“If the journalist is good, and is asking interesting questions, then it’s good, and I really don’t mind doing as many interviews as people want. If they aren’t, I go ‘here we go again’… and maybe the best side of me doesn’t come out, so…”
It’s an interesting way of subtly ensuring anyone talking to Armored Saint’s John Bush in the name of heavy metal journalism brings their ‘A’ game. As he speaks, I hurriedly start crossing out the ‘how many members are there in the band’ and ‘when did you form’ questions and decide on something altogether more weighty, viz: the new Armored Saint album, Punching the Sky, out this month on Metal Blade. And that’s very weighty indeed, let me tell you…
The album is out soon – you’re obviously happy with the finished product – are you worried what other people think about the album or are you getting a bit long in the tooth for such concerns? “No, of course – we all want to know. This is our art. When you finish a record you are super excited and proud; then there’s a certain amount of letting go involved, in the release. It can be an insecure kind of area as it’s up to other people whether they love it or hate it. Whatever you believe, at the end of the day you still want other people to love it. Unless you’re like Johnny Rotten with the first Sex Pistols record, whose attitude was that he didn’t give a shit – although he probably really did – how could you not? You’re putting it out and you want people to like it, not saying ‘I don’t care what people think’. I’m sure there are crazy avantgarde artists that feel that way but the majority of us want people to enjoy what we do. I’m no different”.
You say there’s an element of letting go – can you listen to your albums after they are recorded, or is there that element of distancing yourself from them for a while, to clear the head? “I like to get away from it after it’s done. Especially the mixing mode, because you’re listening to lots of mixes, you’re really involved in it. I don’t want to burn out on it, even though I love it – because it’s not even technically out! This record comes out on October 23rd, and the last thing I want is to be burned out before it even gets out of the gate. You step away. And then it’s good to come back. People always ask me at this time ‘what do you think of your new record’ and I’d like to say ‘well come back in a year and I can give you a better assessment of it’. Of course you think it’s great when it’s done, but I think you can be a little more objective after a period of time”.
Technological advances aside, how do you approach recording an album now to when you recorded the first Armored Saint album? Are you a creature of habit in the studio or are you open to employing new techniques or methods? “You always want to try new things and be open minded towards them for sure. The last couple of records we’ve done we’ve recorded at Joey (Vera, bassist/producer)’s house, at least the vocals. It’s a great setting, just him and I working together. We have a great camaraderie. But he’s not easy on me! He really pushes me. I think that’s good because in the end you want the best performance, you know? Pro-tools? We’ve used it, it’s helpful, but you certainly don’t want to become reliant on it. Believe it or not it can actually make you a worse musician or singer… ‘ok that’s great – fly it in on every chorus!’… You couldn’t do that in the analogue world, or it would be a very long process! I have done I that way in the past and it was a very painstaking process for the engineer! He was probably very irritated that he had to do it, but sometimes if your voice is blown you just can’t go any more. You have to find the happy medium. It’s always about balance. It’s good to have the tools at your disposal but you don’t want to let them make you become lazy”.
You say that Joey drives you hard in trying to get the best takes out of you – is that a two way street? Do you push him? “Yeah, sure! (laughing). As far as writing is concerned. I’m not usually there when he’s doing his bass tracks but when it comes to writing and arranging absolutely. Our goal is always to have the best song we can, but you know, it’s music – let’s face it, it’s all subjective. There are no clear winners or losers – that’s not how music goes. It’s all about people’s taste. And as far as vocals are concerned, I could do things over and over, but sometimes it’s that first take that has the certain sound, the nuance of a voice, an inflection, that you may not even repeat ever! You may do it again and think ‘well, I sang that better but the first one sounded better’ and that’s the cool thing about vocals. It’s the same about guitar solos. You might play it the same but then bend one note slightly different, and that’s it -that’s the cool thing about music. You gotta go with the vibe. So I think me and Joey talk a lot about that. He is a little bit of a control freak but I mean that in a complimentary way – I’m glad he is! It’s funny with Joey and I – there are times when we won’t see eye to eye on things – business, who knows what, but strangely enough when it comes to writing music and writing songs we’re rarely in disagreement. And I’m really happy about that”.
I’m pleased you mentioned vibe as that’s something I wanted to touch on. It’s seems to me that, despite Armored Saint being clearly and demonstrably a heavy metal band, there’s a lot of ‘swing’ to your sound. You swing way more than most other bands of your ilk. There is a swing about the music that is an integral part of your sound that you just don’t find in other metal bands. “It’s funny that you say that, because we got an email recently. A friend of ours is making an Armored Saint documentary at the moment, and he got all these different interviews from people who were around the band at the start, people like James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, and he wanted to speak to the guy who signed us for Chrysalis Records. Ron Fair. Ron was a musician himself, very talented. He went on to work with Christina Aguilera amongst others. Anyway, he did the interview and then emailed us afterwards, and said that one of the things that made him sign us, was ‘’the swing’ – (Drummer) Gonzo plays like Gene Krupa’. It was a trip to hear him say that, because I think that is a style of the band that is unique to our sound. As much as we’re a metal band, the groove of the rhythm is pivotal. I think that’s the important element of the sound. The groove that Joey and Gonzo establish is a key component to the sound. So yes, you hit the nail on the head. Swing is cool. There is a certain beat that has that ‘swing sound’ and you don’t necessarily always hear that in metal”.
It’s great that you’ve maintained that so strongly throughout your career. “Well, a lot of that is to do with the fact that it’s the same guys. Obviously Dave Prichard passed away in 1990 after writing most of the first four records with us, but other than that, it’s the same guys. It’s not Joey and a couple of young cats and a guy that used to be in L.A. Guns! For better or worse, we’re a family, or a marriage. Not everybody’s on the same page all the time, we have disagreements, it can get ugly, but the fact that it’s the same dudes is a really cool aspect of this band. It makes a difference when you’re making records. Even if everybody isn’t involved in the writing of a song, when it’s time to come into the studio it’s their time to shine, to show their personality. And often it’s personality that’s more important than sheer talent, I think. It’s what sets us apart”.
You’ve been doing this a long time now, as noted. Heavy metal perhaps more than any other form of popular music takes it’s toll physically and mentally on it’s practitioners – how do you keep in top shape after all this time? “It’s not easy when you’re in your mid fifties, man… actually I’m closing in on the latter part of my fifties! Gonzo often makes this joke ‘we’re a sport!’ but it’s true, because it is a physically demanding thing, especially for the singer and the drummer. I’m not saying guitar players have it easy, but it’s a different thing, You just have to try and stay fit and take care of yourself. Certainly my lifestyle now is very different to what it was in the eighties, the nineties or even the zeros! Sleep is something that’s the most important thing to get. But you need to keep fit and active. For my voice I try to find the part of it that sounds best and sing in that region. I get frustrated when I prepare hard for a tour or a show and then get sick. ‘I practiced real hard for this run of shows, and now I’m going to start it off ill!’ It’s a nightmare. It’s the kind of thing, and I was telling Joey this today, it’s the kind of thing that has sometimes made me want to give up. It’s like being injured if you’re a soccer player. If you’ve got a jacked up ankle you don’t play. And as a singer if you’re voice is jacked, it doesn’t matter how much preparation you have, something happens and you get sick or you play a show and you can’t hear yourself – that’s my biggest source of frustration. You can’t worry about it. You just have to be as prepared as possible. We’re not twenty five anymore – we’re pretty much double that and that makes it so much harder”.
As is usual, we’ve gone overtime – I’ve got a tonne of questions we’ll have to save for another time – is there anything you’d like to say to the readers of Sentinel Daily about the album before we sign off? “Put on some headphones, crack open a can of nice Australian beer, and get in to it! Listen to it from front to back, from track one to eleven, because that’s how it was written to be listened to. Hard rock and heavy metal fans, if they have an open mind, are probably going to find things about the album that they like. And Armored Saint fans? I’m counting on them! (laughs)”
Well, good luck with it all. I hope the album gets the reception it undoubtedly deserves, and maybe, just maybe, we will get to see you down here in the not too distant future. “Yes, we’ve got some overdue work to get down to in Australia!”
Armored Saint’s new album, Punching the Sky, releases on October 23rd through Metal Blade. You can read Scott Adams’ review of the record HERE