Tuesday, 14 February 2017

The Story of a L.A. Gun and a Hollywood Tease

L.A. Guns circa 1988
(Promo photo courtesy of Polygram Records)
Originally published in Rave-Up #15 (1988)

Interview by Devorah Ostrov

A young man living in London writes a song called "Hollywood Tease" for his band, Girl.
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, another young man living in a Hollywood dumpster listens to the song on a cassette player incessantly. Years later, the two meet and become band buddies. Was it fate, or just a really bizarre coincidence? You be the judge...

Three rings and Phil Lewis' answering machine picks up...

RAVE-UP: Hi Phil. This is Devorah from Rave-Up. I'm calling to do the interview. It's 10pm. Since you're not home, give me a call later at (415) 864...

PHIL (grabbing the phone): Ah... uhmm... hello. To be honest with you, I was just about to go to bed. [What are these rock stars like?]

RAVE-UP: I don't want to keep you up or anything. Do you want to talk tomorrow?

PHIL: No, no, no. I won't have a chance to do it tomorrow. It's alright. I was just in the kitchen...

RAVE-UP: OK. So, how long have you been over here and why did you leave London?

PHIL: I've been here a little over a year, and I got sent a tape of the Guns. I liked L.A. Guns and I got their manager to send me tapes. On a couple of occasions, he mentioned that if I was interested in singing that there could be a possibility. But at that time, I had another project in England that I was working on - a band called Torme. We had a new album out, it was their second album, and their first album had done really well. But... the album didn't really turn out the way I would've liked. One thing led to another and...

RAVE-UP: You left?

PHIL: Yeah. So, I met with Alan [L.A. Guns' manager] and told him what was going on. In fact, at that time, I didn't even want to continue in music. I wanted to join the Red Cross in the Middle East and take photographs.

My autographed Girl 45
RAVE-UP: Wow! That's quite a departure. How far did you pursue that idea?

PHIL: I was in the process of sorting it all out. Of course, everyone told me I was totally mad!

RAVE-UP: Yes, well...

PHIL: I know... But the thing about it is, in London anyway, when you tell somebody you're in a band, they say, "So's my cousin." I wasn't so much disillusioned with the music, as I was disillusioned with the people that were doing it. It was bad enough with the record company people being the jerks that they are, but when the bands started pandering to it... Good rock 'n' rollers selling out. You've got to see what's happening in England. It kills me! That's when I decided I wanted to do something real. Something that wasn't a sell-out. Now, I think this is very real. I think being in Hollywood and being in a band with guys that I love very much is... When I say real - I mean I'm not wasting my time. It's something I feel good about doing.

RAVE-UP: I know that at one time Axl, from Guns N' Roses, was the singer for L.A. Guns. The singer you replaced must have been after him...

PHIL: Yeah, a guy called Paul Black. I think his name is Paul Black.

RAVE-UP: The tapes that you'd heard prior to joining... were they with Axl or Paul?

PHIL: Paul. I never heard the band with Axl. In fact, the first thing I did when I joined the group was to rewrite all the lyrics. Paul was a little bit doomy, a little bit on the morose side. I thought the whole thing needed cheering up a bit!

RAVE-UP: Was it your idea to do Girl's "Hollywood Tease" with L.A. Guns?

"Sex Action" b/w "Hollywood Tease"
Vertigo/Polygram - Japanese picture sleeve 45 (1988)
PHIL: No! I wasn't even that pleased when they suggested doing it. What happened was... Tracii just loves the song! He told me a story of when he was a kid, he literally lived in a trash can for two weeks - one of those big dumpsters. And all he had was a candle, a sleeping bag, and a cassette player with one tape - Girl! He used to play "Hollywood Tease" the whole time. He could really relate to it. At first, I did the song as a favor to Tracii. I said, "Well, you know, if you like it so much we can do it." But they played it so fucking well, I would be crazy not to do it!

RAVE-UP: Were you surprized to find that kids over here knew you from Girl?

PHIL: I was totally, utterly blown away by it! It was a lovely surprise because, you know, I didn't expect to be remembered. It didn't even occur to me that people would have heard of Girl in the first place. We never played over here and, as far as I know, we never had anything released over here. Everything that people know about Girl was on import.

RAVE-UP: Were you in any bands before Girl?

PHIL: No. Girl was my apprenticeship. Girl was great! The wonderful thing about Girl was we couldn't play, you know?

RAVE-UP: What? I thought Girl was one of the best bands of the early '80s!

PHIL: Thank you so much! But we really didn't ever consider ourselves to be musicians, or anything. Originally, Gerry [Laffy] and I were both guitar players in Girl and we were looking for a singer. We couldn't find one, so in the end we flipped a coin. I lost and ended up being the singer.

RAVE-UP: The winner got to be the guitar player!

Phil Lewis stands front and center in this
Girl publicity photo.
PHIL: Yeah! Neither of us wanted to be the singer. I lost and thought, "Fair enough." I honoured it and I've been singing ever since. Actually, after Girl split up I went back to playing guitar in some local, underground rock bands in England. I did a French tour with the London Cowboys, and after the shows journalists would come backstage - but they wouldn't want to talk to me. They wanted to talk to the singer! It was really weird coming from a band where I had so much attention and then all of a sudden I was just the guitarist. It was like, "Oh... right... sorry." What can you say? That's when I thought, "Hmmm... well, maybe this singing business is better!"

RAVE-UP: Kind of a blow to your ego?

PHIL (laughing): Just a bit. Well, you know, I never realized it when I was in Girl. I thought everyone was getting the same amount of attention.

RAVE-UP: L.A. Guns seems like quite a departure from Girl. I've always pictured Girl as this sort of sweet, cute pop band. Whereas L.A. Guns are a lot heavier and er... sleazier. Was that a gradual change for you or did you always tend towards a heavier style?

PHIL: No, not really. It was just the way that Girl was marketed. In fact, any member of Girl could fit into L.A. Guns. Phil Collen [now with Def Leppard] could easily play guitar for L.A. Guns, Gerry could easily play guitar... I think if you'd been in England, you would have probably been exposed to the more mature side of Girl.

RAVE-UP: Did Polygram Records give you guys any hassle about L.A. Guns' image? Did they try to clean you up at all?

PHIL: Yeah, a tiny bit. It's really weird because the things that particularly appealed to them about us were what they were a bit scared of.

RAVE-UP: Like what?

Phil Lewis from the cover of Rave-Up #15
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
PHIL: Well, you know, all the publicity shots covered in guns and bullets, things like that. We got our record deal because of a video we did for MTV. The deal was that we would play in the background for an Expose video - they stuck us in suits and slicked back our hair. I don't even know what the song was, right? But in exchange, MTV would do our video. We knew there was no point in us making a video for MTV because we weren't at that stage yet, so we thought we'd make the most outrageous, daring, disgusting, sexist, violent video ever made. In the best possible taste! We took it to Polygram to show them, and they absolutely loved it! "Great video, guys!" Of course, MTV banned it in the first four seconds!

RAVE-UP: What's in the video?

PHIL: Oh, just things like guys getting pushed off skyscrapers and throats getting slit in swimming pools.

RAVE-UP: I'm really happy to find that you haven't lost your enthusiasm for rock 'n' roll!

PHIL: Thank you. I do love it! I do live for it! When I was a kid listening to records, I knew exactly what I wanted to be. I never doubted it. Well, I did... It just about took me. But fortunately, these guys came at just the right time - just as I was starting to get cynical.

RAVE-UP: I'm really happy for you. I wish you guys all the best! Thanks for your time.

PHIL: Thank you. Thanks for ringing!

* In Rave-Up #18, Phil Lewis and Kelly Nickels talk about the group's 1989 release Cocked & Loaded. Here's a link: devorahostrov.blogspot.com/2019/01/cocked-loaded

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