Interview: Armored Saint
I’m honoured people dig the way I sing, and my goal always has been to just to be me, just to be as original as possible and just have my own thing so when people hear it, they think that's John Bush and they know it and it's unmistakable.
The new Armored Saint album Punching The Sky is a celebration of the band’s anthemic heavy metal packed with great songs and a welcome addition to the band’s musical arsenal. Gavin Brown caught up with vocalist John Bush to hear all about Punching The Sky and the potential of playing the new material live as well as memories of his time with both Armored Saint and Anthrax and how he is keeping busy during the pandemic.
E&D: The new Armored Saint album Punching The Sky is out now. How did the creation and recording of the album go?
John: Really well actually, we’ve been having the same kind of chemistry, style and approach to making the record as we did the previous record Win Hands Down, creating demos, getting ideas from various sources, Joey arranging the majority of stuff, but also got some good ideas from different guys, in particular, Phil contributed some really cool ideas, even some lyrics on this record. We did demos like we did on Win Hands Down, I would go to Joey’s house sometimes as early as 9.30 in the morning and start belting out metal and developing the songs. Sometimes I would only have like an hour then I had to go back to my job with my wife, I work with her on doing a casting studio and sometimes two hours and we’d work on vocals and we would just be as productive as possible during that time and as time went by, we looked back and said, Oh, we have like 10 songs now, I think we’re ready to roll.
E&D: Was it all done before this pandemic we are going through?
John: It was all done pre-pandemic. Joey told me that he started writing stuff around December 2017 so I was really surprised that we started that early, we did all the pre-production before we started in January with the recording so we were done the first couple of weeks of March, and then that’s when everything closed shut for the world. We were lucky because we had the chip, what you can, the masters now and we gave it to Jay Ruston, who was the guy who mixed it and mixed our last record and then he was able to hole up in his studio and he mixed it. We were lucky that way.
E&D: The driving ‘Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants’ opens the album. Did you always want to start the album was such a powerful track?
John: You know, it’s funny. That’s the longest song on the record and we certainly think it’s a great song. It’s very epic, a classic kind of Armored Saint song in the way that we have songs like that on our past records where they are longer, there’s a lot of instrumentation and a big, big chorus. Joey, when we finished the recording, he said, I think we should open with that song. I said, it’s the longest song on the record, on this album in particular, we don’t have as many long song as we did on Win Hands Down. We’ve written some shorter songs, are we going to have the longest song on the record to open the album and he goes, yeah, that’s the right song with that intro with the pipes and everything, it just feels like the right first song and I was like, okay, sold.
E&D: The music on the album is energetic throughout its duration. Do you feel the band feel reenergized with this album?
John: I think we felt pretty energized with our last album actually. I think this is a stepping stone from Win Hands Down and,you always want to take the previous record and built on that and keep creating and doing cool things with great ideas. I think we were able to do that in a continuation of how we’ve been working with this new record, so it’s just progress, to me, I think that the key is just to always be progressing as a band, always try to be pushing yourself, doing different things that you maybe haven’t done in the past. Just push the creativity levels as far as you can and that’s what we did. I think we kind of set that up during Win Hands Down and then this record just propels that more. I’m real proud. I mean, I really am, I think we’ve like taken enormous steps as songwriters and musicians to build on what we started when we were, you know, little 20 year old pipsqueaks on the 1983 EP and even March Of The Saints so if I look back at our career, I’m real proud of the way it is progressed.
E&D: What’s the reaction to the new material we liked so far?
John: It’s been great. I didn’t want to toot my own horn so I kinda let the people dictate what they conveyed in the end, you know, and it seems to be a case where everyone is pretty stoked. We’ve done the two videos. We did ‘End Of The Attention Span’, we put that out about a month and a half ago on YouTube and then about a month later, we put out the ‘Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants’ video. I don’t like to get too caught up in what people write and think, of course I want to know, and of course I want people to like what we did. I’d be inhuman if I said otherwise, and I’d be a liar quite honestly but at the same time if I believe in it, I think that people, at least fans of mine will believe in it as well. In the comments section of both the videos it has been really positive, we get these occasional thumbs down and be like, who’s got the thumbs down, how could you not like it? It’s great! That’s the humbling aspect of being an artist and putting out your heart out there and going, I hope you like it, oh you don’t like it. Oh, why not? You know, it’s funny!
E&D: You’ve got a livestream gig from the Whiskey A Go Go for the record. Are you looking forward to the show despite it being under different circumstances than usual?
John: Yeah, it’s going to be fun to play live. We’ve been rehearsing a lot of the new songs, obviously we had to learn those as a band for live performance and they sound killer and I’m really proud of that. I think it’s going to be really fun to play on. It’s going to be weird to play them once and then not know what you’re going to do after that which is just disappointing to say the least, but in the end, I think it’s going to be a fun show. It’s going to be a little weird with nobody there, but we’re going to make the most of it and we just want to play and perform. Like I said, we’ve been rehearsing them and it sounds great so I think we’re excited to play, even in this kind of awkward circumstance.
E&D: Will you be playing a lot of material from the new album?
John: No, we’re going to play four new songs and we’re going to play a couple of deep tracks. We always like to kinda mess around with the set or I do at least. Then we’re also going to play some of the Armored Saint hits at the same time, so it should be fun.
E&D: How do you go about selecting a setlist that encapsulate everything that’s great about Armored Saint live?
John: Well, what I like to do is, my goal, depending on the length of the set, if we are opening or even headlining, I guess for that matter, I like to play a song off every record at least. At least one song per record because I get bummed when I go see bands and they omit a bunch of songs from their catalog, obviously every new record, you want to play new songs. There’s no doubt about it because you’re promoting a new album, plus they’re fresh and exciting, but you know, we’re a band that started years ago and obviously we have a lot of fans who are following us through the years and we’d be doing a disservice and we didn’t play a lot of classic old songs too. I think it’s just a combination of that, plus I want to play, like I said, a couple of deep tracks, something that maybe people aren’t expecting. The last thing I want to do is play the same songs from the same records from every album on every tour. I don’t want to do it because I think then I’d be going through the motions if I did that, when you take a song out of the sand and then you bring it back, it’s just maybe more exciting, you know? You don’t have to retire something permanently, but maybe just temporarily and then once you do that and when you bring it back, it feels exciting to play again. We have a lot of tracks to play from all the albums, but like I said, I’d like to play a song off every record. I also like to mix a set up a bit, it’s probably less about what exactly works cause what would work would be all the popular songs but I also want to play songs where people are like, I love that song. I can’t believe they played that song. I think that’s really cool too.
E&D: Have you got a favorite song to play live?
John: I don’t know, man. I wouldn’t say I have a specific song that I like playing live. I think that it depends on the song, the set and the crowd and the circumstances with the crowd. I think it varies, if it’s a song that I’m excited that we’ve put back in the set, that would be a little more fresh. I don’t think I have a specific song, probably the newer songs because they’re kinda new.
E&D: Have you got any touring plans for next year and beyond when things get back to normal, whenever that may be?
John: Well, we were just talking to our agent last night and and I said, let’s see if we can book like a tour in April, like a little run in the West Coast of the U.S. Of course it’s a big question mark anyway, but he said, let me enquire. You can go and hold gigs and then when stuff opens up then you start a mad dash to try to fill the dates because then everybody’s going to do it, so a lot of people are just holding dates and then if it doesn’t happen, you just either postpone them or you push them back. I think that’s something that we might do just to have something to look forward to. Even though, of course, it’s extremely uncertain. He was saying that Florida is wide open right now and people are playing there and bars and restaurants are open and, and I think their cases are up high as well. They’re crazy and it’s pretty lame the way that the government of that state is handling this. I want to get back to the UK man. We did a little UK tour a couple of years ago. All my years in Anthrax, we always had amazing shows all over Britain and Ireland. Armored Saint haven’t played enough quite honestly, in the UK through the years, so I want to get back there and play. I love being in Britain.
E&D: What has been the most memorable tour or show show that you’ve done with Armored Saint?
John: Well, let me just say recently, we did we did an amazing show in LA. It was like a hometown game where it was part of the Symbol Of Salvation when we did the record in its entirety, the last show was in LA and it was really magical. Any time we play at home is awesome and that show in particular, it was at the Regent Theater and it was pretty stellar. It was amazing gig, it had that kind of like magical feeling behind it. The festivals are great too, Bloodstock when we played there a few years ago, it was awesome. Bang Your Head festival is always a great show to play. We played in Barcelona for the first time and that was great, it was a festival and Iron Maiden were headlining. The first time Armored Saint ever played Japan, that was amazing. We’re lucky, we’ve had a lot of great shows through the years and had some audiences that were just awesome and were a fortunate band in that way.
E&D: Aside from everything with the new album, how else have you been keeping busy during this pandemic?
John: Spending time with my family. I was teaching my daughter how to drive, cause she’s going to be 16 in a couple of weeks. It was a great time because there were not a lot of cars on the road, so it was really open. It was a good time for her to learn, although the people that were driving were driving like absolute maniacs! Spending time with my family, hanging out with my kids, my son plays a lot of hockey, so I was taking him to a lot of practice. My wife and, I we’re cooking and stuff, we like to do that. Watch a lot of movies. Try to read, try to do anything to help my mind grow. Certainly keep exercising. I started doing this boxing class that my sister-in-law turned me on to, so it’s been fun. It’s a great workout. You get a lot of aggressions out punching this rubber guy, you beat the crap out of him and you feel good afterwards! I’ve just been trying to stay productive and I feel really proud of my kids because, I think a lot of people can work from home and all that, but no school, that sucks. I mean, they’re doing school online, but it’s not the same. It’s terrible, they need to go to school and mix in their social circles.
E&D: A bit of normality, as much as you can get?
John: A lot of people should work from home and then there would be less cars on the road, less pollution, I’m all for that, you know, but when it comes to school, the kids they need to be in school. It’s really important.
E&D: You mentioned touring the UK with Anthrax. Do you look back at your time with the band with fondness in your years with Anthrax?
John: Yes, of course I do. You know, we had a lot of great memories and we’ve made some really cool records and playing with those guys just brought out another side of my musical ability and kind of touched on something different than I do with Armored Saint and they’re super talented musicians and they write great songs and they have a great following. So all those years it just embellished my life and I got to tour and go to a lot of places I’ve never had been to. And like I said, I think we made some really great music, so it’s all good. I mean, of course there was moments when there was some strife and a little bit of turmoil at times, same with any band of course, but yeah, when I look back, I have nothing but great memories.
E&D: What were some, some of the highlights?
John: Well, playing the Sonisphere Festival at Knebworth, that was pretty rad because that’s where Zeppelin’s last gig was. A lot of the tours that we did in Japan and South America, all in Europe as well. We did a tour with Motörhead in Britain. That was amazing. I remember opening for them playing Manchester and Glasgow, and we played Wembley Arena with Motörhead and it was pretty awesome. A lot of great memories, man, so many play New York, a lot of great shows in New York cause that’s the bands hometown.
E&D: Would you ever do something with the band again in the future, even if it’s just like a live gig or something like you have done in the past?
John: You know, if the situation was right and, and it was what I’ve been saying, other people have asked me that and I said the same thing, it’d be the kind of thing that if it had Joey Belladonna’s blessing, and maybe we did something like we did a show together or something like that. I think that would be the coolest part, but I’m not trying to weasel my way back to Anthrax. I think that they’re very stable and the band is the right lineup for the way it should be for the duration of the band.
E&D: Obviously it’s like a decade now, but how was it when you got back with Armored Saint when you reunited for the La Raza album, how was it to be back in the band again?
John: Oh, that’s always a great and a comfortable feeling to be around those guys. You know, we’ve known each other for so long and it’s just like I said, it’s like going home and it’s really easy. I think there’s just a lot of the collective mindset of what we want to do and we have such a bond beyond the band especially Joey and I, we’re extremely good friends and we have been since we were eight years old. So needless to say, it’s a pretty strong connection, one of the things about Armored Saint that I think is amazing is that it’s all the same guys. It’s the same dudes, other than Dave who died unfortunately in 1990, but other than that, it’s the same five guys who have been the band throughout. I think it’s really cool, it’s not just like John Bush and a bunch of sidemen or something, or guys that get weekly salary. These are the guys of Armored Saint and I really think that’s a beautiful aspect of the band.
E&D: How does it feel to be talked about as one of the greatest metal vocalists of all time?
John: I don’t really think of it like that, but when people say that it’s very kind of them you know. I try to do my thing and try to be original. That’s really important to me and keep progressing as a singer. I feel like really at this point, I’m singing better than ever, although I’ve had some struggles here and there, belting out metal at 57 is not the easiest thing in the world. You gotta like be physically fit. You’re almost like an athlete at this point whether you’re a singer or the drummer because you gotta be with it. I’m honoured people dig the way I sing, and my goal always has been to just to be me, just to be as original as possible and just have my own thing so when people hear it, they think that’s John Bush and they know it and it’s unmistakable.
E&D: What have been some of the proudest moments in your career so far?
John: I think longevity actually is probably one of the things I’m most proud of. You know, I think when we were kids, we always yearned to have this long career, but we just really had no idea what that was really about. I think thats something we thought that we wouldn’t be around forever and we want to be huge. Then of course, the music business like whacks you down and you have a little different perspective after a few years and certainly after a decade or two. I think writing and making music that I really believe in, and that has a lot of dignity to it. That was really one of the most important things, and being around as long as we have. If I could say when I was 19, I’d be making records for almost 40 years, I probably wouldn’t even really believe it, but we are. I think that’s an awesome accomplishment and to try to grow as a musician and just do it until i’m ready to be lowered into the ground, man!