It’s been 28 years since the last Armored Saint live album was released. Saints Will Conquer, an eight-song document of the band’s Raising Fear tour, recorded at Cleveland’s Agora Ballroom in October of 1987, was the last official live statement from a band that’s gone through, literally, another lifetime since then.
There have been the major upheavals for the band, perhaps most importantly the death of founding guitarist Dave Prichard in 1990 from leukemia on the path to recording what this writer regards as Saint’s magnum opus – 1991’s Symbol of Salvation. Of course, there was also vocalist John Bush’s highly successful stint with Anthrax from 1992-2005, not to mention bassist Joey Vera’s still-fruitful tenure with progressive metal legends Fates Warning that began in 1996. Armored Saint has maintained an impressive legacy and legion of fans despite what may be perceived as quite the stop-and-go career trajectory.
Fans will see another Armored Saint live album soon, as evidenced by the recent announcement of a PledgeMusic campaign where there are perks galore should you decide to throw the band your support. Everything from signed guitars, Skype music lessons, handwritten lyrics, and even access to an exclusive meet and greet listening party are up for grabs in appreciation for contributions to an album that will include performances from Armored Saint’s 2015 Wacken Festival set, along with a headlining show recorded in Aschaffenburg, Germany.
John Bush recently filled us in on the upcoming live album, as well as some of his thoughts on Armored Saint’s history and work ethic. John doesn’t pull and punches when speaking about the state of the music industry and what it takes for a band to survive these days, let alone get a new album like this out amid the chaotic vortex of business, family, and art, which is the reality these days for the band members. Armored Saint is set to embark on a U.S. tour with Queensryche this fall (see below for dates), which Bush says coincides perfectly with the live album’s impending release, tentatively set for January.
So tell me John, how did the idea come about to not only fund this upcoming live record, but also to release it at this time? It’s obviously been a while since there was a live Armored Saint record.
Well, the last live record we did was Saints Will Conquer back in 1987, which was a pretty raw, gritty record. I think it was a pretty straightforward live record with mistakes and everything. With Armored Saint, one of the best aspects of our band throughout our history is our live performance. I don’t think we’ve ever had another opportunity to capture that live on record or DVD, so we felt it was time to do something like that again. With Win Hands Down, it still feels like a new record, even though it’s over a year old now, we’re still doing shows. We’re doing this Queensryche run coming up, which is going to be cool and we’re looking forward to that. We wanted to put something out there to keep Armored Saint in people’s minds, and for them to be able to see us performing live, so it seemed like an obvious thing.
So, with the PledgeMusic thing, quite honestly, we needed a little support financially to go out and do this Queensryche thing. We’re still trying to make ends meet on going out and not losing our ass, and having fun and maybe come back with a little money so we don’t come home in the red – this was a way to try and help it. But, we’re looking forward to it; the live record sounds killer, it’s closer to being our Unleashed in the East or Strangers in the Night. Not that I’m comparing it to those, but those records along with KISS Alive are probably some of the greatest live records of all time. We used those as a model to strive for, and this sounds a lot better than Saints Will Conquer did.
You’re offering some great perks for contributing to the PledgeMusic campaign, like handwritten lyrics, signed vinyl, and things like that. Is it cool to be able to get this stuff into the hands of the die-hard fans, and you knowing that the contributions will most likely be the ones most into the band?
Truthfully, part of me thinks it’s cool because fans will be able to get things that they’d maybe never be able to get, like the handwritten lyrics or even a microphone I used. We were even going to put up some of our old armor on there and my old white leather vest, until I realized Dave (Prichard, now-deceased Armored Saint guitarist) put the painting on the back and I just couldn’t get rid of it. That stuff is great and it certainly helps the band, but I don’t want to be one of those human beings where everything is negotiable. If somebody comes up to me and asks for an autograph, I don’t hesitate to give it to them. I don’t want every aspect of my life, when it comes to music, to be up for financial negotiation. It’s kind of the way of the world now, and I feel like it started with the baseball card shows where everybody went and there were signings, and everything was sold. Does that mean if you see Pete Rose at Trader Joe’s and you ask him for an autograph, he won’t do it? I don’t know; I guess it’s a case-by-case situation. I still want to be a human being that’s approachable to fans on that level, and at the same time doing something like this to help out a little. I’ll be quite frank: we wouldn’t be able to do the Queensryche tour without it.
That honesty is refreshing, John. A lot of people don’t understand the money that it takes to take a band out on the road.
I don’t’ think Armored Saint has ever made money touring, quite honestly (laughs). It’s not like we were ever this huge band. This is not any different in that capacity (laughs). I have some reservations, but record sales aren’t what they were, and that’s a sad thing. The industry has been so pummeled by the internet world and the digital world; people don’t even know that there were a lot of industries that got creamed – the music industry isn’t the only one. It put a lot of people out of business in a lot of different walks of life. But, life is about evolving – people don’t use typewriters anymore, and that’s just the way it is. They still deliver the Yellow Pages to my house, and I don’t understand why – you’re wasting paper and killing trees! (laughs) Nobody uses these! (laughs)
There’s this weird world with music where people feel music should be free, and I don’t agree with that. Bands make music, and it costs money to do this. It’s no different from any other industry where you need to fund it to make it, then people buy it, and that’s what helps it to continue. You can’t just go into 7-11 and walk out with a candy bar – you have to pay for it. I go to Amoeba Records, which I hear they’re closing down and that will be a shame, and I buy records – that’s what I do. I want to contribute to the industry that I’m part of. I like having the tangible product with me – even if I read the lyrics once, I need that. I don’t feel as close to a record if I can’t have it and see it. If I download it, I feel disconnected, but that’s me.
There’s a whole new generation of people that buy things differently, and I get it. But, however you get it, just get it to keep the industry going. I guess what I’m saying is you have to do whatever you need to be to prolong a bands career and keep things going, and not being stuffed in a van with ten people risking your life, which we’ve done (laughs). This way, you can actually get some sleep, and have shows that you can be proud of.
How is the band different, live, from Saints Will Conquer until now, other than the obvious of not having Dave anymore?
A lot of Armored Saint is the same, and I always felt like we were this glorified garage band – I mean that in the most endearing of ways. When we go out, we’re raw, and you never really know what you’re going to get – it’s like back in the day minus all the drugs. That’s’ kind of how I like it; at this point, I almost embrace having mistakes on stage. Everything is too perfect in society these days – I like the fact that things are stripped down. We were like that then, and we’re like that now. We want to be tight, but I want it to feel real, like you’re getting a different show every night and not go through the motions, playing the same set. That’s what I think of rock ‘n roll as – that rawness.
Obviously, it is years later, we’re more experienced – certainly, we should be better players. We were like 24 years old at that time and certainly had a lot of piss and vinegar to go out there and show our youthful exuberance, and that was awesome. Now, we’re not as youthful, but we still have a ton of energy that I’d put on par with anybody; my favorite bands and their energy levels. We pride ourselves on being a band that gives 110 percent every night, and that’s no different from how we were back then.
Armored Saint is a band that has gone over 30 years with only one major lineup change – when Dave Prichard passed away and Jeff Duncan came on. How does that speak of you as a band and as people to not having swapped out players every few years?
I take a lot of pride in that; I always say that’s one of the coolest aspects of the band. If Dave was alive, it would probably be our version of Maiden with three guitar players. He died, and there’s nothing we can do about that, but other than that, it’s the same guys. It’s the same guys who have been part of every record, and what those songs mean – to me, that’s super important. We’re all still guys who get along pretty well. We’ll see how this challenge of a four-week tour goes, because I don’t think we’ve had one of those in 25 years, and hopefully we won’t want to shoot one another at the end of it. Me and Charlie Benante used to say there was like a two-week window where everything kind of changed on a tour, where people became a little less tolerant of others – “I think I DO hate you, I had forgotten” (laughs). Fatigue sets in, and it gets a little harder, but it’s going to be fun. The combination of us and Queensryche is a great bang for the buck, and we’re playing a lot of places we haven’t been in a long time. We’re going to Florida, and the last time we played there was Symbol of Salvation in ’91 – that’s really exciting.
I’m glad you brought up Symbol of Salvation, because that’s an album I keep on my phone – my first taste of Armored Saint after seeing the “Reign of Fire” video on Headbangers Ball. Tell me about that time, because it really seemed like a rebirth for the band – you really came out swinging after Dave passed.
Yeah, it was. Certainly, the process of making that record, we had a lot stacked against us. The main thing was Dave passing away and finding out how to regroup as a family, and the proper way to do it. There was a time where I didn’t think it was going to happen, and I had a lot of my own skepticism about even continuing as a band without him. But, I think we laid down major music that had to be revealed. These were songs that we more than just toiled over. We were a band that got dropped by our label, had the major illness of our guitar player, the main songwriter of the group. The music scene was changing with metal not being as cool and grunge kicking in – there was a lot going against us and we rallied around the history of the band and the songs. Yeah, that was an album that almost never was. There’s a vibe to that album for sure, Dave Jerden helped that out because he’s an amazing producer, and there’s certainly a feeling there that Armored Saint fans and even the band can agree with.
You’ve joked in the past about Armored Saint being quality over quantity when it comes to releasing studio albums. Can you talk a bit about how that’s been, releasing albums on your time, sometimes with very large gaps between them?
I just think it was the way our career went. People have to remember that I was in Anthrax for 13 years (laughs), and we still managed to get Revelation out towards the end of that part. That was just how it happened, it was the way of life for this band. We were broken up for a while, and then we resumed, then I went back to Anthrax, Joey (Vera, bassist) had his hands full with Fates Warning – he’s a big part of Fates Warning. We got together kind of when we could, and now we also have families, and I work with my wife in a business, I was Mr. Mom for a time – that was a huge priority in my life. We try to make time for these things and work together, and it’s not always easy – sometimes music is not always the number one priority in life. Don’t get me wrong – nothing is more important as far as my passion, but it also has to coincide with my family and my kids, who are number one. It’s just the way we work it all out.
But, you know what? We’ve never made a record where we just wanted to put something out there so we can do some dates and make a little money. It was always like, “Let’s write some songs,” and then, if we’ve got some great songs, then we’ll put out a record. We always wanted the songs to be behind the reason for making a record, and that too has been a reason why sometimes a lot of time has elapsed. Do I want to wait another five years? Not really. I’m 53 years old, and I’m under no illusion that I can be the guy in his mid-60’s going out and singing “Reign of Fire,” necessarily. I don’t really think that much into the future regarding this, because I just think, “why?” Thinking that far ahead to ten years doesn’t really do anything for me. I’m proud of having this longevity still, in the music business.
Luckily, we started when we were 19 – that’s how old we were when we made the EP, and March of the Saint we were about 20, 21. We were fortunate to start very young, and I think that’s what we all wanted; to have a long career. Ours has been a little broken up here and there, and not necessarily the most consistent, but I’m proud of all the music we’ve made and I think the quality level’s been super high. Making songs and writing songs has always been the reason for doing this.
As you know, Metallica has been firing up the promotion machine for their new album, and I got to thinking about the history that Armored Saint has with them – touring early on, you almost singing for them at one point. What was it like being around those guys in the early days – was there a feeling that they’d be as huge as they are?
I don’t think anyone expected Metallica to become the beast that they became. Well, maybe Lars did because Lars is Lars (laughs). They became this giant monstrosity of a band regardless of genres. You could sense there was something about them that was special, and people felt this connection that was a little more than the average band was getting, but to what degree, I don’t know. I think a lot of times it is about the timing, and their timing was perfect, and they certainly backed it up with a lot of important music and records that were just pivotal. They just exploded on the Black record. It’s all just very solid and legitimate because they’re an amazing band – they wrote songs that just connected with a lot of people. Even during those years where people were saying, “Oh, they cut their hair!” on the Load album – to me, they were always doing something to push the envelope a little bit.
When you have a long career, there are going to be times when you don’t hit the mark every time, in terms of always connecting with people. I love U2, and there was a time when there was a huge backlash with that band – they became so big there was that natural reaction to go, “Ah, I don’t like them anymore.” I know that feeling, because I feel that way towards bands as well. Even back then, though, Metallica was doing things that were pushing the boundaries – for that I always respected them. They didn’t try to mail it in and reproduce Master of Puppets every time, which you can’t do. I think that’s a mistake – I’d rather see bands trudge forward and say, “We’re here – this is where we’re at now.” You always look back and see that the roots of the band are entrenched, but I like when bands move forward and hit new territory – Metallica has always done that.
Queesnryche/Armored Saint live 2016:
Nov. 15 – Showbox At The Market – Seattle, WA
Nov. 16 – Ace of Spaces – Sacramento, CA
Nov. 17 – Riverside Municipal Auditorium – Riverside, CA
Nov. 18 – House of Blues – San Diego, CA
Nov. 19 – Club Red – Mesa, AZ *
Nov. 21 – Jakes Backroom – Lubbock, TX *
Nov. 22 – Alamo City Music Hall – San Antonio, TX
Nov. 23 – Scout Bar – Houston, TX
Nov. 25 – Clicks – Tyler, TX
Nov. 26 – Trees – Dallas, TX
Nov. 29 – Mavericks at the Landing – Jacksonville, FL
Nov. 30 – Culture Room – Fort Lauderdale, FL
Dec. 1 – The Cuban Club – Tampa, FL
Dec. 2 – The Music Farm – Charleston, SC
Dec. 3 – Baltimore Soundstage – Baltimore, MD
Dec. 4 – Chameleon Club – Lancaster, PA
Dec. 6 – Irving Plaza – New York, NY
Dec. 7 – Rex Theatre – Pittsburgh, PA
Dec. 8 – Diesel Concert Lounge – Chesterfield, MI
Dec. 9 – Concord Music Hall – Chicago, IL
Dec. 10 – The Metal Grill – Milwaukee, WI *
Dec. 11 – Limelight – Peoria, IL
Dec. 13 – The Waiting Room – Omaha, NE
Dec. 14 – Kanza Hall – Overland Park, KS
Dec. 15 – The Black Sheep – Colorado Springs, CO
* =Armored Saint only