Interview with Gypsy Lee Pistolero of Gypsy Pistoleros

When it comes to Glam/Sleaze Metal, sometimes it seems it’s one of those genres that got stuck in the bygone era, sonically and visually. But what if you tried to blend it with Flamenco and Latin music? Sounds intriguing…? Well, here comes the bad news then – somebody has already put this idea into practice. The gentleman in question is Gypsy Lee Pistolero, the lead singer and mastermind of the UK group Gypsy Pistoleros, who also pursues a career in acting as Lee Mark Jones. With his band just about to release the compilation album The Greatest Flamenco Sleaze Glam Band Ever: The 18 Track Anthology and also having a new studio album The Mescalito Vampires in the works, I caught up with Lee to chat about his past, present and exciting future ahead.

Alexandra Mrozowska: The combination of Sleaze/Glam Metal, Punk Rock and Flamenco is really one-of-a-kind. What do you think was crucial to shaping the Gypsy Pistoleros’ style?

Gypsy Lee Pistolero: It was during the years 1991 to 1994 when I was based in Zaragoza, Spain. With my band, The Last Gang, we toured Spain supporting Motörhead, Nazareth, The Cramps, UFO, Black Sabbath – with Dio singing – and Sepultura, But it was our 1993 support tour with The Ramones on their  tour (for Mondo Bizarro) when we had signed to their management company, Red Eye, who also managed Blondie and Talking Heads. I really wanted to do something different as a support band for them. During our time in Zaragoza I had fallen in love with the old Rumba Pop songs from Los Chicos & Lo Chunguitos, and during loads of drunken rehearsals at our local/rehearsal studio Ketama, a really famous Spanish flamenco band and Los Heroes del Silencio guitarist Juan Valdivia who both rehearsed a few rooms down, would come in to jam with us. They loved doing the punk classics, like “Anarchy in the U.K”, etc. I asked about Rumba, they laughed and we jammed Los Chunguitos “Ay que Dolor”. It sounded off the wall! So I put three rumba tracks in the set and we supported The Ramones playing them. It was met with a stunned reaction – a half-English band playing Rumba/Flamenco Rock/Punk…? Then the reaction changed and they loved it!

A photo from Gypsy Lee Pistolero’s private archives, used by the artist’s permission.
The Ramones & The Last Gang on ‘Mondo Bizarro Tour 1993’. A photo from Gypsy Lee Pistolero’s private archives, used by the artist’s permission.

I returned to the UK in ’94 and I recorded two Rumba/Flamenco Rock tracks with Mark and Ian (guitarist and bass player/backing vocals in today’s Gypsy Pistoleros). It sounded great, but totally unique – no record label understood it and could pigeonhole it… So I shelved it for years until 2005 when myself, Ian and Neil Phillips (guitar, The Yo Yo’s) and Scott Garrett (drums) recorded a whole album of mainly Flamenco/Rumba in a head-on collision with Punk Rock riffs, pounding bass and thrashing drums. Following the best Rock’n’Roll tradition with big hooks, attitude, and sleaze – yet it was about those flamenco breaks that got into your head and refused to leave…

Personnel changed. We went out on our first tour in 2006 with Adler’s Appetite, then Dogs D’Amour and then from 2007 to 2011 with L.A. Guns, Faster PussycatRatt, Dirty Penny, Bang Tango, Wrathchild, Vains Of Jenna, Twisted Sister, Poison, Vince Neil, Skid Row, Slaughter, Faster Pussycat, Dokken and ZZ Top. Plus, we appeared on Rocklahoma festivals from 2007 to 2011 in Oklahoma, USA, alongside Mötley Crüe, Guns Guns N’ Roses, Poison, ZZ Top, Twisted Sister, Faster Pussycat, Vain, Papa Roach, Whitesnake, Skid Row, Black Label Society… Normally closing each night!

Unfortunately, we became a rock n roll cliché – drinking, drugs, partying, too Glam/Sleaze Rock ‘80s musical leaning all took over. At that time, we just wanted to be Rock stars, and sometimes weren’t even bothered about the music. We lost our uniqueness. I quit in 2011 after a disastrous record deal was signed to Heavy Metal Records. I was burnt.

AM: Watching the band’s videos, one can’t help but think of a very certain Finnish Rock act from the early ‘80s. What are your other influences?

GLP: Beyond Hanoi Rocks, it’s Lords Of The New Church, the Punk greats Stiff Little Fingers, The Damned, The Ruts, etc. I have been lucky enough to tour with and support some great bands that I loved! The Ramones, The Alarm, Theatre Of Hate, Lords Of The New Church, UFO, Vain, Faster Pussycat, Bang Tango, L.A. Guns. It all affects your style.

AM: Alongside the Flamenco vibe to your music, you also write lyrics in Spanglish.

GLP: Yeah – it’s English with a weird Spanish Gitano slang, habla de la calle, that I spoke whilst living in Zaragoza in 1991-1994. It works with the crossover style we have, English rock and the Spanish Rumbas/Flamenco riffs, so it is a natural/unnatural hybrid.

AM: Gypsy Pistoleros returning now after an eight-year-long break, why was the hiatus so long?

GLP: I fell in love with acting in 2012 and was broken and disenchanted with the great Rock’n’Roll Circus, so I started an acting career.

AM: The band returns with a reformed line-up. What do the new members bring into the band in terms of style and creativity?

GLP: This is the band I always wanted, but could never get together due to the fact that some were in successful bands – touring, recording, etc. It is a dream line-up for me. I was in White Trash U.K. with Mark Westwood (guitar) when we toured with Motorhead. He is a producer, session guitarist (Camoora, Clive Nolan, Pendragon) and simply brilliant! Ian Walker (bass and backing vocals) I have been with in Cry Of the Innocent, The Ice Babies and the original Gypsy Pistoleros with over the years. He’s a fantastic Latin bass player and has a brilliant voice. Vinne (Jan Vincent VelazcoPendragon, Ghost etc.) is one of the UK’s top session drummers. He is really special and has an amazing Latin Rock feel & style. For the new album, I wanted to be able to compete with anyone, even the super bands! We have the songs and the band now, so who knows… We’re back on the rollercoaster!

AM: Singles “The Crazy Loco Loquito” and “Una Para Todo es Bandido” precede the compilation album The Greatest Flamenco Sleaze Glam Band Ever: The 18 Track Anthology. Is the release like closing a chapter of your career, a summary of sorts?

GLP: Totally! The compilation album The Greatest Flamenco Sleaze Glam Band Ever: The 18 Track Anthology is an introduction for those that have never heard of the band. Golden Robot Records/Riot Records are a fantastic record company. They get it! Mark Alexander Urber is a Rock fan who loves the music. So, this will be the first time a ‘best of’ collection has real backing and is released to a whole new generation. I came back due to the fact that I had unfinished business.

AM: The cover of the second single “The Crazy Loco Loquito” is potentially controversial visually. Was it a purely aesthetic choice, or a provocation of sorts?

GLP: Both! An iconic dig!

AM: It’s already been announced that Gypsy Pistoleros are working on the new album, titled The Mescalito Vampires. What will we find on it in terms of style?

GLP: I want it to be the Latin equivalent of Appetite For Destruction! It will have a total Latin/Mariachi vibe with more of a Punk/Rock’n’Roll touch. I cannot begin to tell you how excited and thrilled we are with the songs, way beyond any Gypsy Pistoleros’ previous stuff. I want it to match the press and journalists’ reaction to what we promised to be all those years back, like Sleazegrinder in Classic Rock Magazine describing our songs as “a thrill-a-minute collection of melodic eye-patch swagger that smells of exotic spices and forbidden concubines.” or us matching the legendary Malcolm Dome of Classic Rock’s definition of “sheer musical escapism”. That was before drinking, stupidity, terrible record deals and utter madness took over some twelve years back. I want us to be the ideal house band for the fictitious Titty Twister bar of Rodriguez’s From Dusk till Dawn. I want Morricone’s tense, tumbleweed atmospheres and the Gypsy Kings’ manic Mediterranean energy, with a New York Dolls raw Glam/Punk spark and a surplus of prime Guns N’Roses attitude. The resulting songs at this moment are delivering that. Cannot believe that I am so excited and pumped by it again!… This band are all total premiership players, so there is no compromise at all. Everything I have ever wanted this band to be, it is – plus, its unique, something we tried to hide or shy away from before. Now it’s all out Flamenco/Rumba Punk Rock’n’Roll – unashamedly!

AM: As you’ve mentioned before, you’re also an actor. Why did you turn to acting in 2012?

GLP: I was burnt with music, touring, lack of money etc. That’s when I took a role offered to me in a small indie film, found that I was good and loved it. So, I went for it!

AM: Genres you explore as a musician rely heavily on performance skills and theatricality and so does your acting career…

GLP: Yeah, I never held with the idea of wanting to look exactly like the audience. I thought audiences wanted escapism, something to take them away from the shit of normal life for an hour or so, give them something different to watch. That’s what I always took from acting, which Punk did to an extent – dressing and looking different.

AM: Your acting resume include a lot of experience in Horror genre. This kind of aesthetics isn’t too far from Rock music in general…

GLP: Here is my career to date. Yes, a lot of psycho roles, nutters, larger-than-life, flamboyant characters… Theatricality has never been far from Rock music indeed – just think of Bowie or Alice Cooper’s aesthetics. Plus the big shows are just that – shows. People should be entertained! Playing a Rock star to playing a psycho was a suprisingly easy transfer (laughs) But I would love to do some straight serious roles – stuff that stretches me as an actor.

AM: Probably the most important accomplishment in your acting career so far is your one-man show Rock’N’Roll Suicide – where did the idea for this come from?

GLP: It came from my head of Drama at the University of Worcester. She took me aside one day and asked me why I always hid behind characters, Why was my acting not real, why did I shy away from reality. So I went for it, I gave her a show of complete realism, warts and all… everything! Tragedy, comedy, a complete story about the Rock’n’Roll circus. What goes on on the tour bus, went into my show! A real window into the Rock’n’Roll World, onstage and off. It was a  real unexpected Fringe hit show! You can read more about it here.

AM: How much autobiographical is Rock’N’Roll Suicide and do you feel comfortable at this level of personal expression?

GLP: A Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide is a retracing of my career journey against a backdrop of videos and scenes and stories from my early life, while belting out songs from my Punk, Glam and Rock career, from the council estates of Kidderminster to Beverley Hills and back. And it’s also the story of me coming to terms with myself after a late diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), something I realise on reflection has clearly defined my life. It is me baring my soul, I suppose. It is like taking all my clothes off in public, facing all my fuck-ups, highs and lows. It was and is a real rollercoaster. There is deep soul-searching, self-questioning, recriminations, rage and confusion but also hope and clarity, and understanding that unfolds. Triumph over tragedy, perhaps…?

AM: An important character of your show is Ziggy Stardust, an obvious Bowie reference, other rock star characters present too. Do you find them to be particularly influential figures in your life?

GLP: Ziggy Stardust was the ultimate Rock star to me, it was what all of us little punks aspired to be. That was the unattainable. Lemmy was a fantastic role model to meet. Early in my life in 1988 in San Moritz & Marquee Bar, he had time for all of us aspiring musicians, no time for dickheads – and was a real regular bloke. The Godfather of Rock, a special man. I had the fortune to support Motörhead on two tours. I don’t think you ever copy people, you just pick up bits n’ pieces from them, then add the bits you like whilst creating your own persona. But Ziggy Stardust was it!

AM: Rock’N’Roll Suicide is hailed to be a representative of “chaotic and surreal contemporary theatre”,  quite against the traditional notion of theatrical performance. What kind of feedback do you get after your show from the viewers and the critics?

GLP: The reaction at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019 was amazing. This show was never made for your elitist theatregoers but loads of them loved it and loads hated it, and you don’t want people walking out saying, “Well, that was alright”. It’s the old Malcolm McLaren way – they’ve got to love it or hate it! I got reviews that ranged from 1 star to 5 star, almost unheard of? It was described as a “brilliantly shocking rock theatre” – I’ll take that! I got a grant from the Arts Council due to the reaction in Edinburgh, which meant I could bring Chris Thorpe on board – and he’s one of the biggest theatre-makers in Britain now. He honed it a bit but knows he can’t really change what I do. He tried to make it a bit more PC … which has sort of gone out of the window! It is what it is, and it’s all true. I’ve hidden a few names now, because at least one doesn’t come out of it very well, All of it happened, but I don’t want to destroy people. And Lemmy comes out of it a legend, which of course he was, so there’s nothing new in that.

It also sums up just what a rollercoaster life is! Ironically  it led to renewed interest in my music, I lost count of the amount of people asking me about Gypsy Pistoleros, the songs, why weren’t we a mega success etc. I couldn’t leave it at that and due to someone seeing the show and  recommending it, it led us to the signing to Golden Robot/Riot Records.

AM: What kind of emotional response would you like to evoke in your viewers?

GLP: Reflection, self-examination, hope! As I’ve said, the show is a rollercoaster. I think the reviews summed it up. For example, The Edinburgh Reporter gave it five stars and described the show, “the stories and delivery” as “worth their weight in cultural gold, some are tragic, others laugh-out-loud hilarious”. Vive Le Rock (five stars as well) claimed that “it’s only Rock’n’Roll (theatre)  but we love it!” while Pocket Size Theatre (four stars) reviewer wrote that “for a raw, meaningful exploration of fame, aspiration and music industry this is a show worth supporting… it is never too late to succeed”. The Stage gave it three stars, describing the show as “imaginatively staged and anarchic”. Other reviews mentioned “a diary of dreams, tragedy and comedic reflection” (The Wee Review, three stars), or “a charmingly eccentric presence” (The List, two stars) but also concern “for his welfare, so chaotic is his delivery of this autobiographical show” (The Scotsman, one star). To quote Fringe Review, “His is an engaging presence that is wholly wonderful to behold. The anarchy should be spread across the UK… this was for me a great time in the company of a fantastic storyteller.” The Write Angle reviewer noticed that “this show is everything that a punk rock theatre experience ought to be. It’s raw, unruly, brimming with attitude and littered with missed cues, forgotten anecdotes and deliciously witty ad-libs. The best bit is, Lee, himself, doesn’t give a flying f*ck (so he tells us, anyway), and nor should he. This is his story, to tell in his way. That is exactly what he does. Brace yourself for a beautifully bumpy ride!”

AM: A few years into your acting career you obtained a Master’s Touring Theatre Degree at University of Worcester; you’re also a member of their award-winning Shenanigans Theatre Company. What do you think is more important for a stage performer, formal education or experience?

GLP: Experience, personal charisma and character, plus a joy of pretending! I think these are the most important things, but once I started formal actor training it did take me way out of my comfort zone and I discovered Uta Hagen. Then, just doing it and keeping on doing it and experimenting, finding your style and aiming to improve in every play or film… Plus, I can now play a Rock singer without getting wankered before going out onstage and therefore not ruining my voice, like I used to do.

AM: Do you find it easy to juggle your musical and acting career? What are your future plans as far as both are concerned?

GLP: Strangely enough, lockdown has helped. Mark, Vinnie and Ian had no live tours. So this new album had our full focus. It shows! Theatre is closed down and all filming has been put back, so I had no juggling this year. The new album will be finished and mastered by October, when I resume touring with my one-man theatre show A Rock n Roll Suicide? Still alive!, touring Rock venues and cooler, edgier theatres. Then in November I began filming on the film version, being shot by M.J. Dixon and the brilliant folk at Mycho Entertainment. Then 2021 will see the new Gypsy Pistoleros’ album The Mescalito Vampires released, then we will tour (festivals and major supports).

AM: Is there anything you’d like to add in the end?

GLP: I’m thrilled to be back in the rock‘n’roll circus! Even though it may destroy my never nearly was rock star show… There is unfinished business with Gypsy Pistoleros, it deserves to be more than a cult band, and with Golden Robot/Riot Records it now has a chance to reach a global audience and become the success the music deserves! I’m excited and cannot wait for everyone to hear the new stuff. Flamenco Glam Sleaze Rumba Rock‘n’Roll is back!

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Check out Gypsy Pistoleros’ new single “The Crazy Loco Loquito” below: