TRACII GUNS on New SUNBOMB Album, “Evil and Divine,” with MICHAEL SWEET: “It Was A 100% Success”

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Two of rock’s most notable figures have partnered up for a new project, Sunbomb. It features guitar hero Tracii Guns of LA Guns and iconic vocalist Michael Sweet of Stryper. The record, “Evil and Divine,” will be released on May 14th via Frontiers Records.

“Evil and Divine is a pure heavy metal record that mixes Tracii’s heavy and brooding riffs with Michael’s soaring vocals. An album that is reminiscent of a different time in metal where a riff fueled the song and drove the vocal melody. It is a testament to Tracii‘s rebellious spirit to constantly grow and evolve, which drives these finely crafted songs. Stand-out tracks that showcase these two musicians’ abilities are “Life” with Tracii‘s classic style of riffing and “Take Me Away” with Michael‘s powerfully soulful voice.

Correspondent Robert Cavuoto spoke to Tracii Guns about making this record, how he and Michael connect on a musical level, the outcome of his recent lawsuit over the name LA Guns, as well as the status of LA Guns next two releases. Remember that for more interviews and other daily content, make sure to follow Sonic Perspectives on Facebook, Flipboard and Twitter and  subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified about new content we publish on a daily basis.

[INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT]

First, let me ask. Are you the Evil or the Divine in Sunbomb?

I’m Divine, baby! [Laughing]

Am I supposed to buy that [laughing]?

You know what they say; perception is reality!

You and Michael both came up on the Hollywood strip at roughly the same time paying your dues and then making it big in your respective bands. Not to mention you both are recognized as extremely talented musicians. Can you share your perspective on why Michael was such a good fit to sing on this record?

More importantly, it was timing. I have never been friends with Michael until a year before I decided to do the record with him. I had seen him play about six months earlier here in LA at the Whiskey, and they blew my face off. I couldn’t believe how great he sings live. When Frontiers asked me if I wanted to do a solo record, I was excited, but I had no idea what I wanted to do. I started writing, and the music is just what came out. When I finished three or four tunes, I was like, “oh my God, who is going to write lyrics to this? These songs are real metal!” I thought Michael might be interested. I sent him one track, and he wrote me back right away, “What is this?” I told him it was me and I asked him if he wanted to sing on it. He agreed, so I then asked him if he would like to sing on 11 songs! [Laughing] Then I explained to him that I was doing a full record. He agreed to do it, and I was so excited. When you do projects like this, you really don’t know if they are going to turn out good. You write the music, and someone else handles the vocal duties and lyric writing, as I’m not a lyricist.

It took me about a year from that point to finish all the music before he even got a chance to send it to him. I sent him the entire record without vocals, and he thought it was great. It took him another year to write and record the vocals. I never heard a rough vocal take on any song. I didn’t start to get anything until he was finished and started sending me one song at a time. It was Christmas every day for a week. I couldn’t have predicted that this was what I had wanted. I was like getting a brand new record by another artist; only it’s me playing guitar [laughing]. It was an exciting way to collaborate as I put so much trust into Michael, knowing that he is a professional, we have the same ears, and both like the same music. It turns out that we got lucky; it was a 100% success at that point!

Photo by Robert Cavuoto

Did you know of Michael and Stryper back in the 80s playing Hollywood?

I did and saw them play, but they weren’t always Stryper; they were Roxx Regime. I always thought they were cool. We never met or became friends. It was nice to save our friendship for later in life when we needed it.

He has a tremendous voice which gets better with time. He could sing the phone book, and it would sound good.

Truth.

Having the opportunity to do this record for Frontiers, did you have to make a conscious effort not to sound like an LA Guns record with a different singer?

That was the only thing on my mind; I cannot write a straight-up rock album because that is what I do already. My wife is Danish, and she has a different perspective on metal. Before the pandemic, we used to do Sunday drives up the coast of California listening to Thrash, Black Metal, and classic metal. This was right at the time I had the record deal. I would get home, and all these influences would start to creep back into my playing like Sabbath, Scorpions, and Randy Rhoads. I started writing with that in my brain, and that is how the music got focused. I’m a 17-year-old version of me writing my favorite album. That was my only plan and guidelines. From there, I got a guitar sound together that I was happy with it so used it on the entire record. For example, with LA Guns, there might be 100 guitar sounds. On this record, there is one guitar sound with an acoustic ballad. It is a sonically focused record.

I really thought this record showcased those musical influences; I hear some Sabbath and even heavier vibes than what you have previously done. Which influences does LA Guns hit for you?

It’s the same influences, but you then have to add Joe Perry, Jimi Hendrix, and Jimmy Page. With Sunbomb, I removed the blues. With LA Guns, there is a much more bluesy approach even to the stuff that’s metal. It still has blues progression and blues chord changes. With “Never Enough,” people would say it’s not blues, but if you listen to the structure and chord changes, it is blues. It just the approach to the different influences I mentioned.

Photo by Robert Cavuoto

With most songwriters by the time they get out of their twenties, the good songs have all been written, but you’re actually getting better. What is your secret?

I love the instrument, and I’ve even been teaching for the last year and a half, which I wasn’t doing during the writing for Sunbomb. I was self-taught, so I have to keep reaching. Through education, I’m able to apply the new things I learned within the music part of the songwriting. It keeps it interesting. It’s still me, but I have more information to add to the music. With a band like LA Guns, we don’t have a definite music sound; we have a definite vocal sound. I have ADD, so I don’t have a focused LA Guns guitar sound. I’m forced to satisfy myself first when writing. I can’t write something that is boring. If a label is going to give me a ton of bucks, I’m not going to slap anything together and put it out. I would never look at music that way; if something is worth doing, then it’s worth doing the best you can. It’s a cliché, but it holds true for me.

I heard that you recorded all the guitars for Sunbomb, then added drums before sent to Michael for lyrics. Do you send fully completed songs to Phil Lewis in LA Guns?

We did that on the “Missing Peace!”

Robert Cavuoto: Wow, it sounded like you were all in the same room for the making of that record.

That’s the magic! I became an engineer in 2011; then I had a couple of albums call the Tracii Guns’ League of Gentlemen so I could take those new skills and apply to making records. By the time we got to the “Missing Peace,” I knew we could do it that way and make it sound like a band. With “The Devil You Know” I got an amazing deal on a studio here in Los Angeles called Bigbang Studio we were able to go into the studio to track the record. We did everything there except vocals. That is the typical way people would assume you make a record. Doing it this where I demo everything then building upon the demo with the drums is a very efficient way to do things. Then during the mixing, I know things to do to make it sound like a band.

Photo by Robert Cavuoto

The opening song “Life” has the closest vibe to a modern-day LA Guns song. Was that ever considered for LA Guns?

No, that was probably the second or third riff I came up with for this solo project. I was inspired by the band Scion, which I was listening to at the time, and they have a lot of black metal picking style in their verses. The main riff is double picked, so I had to come up with something in the same chord progression. It’s similar to “Speed” as it has a main riff that never changes key, but the root notes change. It’s a very Judas Priest thing as well. It really could have been some crazy LA Guns song.

“Take Me Away” is a perfect example of that dark, moody Sabbath-esque vibe that we were talking about earlier; can you tell me about the creation of that riff and its influence?

That song is really a tribute to Sabbath; the arrangement is like the song “Black Sabbath” and has the same diminished note in the main riff. I can’t take all the credit for that being original. In ways, it is a lot heavier than the song “Black Sabbath.” Michael sings with his style and lyrics, and it becomes a SunBomb song. That is the way rock music has always worked. You want to write a song that is already familiar as fans respond to it. They don’t know they have heard something similar, but that is the biggest hook you can have as a rock songwriter is to make people instantly comfortable with the sound, song, and style. You have to be at least clever about [laughing]. My mother used to bust my balls all the time because she knows me so well. On “Cocked & Loaded,” she would say, I know where you stole everything from. I would tell her I didn’t steal anything! She would say, “That’s Van Halen, that’s Motley Crue, that’s Aerosmith!” and I would tell her they are just similar!

I recall seeing you and Michael on social media holding EVH guitars. Did you use yours on the record?

No, I didn’t, and the reason was because when I set up the guitar sound on SunBomb, I was using a Gibson 59 Les Paul, Rick Nielsen model. That is what I used to get the guitar tone, and I didn’t want to deviate from it. I could have used the EVH model; maybe I should have [laughing].

Photo by Robert Cavuoto

I love your new Kramer Gunstar Voyager signature model with the ghost flame.

I love it, and that guitar is basically sold out already.

I’m glad the LA Guns lawsuit ended. It was so counterintuitive and counterproductive that Steve would name his band LA Guns.

I could have spent more money and eliminate it. There is a saying, “Turn that country into glass.” At the end of the day, I wouldn’t have gotten any compensation. When you sue a rock, rocks don’t have money. You have to be wise and know how far to take it. I’m satisfied where we ended up. I will never understand why a professional musician would choose to use someone else’s name other than their own. It’s so humiliating. It would essentially like me going out and using the name Guns N’ Rose [laughing]. To take something that someone else created for a very minimal gain. You are completely selling your soul. It was so expensive, boring, and a waste of time and energy to end up with what was mine.

The resolution was such a no-brainer to add his name in front of LA Guns.

Now he is locked into it. That how the license works. He can’t do anything else. The running joke in our camp is; you pull into a truck stop, and someone asks, are you musicians, and what band are you in? You respond, “LA Guns,” and they go, “Okay, whatever?” [laughing]. A least we have closure.

As a fan, you had to really do your homework to check which of the two bands were actually playing, like what happened at M3 a few years back.

Dude, when they did those couple of shows, we got so much angry email from our fans. People were like, “What the fuck? None of you guys were there!” We would have to explain it’s a different band with the same name. When I say a lot, I’m talking over 1,000 emails. Then they put out a record using the name LA Guns than the emails just escalated. That was the point where some from our family stepped who had unlimited funds, which we used to stop this. It was what we needed to do, and it is done. Can you imagine, now they have to make up their legal fees? In what reality is it worth it? For Steve Riley to spend $80,000, and they will never make that back with Riley’s LA Guns. There is no logic, and it’s so bizarre.

Photo by Robert Cavuoto

There were opportunities to interview him for their release, but I really didn’t feel comfortable about doing it because of the situation.

It’s good to know that 95% of the journalist community felt the way you did. It speaks volumes.

What is the update with the new LA Guns record “Checkered Past?” Is it completed, and what can we expect from it?

Checkered Past is coming out on November 12th; it the new studio record. Again it is another leap from the last record where we didn’t go heavier. Some songs are more atmospheric than others. I can say that fans of the band are going to like it. We put out a single out called “Let You Down” over a year ago and it is the most successful song we have put out in the last four years. From there, I was able to assess the response, and that gave me a little intuition on adding more dimension to the record. It’s still the LA guns you expect, but it’s broader in scope of dynamics. It has this typical first LA Guns sound but with an atmospheric vibe on a few songs. It’s made specifically for LA Guns fans! We have a live album coming out in July with all the songs from “Cocked & Loaded which was recorded for a live stream event where we only played that record.

That’s one of my favorite records of yours, so it will be great to hear a live version of it. I still have my original Sex, Booze, and Tattoos t-shirt!

Funny you mention that. I just had a conversation with our manager about a new merchandise angle and he sent me the logo from that shirt. It was our original, original logo created by an artist from Los Angeles named Mark Rude, who passed away. My manager hit me up just yesterday about using it with some modifications. I told him, nope, that’s one piece of art you don’t mess with. If you want to replicate it, you have to use the complete logo. So we are going to reissue that shirt again!

Photo by Robert Cavuoto

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