Armored Saint’s John Bush Talks About the Band’s Latest, “La Raza,” and What He’s Up To Lately
Armored Saint were one of the great L.A. metal bands to emerge in the early ’80s. Like Metallica, who once asked Saint vocalist John Bush to audition for them (he declined), they broke out on Metal Blade’s Metal Massacre series and joined the major-label ranks. Albums like 1984’s March of the Saint and its follow-up, 1986’s Delirious Nomad, showcased the group’s knack for catchy, Judas Priest-inspired songwriting, and Bush’s ragged howls about survival seemed were the band’s lifeblood. They released the final album of their original run, Symbol of Salvation, in 1991—a tribute of sorts to the band’s founding guitarist Dave Prichard, who had died of leukemia prior to recording the record. With an uncertain future, Bush accepted the offer to join Anthrax, and sang with that band through their decision to reunite a pre-Bush lineup. The rest of Armored Saint broke up.
Last week, they released their first album in 10 years, La Raza (Metal Blade), following up 2000’s excellent Revelation, which the band members had recorded while their other groups were on hiatus. The current Armored Saint reunion began when bassist Joey Vera, who had been playing in Fates Warning, contacted Bush to work on some new songs. The singer had all but retired from music, but ended up having a lot of fun working with his old friend. Eventually the duo got the rest of the band involved. “We just realized, well look. It’s you. It’s me. It’s rock,” Bush says. “What are we gonna do? Are we gonna try to bullshit the public and tell you, ‘Oh man, it’s not Armored Saint’? Come on, man. It’s not in me.” Bush has since played a few shows with Anthrax again but remains committed to promoting Armored Saint. Here, he fills us in on the rest of the story.
REVOLVER What were you doing with your time between exiting Anthrax and restarting Armored Saint?
JOHN BUSH There was a couple of years I didn’t do a whole lot of music. Well, no music, I should say. After I left Anthrax I was kind of in a good state of mind about not really doing anything. I’ve been in band over the course of—since, like, 1983 to, like, 2005, basically. It was a long time of being a rock guy. A lot had changed in my life. First kid. Was fairly recently married. And my wife has a business in the entertainment world doing casting. I kind of embraced working with her a little bit. I just was ready to not think about music for a while. And I think it was healthy.
So I got out of that and began a career doing voiceover work, and that’s been really happening over the last couple of years. And, like I said, it was a good time to not really think about music, not that I don’t love and always have and always will love music. But the process of being a guy in a band was nice to not do that. I’m sure that could be shattering to a lot of music fans [laughs]. But you know what man? Being in a band is like having five roommates in close quarters or four wives. Unless you’re a gay polygamist [laughs], it’s hard. I was good at just breaking loose at that and then just being a regular dude. It was all good until Joey said he had some ideas about writing some songs.
What voiceovers would people know you from?
Well, mostly I’ve done Burger King spots over the past three-and-a-half years. I’ve done a lot of radio and various television commercials. To me, it’s another form of art. A lot of the commercials I’ve done are really funny. You can say, “Oh, you’re selling a fucking fish sandwich,” but you know what? To me, as long as there’s some integrity with it—and to me there is—then I’m done. It’s using my voice. It’s like a natural progression.
So you were writing songs with Joey. At what point did it become an Armored Saint record?
Well, he gave me a couple of ideas and I kind of ran with the first one that I thought I liked. It actually made me feel really good about myself, because I thought, Oh, I guess I still have a knack for this. The whole obligatory thing of being in a band is not connected to it. I really liked it.
What were you looking forward to most about working with the guys again?
Taking the record out of the demo form and making it a record. The way we recorded it, the demos Joey and I made sounded incredible. People would be blown away that it’s a drum machine from the way Joey programs it. I kept probably 50 percent of the vocals we recorded when we did them as demos. But I always approached them like, I’m recording this and putting everything into it. I’m not thinking of it as a demo, I’m singing this the best I can. When those guys came in. I think that Jeff [Duncan, guitars] played some rhythms that changed things a little bit. Joey kept a lot of the rhythms that he did, because he wrote them. Phil [Sandoval, guitars] played some leads and kind of put his style in it. And Gonzo [Sandoval] has just always had this little bit of a Latin style to his drumming and he was able to bring that out. It was good for them as musicians to be able to do that.
How are you as friends these days in Armored Saint?
You know, the truth of the matter is that as time goes by, people kind of grow apart. It doesn’t mean that you can’t collectively make music or write a song or even play that song. But I’m not gonna lie and say that all the guys in Armored Saint have the same thought process that they did when they were 20 years old. That’s just not reality at all. Not even fucking close. [Laughs] So it doesn’t matter. The days of being in my Comet, my old car, smoking pot and cranking Priest and going to pass out flyers at the Troubadour for our upcoming show—it was a beautiful thing. I loved it. But it’s just not where I’m at.
To be able to say, “Here’s a song, put your thing into it. And let’s play it together.” There’s still gonna be that correlation, especially in the guys in Armored Saint. Not only have most guys in the band played together for a long time, but we’ve known each other. I mean, I’ve known Joey since I was 9 years old. I’m going on almost 40 years of just friendship. The thing with Gonzo is I met him around the same time. So we’ve just known each other for a long time. That’s not to say that we have the same collective thoughts about life anymore, because everybody kind of goes in different directions, but it doesn’t matter because when it comes to that, you’re just kind of like, let’s just play the song and that will be your moment to put your thing in.
What inspired your lyrics on La Raza? A lot of your lyrics have been about persevering, especially in Armored Saint over the years.
Hey, thanks. And thanks for seeing that. Yeah, real personal this time. More than anything I’ve ever done. A song like “Head On,” it couldn’t be more of, like, a song to myself of, “Dude, just be straight about life and life will be a lot easier.” So I’m just always challenging myself with that because in life I’m always trying to become better as a person. And now I’m a father. Every day is a challenge. A lot of the songs were really about trying to improve myself as a human being. There was other things, too. The song “La Raza” is a song about the state of the world, or the environment. It’s really important to me, because I chose to procreate and I want to pass on a better earth to my kids. It’s important to me. And then there’s a song like “Get Off the Fence,” which is a song about putting up or shutting up and believing in it and not waffling in life. Some of these songs, maybe one thing might have triggered it but I can see that there is a theme, to some degree, about the way I try to conduct my life. Real personal. I’m really proud of the lyrics. I’m not gonna say it’s the best thing I ever wrote, but it’s probably the most revealing thing I ever wrote.
Shifting gears, you’ve had one of those voices that’s sort of stayed the same throughout the years.
Well, I’ve lost some highs through the years. If you go all the way back to March of the Saint or even Symbol. On Raising Fear, I was like a dog boy. [Laughs]
What do you do to keep your vocals fit?
I’ve taken lessons over the last couple years because I really needed to. I got to a point a couple years back where I was touring with Anthrax and I really fucked my voice up. Like, OK, if I’m going to attempt to keep doing this, I probably should take better care and I should figure out what I can’t do. It’s really helped me out a lot. I think I’m just trying to find the area of where my voice sounds the best, the thickest and the grittiest. I’ve kind of narrowed in on that.
What have you been listening to these days?
Recently I went to Amoeba [Music, a record store in L.A.] and bought a bunch of records. I got the new Pearl Jam record, which I think is cool. I dig the band Kasabian. A little bit of TV on the Radio. As far as harder rock goes, I’m always a fan of Queens of the Stone Age. I didn’t buy any music, but with Anthrax we just played these shows in Australia at the Soundwave festival. Faith No More had reunited recently for some dates and, man, I haven’t been that inspired in a long time. They were just so fucking good. I’ve always been a huge fan of their band. And Mike Patton, he’s like an alien or something. I’d look at him and I listen to him and I’m just sitting there with my jaw agape wondering how the fuck he does it. But it’s a great band, great songs. Real fun, sarcastic, really inspirational.
How’d those shows go for you?
They were great. They were fun shows. It’s funny. Being on the metal stage of this festival is always like, where’s the stage? And it’s way in the back. Fucking bastard child. They were great. The shows were fun. The crowds were great. Very receptive. Getting onstage is easy, playing familiar tunes. There’s a great camaraderie there. So, you know, it’s gravy. And the shows were fun. I was able to take my wife and my kids to Australia and we had a lot of fun there. It was a great trip. It was really positive as far as just being there.
Obviously a lot of the history of Armored Saint was tied in with Dave Prichard, and I was just wondering what your fondest memory of him was.
Wow, I have a lot of fond memories of Dave. Obviously I miss him a lot still. His presence was huge with his flaming red hair and his humor. And he’s a great guitar player. Underrated, actually. Very, very soulful. He was just a comical guy.
The thing that Dave taught us, especially when he got really sick and went in the hospital to try to correct the leukemia that he had and he was unable to do, he always had this zestful way of looking at life. I try to take that with me. Because that guy died at 26 years old and that’s pretty young. Never thought he wasn’t gonna make it. He was talking towards the end of like, “OK, when we get out of here…” And you could see his health really declining. That’s just very motivating.
One particular memory. He was a pervert, definitely. Girls would ask him for a pick, and he would say, “OK,” and he would put a pick on the head of his penis and go, “All right. If you want it.” I don’t think he did that all the time, but there was one moment where we were all going, “Dude, you’re such a perv.” But he always had a little sense of humor with it. [Laughs]
On that note…
On that note, this interview is officially over.
Interview by Kory Grow