Interview: L.A. Guns’ Steve Riley + Kelly Nickels Talk New Album ‘Renegades’

Words/Interview by Tracey Moyle – Music Maven

Classic sleaze rock legends L.A. Guns have been through more than most bands can even imagine during their years in the industry. It’s been almost 40 years since the very first version of L.A. Guns came together and during the last 4 decades the members have seen more line-up changes than anyone can keep up with.

They even have the unusual case of what you could call ‘musical multiple personality disorder’. There are currently two versions of the band touring and recording right now but the L.A. Guns we are focusing on today is drummer Steve Riley’s line-up and they are grabbing the attention of the fans in droves, with last year’s live show’s landing them a record deal. With original bass player Kelly Nickels back on board, the perfect balance took form with Riley asking current touring bass player Scotty Griffin to take on lead guitar and bringing in vocalist Kurt Frohlich to form this current line-up.  

Our Music Maven Tracey Moyle recently had the opportunity to chat to not just one, but two of the band members, ‘Classic’ line-up legends Riley and Nickel’s, about their L.A Guns, getting an insight into some of the tracks on the new album ‘Renegades’, due for release November 13th.

It’s been a pretty crazy year for everyone. It must feel good to have new music coming out?

Steve: “The band had finished ‘Renegades’ at the end of 2019.  We had toyed around with the idea of doing it this year and thank God we didn’t, we wouldn’t have been able to get together because we’re scatter all over the states. We got it finished at the end of 2019, we got it mastered, the artwork, everything. We were able to work the album and have something fresh for the fans, every couple of months we had a new single, and now we’re about to release the new album November 13th.  We are one of the fortunate bands to have something new to present this year while we weren’t able to tour.”

With the pandemic shutting music down, how have you kept busy through the year.

Kelly: “We’ve been robbing banks. (laughs) No, everybody’s had things to do. I’ve been working on the artwork the whole time, that’s kept me busy. I have my own design company as well ‘Montauk Salvage Company’ which has kept me busy, so I have that on the side. I’ve done a couple of other things, I’ve worked on a shark cage diving boat for a couple of years, worked in the garage, done all kinds of stuff to stay alive.”

It must great Kelly, to be back in the band?

Kelly: “It’s great to be back, it’s amazing to be back. It’s a good time of my life to come back. I’m looking forward to a new experience.”

Have you come back a different person to when you left?

Kelly: “I think I’m an older version of the same person. I don’t think I’m more appreciative, I’ve always enjoyed being in the band. I’m glad I’ve had another chance to do it.”

Touring is so important, with streaming not providing the income album sales use to. It’s not just bout income, it’s the connection with the fans. Especially with L.A. guns having almost a split personality with two bands touring under that name.

Steve: “Without a doubt, and yeah, streaming is the way to go now. We’ve been really fortunate with that to. Our first three singles, on Spotify alone, have streamed over half a million so, I guess the fans really dig it, and the feedback has been really good. I agree with you, the whole world is going through it right now. If we’re going to go this horrible virus we’ve got to reach down deep and find something good to take out of it. It’s kind of difficult but we’ve got to reach out to family and friends and just try to have some good vibes going right now. It’s been really hard for a lot of people.”

Kelly: “We did two shows last year and got great feedback off that, we got a record deal off those. We’re lucky to have social media as well. To have that outlet to talk to our fans and stuff like that, be more appreciate of what we have. We had a bunch of dates planned for this year so we’re definitely looking forward to getting out and travelling around the world. We’re starting to get ready for next year, but we have to be safe and we have to be comfortable doing it you know.”

You have a new line up that you’re working with Kurt and Scotty joining you guys. You seem to have a pretty good thing going.

Steve: “I think we do. The chemistry of us four guys together, it was instant. We didn’t do any auditions. With Kelly coming back into the band, that was major because he’s such a great song writer, he wrote The Ballad of Jayne and he does all the artwork for the band and he’s my battery mate, us being the rhythm section. We were the train that pushed all the early stuff. So him coming back into the band was huge for me. Scotty Griffin played bass in the band for a number of years because it was a great opportunity to go out touring and recording but he’s a lead guitar player, that‘s what he does. I just told him you should play the lead guitar with me and Kelly.  It was the same thing with Kurt, we were ready to audition a number of people, but he was the very first guy that we looked at and he worked out tremendous. He’s since brought in so many good songs, he stays true to the L.A. Guns sound because he was a big fan so he could sing the older material really well live. He brought in some great songs on ‘Renegades’, he brought in Would, All That You Are and  Witchcraft. We were really lucky that we didn’t have to audition anybody, and this thing just had chemistry right from the start. I just feel really good about that and we didn’t have to go through a tonne of people to find these four guys it just happened.”

Does the new line up bring a fresher approach to the music, a more creative level?

Steve: “We are so proud of our old catalogue. We really love playing those songs and we know the fans want to hear them live we understand that. We’ve been around for so long the L.A. Guns, we have fans that have special songs they want to hear, with Never Enough, The Ballad of Jayne, a lot of that stuff we have to play, so you get to sprinkle in maybe three or four of the new songs. The other things with the line up changes to, I’ve been through it so much I think everybody knows that I’m the only guy that stayed in the band for the entire time. It’s hard to keep the classic line up together. People want to do other stuff, I understand it, I just never stopped doing L.A. Guns whether it was with Tracii (Guns) along or with Phil (Lewis) along or a couple of the young guys. I just love the band and I love the catalogue. I understand, some people might not like something new and some people might like it.”

L.A. Guns is a brand, being around for such a long time.  It’s a name that is just so identifiable in the music industry.

Steve: “Totally, we’re very fortunate that we were able to mark in the 80’s and 90’s with some really good albums and we have a catalogue we can play and tour all over the world. And that is not an easy thing for a band to have. We have a lot of songs from that era that the fans love and have stayed with us. So it is a brand and it is about material they want to hear. And they do want to hear some new fresh stuff too.”

Kelly: “I think it’s about the music. Looking at it as a brand I don’t really think about it in that way. It’s like another child I have, that pops it’s head up every now and then. We just want to play music really, plain and simple. We just enjoy the process of going out and playing live and playing loud. We just want to play.”

Your new album ‘Renegades’ is out November 13th.  It’s a great evolution of your music. Crawl, for example, has that L.A. Guns classic ‘sleaze rock’ feel to it with a little less of the glam element.

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Kelly: “Thank you so much.  It started out as a little blues tune but the whole band gets behind it and it becomes what it is. We’re not thrash or death metal, we’re just a rock n roll band, we just trying to keep it that way and keep it true to what we know we are.  We didn’t want to come out with a separate tone, we just wanted to come out with something good.”

Steve: “I agree it was a conscientious effort, me and Kelly, we did not want to stray away from the L.A. Guns sound. We are a brand that has an identifiable sound to it and we wanted to stay true to that and Crawl was a perfect first single for us to pull off ‘Renegade’. It has all of the classic L.A. Guns feel to it but it has just such a terrific groove to.  The groove is just so good. We didn’t want to take a quick turn left and start some new sound. And I think we accomplished that with the new album. The old albums, even in the 80’s they moved around.  It wasn’t just one hard rock song after another hard rock song. We think we did that with ‘Renegades’, the album moves really nicely from one song to another, it doesn’t get bogged down in just one style of hard rock. It just has a nice feel to it.”

It really does, I’ve been lucky enough to hear it a few times now. You’ve got that old school feel with Don’t Want To Know, then you have a ballad like Would which I think is  the heart and soul of the album. It’s got that beautiful acoustic guitar rock ballad feel that you need.

Steve: “Totally, when the singer Kurt Frohlich, brought that song in, I was just bowled over. I thought this song is tremendous. Kurt really shines on that song. He plays acoustic on that song, so when we play live, he plays rhythm and Scotty’s the lead.  His performance vocally is just tremendous. And it’s great on the album too, you go form a hard rock song into it.  It’s a nice move. I really like it.”

You have the opposite feel with Well Oiled Machine, that’s more like a track you’d find on the NASCAR soundtrack.

Steve: “Totally! Kelly’s into motorcycles and motorcycle racing and NASCAR. Before the second verse kicks in, you can hear someone on a megaphone that’s supposed to be at the racetrack and he’s talking to the fans and that’s Kelly.  That’s one of his songs he brought in.  He brought in Crawl, Well Oiled Machine and Renegades, we finished them in the studio and they ended up being the first few singles. It is a NASCAR song. I love that song.”

Kelly: “It’s definitely a petrol-head, motor-head song. I am a big motor bike guy. I use to race motor cross as a kid. I love cars to, it’s definitely a petrol-head song.”

I love Why Ask Why. It has a really tight feel to it.  It’s one of the songs on the album that just comes together perfectly. 

Steve: “That was one of Kurt’s songs. It’s such a great song, that’s why we pushed it right up to the front of the album just after Crawl, because it was the perfect thing to follow that groove that Crawl has. To go into that sort of rock song, it’s not too heavy and it has such a great hook to it. I think everybody’s performance on it was great.”

I also think it has a bit of an alternative rock sound to it.

Steve: “Yes it does. I think it has an alternative feel to it. I think Renegades has an alternative feel to it and that’s what I was talking about with the album moving in slightly different directions from one song to another but still staying true to the L.A. Guns sound.” 

Witchcraft is a song I can only describe as sexy rock.  It has the big riffs and seductive vocals.

Witchcraft is definitely a sleaze rock song and it really has a great feel to it to. Another one of Kurt’s songs. It came in pretty late in the pre-production period.  He said ‘just listen to this idea’ and we thought it was terrific and had, like you said, a really sexy sleaze rock feel to it.”

If all goes well over the next few months then you guys will be heading back out on the road I would imagine?

Steve: “With all of our festival shows and fairs and casino’s they were postponed to 2021 so we have a full schedule. We start in March. We just hope it all calms down with Covid and we can get out there. We’re just starving to get out there and the fans are starving for live music.  If we can just get out there, it’s going to be a special year next year. If we get live music back, it’s going to go off. Everyone’s going to have a blast. I can’t wait.”

You have been to Australia in the past, are you hoping to get to Australia anytime soon?

Steve: “Yeah I’ve been there a couple of times and I had a zoom meeting with the label yesterday Golden Robot Records and they’re talking about maybe bringing us over next year to New Zealand and Australia. Even if we did a couple of festivals and some club dates it would be great to come over. We could do new Zealand and Japan as well and that would be a nice run. We’ve got our fingers crossed we can get out there on the road next year.”

If you want to find out more about what L.A. Guns are up to, their tour dates or grab some band merch, jump onto their website

You can pre-order you copy of ‘Renegades’ HERE.
Order limited edition coloured ‘Renegades’ Vinyl HERE.

Follow L.A. Guns on socials

With thanks to Golden Robot Records

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