoo on himself and have anything credible to say, the chances are pretty low. And to be entertaining on top of that . . . you know, most men, when they get together and have a laugh, it always degrades all the way down to talking about what their sh*t looks like in the morning. (Laughs). These are the realities of life. If you don't have Snooki, if you don't have somebody singing their *ss off in front of your face . . . like The X Factor is f*cking blowing my mind right now.

But you're not gonna get a bunch of knuckleheads in their mid-40s to make an interesting reality show. I'm sorry.

You know, Gene Simmons is doing a great job because he's got a very interesting family. It's not based around KISS, it's not based around their rehearsal or their recording or any of that. It's based around this guy's very ironic life, and how human he really is, but how smart he really is. The claim that he never fails is so unrealistic that it makes it fun to watch. So reality TV, I have been brought things like the Bret Michaels kind of things . . .

That's the worst stuff in the world.

It's trash, right? But God bless him. He made some coin, and for him it kinda works in a funny way, because I think in the grand scheme of things Bret Michaels was always kinda taken as kind of a cute guy, was never really hailed as an amazing vocalist or anything like that. He always had more of a celebrity cheese thing, and I think that he's smart enough to capitalize on that celebrity cheese. A lot of guys from our time did not have the mentality of Bret Michaels. They could turn a hard-on into a weeping willow tree at the drop of a hat! Whereas women do love Bret Michaels, so that made sense.

But I've been approached for different things, and it's just like, I can't do it. And I'm not the kind of guy that walks by a penny and leaves it on the ground. There's just some things you just can't do.

I got a press release recently that you're working with a new singer.

Yeah, speaking of reality shows. We've got Dilana Robichaux from Rock Star Supernova.

She was awesome on there.

Yeah, she's a real L.A. Guns type; tattoos, tough, got bigger balls than anybody I know. Still rides a Harley, sings like an angel. We'll see how that goes. It's a big chance for the band, a big risk. We've gotta go out there and do it and see how it's gonna turn out. I'm digging it, certainly, because it's obviously fresh, it's something new for me to do with L.A. Guns, and I'd like to continue on that path. This is probably the biggest chance I've taken in a long time. (Laughs).

What prompted you to make that change?

Opportunity. Jizzy, the guy that had been singing in the band for two years, just did not want to get in a van again for the rest of his life. And I don't blame him. We work hard, and we work long hours and do our thing just to get to the gigs to make the music. I give him a lot of credit. He's in his mid-50s, and he stuck it out for a couple of years and then handed in his "I retire from the van" email, and I said, "I don't blame you."

So when something like that happens in my life, it makes me think of different opportunities. I'm presented with either a bummer, or something exciting, so how can I turn this bummer into something exciting and make people at least interested in what the next step is?

Whether people end up loving her or people end up hating her, it's definitely a sharp decision, a sharp left turn. It's an unexpected thing, and the proof is in the pudding. We've got to get out there and play, and if people enjoy it, then we'll do it for awhile.

Good luck with that. It sounds like it could be really cool.

It could be, and I hope it is! (Laughs).

Is there anything else you want to say about Acoustic Gypsy Live or anything else you've got coming up?

If anybody's looking at this interview and they still support me, thank you very much. I don't take you for granted.

Continue reading on Interview with L.A. Guns guitarist Tracii Guns - National Classic Hard Rock |
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