Having toured with Metallica, Whitesnake, Alice Cooper, The Scorpions, and many other artists since their inception in the early 80s, Armored Saint has always been a highly regarded live act – not only in their hometown of Los Angeles, but also around the world. The only official release to capture this, however, is 1989’s live album, Saints Will Conquer – until now.
After reforming with their original line-up in 1999 (John Bush – vocals, Joey Vera – bass, Phil Sandoval – guitar, Jeff Duncan – guitar, Gonzo Sandoval – drums), and releasing subsequent albums, La Raza (2010) and Win Hands Down (2015), to critical acclaim, Armored Saint has been delivering their heavy metal mastery around the globe, joining the likes of Saxon, Metal Church – and even Queensryche in November/December 2016 – on the road. Of all of these performances, the band recorded their 2015 Wacken festival set as well as their headlining show in Aschaffenburg, Germany, with the intention of giving fans another live release that holds up to Saints Will Conquer.
MGM spoke to lead vocalist John Bush about the live album and the success of recent studio album Win Hands Down.
JB: I’m excited about us finally coming to do some shows in the UK. Long overdue.
MGM: And as a teaser, a new album, live recording as well. That lines it all up very neatly doesn’t it?
JB: Yeah, you know, we used to love live records, but it doesn’t seem like there are that many happening any longer. I don’t know, maybe the need and the desire from the world of metal rock fans isn’t so high anymore, but nothing ever beats things like Strangers in the Night or Unleashed in the East, Live and Dangerous, Made in Japan, these are records that were so important to us growing up. We tried to make our own Made in Japan or you know, Unleashed in the East. I don’t know if we accomplished that. But it does sound like a killer recording of Armored Saint.
MGM: It does. It does and it brings you up to date as well doesn’t it? There’s material there from all eras.
JB: Yeah, though I think the only record we didn’t actually put something on was Raising Fear and that was because that had the most songs from the Saints Will Conquer record which was the last live record that we put out.
Because that was the tour that we were on. So, it’s difficult and I know that there has been some disappointment on the length of songs and I completely empathise, but it was really only a couple of shows that we had to choose from and we just had to make sure that there wasn’t too many little blunders that were going to be something that you’d have to kind of grin and bear for the rest of your life, so we wanted to make sure it sounded great and we were pleased with it.
MGM: Win Hands Down really brought you back into the public awareness, didn’t it? And you seem to have been riding a wave ever since. You’ve been getting great festival appearances, good tours as well. What is it about the last 4 or 5 years do you think that has really brought Armored Saint back into the public’s eye?
JB: Well just making a record obviously is going to do that. We have the fortunate circumstance that we are with Metal Blade Records who is an awesome record company and they stand behind us, so we’re real lucky with that. You know, we love being a rock band. We love that Armored Saint is something that people still are interested in, especially when it comes to being a band who has been around for as long as we have, to still have people excited about the music we make says a lot. I think that we still relish making high-quality heavy rock that sounds like it is modern but is still entrenched in the origins of the band. I think that’s always a tough thing to do, make music that sounds modern without compromising your style, but also not doing something that sounds like, well you know, that sounds like all they did is spend the last 6 months listening to March of the Saint and then they tried to duplicate that. We certainly don’t want to do that. So I think we did that really well. We are really proud of Win Hands Down. We think it is an awesome record and it’s set the bar real high for Armored Saint and everything from there we will have to try to beat it. And that will probably be a tall order but it certainly has enabled us to kind of resume ourselves in the public’s eye and play some shows and that’s what it’s all about.
MGM: Even the packaging worked, didn’t it? You had the limited edition with the poker deck in there and the chips as well and it just felt like you had come up with the perfect model to get out there to the fans that were looking for it.
JB: You know, I love the artwork on it [Win Hands Down]. It was fun. It kind of showed the sense of humour that really Armored Saint has always kind of had, and so it is imperative to our lives. Because sometimes our life has been one big joke. I say that with a slight tongue-in-cheek attitude. But yeah, it is about having fun. I can never underestimate the importance of actually having fun doing this, because that is kind of what it all was based on when we started, and then as life goes on, you make records and you’re in the music business then life can be humbling real fast, and basically you are knocking off your feet and you know like whoa, you’re caught off guard especially when you’re a wet-behind-the-ears 22-year-old guy, you are thinking, “We’re going to be the biggest band in the world!” and then that doesn’t happen and then you’re kind of faced with that. So you need to maintain a sense of humour and that has always been like I said, an important part of how we conduct our lives. But we had killer photography on that with a friend of ours, Stephanie Cabral who did that, my wife’s in it, Joey’s wife’s in it, and a bunch of friends of ours that are in that photo on the cover and my daughter’s in it. We had a good time doing that and the packaging was stellar by Metal Blade and for those who actually still like purchasing actual tangible products, it was a great bang for the buck.
MGM: Do you find these days that there is an element of the collector now stepping in as well as the fan to products? It’s great to see things like vinyl back on the shelves.
JB: Yeah I love vinyl and it certainly has an undercurrent of people still wanting to purchase vinyl and wanting to buy vinyl, even young music fans. You know at the end of the day I guess it really doesn’t matter how you get it. For me, that’s how I get it, but I was a, you know, I’m a product of the 60s and 70s, well, the 70s and 80s. Not 60s, I was born in the 60s. But you know that’s just the way I like to listen to music. It’s important for me. I feel more connected when I actually buy a CD or a vinyl or a piece of product that I can hold and look at.
You know, the new generation, maybe they don’t do that. They just, you know, download it directly onto their phone or whatever, and if that is what works for them, then great. As long as you are listening to it, I guess that is the most important thing. So again, for me, I like having something I can look at. Like I said, even if I take a look at the credits once, or look at the lyrical content once, which is maybe all the time I actually have these days, but I still feel like I can relate to it. If I just like download something from iTunes right onto my iPod, which is something I still have, I just don’t feel connected to it. That’s the way it works for me. But hey, however you are getting music, as long as you get it. Like I said, that is the most important thing.
MGM: If you download it straight away and it goes on to your phone that connection is lost and you also… it’s too easy to dismiss it after 1 or 2 listens maybe and then you go on to something else because there is nothing there to keep drawing you back.
JB: Well, you know, records were meant to listen front and back, top to bottom. And my method is, I go to the record store and I try to buy like 5 or 6 records at a time and then I’ll take about a month or two, or if I am lucky, maybe a little less time, and then just listen to it in my car and as I am driving, and then I’ll take it out and go onto the next one and then come back to that one. And then after about that amount of time or so, like I said, then I’ll put it on my hard drive, and like, what I am doing these days, because I realised that I have so much material of music and that sometimes I haven’t even listened to whole records, when I exercise I’ll listen to it, and I’m going through songs alphabetically. I feel like the, at least my iPod, if I go on random it’ll play the same songs, and that is annoying to me. So I am literally going through it alphabetically through songs. And I have been doing this for a while now and I am still in just the Es. That’s funny, but then I’ll probably discover something going, wow, who is this and what… I don’t even know this song and it’s in my library of music and I’m like, wow, that’s a fad song, I am glad I did this. That is my method of listening to music. I want to listen to music as a whole, and again, that is just the way I do it, but I guess if you are 17 and the way you do it is just put stuff right onto your phone, as long as you are listening, I guess that is the most important thing.
MGM: Very true. And with the sort of alphabetical run-through of everything that is on there, what have you come across that you think, you know, ‘My God, people I need to know about this!’
JB: Hah. Wow. Well, not a metal band hopefully people won’t go, “who, what?” A British band back in the day Blur, they were great. They were an amazing band and super creative. Damian Albarn is like, really, a just super intelligent guy. A song came up from the Great Escape I think was the record, I was just like, “oh man, that was a great album!” You know it just depends. I mean, I like a lot of music, you know it is important to me to listen to lots of different styles of music, hard rock being just one element of that. I think that kind of helps with writing. Armored Saint, man, when we were like 14 years old and we were in Junior High School, as much as we would listen to Kiss Alive and that was the impact band at that time, we were also listening to Earth Wind & Fire, Gratitude and The Commodores.
So I think those records had as much of an impact on us as writers and musicians as the hard rock bands that we were listening to at that time. And that’s helped shape us. So I think I still feel the same way. I think that there is a big contingency of music out there that I choose from and I think it just helps me as a listening fan and a music fan, and when it comes to writing, I think it kind of seeps in a little bit and I think it is important.
U2 are also doing this Joshua Tree thing, I don’t know if there have done any shows in the UK or if they are going to. I’m sure they will.
MGM: We’ve got them coming over, yeah.
JB: You know, it’s…sometimes we’re, ah, you know, well, to me I think it is like probably the best move U2 can make at this point doing something like that and it’s going to be a spiritual experience probably for a lot of people, including myself. So you know, there is a lot of great bands. You know, Radiohead is another band who I just adore, especially when the latter material, where sometimes people are like, ah, it’s a little too experimental. I love it. And I am going to go see them in a couple of months. So you know, again, my favourite bands, most of them were British, and I am not brown-nosing but it’s a truth. Whether it was Sabbath or Radiohead or Blur, Maiden, or Motorhead, and you know, UFO. UFO is still one of the greatest rock bands. It is probably underrated to this day. You know, but it is fun to still listen to music and be affected by music, and God, still some music can bring me to tears. I am glad that I can still feel that way.
MGM: You mentioned Sabbath there as well. Of course, within the last week we have seen them do their last show on what they call The End Tour, although ambiguously, Tony Iommi has now said, “well I’m not ruling out new material, one-off shows, maybe festivals and whatever”. So you do wonder but…
JB: Oh really? I mean, come on! Because I went to see them at the Hollywood Bowl. I took my son, he is 9, and it was awesome. Me and my wife and him went. Well, I mean, don’t do that then. Don’t say it’s the end if you’re not going to mean it, I mean, God, I don’t like that. But, they were amazing. It was a killer show, the drummer was spectacular, and Geezer and Tony are just – forget about it. I don’t think I have to say anything. And Ozzy was great and you know, who knows, but I don’t want them to do it all over again. I don’t know.
MGM: You get too many bands that seem to call it a day and then don’t for whatever reason and then make such a big splash about it. I really hope Sabbath do call this the end because they’ve done such a good job with 13 and these last couple of big tours and it seems a fitting way to go out, doesn’t it?
JB: Well, it does, I mean, God. Sabbath is, I just said recently that they are the top of the family tree, as far as heavy metal goes, Tony and Ozzy and Geezer and Black Sabbath, it all started with them. And it’s funny. I know it’s hard to walk away probably. Because I know how I feel and I don’t have anywhere near the success that these bands have had, like AC/DC, but I’ve got to say sometimes as a music fan, I wish they would be done. Because then the mystery, then it’s… because you don’t want to wait too long before you go out. And again I know that is probably difficult, because especially when we are playing in some stadium, it is like more than just the money, and that’s probably a big motivation as well, let’s face it, but just having 40000 people going nuts, is I’m sure you know a surge of energy for you. But you know AC/DC is one of those bands, like, you know, are they going to make a record with Axl? I don’t know, I’d be okay if it was over.
I mean you know there is no Malcolm there is no Phil, my God, you know. But I am a music fan, so when I say these things, I am saying it from just a fan’s perspective. I’m not judging anybody because I know what it’s like to want to play, and whatever…I get it. I get it. To say, “Oh, I’m never doing that again!” I know that’s what Brian May and Roger Taylor felt. You know, trust me, when Adam Lambert… I mean, that was a sacrilege to me. I saw Queen on the Day at the Races tour, you know, and News of the World and one of my favourite bands of all time, so I had a… c’mon man, you know, there’s no replacing Freddie, but I get them going. Well, but can I ever play Bright Rock again, and I get it. So I know that is probably a difficult thing to navigate. I understand. But sometimes as a music fan, my feeling is “leave it well enough alone” but I understand it. It’s still calling to them. I get it.
MGM: Have you seen then perform with Lambert?
JB: I haven’t. No, I didn’t. I didn’t even see them with Paul Rodgers, and I love Paul Rodgers, I mean, this is amazing. But I was going “Grrrr” you know, like everyone else, you know. So when people like, do the Joey Belladonna versus John Bush, I get it, I really do, but like, you know, I always just say “Well, you could like both! You could like both, it’s not like you have to pick or choose.” But you know, I get it. As a music fan, me and my buddies were always talking about that kind of stuff and like, “Oh, don’t do it! “Play” or “Get back together!” “Don’t do it!” You know, I understand.
MGM: With you both out on the road these days, I mean, do you ever find the opportunity for you and Joey to perform with Anthrax? Do you ever hit the same cities where you get to guest with them or…?
JB: That’s never happened. I know that Anthrax is doing a tour pretty soon actually in the UK, I think right?
MGM: Yeah, they are playing the UK as we speak, I believe.
JB: That’s never coincidentally happened that we were playing in the same cities. Well, that’s not true actually. I think we both were on a festival not that long ago, and I cannot recall which one it was. But you know, I have made the comment that I think that band is happy where they are at, and you know I respect Joey Belladonna with the utmost and I don’t think that like… He is in a place where he probably feels comfortable, and I actually wouldn’t want to come and disrupt that. It’s not my objective at all. I made one comment recently in the press about would I entertain doing some of the songs I have done, because you know I love those songs and I am proud of those songs, and putting something together, and I said yeah, I guess I would entertain that. And the next thing I know of course it’s immediately out of line, but I haven’t made any inroads to do that. But you know I do, I love those songs and I am proud of them and at some point I guess, before I am 70 years old, I guess I should probably do something, but in what capacity I don’t know, and like I said, I have not put anything into motion to do that, and with whom I don’t know. But you know, I think Anthrax is rolling along and Armored Saint is rolling along. It would be cool actually to do a show with Anthrax and Armored Saint because we never did even back in you know the 80s. We never played together. That could be kind of fun.
MGM: So what’s next for you there? Because whilst it is only a couple of years since Win Hands Down came out, presumably the thought is there for a follow-up.
JB: Well, there is. We haven’t really discussed it in any great detail and that is probably a good thing because sometimes, I have said lately that when Armored Saint thinks too much that’s usually when we fall on our face. I think that we are super proud of that record and we really challenged ourselves and we maybe even outdid what we thought we were going to be able to do, and so to follow it up might seem a little daunting at this point, in all honesty. But I think if we have the right mental state and kind of go and do it maybe as using that as a catalyst, I think it would work easily and well. But how to do that, I don’t know, and when to do that, I don’t know. I’m not going to lie, sometimes live records kind of buy you a little time.
MGM: That’s very true, yes.
JB: It does not say that, you know, that Carpe Noctem isn’t great, because it actually is. It sounds awesome and the production is excellent, but it does a little bit buy you a little time. So, we’ll see. We haven’t done anything yet. Joey’s actually on tour in Europe right now with Fates Warning, so you know I guess we could have a conversation about it and I have made the joke that, you know, I look in the mirror and I know that I ain’t 28 anymore, so you know, it’s not like I have all this time in the world and the rest of us do, so you kind of want to move on it to some degree with a little urgency, but to me though again it’s all about making killer music and making sure that we’re writing a great record, and even if that takes a couple of years, that would be more important to me than saying let’s work on this momentum that we have, and make a record, and then rush it, and then go, “Man, that wasn’t so good!” I don’t think we want to do that. I think it’s more about making a killer album with awesome material that we really believe in, and that’s the most important thing.
MGM: You’ve got the tour coming up. So, what can we expect with that?
JB: Yeah, and that’s one of the things, I mean, look, let’s face it. I don’t even think a band like Armored Saint, and there is probably a lot of bands of our ilk, and our peer group are the same. You don’t necessarily have to put out a new record because a lot of people want to hear older material anyway, let’s face it, and you have a lot to choose from. That being said, I also like to try to change the setup a bit. I am one of those people who think it is super important to play different material almost on a nightly basis. We did that when we just did this tour with Queensrÿche here in the States where we changed the set almost every single night and I thought that is awesome and challenging. Not everybody sometimes is on board in the band, and you know, like, “Oh really, we’re changing? It was great last night!” I am like, “Yes, so let’s change it!” And they’re like “Why?” but I don’t know, I kind of feel like we are not a Broadway play where that is just the same every night. We are not a band that is touring with giant lighting and sound where everybody has their job and knows their job. We’re playing clubs, let’s face it, so there is no reason why we can’t mix up and have somebody, especially if they went to see the night before go, “Oh wow, you played two or three different songs!” And we are not going to change the whole setup, of course not, because that would be just too difficult. But I do think it is important to mix it up. I really want to do that. I think we have a lot of songs and to play the same 10 songs every night or whatever is just lame. I don’t want to do that. That being said, you got to like be well prepared and rehearsed, including myself, and so I don’t think we need to rehearse Can you Deliver anymore, quite honestly, but we might have to kind of figure out some other songs and remember how they go and hopefully we will do this on this impending UK and Ireland run where we mix it up, so you never know what we’re going to do.
MGM: That’d be good because again it gives the fans, for those fans that are going to come and see more than one show, not knowing what to expect from show to show is a big bonus, isn’t it? Some of the big arena shows that we hear about, you mentioned AC/DC, it’s going to be broadly the same set every time because of what they have to put on the video screens. If you can mix it up, you know…
JB: Well, I understand that. and even Queensrÿche just did that here in the States when we played with them and get it, I understand because a lot of the show is all based around the set, but we don’t have that so we can change the set and it is fun to play some different songs. It’ s even fun to take some songs out of the set that you played a lot and then when you bring them back they feel fresh again so… I did an interview with somebody recently and they go, “Well, I wouldn’t mind if you didn’t play Can You Deliver.” And I was like, “Really? Really? Ok, great, cool! I was laughing about it. But you know I think it’s important to just try to divvy it up a little bit and try some different material. I think it’s imperative.
MGM: Of course, when you do strip it out you find out that that one fan’s opinion is one in 700!
JB: Well, look, everybody is entitled there. You know, fans, they should be able to say how they feel and what they think. I mean, they are the ones in the end who are buying the records and buying the merchandise so I certainly don’t disregard what they say, and you know, we try to please them and in a way I think it is important to dig deep into your catalog and play some deep cuts and at the same time play songs that they are expecting to some degree and so it’s difficult. It is a challenge to do that and we try to figure it out.
MGM: I’ll make sure I come to a couple of gigs just to make sure you hold up to your word there and mix it up a little bit!
JB: So I better. Hahaha! What we did, I mean, we played with Queensrÿche here in the States and we were the support act, so we were averaging probably 9 to 10 songs a night. We ended up playing 21 different songs, and don’t forget like March, Can You, Reign of Fire, Win Hands Down, these are songs that we played every night. So I was like, wow man, we really did mix it up, and I thought that was impressive considering we were the support act.
We’re really excited about playing in the UK. We’re excited about playing in Manchester and Birmingham. We haven’t played in these places in a long time and a lot of our fans in England and Britain and we’re playing in Wales, which is also exciting. I’ve never been there, and people are like, “You going to do London again?!” so I mean it’s cool that we get to go to some other cities and I have always had awesome shows there with Anthrax so I am really excited for the Saint guys to be able to play these places.
MGM: Well, I’m not going to complain if you do play London because that’s where I’m based.
JB: I love London. I mean, I love London because every time I get to come to London we end up staying a couple of days, me, my wife and stuff, so believe me I love London, but it is nice to know that we’re playing some other places differently than London because there has been some disgruntled comments in the past that oh, you’re just playing London again, so…
Thankfully the tour covers way more than London. Details of the live release and the tour dates are below:
‘Carpe Noctum’ tracklisting:
1. Win Hands Down (Live)
2. March Of The Saint (Live)
3. Stricken By Fate (Live)
4. Last Train Home (Live)
5. Mess (Live)
6. Aftermath (Live)
7. Left Hook from Right Field (Live)
8. Reign Of Fire (Live)
Armored Saint tour dates:
March 20th: Voodoo – Dublin, Ireland
March 21st: The Limelight – Belfast, Ireland
March 23rd: HammerFest – Gwynedd, N. Wales
March 24th: The Rebellion – Manchester
March 25th: O2 Academy 3 – Birmingham
May 18th: Route 20 Outhouse – Sturtevent, WI
May 19th: Q and Z Expo Center – Ringle, WI
May 20th: Reggie’s Rock Club – Chicago, IL
Carpe Noctum (Live)
Is released on Metal Blade Records on 24 February 2017