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"I just wanted to be able to replicate and expand upon a similar sonic palate that I was hearing as a teenager". - L.A. Guns / Ace Von Johnson

Posted: March 15, 2024
I would say by 16 years old; I had pretty much committed to the fact that I was going to play the guitar and see where it would take me. It wasn’t until I was probably in my early 20’s that I was forced to decide whether it would be a full-on career path. But by that point, I was so far along into what was the early stages of my touring career, I didn’t have much of choice.

Photos credit: Olivia Perillo

Aspiring is directing one's hopes or ambitions toward becoming a specified type of person.

When did you decide to become a guitarist, or musician? Typical question for an interview. Though it is important to develop a basis for discovery. Most questions, how form a foundation for the guest that is to be interviewed. Often the questions seem repetitious in nature. Again, it’s a start to define a guitarists ambition, or aspirations.

I find that many guests have interest in a skill set when they are younger. However, it takes something more than inspiration to make music a career. Love, desire and passion are words that help define what is needed to ensure success. Keep in mind, success comes in many ways. These terms do not guarantee that your talent will become your music legacy.

Our guest today is Ace Von Johnson. With a name like “Ace” you must have achieved ambitions at some level. As a Guitarist for the band L.A. Guns, I believe he his hopes of being an excellent Guitar Player has been achieved.

ABOUT ACE VON JOHNSON

Ace Von Johnson is a Los Angeles native, most recognized for his tenure as the guitarist in renowned Hollywood rock bands Faster Pussycat (lead guitar 2010-2019), and L.A. Guns from 2018 onward, as well as performing in contemporary synth rock band Neon Coven.

He set about his musical career in his late teens, touring internationally in several groups, including notable punk bands Madcap, The U.S. Bombs, Unwritten Law, and legendary NYC hardcore band Murphy’s Law.

Ace has also been involved in a variety of session work, with a diverse array of artists ranging from Tiffany to Finland’s The 69 Eyes, composing for Shudder TV’s Joe Bob Briggs’ Last Drive-In, and many more. Outside of his role as a musician, Ace is an accomplished voice actor and a passionate dog rescue advocate.

L.A. Guns are an American glam metal band from Los Angeles, formed in 1983. The lineup currently consists of Tracii Guns (lead guitar), Phil Lewis (lead vocals), Ace Von Johnson (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Johnny Martin (bass, backing vocals), Adam Hamilton (studio drums) and Shawn Duncan (live drums). The first incarnation of the group was formed by Tracii Guns and Rob Gardner in 1983 and merged with fellow Los Angeles group Hollywood Rose to form Guns N' Roses in March 1985. After only a brief tenure in that band, Guns reformed L.A. Guns with a new lineup, consisting of Paul Black, Mick Cripps, Robert Stoddard, and Nickey Alexander. Black would soon be replaced by former Girl singer Phil Lewis while former Faster Pussycat bassist Kelly Nickels was added to the group. Later, Alexander would be replaced by former W.A.S.P. drummer Steve Riley with this being known as the "classic lineup" of L.A. Guns. They achieved moderate chart success in the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, the group went through numerous lineup changes (with Riley being the most consistent member) and failed to regain mainstream attention.

The "classic lineup" of the group would reunite in 1999 and began recording new material. However, the group continued to change lineups and Guns eventually left to form the hard rock supergroup Brides of Destruction with Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe in 2002. L.A. Guns continued without Guns, bringing in guitarist Stacey Blades; however, following his decision to put Brides of Destruction on hiatus in 2006, Guns formed The Tracii Guns Band. The group's lineup consisted of former L.A. Guns members Black and Alexander as well as Jeremy Guns (though the lineup would eventually change), with the group eventually changing their name to L.A. Guns. Both groups continued to record and tour under the L.A. Guns moniker until 2012, when the Tracii Guns-led version of the group disbanded. Riley died in 2023.

INTERVIEW WITH ACE VON JOHNSON AND GUITAR THRILLS MAGAZINE

Guitar Thrills: It is an exciting feeling to interview a true architect. Not one that creates plans for houses and buildings, but one that creates a standard for others to follow.

Guitar Thrills: Hello Ace, thank you for joining us today. It is obvious what the first question of the interview will be. Who was your inspiration to pick up the guitar?

Ace: Thank you for having me. I think my first real inspiration for wanting to pick up the guitar was just to simply emulate a lot of the music I was hearing as a kid. Guys like Joe Walsh, Jimi Hendrix, and bands like The Ramones, Green Day, Metallica, and so on. I just wanted to be able to replicate and expand upon the same sort of sonic palate that I was hearing as a teenager and make it my own. Fortunately, I’m still learning to this day and trying to borrow as much as I can every time, I watch a someone perform onstage. 

Guitar Thrills: When did guitar playing manifest itself to impact your decision making? When did you decide that being a guitar player would be an ambition?

Ace: I would say by 16 years old; I had pretty much committed to the fact that I was going to play the guitar and see where it would take me. It wasn’t until I was probably in my early 20’s that I was forced to decide whether it would be a full-on career path. But by that point, I was so far along into what was the early stages of my touring career, I didn’t have much of choice. Music and playing guitar in general have been the one constant in my life since I was about 13, and I’m pretty content with where it’s taken me so far. I never would’ve guessed 20 years ago that I would be here or achieve any of this thing I’ve done this far. But there is always more to learn and other adventures to be had, so who knows what the future holds or where it’ll take me next. 

Guitar Thrills: The groups you have played with, are from the Rock genre. Have you always considered Rock as the genre of choice?

Ace: For the most part. I started off playing in a ton of punk rock bands, some of whom I was a fan of as a kid. I made an active choice to lean more into the rock genre by my mid 20’s just simply because I felt like I had hit a wall playing punk rock for so long. It’s still a genre I enjoy listening to for the most part, but I wanted to challenge myself a little bit more, beyond just basic power chords and Chuck Berry-styled guitar solos. Overall, though, I’m happy to be known as a “rock guitarist”. 

Guitar Thrills: What did you consider early on, before joining your first rock band? Did you just want to perform before an audience, or did you consider the potential to make it a career?

Ace: I honestly had no idea what I was doing until I was waist deep in it by maybe 23-25 years old, making the rounds in Hollywood. I think I just wanted to get onstage and express myself somehow. It was an outlet. Having an audience is a crucial part of that, but I never set out to play to the masses. It was more about what could I create and how I could convey the feelings I was having of sadness or anger, and since I wasn’t much of a singer or lyricist, the next best thing was to throw all of that into the guitar. Guys like Slash, Doyle from The Misfits, Joe Strummer, Joe Walsh, Hendrix; all managed to speak to me with their guitar. And they had a lot to say. I wanted to be one of those guys, speaking through my performance and the instrument. I guess it sounds cheesy but it’s a very cathartic thing for me, to be onstage. I tend to be hard on my guitars, and it’s quite common for me to get my hands dirty up there. There’s usually a bit of blood involved and that’s exactly what I’m going for. 

Guitar Thrills: Think back to some of the artists you have performed with. Which of them had the most influence on you as a guitarist? Did you pick up certain playing techniques for a specific band mate, or are you self-taught and create your own style?

Ace: Oh, I am 100% self-taught. I’ve never had any formal lessons or bothered to learn music theory outright. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing. I’ve picked up some things from people I’ve played with over the years, but I would say that as far as band mates go, Tracii Guns has had the most impact on my playing and tone. Just because he is constantly woodshedding and learning new stuff, it’s hard for that not to rub off on me. “Hey, what was that lick you just played?” And so on. He’s an absolute legend who can play outside the box anytime he wants. That’s really inspiring. But otherwise, most of the people I’ve worked with previously, haven’t had much input on me. We’re usually just relegated to being band mates. 

Guitar Thrills: You are performing with L.A. Guns. How did that come about?

Ace: Well, the short answer is, I met them all individually through my ten years with Faster Pussycat. Tracii and I toured together around 2010 and remained friends since then, and I joined Phil Lewis’ incarnation of the band onstage maybe a good 20 times over the years as a guest for a song or 3 as well. So, when the reunion between the two camps happened, they approached me about it. I initially declined as my schedule wasn’t permitting but after a few conversations and some time, I came in on a temporary basis and then just never left.   

Guitar Thrills: Do you ever experience a sense of “awe” when you think who you are performing with on stage?

Ace: Not usually. I’ve been onstage with quite a few of my idols or people I’m a fan of, and I try not to let anything like that affect what I’m doing. It might hit me after the fact but overall, I’m not really one to get star struck or anything. I think when L.A. Guns, or any band I’m performing with, hits a certain stride and connects with the audience, that tends to be more awe inspiring than any one member of who’s onstage. At least for me, personally. 

Guitar Thrills: Like most bands, touring is a part of promoting your music and brand. It is also an excellent means to make money. However, not all bands will experience the ability to make money. It is a struggle, and there are many factors. What has contributed to the success of L.A. Guns and their demand?

Ace: Overall, I would like to think it’s their amazing and diverse catalogue and a handful of timeless songs. But ultimately, I can only comment on my tenure with the band, as their legacy was cemented long before I came along. Happy to be a part of it though! And I think any band that can go out and tour, and make a living doing it, clearly has something going for them. It’s a tough road to travel to “make it” as a musician, especially nowadays in the age of digital media, Spotify, etc., where no one wants to pay for music. It truly is a long way to the top…

Guitar Thrills: Have you always seen “eye to eye” with your band mates? What has enabled you to have an effective working relationship with them?

Ace: I think the fact that we were all friends for a long time, and kind of come from the same working-class background, as far as players goes, helps our collective relationship. I can ultimately say this is the easiest band of people to get along with I’ve ever experienced thus far, and I wouldn’t change a thing. 

Guitar Thrills: That is excellent feedback. I want to ask you about your love for dogs. I know you are a dog lover. What kind breed of dog are you fond of most?

Ace: I’m a big advocate for Pitbull-type dogs, and any dog who’s in a shelter environment who needs to be networked for. Unfortunately, most shelters in America are overflowing with this same type of dogs so not only are they my favorite but they also require the most amount of advocacy. People are breeding Pitbull’s en masse and then dumping them when they can’t turn a profit off them, or worse. It’s a horrible cycle. I spend a lot of my down time trying to find homes for these dogs, networking, donating, and attending any events or contributing however I can. 

Guitar Thrills: Tell me about the role you have as a rescue dog advocate?

Ace: I’m just one person but I try to use what little platform I must go to bat for these types of dogs, and any animal in high-kill shelters who needs to be networked for. It’s mostly about finding fosters, adopters and just making people aware that a little goes a long way. I try to do something every day, whether it’s a donation, sharing posts on social media, saving stage towels to donate to shelters, and so on. It’s really a never-ending struggle. I just want to make more people aware of what’s going on and what happens to the dogs that go into the shelters. Most of them never leave.  

Guitar Thrills: You also have done voice overs. What work will we notice your voice from?

Ace: I’ve done a few things for several shows on Netflix; Money Heist, Marianne, The Woods. And some stuff for Shudder and other streaming platforms as well. There isn’t really anything of note. It’s just something I’ve been moonlighting doing for the last 10 plus years now. Hoping to land more animation/character driven work soon though. 

Guitar Thrills: It has been amazing to chat with you. Do you have an album in the works, or a particular project you are working on?

Ace: Just writing for the next L.A. Guns album and doing a project with some friends that I can’t quite divulge yet but hopefully in the next year or so, will be able to talk more about. Staying busy, as always. Thank you again for having me, and be sure to check out my Patreon, Patreon.com/acevonjohnson 

Guitar Thrills: Nice. We want to have you back soon. Please keep in touch and let us know what is happening in your career as a guitarist, as well as other work that you are doing.




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