Wednesday, December 18, 2019

A Very Candid Conversation with Mick Cripps

Mick Cripps (year unknown)

Mick Cripps was a rhythm guitarist/keyboardist as well as contributing songwriter for rock band L.A. Guns. (Tracii Guns, lead guitarist of L.A. Guns, originally played with Axl Rose in Guns N’ Roses. The name of the group, Guns N’ Roses, is a combination of their last names.) L.A. Guns was part of the Los Angeles metal scene with bands such as Guns N’ Roses, Poison, and Mötley Crüe. They achieved moderate chart success in the late eighties and the early nineties. Their biggest hit album Cocked & Loaded (1989) hit number 38 on the album charts. Cocked & Loaded also contained their biggest single “The Ballad of Jayne” which peaked at number 33. In 1993, Cripps formed Burning Retna, an experimental band that at times included L.A. Guns drummer Nickey “Beats” Alexander and bassist Kelly Nickels. The band never recorded an album and dissolved in 1996, but they released a compilation in 2006.  

Cripps left L.A. Guns in 1995, but he reunited with them in 1999 only to leave again in 2001. He was invited to play on the album Hollywood Forever but declined. In 2017, Cripps formed the Brutalists with vocalist Nigel Mogg (of the Quireboys). The music was an emulation of the pub rock era. (Pub rock was a British pop/rock music scene in the seventies that was played in pubs rather than in theaters or stadiums. The music was more of a back-to-basic style of rock in response to the British rock scene that had become more experimental. Punk rock would be pub rock’s successor.) The Brutalists released a self-titled album in 2018 and their sophomore album, We Are Not Here to Help, in September 2019.

In this candid conversation, we discussed Mick’s time with the three bands. I want to think Billy James from Glass Onyon PR for setting up the interview, but most of all I want to thank Mick.

Jeff Cramer: So what got you interested in music? 

Mick Cripps: Well, I had an older brother who was a classical pianist. He bought lots of records and we’d listen to his Beatles and Rolling Stones’ albums. Usually  it’s a sibling that turns you on to something, but he happened to be a professional piano player, so there was music in the house, and who wouldn’t get into the Rolling Stones and the Beatles? And then there was all the other great music that was coming out in the ‘seventies.

JC: What made you decide on playing the guitar? Your brother was playing the piano. 

MC: I was messing around with the piano, but I preferred the flashiness of a guitar, so I got a bass and a guitar. I always played bass and guitar and just kind of bounced around between different instruments. The bass was easier. It was a quicker way to get in a band.

JC: When you were growing up, was there any guitarist you saw and said, “Hey, I want to play like that”? 

MC: Oh, I always idolized Mick Ronson from David Bowie and Spiders from Mars. I always thought he was amazing. I guess if I had a guitar hero, Mick Ronson was definitely one of them. And then there are all of the usuals . . . Keith Richards and all of the blues guys like Muddy Waters.

JC: Talk about how you started with L.A. Guns.

MC: I was living in England and I’d come to LA for a vacation when I met Nickey Beat, who was the drummer for the Weirdos. He had a rehearsal studio, and Guns N’ Roses was rehearsing there, and the Cramps, and all of these people. I met [lead guitarist] Tracii Guns. I think the week before I met him he had just left Guns N’ Roses, and so we were all hanging out and playing. That led to starting a group. He already had all of the posters and things from the old L.A. Guns thing he did with Axl Rose, so for the purposes of getting quick gigs, we just used the same band name. It stuck, you know? So it was really out of just not having to come up with a new name—it was convenient. No one knew that anybody was going to get big record deals. No one knew that Guns N’ Roses would become as huge as they would. Nobody knew any of these bands would get signed, so it was surprising when everybody all had record deals a year later. Hence, I didn’t return to England.

JC: L.A. Guns went through a lead singer change before they were signed.

MC: Yeah, we went through a couple of different singers. Allan Jones, who was a Welshman from Wales, played in a number of bands in the ‘sixties, including the Amen Corner, and he had clubs and things in England. He had a number of clothing stores on Melrose, and he became our manager. He brought over Phil Lewis, so that’s how we hooked up with Phil. And when we got Phil as lead singer, we got signed and it all took off.

L.A. Guns, 1988 (Mick Cripps, second from left)
                                                                                                                           
JC:  In addition to playing guitar, I understand that you also worked on the songwriting. Could you explain the process of writing songs?  

MC: Well, some of the songs would just come out of group jams. Other ones would come from people bringing in bits and pieces of songs or music and some lyrics. Phil would usually do the lyrics, so it’s always done in different ways . . . whatever worked, you know? There wasn’t one set method, but everybody would contribute. We always split everything five ways, even if somebody didn’t do anything on a particular song. We always split it. That was a good way to keep bands together, to be democratic about the songwriting process. Usually that keeps everybody wanting to contribute. If something is not working, you can just go onto another thing because you’ve got different inputs into the process. If you get stuck on one or two songs, you can keep moving on to the next thing until you come up with one that works. It’s pretty obvious when you have a good song everybody likes. There’s no set rules.

JC: Let’s talk about L.A. Guns’ biggest hit, “The Ballad of Jayne.” 

MC: That was another kind of group composition with me, Phil, and [L.A. Guns’ bassist] Kelly Nickels. Kelly wrote the lyrics on that. I did most of the music, and then later on the other guys came in and did pieces on it. Most of the compositions were group efforts. [To watch the music video for “The Ballad of Jayne,”  click here.]

JC: So you stayed until ’95. What made you leave L.A. Guns?  

MC: It was mid-’95. I pretty much needed a break from it, and so I left in’95 and went to work for a publishing company. Then I was instrumental in getting the original guys back together in 1999–2000 when we did a lot of touring, and we put out a few records on Cleopatra Records. That went until 2001, and then me and Kelly left.

JC: Why did you leave again? 

MC: I had other things to do, you know?  Different types of music.

JC: The one thing I wanted to mention is that I’ve listened to your other bands that you play guitar in, Burning Retna and the Brutalists. All three bands were different from each other. Let’s start off by talking about Burning Retna since that happened shortly before you left L.A. Guns. How that did come about? 

MC: I had a lot of interest in different styles of music, and I was playing with other people so I wouldn’t get stuck on one particular genre. I liked to listen to other types of music and always did and explored different things. So if I had the opportunity I took it. [To hear Burning Retna’s “Write My Name in Blood,” click here.]

Burning Retna (Mick, far left, year unknown) 

JC: I also understand that you were invited by L.A. Guns to record the Hollywood Forever album in 2012, but you declined. 

MC: I was busy doing other things, you know? They’re doing fine. They’re doing their thing. They didn’t need my help. They were managing along nicely without me. They didn’t need me.

JC: Your recent group, the Brutalists . . . tell me how it all began. 

MC: Well, I’ve been playing with the guys in the group for a number of years. We were playing different variations of it and doing lots of jamming and recording, and then we kind of formalized it when we talked singer Nigel Mogg into doing this kind of Ian Dury lead vocal thing, which worked out quite well and it was fun. You know, you play in a band with guys that are friends—you’re brothers, and things like that. It's real easy. You know the people you’re playing with well, so it was just an enjoyable experience. We just finished an English tour a couple of weeks back. We’ve been playing some gigs around town, and we’ve got a couple coming up. So it’s enjoyable. It's just a good outlet, a fun experience, and we enjoy ourselves with it. [To watch the Brutalists’ “Know Your Value,” click here.]

The Brutalists (Mick, center, year unknown)

JC: Again, it’s different from Burning Retna. It's different from L.A. Guns.

MC: I try to get inspiration. I go back through my old record collections and listen to things I haven’t listened to for a long time and try to analyze why I liked it when I was sixteen, eighteen, twenty-five, or something. That’s what happens when you get old. You have lots of different age brackets where you can pull the experiences from. I was listening to a lot of old pre-punk music, pub rock music like Dr. Feelgood, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Nick Lowe, Rockpile, and all that, so there was lots of inspiration. It's easy to emulate the kind of music you like.

People don’t even know about a lot of that stuff, or they’ve forgotten about, or it was never on a level that people could really pin on anybody, so it was a good source to rediscover. Eras like the pub rock era, the punk rock era, the post-punk era, and the Goth era . . . all of those musical movements are never going to happen again.

It’s just too convoluted and too fragmented now for anything like that to happen again. The world is different, but it’s very important, because those were milestones in musical development. It’s important that people follow that history and understand those threads, because that’s what makes it good. It’s unique and the fact that it will never happen again is kind of lends itself more importance to that era.

What’s great these days is that you can go on YouTube and see all of the old footage of old performances by all of the groups. It’s really amazing that you can dial up some real archival footage of all these great heroes that you wouldn’t have seen back in the day because it would never be broadcast on TV, and people would always covet all of these old films and things. So it’s inspiring. I would hope and imagine—but maybe it doesn’t happen—that it would inspire the youthful generation to get into those styles of music. Unfortunately, I don’t see a lot of that happening, which is kind of baffling. There’s no accounting for taste, is there?

JC: What type of model of guitar have you played? Do you use the same model in all three bands or is it different in each band? 

MC: I mostly use Telecaster and Gretsch. With Burning Retna, I used the big hollow body. I like hollow bodies. (A hollow-body electric guitar has a sound box and one or more electric pickups. These guitars were designed in the thirties to be as loud as big bands and an orchestra.) With the Brutalists, I'm mostly using Telecasters.

JC: Well, the other thing I want to talk about is the music industry. It’s very different with the Brutalists than it was when you were doing L.A. Guns. What’s your feeling on the change?  You were talking about the record deal was the big thing, but now getting a record deal isn’t the biggest thing. 

MC: At  least you can make better music now because your goal isn’t the big payoff because that’s not going to happen. So you’re more or less making music from a more sincere motivation, I guess. There isn’t that big end game or anything, at least not for people like us. So it’s just making music that sounds good and from your experience. You can be discerning enough not to put out crap, or put out something that some other entity wants you to put out because they want to get it on MTV, or something like that. That doesn’t happen anymore, and that’s refreshing in terms of making music that’s good, you know? But unfortunately, with the internet and everything, there’s the other side of the coin. Everything is so fractionalized that it’s hard to get mass attention.

JC: What other plans, besides touring, do the Brutalists have?  

MC: Right now we just have some club dates. We’re working on a new video for the second single, “Price On Your Head.” So that should be coming out in a month or so. That’s the immediate plans.

JC: I guess just give me your feelings on your musical journey. From the time you did L.A. Guns to Burning Retna and then the Brutalists. What are your reflections on that?

MC: Well, at one point, I tried to leave it and I couldn’t. It's just something that you have to do. It kind of gets underneath your skin and you can’t leave it alone. I’ve explored other things, but nothing’s more enjoyable and satisfying than playing music in front of an audience because of the immediate response. People will clap their hands. If they don’t like you, they’ll throw something at you. So you know if you’re doing something right or not. It’s the immediacy of it, I think. It's the most rewarding thing.

Mick Cripps (2019)


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