Success via sleaze rock has never been enough for Tracii Guns, even if his namesake band, L.A. Guns, is experiencing levels of said success not seen since their late ’80s heyday. In the spring of 2023, Guns and his bandmates in L.A. Guns unleashed their 14th studio record, Black Diamonds, to widespread acclaim. But Guns, who spent the previous two years reeling as he worked through a myriad of personal issues, didn’t stop there.
Instead, he opened himself up further, recording an album, Solsorte, with Todd Kerns [Slash, Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators] under the moniker of Blackbird Angels, which punches the clock as Guns’ most personal album yet: “I recorded the album with Todd alongside the L.A. Guns record, so they’re forever connected,” Guns says. “The themes reflect where I was in life, which was pretty miserable, but some great music came from that.”
They say misery loves company, and for Tracii Guns, the company he found came by way of inspired riffs originating from a host of tried-and-true guitars, which cozied up alongside lyrics that ran the gamut of loneliness, anger, failed relationships, and everything in-between. Judging by his demeanor on tour and the life behind his voice while in conversation, it’s clear that Guns is past what weighed him down. Moreover, it seems Guns benefitted from the once uninvited exercise in self-reflection, coming out as a champion of mental health awareness in rock music.
But the flight pattern of Blackbird Angels remains to be seen, as L.A. Guns remains alight with energy, and that is Guns’ main gig, after all. But he’s not worried about that for the moment, as he’s energized with creativity: “If I can keep on this creative path and fend off distractions, I’ll be in good shape,” Guns says. “That’s the thing about me; I’m so easily distracted by other things that make me feel really good.
He concludes, “If I can keep that from getting in the way, I think I’ll be able to keep up with what’s been happening these last couple of years. But it’s one thing, one day at a time, and I will promote both Black Diamonds and Solsorte. Beyond that, I’m just having a really good time, which means a lot after all I’ve been through. I gotta say… I’m really diggin’ music right now.”
How did you get hooked up with Todd Kerns?
Todd has been in Vegas for maybe 10 or 11 years, and I was doing that Raiding the Rock Vault thing there, and that’s where I met him. And then, about eight or nine years ago, he was doing this cover band thing, and he asked me to be a guest, and we did Whole Lotta Love, and I just got chills, man. It was like hair standing up on your arm chills, you know? I couldn’t believe the voice coming out of Todd; it was super heavy and just the coolest thing ever.
And how did that lead to the recording of Solsorte?
So, we kept in touch, and years went by, and after the Sunbomb project, my label [Frontiers] wanted me to do something else and asked, ‘Are there any other singers you want to work with?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, Todd Kerns.’ That’s when the opportunity to do something we always wanted finally came about. We wanted to make the ultimate heavy rock album, which I don’t do with L.A. Guns because there’s boundaries there. But with Blackbird Angels, there’s no spin or sound we have to meet. So, Blackbird Angels is a little bit of everything me and Todd love.
Is it easy to flick the switch and turn off the L.A. Guns sound?
The interesting thing about the L.A. Guns Black Diamonds record is that I wrote it back-to-back with this Blackbird Angels Solsorte record. There was no break, and it all came from the same place. And truthfully, Black Diamonds was written for Todd, and all that music was to be for Blackbird Angels. But then some weird voodoo shit happened at the label, and they’re like, ‘No, we need another L.A. Guns record,’ so that changed.
So, I sent all that music to Phil [Lewis] and then had to write a whole new record for Todd. And Todd already had all the Black Diamonds music, so when I said, ‘We have to start over,’ it took a minute to regroup. But I ended up writing some stuff that kinda sounded like Kiss because Todd digs on that stuff. The Blackbird Angels stuff pulls from a lot of ’70s influences, and it’s clear that these songs were written with Todd in mind and aren’t intermingled with the Tracii/Phil L.A. Guns dynamic.
You had a challenging year leading up to writing both records. How did that impact you?
By the time the Blackbird Angels songs came out, everything was very pure, to where I was like, ‘Wow, this stuff is really fu*king cool. I’m going to follow all the way through with this.’ One example is the second to last song on the record, The Last Song, which was me wanting to do something like Jimmy Page did on The Rain Song. I wanted it to be jangly, bright, and in a different tuning.
But it was odd because I wrote that right around the time me and my wife broke up, and I was pretty fu*king miserable. I had trouble finishing the song because I had all these ideas about chord changes, and I’d just sit in my living room for weeks, which I never do. Usually, I’d come up with something, record it, and get it done. But with that one, there was this weird tuning, and I wanted it to be orchestral in its progression, so it took a while.
It sounds like this record is deeply personal.
It is. And I gotta say, there’s a difference between a great song and a great piece of music. I really want people to understand that there’s a lot of records in my collection where an artist finished or stopped, you know? So, I tried to fill in those gaps in my own personal collection with what I’d want to hear. I think Solsorte and Black Diamonds satisfy that itch.
As someone who has been through some similar life experiences, I find these records and their backstories relatable.
First, I highly recommend that any serious artist fall in love, marry a person, have a child, move to a foreign country, and have her tell you she wants to be alone. That’s like the ultimate old-school blues experience, right? I’d equate it to having a full tank of gas and then having someone fucking rip a hole in that tank, letting it empty, and forcing you to start from scratch. That’s the best way I can describe it.
Hashing that out as you have and relating it to your audience has probably helped you grow as a writer, right?
I think so. Because when shit like that happens, your nervous system goes into survival mode, and it’s totally fu*king unregulated. You have to find ways to soothe yourself, and I’m really fortunate that I’m a music creator, so when I get low like that, I’m at least able to express myself and find ways to regulate my nervous system again. But there’s a price with that because it comes at a much higher level, and people judge it and shit.
It’s not easy to be vulnerable, let alone publicly.
Yup, and a part of being vulnerable is like, ‘Whoa, what are these beautiful chords I’ve just played,’ and then thinking, ‘Okay, should I record that?’ And then the musician part of me kicks in, and I say, ‘Hell, yeah, I should record that’ because I know those things are great. When I’m happy, I still make fantastic records, but they’re not deep like these last two, you know? There wasn’t a single moment during either of these albums where I was happy. I wasn’t always miserable, but I was in a lot of pain, which is reflected in the music.
Is the name Blackbird Angels based on what you experienced during writing Solsorte?
Yeah, it is. I deeply relate to these songs, probably, and obviously more so than anyone else. In that way, I’m still in it, you know what I mean? When I think about it, my head goes directly back to my little room in Denmark, where all these blackbirds sat outside my window, and it rained every fu*king day. There was pain in that, but these songs came from it, which are soothing to me now.
Coming out the other side of that mental anguish has left you in a spot where you’re making some of the best music of your career. So, it’s not all bad!
I don’t fu*king know, man. It’s hard even to fathom what that means because I always questioned how music even comes through us. I was so young when I started and didn’t know this, but a specific skill set comes through when you sit on the floor like I do and practice, or whatever you want to call it. Getting comfortable like that leaves you in a place where no matter what you do, shit will come out. And when that happens to me, a little of my personality emerges.
And you’re left with, at the very least, the most authentic reflection of where you’re at…
I guess so. It’s like these songs represent where my head was at that moment, and it was hard to work through. That’s the stuff that makes it so an artist can evolve while still going back and forth emotionally. I’ve always said that people are drawn to great music, and there’s a million guitar players who can do anything on guitar, but there’s only a handful of players, like Keith Richards, Joe Perry, or Eddie Van Halen, who can add personality to their songs, and really connect.
Do you feel you’re entering that sort of space?
I could be. The more vulnerable you are with your instrument, and the more you let your personality flow through, only genuine and honest things will come out. At that point, it doesn’t matter if people relate or not. Well, you can’t control that, so it’s either they will or won’t, right? I guess I’m saying I’ve really started believing in the Eddie Van Halen thing, where it’s all about trusting your gut.
L.A. Guns seems stronger than ever, but you’ve undoubtedly stumbled upon something with Todd. Is there a future beyond Solsorte?
That’s a really good question. We take this project seriously; it’s not just a side project. So, the response to this album will dictate how far we take it. It’s up to the public and how they respond. So far, it’s been positive, and people seem to love it. I might just be the old guy on guitar, but this sounds like a band, looks like a band, and feels like a band to me.
Tracii Guns: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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