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INTERVIEW – JOHN BUSH, ARMORED SAINT – August 2015

| 4 September 2015 | Reply

INTERVIEW – JOHN BUSH, ARMORED SAINT – August 2015
By Shane Pinnegar

This year ARMORED SAINT released Win Hands Down, an album that could go down in history as the cult metal band’s best yet, which is saying something considering the quality of their previous eight studio albums.

We got singer John Bush (also of Anthrax fame) on the blower to talk up the record.

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100% ROCK: Hey John, this is Shane Pinnegar from 100% Rock Magazine, Australia. How are you doing today?

John: Good, how are you sir?

100% ROCK: I am very well, indeed. It’s bright and early, 6am here. I guess it’s evening your time, isn’t it?

John: Oh, it’s 6AM in your time? Oh geez. Awww man, you didn’t have to [do it ths early]!

100% ROCK: It’s all good – you’re a legend, man. How could I pass up the opportunity to talk to John Bush?

John: I’m driving in my car, right now, with my whole family. We just went for a hike, so hopefully they won’t get too loud. I’ll try to concentrate and just multitask.

100% ROCK: No problems. I’m really impressed with the album. I think it’s the best work you guys have done since the debut album [March Of The Saint], personally.

John: Thank you very much. That’s cool to hear – and about 31 years after making March Of The Saint. I guess that we’re doing something pretty well. I’m happy about that. Thank you.

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100% ROCK: Let’s set the scene a little bit. When La Raza came out about 5 years ago, that was your first, full studio album in 10 years. The response to that was really positive. Why has it taken so long to get another album out?

John: We’ve cut time in half, if you want to look at it!

100% ROCK: That is one way of looking at it, yeah.

John: That is one way of looking at it… it’s just the way it was. I really can’t put my finger on as to why it was such a time lapse, if there was one. I just think we live life. Everybody has their hands in a few different cookie jars. I have a business that I help my wife with. I have two children – that certainly occupies a lot of time. We spend a good year and a half writing material, so I think time goes by quick and next thing you know it, ‘oh wow, it’s been five years!’ Really, since Armored Saint kind of resumed working and doing things, we just haven’t really had any particular kind of schedule or set way we do things, we just kind of go at our own pace and I guess time goes by and next thing you know, five years has passed. That’s just the way it is.

100% ROCK: I guess it makes a big difference having Joey [Vera – bass player]’s studio there to work in, as well.

John: That’s awesome. That’s the beauty of technology. Sometimes I have my own, personal frustration with technology, mostly just because I’m not very savvy in any way. As a matter of fact, I just got an iPhone for the first time in my life. Prior to that, I had this prehistoric phone that everybody used to laugh at me for. I don’t have Facebook. I’m not on Twitter or any of that stuff. When it comes to technology, I’m pretty behind the times. Joey is not and he has a home studio that he invests a lot of time and money in and it has enabled us to work at our own pace and our own leisure and it’s great.

We were productive – it wasn’t like we weren’t, but sometimes things would not work alongside whatever else we were doing and I tell people that there’d be times I’d take my kids to school, drop them off at school at 8:30 in the morning and I’d go to Joey’s and by 9:15 we were working and sometimes we only had till maybe 10:30 and then I had to go to my job. We were really productive in the time that we were working. Although 5 years doesn’t sound like that, we really were.

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100% ROCK: I guess, also, having the studio there, that certainly helped with the financial aspect of it. It’s not cheap to record an album, nowadays.

John: No, and budgets are not what they used to be and as they shouldn’t be, because people are not selling the amount of records they used to sell. It’s all along the lines of what you are going to sell according to what you’re going to spend and again, technology has enabled people to have their own home studios, where you can work at your own pace and you’re not in some giant, luxurious studio. I make the joke that the first record we made, when we recorded that record, Barbara Streisand was recording [there] at the same time as Supertramp – so there was a lot of money that was being spent on something like that.

We had a full record that was made in the studio that probably, we didn’t belong in, quite honestly. We spent, like, $350,000 on our debut record and even though it was a cool experience and we had a lot of fun making it and being there, we did second guess a lot of times. It was like, ‘why are we here? Isn’t this a lot of money?’ We were 21 years old – we didn’t know any better. It was dumb, quite frankly.

100% ROCK: You’ve seen the record industry evolve a lot, haven’t you? As you say, those budgets just aren’t there anymore.

John: We never got out of the hole that we climbed into, from that record. For the second record, Delirious Nomad, we actually cut the recording cost, I think, in half. We spent like $175,000 for that – and that’s [still] an insane amount of money. By that point, we were so in debt to the record company and we just never were going to get out of it. Raising Fear, the third album, I think cost even less. I think we spent, maybe, $80,000. We kept reducing the amount of money that we were spending, but by that point, we were just so in the red that unless you have a multi-platinum record, we were never going to get out of it.

It certainly wasn’t something that I’d advise, as a way to work for any particular band – but the good thing is, that after the first record we never took publishing advances any more, which is actually something I forgot about, but Joey remembered that and reminded me. I don’t even remember, but that’s why we were in the publishing black after those first 3 records, which is cool – and whatever amount of money it ends up being that you get every 6 months, you’re happy about because you feel some loyalty, even if it’s like $100, and sometimes that’s all it is. It’s not like you’re never seeing money. You see something, so you feel like, ‘all right, we got something out of it.’

100% ROCK: Regardless of the change in budgets and all that sort of stuff, what you did this time around really worked. To listen to the record, it sounds like you must’ve had a pretty good environment in the studio because the album just rocks from start to finish.

John: What’s ironic is that we actually didn’t really rehearse as a band when we made this record. Matter of fact, the first time we played Win Hands Down as a group was when we started rehearsing for the tour. We never played as a full band and again, it’s just a different way to work from back in the days of the first three records we made. We all got in the rehearsal studio and hammered things out in a rehearsal setting. But we just don’t live a life like that anymore. Nobody has the ability or the opportunity to spend five hours in a rehearsal room, nor do you want to. You want to be as productive as possible, so the writing process is different, hence it leads to the way you record.

They guys who mixed the record, Jay Ruston, did a spectacular job of getting all the sounds that Joey had captured in the basic tracks, and the mixing of the record sounds, by far, the best we’ve ever had, hands down, should I say. He just took the mix of the record, I think, and catapulted it to a whole new dimension. That’s something we’ve never had before – granted, the production of the basic tracks, which Joey did the bulk of that, he did a great job. And Phil Mattoro – he’s the guy who actually worked on the first demo we ever made – and that was cool to have him there and people that are familiar with our style.

Once we came down here, we were productive and we made the most of it and it was good, because the budget is a lot smaller than back in the day, as it should be, as I said. We don’t need to spend a ton of money anymore. You just don’t need to.

100% ROCK: I read that when you went into the recording, you guys sat down and said, ‘well, let’s just imagine we’re a really huge band and we’ve got no limitations and you can do whatever you want.’ Did that really free up the writing process for you?

John: I think it’s something that I had a conversation with Joey about and I think we were just trying to be a little bit open-minded about the writing, and try not to put any kind of limitations as to what we feel like we could do. We’re fully aware of the type of band we are: we know we’re a hard rock, heavy metal type group. But I do think that we have a lot of inspiration and influences from the bands that really inspired us from the ‘70s, even some of the pop music that came out in the ‘70s had a big inspiration on us, bands like Queen and Elton John up to Thin Lizzy and even into the bands like Sabbath and Zeppelin, all those bands that all made epic music. I think that we wanted to emulate that in some way.

We took that mindset and I think we just said, ‘let’s try not to have any limitations on what we can do and if something feels like it’s out of the realm of what this band is, then we won’t do it.’ We checked ourselves pretty well and I think by having that mindset, it gave us the courage to say, ‘we can do anything.’ If we wanted to write an eight-minute song, as long as it’s entertaining and gets people’s attention span, then I think that we felt good about it. I think that was just the mindset that we had. I was writing and then we went into the production and I think that set the tone for the record. So yeah – we did pretend [he says with tongue slightly in cheek] that we were Led Zeppelin, even though we are not.

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100% ROCK: Where do you think Armored Saint fit into the musical landscape? You’re often lumped in just behind the Big Four thrash guys. You’re often lumped in with the new wave British heavy metal style bands. I know you’ve just done some shows with Saxon. But it’s always struck me that you were a band set aside from all that and you were just your own thing.

John: I think now, more than ever, we’ve finally had that come to fruition. I think we were always this band that had this bluesy kind of style, but we were powerful. We were aggressive. But we certainly weren’t afraid to write slower, ballad-type songs that were kind of epic in style. We certainly took a lot of our inspiration from the British and European bands. That set the tone for us – as I said Thin Lizzy and UFO and the early Scorpions and [Judas] Priest. We loved those bands and I think that they shaped our style, but we [also] loved Aerosmith, and we felt like we could do something soulful. We loved Earth, Wind & Fire, and The Commodores, and Stevie Wonder, I liked too. Those are some of my favourite groups of all time and they’re all R&B bands from the ‘70s. We took a lot of the styles of those groups and I think that this also is kind of saying, ‘we can do that.’ We don’t always have to be blasting away. We can go in that direction, as well, and show some bluesier aspects of the band.

I think we had to find our sound and maybe the first time we finally, officially, found it correctly is now. Really, it’s possible… So we were looking [for our place] and as I said, we never REALLY fit in… I mean, [we played with] Saxon – I wouldn’t say that we’re a type of band like them. [We] love Metallica, love Queensryche – that we’re playing shows with – but again, I don’t feel like we sound like those types of bands. I don’t know. I don’t really know what we’re like. I think we just kind of are, and maybe for the first time we’ve shaped our own unique sound, which is cool. I think that’s all we ever really wanted to do, but sometimes, we didn’t really have the right focus. I’ll be honest about that.

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100% ROCK: I still remember the day that I bought March Of The Saint on vinyl. I’ve still got it there, play it regularly. It’s classic.

John: It is, and we’re super-proud of that record. Nothing gets the crowd more excited that playing something like March [Of The Saint], or Can U [Deliver], or even Mad House live.

We’re proud of that record. It was the beginning. When we recorded that record, we were all about 20 years old and it came out when we were 21 – luckily for us, we started when we were really young, because now, even though it’s 30 years later, we’re not TOO old. Even though we’re in our early 50’s, we still have a lot of experience under our belt. If March Of The Saint came out eight years after that – [and] some people weren’t getting started until they were [in their] late 20’s – then we’d be closer to 60. It might be harder! [laughs] We all feel pretty good…

I just went for a hike – I try to take care of myself as best I can. I had some crazy years in my life with some fun and extra-curricular activities, but then I toned that down a little bit and try not to drink as much as I did. It certainly is a little harder to become a great singer if you’re living that kind of life, and I want to sing good, so I have to watch what I do, for the most part.

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100% ROCK: Do you look back on those days – apart from fact that you’re not quite as hairy as you used to be…

John: That’s right!

100% ROCK: …do you look back on those days fondly, or with any regrets?

John: No, I never regret anything. I really don’t – what’s the point? I think that for us, we have this longevity, even though we never really had the success of a lot of bands or some of our peers did. It’s just the way life went. We made some mistakes. We’re super honest about them. I wish we wouldn’t have made a few mistakes. Some of them were out of our hands. Some of them were in our hands. It’s just the way it was. I think all we really wanted was to have a band. We used to look at bands like The Who and the Stones, who had been around for years – and that was then! And they’re still going now, those bands, which is astonishing! I think that was something that we aspired to do, saying, ‘let’s be around a long time.’

Our path has kind’ve not been the normal path of a rock band. I was in Anthrax for 12 years, so it was… [Armored Saint] was not even a functioning band for a while, but we still stood the test of time and we’re still here making music that I feel is pretty valid and I think that’s all we really wanted to do. Sure, do I wish I had more money from my past? Of course – who wouldn’t?!? Hey, what are you going to do? This is the way it went.

100% ROCK: When I was researching some questions for you today, I couldn’t find any reference to this, but I have a memory from years ago that I read somewhere that in your very early days, you guys were a lot more theatrical on stage, doing sword fights and stuff like that. Is that true or is that just something my brain’s cooked up?

John: When you consider that whole image thing… in the early, beginning of the band, we kind of looked like everybody else. Then somebody had this idea, I don’t recall who, but maybe it was a collective decision that we got at that point and we got this name that was very imaged – it was very visual when you thought about it, so we wanted to incorporate some of that armour into our look. We were big fans of The Road Warrior [Mad Max in Australia]. You should know that, of course, being an Aussie – we were huge fans of Mad Max and the Road Warrior, so I think we kind of used that movie, and the movie Excaliber, and tried to catapult some of that image to separate ourselves a little bit visually from some of our peers.

Armored Saint in full armour in the early days

Armored Saint in full armour in the early days

After a while, it became a slight albatross because bands like Metallica were becoming more and more popular. They were all about the jeans and t-shirts – and trust me, wearing the outfits that we wore, especially when we were on the road in winter when you’re wearing this cold, wet leather that won’t dry and you have to put it on and when you’re doing a show in Buffalo, New York in January when it’s super freezing… we had these portable heaters that never dried them, ever really, with any kind of substantial amount. Then, you put on this cold, wet armoured leather. It was actually awful. We thought, ‘hell, we have this image and we’re going to roll with it,’ and as time went by we tapered it off because, well, we didn’t love it and we didn’t really feel it was cool, anymore.

But in the early days, we embraced it and it’s one of those things [where] we look back at pictures and videos like Can U Deliver, and I have a laugh at it, but I’m not embarrassed of it. I don’t sit there and hang my head in shame. It was what it was. In time, we didn’t want to do it anymore and ironically enough, I describe Armored Saint as kinda like a garage band, because that’s where we started and we are kind of like that. We’ve also been the band that’s never been the tightest band in the world. We’ve always been a little loose. I think that’s the beauty of it. It just comes off kind of raw and real.

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It’s funny, when you think of an image conscious band, you think of something that’s really together and that’s the irony. We were never all that together. We were always really loose. We embrace it, like this is an image thing, but we were happy when we started to phase it out of our look.

100% ROCK: It’s been great talking to you. Hopefully, we can get you back down to Australia for a tour with this album.

Shane

Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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