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By: Nathan Lagden
Last month metal legends Armored Saint were in the UK for a rare show in London. Nathan Lagden was there to chat with guitarist Phil Sandoval about the band’s past, present and future.
(((o))): It’s only a flying visit to the UK this time, but it’s still great to have you back. Am I right in thinking you’re coming here before heading off to Europe?
Phil: Yeah, we’re gonna go to Spain next; we’re going to Barcelona to be playing with Iron Maiden. You know, just some small bands called Iron Maiden, Whitesnake and Twisted Sister. It’s for Rock Fest in Barcelona, which should be awesome because we’ve never been to Spain before, so we’re totally happy to be doing that.
(((o))): As for the UK, is this one of your favourite places to come and play? What do you think of the fans here?
Phil: We love the UK! Come one, you’ve got Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest. We were mostly European influenced when we were first getting our band together. That’s why we didn’t really fit in with the Hollywood scene back then, and I think that Lars and Metallica really latched onto that and that’s why we got along because they didn’t fit into the Hollywood scene either. Even though it was happening, we were not like the hair metal bands or anything like that. Although we did have hair! But that’s where we found our niche, because there was no moshing or anything like that when we were coming up, so when we started playing in the early scene, people first started headbanging and then with Metallica they started moshing and that’s how that whole scene started. But the influence of the Europeans were always there for us and that’s how we got started, we were influenced by Judas Priest and Iron Maiden.
(((o))): Of course you’ve been around for quite a while now yourself, almost 35 years albeit with a few hiatuses. What’s changed most for bands during that time?
Phil: I think metal comes around every once in a while, but what’s changed most is with the computer. With the Internet, people go to YouTube and they don’t buy albums as much as they used to. Take Megadeth, the most they’ve sold so far is under 500,000 albums and there were times when they would sell millions of albums. As great as they are, and I don’t mean to say anything bad about them or anything, but even a huge band like Megadeth can’t break a million with their new album. I bet Metallica will break a million, but even then it won’t be the millions that they used to sell. It’s just the nature of the beast now, and so that’s what’s changed, it’s the Internet.
(((o))): So how has that affected your band in terms of what you want to achieve?
Phil: Well simple, we want people to buy some Armored Saint records!
(((o))): Well, so do I, so we’re in the same boat there. Speaking of buying Armored Saint, your new album Win Hands Down has been out for about a year now. Does it change when you look back on an album in about a year or two in terms of how you perceive it from how it is when you first release it?
Phil: I think Win Hands Down is one of our stand-out albums, but then even when I listen to the EP that we recorded when we were 19-20 years old and, not to toot my own horn, but it still sounds good. John Bush sounds amazing and we wrote some killer songs. And that makes me feel good, and then I listen to March Of The Saint and I think that Armored Saint writes some pretty credible music and it still stands up now. Win Hands Down happens to be one of my favourite albums of Armored Saint, but I love all of them.
(((o))): When you actually come to the writing and recording process, all of your albums have that classic Armored Saint sound that you can trace all the way back to your first EP. Is that a deliberate thing that you do, or does it come more naturally?
Phil: Well, the first album was written a long time ago, but it’s still influenced by the same rock and metal, so it mostly just comes naturally. But we do also want it to have a certain standard, like how Rush have a certain standard. And it has to be like theirs; we want it not to have any fillers. Integrity means a lot to Armored Saint, we love our fans and you can’t really fool people. They go on YouTube for hours and they look up hours of music and they’d know if it wasn’t up to the standard we want it to be at.
(((o))): You’ve mentioned quite a few other bands so far. So do you think that’s one of the best things about the metal scene is the brotherhood in it how bands look out for each other?
Phil: Yeah, they do. It isn’t like a gang or anything, but there is a brotherhood and even with moshing there’s like unwritten rules which say “don’t be an asshole”. You know, you don’t go against the mosh pit or someone’s going to get hurt. I remember one time this guy tried to do that in Portland, we were playing with Metallica, and his shoulder got separated. That’s not a way to enjoy a gig! So there is a brotherhood, and there’s got to be one when you’re in the mosh pit.
(((o))): And you seem to have a real brotherhood within the band itself, it’s been almost the same line-up for such a long time. What’s your secret behind that? Obviously, you started in high school, so does that have something to do with it?
Phil: Well yeah, but also it’s the same thing we were saying before, it’s just about having respect for each other. It kind of comes down to humanity really; don’t be an asshole, if you know that the guy doesn’t like watermelon don’t throw watermelon in his face, don’t be stepping on people’s toes. It’s part of growing up, being humble. Nobody’s here forever so make your legacy a decent one that you can be proud of. Do your job properly.
(((o))): So do you think that applying that attitude to what you do is how you’ve been able to achieve such a consistent standard with all of your albums throughout your history?
Phil: Everybody’s on the same ship in Armored Saint. There’s a captain of the ship, there has to be a captain, but we’re all on board and we’re all heading to the same destination, so all of us are focused on doing our jobs to make that happen.
(((o))): So when it comes to the writing process then, I know that John [Bush, vocals] and Joey [Vera, bass] do the bulk of that. What is your role and your input in that process?
Phil: Well I send them ideas for the songs and things like that, but John and Joey have a connection that cannot be broken. It’s like Paul McCartney and John Lennon, they have that connection so who’s going go in there and be like “hey, no dude, my song’s way better”. It doesn’t work like that, because as long as we’ve known each other that’s what they’ve had, they’ve had that connection. I personally don’t have the confidence that Joey has, and John was always a formative person and he would always have something to say. John stand for justice and that’s unbreakable. And I see that, you know, I’m a team player and I see that. It takes a humble person, but I look at rock and metal and what we’ve created and I’m not going to try and mess with that.
(((o))): Is there one point that you can say you’re most proud of during your time with Armored Saint?
Phil: Well, one of the things I’d say I was most proud of, I’d look back to our first album because back then we’d only played a few gigs and we got signed to Chrysalis, which is a major record label. I mean, who gets signed to a major record label that’s a metal band today? Zero! So that’s one, but then also being on our first major tour with Whitesnake and Quiet Riot, because actually Quiet Riot broke through the Billboard charts at the time; they came up with a number one metal album. So that kind of opened up the floodgates and we got on that tour. Playing in front of 20,00 people for the very first time is an incredible moment. So, I would say those two. And now, I look at the new album and I love it. And I’m progressing, I play every day and I try and learn new things on the guitar every day, because there’s a million awesome guitar players; and I love the guitar now more than ever, it’s a really cool instrument, which I just love playing.
(((o))): From the past and onto the future now, what’s next for Armored Saint?
Phil: We’re going to write more killer songs and we’re going to write another record. Hopefully with a lot more touring after that and hopefully the legacy of our music will stand for a long time. But we’re just going to keep growing and being an awesome band!
(((o))): Are we going to have to wait another five years for the next one?
Phil: Hell no! We’re writing songs right now!
(((o))): If you could go back in time to one period of history, where would you go and why?
Phil: I would actually love to be back in 1967 right here with Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton. Right in the middle of the London scene enjoying The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and all of that time period where all of that was happening here. Right here in England!