The March Goes On... Joey Vera Speaks Out.
Armored Saint are one of the pioneers of U.S. Metal that have stood the test of time. Having formed back in 82 by brothers Phil & Gonzo Sandoval along with John Bush and Joey Vera, David Prichard. These high school kids soon found a matural passion for music that started as a cover band but soon realized they had a common goal to make their own music.
After appearing on the 'Metal Massacre' release in 83 they soon released their 1st EP for Metal Blade which was self titled. It soon became clear that major label 'Chrysalis Records' would sig the band and their debut album 'March of the Saint' was soon released in 84. With the video for the song 'Can u Deliver' soon became a MTV hit. The band soon released 'Delirious Nomad' in 85 and 'Rising Fear' in 87.
The band in 91 released 'Symbol of Salvation' the band 1st album for now label Metal Blade, a great album which featured new guitarist back then Jeff Duncan, who sadly replaced Dave Prichard who passed away with leukemia.
The band in total have recorded 8 previous albums and 2 live releases. Now the band are back with this stunning new album 'Punching The Sky', which for me is their finest album today. I mean the songs are really well arranged, powerful and some catchy riffs and awesome vocals by John Bush makes this one incredible album. Not to forget the awesome production which really does pack a punch, never mind the sky.
I managed to finally chat with Joey Vera to talk about the band previous history as well as the new album. So read on and enjoy that Joey had to say. In the meantime go grab a copy of this great album you won't be disappointed.
Thanks for doing the interview Joey, we finally get to do the interview. I'd like to start by asking how you guys all got together back in the day, was it through high school?
"Well we grew up in the same area and we went to the same alimentary school and I had know John and Gonzo since 3rd grade and when we we're like 8 yrs old, and it wasn't until we went the middle school like 7th grade that we created a circle of friends with several other kids in the neighborhood that we formed a friendship and started listening too music.
We had incarnations of playing together in high and middle school and the band didn't get together until after high school."
Can you remember the very 1st record you bought as a kid? Also can you remember you're very 1st concert?
"Well I had records from my parents but with my own money I bought a 7" single which was by 'Brother Johnson' and the other one was an album by Black Sabbath 'We sold our souls for Rock & Roll'. My 1st concert was Queen on the 'Day of the Races' tour with Thin Lizzy supporting on their 'Johnny the Fox' tour. It was in 76 and I was about 15yrs old, it was an impressive show for a 1st show. (Ed: my 1st show was Blackfoot with Samson in 82, I was 11 half years old)."
As you got involved been a musician, was there anybody in you're household who plays any instruments? Also was bass guitar you're 1st love?
"Well not in my immediate family, but my grandfathers on both sides, my dad's side was a guitarist and singer and he was in a local performing band here, and my grandfather on my mums side was a great piano player and singer. so when the family went over he would get it out and start to play it. I was pretty impressed by that as a kid.
I 1st started to play the guitar 1st in about 76 and it was an acoustic guitar 1st and then I witched over to electric guitar. I learnt to play 'Smoke on the Water' 1st and I still play guitar to this day. I then switched to bass early on about 78 so I only played the guitar for about 2 yrs. I changed by default as I was in a band with John and several other friends back then and I was playing guitar and John was singing but we felt that group and we we're going to start another group with Phil and Gonzo and as Phil was the guitarist we didn't have a bass player and as Phil was a better guitarist then me and John actually had a bass guitar that his mum had bought him a year before and at 1st he wanted to be a bassist/ singer to start with.
He quickly said he did not want to do both so he put the bass guitar under his bed and continued to sing. So when we put this band together he pulled it out and I started to play it. It just seemed more natural to me so I continued to play it."
So who came up with the band's name 'Armored Saint'? Did you have any other names?
"Well Gonzo came up with it, we went to see the film 'Excalibur' one night and we thought the film was great. When the name 1st came up we thought it was stupid (laughing) but the more we thought about it the more it meant sense. "
Moving on just how many demos did the band record prior to having the one song on the Metal Massacre release?
"Believe it or not we actually did no demos, we just did the song for the Metal Massacre II 'Lesson well Learned'. We started to play the clubs and Brian from Metal Blade had seen us at the 'Troopadore' and said we we're great and that he would love to put us on the Metal Massacre Vol.2 release. He told us he had a spot on the record and he had no money to pay for the recording for the song. So he said if you can get a song together I will put you in touch with Bill Metoyer who will produce the song for you. So we got a load of money together and made a 5 song demo."
What sort of reaction did you get from that song on the Metal Massacre release?
"We got a lot of publicity from all around the world for the song and we got some great reviews from fanzines and even Kerrang and a lot of press from that release. After that release we released 3 of the songs from the demo as an E.P. with Metal Blade and it was like after 6 months of it's release that Polygram were tasking us out for dinner and right around that time Chrysalis Records were showing interest in the band.
This was in late 83 and the label wanted to spend a lot of money on us and Metal Blade were just starting out so they didn't have a lot of money to invest in us. The major label did so we went with them and yes we were young and not every wise. We had to go with a major label to see how the business worked and we learnt a lot very quickly. It ended up been a shock in the 1st year. There were some bad moved made by the record company and our manager at that time for the 1st record and on our behalf too."
What good memories do you have from the making of 'March of the Saint' album? What songs from tat album do you like?
"Well we were fresh out of the water aged 20 drinking beer and racking up a big bill that we ended up paying back. We lived and learnt, it was not an advance. The songs I like are the title track, also 'Can u Deliver' and 'Mad House' as there the ones that have stayed with us when we play live. I love the song 'Glory Hunter' as it was just one of those songs that and it came out in 84 when it came out and it was pretty new over there with Heavy Metal music. We got a lot of attention for that record and it sold well."
Moving on now Joey how do you see the 2nd album 'Delirious Nomad' as a progressive form the debut album?
"Well it was a big progressive because we had culture shock with the1st album we came out with a bitter taste in our mouths. So we had major labels and managers sticking their hands in the pot sort of speak it made us wake up a little more. We felt threaten by that so we decided to go completely dark on that next album. It was great to work with Max Norman and I liked the way it was a dark album and it set up up for where we would go later on in life."
You made you're last album with a major label 'Rising Fear' before signing to Metal Blade for the album 'Symbol of Salvation' how did that deal come about? Was it good to be working with Metal Blade?
"Well we we're happy to be off a major label, but we did start to wonder if we would ever get another deal. It became a long road to get another deal at 1st and it was like a rising form the ashes. It was also a 3 year struggle with loosing David Prichard in the making of the 'Symbol of Salvation' album . I think this album has a soft spot for us all too as it was an emotional roller coaster for us all."
I know you are a very motivated guy been in so many bands or projects like Fates Warning, Engine what other bands or projects have you been involved with?
"Well I got to work with a lot of great musicians and do some great recordings for the likes of ISO that Jim from Fates Warning other project ad I also did Kevin Moores band 'Chroma Key', 'Seven Witches' and Arch/ Matheos band. I did a lot of stuff and I also played on some Lizzy Borden albums, Tribe after Tribe, Motor Sister too. "
So let's talk about the new Armored Saint album 'Punching the Sky' what a great album it is. I have to admire you for a great production you and Bill Metoyer has done. So how do you see this album's production compared to the previous albums?
"Well it's just different, and I have said this before, we have never made the same album twice and and this includes the song writing and production. I think if I had to compare it to any previous albums I would have to say it comes close to 'La Raza' and 'Win hands Down'. This new album has a different vibe to it slightly different approach. My goal on the new album was to make sound epic and huge and big sounding. "
Looking at the recording process you seem to of done the album in a couple of studios, was that difficult to do? I know musicians tend to us either Pro-Tools or Cubase these days.
"The drums were recorded in December of 2019 with Josh Newall who had worked with Linkin Park and some Metal Blade bands as well. We took a Xmas we took some time off and then started to record with Bill Metoyer and we had started to record with Bill on many records with us. I recorded the bass and vocals at my house with John and the album was mixed by Jay Ruston who had worked with Amon Amarth, in the middle of march just after lockdown for the Crono virus.
We have a great circle of people who work with us on our albums and we all understand each other and are great friends. Like I said we started recording the album just before Xmas and finished tracking in March of this year."
Did you have any guest musicians on this record?
"Yes we have a few to be honest, the opening track has some ulyin pipes which are Irish pipes, they sound a little more sadder and somber than the Scottish pipes. There is a guy who is Irish who lives in L.A. that plays these bagpipes and he has a great track record and so he asked him to play on the record, his name is Patrick D'Arcy. Then we had the keyboardist for Guns & Roses Dizzy Deed and he plays in a band with our guitarist Jeff Duncan in a side project called 'Hooks & Blow'.
So when Dizzy heard about our new album he called Jeff and asked if he could play on the new album and it turned out I had 2 songs that I was going to play keyboards on. So we got Dizzy to record the parts for the songs he plays on the songs 'Lone Wolf' and 'Flying in the Oinment' and he did an awesome job.
We also have a song called 'Do wrong to None' which had this snare drum at the start, sort of a march snare drums and has it turned out one of our friends has a son who is in a marching band at school and plays the snare drum. So we asked his father is Jacob would like to come along and play the snare drum on the song, which he gladly did and he did a great job."
Moving on so why the title 'Punching the Sky', did you have any other titles for this record?
"We we're looking for a title for the record and we didn't want to call it a song title that was for sure. So in reading the lyrics I came across a line that kept going through my head and and it's a line from the song 'Standing on the shoulders of Giants', and I thought it was colourful title and it also has different meanings. With the cover artwork done it was starting to make sense to have this title.
I do have my own take on the title what it means to me and that is what our intensions have been since day one and to keep on growing and as musicians, better song writers and in life in general and pushing boundaries. So punching the sky is going beyond the stars and the skies is not the limit. It's like what we have been doing this whole time and that to keep on raising."
Briefly Joey what are the songs about on this album?
"Well you have the song 'Standing on the shoulders of Giants', this is about what I have just told you and then you have the song 'End of the attention Span', is about the way society that succumbs to information that we want now. We can't wait forever whether it been it's a computer, a cell phone we don't want to wait for ever for the information. John always writes lyrics to leave the door open for the listener too think about it.
Next up is 'Bubble', it's about rank, more socially than politically and a lot of it has to do with wealth. It was written 2 yrs ago and we had no idea that Covid was coming, so we didn't know we would be like the way we are today. Next is 'My Jurisdiction', a lot of the songs were written about what we have been going through both socially and politically here in America in the past 4 yrs. Here is the U.S. there had been a big shake up. Next is 'Lone Wolf', that's a tough one to answer, you would have to ask John about that one.
Next is 'Do wrong to None', the lyrics pretty much says it all. Love all but only trust a few and in a nut shell most of these song are about peace and relaxing and coming together. Next up is 'Missile to Gun', this is a peace song about putting down our arms and have a truce and sitting at a bar and having a beer.
Next up is 'Fly in the Ointment', is about getting through hurdles of life and and not letting anything hold you back. Next is 'Bark..no Bite', it's about making fun of our administration here in the U.S.. Next is 'Unfair', that is about how fragile life is or can be, and it's about an event that took place whilst we were writing the song. I had written the music and an acquaintance of John's friend daughters who are in middle school had a younger brother aged 8 who where with there parents were driving down the highway and were hit head on by a drunk driver.
Sadly both kids passed away and the drunk driver wasn't hurt or the parents and it was a very devastating situation for the parents and it hit John really hard because he knew these parents and kids and it was unfortunately we we're writing this song without lyrics at that time so John wrote about that experience. The last song 'Never you Fret' was written by John, he would answer it better than me as he wrote the lyrics. I think he was writing it about a wild feeling that he gets when he is performing on the stage."
So who write the lyrics and music within the band?
"Well I would say I write 95% of the music, John handles all the lyrics and a couple of the guys contributed to a couple of things. Basically it's John & myself that writes the music and lyrics."
Let's talk about the album cover, I love it, there's a lot of purple, gray and some red in it. I think it's your best album cover. Who did the artwork please?
"The cover was done by Steve Stone, who is based in the U.K. and I found him on instagram and he does really good work. I was drawn to him by his H.R. Giger style of artwork and he does a lot of commercial work too and we wanted something that wasn't a portrait and we wanted something which was a little more landscape looking. So I sent him some sketches and I had some ideas in mind as well, concepts and he loved it and went along with it and changed some bits and he would send me the work he had done and it would be back and forth until the work was done. It looks awesome, it is in the top 3 album covers, I love the 1st album for it's time but I wouldn't do it now, I also like the cover 'Revelation' & 'Win hands Down', as it's an obscure outside box kind of work."
Moving on... I just saw a clip for a Armored Saint documentary that is coming out, please tell me more about this, how much involvement did the band in the making of this?
"It has been done by a friend of ours who is doing the documentary and his name is Russell Charrington and he has been a friend of mine for years and he went off to film school and he is a film teacher and I have dome some short music for him and a few things for him. He wanted to take this on as a big mega movie about our band and this is his baby and not the bands baby. We gave him media and pictures and worked on interviews with him and gave him some input on that. I don't think it is finished yet but it will be a great film I am sure. It will be out in Spring 2021."
Let's talk very briefly about you're involvement with Mercyful Fate in 2021, are you just touring with them or will there be a new album?
"Yes hopefully I will be touring Europe with the band, we are all waiting to see how the world will be next year, everything is uncertain right now."
Also you have just released 2 songs on You Tube for Fates Warning, how does the new album differ from the last album?
"Well it's a little different both in production and has it was mixed by Joe Barresi who worked with Tool and a lot of bands. Some of the songs on the new album are a little shorter and a little more simplicity in the song writing and Jim & Ray wrote some really great songs with the choruses and melodies and I think Jim plays a lot more lead guitar on this record. Mike is still in the band and he plays on a few songs as well."
How did the show in L.A. at the 'Whisky a go go' go for you recently considering it was all live on the internet?
"It went really good, we had a lot of fun and we played live and had a lot of people watching it, then we did Q&A that the fans asked us over the internet."
Well Joey thanx for the interview, best of wishes I am sure we will meet again in 2021. Do you have anything to say to the readers? Be safe Joey and speak soon.
"Yes thank you for the interview Jason, be safe too. To our fans thanks for reading this, and supporting the band under these difficult times. All please be safe."
Thank's to Mr.T @ Metal Blade and Joey Vera.