INTERVIEW WITH ARMORED SAINT FRONTMAN JOHN BUSH
Date: October 6, 2020
Interviewer: Ruben Mosqueda
Photos: Joe Schaeffer Photography (first, second and sixth photos)
When Sleaze Roxx last caught up with John Bush, he was set to embark on a co-headlining tour with Metal Church. Armored Saint were promoting their, then new  album ‘Win Hands Down.’ The band recorded some live shows that resulted in the now rare ‘Carpe Noctum’ live album which was released in 2017. The live recording features a mere eight tracks, a morsel at best for the rabid followers of ‘The Saint.’ Fast Forward to October 6th, 2020, we’re once again on the phone with John Bush. This time, the singer is plugging a couple of things — the new Armored Saint studio album ‘Punching The Sky’ due on October 23rd, 2020 via Metal Blade Records and the band’s streaming album release performance on October 10th, 2020. By the time this goes online, that particular event will have passed, but never fear, the live performance will be available for you to stream through November 9th, 2020 on Veeps.com. We talk about the new album, some more ‘old-school’ Armored Saint stuff and some Anthrax. Enjoy the interview.
Sleaze Roxx: Oh man, so glad that we connected. I was hoping to catch you last time around but I had to get to work so I couldn’t do it later. I work in community mental health on the addictions side of things….
John Bush: So how is working in that field? I’d say that is more pressing than doing an interview for a record.
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah, I work with addicts of all kinds — alcohol, opioids, stimulants and gamblers. This is my 25th year doing it if you can believe that.
John Bush: Oh wow man! That’s great! So you’re not out there ‘protesting’ every night for the last 100 days [in Portland, Oregon, USA]?
Sleaze Roxx: No. I think that kind of stuff makes it weird for a middle of the road type person.
John Bush: I’m with you there.
Sleaze Roxx: Of course, I’m against police brutality, the violation of people’s rights and absolutely against racism. It’s just common sense.
John Bush: That’s what “Missile To Gun” is about on the new album. It’s about, if you can picture this — we’re in a pub, we’re having a disagreement over the teams we like, then it gets heated, then someone throws a punch then a fight breaks out. Then they think it through and talk things over a beer and we put our differences aside and watch the game. It’s a metaphor for what’s happening right now. As much as people think that we’re so different, we’re really not all that different. We want to be better and we can be better. We can work things out. We really can. One hundred days is a lot of protesting man. If I lived there I’d be like, “I’m done with this.”
Sleaze Roxx: A quick thing on that, those ‘protests’ are really directed to 5 to 10% of the population. You’re not going to reach them. They are who and what they are. They must elect to change. I think if we sat down with the people who are out there night after night, we’d agree that of course we’re both against police brutality and racism. I’m not an idiot. I think unfortunately, there’s a segment within the protesters that is out to damage property, destroy people’s livelihood and instigate the police. That ruins the message and in the process, fuels the stereotypes of what the movement isn’t.
John Bush: Yeah man, you know it funny, Trump says stuff about Antifa. You know how many people are supportive of that? He makes it sound like there’s millions of people that believe in that ideology. It’s not very many man. They cause a ruckus but that is their objective, right? I think if I’m Al-Qaeda, I’m stoked! No one is talking about Al-Qeada — not the right wing or the left wing. They’re chomping at the bit about all of this because they are all but forgotten. I know that’s really bad, because I don’t want that to happen but if I’m them I’m thinking, “We’re not in the news? That’s great!”
Sleaze Roxx: That’s crossed my mind a number of times too. I know I’ve had conversations with my wife about what is happening and she is like, “You know Russia is just salivating about what’s happening between the Republicans and Democrats in the United States.” I’m like, “I don’t think it’s Russia we need to be worrying about. It’s the extremist Middle East terrorist groups.”
John Bush: Exactly. That’s what’s scary about this.
Sleaze Roxx: I caught Armored Saint when you guys played in Portland on the co-headlining tour with Metal Church. What a bill!
John Bush: That was a great double bill. It was awesome doing that tour with them. We actually did another run with them across Europe. That was last summer. We did some festival appearances and then we did a club tour. It was so much fun. I distinctly remember the Portland show but especially the Seattle show because that’s their neck of the woods. It had been ages since we played Seattle. We had played Portland more recently. It’s not like we didn’t want to play there, but for whatever reason it had been neglected. We made it up to Seattle though because we wound up coming back after the co-headlining tour, because we came back and played with Queensrÿche within a six month period. I was talking to my agent earlier in the week and I was saying how cool it would be to do another West Coast run starting out in Vancouver [B.C.], which is another great place that we haven’t played in years. I’d like to go to 10-11 shows and go down the West Coast to the Southwest. That would be cool. That’s what we’d like to do, but we have to see how things play out with Covid. We have a new record and want to play some shows to promote the album.
Sleaze Roxx: It’s been four years since ‘Win Hands Down.’ That album got rave reviews. Having raised the bar, going into ‘Punching The Sky’, did it take more time refining the songs?
John Bush: I think one factor in taking longer between albums was that we did quite a bit of touring behind that album, which was just great for us. We also went out and did the ‘Symbol Of Salvation’ album in its entirety, then we got into writing mode, but as you know we don’t write that fast. I like quality over quantity, I just always like the albums to be great. I agree that ‘Win Hands Down’ was an amazing album and that was the stepping stone for this record. I think we’re in a great groove and great place the way we’re writing and creating. We’re progressing as writers, singers and musicians. We’re getting better and better. In a perfect world, I’d like to get albums done quicker, but at the same time I’m getting older. I’m 57 years old. I’m really honest with myself. I wonder how much longer I can do this? Can I do this for three, four or five more years? I don’t know.
We did do some shows with Saxon and UFO and those guys have a few years on me and they’re still doing it at a high level, so I really don’t know. They’re an inspiration to me. It’s funny because with every record, there’s this sense of urgency, because it could be the last record. I think that’s a really good thing because it pushes you to put everything you can into it. Like I said, I wish we worked a lot faster but this is our pace. It’s not like we’re sitting around or anything. My wife has a business and I help her out with that. We have kids. I love being around for them. Joey [Vera] and I are pretty much stay at home dads when we’re not doing this and we love being there to raise our kids. He does production work and is also in Fates Warning. My kids are teenagers so they’ve become more independent. They don’t need me as much as they did, but I’m still there for them. The record is everything, then putting on a killer show. I’m proud of this album.
Sleaze Roxx: So when working on a song for an album, if you’re not feeling it, do you finish it or do you shelve it?
John Bush: We put it aside. We had a song idea going into this album that we tried. We later revisited it but we weren’t feeling it. It was a good idea but ultimately, we left it alone. Sometimes, it takes a few tries to get the groove. It might take a couple of songs to get our groove. The first song we wrote for this album is “Bark No Bite.” It’s a ‘fun’ song if you can imagine that with Armored Saint. It’s humorous and good natured. It’s us poking fun at political figures in the establishment. Not just one, but both! That’s a song that took a couple of different arrangements and we took a couple shots at that. It took us a couple tries at it to get the groove and once we got that groove we were rolling.
Armored Saint‘s “End of The Attention Span” video (from upcoming Punching The Sky album):
Sleaze Roxx: You have a streaming event happening on Saturday October 10th. It’s a virtual album release party. Who suggested you do that?
John Bush: It was our agent who suggested that we do something like this and play a show. Then it was suggested that we play the Whisky [A Go-Go] which is a legendary club. Places like that are hurting. They’ve been doing some streaming performances from there. We want to support them, while at the same time promoting ‘Punching The Sky.’ That place has been part of our history. We’ve played there many, many times. If we can help them, we’ll do it. We get to do some new songs for the first time. That will be great. It will be weird and unusual to do an entire show without an audience. We’ll be performing in front of a bunch of cameras, pretty much. Ideally, we’d love to hit the road or at the very least, do a release party in front of an audience. We’re fired up about the new songs that we have been rehearsing for the set. It’s going to be fun, but a little weird.
Sleaze Roxx: You have more than enough material to do a solid 90 minutes of hits and fan favorites. How many new songs do you have planned to inject into the set?
John Bush: We’re doing four new songs for this show. If we were hitting the road either as a support act or headlining, we want to do some of the new songs, especially if you’re pumped up about it. You’re right. We go back to the early ’80s, so we have quite a bit of material. We have to balance it out. We try to throw in some deep tracks. If we’re supporting someone, I’d like to do three new songs and seven classics. If we’re headlining, well then we could do a lot more. We’re doing some deep tracks on this live stream that we’re doing Saturday. I don’t like playing the same obvious tracks every time. I don’t want to do all the songs of ‘March of The Saint.’ You know the ones. It’s a great record but I want to keep it fresh. I want the “Oh, I love this song! I can’t believe they played it,” reaction from the fans.
Sleaze Roxx: Bands gage how new material goes over by audience reaction. How weird is it going to be to do a new tune and not gage the reaction like you have been able to in the past?
John Bush: Well, you try to get a cool set, then we rehearse it. I think we get a pretty good idea if it fits the flow. There’s peaks and valleys. We put together a set much like a record sequence would flow. You try it out and you can see and hear the reaction from the audience. This will be a challenge, but I’m pretty confident that we have a great [live stream show] in store for you guys. I mean we’ll do some new songs with some old songs and our Top 40 songs [laughs]!
Sleaze Roxx: How close are you guys to recording another live album? Maybe you have because you did an extensive tour after the cycle for ‘Win Hands Down.’
John Bush: When we went out and did the ‘Symbol of Salvation’ tour, we played the album in its entirety and we recorded all the shows in Europe and in America. We have the audio for all of those shows. We also filmed some of those shows too. I think that’s next. We’d like to have a ‘proper’ live DVD. It was a long show in that we did do the album, but we also did some of the fan favorites afterward. It was a total of like 20 songs. It was the longest set that we’ve ever played on that tour. I’d love to have that out in 2021.
Sleaze Roxx: What’s your recollection of the recording of ‘Saints Will Conquer?’ How much ‘sweetening’ was done to the recordings on that EP?
John Bush: I think we did a couple ‘touch-ups’ on that [laughs]! I’d be lying if I said we didn’t. It wasn’t much though because the performances weren’t ‘stellar’ by any means. They were raw and imperfect. I welcome that today. We’re not perfect people. I think it adds character to the recordings. I think it’s cool.
Sleaze Roxx: Would ever consider re-cutting some of the classic Armored Saint material?
John Bush: You know, I don’t want to do that. We did “March of The Saint” on ‘Nod To The Old School’ which was cool. As far as going back to redo those records, I don’t have the desire to do that at all. Those records sound the way that they sound and that’s the way it is for better or worse. I don’t mind recording live renditions of the songs, but re-recording classic studio songs? I’m pretty much against that actually.
Armored Saint‘s “Can U Deliver” video (from March of The Saint album):
Sleaze Roxx: In 1999, you cut a song with Joey Belladonna for ‘Return of The Killer A’s’ an Anthrax ‘Hits’ package. You two traded off on “Ball Of Confusion.” Were you two in the studio together? Was the song pieced together from two separate performances of the song? Who suggested that song?
John Bush: We were in the studio together when we recorded that. I don’t remember whose idea it was exactly. I don’t want to take full credit, because I don’t actually remember, but I am a huge Temptations fan. I especially like the ’70s era Temptations because they got a little political. They were more adventurous lyrically. “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” and “Ball of Confusion” are some of my favorite songs and they have great lyrics. There’s great social commentary there. In fact I think “Ball of Confusion” fit what’s going on now. Again, I don’t want to take complete credit for that song, but I certainly supported it. I like how we traded off on that, the Temptations had four guys singing on that. It was cool for Joey and I to get to do that together. It didn’t have the ‘impact’ that I felt it should have had, but whatever. It was such a cool time and fun song to do together. Joey Belladonna and I are cool. We did some signing together, when we did the Mega Cruise last year, Anthrax was on there and we got a chance to hangout. I think some people want there to be this rivalry but there really isn’t. His wife and my wife have become friends and they keep in touch and text each other back and forth. I love Joey, he’s a great singer, he’s been the voice of Anthrax for many years and justifiably so.
Sleaze Roxx: Would you ever consider recording a solo record? If so, would that be eclectic or would you stick to hard rock and metal?
John Bush: I have ‘toyed’ with the idea, but I just haven’t had the balls to do it yet. I don’t think I’d want to call it ‘John Bush’! I’d like to work with different people. That sounds like fun to me. I’d like to do different types of songs –like you said — doing an eclectic record. I need to put that into motion, but I don’t know how I would do that. Someday before it’s all said and done, I have to do it.
Sleaze Roxx: Who’s your favorite replacement singer and why?
John Bush: I think of [Ronnie James] Dio. He did a couple of times. He fronted Rainbow after [Ritchie] Blackmore left Deep Purple and he did that in Black Sabbath. He was an amazing singer and did it incredibly well. I also have to mention Brian Johnson. Some of the latter albums I wasn’t as big of a fan but ‘Back In Black’ is such a phenomenal album. I don’t want to forget ‘For Those About To Rock.’ That’s got some great moments on it. I don’t love the Van Halen Sammy Hagar years, but I love Sammy Hagar. I love his Montrose records and there’s some really cool stuff on his solo records. It was funny. Van Halen got Sammy in the band and then they got a bit ‘sappy.’ I didn’t quite understand why they didn’t make a record that was more along the lines of those Montrose records. There were all these keyboards and I never thought Sammy was utilized in a hard rock way, if that makes sense? I love Sammy. He’s still amazing.
Sleaze Roxx: Having stepped into the role as frontman of an established band, did you ever get any advice from another singer that stepped into that role too?
John Bush: That’s a really good question. You know, I don’t really remember to tell you the truth. I didn’t get any ‘mentoring’ if you will, but I think I really could have used it. I would have loved to have had a conversation with a guy like Ronnie James Dio. Can you imagine? That would have been great. My mindset was to take those classic songs and sing them to the best of my abilities in the way that they were recorded. My voice is different of course, but treating them in the way that they were meant to be heard, while at the same time doing them my way. When it came to writing new songs in Anthrax, that was easy, because it was me doing my thing. When you hire a different kind of singer, it will change the sound of the band slightly. You can just do the best you can do. I’m proud of those records and my time in Anthrax.
Sleaze Roxx: It would have probably freaked you out if Anthrax would have wanted to incorporate keyboards.
John Bush: [Bursts into laughter] There were some keyboards. There are some keyboards on “Black Lodge.”
Sleaze Roxx: That’s right, the orchestration on that.
John Bush: That’s right!
Sleaze Roxx: I remember years ago reading an interview where you made mention that it wasn’t a good time to have the last name Bush. I guess it’s not a bad thing now, huh?
John Bush: That’s funny [laughs]! When I was in Anthrax, 911 happened, my last name was BUSH. When we were traveling to Europe, I was like I can’t people take my passport and see that! I was afraid people would freak out on me! It was a weird time, then on top of it, there was the whole thing with the Anthrax scare and people thought that the band were changing their name. I’m proud of my name. I’m Italian. People don’t know that the name was shortened when my father came over from Sicily. I think he was illiterate. His last name was Bushi Cia and all he could write was B-U-S. My family actually originated from Albania, they made their way to Sicily and they made their way to America. So all he could write is B-U-S so it became Bush. That’s more of an American name. It is really cool to see that on the back of one of my kids’ jerseys. It reminds me of Reggie Bush. My wife isn’t too stoked on having her name being Bush though [laughs]! She would prefer to drop it. I’m not offended at all [laughs]!
Armored Saint‘s “Standing On The Shoulder of Giants” video (from upcoming Punching The Sky album):