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January 20, 2000
As an old school fan of Armored Saint since the nascent days of my metallic obsesssion, I eagerly awaited the chance to hear 'Revelation', the first new Armored Saint record since 1991's 'Symbol of Salvation'. Unfortunately, in the days leading up to my scheduled interview with bassist, songwriter and producer Joey Vera, my copy of 'Revelation' had not yet arrived. On the day of the interview, I left work and headed home with only minutes to spare before the scheduled time for our telephone conversation. Lo and behold, I found in my mailbox a copy of the new Armored Saint. I ran upstairs, took off my coat, popped the CD in the player and sat down on the couch to listen. From the first few seconds of the very first track I was amazed at hearing a return to the Saint's signature sound almost ten years later -- without having missed a beat. No new school riffs, no rap parts, no death metal growls or keys. Just pure, unadulterated Armored Saint-style heavy metal. About track three, "After Me, the Flood", the phone rang and the interview began.
Metal Update: It's amazing how much this record sounds like Armored Saint. What kind of reaction do you expect?
Joey Vera: I'm trying not to have high expectations. I'm really trying not to do that this time.
MU: Have you done so in the past?
JV: In the past, we've always had a tendency to have high expectations for things, and they always fall short of what we're hoping for. This time I said, "fuck it." We're going to have different expectations and, hopefully, we will be pleasantly surprised.
MU: Why did the band get back together?
JV: Well, it's something we've talked about for many years - since we broke up in '92. We've basically always known that we would do something again in the future.
MU: Why did you break up to begin with?
JV: Well, when we reformed the first time -- I say "reformed," because once Dave died in 1990, a certain era of the band died with it. Anyway, when we reformed and got Phil back in the band, and we got Jeff, we made 'Symbol of Salvation,' and we regrouped with the intention that that was Armored Saint. We were back. "Rose from the ashes," so to speak. We were in for the long haul. It took several years of busting our asses and struggling to get to that point. Once we got there we felt pretty good. But, the year the record came out, we did some touring and it was kinda stressful. It weighed on us a little bit. We came back off the tour and realized that some of our business was not so good. We spent a lot of money and the record sales were a lot lower than expected because the record got a high profile. A lot of critics loved it. It got good reviews. We got "Reign of Fire" played on MTV quite a bit. Everything was looking great, but it wasn't translating on the business side. So the label was disappointed, and then we were disappointed.
MU: Had your older albums sold substantially more than 'Symbol'?
MU: A lot more?
JV: Yeah, I mean our first record started out really good. It was like 130-140,000.
MU: How old were you when Armored Saint began?
MU: Didn't Armored Saint tour for 'March of the Saint' in support of Metallica's 'Ride The Lightning' tour?
JV: Yeah, Metallica and W.A.S.P.
MU: When you look back now, in the year 2000, to the metal scene in those days, how much has changed?
JV: Well, it's different. In the early eighties, metal was sort of being born, at least metal as we know it. Of course it was being recycled from the early metal bands from the early seventies, you know, early Priest, early Scorpions, Thin Lizzy, that kind of stuff. Black Sabbath. So, the NWOBHM was started this thing that led into the eighties.
MU: Who was Armored Saint emulating when you first started out?
JV: When we first started out, early Priest, Scorpions, Thin Lizzy, early U.F.O. Stuff like that. I think that when NWOBHM was becoming popular, we latched on to some of that as well. Early Iron Maiden. Early Motorhead. Early Def Leppard. Early Saxon. I think that stuff formed what we now call eighties metal. And then, as you know, it went through various phases, and ended up with hairspray. But, the thing that is different now is that we're not starting from there again. If it is getting recycled at all, it's getting recycled from the eighties. So, it's another cycle that's gone back to what the eighties were, but it's like the second generation of what was going on in the seventies.
MU: Let's talk about your second record, 'Delirious Nomad'. Did that album do better or worse, commercially, than 'March of the Saint'?
JV: It didn't do as well.
MU: I like it a lot more.
JV: I like it a lot more too. I can't stand 'March of the Saint'.
MU: Really? You can't at least listen to it and think that it is a fine metal effort for a young band?
JV: I can't listen to it and enjoy it. I can listen to it and enjoy it as a sense of nostalgia. But I can't listen to it and think, "Wow. This is awesome."
MU: You also play bass with Fates Warning. Are you a member of the band?
JV: Kinda. (laughs) I'm a hired guy.
MU: But you'll play on the next Fates Warning record?
JV: Yeah. We're starting to work right now.
MU: So you're a hired guy, but you are clearly the bass player for Fates Warning, right?
MU: That's a totally different ball of wax than Armored Saint. Are both bands metal bands?
JV: Umm . . . Yeah.
MU: Do you get more musical satisfaction from the progressive style of playing you do with Fates Warning or the more straightforward pounding of an Armored Saint record?
JV: (laughs) Well, I have been away from Saint for almost ten years, so my initial reaction is, I really miss it. And I miss playin' this kinda . . . I mean, Armored Saint music is just more simple in comparison to some of the difficult parts that Fates Warning do. It requires a different part of the brain.
MU: How do you remember all the parts and changes in those Fates Warning songs anyway? (laughs)
JV: (laughs) It's really not that hard. You can't throw in a monkey wrench and try to change the set or move a song, but it's fine.
MU: But Armored Saint is a more visceral type of experience, isn't it?
JV: Yeah, and that is part of it's appeal to me. It's very youthful. It feels very young and naive, like when I was in my early twenties. Hey, I mean, the older you get, the more you miss that. So I'm looking forward to performing that live, because it's just a big outlet. It's a major release.
MU: When Dave died, did you think that the band was done?
JV: Well, for a few short moments, yeah. We thought, shit, this is how it ends.
MU: Did you expect that to be the end of your musical career?
JV: I didn't know. I think I always had aspirations to do other things, and play different kinds of music, really. Which is what I think led me to want to do things with Fates Warning or Chroma Key or whoever.
MU: Let's get back to the story of the breakup after 'Symbol'.
JV: As I said, at the end of 'Symbol', the band was very confused again. A bit tattered. So when Anthrax called John, it was the perfect time, pretty much.
MU: So you weren't broken up at that time, but things were pretty confused.
JV: We were beginning to write for the next record. But it seemed like just such an arduous task. I mean, how could we outdo 'Symbol'? It seemed unfathomable, but we were trying. It was very, very confusing. Times were tough. Believe it or not, we were even thinking about changing our name.
JV: Just because everything had changed so much.
MU: And starting over would have been better?
JV: We thought we were done.
MU: Are you glad you persevered and stayed true? That you didn't move to Seattle, join a grunge band and wear sweaters?
JV: (laughs) That never really worked for me. Don't get me wrong, I liked some of that era, musically. Soundgarden was a great band. I even thought 'Nevermind' was a great record before MTV made me sick of it. There was some great music in that period, but if you're into a certain kind of music, it just becomes a part of your life.
MU: Didn't the guy from Ozzy's band, Mike Inez, go on to play with Alice in Chains?
JV: Yes, yes he did.
MU: I mean, that's one route you could have taken, and you didn't.
JV: Yeah, well . . . There was a time, during the nineties, when I was kinda confused, I didn't know what to do. To be honest with you, when Armored Saint broke up after ten years of slugging it out, I was not interested in forming another heavy metal band. I had a lot of local bands from L.A. call me, and I was like, "get away from me." I mean, I just gave my blood, for ten years. I just needed to get away, to just do something musically different. Which is why, I guess, I did my solo record.
MU: At the time all this change was happening, and John Bush got the call from Anthrax, was there ever a moment's doubt that he would take the gig?
JV: John and I had several conversations about it. And I could tell in his voice that he felt like he wasn't sure he could slug it out another five or ten years with Saint, trying to get off the ground. It seemed like this was gonna be an opportunity for him to make a change for his own personal life. I said to him, "I think that if you don't do this, you're gonna regret it because you're gonna have too high expectations of us. If we don't meet those expectations, you're gonna end up hating us and blaming us."
MU: So you weren't pissed at him at all?
JV: I wasn't pissed off at him at all. I told him, "John, you should do it." I told him he should do it.
MU: How do you think it turned out?
JV: I think it turned out great for him.
MU: When are we gonna see Armored Saint on tour?
JV: We're working on something right now. We're trying to work on something for Europe. I think we're gonna go there first.
MU: Will you go out as a part of a package?
JV: We're trying to set up a package in Europe. Us and two other bands. We'll probably headline - doing clubs and stuff. After Europe, maybe in May or in June, we'll try to come back and do something similar here in the States. And then we have some festivals in Europe in the summer.
MU: And so the idea is to headline clubs in the U.S.?
JV: Yeah. It depends. If we can get on a bill with another band that is bigger than us, and it makes sense, then I think we might take that opportunity. Otherwise, we'd like to go out and do our full show so we can play for an hour and a half.
MU: Cool. Shifting gears, what did Gonzo do after the Armored Saint breakup?
JV: He played in a band with Phil called Life After Death. And Phil left the band shortly thereafter and moved up to San Francisco. Gonzo continued to slug it out with those guys, and they eventually put out a CD in '97, Life After Death. Unfortunately, they never got to tour for it, and the band split up. It's kind of hard to find the CD now.
MU: Through those years, you're watching John Bush front Anthrax. You kept in touch, right?
JV: Oh yeah. We kept in touch the whole time. Obviously, he was busy going back and forth between New York and L.A., but we tried to stay in touch.
MU: How did you get involved with Fates Warning? Label mates at Metal Blade?
JV: Label mates at various times, sure. Their bass player decided he didn't want to be involved anymore, and they called me.
MU: Tell us about your studio work.
JV: I'd been dabbling in it for some time. I started doin' it in '86. I did a record for some friends of mine called MX Machine. And then I did several demos of friends of mine, all through the years. Then I did a record for an independent band in '94, and then I didn't do it for a while. A couple of years ago, I started doing it again. I started doing demo stuff here in L.A. for local bands. Then I did a bunch of tribute songs for Steel Prophet. Then I did Ray Alder's Engine record. That was a lot of fun.
MU: So with all this history, why is now the right time for a new Armored Saint record?
JV: Well, we both had time in between records around August of '98 . . .
MU: When you say both, you mean you and John, right?
JV: Right. 'Cause the other guys were really - not really doing much musically. I had written two songs and I showed 'em to Bush and he loved 'em and said, "let me write some lyrics for them."
MU: Which songs were those?
JV: "Control Issues" and "After Me, the Flood". We made a quick a demo of the two songs, just him and I, and we said "this sounds like it could be old Armored Saint." At that point we got really excited, and we kinda had a meeting with Gonzo. We discussed that, hey, maybe this is the time that we could start working in a new record for Saint. That's really what started the ball rolling.
MU: Did you have the support of Metal Blade from the get go?
JV: Yeah. Metal Blade had been bugging us since '92 to get back together. (laughs)
MU: So 'Symbol' might have been a disappointment, but the label totally wanted another record.
JV: Brian Slagel from Metal Blade has been a long-time friend and a long-time supporter of Armored Saint. The whole time, he was like "man, if you ever put out another record, we're gonna put it out." And, as soon as he heard we were writing songs he was banging on my door. "Let me in!" (laughs)
MU: Do you take a different approach to writing for Armored Saint as opposed to other bands?
JV: The main objective I had in my mind was that it had to be old-school, it had to be totally brutal, and it had to just tear your face off.
MU: 'Revelation' does sound like an old-school record. Did you do the production?
MU: Who is your target audience?
JV: Well, I think initially, of course, the people who have been asking for this over the past eight years. People I've met all over the place. A lot of people that are fans from way back, and who have always wanted more Armored Saint. They are people that are all over Europe, the United States and Japan. They're people who were into music in the eighties that are maybe older. But I think there is a good portion of people who maybe missed out on this, who came in later, who came into metal and the metal scene in the late eighties and the early nineties. They missed some of this stuff. Maybe some people thought that 'Symbol' was our first record or something. So there's this whole kind of weird mystique about the band.
MU: What do you think about the state of the current metal scene?
JV: I think it is in sort of a revival.
MU: Commercially or artistically?
JV: Fan-wise, at kind of a grass roots level. And it mostly is happening - it's been happening in Europe for a few years now, but actually in Europe they are having a commercial revival. Germany is probably the biggest market for metal in the world right now. And, it's not that big a country. People are selling something like 50-100,000 records, just in Germany. And this is a country that's not even the size of Arizona? (laughs)
MU: What role can the Internet play?
JV: I think it plays an important role. It really doesn't matter where you live, you can go on line. It makes people who are truly fanatics, people who are fans of this kind of thing, have access to this stuff, and makes it very accessible to them to find the stuff they are looking for. You could be living in the middle of nowhere, where the closest record store is a two day drive. So this is very good for it, 'cause it's gonna help spread the word about what's goin' on everywhere. The Internet is a tool for grass roots level promotion, a tool for information about not only products, but people and publications. You can just access everything you want. It's very, very cool. Unfortunately, it will end up becoming a double-edged sword because it's just going to end up becoming a part of the media. Once media gets hold of something, it likes to exploit it until it can't get anything else out of it.
MU: Maybe it will destroy some of the mystique of some of these bands . . .
JV: It will. It will become over saturated, just like everything else is over saturated. TV and radio, etc. It's just the nature of it. But for now, I think it's OK. For the next five to ten years, it's going to be really interesting. I think eventually, there will be some younger people who will want to tap into this type of music.
MU: Do you see any kind of scenario whereby Armored Saint ends up back on MTV?
JV: I don't know. The state of MTV is just nauseating at this point. VH1 has more to offer than MTV does. At least they have the rock hour at night. That's about all that's really worth talking about.
MU: You're not doing a video for this record, right?
JV: We're not planning on it, no. For a long time it was used as a tool to sell records, and as a tool to get exposure. But now, the rate of return is just too low. The profit margin makes it not worth it. So it's something that you do later. If, for some reason, a song ends up doing really well on radio, or the album ends up selling a lot of units, then, maybe, if you want to tap into this sort of fringe, commercial . . . I mean MTV is like the epitome of the top 40 radio listeners. I mean, you start selling records to really conservative secretaries 'cause they heard this one song at the doctor's office or on the hit radio station.
MU: But there were days when Armored Saint almost played in that arena.
JV: Sure. For a long time, that was the goal. I mean, I'm not afraid to admit that. That was part of the game that you had to play, but it's just different now. If that stuff comes, then it comes. If the snowball starts rolling down the hill, then you'll put more snow in front of it.
MU: So you just wrote a record that you guys believe in and that you hope your core fans will love.
JV: Well, that's exactly what we did. It's totally liberating. I just want to have no expectations. I have told myself that that big pie in the sky dream is over. That's done. I tried to get there. Armored Saint tried to conquer the world. We did. That was our goal in life. Our goal in life was to conquer the world. We believed it. That dream is over.
MU: I think the true fans appreciate that you've narrowed your focus.
JV: We appreciate all the support we've had over the last eight years. I mean, places like Italy. I'd never been there before, and I went there with Fates Warning. There were like, 100 kids waiting outside of the bus, shaking the bus, and at least half of them had Armored Saint records in their hands. I was like, fuckin' blown away, you know? So there's places, I know, where people have always supported the band and always wished we would do another record. And you can't buy that kind of support. We're always grateful.
MU: Tell me about the use of Spanish on "No Me Digas" from the new album.
JV: Three of us in the group are Latinos, or Latin background or whatever. We had talked about doing this before.
MU: You did the 'Metalo' record. Did they approach you?
JV: They approached us. That wasn't a Spanish track though. That was just a demo we had, sung in English.
MU: I never really thought of Armored Saint as a Latin act.
JV: We're really not, and we don't want to be perceived in that way. It was just something that has been with us for a long time. It came up this time because we wanted to do a special track - something a little different. The idea came up again, and we were like, you know, let's try it. So, we kinda went into it with the thought of making the song sound authentic, really Spanish. But we also went for that kinda Sepultura thing, you know, really dark, with heavy guitars.
MU: What does the title mean?
JV: "Don't Tell Me." Gonzo wrote the lyrics. It's just kind of an abstract song about the dark part of your mind that makes you think of evil and forbidden thoughts.
MU: What do you think of Puya?
JV: I think what Puya is doing is pretty cool. I just wish they would incorporate a little more originality in the heavy parts. I like the dichotomy of the stuff that gets really salsa-like, but then when they bust in to the heavy stuff, it sounds kinda like B-rate Pantera. So I just wish they would focus on making the heavy parts a little more interesting.
MU: Is the Armored Saint reunion a one-off deal this time? Or is the band totally back together?
JV: That's kinda yet to be determined. It depends upon everybody's schedule. John obviously has his priority with Anthrax.
MU: But the Anthrax guys are doing S.O.D. . . .
JV: Yeah. As long as time permits, and scheduling permits, and we're enjoying this and having fun doing this, we'll probably continue.
MU: What will you do next after you get done touring with Armored Saint?
JV: I'm doing a record with Fates next month.
MU: Is the music written?
MU: What's to be expected there?
JV: Well, I can't really say much, except that there is a lot of guitars. (laughs)
MU: Is it a concept record?
JV: I don't think so. I don't really know.
MU: You don't function on that level?
JV: I do, but not until the end. I haven't actually hooked up with Ray yet. To hear all the words, the lyrics and the melodies.
MU: Any radical musical departures?
JV: Ummm . . . Not really. It's going to be a different record than 'APSOG'. 'APSOG' was a concept record. So it was at times a little on the mellow side. But this one, I think is a little more rockin'.
MU: Any last words for the Metal Update readers?
JV: Just that we do really appreciate the support we've had all this time. It really made a difference in us deciding to come back and have the balls to do another record. Hopefully, we can deliver on those expectations.
-- LINKS --
review of Armored Saint's 'Revelation'
METAL BLADE RECORDS
-- CREDITS --
Interview: Eric German [email@example.com]
Editor: Brant Wintersteen [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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