I’m greeted by John in Dublin’s darkly lit Voodoo Lounge on an unusually cold March evening. The vocalist has got to be one of the most welcoming and good natured individuals in the game and is instantly relaxed and informal with me as we discuss a wide range of topics and our collective love of different genres of music and vinyl collecting.
Having told him that I had not planned to ask anything about his highly documented time fronting Anthrax, I was confronted with a wide smile and a ‘thank you’ expressed with mild relief. We casually discuss people’s obsession with something that has been researched and reported in great detail time and time again before we concentrate on his association with Armored Saint. So, if anyone is hoping for a dirt-raking session on Bush/Anthrax or anything else on this subject, feel free to use your favourite search engine and you’ll find it all there!
OD – Finally Armored Saint back on tour in Europe and in this case a debut in Dublin, (Ireland). When you get to finally play in a new territory/city does it change the way you approach the gig because it’s a first for the band?
JOHN – Well, I’m really excited about playing new places that we haven’t had the pleasure of doing in the past and although we go our there as we do with ever show to do the very best we can, there is a certain feeling of being able to cross a new destination off the list.
I think it’s a conscious decision to come and play in places that we have never done in the past and hopefully build up our fanbase. I don’t think we really change the show per say, but I certainly try to strive to have every show being a little bit different. We have a loose framework for the show and try to mix it up a little and have room to throw in a few curve balls every now and again. I really don’t want to be one of those bands that play the same setlist night after night, because I really can’t stand that. I find that when band’s do that, it’s such a copout, especially when they have a bunch of albums from their back catalogue that they could play from. You have to give props to a wide range of material that you have written and not just stick to the same stuff over and over again.
The run of European dates that we are doing this time around include some places that we have never played before such as Dublin, Manchester and Birmingham, so although we have the setlist kind of worked out, we still kind of go with our gut on the night and will most likely change things up a little.
OD – Armored Saint have been in the business for a long time now and many changes have happened along with way. When you look at when you released Win Hands Down compared to even 2010’s ‘La Raza‘, did you find that the playing field was different again?
JOHN – Well, as you can tell, Armored Saint move kind of slowly with releases (laughs) and we have seen a lot of things happen over the years from a music business perspective. We just kind of do what we do and it’s funny because most people ask me “what advice would you give to new bands?” and I’m like “they could very well give me some advice!” (laughs).
We brought some copies of the new live record with us out on the road which is important for us as a band. Selling product is the backbone that keeps things ticking over for us and every other band for that matter. It’s great that people can stream anything they want now in a matter of seconds and I will admit that however people are getting to hear music in any way, shape or form is fantastic and if everyone decided to access their music digitally, then that’s their prerogative, but for me I just want to buy a physical product.
I still go to record stores and look around and pick up some new albums, just like how I did it when I was fifteen years old living in Pasadena. I just want to get the whole package, where I can check out the artwork and the lyrics. I’m one of those people that just needs a tangible product rather than a digital file that lives in a cloud somewhere in cyberspace (laughs). I just need to have a connection with the way I buy my music and just downloading files doesn’t do that for me. Don’t get me wrong, that’s just the way I feel about it and don’t have a problem with the way anyone else does it – as long as they are paying for their music.
You can’t just walk into a restaurant and order some food and walk out without paying! That’s the same with illegal downloading in my opinion. That’s not part of the way the world works and yet so many people seem to do this and for some reason, the world is okay with it.
OD – I don’t’ think that people consider the amount of time and design that is put into the presentation and packaging of the various formats available.
JOHN – Yeah man totally! I collect vinyl and for me, that is the ultimate way to listen to the music and get the full experience, but again that’s just me and I’m most likely showing my age now (laughs). I think it’s so lucky for us to be on a label like Metal Blade who still take the time to actually press vinyl albums because there are labels out there that don’t do that.
Brian (Slagel – Metal Blade Records) was just recently telling me that once the industry finally figures out the level field for streaming then the business could possibly be more lucrative than ever, but in the meantime there is a whole host of sites that are offering up the music for free and the bands are the one’s that get it in the nuts! There is no question that the digital age’s biggest casualties were the music industry. I mean, when you look at it from a global perspective, the labels that once ruled the world just got creamed!
OD – There are hardly any bands releasing live albums these days which was a welcome surprise when I learned of ‘Carpe Noctum‘ (December 2016). I grew up with ‘Live After Death’, ‘Unleashed in the East’ and especially ‘Live and Dangerous‘. Those albums had more of an impact on me that some of the studio albums of the time. What was the motive behind the live album, was it more of a nostalgic thing for you considering ‘Saints Will Conquer’ was almost 29 years ago?
JOHN – Thanks for reminding me how long ago “Saints Will Conquer” is (laughing)!! Well, the motive behind ‘Carpe Noctum‘ was really based on the idea to help us fund the tour the tour we did with Queensryche in North America back in November/December. We needed to go out on the road with something, some kind of product to generate a bit of momentum. We knew we were gonna make a certain amount of money each night from the shows and knew that it was not going to be enough unless we did it like a ‘bare-bones’ style tour where we are travelling from city to city in a fucking car, with no crew etc. So, we were thinking “we can’t fucking do this”. Releasing ‘Carpe Noctum‘ through the Pledge campaign was a conscious way to generate a little cash to fund the tour and help us get by, while we were out on the road for four weeks.
We included a bunch of different packages offering some really cool stuff for the fans which went down really well. I was reluctant and very sceptical about going down this route as I really despise the idea of bands putting a price on everything. I really can’t stand that whole “hey, do you like that? well, that’s $10” type of attitude.
So, we had the recordings and decided to put together something really cool for the fans as part of the Pledge campaign and then much later down the line we decided to put it out as a live record because it sounds so good.
We always loved some of those classic live albums and wanted to do something that could be as good as some of the truly iconic releases from the likes of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy. Although there are only nine songs on there, we feel that the sound is just so good and the performance captures the true essence of who Armored Saint really is.
OD – Armored Saint are one of those bands that have a true undiluted metal sound containing a great balance of classic metal with a contemporary feel to it. When writing new material to you find that you want to keep a foot in the classic sound, all the while bringing something new to the band’s evolving sound?
JOHN – To be honest, we haven’t really thought about it yet. I mean Joey (Vera – bass) just came off a short tour he did with his other band (Fates Warning) in Europe, twenty-eight so it’s really early days at the moment for a follow-up to ‘Win Hands Down‘. We know that we really want to make another record and we all know that we don’t want to wait another five years for that to happen because we are not twenty-eight years old anymore (laughs).
I saw UFO just recently and was looking at Phil (Mogg – UFO vocalist) and I’m thinking he’s older than me and I don’t even think I could pull that off in my 60’s (laughs). I do feel like time is there ticking away and pushing our options but in the other sense, I don’t want to make a record for the sake of making a record and sacrifice quality over the fact that we just want to get another album out. I really believe that Armored Saint albums are very cool in their own way and want to make a really great album that we all truly believe in. We are very honest with ourselves about who we are and how big Armored Saint is, as a band and are realistic about how we go about doing things.
In this day and age, Armored Saint are a nostalgic band and we totally understand that! I’m not saying that we are now going to go and rest on our laurels but I want to do it right and that’s the most important thing. The recordings on an album live forever and for that reason, it just has to be right. I don’t think that any album we have done is flawless from top to bottom, but that’s just me. We have a lot of great material and I’m beyond proud of Armored Saint’s legacy, so I just want to make sure that we keep that element of quality preserved for everything going forward.
OD – There has been a considerable amount of tour dates since the album’s release back in 2015, including some festival appearances over this part of the world back in 2015. Obviously touring is a very expensive process for any band, but seeing as you’re doing these dates now, will there be any possibility of any European Summer festivals this year as you guys were fantastic at Bloodstock back in 2015?
JOHN – Yeah, I remember Bloodstock, that was a really fun show. As much as I’de love to get on the festival circuit for this year, sadly we have not confirmed dates. Those promoters tend to book up the bands nearly a year in advance. In some cases, it’s like right after the festival ends, they release a headliner! It’s just crazy (laughs).
I do feel like we have done a lot of cool stuff in Europe over the last few years and I still want to play in places like Scandinavia, Russia and some of the Eastern Block countries which would be awesome, to say the least. I also think that we need to do more of the Mediterranean countries as we have only played in Spain just recently for the first time as well as only playing Italy and Greece once also. Don’t get me wrong – we love Germany, Holland and Belgium, as that’s where some of our biggest fans are, but we would like to get to some places that we have never been to. When
Don’t get me wrong – we love Germany, Holland and Belgium, as that’s where some of our biggest fans are, but we would like to get to some places that we have never been to. When it happens?, I don’t know but there could very well be some festivals and some side shows happening next year and that would be very cool. Especially for a guy like me who’s 53! (laughing)
OD – With so many bands acknowledging their vintage with documentaries or biographies, has that type of thing ever crossed your mind or anyone else in the band for that matter?
I understand that you are back out on the road in May, but as we lead into the last second half of the year, what are the plans for the band or for you personally?
JOHN – Yeah, we’ve actually talked about this a few times and at one point, there was a guy who was going to write a book about Armored Saint, his name is Jon Sutherland and he used to work for Metal Blade Records back in the day and he really knows that bands history. For some reason, that never came to be, which is a shame because there is a lot of things that have happened in the legacy of Armored Saint. The band’s story is an interesting one from the passing of our friend Dave Prichard back in 1990, to the band being dropped from Chrysalis Records and moving to Metal Blade Records and me leaving for Anthrax and the Metallica connection etc.
There have been so many interesting life changing things that have happened along the way that have helped us to be who we are today. Obviously, there is a lot there and would love to see it happen. I can’t speak for the other guys but I really do think the story is good and one that would be an interesting read. So I guess it’s a case of “let’s really do this” collectively, especially before the Alzheimer’s kicks in (laughing). I have great long-term memory but find it kind of hard to tell you what happened two days ago (laughs).
OD – When looking back on everything, do you have any regrets or perhaps a second chance to re-do something a different way, and if so, what would it be?
JOHN – I’m accepting of the way things happen as I’m not a person who spends time re-thinking “what if?” because when I look around me and what I’ve done in my life to date, I’m a very lucky guy. I have a fantastic wife and two great kids to be thankful for, so things could be far worse! Don’t get me wrong, I can complain about stuff like most people but overall I’m truly grateful for everything in my life.
I have such a history with the guys in Armored Saint and have been involved with them for the guts of forty years, not to mention that I’ve performed in most parts of the world in one capacity or another and don’t really have any regrets.
I think the one thing that was handled really badly with regards to Armored Saint was that we never went over to Europe when we should have back in 1984. There was such a huge buzz about the band back then and when we got a record deal and were ready to burst, we never came to Europe like all the other bands were doing. We just missed that opportunity, which I really think hurt us badly in later years. During that time there were so many European magazines writing about us and we really should have followed through with some kind of tour or festival appearances.
It was a conscious decision at the time from a few sources involved that don’t really matter anymore, but they worked for the label we were signed to. They never really took advantage of the fact that we could have really happened in Europe, because we have a kind of European sound to us that was different to all the other American bands of the time.
The first time we set foot on European soil was to play the Dynamo Festival back in 1989 with Savatage, Sacred Reich and Forbidden and some other bands that I can’t remember right now. That was the first time we had ever played show in Europe and if you can imagine that our first EP came out in 1983 and our first European show was in 89′, so much time had elapsed and everybody else had come over, all of the peers that we had played with like Metallica, Anthrax, Ratt, WASP etc and we’re thinking “why are we not going to Europe?” and all we were told at the time was “it’s too expensive”!
I think that was a huge mistake when looking back on the legacy of Armored Saint. It may not have changed the outcome of the bands career, because we did what we did and it wasn’t gonna happen that we were going to explode more and we got to a certain level, but it could have helped us more in Europe and made us a bigger band over there – which in turn – could have had repercussions in American and the rest of the world.
OD – Finally, given the chance to share the stage with any artist, who would it be?
JOHN – Wow! I think of bands of being who they are because of who’s in the band and would think that if I was to step in for a show, it would not be the same for the fans. Now if you’re talking about being reincarnated as Ozzy, Robert Plant, Phil Mogg etc, then yeah, that would be amazing (laughing)! I’m not sure if John Bush fronting AC/DC would be something that the fans would want to see but if I could be Bon Scott back in the 70’s for a day or two, now that would be awesome!
Armored Saint’s latest album ‘Win Hands Down‘ and their live release ‘Carpe Noctum‘ are out now via Metal Blade Records. Click here for your copy.
For more information on Armored Saint, please visit this link.
Check out our review and photo gallery from Armored Saint in Dublin, here.
© OVERDRIVE 2017