Interview: Joey of Armored Saint

Interview: Joey of Armored Saint

Interview: Joey of Armored Saint.
Interviewed by Tim Finch

Armored Saint have never been a band to tow the line, preferring to find their own path on their musical journey. Nearly forty years into their career the band are all set to launch their latest album, Punching The Sky, this October. So we got five minutes to catch up with bassist Joey Vera to chat about the new album and a lot more!

The Razor's Edge: Hey Joey, thanks for talking to us.

Joey: No problem, my pleasure, thanks for having me.

The Razor's Edge: We live in strange times at the moment, how have you and the rest of the Armored Saints guys coped with this strange year?

Joey: Well we are still coping. We're very lucky that we are all still healthy, our families are all safe and healthy. We are doing the stuff like everyone else. It's one day at a time dealing with the stress and uncertainty. But, you know, we are ok.

The Razor's Edge: The reason we’re catching up with you today, is the looming release of a new Armored Saint album. I suppose the first thing to ask, has this year affected the recording process at all or did you have it all locked in before this all kicked off?

Joey: In Los Angeles we had a lockdown on March 12th or something and at that point we were already done recording. I was just taking the hard drives over to Jay Ruston who mixed the record right as lockdown was starting, so the recording part of it was all down. It didn't affect us at all, as once the mixing process starts it's all file sharing through email anyway.

I think once the record was finished being mixed in April we discussed the possibility of holding the record until later, but it was a very short conversation because we realised that thing's weren't really changing and we didn't know when they were going to change. So we said to each other "why are we going to wait?" The record was done and we thought people want new music now. Everybody's at home, stuck at home doing nothing, working from home, isolated and music is the perfect remedy for us, so we decided to move forward and get the record out as soon as we could. So we set the date of October 23rd so here it comes!

The Razor's Edge: From what I understand, you started writing the album back in December 2017. So with the time it’s taken to get to this point you must have all poured you heart and soul into this record?

Interview: Joey of Armored Saint

Joey: Yeah, we work a little on the slow side. There are several reasons for that, the one biggest reason is that we don't really have a schedule put upon us by our record label. Metal Blade generously let us work at our own pace, whenever we want to put a record out, they'll put it out so we don't have a gun to our head so to speak when we start planning a record. We kind of wait for real inspiration to take hold of us, we try not to force that, we try to make it happen naturally. We all have lives of our own, some of us have kids, so in between school and hockey practice, the spare time that we have is when John and I get together. We write most of the songs, so between him and I we just kid of say "how about Tuesday from 10 til 2, and next week how about Thursday". Kind of like that, we don't work every single day and we take our time writing. We had a few weeks here or there or a month here or there where we did some touring. We did some dates in Europe in the summer of '18 and then the did about two and a half weeks with UFO this past fall. So there was a few things we took time off for touring, but apart from that we were writing for almost two years [laughs]

The Razor's Edge: Does the recording process work the same way or do you book a block of time in the studio for that?

Joey: No, the recording process is a lot more, once we are committed we start and finish it. To be more accurate we probably finished writing in October of '19. Then we took three weeks off for the UFO tour and we also played the Megacruise thing in October. Then when we got back in November we started getting ready to record. So we started recording drums in December, then we took a couple of weeks off for Christmas and in January we resumed with guitars, vocals and bass. We did all the recording until March and started mixing in March. So thats more accurately how it goes.

The Razor's Edge: I’ve had the album on repeat all weekend, it sounds huge, actually for me personally probably your best album since the late 80’s/early 90’s. Distinctively Armored Saint yet sounding as strong and fresh as ever.

Joey: That's great to hear. I guess the next question is how do you do that? What's the process? I don't know! I'm glad to hear that but we just write the music that we want to hear and we think represents us right now. But when we are done with it I have no idea what people are going to think, it's never a given, everyone has different expectations from a band that has been around for forty years. There's fans that like one particular era of the band, then there are others who like a different era and others who like all the era's. You are bound to please some and not please some. We can never be concerned with that too much, we are just genuine and honest with what we do and so when we put it out to the public we have no idea what people think.

I've been doing interviews for several weeks now and everyone I talk seems to connect with it and it's really nice to hear that.

The Razor's Edge: Is there any meaning behind the ‘Punching The Sky’ title?

Joey: Well, I turned it into a meaning. It came about when we were looking for titles for the record. We threw around different things and different ideas. What we didn't want to do is have the first track be the title track again, like we did on 'Wins Hands Down'. We were going to call it 'Standing On The Shoulders of Giants' but we discarded that for that very reason.

John Bush Or Armored Saint - Phot Tim Finch Photography

I was reading the lyrics and one line kept sticking with me "punching the sky", the line is actually "{punching the sky everyday". And I thought it's a colourful image, you can interpret it a lot of different ways and it's very visual and I thought it would be cool as a title. John loved the idea. When I started to think about it more, the song is about perseverance and surviving the ages. I think he wrote the lyric in a more literal sense, punching your fist into the air in the form of victory or success. But the more I started to think about it, the more I thought it could be used as a metaphor. The metaphor for me anyway, started to represent what I think the band is and what our intentions are and have been the whole time. We continually want to keep moving and growing and evolving, becoming better at what we do, better song writers, better people, better fathers. It's always our goal to keep moving and evolving. We've never been one to rest on our laurels and do the same thing over and over again. We've made efforts to take chances musically or to have fun and experiment with different things. So "punching the sky" to me is really a reflection of that. We are always making an effort to go further, the sky is not the limit, it's beyond that, we want to going beyond the sky. So "punching the sky" to me is kind of a reflection of that and the album artwork plays into that.

The Razor's Edge: To mark the release you’re hosting a virtual release party. How special are you planning to make that for the fans?

Joey: At first the idea was brought to us and we didn't want to do something like that, we kept hoping the city of Los Angeles would open up and we could do a regular normal gig with people in the venue. As it's turning out there is no end in sight here. We wanted to do something, we wanted to connect with fans, we have a record coming out and we want to celebrate it with people. This is the only way we can do it.

We are planning on going in there with a smile on our face. We're playing in the Whiskey-A-Go-Go here in Hollywood in front of an empty venue. We are going to record it and stream it live for an entire month. So if you can't make it on October 10th, it will air until November 8th. It's only ten bucks to get in, anywhere in the world you can watch it. We are doing a full set, pulling out some old classic's we haven't played for a while, plus we are playing four brand new songs. We've got some merch that exclusive to the show, signed CD's as well, if you want to go that route there are other options. We are looking forward to it and playing again. We hope people join us.

If anyone wants to join us, the website is armoredsaint.veeps.com. All you have to do is sign in and make an account for free and then it takes you to buy the tickets.

We're going to have fun with it, do a Q&A at the end of it. people can submit questions and we'll spend some time answering as many as we can. You know having some kind of interaction with humans and fans and we hope people join us.

The Razor's Edge: In an iconic venue to boot. Was that specifically chosen?

Joey: No, it just so happened the venue itself started doing these things. Other bands have been in there and they are set up for this sort of thing. They have a six camera crew that goes in there and a special audio system. It's kind of build for this kind of thing. They were doing other bands and they came to our booking agent who then came to us.

There are other venues doing this sort of thing in LA, but we've played the Whiskey before, we are familiar with it. it's LA, it's our home town and it's going to be cool.

The Razor's Edge: That leads into my next question. You have played the Whiskey before, so you must have some memories from playing the iconic venue over the years. Do you have any good memories from the venue?

Joey: Well I've played there a bunch. One of my first times in the club scene and I played the Whiskey in another band before Armored Saint. I have a lot of memories of playing there. Armored Saint have played there a bunch, we played there with Dave Pritchard, more recently with Metal Church a couple of years ago. We certainly have headlined it on our own a bunch of times. I've been there for other things, jam nights, charity events. So a lot of different memories there, it's a cool place.

The Razor's Edge: You’re juggling duties in Armored Saint with Fates Warning, and they themselves have an album our in November. How hard is it for you managing your roles in both bands?

Joey: Well my role is very different in Fates Warning so it's easier for me to juggle roles there. The harder thing for me is when we are faced with touring season, it's hard to be in two places at once. For the most part I've been pretty lucky with that. There was an issue last spring, I was on tour with Fates Warning in the US, but a year or two prior to that I had committed to a one off show in Athens, Greece with Armored Saint so of course the Fates Warning tour ran right through the middle of this commitment. It was a little tricky, pretty crazy. I called original Fates Warning bass played Joe Dibiasie, I said "Hey man, can you help me out, I've got to go to Athens in the middle of this tour". He said "no problem". He came out, joined Fates Warning, did two shows whilst I left somewhere in Ohio, I flew to Athens. I got there the day of the show and played that night, the next morning I flew back to Minnesota. I was extremely exhausted when I got back, but I was able to pull it off, but certainly not something I want to do on a regular basis.

Those are the tricky things, that kind of stuff. The record releases and recordings don't usually overlap so much. I finished recording Armored Saint in the middle of March and by the end of March I had switched gears and started recording Fates Warning. I have a small studio at my house so I recorded all my parts here right after I finished Armored Saint. It was busy but not insurmountable. I got it done, the record releases are close to each other but that seems to be going ok so far.

Joey Vera - Armored Saint - Tim Finch Photography

The Razor's Edge: I wanted to touch on Metallica as well if I can? It’s not the most common of knowledge, but back in 86 after Cliff’s accident Lars called you up during the audition process asking if you wanted to jam with them. You turned that down, but what were your thoughts when you received that call and eventually passed on the opportunity?

Joey: Well when the situation happened, we were acquaintances and we shared management in Q-Prime. It was kind of common knowledge that they weren't really auditioning. They were having like cattle calls and anyone and their brother could go audition. So they were seeing a lot of people and they were miserable and I knew it. I knew they were going to start reaching out to people that they knew, so when I got the call from Lars I wasn't completely surprised. You know he explained it to me, I said "yeah man, I feel for you guys, it sucks". They were going through the mourning process at the same time as dealing with this crap so it was an awful situation for them. I felt really bad for them, for a moment I was like "I should help them out and jam with them", just be a bro you know. I said let me think about it and I'll let you know tomorrow. Overnight I thought about it and came to the conclusion "is my heart really in this". You have to go up there with the full intention of getting the gig or you're wasting their time and my time. So I came to the conclusion my heart wasn't in it 100%, I wasn't in a place in my heart and soul where I was ready to bail ship on Armoured Saint. We were half way through recording 'Raising Fear' at that time and I still had work to do. I'm a part song writer in that band and it was like I had unfinished business you know. So I said it's not my time, I called Lars back and explained it to him and he said "I totally understand man, I totally get it, thank you for calling back" and that was it.

The Razor's Edge: Do you ever look back and wonder “what if…”?

Joey: Of course that's crossed my mind as people ask me about it all the time [laughs]. There's so many factors you have to take into account. Number one, would I have been happy there? Sure I'd have a large bank account probably. But creatively would I be happy? A big part of my life is my abilities to be a song writer and a producer and I have contributed so much in that way and expressed myself in that way. It's been a huge part of my soul. Take all that away from me, you are taking a huge chunk of my life and well beings. I don't think I would risk that for anything. Those kind of things tell me right way. Just look what happened to Jason, it would have been a similar path, I don't doubt that for a minute. Things happen for a reason and I never ever regretted that for a minute making that decision. My life has been so rich and rewarding, the path I chose it was the right one. The people I've met and my family, I have a kid... you would erase all that in this alternate universe we speak of. It would be unimaginable. I never look back in that way and say "what if I would have made that decision" it's not something I've dwelled on for even sixty seconds. Certainly people bring it up and say what about this alternate universe, so I say well lets look at it and it's not hard to imagine what it would have been like, people have lived through it, Jason in particular. So thats how it is.

The Razor's Edge: Back with Armored Saint, with the album coming out what happens next? The touring machine is pretty much grounded so what are your plans?

Joey: We can't really make any plans, we are just trying to stay engaged with fans. A lot of it is through our social networking. It's really the only way we can stay engaged with everybody. We are just trying to keep that more involved than we have in the past, we still plan on making some more videos and stay busy with that. People want to see us play so we are going to find ways of doing that, videos is one way. But those are the only things we can really do. The touring thing, who knows when that's going to start up again? We hope sooner rather than later, so for now we have to stay involved in other ways.

The Razor's Edge: As we come to the end of the interview, one last question… you’ve been in the band for nearly forty years now. Looking back specifically with Armored Saint, is there anything you would have done differently?

Joey: Well, the only thing that we as a band wished that we had the opportunity to do differently than ended up happening is that we never really got the chance to tour Europe when we were a younger band. Those are things that we kind of blame our record company and our management for at the time, I'm talking 1984 to 1990 basically. That whole first chunk of our career we never toured Europe, we kind of blame them, we certainly asked to tour there but they kept telling us it's expensive, it's not worth it, you won't get anything from doing that. But we were like, but we are a European influenced band, we should be there. We felt like we lost a lot of ground during the first eight years of our career, that was a shame. That would be the only thing that if we had the opportunity to do differently we would change.

Photo credits: Tim Finch Photography

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