Posted on by Oran

Armored Saint co-founding member, Joey Vera got in touch with Overdrive to talk about the bands crushing new album ‘Punching the Sky [due for release Oct 23rd], his touring duties with Mercyful Fate, the bands legacy and so much more…

Armored Saint have had a significant presence in the history of American Heavy Metal since their formation back in the early 1980s.

From LA to San Francisco and beyond, Armored Saint’s DNA is embedded among many genres from classic Heavy Metal to Hard Rock and Thrash, with just about everybody that’s anybody recognising the impact the LA natives have had on heavy music as a whole.

This week sees the band gearing up to release their highly anticipated 8th studio album ‘Punching the Sky‘ [Oct 23rd via Metal Blade Records] which sees Armored Saint raise the bar yet again, following their critically acclaimed ‘Win Hands Down‘ opus five years ago.

Bassist and co-founding band member, Joey Vera took some time out to talk to Overdrive about the new album, his thoughts on the bands’ long history, some of his favourite albums and much more…

OD – Let’s start with this new album, the bands’ 8th, full-length album ‘Punching The Sky’, talk us through the title and is there a concept of sorts running through the album’s track-listing?

JOEY – Well, this new album is not a concept album, we’re not really into doing things like that. However, the title does have a background story and I’ll give you my interpretation of that.

We were throwing around ideas for the title of the record and we wanted to avoid what we did with ‘Win...’ as in opening with the title track of the album. So, the original title for this album was going to be ‘Standing on The Shoulders of Giants‘ [listen below] as it was the opening track on the album so, we decided to try something different and instead, we used a lyric from one of the songs, rather than a song title.

We went over the lyrics and ‘Punching the Sky‘ just kept coming back to us over and over again, so that’s basically how we came up with the album’s title. John [Bush] wrote the song and its about overcoming challenges and pushing forward. His reference to ‘punching the sky‘ is more in the sense of raising your fist in the air victoriously, as you would do to overcome some hurdle in life.

Now, I didn’t want to think of it being so literal. The more I thought of ‘punching the sky‘, the more I started to think about it being a representation of the band itself. How we’ve managed to overcome a lot of obstacles and continue doing what we do. We want to grow, evolve and become better musicians, writers and people.

I started to look at things with that term in mind ‘The sky’s the limit‘ and I feel that: “No, it’s not, let’s punch through that sky and not limit ourselves“. You can hear it on the album, it’s got a lot of diversity that we’ve not had present in the past.

OD – At what point did the writing process start for this album and was everybody involved, or was there a specific process with Phil [Sandoval] sending riffs and John [Bush] throwing in lyrics before music?

JOEY – We began writing around December 2017. We had just come off the road and took off a month or two and I was just listening to music and decompressing. Then I began to start writing ideas. The ball didn’t really start rolling until about January or February 2018 and we didn’t really stop writing until about October 2019, so, the guts of about 2 years.

The process has really been the same for the last two albums. That would be John and I, working on about 95% of the ideas, melodies and lyrics etc. The other guys contribute things to the situation, but the way that things work for us, and have done so since back when we did ‘Revelation‘ [2000], is that all the music goes through me and then I take it and turn it into something and present it to John.

We’ve been working like for a while John and I have a really great working relationship and we rarely have any disagreements [Laughing]. The system just works and we’ve managed to find a balance with the way we do things; which is great.

John Bush © Down The Barrel Photography 2020

John and I are very close friends and we’ve learned to deal with personality traits over the years and we recognise that we are really good writing partners and are just very good at it.

OD – The other guys in the band are all happy with this process also?

JOEY – Yes, they have enough self-esteem to just contribute to that and not need to be any other way. They know that their voices are always heard but they also know that John and I have a pretty unique formula for the band and that is the way we work.

OD – You also commented that the band is “in a really good place now experiencing a lot of freedom“, did you not feel that with 2015’s ‘Win Hands Down’, or did it take that album [‘Win…’] to reach this point?

JOEY – When the ‘freedom‘ aspect of this newfound sense of creating came about, I was more referencing back to when we were recording ‘La Raza‘ back in 2010. It was really just a result of me looking back at our whole career to that point and there were a lot of reasons for why we were at the point where we were. I was thinking about the decisions that we had made along the way and had we done things differently, would we be in a better place? etc.

The reason behind that was because Armored Siant emerged when ‘Heavy Metal‘ was starting out way back in the early ’80s, it was very much a ‘new thing‘ in terms of musical genres.

We were one of the very first bands from L A that was part of the bigger scene and also we were one of the very first metal bands to get signed to a major label at the time. We were there for it all.

Shortly thereafter, about 3/5 years later, the scene began to get huge and started to splinter off with Glam Metal, Hair Metal, Thrash, Speed and Death Metal!

OD – Did you find that you didn’t fit in with any of those ‘labels‘?

JOEY – Yeah, we were not really conscious of what was happening at that point but now, in hindsight, I guess we were having a sort of identity crises. It was during the time we were recording ‘Raising Fear‘ [1987]. We lost our A&R guy and then the label started coming to us saying: “We need for you guys to start writing more radio-friendly songs” and it was just all a bit offputting, if you know what I mean.

We were saying to them: “No, that’s not what we’re about!” We eventually got through that hurdle and it gave us some confidence problems which in turn, affected the songwriting process.

OD – At what point did you see the turning point from this state of mind?

JOEY – I think it was around the time we were writing for ‘Symbol of Salvation‘ [1991] and we had just had a two-year hiatus from dealing with record labels. So, we just hunkered down and did a lot of writing. Even some of that writing was misguided and not quite what we were aiming for. It’s like we were trying too hard.

We really wanted to write for ourselves and be bothered with what the flavour of the month was. That’s when we took a long break and we all went about doing different things. John did his time with Anthrax and we just needed to break away from each other and get a fresh perspective on things.

So, it was around about 2010 that I got to thinking: “We [Armored Saint] are like our very own island!” We were sort of avoiding the obvious for some reason and just never embraced who we were. But now we’re not going to avoid it anymore and we’re going to start making music that we want to hear and hopefully, fans will come along for the ride and enjoy what we do.

OD – For a band that has been around for 4 decades, Armoured Saint has been a staple in the history of American Heavy Metal and a vastly important link in the explosion of the Thrash genre in the early-mid 80\s. What are your thoughts on being associated with so many iconic moments in Metal’s history?

JOEY – We take a lot of great pride in knowing that we there when it all started and also we will take some contribution to some scenes, whether it was one side or another. We’re very honoured with that and look back fondly on that time.

To be honest, we got to a point where we didn’t want to be categorized. We didn’t want to be a ‘Trash‘ band we’re just a ‘Hard Rock‘ band, we’re not really even a ‘Heavy Metal‘ band, we’re just ‘Hard Rock‘.

Now, that’s not saying that we have any kind of distaste for anything associate with those scenes because there’s a part of Armored Saint that has a certain sound that has a kind of ‘Thrash-y‘ sound and also we all grew up listening to Motörhead. [Laughing]

I embrace all of that past but someone said to me in an interview as referring us as being: “One of the best Thrash bands around” and it was amazing to me that he would categorize us so directly.

OD – [Laughing] But Armored Saint is not a ‘Thrash‘ band!!

JOEY – Yes, you’re exactly right! I didn’t say anything at the time because who am I to tell this guy what he thinks of us, if he thinks we’re ‘Thrash Metal‘, then I’m not gonna argue with him, that’s his own interpretation of what he thinks of us. [Laughing]

OD – There is no question that Armored Saint has a history that is linked to so many genres, artists, and locations/timelines within the legacy of American Hard Rock/Heavy Metal. Has there ever been any discussion to officially tell the bands story with a documentary or book etc?

JOEY – Well, we do have something in the works. Now, it’s not directly involved with us, but we do have periphery involvement with it.

OD – Can you elaborate?

JOEY – There is a friend of the band, who lives in the UK and he’s also been a long time fan of the band.

He’s a filmmaker and also a teacher at the local University. He’s done a bunch of cool short films. I’ve even worked with him on some music for some of his films. Anyway, he approached us about a year-and-a-half ago with the idea of producing a documentary about the bands’ history. I said: “Go for it, I don’t want to be micro-managing this project so you tell your story of how you see us [Armored Saint] and if you need any recordings, or information etc, then give me a shout”.

OD – How far has the project come to date?

JOEY – Well, he’s already waste deep in things and has done a bunch of interviews with the guys in Metallica, Anthrax a lot of people in management that used to work with us, including the A&R guy that first signed us, as well as an interview with Brian Slagel [Metal Blade Records].

We’ve also done a few interviews with him and it really gives the film a sense of the wider view inside Armored Saint. We all have very different perspectives from our time in the band. [Laughing].

OD – So, this sounds like he’s very much in the process of hopefully completing the documentary soon?

JOEY – Yes, from what I can gather, he’s almost done. I understand that he’s showing it at some festivals next Spring, or Summer, depending on the pandemic situation of course. I’ve seen a 5-minute trailer and it looks great. I’m very much looking forward to seeing the finished project when it’s ready.

We supplied him with a lot of very old VHS performances, photos and interviews etc so there’s loads of stuff that has never been seen before. I hope it all turns out great for him. I have a very weird thing about being associated with something that’s about myself if you know what I mean? I feel like it shouldn’t be that way, like: “Hey, look at this movie I made about myself!” [Laughing] I’m trying to stay out of it as much as I can.

To be honest, I don’t know how much of a story we have to the average person, but for those who know of us, or have an interest in that whole scene, then I’m sure they will really enjoy it.

OD – Let’s talk about Mercyful Fate for a moment, will you still be on hand to perform on the new rescheduled dates now that ‘Punching the Sky’ is out?

JOEY – I made a commitment to Mercyful Fate and I plan to keep that. It’s on paper, on the books that the Summer shows with Mercyful… will be taking place, but it’s totally unknown if they will go ahead but the plan is that I’ll be joining them for their live shows.

The same thing goes for Armored Saint! We just don’t know when we can get back out there and do what we do. My goal is to try to not let the two things to get in the way of each other and that’s just something that we have to wait and see.

I see a lot of bands making plans for next year and I can’t make plans like that. To be honest, our passports are not even valid to travel to Europe at this point.

OD –  At this point, it doesn’t really look like things will be returning to ‘normal‘ next year.

JOEY – I agree with you. Just looking at this logically, even if they do find a vaccine for the pandemic, they still have all these hurdles, they will have distribution issues, the confidence of people who are willing to take this new medicine, then there’s the prospect of people feeling safe about being in a venue with 1500 or 15,000 people!

There are so many variables that I think people are overlooking and need to understand. This pandemic is not just gonna disappear overnight. I have a feeling it will be with us for much longer than most people are prepared for. I believe that it will be more like 2022 before we can see shows coming back. I wish that wasn’t the case but I’m just being as realistic as possible.

OD – On October 10th, the Whiskey A Go-GO album launch show will be streamed live online, do you have any concerns about sound etc especially seeing art this is the bands first time doing this?

JOEY – Well, I’m not gonna lie, the overall concept of this felt very alien to us all. Playing in a venue with no audience? That’s just weird. [Laughing] But once we realist that we wanted to celebrate the release of this new album and that things were not going to change in the foreseeable future, we figured we’d take a closer look at the project.

We felt compelled to do something and get some kind of connection with our fans to celebrate the release of the album. So, I guess this is the only way we can do that under the circumstances.

I know that it’s gonna feel weird but, we’re gonna put everything we have into this performance and do the very best we can. We want to have a good time with it and we hope that people will join us. We’re looking forward to it now.

OD – Can you reveal anything about the planned setlist?

JOEY – Yes, we’re gonna be doing all the classics as well as some deep cuts and also four new songs from ‘Punching the Sky‘. It’s only $10 for the online ticket, so hopefully, people will be interested.

I also think a lot of people will be seeing us for the very first time. There’s a lot of places that we have really wanted to play over the years and I guess this will be a way for people to experience Armored Saint live. Click here to purchase virtual tickets.

OD – Of all the bands that you’ve seen or had the pleasure of crossing paths with over the last four decades, is there any particular bands’ that you feel should have been much more successful than they were/are?

JOEY – I’ve always held a torch for Kings X and Fishbone. Both of those bands had some success, but I think that a lot of music fans that are into those bands, wondered why they didn’t get bigger. Believe me, I’m one to talk as people ask me the very same question about Armored Saint [Laughing].

Kings X

But those bands’ were/are just amazing! Such fantastic musicians. I’ve read that Doug Pinnick [Kings X, Vocals/Bass] gets asked that all the time and I’m guessing that he’s sick of being asked that question. Sometimes you just have to shrug it off. Who knows why these bands’ never became bigger? It’s somewhat of a mind-fuck!

OD – I read former Megaforce Records founder Johnny Z’s biography and he reckons that Kings X never got as big as they should have because people just didn’t know which genre to file them under.

JOEY – I can see that perspective also. The media, in general, need to have a label and to be honest, I find it all quite lazy. They have a need to categories everything and if they can’t they just shelve it. It’s all linked to promotion and how they can make money. If something is out of the box or left of centre, they just don’t know what to do.

OD – Can you leave us with one of your all-time favourite albums?

JOEY – I would have to say ‘Sgt. Peppers…‘ [1967] The Beatles. I think that it’s because that record was in my life for as long as I can remember.

I don’t really have a record that was part of a huge moment in my life, but I’d have to say I was really excited when I got Queen, ‘A Night at the Opera’ [1975] and blown-away when I heard ‘Unleashed in the East‘ [1979] from Judas Priest or U2’sThe Joshua Tree‘ [1987]

But I’d have to say ‘Sgt Peppers…‘ was at a point in my life when I didn’t know that I even liked music. I played that album all the time on the old turntable. Perhaps that shaped my taste for elaborate, adventurous music. I was only 7-years old and was basically a sponge, but that album left a really profound impression on me, which I guess I discovered later on in my life.

Armored Saint’s new album ‘Punching The Sky‘ is set for worldwide release on October 23rd via Metal Blade Records. You can pre-order your copy here.

Oran O’Beirne

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