Interview: Raising Fear with Armored Saint’s John Bush

Date: May 6, 2016
Interviewer: Ruben Mosqueda


Armored Saint poster“I don’t think that Armored Saint has ever made a flawless record—except maybe the new one! Of course I’m going to say that, right?” says Armored Saint’s frontman John Bush. He adds, “I don’t take anything away from anything that we’ve done. I’m proud of it all. I don’t think that Armored Saint has certain parameters that we can’t step away from. I don’t buy that we can’t stay true to ourselves if we do this or that. I don’t buy into that bullshit. You have to continue to grow; otherwise you continue to relive the same year, year after year. 1985 was great but it’s 2016. I can’t stay there. I don’t want to do that.”

Armored Saint will hit the road this spring with Metal Church for a co-headlining tour which is to die for; if you’re a fan of the genre. We got a chance to catch up with the Armored Saint frontman for a review of his ‘tainted’ past and present.

Sleaze Roxx: I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t pick up the new album ‘Win Hands Down’ until about a month ago. It’s brilliant. It meshes the old school Saint sound with the ‘Symbol’ era Saint. It’s damn near perfect.

John Bush: Thank you. ‘Win Hands Down’ came out in June of last year but it’s still a relatively new and fresh record to us.

Sleaze Roxx: We get bombarded with so much music that some great records get lost in the shuffle. ‘Win Hands Down’ is one of those records for me. I’m glad that you’re still out promoting it.

John Bush: I agree. The video for the song “Win Hands Down” was released about three to four weeks before the record. I can’t recall exactly. We did a handful of dates with Saxon in May of 2015 before the record was released. We did another video for “An Exercise In Debauchery” which was released about three months ago.

At this point it’s still our new record. We’re a heritage band. A lot bands of our ilk are. When you put a record out, the record can linger for a while and it can be promoted for a couple of years. We’re Armored Saint. We’re not releasing records that often. ‘La Raza’ was released five years before ‘Win Hands Down’ and ‘Revelation’ was released ten years before that. We move rather slowly. I try to emphasize that it’s ‘quality’ over ‘quantity.’

Armored Saint is a band that has been around over 30 years but I think that most people know the stuff from the first eight years of our career. That’s just the way that it is. I agree with what you said. I think we’ve made a ‘modern’ record that stays true to the ‘origins’ of the band. I think ‘Win Hands Down’ features some of the best writing and performances of our careers.

Sleaze Roxx: It’s been awhile since Armored Saint has played in Portland (Oregon).

John Bush: I was trying to remember when the last time we played there. It doesn’t seem that long ago but it was 2001 when we opened for Dio. It’s great to finally get back to the Northwest and play Portland and Seattle. It’s even better that we’re co-headlining with a band like Metal Church that’s from the neighborhood.

We had a legendary show in Portland which at the time it was Metallica, W.A.S.P. and Armored Saint but by the time we got to Portland; it was just Metallica and Armored Saint at that point. It was last show of the tour and I took my ‘beast master’ top and threw it out into the audience. It probably wasn’t the greatest of ideas but we were excited and we were acknowledging that it was the last night of the tour. It was at Starry Nights. Was it called that at the time?

Sleaze Roxx: Yeah, and then it became the Roseland.

John Bush: That’s right! So anyway, that was back to March of 1985. We have a lot of history in Portland. We also played in Portland on the ‘Raising Fear’ tour with Ted Nugent in 1988 if I’m not mistaken. We also played in Seattle which was interesting because all the guys in Anthrax came out to see us. They were on tour with KISS at the time. It was their off night.

We also came through Portland with Suicidal Tendencies in 1991 when we toured behind ‘Symbol of Salvation.’ And we played there at some little club which the name escapes me at the moment in 2010 on the ‘Revelation’ tour and then again like I said in 2001 with Dio. And there are places like Portland, Maine for instance; which we played there in September of 2015 with Saxon. The last time we played there was in 1984 with Quiet Riot on the ‘March Of The Saint’ tour [laughs]! Armored Saint doesn’t come around for a while but Portland, Oregon isn’t one of the places where the band has been absent.

Sleaze Roxx: You and Joey [Vera] are the primary songwriters in the band.

John Bush: We’re the catalyst, no doubt. I’ve always written lyrics and melodies and Joey has always been the orchestrator. He’s the leader of the band and he takes over from that point and runs with it. That’s kind of the case. We’re certainly not opposed to others’ ideas. This is just the way that it has worked out. We don’t have time to get together in a rehearsal space and work on songs or riffs together. We have families and it’s not conducive to our current lifestyles.

Sleaze Roxx: Joey also handles the production on the recent albums.

John Bush: If you can believe this; Joey makes some pretty elaborate demos in his home studio and he’ll record them and get me a disc of it. I will then take it and listen to it while driving around and come up with ideas. I was thinking about this earlier and I’ve been doing this as a far back as ‘Symbol Of Salvation.’ I remember that I had a job as a messenger at the time and I was listening to demos and writing down lyrics.

I do work a lot in my car. I do pull over to write things down so I’m not one of those people who are writing and driving! [laughs] I have a mini van where I drive the kids around in. The sound system is pretty good. I work a lot in there. It’s my mobile office if you will. Once I have a number of ideas, I will drive over to Joey’s after dropping the kids off and we’ll record them.

Sleaze Roxx: I like how you kept to the ‘classic formula’ in that you put the potent stuff up on the front end of the record which in turn sets up the album. “Win Hands Down,” “Mess” and “An Exercise In Debauchery” really wouldn’t be bad choices for the set list either.

John Bush: “Win Hands Down” is a song that has that ‘classic’ Armored Saint sound but at the same time is unique. “Mess” is a little different lyrically. On “Debauchery,” I try to take a poke at the obsession with porn and how people get consumed in that world. I talk about that subject in my own way. “Mess” is a little deeper. It’s a song about the state of the earth and what we do as human beings — essentially how we have made such a ‘mess’ of things. These are things that are important to me and where I’m at in life. I look at children and I look at what I’m doing to contribute to their future. It’s about challenging myself to do the ‘right thing.’ My wife is always busting my chops! She’s like “You don’t even live by your lyrics!” [laughs] I say “I try! I try! I don’t always succeed but I try!” [laughs] All because I throw away some food that was barely touched. I guess it’s better than me eating it or else I’d be fat! [laughs] These are the things that make me think and that challenge me as a songwriter. I like to write about it.

All three of the songs have played in the recent set list by the way. We’re actually going to learn another new song to put in the set for the tour with Metal Church. We know the fans want to hear the old school stuff and we want to play it. It’s funny you mentioned it because I was just sending out an email the guys in the band about the set. I like to mix up the set list up. We’ll be playing a number of shows in Southern California and there will be people that will travel to two to three shows and I personally think that they’d like to hear a couple different songs in the set. Instead of the same exact set — as great as the previous one was. I think it’s important to do that for the fans and I think it’s important for me; so I don’t bored.

Sleaze Roxx: Throughout the evolution of the band, you’ve retained your unique signature sound that sets you apart from others.

John Bush: That’s true. I think it’s hard to differentiate one band from another these days. I don’t think that it only applies to music in the metal world or pop music. I grew up listening to pop music in the ’70s. I will put it on Sirius’ ‘ 70s on 7’ and it could be song after, song after, song that I absolutely love. You want to have a sound that is pivotal but at the same time, you’ve got to develop it. You’re always learning and growing a person; so hence so should your music. It just makes sense.

Sleaze Roxx: How do you feel about the Chrysalis era albums? There’s some great music on ‘March Of The Saint,’ ‘Delirious Nomad’ and ‘Raising Fear.’

John Bush: I’m proud of them. Some moments are way better than others. I’m certainly not going to reveal that because I want people to feel however it is that they feel about those songs. I know people have a connection with their records. It’s their feelings and that’s good enough for me.

It’s weird to me when bands go back and re-record songs and albums. It’s like they’re trying to right a wrong. To me, it’s like who cares? When we made ‘March Of The Saint,’ records were made and sounded like that sounds. Could we have made a better sounding record now? Of course we could have. Why would we do that? It doesn’t matter. As an old schooler, I’d be like “I don’t like it as much, I don’t like it as much!”

Wait didn’t David Coverdale just remake “Burn” or something like that?

Sleaze Roxx: Right, he recut a bunch of Purple songs with Whitesnake and called it the ‘Purple’ album.

John Bush: Why? For starters, it isn’t Blackmore playing on it. I don’t care who is in the band. Ritchie Blackmore has his own style of playing. It’s unique. Ian Paice also has his own style of play. I don’t know. I mean even his voice sounds way different than it did then. I’m not saying it’s better or worse. It’s just different. I’d like to hear it live with Whitesnake, that’s great. To just redo a bunch of stuff; I just don’t see the point. I don’t like it. As musician… no wait as a fan — I don’t like it. That’s just me. [Def] Leppard did the same thing I think. That might have been for a different reason or something. Going back and trying to recreate what you did 25 years earlier in a different studio with a different mindset? Sometimes even different players? I just don’t see the point?

Sleaze Roxx: So when you were in Anthrax, the band went into the studio to recut a bunch of ‘classics.’ Were you in favour of ‘The Greater Of Two Evils?’

John Bush: When I recorded ‘The Greater Of Two Evils’ — ironically enough — it wasn’t too long there after that I left the band. In all honesty, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have done it. The truth of the matter — when I sang those songs live, they were my muse and I gave them all the love I could and I enjoyed performing them. In retrospect, they didn’t need to be re-recorded. I feel the same about I just said about recutting Armored Saint — just with these songs, it was Joey Belladonna singing these songs. I sang those live. I was the singer in the band. I didn’t need to recut them. I guess I’m telling people not to buy that record [laughs]!

Sleaze Roxx: When Anthrax issued the compilation ‘Attack of the Killer A’s’ — you threw in a new recording where you and Joey traded off on vocals. Were you in the studio at the same time during that?

John Bush: We did it together. It was really neat to do something together. We both thought it was a cool idea. We both embraced it and a cover just seemed easier than to write a new song. Any old school Motown song is cool. It’s some of my favorite music. I love the Temptations. It might have been my idea to record that. I can’t recall exactly. Joey was really into it. The Temptations have a couple different vocalists on that song so it made sense. If you can believe this — when Joey and I have been around each other ,we’ve always been pleasant with one another and we get along well. It wasn’t awkward to do it was pretty fun.

Sleaze Roxx: Armored Saint used Dave Jerden to produce ‘Symbol Of Salvation’ who also recorded your first album with Anthrax ‘Sound Of White Noise.’ Did you have anything to do with that or was it the label or someone else?

John Bush: It might have been Charlie [Benante] who wanted to work with Dave. He was a hot producer at the time having worked with bands like Alice in Chains and Jane’s Addiction. He’s a fun person to work with but it was coincidental. It is funny that I recorded back to back records with Dave with different bands at the same studio. Ironic wasn’t it? I have fond memories of working with Dave on both those records.