A "Revelation" of Armored Saint
By Naughty Mickie
Photos by Keith Durflinger
The tale of Armored Saint is a story of survival and friendship. Childhood friends, vocalist John Bush, bassist Joey Vera and drummer Gonzo, formed the fore bearer of Saint, Royal Decree, and got a taste of notoriety by winning a battle of the bands contest in high school. But there was still something missing. The final piece was guitarist Dave Pritchard, who they met at a party.
From here, Armored Saint hit the Los Angeles club scene with a vengeance gaining the attention of the record industry and landing a deal with Chrysalis in 1984. Unfortunately, Pritchard was diagnosed with leukemia and when he died, the band was so disheartened that they let their project go.
By 1991, the boys of Armored Saint decided that they would go on and would honor Pritchard by using some of the material he had penned. During this time, guitarists Phil Sandoval was re-enlisted and Jeff Duncan and was added to the mix. After a while, the bandmates felt the tug of other projects-- Bush joined Anthrax and Vera added his talent to Fates Warning. Saint fans would have to wait until a discussion over drinks by Bush and Vera in 1998 to hear the familiar strains again.
Over the past year, Saint has been touring and touting their latest effort, "Revelation," and the fans are as devoted as ever. I caught up with the band at a recent show at the Crossroads Concert Bar in Yucaipa where they shared the stage with Lynch Mob and Dio.
Vera was beaming as we sat in the band's tour bus. "How's it feel to be back out on the road?" I had to ask.
"Amazing. It's a lot of fun. This is probably one of the best crowds we've had," replies Vera.
"Revelation" has kept to the "Saint tradition," but there are differences.
"I think that this one differs because we did it ourselves," explains Vera. "I produced it and I think that we had more control of everything that was going on in the studio. I think in the big picture that it more closely represents what the band sounds like live more than any other record we've done. We've done a bunch of records with other producers, big studios and everything; I think that there's something that got lost in the translation. Maybe it was over-produced in a lot of ways. But this record is very raw and it was what we intended to do, we intended to play very raw and make it a very Old School sound, that was the intention from day one. To me, it represents what the band really has always been about.''
Now that you have whetted Saint fans appetite, are you back for good or will this be an occasional thing?
"I don't know," says Vera. "I mean we did this because we had some downtime, plus we had the opportunity to do this. We can't really take it any further than that. John has priorities with Anthrax and I am very busy with other things, like I'm still very involved with Fates Warning, and there are a lot of other things going on. So we've had to almost treat this like a side project. It's really to our benefit to do that because we had spent 10 years plus really making this our life's blood, it was like we gave everything up for this band. And we already paid our dues and it was a long hard road. We don't really need to go back to that place. And now, we're only doing it because we can and we're going to have a good time doing it.
"We love playing, performing and making records. It's kind of weird because when you go in with that state of mind it really alleviates a lot of pressure that comes from the business side of it. We don't have any of that this time, none of that, it's purely ourselves. It's truly a reunion of people. We grew up together, so it's a reunion of friends getting back together, having a good time, partying, and no big whoop, no big stress thing, just doing it for the pure fun of it. So as long as we continue to do that, we may continue to make records, but the minute it becomes too much of an important thing, too stressful, too important, too close to us, then that's the time we're going to say, 'that's enough,' we're not going to do it anymore.
"It's the reason we got together in the first place," continues Vera. "We were 19 years old and the only thing we cared about was smoking pot and drinking beer. You think about the business side of things, we never even thought about that, any of that. I mean you have to be business savvy, I mean we learned that over the years, but you also learn that that can really fuck you up.''
The crowd at Yucaipa was as fired up to see Saint as they were in the past and Saint is still selling records. I wanted to know what was the secret behind this "staying power."
"I don't know," Vera shrugged. "I think part of it has to do that we were in this genre when it was really starting to blossom. We were kind of in the right place at the right time. When we got signed in 1984 it was the beginning of the wave of these new 'metal bands' that were getting picked up by major labels. We happened to be there and that was a big plus for us. So we're considered part of that new resurgence and I think that during those years, granted I look back on my career and I'll say there's a lot of mistakes we've made, a lot of things that I would change, but the bottom line is that during that time we touched a lot of people and those people are what kept this band alive. A big part of us getting back together was that those 10 years that we weren't together during the '90s, all those people wouldn't let us die. Obviously John was busy with Anthrax all these years and I became busy with Fates Warning, so my face was out there a little bit and people were always coming up to us saying, 'Okay, you guys have to get back together.' So this went on for eight or nine years so that was a big part of it.''
Vera was intelligent and charming, despite the often ominous "education" of the music world. He never had time for college, as the band went from high school to stardom. His entire life revolves around music-- his career and his hobbies.
"I pretty much try to engulf myself in a lot of areas of music," relates Vera. "I studied music for a couple of years, it wasn't really college, but it was independent study. And then I was always involved in the recording process, I was curious about that. I've engineered and produced many records. I started around the late '80s off and on and more seriously I've been doing a lot of stuff since '97 and '98. I work a lot. That part of it I like, I like doing that. I just enjoy it, I don't know why. I'm a 'studio rat.'''
Vera also has his own "project studio," but he doesn't consider himself a tech head.
"I'm not this kind of person that's always reading up on cutting edge technology, I'm not really like that. I hated people like that. I really more of a hands-on kind of guy. I kind of come from the old school. ears and vibe, that's my kind of thing. That should be your priority no matter what you do."
When touring, Vera enjoys performing in both the large and small venues.
"They both have pluses and minuses," says Vera. "I like it when there's a good mix of them. You can have several through the year where you play big venues and small venues a couple times each year, then it's good. I'd get bummed out if I was just stuck in playing 300 capacity clubs for the rest of my life; I'd get dreary. I've been fortunate to have opportunities to play very small clubs. We played last night in San Francisco in front of 200 people and it was amazing, it was great. It was very intimate, there were no barriers, just people were on stage pushing the monitors; you lay out in the crowd and they carry you. And then you have the bigger venues, the House of Blues which we just headlined in Chicago, and that has its own beauty to it too. Both sides are great.''
After all that time on the road, there must be at least one good story.
"There's so many," Vera smiles. "People ask me this too and I can't narrow it down. There's too many nutty things. We've done a bunch of stuff. We've thrown furniture out of four story windows; taken fire extinguishers in the hallway. Back in the days, we'd go to the strip joints with Metallica, we got into a lot of trouble with those guys. There's just too many.''
Like many artists, Vera has strong opinions about the internet.
"That's the one thing that I approve of, that's it's one big giant record store basically," Vera explains. "That part of it is great. You can get any kind of information that you want, any time you want to find out something, any kind of info on anything you're looking for, it's all at your fingertips no matter where you are in the world. That part of it is amazing.
"The other side of it, I have a problem with because the other side of it is where music begins to be traded and there is no regulation for it yet and to an artist, I think it hurts the artist. My standpoint on it is, I don't agree with sites that trade music that don't pay any kind of copyrighting to the people who actually are helping distribute or sell. I think that it hurts the fans; our livelihood. This is what we do for a living and promotion or no promotion, this is what we do for a living.''
Vera and I discuss the Armored Saint Web site, which I felt was pretty good, but Vera says it still needs work-- you can decide that one for yourself.
We also talk about the current local music scene in Los Angeles.
"I don't really go out that much," says Vera. "I do go out a couple times a month. I'm not like a 'scenester' going out all the time. I'm more a homebody than someone who likes to go out all the time. The scene in L.A. is actually kind of a drag, the butt of it hasn't been the same since the early '80s. It was such an excitement in the early '80s, when something new was truly sweeping through a city. Now it's kind of become this playground for a lot of followers, just a lot of bands that are trying to jump on the next bandwagon type of thing.
"I'm not saying that there's not some good bands in L.A., personally I haven't really be out that much to see and say who's really cool or not. L.A.'s so big, it's like Manhattan at this point, and for me to say that the scene is not happening is really pretty general. You can see any kind of music in L.A. and it goes way beyond hard rock and stuff. There's a lot of killer music, you can't say that the scene sucks because it doesn't. It depends on what you're talking about. There's a lot of cool stuff coming out of L.A., there's a lot of shit too. That's what you get for a big city,'' he laughs.
I can hear strains of Dio and Vera is ready to go back and relax with the rest of the band, so I hit him up for a few last "secrets."
"We're working on a new record right now," Vera tells me. " We had to stop in order to do this Dio tour and we'll finish when we get home next week. We'll be doing it until the end of the month. We're putting out kind of a boxed set kind of thing. It's one disc, it's not a boxed set really, it's a single disc, but it's going to contain a lot of old demos, four-track demos that never saw the light of day, it's going to contain some live tracks from our last tour in the U.S., it's going to have our original three-song EP on Metal Blade which has been discontinued since 1983, a couple of additional songs that were kind of out takes from 'March of the Saint' and alternate demos that no one's ever heard, a couple of cover tunes and two brand new songs. So it's going to be a lot of fun.
"Tentatively now we're calling it 'Nod to the Old School.' And it's purely for fun. It's kind of for the fans and for anyone interested in the band to check out. We're trying to put some enhanced CD stuff on the end of it, a couple of live videos so people can see the band live. It's just a fun project, not too serious, no big whoop, it should be out in July on Metal Blade.''
And, Joey, I don't think your fans will be disappointed.
For more information visit www.armoredsaint.com and www.metalblade.com
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