Steve Riley Talks L.A. Guns’ ‘Renegades’ + the Legacy of ’80s Rock and Metal


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 joins Anne Erickson to discuss his new album with L.A. Guns, “Renegades,” as well as his history in W.A.S.P. and the legacy of the ’80s L.A. rock movement in this in-depth interview

Steve Riley has performed with some of the biggest bands to come out of the ’80s L.A. rock scene, from W.A.S.P. to L.A. Guns to Keel. He’s also toured the world with everyone from KISS to Def Leppard to Skid Row, truly living out a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy, packed with great stories.

Riley has never slowed down. Decade after decade, he keeps churning out new music and touring. Now, Riley has a new album on the way with Kelly Nickels, Scott Griffin and Kurt Frohlich and his version of L.A. Guns, “Renegades,” which Riley tells Audio Ink Radio will be out on Nov. 13 on Golden Robot Records.

Riley spoke with Anne Erickson of Audio Ink about the story and style behind “Renegades,” his time playing in W.A.S.P. and L.A. Guns during the heyday of ’80s rock, the devastating loss of Quiet Riot drummer Frankie Banali and more. Read the interview below, and listen to the full chat via the Audio Ink podcast on Apple Podcasts here and Spotify here.

Anne Erickson: Steve, how have you been doing during this crazy year?

Steve Riley: Oh, man. Has this been a crazy year or what? It’s insane, I’m telling you, but, you know, Anne, I have to tell you, we really lucked out. We got the album done at the end of 2019, and we finished up in December with everything, and there was even talk of us maybe putting it off and doing it this year. And we just lucked down. We did it last year. So, we at least got that completely done, and we were able to work it all year. So, that’s what we’ve been doing. Obviously, all the shows they’ve gone down for everybody, and they’ve been postponed to next year. So, we’ve been able to work the album this year, so we really lucked out.

That’s great. What if you guys had waited to try to record the new music this year? That would have been so hard, if you want to be in the same room.

It would have been impossible, Anne, because we don’t live together in L.A. I’m in L.A., and Kelly is in New York, and Kurt lives in Florida and Scotty is in Vegas. So, we had to get together last year and fly everybody in to do the album. If we had put it off and did it and tried to do it this year, we would have been screwed. It would have been impossible. We lucked out big time.

You have a new track out, “Renegades.” Tell me what “Renegades” is all about.

Well, I’ve got to tell you, we all brought in songs for the album, and the first three singles that were released, “Crawl,” “Well Oiled Machine” and “Renegades,” those were songs that Kelly Nickels brought in. He’s just a great writer. I think everybody knows, he wrote some of our bigger hits. He brought those three in, and they just happened to be the ones that we all agreed on that were good for the first three singles. “Renegades” was a song he brought in, and he finished it up with the band. That’s why we all get writing credits on it. But, we also finished it up in the studio. Kurt wrote the lyrics over that, and it’s sort of like a romantic rocker, you know. That’s how could describes it. It’s one of those songs that kind of describes us and Kelly and being on the road and being on a motorcycle and just being free and driving or riding around and thinking about your personal life. But, it’s just one of those romantic rockers that has a great push on it, and we’re just so happy with the way that turned out.

It’s gotten a nice response, too, which probably feels good.

Oh, it does, because the whole way of gauging how an album is doing now is on how many spins you’re getting on Spotify and all of those sites. The first two singles, “Crawling” and “Well Oiled Machine,” have well over 160,000 and 170,000 spins, just on Spotify. I think renegades has been out for about a couple of weeks now, and it’s already got 50,000 to 60,000 spins. So, it’s being really accepted. All of the singles have been, and we’re just pleased with that and everybody digging it. There are some people that don’t dig it, and we understand, but a lot of people, they’re really loving it, and we’re really happy about that.

What’s the status of when the album might be out in full?

What’s going to happen, is we are going to– we’re taking advantage of what’s happening right now by having the album done and giving the fans a little bit at a time. We’re going to have a pre-order for the album on September 30th. It’ll be up on all our sites, and it’ll be a pre-order, but the actual album is going to be coming out on Friday the 13th– November, Friday the 13th. What we’re going to do is we’re going to release another single that Monday– I think it’s the sixth or the seventh. What we’re going to do is whoever orders the single and the album together, they’re going to get the single for nothing. Then, the album will fully be out on November 13th– Friday the 13th. So, we look forward to that, because the album is really, really deep. It’s got a lot of great material on it, and we just can’t wait for everybody to hear the whole thing now.

What do you hope fans take away from the full record?

You know, Kelly and I are a couple of guys from the classic lineup, and we all wrote the material together back then, too. Even if somebody brought a song in, like Kelly bringing these three songs in for “Renegades,” we kind of finished them off in the studio and put a band touch on them. So, Kelly and I, we didn’t want to stray too far, really at all, from the L.A. Guns sound that we helped create in the ’80s. We didn’t want to take a detour and start a new sound or say, “This is our new sounding band.” We wanted to stay true to L.A. Guns’ sound and the feel of the material that we’ve always done. That’s what we hope the fans take away from this, that this is an extension from L.A. Guns. It’s the style and the feel that they like from the band. We just hope that they feel that, and reading some of the quotes from the fans on the sites, some of the rock sites, I think that we kind of achieved that. We’ve stayed true to the L.A. Gun sound.

It was really important because it’s so easy to say, “Listen, let’s try to change it up, and we’ll come out with a different sound.” I don’t think that’s what a real classic rock band should do. I think the reason why you are a classic rock band is because of the sound that you originally came out with on your first three or four albums. I think it’s really, really important to stay true to that sound.

When L.A. Guns was first starting out, it’s such a fascinating period in music history. What do you remember about that period with the hard rock in the ’80s and the glam bands and all that stuff?

Well, I was kind of fortunate, because I was involved in that whole 10-year swing from L.A., the L.A. rock scene. It started in ’82 and it went to ’92, and it was one of the longest 10 years for a city to have a major rock scene, out of all of the country. I was fortunate, Anne, because I was involved in the beginning by being in Keel and then joining W.A.S.P. for four years. So, I was in that first wave of metal that came out of L.A. with Ratt, Motley, W.A.S.P. and Dokken and all of those bands. When I was out of W.A.S.P. in ’87, I got to join L.A. Guns, and we were so busy. The bands from that first wave that I just mentioned, we were on the road so much that we didn’t even realize that there was another scene happening in L.A. with Guns N’ Roses and L.A. Guns and Faster Pussycat and all of these bands that were coming up out of L.A.

We had been on the road so much, that we weren’t even really paying attention to what was happening and in the home town, because we were all always out there. So, when I got out of W.A.S.P. in ’87, after like four or four and a half years, these guys were big fans of W.A.S.P., L.A. Guns, Guns N’ Roses. They would be huge fans of W.A.S.P., and when they found out I was out of the band, they came right to me and asked me if I wanted to join. That’s when I first got a look at the second wave of metal with GN’R and L.A. Guns and Faster Pussycat, all these guys, and everybody was getting signed. I just remember it was just a really fresh attitude, too. It was just a really new attitude coming out of L.A. It was an extension of what we had already been doing with Ratt and Motley and W.A.S.P., but it was a total street vibe, too.

It was just a real exciting time back then, too, in ’87 with everybody getting signed on that second wave of metal out of L.A. It was something else, I’ll tell you. The Strip was still going strong and bands and flyers and wall-to-wall people up and down the Strip. It was just a totally exciting time. Like I said, I was fortunate. I got to see the first wave and participate in that with W.A.S.P., and then be fortunate to join L.A. Guns in ’87 and partake in that second wave all the way from ’87 up to ’92. So, it was just exciting, man. There was some really, really great music coming out, and everybody was just on their toes, so it was a gas.

That’s so awesome. I’ve never been to the Sunset Strip, and I want to go now, but it’s probably not like it was, although it’s cool that some places are still there, like the Rainbow.

Oh, no doubt! And that whole Strip of the Whiskey, Roxy and Rainbow, I don’t think that’ll ever go away. There’s still a nice vibe going on down there, too, on the Strip. But, obviously, things change, and I don’t know if we’ll ever see the way it was in the ’80s. That was crazy, man. I’ve got to tell you, when people try to describe it, it’s very hard to describe, because it was like a total domination in the city where it was just one big movement happening. But, I tell you what, out of most of the cities in the States, L.A. is still rocking, and it still has a nice Strip thing going on. A lot of bands still play the Whiskey and Roxy and everybody still hangs out at the Rainbow. It’s cool that that’s still going.

Absolutely. Do you have a favorite tour that you’ve ever been on? Because with both W.A.S.P. and L.A. Guns, you’ve done some really awesome tours.

Yeah, some really awesome tours! I think that, when I was with W.A.S.P., we were managed by the same people as Iron Maiden has, and we had that same machine as Maiden. We went on many tours with Maiden, and many tours with KISS, too. Those are some of the most insane tours that I’ve been on. The places were packed, and the bands were just charting and doing so well. When I joined L.A. Guns, we went on a world tour with Def Leppard where all of the gigs were in the round– they were in the middle of the arena. And, I think that was one of the most exciting to us, because it was like a gateway. Usually as a drummer, you can kind of hide a little bit. We’ve got the backdrop behind us. Nobody’s really behind us. But, this particular tour– I’m right there. There was no hiding. You were in the eye of the fans completely, and Def Leppard treated us so good. That was a real, real exciting tour, playing in front of 20,000 to 30,000 people every night.

That would be insane! What a range of tours you’ve been on, from Iron Maiden to Def Leppard. It doesn’t get much more different than that in rock and metal.

Crazy stuff, too. And W.A.S.P. did a bunch of tours with KISS, too, so W.A.S.P. and KISS together, that was really, really cool, too. With L.A. Guns, we had toured so, so much, too. We had gone out with Iron Maiden also, and then the Def Leppard tour, and just tons of tours that we had done. We were just fortunate, man. We got to tour with a lot of great acts, and they treated us great.

We lost a very positive voice in heavy metal music recently, Frankie, from Quiet Riot. What are your thoughts on losing Frankie?

Oh man, it’s huge, because when I moved out here to L.A. in ’77, that’s when I got to know him. Obviously, both of us are drummers, and we gravitated towards each other. He had played in Steppenwolf, and I replaced him in Steppenwolf. I played in W.A.S.P., and he replaced me in W.A.S.P. So, we were very, very close, and Quiet Riot and W.A.S.P. were very close bands. We were really good friends. Frankie was a really, really tight friend of mine. Obviously, we pushed each other on drums, too, and we had the same style. We liked the same drummers, John Bonham and Cozy Powell and those guys. We looked up to the same people, and Frankie was just a very close friend of mine, and he’s going to be dearly missed. I tell you, I’ve known him for a long, long time. He was one of the first guys I met out here in L.A., and we stayed close all the way through. So, I just felt so bad that he had to go through that situation for the last couple of years. And now, I’m finding out that he even had more ailments, like a pulled shoulder that he was touring on and he had tinnitus in the ears like I did, too, obviously from playing drums all our lives. But, I’m going to miss him dearly. He was a great guy and a great drummer.

What do you think he brought to the metal world as a drummer? How do you think he was influential?

Oh, man, hugely, because, first of all, Quiet Riot opened up the doors for the whole L.A. scene. It was Van Halen in ’77, but the L.A. scene, this metal scene that came out and went from ’82 to ’92, that was Quiet Riot that opened doors for everybody. They were the ones that got signed first, and they were the ones that charted No. 1 with “Metal Health.” So, they were the ones that completely opened the doors for everybody else out here to have record companies look at us even more closely and want to sign all of these bands. Frankie was just a powerhouse on drums. His style was duplicated by a lot of other drummers. Me and him came up together, so we liked the same people together, so we kind of pushed each other and replaced each other in bands. I believe a lot of younger drummers coming up really emulated Frankie. His style was perfect for metal. He was not an overplayer. He was just somebody that totally supported a song. He knew how to do that. That’s one thing a drummer has to learn how to do, is to learn how to support the song and aid the song without overplaying and stepping on it. He was just perfect at that. He was the perfect metal drummer, and I think a lot of young drummers looked up to him.

What are your thoughts on the state of metal music today? Do you think it’s in a good place?

It’s tough, because for the younger bands that are trying to do it and trying to get signed and everything and get on a tour, it’s a very tough situation, because it all starts with radio. If you can get on a radio station and get your songs played and get them out to fans, then you have a lot of opportunities, but radio is not there right now. There’s very few stations, anything, really, TV or radio, that support metal right now. It’s a shame, because I know there’s a lot of really great musicians out there and great bands, and I just feel for them, and I tell them that maybe the best thing to do is to just utilize the Internet right now as much as you can, because it reaches so many people. Just try to utilize that as much as you can, because that is your outlet to get to fans, to get to people, to even get to record companies. You can send them stuff to listen to. So, I feel for them, because back in the ’80s, there were so many opportunities. There was so many record companies, management. There were so many record stores, and even record stores are gone now. It’s kind of a tough situation for new metal bands, but it’s not an impossible situation, because they still have the Internet to use. It’s the one tool that they can really utilize right now. I suggest to bands when they ask me, what do you think we should do? I tell them, you know, shopping a deal door to door right now is kind of an old thing. It’s not happening. Those record companies are not there right now. And even the managers are not. There is very few of that, but you can reach a lot of people with the Internet. So, that’s probably the way to go nowadays.

In the ’90s, when so-called grunge came in and everything in the scene changed, first of all, was it as sudden as everyone says, and then also, when did you notice that the ’80s style of music was coming back into vogue, so to speak?

Yeah, you know, we noticed– obviously, when Nirvana came out, everybody noticed, because it was such a hit. It was such a big hit, and everybody loved it. Even we loved it! We went on tour with Skid Row in ’91 over in Europe, L.A. Guns and Skid Row. We were doing all of Europe and all of Scandinavia together. That was when “Nevermind” came out with Nirvana and their album. It was such a big hit, that we didn’t really notice that it was going to be a shift in music and shifting locales from L.A. to Seattle. We weren’t noticing that. We just noticed that it was really a great album. We thought it was a great album, all of L.A. Guns, and we were listening to it on the bus, and even jamming some of the stuff during sound check. It was fun!

But, we noticed that when other bands in Seattle came out that year, that was when we started realizing that there was going to be a shift in locales, that L.A.– because at that point, too, L.A. started for the last couple of years of that run between ’89, ’90 and ’91, a lot of bands were getting signed that really didn’t deserve to be signed. They just had the look, and if you had the look, then you were getting signed, and that’s kind of shallow, because it all boils down to the songs. If you don’t have songs, you don’t have anything. You could look great, but it doesn’t matter. So, we noticed that a lot of bands from Seattle were getting signed, and they were coming out on MTV, and they were hosting shows that we used to host. That’s when we kind of noticed that there was going to be a shift.

To tell you the truth, it didn’t bother me, because I knew from being in music from– I started recording in ’75. So, when there’s a locale, whether it’s New York or bands coming out of Chicago or what was involved with in the 10 years in L.A., I knew that at some point, it shifts to another city. So, I wasn’t so disappointed. I felt great that I had made my mark with W.A.S.P. and L.A. Guns, and I was going to be able to pretty much play and record for the rest of my life. But, I wasn’t really shocked that it was going to take a turn and move on to another city or move on to another style or situation. That’s when we noticed, in ’91 when we were on tour in Europe, and then in ’92, obviously, a whole bunch of stuff started happening, because the shift had already started taking place from L.A. to Seattle.

Like I said, hosting shows on MTV or getting a lot of airplay or what have you, it really started in ’92, and that shift happened big, and it happened kind of quick, from ’91 to ’92. Then, if you were fortunate enough to make your mark, you were able to play through it. That’s what we did. We played all the way through and recorded all through the ’90s and through that grunge movement, and the grunge thing really only happened from like late ’91 into ’95. It wasn’t a long, long run that they had, but I enjoyed a lot of that music. I’m a big fan of Alice in Chains and Soundgarden and Nirvana. I think those guys are great. So, we made our mark, and we were able to tour and record through that whole scene, but that’s when it became tougher for some of the younger bands to get signed, when it moved out of L.A.

The second part of your question about when metal and hard rock started making a comeback, it’s kind of hard to say, because we played straight through it. We were touring non-stop, and we were recording. So, I’d say in the early 2000s, that’s when people started to respect what was coming out of the ’80s again and what had happened in the ’80s eighties. During the ’90s, it was a little rough, because there was a new scene going on, whether it was rap or grunge, the ’80s thing wasn’t getting that much respect. But, then the early 2000s, I think everybody started to realize, wow, there was a lot of good stuff that came out of the ’80s, and they started to realize it again. The respect came back, and the people who wanted to play it again came back, and the better gigs came back. So, I’d say the early 2000s, and now, it’s cemented in there and people realized there was a ton of great music that came out of the ’80s.

I agree with the respect thing, that probably the early 2000s was around the time people started respecting the ’80s rock and metal more. The thing about the ’80s is that you guys can play your instruments. You guys really were masters of your instruments, and that wasn’t always there for some of the other musical movements.

I agree, totally. That’s what I miss today when I look at the music scene and the younger people. We really wanted to master our instruments. I really wanted to be a really, really good drummer, and the other guys in the band really wanted to be good on their instruments. They didn’t want to just pose. They wanted to play really good and figure out, how am I going to master this instrument? So, I can just about play anything that’s put in front of me. Nowadays, I don’t know if that interest in instruments is there right now. It’s somewhat there, but not like it used to be where people would just want to be the best they could be on guitar or drums or bass or really try to match the best vocalist that’s out there. That’s the biggest thing that’s missing right now. I would hope that the younger generation gets back to realizing how much fun it is to play an instrument.

I agree. I think with computers, some people would rather hit a computer button and make a guitar sound versus learning to do it.

It’s scary, I know, and then you can do this auto tune on your vocals and correct them from being flat or sharp, and you can play a whole album on a drum machine or, like you said, guitars and bass, too. It’s kind of scary, because I’ve been a musician since I was five years old. I started playing drums, so I’ve been doing it for so, so long. It’s so much a part of me that I wish that the younger generation could realize how much fun it is to master an instrument– to really get intimate with an instrument. I hope it comes back.

Do you have any other musical projects going on right now?

I did a couple of things. When 2017 rolled around, I got involved with this Sag-Aftra movie maker out here in L.A. He wanted me to place a couple of songs in his movie. It’s called “Rightful,” and it’s just got completed, and they’re getting distribution right now, but it’s kind of a big movie. He asked me to write a couple of songs for the movie. It’s a gothic thriller that takes place in New Orleans. I got a couple of songs in the movie, and the director asked me, do I want to read for a part? Like, see if I want to read. And, I was like, yeah, I’d love to. I got the part I read for, and they flew me to New Orleans, and I filmed this movie with them and I got a couple of songs in it, and it’s called “Rightful,” and it’ll be out soon.

Then, I had also started doing a documentary. Strangely enough, it’s about – because it’s still in the works right now, we’re working on it – it’s about those nine big, lead singers from the grunge movement that have died, from Layne Staley to Kurt Cobain. All of them, you know? There’s about nine of them right now. I’m working on a documentary right now about that. It’s really interesting, too, because I’m taken from light and from the ’80s and kind of this good time and taken into this kind of a dark situation with the grunge movement and the heroin and all of it. It was kind of a dark situation with the lyrics and everything, and all of these great singers that have passed away by suicide or by drug overdose. It’s pretty heavy, because nine of the big singers from the grunge moment are gone. I just thought it was a fascinating story and unbelievable. I’m working on that, trying to complete that documentary, and then obviously I got L.A. Guns going. It takes up a lot of time, too. But, I’m trying to stay busy, you know, and the movie thing was a gas to do.

That documentary sounds really interesting. I’ve always thought we have to build a bubble around Eddie Vedder and make sure that he stays a little while! (Laughs)

It’s unbelievable that he made it through that, because he’s one of the few guys. All of his friends are gone. They’ve died, and it’s an unbelievable situation, because if you look at nine great singers from the ’60s or ’70s or ’80s, they’re all still alive. These nine great singers from the grunge movement are all gone. I just think it’s an unbelievable, fascinating story, and I wanted to explore. So, we’re right in the thick of it right now, piecing it together and seeing how we want to do it– if it’s going to be a one-shot movie thing documentary, or we might do it in five to seven parts and do it on TV on one of the channels there. But, I’m working hard on that and putting that together. And like I said, I produced the L.A. Guns album, “Renegade,” so that took up a lot of time, too, because I had to do all the logistics and piece it together. How am I going to get everybody to L.A. and do this? That took up some time, too. This year is pretty much shot. We’re all home. Nobody’s doing anything.

Do you have any idea when the documentary is going to be out?

I was just talking to them today, and we’re in the stages of putting each category together with singers in their own little piece of this documentary. So, I figure that I’m going to be working well into 2021 before it’s totally completed and we’re ready to have a showing or maybe some TV station has bought it or what have you. But, I figure in the first quarter of 2021, we should be really close to being done.

But we’ll get that new L.A. Guns album before then, in November.

Totally, yeah. We’ll have the album out. All of our gigs are postponed to next year, and we’re getting them off right now. They’re all coming into the office, and we should start around March of 2021, hopefully, because everybody’s wondering about a vaccine, and are you going to be able to play for a bunch of people or just 25% capacity. Everything’s so up in the air with the concert situation. We’re going to play it out and see how it plays out.

Thank you for the conversation, Steve! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Anne, thanks for having me on. I really appreciate the support. The one thing is, I want everybody to know that to find out anything about L.A. Guns, to go to, and got Kelly Nickels runs that site, and every bit of information about what we’re doing with touring or with the album, they can find out, and there’s fun stuff, too, with merchandise and stuff.

Anne Erickson
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Posted by Anne Erickson | Features, Interviews, Metal, Music, Rock