L.A. Guns first exploded onto the scene in the early eighties and wasted no time carving their own niche into Los Angeles’ highly competitive music scene. Even to this day, the band’s name and musical legacy remain ingrained in the fabric of the Sunset Strip’s most notorious era. The members of this extraordinary band are living proof that some people listen to rock n’ roll and some have it coursing through their veins. Such is the case with legendary drummer Steve Riley. Through the years, Riley has provided the crushing backbeat to the band’s biggest hits and shows no signs of slowing down. As the band prepares to unleash one of it’s most ambitious studio albums to date, ‘Hollywood Forever,’ Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon sat down with the infamous drummer to discuss the new album, his thoughts on the band’s longevity, life on the road and much more!
The music you have been instrumental in creating over the years inspired many a talented musician. I was curious to learn how music first came into your life?
I have been playing drums since I was 6 years old, so I have been playing drums for almost 50 years now! Ya know, I started playing drums even before I started playing rock ‘n’ roll. You can see I have been playing my whole life, since the early ‘60s. Some of my earliest memories are from the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark Five and all of them!
Who would you cite as the biggest influences on you as a drummer?
With drums, my biggest influences were guys like Buddy Rich, who is an incredible jazz drummer. In rock, biggest influences were all the guys from the ‘60s like Mitch Mitchell, Ginger Baker, Ringo Starr and Charlie Watts. They really were big influences on me.
Looking back on the early days of your career, did you think you would still be going strong all these years later?
You know what? I tell a lot of people when I started playing drums, I did it for enjoyment. Then I knew I could make a job out of it. I always wanted to be a working musician. Ya know, when I was young I was never really thinking, “I want to be a rock star!” All I ever wanted was to be able to play drums for a living. I am surprised because it is so hard to keep something going nowadays in music. I know so many good musicians who are out of work and I feel fortunate to still be doing it. I never thought I would able to do it this long and it looks like I will be doing it even longer! [laughs]
The landscape of the music industry changed so much during your career and your time with L.A. Guns. To what do you attribute your longevity, as well as the band’s, in this ever-changing industry?
I think it is because we keep writing and touring, ya know. I think a lot of bands stop doing that once they get a taste of the arenas and the big, big outdoor festivals. They seem to be really hesitant on going back to the place where it all started — the clubs, the larger clubs and the theaters. We never really hesitated when it came to that because we just like playing all of the time and I think that has helped us. We don’t just tour all the time, we also make sure we record. We just finished recording another new CD. We know it is a different climate when it comes to moving CDs in the marketplace and to get them heard but we are musicians and we really have to do it for our own soul. We have to keep writing music and keep fresh within ourselves. When we go out, we know we have to do a lot of the stuff that we did early in our careers and that’s OK, because we love doing it. We love recording as well and that is why try to put out a new CD every two or three years.
I was very excited to hear you were releasing a new album. What brought you all back together for this new album, “Hollywood Forever?”
Ya know, we are non-stop! We came off the road last year after a whole slew of dates which took us all over the United States, over to Australia, to Korea, over to Scandinavia and over to the UK. We did a ton of live dates last year and when we came off the road, we went right into a pre-production mode. We were really, really hot! We were playing great from playing live so much. It was the perfect thing for a band — going right from the road into the studio. Everyone was so fluid when playing and everyone was so tight! We went right into pre-production in late December. We worked right up until Christmas, then we took the holiday off and went right into the studio here in LA. We worked with Andy Johns again, who has produced our last four albums. He is the guy who has done all the Zeppelin stuff and The Stones. He just has a great track record! He is one of those old world masters! Like I said, this is our fourth album with him. We went right from the road, into the studio to make the album and now we are going to go right back out. We are off to Europe! We are non-stop, Jason! We just keep going! This is just what we do!
You guys are definitely dedicated! Has touring gotten any easier for you through the years or has it gotten more difficult? I mean, let’s face it, we aren’t gettin’ any younger! Is that something you still look forward to?
Yeah, we really do. We look forward to going out on the road and playing live but it hasn’t gotten any easier! In fact, it has gotten a little harder. You have to really get into a mode and really dig in. You can’t have any maintenance cases. I mean, you can’t have anyone complaining or saying, “Oh, I wish it was like this … ” We have all done the big bus tours, the plane tours and everything in between but now you really have to dig it. Now, we are flying into an area and doing three or four shows within a 200- or 300-mile radius and then we fly back to LA. We take a couple days off and then we are flying off to another area to do it again! That is how we are touring now, so it has gotten a lot more difficult but once you get into a mode and you workout to keep yourself healthy, you can do it. It’s easy.
What can fans expect sonically from “Hollywood Forever?”
We are with a label, Cleopatra Records, out here in LA. They are really, really behind the record and they have done a lot of work with the ‘80s bands out here. This is a little different because they know they are dealing with a band that tours a lot and will support the record. They are putting a big push behind it, which is great. But we also know the limitations behind it too. We aren’t hoping for too much. We are just hoping that fans will be able to get it easily at Best Buy or on the Internet, wherever Cleopatra Records sets it up, because all of the record stores are gone! We hope they see us out there. We have it on a big backdrop behind the band when we play live. We are gonna take it right to the people and the most you can hope is that you dent it a little bit. Ya know, we can’t hope for that big exposure because we are a classic rock band and you have to really go out there and work it. That is exactly what we are going to do! We did something different on this album. We did a rock song from an Argentinian rock band. We covered it — in Spanish! We are going to be sending that out to all of the Spanish language countries and we will tour over there too. It is kinda interesting and we are having some fun with it. I really think Cleopatra Records is going to get this out there and, with us out there, maybe we can make a little noise! That is all we are hoping for!
What can you tell us about your writing process for this album? Are you doing anything differently from past records?
It changed a little bit on this album but typically we go into pre-production, all four of us, and write the songs together. Some guys will bring in finished songs and but that is very rare. There are only three or four of those on the album, out of 14 or 15 songs. We all write together and there is a nice little system that we have of writing our music, giving it to Phil [Lewis] and letting him put a melody over it and some phrasing or lyrics. He brings it back in and we start tooling around with it. Then we bring it to Andy Johns and he finishes it a little bit and that’s it! It’s a nice, quick way to do it. We are recording old style too! When we go in, we aren’t spending months and months and months in the studio with a huge budget where you can sit back and take our time. We do it the old Sabbath way of doing it all in five or six weeks. It works out really well and there is a really great live feel on the album too. It’s very nice.
How did you come to choose “Hollywood Forever” for the title and what does it mean to you?
It is an interesting thing. Phil came up with that. He sorta comes up with all of the artistic sides of the band, where I handle more of the business side of things. He comes up with all of the ideas for the artwork, the naming of things and the titles. He came in and he said, “I really want to call the album ‘Hollywood Forever.’” It goes right across the board — L.A. Guns is Hollywood. This is where the band started and where we all live. We went through the entire ‘80s thing and we are still sticking around doing it! Hollywood and L.A. Guns go together man! If there is one Hollywood band, it has to be L.A. Guns!
Very true! It sounds like it would be safe to say you guys are in a pretty good place creatively and aren’t planning on calling it a day anytime soon!
Oh yeah, man! Like I said, going over the career and having played all these amazing places around the world, it has been terrific. We played nine European countries last year and we are doing eight more in the coming days. We will have covered all of Europe. We have a UK tour this year as well as the Scandinavian tour and there will be tons of U.S. dates, so we are in a very positive frame of mind. We are feeling good and the band sounds great! If someone is coming to see us live, they know they are going to get to hear their favorite songs. There are about nine songs that we have to do, starting from “Ballad of Jane” to “Rip and Tear” and on down the list! We have to do those songs live because the fans really want to hear them and we can pepper the rest of the set with some of our new stuff or add in a drum solo or a guitar solo or a jam. We are in a good frame of mind and it is exciting. We really hope everyone picks up “Hollywood Forever” because it is old school L.A. Guns and it is produced by one of the masters — it’s a really, really good package!
You have a lot of stuff going on for “Hollywood Forever.” I know you shot some videos as well.
Yeah, we did and we also shot an episode of “That Metal Show” with Eddie Trunk, Jim Florentine and Don Jamieson for VH1 Classic. We have a whole thing on there where we talk about the band and everything that is going on with the band. It is probably going to air in late July. There aren’t a lot of outlets for the videos these days, so what we did is we went into this huge soundstage and shot videos. Two of them are from the album and then there is the Spanish song. That will be a whole package, the single and the Spanish song together, “Araña Negra.” That will be a package on its own but the other videos, they look and sound great. We are going to see what kind of outlets we can get them on. We didn’t spend a lot of money on them but they look live and fresh, really cool! Cleopatra Records is going to use their resources to get them on anywhere they can. Maybe we can get it on “Rockfest” on VH1 Classic or on “Palladia” on DirectTV. There aren’t a lot of outlets, like I said, but I know they are going to try to get them up where they can. And after a while, they will be posted up on YouTube so that everyone can see them!
You’ve seen the music industry change so much through the years. What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in the music industry in this current climate?
Ya know, Jason. I really feel for them because those big machines out there, the labels and the record stores have changed everything. Everything is more difficult. The one good thing for all of these new bands is the Internet. They can get their music out immediately! They can put their own songs up on iTunes and put their videos up on YouTube. Those are really great tools that we didn’t have back then. We had to rely on the record companies. To get signed to a major label right now is very difficult. I would say to a new band: Go to an independent record label. Don’t even try the majors because they are almost untouchable right now. The major labels are really limited right now too, as they are sticking with what they know and what is proven. You should visit some of these smaller labels and start out smaller to get something out there. It’s a whole changed scene today, the signing of bands, getting them on tours and what have you. It is something where you really have to dig in and really want it right now.
For as long as you have been doing it, it is really cool to see you guys out there still enjoying it and making it happen! I catch you guys live whenever I can and you definitely bring it! Thanks for that!
Thank you! I really appreciate it! Yeah, I kinda have a nice little thing going so far with my career. I started recording in the ‘70s, 1975 on Epic Records with a band out of Chicago. I got to tour in Steppenwolf, Keel, W.A.S.P. and now in L.A. Guns. I have been really fortunate but it wasn’t me sitting on my ass either! It was really me putting myself into the situations and not waiting for it to come to me. I had to make sure that I was there, in a situation to meet people. Even in between W.A.S.P. and L.A. Guns, I made sure I was at a rehearsal studio where you know you are going to bounce into people. I am really fortunate I have gotten to do so much! Phil and I will probably go into our 60s and late 70s doing L.A. Guns and touring! We are all for it and we are really digging it!
We covered a lot here, Steve. Anything else you want to add or tell your fans around the world?
I hope fans get a chance to come out and see L.A. Guns with Phil Lewis and Steve Riley! I said it before but the band sounds so good right now! You will definitely get to hear your favorite songs because we play a long set! I really want everyone to check out “Hollywood Forever” because it is something we are really proud of. It sounds great! I told ya, we have one of the best producers in the world and I think they will be really, really surprised by the old school L.A. Guns sound. It’s really, really crisp!
I am looking forward to it, Steve! And we can’t wait for people to get their hands on this record! Thanks for letting us help spread the word!
Thank you, Jason! Have a great day, man!
For all the latest news and tour dates for L.A. Guns, visit the official website at www.laguns.net!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.