Steve Riley, L.A. Guns + W.A.S.P. Video Interview – ‘Renegades’ + More

2020-11-17

Video interview: Steve Riley of L.A. Guns talks about the band's new album, "Renegades," with Anne Erickson.

Steve Riley’s LA Guns – Story by Anne Erickson, courtesy photo

Steve Riley of W.A.S.P. and L.A. Guns joins Anne Erickson to talk about “Renegades,” the history of the ’80s Sunset Strip metal scene and more in this in-depth interview

Steve Riley is keeping busy in 2020, between working on multiple projects and releasing a new album, “Renegades,” with Kelly Nickels and hard rockers L.A. Guns. The new album, which is out now, features a raw, dirty mix of Sunset Strip-flavored rock ‘n’ roll that fits perfectly with Riley’s musical legacy.

Riley, who also played for years as the drummer of in W.A.S.P., sat down with Anne Erickson of Audio Ink Radio to talk about “Renegades,” the history of the Sunset Strip sound, new music, the great Eddie Van Halen and more. Watch the full interview below via the YouTube player, and read the interview via the feature below.

Anne Erickson: Steve, it’s great to have you back on the show. Congratulations on the new album, “Renegades.” One thing that really stands out to me about the record is it has that classic Sunset Strip sound. How crucial is it for you guys to maintain that Sunset Strip style in your music?

Steve Riley: It’s almost like a conscientious thing. We don’t want to drift too far away from L.A. Guns’ sound. We want to maintain the sound we’ve always had. But, our albums have always been kind of eclectic. We’ve always mixed up a bunch of different styles within our albums and different songs and made it move around. It wasn’t just one hard rock song after another. So, that’s what we did on this, too. I think we kind of accomplished it. It moves around really nice and has a bunch of different feels to it. We really wanted to stay true to the L.A. Guns sounds That’s definitely something we were working on.

I think that’s something fans appreciate, too. When a band changes their sound completely, it just becomes a different band.

Yeah, we tried it once in, I think it was ’96 or ’97. Tracii and I did “American Hardcore,” and it was a total departure. It was like, Tracii wanted to do something that was like a Pantera feel, and it was just not us. We had fun doing it, but we knew that it wasn’t really an L.A. Guns-sounding record. That must’ve been the most that we’ve ever really went off on a real left hand turn on an album, and we never tried it again! (Laughs)

Do you have a favorite track off the record? I know that’s so hard, because they’re all your babies.

Yeah, I like so many of the tracks on the record. I love the way it came together, and everybody brought in different material. If I had to pick a favorite track off the record, I really like “Well Oiled Machine.” I like the way it pushes and tugs. That’s one of Kelly’s songs that he brought in, and I really dig it. Actually, the first three singles that we picked to release off the album were songs Kelly brought in, and we finished them in the studio. He’s a pretty good songwriter. He wrote “The Ballad Of Jayne” and a lot of the early material. Then, he brought it in- everybody brings the gist of the song in, and then everybody finishes it in the studio, and that’s why you see four writers on all the songs, because we do a very democratic thing. We want to make sure if we get ahead, everybody’s getting ahead at the same time, together. So, when you bring a song in, you really do get a team effort, so everybody should get credit on the record.

How would you describe the musical chemistry between you and Kelly?

It’s amazing, having him back. It’s just so much fun, Anne, because he’s not only my band mate, me and him being the rhythm section, but he’s my best friend. I think he left the band in ’95, ’96 to go do all this stuff, and I missed him big time. We stayed best friends through the whole thing, so when this opportunity came up, and I called him, he was just like, “Let’s do it.” He was so ready to do it. He had a girl, and he brought her up, and she was going to college, and he was just ready to do music again. He just jumped back in big time. He had a bunch of songs. He does all of the artwork for the band. So, whatever you see artwork from the band on T-shirts, patches, stickers, the LP and CD- that’s all Kelly. He does all the artwork, and he’s just a prolific songwriter, too, but having him back as the bass player and my partner in the rhythm section- it’s just great. I love it.

It is so crucial to have that tight rhythm section, with the drums and the bass. I play bass, so I understand that!

That’s killer! Yeah, having him back is a special thing, because the bass players we’ve had since Kelly, they were really good players, and we’d gel pretty good, too, but me and him, we’ve got a special kind of chemistry. Just being best friends and being able to talk to each other about parts or playing together is very easy.

The music industry has changed so much since the ’80s. What do you think is the biggest change?

Wow. It’s the radio and TV. That’s the biggest thing. And, not having record stores, too. I mean, everything has changed so big, that when you do a project now, you really to put an effort into it as a band and whatever label and management you have, because you’re doing everything now. There’s not those big PR machines that are working. We have Dustin working with Golden Robot, and he’s doing a terrific job setting up interviews for us, but that big machine that you had in the ’80s, that’s gone. It’s just a lot of Internet now. Everything is Internet. So, we did our pre-production on Internet. We did two months of pre-production for “Renegades” on the Internet, exchanging songs, something I’d never done before. So, when the guys finally got out to L.A., we were really prepared, and I was kind of like, you know, I wonder, how’s this going to go? But it worked fine. Now, you’ve got to utilize the Internet. That’s the biggest change right now, is understanding how the Internet can help a band and jumping into it and not resisting it. Because the other scene that we had is totally gone, that machine that you had around you that could do a lot of stuff for you, it’s gone. So, now a lot of it’s on the band shoulders now to make stuff happen.

That’s so true. Looking back on the ’80s, was there a moment when you knew that the L.A. and Hollywood music scene was going to be huge?

I did, because I got out to L.A. in ’77 and from ’77 to about ’82, I tooled around with bands and did one-off albums, and there wasn’t a real concerted scene. There wasn’t a real, a big scene that happened. When Quiet Riot broke in ’82, it opened such a big door for everybody. Everybody got record deals. That’s when I realized something special was happening here in L.A. I joined Keel and did “The Right to Rock” with them and went right into W.A.S.P. And, I knew that something big was happening, because W.A.S.P., Ratt, Dokken and Great White, we were all moving in one direction. Everybody was signed, doing their albums, going on tour. So, I just knew this was a special thing that was happening in L.A. right now. I was fortunate, too, because right after I got to W.A.S.P., I got into that second wave, too, of metal that came out of L.A., with Guns N’ Roses and L.A. Guns and Faster Pussycat and Jet Boy. There was a second scene that happened, and I was really fortunate that I went from the first wave right into the second wave. But, it was like a 10-year run from ’82 to ’92. That was L.A. big time- it was huge.

That’s a long run, too, for a musical movement.

It is. To explain it to somebody. You would know– New York and even Detroit and even Seattle, they’ve had their scenes, and they lasted like a good five years. This went 10 years. This was a long, long run for L.A. bands to really be dominating charts and radio and TV. So, it was a long run that we had.

Looking back on W.A.S.P. and L.A. Guns, what do you think it is about those bands and that kind of Sunset Strip music that drew so many people to love it?

I always tell everybody, it really starts with the song. I mean, the band can look great. It can even really have some great players in it. But, if you don’t have the song or the songs, you’re really not going to go very far. I just recently watched “The Decline of Western Civilization Part II” the movie, and it was about the metal years here in L.A. They concentrated on a lot of bands that were playing the Strip and doing all of these posters on the Strip and everything, and a lot of the bands were saying, “I’m going to be a rock star. I’m going to be a rock star.” And, they just kept saying that. A lot of those bands didn’t go very far, that if you look at that, “The Decline of Western Civilization Part II,” there were a lot of bands that are in that didn’t go very far.

I think, because they got off on the wrong foot. You don’t want to say, “I want to be a rock star.” You say, “I want to write a good song. I want to master my instrument.” Then, if the status comes or something good comes, that’s cool. But, if you start off saying, “I want to be a rock star,” it’s not going to work. I was watching it, and it was really curious watching it and not realizing that a lot of those bands that were doing kind of well in L.A., they had the wrong attitude, and it was because they weren’t thinking about the song first. If you don’t have the songs, you don’t have anything. So, W.A.S.P., when Blackie played me the first album, I was doing the Keel album, “The Right to Rock,” and when Blackie played me the first album and asked me if I wanted to join, and I was still doing the Keel album, I could tell it was really good.

I could tell the first W.A.S.P. album, there was so many great songs on it, and that’s what attracted me. Even though W.A.S.P. had a lot of press, and they were in all the magazines, even before the album came out, listening to their first album, I could tell they had the songs. Same thing with L.A. Guns. When I got out of W.A.S.P., they gave me the cassette and they said, “Listen to this and see, do you want to do this?” They were playing clubs around L.A. I listened, and I heard the first album, and I said, these guys have got the songs. They know how to write. They know how to craft the song. That is the secret right there. I think that’s why W.A.S.P. did pretty good and L.A. Guns did pretty good, because they had the songs, you know?

You mentioned watching “The Decline of Western Civilization Part II” documentary. Have you see Motley Crue’s “The Dirt?” I’m assuming you have.

I haven’t yet! I really want to see it. What do you think? Did it turn out good?

I mean, yes. It’s a little bit much for me, maybe, but I think that for their audience, it’s something that they love, and I can see why, if that makes sense.

Yeah, and I think that, you know, maybe people like you and me and other people that know a lot about the real Motley Crue, that the movie might be a little bit much, because you know about the real thing. So, yeah, I’ve got to check it out. I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Well, you guys have this new record on the way, but is there any talk or any action on new music yet?

We have so much material. When we started exchanging songs in the summer of 2019 last year, we brought in about 30, 35 songs. Everybody writes, and we sent them to each other, and we whittled it down to 10 songs for the album. But, we have just a wealth of material, and that makes me feel so good, because Golden Robot, they want to do more records with us. We’re still in “Renegades” mode, so the album is just going to come out now in November, and we’re hoping that our dates that start in March, 2021, come off, because we want to play some of this new material from “Renegades” in the set, and then maybe at the end of the summer, go in and do another round for Golden Robot. So, we’re already talking about it. We’ve got a lot of material.

What are your thoughts on rock ‘n’ roll today? Do you think it’s in a good place?

It is. I think- I feel for the younger bands, because it’s hard for them to get off the ground. We’re so lucky. We’ve already got a fan base, and we’ve already got a catalog and material that we can play all over the world. Our live show is three quarters of our old catalog that fans really want hear. Then, we could do like the last quarter of the show, sprinkle in some new material. But, brand new bands that are coming out today, there’s only a couple that are breaking through. I feel for them, because it’s tough. It’s really, really tough right now with not a lot of radio support and not a lot of TV support. We had MTV, and MTV helped us all so much. We will all over it, every day. Our videos were getting played so much, and it helped sales and helped touring. It just helped everything. MTV got us on radio, too. So, without that- and I don’t know why MTV totally ditched rock, but they did. But, the new bands, I feel for them because of that- that they don’t have that easy access to have a machine around them. But I know there’s a lot of good players out there, and there’s a lot of good bands, and I’m pulling for them. I’m pulling for them all the time.

…The other thing is, I think bands can help other bands, too. Like, if we do dates and have some new bands on the bill with us, I think that’s a good way to help right now. When we ever get the chance to do that, we do that. And, we love that. It helps other bands just get some exposure, you know?

What are your thoughts on losing Eddie Van Halen? It’s such a big loss.

It’s huge. It’s just huge. Because, he’s not just a huge musician. He’s a huge part of L.A., too, and all of us, too. I mean, Quiet Riot opened the door in ’82, but really Van Halen in ’78, being an L.A. band. I was fortunate with Eddie, too, because when I moved out to L.A. in ’77, I was friends with the ’70s band Angel. I don’t know if you remember Angel. They were from the ’70s, and they were on Casablanca Records. And, they were one of the bands that were kind of big out here from ’75 to ’80. Van Halen was really good friends with them, and it was before they got signed, and I came out here. I was such good friends with Angel, because they’re from the East Coast, and I grew up with them. I came out to play with Mickie Jones, the bass player from Angel, and he was really good friends with Eddie Van Halen. This is before their first album came out. So, I got to hang with Eddie during the ’77, early-’78 thing. A funny story is that I went to the Starwood, it’s a club that used to be here in Hollywood. And, it was me Mickie Jones and Eddie Van Halen, and we went to see Randy Rhoads play.

You, Mickie Jones and Eddie Van Halen. Oh, my gosh. That’s amazing.

It’s insane. Looking back on it right now, because of how big and legendary those two guys have become. Eddie invited us to the Whiskey to see his show, and I got to see the first album at the Whiskey. And, I went to the Pasadena Civic Center to see one of the famous shows before the album came out. So, I got to hang with Eddie in the early years. And, then he became so big, and it was like a natural progression. You almost don’t see see each other. You’re working so much, and he became such a giant star that he landed on another planet. But, losing him and losing Frankie Banali were big, big losses this year. Frankie was a good friend of mine, and just losing both of them, it’s huge.

Frankie, me and him being drummers, we gravitated towards each other. In the late-’70s, we were both part of this whole scene that was hanging out at the Rainbow waiting to get signed. It was like, Nikki Sixx and Frankie Banali and me, all of us, just waiting to get a chance to get going. Frankie’s a big loss, because me and him were so close, being drummers. In the late-’70s, there was a couple of versions of Steppenwolf than went out. He was with one of those versions, and he left, and I replaced him. And, then when I left W.A.S.P., he replaced me. So, we had a lot of connection, and Quiet Riot and W.A.S.P. went out on a big world tour, so we were very, very close. So, Frankie’s a huge loss for me.

Also, I just wanted everybody to know that it’s so hard to find product that bands are doing nowadays. If anybody wants to know anything about L.A. Guns, how to order the album or merchandise, see tour dates, go to LAGuns.net. I just can’t wait to see you guys out on the road. Just keep your fingers crossed. We got a ton of dates booked. We hope you come and see us. We just got to keep our fingers crossed right now that this thing dies down a bit, so we can get out there.

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