Sure, L.A. Guns is more known for amped-up rockers than soft balladry, but as the band’s brand-new acoustic live album shows, they’re perfectly adept at embracing their quieter side as well.
Acoustic Gypsy Live, which came out Tuesday, September 27, on Favored Nations, finds the glam-metal four-piece armed with only acoustic instruments on the second night of two shows at Hollywood’s Hotel Café.
"The whole process was kind of scary and nerve-wracking,” said guitarist and founding member Tracii Guns in a recent interview with Guitar World. “It’s really weird not being able to juice your guitar up when you need to get more out of it.”
Formed by a 17-year-old Guns in 1983, the band is as well-known for the careers it spawned as it is for its string of late-'80s and early '90s hits. One of the band’s first singers was future Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose, who left to form his own outfit, Hollywood Rose, after Guns introduced him to fellow GNR guitarist Izzy Stradlin.
Guns and Rose (see a theme here?) eventually found their way back to each other when they combined the two groups as Guns N’ Roses in 1985, although Guns left after less than a year to reform his first band.
Now, two versions of L.A. Guns exist, one led by Guns and rounded out by three non-original members, the other consisting of singer Phil Lewis (who lent his pipes to the band’s most commercially successful recordings) and longtime drummer Steve Riley. Confused yet?
Despite a tumultuous career in terms of lineup changes, L.A. Guns have sold millions of records and entered the Billboard charts with songs like “Kiss My Love Goodbye,” “It’s Over Now” and “The Ballad of Jayne” in their '90s heyday.
Acoustic Gypsy Live includes hushed renditions of 14 songs, including “Jayne,” new song “Little Soldier” and Otis Redding’s “These Arms of Mine.” “Any opportunity to take a song that already exists and do something different to it is one of the most fun things for me,” explained Guns, whose conversation with Guitar World follows.
GUITAR WORLD: How did the idea for the acoustic album come about?
It was brought up to me by my label and one of my managers. They said, “Hey, L.A. Guns has never done an acoustic record,” so I was kind of scared shitless. Those acoustic guitars are hard to play! When I talked to (producer and engineer Neil Citron), he said he wanted to make it real dry without doing any overdubs and without adding any reverb, so we had to be really really tight and everybody had to know the material really well. It was a lot of hard work before the shows, but the shows were easy — once Saturday and Sunday came around and everybody had a drink or two, we got up there and it flowed really easy.
What was the acoustic experience differ from playing electric?
The whole process was kind of scary and nerve-wracking. From what I can remember, I never played an acoustic guitar live, except for junior high school when I was in a guitar ensemble. It’s really weird not being able to juice your guitar up when you need to get more out of it. For me, I’m a real energy junkie live and I really feed off the crowd and the way my body’s feeling, so it was scary. I’m glad we recorded two nights, because the first night I think I was probably a lot stiffer and the second night, the one we ended up using for the recording, we were a lot looser and a lot more natural that night.
How big of a role does the crowd play in recordings like this?
For an acoustic show like this, everybody’s sitting down and you don’t have people banging their heads and putting out the same energy as the rock version of the show, so they play a huge role in it because it’s intimate and warm. It’s a different kind of connection than in a live rock show, and the thing about a show like this is that you walk off the stage and you can talk to everybody immediately, so that was pretty cool. Plus, it was raining, which was great for an acoustic thing, so the mood was definitely right. The audience really played a big role in what we were doing — it would have really sucked if they just sat there and stared at us!
When you first formed L.A. Guns, did you every see yourself making such a quiet record?
No, not exactly like this. They wanted us to do one for MTV or VH1 back in the day, and we were all just like “No.” I thought that would be the end of that conversation, but it came up something like 20 years later and I was down to do it. Any opportunity to take a song that already exists and do something different to it is one of the most fun things for me.
What kind of guitar did you play the second night?
I used a guitar that (guitar manufacturer) Dean had sent me. I have a real old Alvarez that’s kind of like a D35, and when I put the mic in front of that one, I couldn’t get it tuned that night. There were a couple different tunings we were doing, and I ended up not doing that and just ended up playing my Dean. It’s a big kind of single-cutaway guitar — the action is ridiculous and it kind of plays like a Les Paul. It sounded good in the mic and stayed in tune, and the one thing I didn’t want to have to do between every song is tune, tune, tune. If everybody is sitting there trying to tune their instruments at the same time, it’s gonna be a nightmare.
There are two different incarnations of L.A. Guns touring around. How do you guys deal with the confusion that must create?
When it started out being two, there was more confusion. The general fans that go to the live show, the ones who don’t have us as their favorite band, there’s a certain percentage that don’t even know the band one way or the other. As far as Phil goes, we created something that’s badass, and I want him to do what he needs to do and I need to do what I need to do. It would be a much different story if we were doing theater or arena tours, where you’re on the radio all the time, but we’re both just bar bands. I actually wish there were more L.A. Guns because I get paid by BMI for every live performance, so when they play I still get my songwriters royalties!