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INTERVIEW: JOEY VERA of Armored Saint – September 2015

| 13 September 2015 | Reply

Joey Vera has been a busy dude this year… new material hit from two of his various projects, as well as touring opportunities for all three.  Keeping true to his heart and original focus, Joey and the rest of the guys in Armored Saint put together a new disc full of killer tracks that are sure to please fans, old and new.  In order to properly bring the fresh material to the masses, the band has jumped on a tour with Saxon and are making their way across the US, leading up to a date in Detroit on September 16th.  Joey jumped on the phone and gave us some time to discuss the album, the tour, and more regarding Armored Saint and their latest release, Win Hands Down


Toddstar:  Well Joey, thank you so much for taking time out for us today. We really appreciate it.

Joey: My pleasure. No problem.

Toddstar: Well, exciting things happening in Armored Saint’s world. Wasn’t it just about four months and a couple days ago you guys, I’m sorry, three months, dropped Win Hands Down on the world. How is this thing being received out there in the public?

Joey: It’s been great. A lot of people seem to be connecting with it, which is always nice to hear. You never know making a new record, especially the way that we work. We tend to make left turns here and there, and people are not sure what to expect from us. You know, it’s pretty gratifying to know that we wanted to take some changes with our music and expand it a little bit and push the envelope. At the same time, we are able to connect with people. It’s a pretty cool thing. It’s been doing really well. I think in general, people are really satisfied with it.

Toddstar: Very cool. I mean, looking at the whole picture of everything, you guys took something and, like you said, went off in a different direction. I want to start off with “Dive.” This track was a total shift from everything else on the album, and one of my favorite tracks.

Joey: Cool.

Toddstar: People have a perceived notion of what Armored Saint is, and then you throw “Dive” at them. First of all, how did you guys come up with something so diverse, and how did you think the fans would take it?

Joey: Well, it’s a funny thing. The way that we work, I have to sort of straddle this line between keeping one eye on where our lineage comes from, like what you said, people do have a certain expectation from us. I can’t keep both eyes in that direction, because I’m a very restless songwriter. I don’t want to repeat myself. I don’t want to do something out of obligation to someone, and maybe it’s the best thing for our band, maybe. The other part of me wants to look in the other direction and try new things and explore new territories and have fun with the knowledge I have gotten over the years. It’s a tricky place to be, keeping on one side you do want to please the fans that have stuck with us for thirty years. On the other side, I want to push those envelopes. I want to challenge them and I want to challenge myself. It’s not really easy, but it just makes it more interesting, that’s for sure. For me and for John and the rest of the guys, just being able to feel like we can make something that’s creative, but also something that we think the fans are going to appreciate. With a song like “Dive,” in particular that song, that one was certainly outside our boundaries. We’ve done sort of ballads in the past, but John and I had a conversation, and he wanted to do something with a piano, but more of like a piano as a main instrument. I had this thing that I had already written on guitar, and I basically transposed it and that’s basically what the verse sections are. I played it on piano. The rest of the song just came out of that. Once we were into that mode of, “Let’s do something with the piano”, the furthest thing that I wanted to do was make it into a power ballad, like starts out with piano and then the drums come in and then the big lead. The energy gets louder and it gets heavier and maybe the tempo rises or whatever. I said, “I want to try something different. I want to just stay in that mode. I want it to stay super hypnotic, and it doesn’t need to elevate. It doesn’t need to have a gigantic climax. It doesn’t need to have a super big singalong chorus. It could be Pink Floyd. It could be just dark and meandering.” That was done intentionally. It was really fun to do that. John has a great voice, especially in the low register. He doesn’t really get a chance to sing like that. Everything that we write, and most of the stuff in our career has been super high energy stuff and John’s screaming all the time and singing loud and high register. He’s got such a great voice. It’s just another platform for him to shine in a different light. I’m glad that a lot of people do like that song, too. That’s another cool thing. It was taking a chance a little bit, but I think it has something cool about it that I think everybody gets.


Toddstar: Well, I mean, you mentioned the two things that I picked up from my review. One was that it did allow John to actually drop it down a notch and sing. It wasn’t all about screaming. Also what I appreciated about the song as a fan of you guys and a fan of music is that this song really demonstrated how talented you guys are when you aren’t cranked up to eleven plus. I really thought it helped you guys shine as individual musicians.

Joey: Yeah, I mean it’s not easy to play things slow like that when there’s a lot of open space. You really have to be on and you got to make it swing, and it’s got to have feel. It’s sometimes really hard to do when it’s that slow. It’s easy to get away with that when it’s fast and there are a lot of things going on. Things get lost in the shuffle so it’s easier to get things past you. When it’s slow like that, it’s really got to have a vibe and it’s got to groove.

Toddstar: Right. How rewarding was this album for you personally? First of all, the previous album, it took ten years for you to get something out. Then this one only took five years. I know you guys are busy, but you personally had a lot more hands on, because this was done in your studio.

Joey: Well, the only thing that was done in my studio was the vocals, actually. We did this in various different places. This record was done a little bit differently than our last couple of records, where I enlisted the help of engineers. Bill Metoyer, he recorded the guitars and the bass, Jay Ruston helped me engineer the drums, and Josh Newell also helped engineer the drums. Then at the end, I recorded all the vocals here at my house. Then when I was all done with the tracking, I gave the whole session to Jay Ruston and I said, “Okay, you mix it. Here is what I’m after, but I want to hear your interpretation.” He’s the one who kind of brought it all together at the end. For me it was super liberating to be able to do that as the producer, because I had been super close to all our records in the past, and this one was no exception. It was something I needed to do, I think emotionally, to let it go. Let someone else have their interpretation of what it is I’m trying to do. He did most of it like totally in the ballpark and it was hitting home runs. A few things that he did that I would do differently, but it was just a different interpretation. It was an apples and oranges sort of a thing, and it was liberating for me to just say, “Okay, I have to let this go. I don’t want to be such a control freak.” What’s the point of giving him the mix if I’m mixing it on the phone? You know?

Toddstar: Sure.

Joey: It was something I needed to do. The end result has been super gratifying in that respect. It was just everything that I imagined it to be. I thought it came out really, really good, and I’m super happy with it. The length of writing and the recording part, it actually isn’t that different, if I would explain to you how we work from La Raza and even this record. The way we made this record was virtually the same, and it took about the same amount of time. The longest thing is the writing. The writing is the thing that takes the longest time. When John and I finally decide to write, it does take us a good twelve to fourteen or sixteen months to complete the writing. That’s only because of our schedules with our lives. My thing with Fates Warning or with Motor Sister or whatever. I’m doing other things. We both have kids and they have school activities. It just goes on and on. We just kind of try to fit it in when we can without giving ourselves too much of a stress schedule. We really do it on a super laid back way like, “Okay, I’m free Tuesday, how about you?” “I’m not free Tuesday, how about next Thursday?” “Ah, that works.” You know? It goes like that. Then once we get it together with the band and we actually record it, that’s usually the quickest part. It only takes a couple of months to get that recorded and mixed and everything. It’s the writing part that’s kind of the thing that takes the longest. That’s just the way we work, and it’s working out for us so far.

Toddstar: That being said, you’ve got to be one of the busiest dudes in metal, Joey. You mentioned Motor Sister, which was another project you worked on this year that I loved. You’ve also got Fates Warning out there. Are you still very active and part of that? If so, you’ve got tour dates in Detroit back to back with Armored Saint coming up here in about twelve days, and then a month later, Fates Warning’s in town.


Joey: Yeah, that’s right. You know, it’s kind of crazy. I kind of thrive on it in a weird way. It drives me nuts sometimes, because I sort of bite off more than I can chew at times. I don’t know. I really get a lot out of playing with different people and different bands and different musicians. It helps me become a better musician myself. The hard part is being away from home, from my family. If I can make schedules work and make everybody happy, then I enjoy doing it. It’s crazy. I sort of need to do it. A lot of people know it’s no secret these days that it’s hard to make a living being a musician, especially if you’re just in one band. That’s not the reason I’m doing it, but it certainly motivates me a little bit to be involved in other things. I try to be involved with people and things that I really have a close connection with. That’s been sort of my credo for a long time. Yeah, so I’m doing this Saxon tour coming up. That goes until the end of September, then I’m home for about four or five days and I go on this motorboat cruise and I’m playing with Motor Sister on that. When I get back from that, I’m home for another four or five days and then I go out with Fates Warning. That’s a longer tour. That starts in early October, and it goes all the way to early November. That’s a longer tour, going back to Detroit and Chicago, a lot of the same venues I’m playing with Saxon and Saint, same with Fates Warning. It’s going to be interesting.

Toddstar: You mentioned it, and it’s been actually thirty plus years with Armored Saint. You guys have classics that you’ll always have to play. Looking at the track list for Win Hands Down, what are the couple tracks that you think from here on out just might be part of an Armored Saint set list?

Joey: Well we’ve been playing three new songs in the set already. We’ve been doing basically the first three on the record. We’ve been doing “Win Hands Down,” “Mess,” and “An Exercise in Debauchery.” Those are going over excellent live. They’re just going over well. People are singing all the words. It’s pretty cool to hear because normally when you have a new record out and you play the new songs, people just sort of stare and look at you like, ‘When you going to finish this so you can play “Can You Deliver?”‘ It’s been cool because people have been singing the new songs, which is amazing. It’s a cool thing to see. I don’t know. I have a feeling those three will stick. I wouldn’t mind trying a few others, though. I love the song “Muscle Memory.” I think it would be a cool song to play live. We haven’t actually done it yet. Our sets are no more than an hour length because we’ve been supporting Saxon most of the time in playing festivals in Europe. We’ve been doing shorter sets for the most part, but if we ever get a chance to play more songs from the record, I wouldn’t mind trying that one. Yeah, I think for now I could see the first three in the set.

Toddstar: You mention “Muscle Memory.” I actually really dug that track, because I thought your bass lines really added punch, not only in the opening, but from open to close. It’s a long track and the bass kind of helped carry that one, I thought.

Joey: Cool, thank you. Yeah, I love that song.

Toddstar: You talked about touring a little bit. What is it like going out with the guys in Saint? You guys have been together a long time. Is there still that comradery on the road or does everybody kind of go their separate way when you’re not on the stage together? How do you guys travel together?

Joey: We’re great. Everybody gets along awesome together. Like you said, we’ve been together for a very long time, known each other forever. I’ve known John and Gonzo and Phil since we were literally like eight or nine years old. We have a super long history. The thing with our band, it’s funny, because when we’re home, when we’re off the road, I never see these guys. The only person I really see often is John, because we have kids that are the same age so we try to get together and let the kids hang out and stuff. The other guys, we live in different parts of the city. I never see them. Jeff lives in Nevada. I never see these guys at all. When we get back together, though, since we’ve had this long history, it’s just like getting together with hold friends. It’s just super comfortable and relaxing. It’s tons of just reverting to our teenage youth, you know, dirty jokes and it’s like we’re sixteen all over again. It’s pretty funny. Grown men behaving badly, let’s just say that.


Toddstar: It probably adds to the longevity of the band and the success you guys have had.

Joey: Yeah, exactly. One thing that’s been important for our band is to try to keep that comradery alive through thick and thin. Trust me, we’re practically like brothers. When you have siblings, and especially if you have to work with a sibling, it can be very hard a lot of times. It’s really easy to hurt someone else’s feelings, or it’s easy to get under their skin the wrong way. Because you know them so well, it cuts deeper, so it can be very difficult to work like this with someone for such a long time. I’m saying that because we’re like any other family or any other band or any other situation that’s like that. We’ve had rough patches, but we’ve always felt like it was important for us, and for the fans, that we try to maintain this original members as much as we can. We’ve done a pretty good job of doing that. I’ve heard a lot of people mentioning it to me recently, like that they’re amazed that we’re still the same guys in the band, and they really appreciate it. I’m glad that they do because that’s something that we’ve really made an effort to do.

Toddstar: That’s awesome. Again, it shows in the album. I was familiar with you guys’ earlier stuff, but this album just won me over and made me actually go out and pick up two or three discs from the older catalog, because I was so overwhelmed with how solid an album this was top to bottom.

Joey: Cool, thank you.

Toddstar: No, thank you. As a final note Joey, when it comes to Armored Saint, what do you see next for you guys? Again, you’ve written probably one of the better albums, in my opinion. You guys are out there touring, but what can you guys do next that could top this, or in your mind, take you to that next level?

Joey: Well, I hate to say it, but that question is not a question that we ask ourselves any more. You know, it’s hard for people maybe to understand that. When we first got together in our youth, we got together because we wanted to be in a band. That’s all. We wanted to be in a band, smoke pot and drink beer. Then when you get into the major leagues, you get signed by a major label, and suddenly you realize, “Oh, this is going to be my business. This is what I do for a living.” Then things start to change a little bit. You start thinking about things and business and ways to make your career blossom and be better and earn more money and blah-blah-blah, and sell more records. That part of it didn’t really work out for us. We didn’t really rise into that level of being able to headline arenas on our own. It just didn’t happen for us. A lot of this became really clear to us after the band broke up when John left to sing for Anthrax in the nineties. When we got back together in 1999 to record Revelation, we got back together under the idea that this band was going to be, for lack of a better term, a side project. Well, there was obvious reasons why we did that, because John was still in Anthrax, and I was in Fates Warning and we weren’t just going to throw everything away and rekindle Armored Saint and try to conquer the world again. We said to each other, “That part of it is over. The only way that we can make this band a happy band and keep the morale high in the group, is if we throw away the notions that this is going to be a payday for us, that we can rest on our laurels and our records are going to sell and we’re going to be able to earn our only income from this band. We need to throw that all away, get all that stress, and all those expectations go out the window.’ All you’re left with is the reason we started in the first place. Maybe sans the pot and beer part. A bunch of guys getting together to make music for the sake of playing music, and having a great time doing it. We have the luxury of being able to do this, because we have an amazing record label, Metal Blade Records, who allows us to work in that capacity. It’s not like they come to us and say, “You have to do this and you have to do that. You have to do this to sell more records and we have to … “All these meetings and marketing things and blah-blah-blah. None of that exists. We’re like in this perfect scenario, and we need to maintain that. We need to keep that going with us. We can’t think about this is a stepping stone to something greater, because we were already in the greater part. We’re already there. We have the opportunity to make records on our own terms. We’ve had an amazing fan base that has gone with us for over thirty plus years, and they still give a shit about us. That’s amazing to us. That’s all we really wanted to begin with. We already have those things. We have a good opportunity to go play huge festivals in Europe, which we just finished a couple weeks ago and we’re touring with some of our favorite bands. We’re making our second video, we’re shooting it tomorrow. You know, it’s the first time we’ve ever had two videos, well this is our second time we’ve had two videos for a record. It’s like things are going great. We haven’t honestly thought about what we’re going to do next, to be honest with you. We’re still basking in just having fun with this event right now. I think that if I had to guess, we would do something in the future on our same terms that I just discussed earlier. It would have to be something that is truly coming at a time where it’s inspirational and we need to have a fire for it. Otherwise, everyone is going to notice. Everyone is going to notice like, “Oh, they just put this out because they’re trying to capitalize on the coattails of Win Hands Down and the momentum.” It needs to be something that has its own life, and a complete different snapshot of that time and place. It’s hard to say where we’re going to go from here.


Toddstar: Well, even if you stayed lateral, it’s still a good move for you guys. I mean, let’s be honest.

Joey: Yeah.

Toddstar: Listen, I really appreciate you taking the time out, Joey. It’s been such a pleasure and an honor to speak with you. To be honest, that last answer is probably the most honest and humble answer that anybody’s ever given me to a similar question. I thank you for your honesty and your humble attitude towards what you do and your fans and everybody else.

Joey: Well, that’s all I got these days. Thank you.

Toddstar: Well, listen man, be safe out on the road, and we’ll see you in Detroit hopefully here in a couple weeks and again a month from then.

Joey: Awesome, man. Please come up and say hello.

Toddstar: Will do, Joey.

Joey: All right, man. Take care.






Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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