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Metal/Prog Metal Interviews

Armored Saint

Interviewed by Mike Korn

Interview with Joey Vera of Armored Saint from 2015


What's the trigger that tells you guys that it's time to record another Armored Saint record?

Ummm...I wish I could tell you! I don't know. We don't really have one. It just kind of happens. I don't know how to explain it. I had written some basic riffs at the end of 2012 and at the beginning of 2013. John Bush shot me a message that asked, “hey, have you been doing any writing?” I said, “Well, I actually have a couple of things I'm working on.” He replied, “Well, can I hear it?” That's the extent of it, really. I made demos of a couple of ideas I had and sent it to him. He listened to it and said, “Hey, these two things are really cool, do you mind if I write some lyrics?” “No, let's do it!” So it happened like that. At that point, we weren't even having a conversation about whether this music is even Armored Saint or not. John and I are such close friends that we would write and record music just because we like to do it. Once these couple of songs were done, they did sound like they could have been Armored Saint songs. The next topic after that was, let's keep writing and let's write with the intentions of it being an Armored Saint record. That was around February 2013. So that's how it started this time!
MSJ: It's fair to say that all the songs on Win Hands Down are relatively recent. Were there any that had been rattling around for years?
The only song that was brought back from the past was "That Was Then, Way Back When.”  That song was a leftover from the last record we did, La Raza, and it was slightly redone since then. It's basically the same song but it was rearranged and some of the words and lyrics were redone. The basic song structure was from 2014. Every thing else was brand new. I could probably pull a few little parts out here and there that are part of my library, that could be up to 15 years old but I've never used. As a whole, the songs are completely brand new.
MSJ: When you write an album now, is it completely about the music? The business part of the music business seems to be almost totally absent.
Well, with our band, we've always hoped that it was all about the music. There were certainly some times in our career when we maybe got disillusioned by that fact, but in the end, it's always about the music for us. When we make albums nowadays, it's truly for the music and it's really for us first.  The intention of our writing and the direction that we go in is purely to satisfy our own needs first and secondary, for the fans. It has to be that way for us in order for it to be really honest. We never wanted to be in a position where we were trying to please fans and other people like record labels first. We've been down that road, and we don't want to feel like we're doing anything out of obligation or anything else besides our desire to write great songs and make great music. That has to happen first.
MSJ: The production on Win Hands Down seems the hugest and loudest I've ever heard on one of your records. Was there anything you did differently this time around?
Something that I was pushing for (something that I wanted from the very beginning) was that this album had to sound massive.  I wanted it to be like a wall of sound...super high production value in terms of overdubs. There's so many different parts on these songs, there's so many overdubs. My intention was that this record had to be really epic, huge and giant. That was certainly a conscious decision that I made. I just kept adding more and more parts...melodic and secondary guitar parts that maybe you don't notice on first listen but there's so many things layered that it makes things sound like a full orchestra in the end. Part of the kudos has to go to Jay Ruston, who mixed the record in the end. I handed him off the record and said "here you go, now do your magic on this.” I gave him so many colors to work with. He's the one who made it all come to life in the very end. The huge sound was something we certainly intended on doing.
MSJ: I would use the word "dense" to describe it.
Yes, that's a good term.
MSJ: There's more experimentation on the record. I heard some sitar on the song "Mess,” female vocals on "With A Full Head of Steam", piano on "Dive.” How hard is it to experiment but still stay true to the basic Saint sound?
I don't know, it's only as difficult as you make it, really! (chuckles) I don't think it's that hard at all. It's taking's not that hard, you just have to have the balls to do it, that's all. I'm glad it's working. You never know if people are going to be turned on or turned off, but in the end, like I said, we do this for ourselves first. Adding all these different little tricks just sounds natural to me. “Here's a section of a song...” ”Well, I think some ethnic instruments would really shine in this section.” “Well, let's just do it, then!” It isn't that difficult, really. I'm glad it all works in the context of what we're doing. I never try to do something just for the sake of doing it. I always feel like if you're going to take those chances and be experimental, it has to jibe with the context. Is this really helping the song or is it not helping? I always try to make these decisions if I think the music can benefit from it. That's when we take the chance.
MSJ: Was there any time during the recording process where you took one of those chances, listened to the result and said, “nah, we better not do this, this doesn't fit?”
Um, yeah, that's certainly true. I can't think of an example off the top of my head, but that certainly happens. We will do something different, and then we'll say, “it's not really knocking my socks off, let's leave it alone and we'll make a rough mix of it and we'll live with it for a week.”  We make demos, I give John a copy and then we come back later and assess it. “What do you think?” “Ehhh, I don't think it's working.” Then we'll try to find a common ground. Maybe we went in the wrong direction with this. Let's go in another direction. We do that until we get something that works. We try not to do too much headscratching. We never want to get in a position where we're over-thinking things. So sometimes you have to say to yourself, “You know what? Is this really worth all this head-scratching?” And sometimes you just have to walk away. It is what it is. It's just that. It doesn't need to be any more; it doesn't need to be any less.  It's just what it is, walk away from it.
MSJ: If you do too much pondering, maybe that in itself is an indication you should move on...
Yeah. We've done that, believe me  There's several records I've made in the past with Armored Saint where there are songs that are just over-thought and they're not good songs because of it. They would have been best served if we stripped them down to the bare bones and let them be what they are, instead of anything else.
MSJ: The new album seems to be the most lyrically interesting as well, with some unique subjects. I think of the song "Muscle Memory.” That sounds like a very personal statement. Do you agree?
Yeah! John has really bared his soul on this one, more than he ever has. He's always had highlights throughout the years where he's been very forthcoming and worn his heart on his sleeve, so to speak.  On this record, he did it more often than not. There are some songs that are fictitious, but most of it is directly from him. Even on the songs that are fictitious, he's imposing his own viewpoint on it. Songs like "Muscle Memory" are very personal for him - "In An Instant,” also. Those songs are just really close to him. He's been able to get into a place where he's more comfortable baring more of his soul. This record shows a lot of that.
MSJ: When I think on the history of Armored Saint, lyrically it's always been more of a "first person" kind of a band.  The lyrics are much more "first person" than is typical in heavy metal.
Yeah, correct.
MSJ: There is some social commentary on the album. "An Exercise in Debauchery" and "That Was Then, Way Back When" ...those seem to be about how technology affects society, right?
That's a good way to put it.  I'd include the song "Mess,” as well. That's about over consumption and how wasteful we are and the impact that has. He's always written in that sense well. It's a fine line, though, because he's trying to do it where he's not standing on a soapbox and preaching down at everybody, saying how wrong you are. He's not necessarily pointing the finger away from himself. Throughout the lyrics, he's stating points of view but not saying he's any better. He's guilty of some of those things himself. It's an observation..
MSJ: What are some of the band's live plans? I heard your name associated with Saxon.
We just finished a string of dates with Saxon. We did two shows on the East Coast, two shows in Texas and we just wrapped up two shows in California. All the shows were great; all the six we did with those guys were sold out and were amazing - just great, great shows. We get along great with the guys in Saxon. They are super classy and nice people. We've toured with them in the past. We did some shows in the late 80s and did a festival with them in the 2000s. We know each other but don't see each other all that often. So we all reconnected. They're just super fine gentlemen, I must say. The first day of the tour, they all came into the dressing room, one by one, and said "hey guys, great to see you again, how you been? This is going to be fun, let us know if you need anything." Just  super classy nice guys and we had a great time with them.  We're actually looking into trying to do more with them. That isn't confirmed yet, but both camps said, “let's do more.”
MSJ: Did the Saxon boys try to get you overdosed on tea? (laughter) I know that's kind of a thing with them.
Yeah, I witnessed it after soundcheck. They'd say "tea time" so I've seen several of the guys walking around with cups of tea. It's the British way, you know. (laughs)
MSJ: Armored Saint was very active in what's considered the great glory days of heavy metal. Do you look back on those times with amusement, disbelief, pride?
All of the above! (chuckles) I feel pretty fortunate that I was there. Armored Saint was in the position at that time to get a record deal with a major label. We had only played about 50 gigs at that point.  It was pretty incredible to be in that situation. We were making our first record March of the Saint. We had just turned 20 years old. We were in the Ocean Wave recording studio with Barbra Streisand and Supertramp. What are we doing here, you know? (chuckles) A pretty great time. A lot of it was wasted on naiveté, but what are you going to do? You're young and that's how you learn.
MSJ: You're only young once...
Yeah! You could expect nothing more or less from us at that point in time.  It was a good time to be in the metal scene, it was fabulous. It was new and starting out and finding its way. Prior to 1980 or maybe 79, the word "heavy metal" wasn't associated with much besides Black Sabbath. After that, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal came out and within five years, this whole new genre, with subgenres already, had erupted. Nowadays, you have high fashion models flashing the devil horn signs, you know what I mean? (laughs)
MSJ: Crowd surfing at country music concerts...
It's pretty amazing what it's turned into.
MSJ: Let me turn now to another one of your projects. Is there any activity or word concerning Fates Warning? 
Yeah! Fates Warning is writing a new record. We're about four songs in, so we have some more writing to do. We are taking a break from the writing. In October, we're going on the road in the US and we're doing about three weeks here. I do believe we're playing in the Chicago area on October 17 at Reggie's Rock Club. It's been a while since we've had a Chicago show, so we're really looking forward to it. 
MSJ: Are there any other projects that you're involved with outside of Fates Warning and Armored Saint right now?
The other group I'm playing with currently is called “Motor Sister.” It's Scott Ian of Anthrax on guitar, John Tempesta from The Cult on drums and Scott's wife Pearl Aday on vocals. Jim Wilson is on vocals and guitars, also. It's kind of a group that got together really for fun, in celebration of a band called “Mother Superior.” That was Jim Wilson's band. They disbanded in the late 2000s. We really missed that band and we just wanted to play their music. We got together at Scott's 50th birthday party and it was a blast. We played ten songs and it was so much fun! To make a long story short, the record label got wind of it and wanted us to put a record out. (laughs) We're not really a band, you know! So we went into the studio and basically recorded the Motor Sister record live. We put it out this year. It came out in March, and we are even doing some live dates for it! We did one in New York and one in California. We're going to be on the Motorhead "Motorboat" cruise in September. We're looking into some European dates in 2016. It's just a fun thing on the side that we're doing. Scott's main task is playing with Anthrax, of course, and John plays with The Cult and of course I have Armored Saint and Fates Warning. But when the time works out, we try to get out and do this for fun.
MSJ: Do you think you might do a solo album down the road?
I've been threatening to do that for a while now. I did manage to get a couple out before, one in 1994 and the last one in 2006. I've been trying to do a follow up to the 2006 record but it's been pretty crazy since then. My schedule's been very busy. I have a hard time making a solo record, which has to be very close and personal. I have to do it all at once. I've been trying to get a few things going, I've got a couple ideas written down, but I haven't really dedicated any time to it.
MSJ: What was the last release or CD you picked up just because you wanted to hear the band?
I bought a couple of records recently. I got the new Opeth record and I got the last Mastodon record. I also picked up the most recent Katatonia record. I don't have a chance to listen to music that much because I'm so busy making music or working as an engineer on other people's music. I was having one of those moments like “damn it! I just gotta go get something!” So I bought those on iTunes because I didn't have the patience to wait and put them in my car. I just downloaded them...I do it that way so I can multi-task with other events around my house.
MSJ: In the long history of Armored Saint, was there a Spinal Tap moment you could share with the readers?
Well, hmm, there's a lot. (laughs) Let's see. I'm trying to think of something that's actually funny. The thing with Spinal Tap moments is, they're not always funny...
MSJ: They're painful!
They're painful! That's when things go wrong and you go, “it sucks!” It's not funny at the time but it's funny in hindsight. I can certainly say that there's a scene in Spinal Tap where they are backstage and they're going to the stage and they can't find their way to the stage. (chuckles) It's a famous moment. I'm happy to report that that's actually happened to us. We were in one of these old theaters where the stage is above and the dressing rooms are under the stage. It literally was a labyrinth of hallways to get upstairs. We're downstairs and our tour manager said "I'm going up now, but when you guys hear the intro music, come on up! Remember, it's one turn left and two turns right." So he leaves and we're by ourselves. The intro starts, we can hear it. We go out. Two rights, one left? Or was it two lefts and one right? (laughs) We literally couldn't get to the stage! We just didn't know how to get there! It was a very stressful situation, it wasn't very funny.
MSJ: I can put your mind at ease. When I ask other bands that question, that's the answer that comes up the most - bands getting lost on their way to the stage. So at least you know it's not something that just happened to you!
Yeah. It goes from one extreme to the other, too. There's been plenty of other gigs where you wish you had a labyrinth of rooms to hang out in. There's times when you come off the stage and there is no dressing room! But there's a little water closet. We've come off the stage waiting for the encore and we're standing in this little closet with a bucket and a mop! So it goes both ways! Neither one is very funny, I might add! (laughs)
MSJ: "Puppet show and Spinal Tap"...
Exactly. At the end of the day, you do have to laugh at it. 
MSJ: Do you have any last words for the fans?
Since you asked, I will say we thank everyone who supported us through all these years. The fact that we're able to do this at all is only due to the fact that we have people to who support us, like our record label...who are also fans...and also, the fans. Without the fans, we don't have any of this. We're lucky that we've had people who have rolled with our changes. You guys let us take chances in music and let us make the music we want to make. We're glad that we touched some of you, if not all of you. We just can't do any of that without you.
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2015  Volume 4 at
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