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Journeyman Traveler: An Exclusive Interview With STEVE RILEY Of L.A. GUNS

By Ruben Mosqueda, We Go To 11
Monday, November 16, 2020 @ 10:22 AM

On American Hardcore: "L.A. GUNS has a sound and that album was too much of a left hand turn."

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KNAC.COM caught up with drummer STEVE RILEY of L.A. GUNS [Featuring Riley And KELLY NICKELS] on November 11th, 2020. Riley and Company are set to release their new album Renegades on November 13th, 2020 on Golden Robot Records. But first a little bit of the backstory on how we wound up with two versions of L.A. GUNS. I spoke with STEVE RILEY back in May of this year and he gave me a little insight: “I was forced out of the band before that recording [Vicious Circle] by PHIL [LEWIS]. We had a falling out and they used a bunch of drummers on that album. I was on one track, “Crystal Eyes”, that they pulled from Hollywood Vampires and re-released it on that album. They ended up calling me back to do that World Tour for Vicious Circle. I guess that Bones was in for a short time and they let him go.” He found himself out of the band again when PHIL LEWIS reunited with the band’s namesake TRACII GUNS in 2016. They have gone on to release a couple of albums and Riley and Nickels are about to release their debut. They have gone on to release a preview of Renegades with the first single “Crawl” and “Renegades” which have received positive reviews by fans and press alike. Riley and Nickels are joined by guitarist SCOTT GRIFFIN and frontman KURT FROHLICH. Enjoy the interview.

KNAC.COM: How are you feeling as we near the album release date? It’s on Friday the 13th, no less?

RILEY: [laughs] With the way things have shaped up on 2020, what more of a memorable day to release an album? We’re so excited to finally release Regenades. Golden Robot Records played it well, we didn’t have any shows due to COVID, so we were able to release a new single every couple months leading up to the release of the album. It was great to give the fans something new and be able to work the record. I’m pleased. We have our 4th out right now, “All That You Are”, and the record comes out this Friday the 13th of November. We’re just so excited for the fans to get to hear the whole record. There’s a lot of depth to the record.

KNAC.COM: When I spoke with you back in May you were looking forward to being able to play some shows this fall and winter to promote the album. It must have been disappointing that you weren’t able to do that.

RILEY: Oh, yeah, everything that we had planned for 2020 got pushed into 2021. We aren’t the only ones who’s touring plans were affected of course but it felt like it at the time. I have to point out that nothing was cancelled, it was all postponed. Right now it looks like dates are scheduled for March of 2021. We’ve got our fingers crossed to make sure things are cool by then.

KNAC.COM: There've been a lot of bands that have gone stir crazy and have broken down and either put together streaming concerts or have done some quarantine videos. Have you thought about doing something like that?

RILEY: We haven’t kicked around that idea, because we finished our album at the end of 2019, so we had a product that we could work throughout the year. So we did just that, we gave the fans something new every couple of months with a new single leading up to the album. We might do a version of “Crawl” with the four of us in the boxes, that’s about the only thing that we have kicked around as an idea. We have not discussed doing a COVID-type show, I think the fact that all of us live in different areas of the country has played a factor.

KNAC.COM: Back when we spoke in May the only song that was made available by the label was “Crawl” and I really liked it. Of course then I had to pre-order the album to hear the thing as a whole. I got an advance of Renegades and I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard. I really liked “Crawl”, “Renegades”, “Well Oiled Machine” and “All That You Are”. You’ve got a couple great ballads on it that really hit the spot with “Would”, but my favorite song on the album is “You Can’t Walk Away”.

RILEY: Oh, thank you for saying that. “You Can’t Walk Away” was a song idea that I brought to the band when we were writing songs for the album. I brought that song and the last song on the record. I had been sitting on “You Can’t Walk Away” for years. I brought the song to the band and Kurt toyed around with the chorus a little and it turned out great! I’m very happy with what he did with it. I’m glad you loved it!

KNAC.COM: As a regular concert goer, I can say that you could stick “You Can’t Walk Away” in the set and then kick into “The Ballad Of Jayne”.

RILEY: Let me make a note of that! Thank you so much for saying that.

KNAC.COM: The drum sound you got on this record is pretty fucking killer.

RILEY: We did it ‘old school’. We didn’t have a lot of time and the big budget to do it. We went into the studio, we recorded it in about 7 days and we mixed it in about 4-5 days and then mastered it. We did the whole album in two weeks. I think we managed to capture the rawness of the music by not dwelling on it for too long. We didn’t have the time to second guess things and go back and change this or that. I like the way we did it. There’s something about doing this way, [BLACK] SABBATH did it that way, [LED] ZEPPELIN did their first album like that, it’s quick, stripped down and doesn’t give you a lot of time to overthink things. It’s almost like a live recording! We did some informal pre-production on the internet, but we took two days to do pre-production and we started to record the album. I’d like to do our next album like that too. There’s something special that you capture when you record like that.

KNAC.COM: How many songs did you write going into this?

RILEY: We had in the area of about 35 songs and we picked the best 10 out of the bunch. We have a wealth of material to look over when we go back into the studio to record another album. When we got into the studio after sharing song ideas and doing pre-production on the internet, that once we got together in the studio it was just magical.

KNAC.COM: Did you consider recording any of the L.A. GUNS classics while in the studio?

RILEY: Because we’re a classic rock band, we have to do the classic stuff from our catalog. We’re so proud of it. We feel that we have to do that live. When we get back on stage ⅔ of the set is going to be the stuff that the fans expect from us and we’ll do 3-4 songs from Renegades. It’s hard to go back and touch the classic stuff, because the fans are in love with the originals and they love those versions of the songs. We made a decision that we would write new material and leave things the way that they are. The label did approach us about doing an acoustic version of “The Ballad Of Jayne” and we might do something like that, but we wouldn’t try to recreate the studio version. It’s great as it is.

KNAC.COM: You played drums on the KEEL album The Right To Rock You and left shortly after, but I don’t know the story behind your departure.

RILEY: I had spoken to GREG CHAISSON, the bass player in BADLANDS, we had done a session together. He said that his brother KENNY CHAISSON was in a band called KEEL and they were getting ready to head into the studio to record with GENE SIMMONS and that I should give them a call. So I gave them a call, they liked me and they wanted me to join the band so I joined in time to record The Right To Rock. We did a couple of weeks of pre-production before we went in to record The Right To Rock. We did that one at The Record Plant in L.A., I had completed my drum tracks and was doing some background vocals with Gene. You probably didn’t know this, but Gene and I did most of the background vocals on The Right To Rock. While I was working on background vocals in the studio, I received a call from BLACKIE [LAWLESS]. He said, “Hey, I’d like you to stop by my house so we can talk". So, I stopped by his place after I got out of the studio. He told me that W.A.S.P. was working on their first album and they were going to have to let their drummer go. It was so ironic because that is what KEEL did with their drummer! They had let him go right before they went into the studio to record The Right To Rock. He mentioned that they were getting ready to head to Europe in two weeks and he asked me if I wanted to join the band. I had a hard decision to make. On one hand I was in a great position with KEEL, GENE SIMMONS and A&M Records...I loved those guys and I had to weigh one against the other. In the end I think I made the right call. I wound up playing all of the drums on The Right To Rock and then joined W.A.S.P. I did that about 2-3 weeks after I had completed my drum tracks. It was hard to tell the guys in KEEL that I was leaving because they are such great guys. Can you imagine having to choose between two great bands like that? I went with W.A.S.P. and they were under the same management as IRON MAIDEN so they had this big machine behind them.

KNAC.COM: What a streak of albums, The Right To Rock, The Last Command and Inside The Electric Circus.

RILEY: And don’t forget Live In The Raw! I played on that too, then after that I joined L.A. GUNS like two months later. It was a whirlwind Ruben, joining KEEL, recording with them, then going out on tour with Blackie and the guys, doing three albums with them and then getting right into L.A. GUNS! [laughs] You have to have a lot of luck and timing also plays a factor I think. You have to be a good player, but you need a lot of luck for the timing to be right. My timing? I was just so fortunate that I was able to go from one band to another band to another band. This just doesn't happen often. I’m so grateful.

KNAC.COM: The Last Command is probably the band’s better record of the two studio albums that you were on, but I have to say that for me Inside The Electric Circus edges it out, mostly because that was the first time I saw W.A.S.P. live. Which do you prefer?

RILEY: I feel that when we recorded “Blind In Texas” and “Wild Child” the band was firing on all cylinders. The Last Command has so much depth and so many great songs...then there was the tour! It was just my favorite time in W.A.S.P. RANDY PIPER was still in the band and we were on fire. I loved their first album, I still remember Blackie playing it for me when I was recording the album with KEEL. The Last Command tour with KISS and then with [IRON] MAIDEN was just great. We also got a chance to do some headlining shows and we got a chance to take some bands out with us. I liked Inside The Electric Circus, I like a lot of the material on that album. It was a different mold, RANDY [PIPER] was out of the band, the twin guitar attack from Randy and CHRIS [HOLMES] was gone, Blackie was now playing rhythm guitar and JOHNNY ROD was playing bass. It changed the chemistry of the band. I lean toward The Last Command because it was the classic line-up, it had the two biggest songs that Blackie wrote with "Wild Child" and “Blind In Texas”.

KNAC.COM: I wanted to ask you about the musical chairs with FRANKIE BANALI because you stepped in when he left STEPPENWOLF and then he stepped in for you at one point after you left W.A.S.P. and he went on to record a number of albums with Blackie.

RILEY: I love him. It’s such a loss for rock and metal. I felt really sad of what he had to go through over the past couple of years. Frankie and I have been friends since 1977. We were part of this group of people that were hanging out at The Rainbow waiting for our shot to get signed. It was a wild bunch of people, not all hung together but we knew each other. It was FRANKIE BANALI, NIKKI SIXX, STEPHEN PEARCY and the list goes on. We were all in a band waiting for our big break and all of our shots came in the early 80s. We were really good friends. You’re right, I replaced him in STEPPENWOLF then he replaced me in W.A.S.P. We liked each other's drumming styles and we liked a lot of the same drummers. QUIET RIOT and W.A.S.P. went out on tour together and he was such an all around great guy. He’s sadly missed. What a great drummer! His style and the way he played was just spectacular. He was a great friend and a spectacular drummer.

KNAC.COM: Did you run into or meet EDDIE VAN HALEN? You mentioned you were in L.A. by 1977, which is around the time that VAN HALEN were gearing up to release their debut album.

RILEY: Yeah, this is a weird story. It all came back to me when Eddie passed, another musical giant. So I moved out here in ‘77, I came out to play with MICKIE JONES who was the bass player in ANGEL. He had just left ANGEL, I was great friends with those guys, I grew up on the East Coast and I grew up with FRANK DIMINO, their singer in Boston. MICKIE JONES called me and told me that he was forming this band and wanted to know if I wanted to come to L.A. I was living in Indianapolis at the time and was in a band called ROADMASTER. I came out in ‘77 and come to find out, Mickie was great friends with EDDIE VAN HALEN! This was before the album came out, they were still playing clubs in L.A. The ANGEL guys knew VAN HALEN because they’d hang out together at The Rainbow after their shows. The ANGEL guys took me to The Whisky to see this band called VAN HALEN. I got a chance to see them for the first time before their album was even out. I could not believe that band! About a week later Mickie and I are getting ready to go out and he mentioned that Eddie was coming along with us! So Eddie shows up at my apartment with MICKIE JONES to pick me up. Eddie was driving the VAN HALEN van which was this old cargo van headed to The Starwood to see a band called QUIET RIOT with RANDY RHOADS. Check it out, we’re in the audience, hanging out, Eddie, Mickie and I smoked a bunch of doobs, we’re having drinks and we’re watching QUIET RIOT with RANDY ROADS! Can you imagine?! [laughs] It’s just such an insane thought! I had never seen Randy play, he was just burning it up onstage. I looked over at Eddie and asked, “Well, what do you think of this guy”?! At the time I had no idea that there was a little bit of tension between the two, because they were jockeying to be ‘king of the clubs’. Anyway, he replied “Oh, he’s okay”. I think back at that in amazement, because I was there with EDDIE VAN HALEN watching RANDY RHOADS before either of them became these ‘titans of rock’. I also remember hearing the VAN HALEN debut album before it was released. He brought it over to a place that I was living at in the Hollywood Hills. He puts on this cassette with a bunch of writing on it and it was like wow! It starts off with “Eruption” and we hadn’t heard anything like that before, it was incredible. I also got a chance to see VAN HALEN at the Pasadena Civic Center, the album wasn’t out yet, but they had ‘graduated’ from the clubs and were playing bigger venues. What great memories.

KNAC.COM: Were you a NEIL PEART fan?

RILEY: I have the utmost respect for him. I wasn’t an ultra RUSH fanatic. I felt that Neil was just this amazing technician. I watched the ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME ceremony and was happy that they honored NEIL PEART, GINGER BAKER, LEE KERSLAKE and FRANKIE BANALI. It was such a classy thing that they did to put those four drummers together in the ‘In Memorium’ piece that they did. GINGER BAKER was GOD to me, because I’m older, I’m going to be 65 in January. He changed the face of rock drumming, he was there before IAN PACE, COZY POWELL and JOHN BONHAM. Ginger and I were both endorsed by Ludwig and I got a chance to hang out with GINGER BAKER one day at the NAMM show. We were doing a signing at the Ludwig booth and I got a chance to take some photos with Ginger. I was in awe the whole time! So we have lost four great drummers, LEE KIRSLAKE was another fantastic drummer. He was just amazing on the first two Ozzy albums.

KNAC.COM: You have seen the GINGER BAKER documentary, right?

RILEY: It’s insane! [burst into laughter]

KNAC.COM: When the thing starts off with him beating the director in the head with a cane, you knew you were in for a great film!

RILEY: [laughs] And that’s how he really was in real life! He was a no nonsense crazy man! [laughs] Even before KEITH MOON and JOHN BONHAM, Ginger was the first crazy man drummer. You see it in the documentary though I do have to say that he was tame the day that I was with him at the Ludwig booth. You’re going to make me watch that documentary again! [laughs] I can’t believe he hit that guy in the face with his cane?! He busted his nose! [laughs]

KNAC.COM: Just wanted to ask you your thoughts on American Hardcore [‘96], Wasted [‘98] and Shrinking Violet [‘99] a steak of albums with different singers, CHRIS VAN DAHL, RALPH SAENZ and JIZZY PEARL respectively.

RILEY: I liked American Hardcore, it was a fun record to make. It was the first record that Tracii and I made after the ‘classic’ line-up had broken up. It was smack in the middle of the grunge era, we opted to do something heavier, I remember Tracii was a fan of PANTERA. I was too, I was friends with VINNIE [PAUL] and Dimebag and the rest of the guys in the band. He was dead set on doing a PANTERA sounding record. We had already established our sound Ruben, L.A. GUNS has a sound and that album was too much of a left hand turn. I like a lot of the stuff on that album, it was fun to play and I got a chance to do a lot of double kick stuff. we mixed in a lot of jazz, hard rock, metal and black metal. It was a hard left turn and it confused and alienated some of the fans. I like it, but I think we could have made a record that wasn’t that far left. The next two albums we did, Wasted and Shrinking Violet were more in the tradition of the L.A. GUNS sound. The songs were more compact and the riffs were L.A. GUNS type riffs. Working with all of those guys, CHRIS VAN DAHL, JOHNNY CRYPT, RALPH SAENZ or MICHAEL STARR and JIZZY PEARL was wonderful. I think Wasted turned out great, it was only six songs, but what we did on that was really, really good. Working on Shrinking Violet was a gas, because Jizzy is a great guy, great singer and we wrote some great material. Unfortunately all three of those albums didn’t get much of a chance, probably because we were at the tail end of the 90s and stuff from 80s bands was still out. It was something that I hadn’t even done before, the same band through three records but different singers.


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