Contributor’s Note: On October 23rd, Armored Saint will release their eighth full-length, Punching The Sky, via Metal Blade Records. John Bush (vocals) and Joey Vera (bass).Leaders and stalwarts of the American heavy metal scene since the early 80’s, Armored Saint’s Punching The Sky sees them returning hard. A diverse, attitude-drenched collection, it’s everything the band’s faithful have come to expect from them while pushing their signature sound forward. “When you’re a band that began four decades ago, you really have to push yourself harder than ever when it comes to making a new record, “states Bush. “The last thing you ever want is for it to appear as though you were going through the motions or that you’re just putting a product out to do some touring. The records are immortal. They’ll be here long after us. Everyone needs to count in its own individual way.” In this interview with Madness To Creation, John Bush of Armored Saint discusses “Punching The Sky”, coping with the Covid-19 pandemic and their legacy as a legendary metal band. Fans can find Armored Saint at the following locations:
John Bush: Where are you at?
Mark Dean: I’m in Manchester.
John Bush: All right. Good old Manchester. How’s everything going there?
Mark Dean Interviewer: Pretty much the same as it is everywhere else. Lots of lock-downs. Lots of craziness.
John Bush: Yeah, I know. Believe me.
Mark Dean Interviewer: How are you dealing with all this extra time that you have on your hands?
John Bush:Well, I’m pretty busy lately actually. My wife and I have a casting studio that we run. It’s her business that she started years ago and I help her out and we cast commercials. We’ve been actually pretty busy, because we’ve been trying to continue some production and make some commercials. I mean, one thing that’s been happening amongst all this whole corona thing is that a lot of people are home watching a lot of television. So there’s a need to create new commercials, even though people watch television differently now, because of TiVo and direct, I don’t know how it is in England, but just you can kind of advance to shows and stuff. But in any case, we’re trying to keep our business going, because it would be a shame to go out of business after all these years, needless to say.
Mark Dean Interviewer: And of course, Armored Saint have a new album. Your eighth album.
John Bush: Yeah, that’s also exciting.
Mark Dean Interviewer: Yet to be released. Just wondering if the creation process, does it get easier with each release?
John Bush: Truthfully, I mean, I can’t speak for Joey and the other guys who are contributors to the music. Me obviously it’s primarily vocals and lyrics. However, I think that believe it or not, I feel like I don’t want to say maybe it’s gotten easier, but it certainly hasn’t gotten harder. And I think as long as you’re open-minded about trying different things and pushing boundaries and just taking chances, I think it keeps it going very fluidly. Let’s say that.
Mark Dean Interviewer: Has the creation process of an album changed much since those early albums that the band released back in the
John Bush: Oh yeah. Well, back in the early eighties, when we were all young whippersnappers and thought we were going to be the biggest band on the Earth, we would get together and go into a rehearsal studio and sit there for four or five hours, hatching out ideas, jamming. And it was great, it was fun. Believe me, I miss some aspects of that. But I do think that when we look back on it and in a nostalgic way, we think we were a little bit more productive than perhaps we really were. It was a little different, but now we’re productive in a different kind of way, because the way life is for all of us, families and jobs that you have to have, because we needed a supplemental income. So, and with the one positive aspect of technology is that it enables you to work when you’re not even together. So, that’s been really helpful. And I think that there’s pluses and minuses, but this is the way it is now. And so, we’re embracing it.
Mark Dean Interviewer: You mentioned there that the challenge was to push boundaries with each release. The new album’s got new instruments on there, it’s got guest musicians. I just wondered if it was always the intention to adopt and adapt different elements into particular songs at the outset of creating this album-or did those ideas just evolve as the songs began to take shape.
John Bush: We always wanted to try different things. And that’s the thing I was saying, is that we really do enjoy writing with kind of broad strokes. We grew up on bands like Queen and The Sweet and Thin Lizzy, and UFO, and a lot of these seventies,hard rock pop bands, even like Elton John and even some groups from the soul and R&B eras like Earth, Wind and Fire and the Ohio Players and the O’Jays and these groups had such a big wall of sound and lots of different instruments, horns and keyboards and strings. So yes, we are a metal band. We all know that and we embrace that and we were proud of that. But if we can adopt other sounds to kind of make the music a little deeper, we’re always going to consider that, even if it’s just something as simple as a little guitar. Like for instance, on the song The End of the Attention Span, there was a high guitar part.
I kept asking Joey, “Is that a keyboard?” And he goes, “No, it’s a guitar.” And I said, “It sounds like a keyboard. And he goes, I know, but it’s not. “And so there you go. That’s a good example of it, it’s not even a different instrument, but yet it kind of sounds like a different instrument and it creates depth and gives us a different kind of layering of sound that makes it sound just broader. And that’s the best way I can describe it right now. And it just kind of makes it sound just bigger and things like that and that mindset and incorporating those kinds of ideas and being open to it. I think it just kind of makes the music just bigger. That’s the best way to describe it.
Mark Dean Interviewer: What about a track like Standing on the Shoulder of Giants? Obviously it’s long, it’s a more complex piece. Was that
difficult to put together?
John Bush: Well, we had some really cool long songs on the last record on Win Hands Down, Muscle Memory, In an Instant. I love those songs. I think they’re really cool epic tracks. But we didn’t want to really try to write as many longer songs on this record. I don’t know, it was just a conscious decision. So Giants, it’s kind of funny. It’s one of the earlier songs that we wrote and it is one of the longest, I think it is the longest song, but that’s the longest. So I think everything we were trying to keep under time-wise that way. But I love Giants. It’s another one of those kind of epic Armored Saint songs. You can even go back to Aftermath or Isolation or Another Day and Tainted Past, even in those earlier records, simple and Raising Fear and Delirious Nomad. So we always enjoy doing songs like that. And we always wanted to kind of have a couple of tracks that were like that throughout our history. And this is just kind of a continuation of that. The only thing that happened with Giants was the question mark is where it was going to go on the track listing. And Joey said, “I think it should be first.” I said, “Really, this long song, you think it should be first?” Then he said, “Yeah, I think it should. It”s an amazing track.” And then with the whole intro, the pipes, it just seemed like it was a perfect setup for the record. So in the end, that’s the first track.
Mark Dean Interviewer: What about the tracks themselves? Obviously, between the time that you first started recording them you had a period of touring before the album was eventually finished. Just wondered if the tracks had evolved much with the playing live shows in between.
John Bush: I don’t know, maybe subliminally more than anything. We did do that Symbol of Salvation tour, which was really amazing.And I don’t know if they had any specific effect on the songs. I think it may be just subliminally and knowing how things kind of work live. It was really fun to do the Symbol thing because like I just mentioned on Another Day, Tainted Past,of course it was as long as it went along with the rockers like Reign of Fire and Tribal Dance in Symbol of Salvation. But it was cool to play a record obviously in its entirety, especially a record like that, because it is a fairly diverse record. So there’s a lot of kinds of peaks and valleys as you go through that album and you’re playing it live. So I think, like I said, I don’t know if there was a conscious decision, but maybe just subliminally. It kind of seeps in to like, “Oh, this works, oh, this is a cool buildup. This is a nice breakdown. And this is a solid just pounding you over the head kind of groove.” So I think all those things probably just affected us in ways that just were more subliminal than really conscious.
Mark Dean Interviewer: A lot of your musical peers, I mean, in particular vocalists have changed their style of singing over the years as they get older. But you never seemed to have lost that range yourself.
John Bush: Well, I do think my voice has gotten lower, as we grow older, I think in general humans, voices get deeper. I certainly don’t sound like the guy I was when I was 19 when we first started. And if you listened to the EP, my voice certainly sounds, I think deeper than it did then. But I mean, I’m 57, so that’s 38 years later. Wow, it was just terrifying. But in any case, I think then my range, especially my, like my mid-range voice is just, it’s a really warm area for my voice. And I think, I mean, I don’t want to just stay there and I try to sing higher when appropriate or even lower and even believe it or not sometimes really low stuff and quiet stuff is sometimes the most challenging at this point. But you know, I’m trying, my voice is, I think it sounds pretty, pretty good, actually. I’m proud of it. And it’s just a matter of maintaining it. And really, it just comes down to singing a lot, it’s a muscle like anything else. So you need to keep it going or also it’ll atrophy. And the more you work it, the more it gets stronger.
Mark Dean Interviewer: At the current time, bands you’re having to explore new and alternative sources of revenue and indeed, Armored Saint are doing a live record release show online. Just wondering how that’s going to operate. Do you guys do rehearsals for something big as that? Will you guys be in the studio altogether? How’s it going to work?
John Bush: Yeah. Well, we’re going to rehearse that’s for sure. And we’re going to be filming at the Whisky A Go-Go, which is a legendary club here in Los Angeles. They’ve been doing these kinds of shows. So it’s going to be weird, no doubt about it, because it’s going to be a show with no one, maybe a handful of people and friends and family, the band, and whoever finds a way to get in. Believe me, I wish there were at least 50 people there that would change the dynamic of it. And I’m still hopeful that maybe from now September 2nd to October 10th, that maybe it will happen, but that seems pretty unlikely. However, it’s the way we got to do it. That’s why I’m kind of putting more of an emphasis on this. It’s a show, but we’re going to play a few new songs and it’s also kind of this record release party kind of thought process.
So I’m trying to take it a little bit away from just a regular gig, because the bottom line is, it really is not a regular gig. It’s simply by virtue of what it is and the time we’re in. But you have to get creative, like you said, we’re going to have to try to do something when you make a record. The first thing you really want to do is play stuff live. And we can’t. So yeah, we just got a role in it and we’re going to do this and then after that, I have no idea.
Mark Dean Interviewer: Obviously, the music business has changed not just over the last few months, but quite significantly, since you guys started in the eighties. Do you enjoy the more interactive hands-on approach that bands have to use these days in terms of fan interaction, social media, things like that?
John Bush: Well, I’m a bad example to ask about that, because I have no social media. So I have no Facebook. I don’t have Twitter, I have nothing. I don’t even have an Instagram, probably is a direct correlation between my inability to use technology and me being a little rebellious. But that being said, if you catch me in a situation, whereas after a show or a record signing, a party, I’ll always be the nicest guy you can be and give people time. So I’m a hands-on kind of guy when it comes to that. But I just choose to kind of keep my private life a little bit separate. And I don’t know, I’m a little cynical sometimes about social media. But when it comes right down to it, it’s a new form of promoting yourself, promoting your bands. And I do think it’s necessary. I certainly think it’s needed for the band in itself to have a presence of social media.
Mark Dean Interviewer: Just a couple then to finish. What in your professional career are you most proud of?
John Bush: Well, I think maybe longevity is something I’d be pretty proud of. I think that when we started, we had these aspirations to just have this kind of long career and we pretty much have. It didn’t go exactly the way we expected financially or success-wise in terms of numbers, if you will. I don’t know how much that really matters. I mean, it matters if you can’t pay your bills, obviously. But in terms of what we’ve done as far as contributions to music and hard rock and heavy metal and making quality music, I think that we’ve done amazingly. So, sometimes I wish things were different. It would be cool to be able to walk on a stage at an arena in front of 10,000 people and play Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, or it’d be pretty stellar, but it’s just the way it is. And this is the way our career has gone. It doesn’t diminish anything that we’ve done as far as the quality of the music.
Mark Dean Interviewer: You have been a professional musician again for many years. Is there a key lesson that a career in the music industry has taught you something that maybe stands out for you?
John Bush: Well, I say patience is pretty much something that you really need. You need to be, you need to have thick skin without a doubt. You need to have a pretty strong ego, to be honest. And has to be able to be able to handle all the things that are going to come your way. I’d say you have to have a lot of persistence. And I’d say, when it really comes right down to it, the thing that matters most is just that you’ve really got a love for doing it, because if you do it for other reasons, I think that you’ll eventually those things will be distracting and you just have to really love the art of it. And that sounds kind of nothing would piss me off more is some pompous sounding artist like, “I do it for the art.” Oh, shut the fuck up! I mean, I don’t want to sound like that. But in the end, when it comes to creative stuff, you just can’t determine what the outcome is going to be. You just don’t know. And so, you make a music, you make an art, maybe a painting, you make a sculpture, maybe you make a film and then you kind of let it go, because you just don’t know what is going to be the results of that, because there’s so much, it’s just not in your hands and out of your control. So that is out of your control. So again, I think you kind of do it for the love of it. And then, you hope people feel the same.
Mark Dean Interviewer: Just a couple more than. Having done many interviews, what personal hero or inspiration would you like to interview if the rules were reversed?
John Bush: Well, it’d be cool to.., I’ve always been a huge fan of Bono. I think he had a big impact on me as a singer and as a writer. And I think he’s had ups and downs in terms of some of his creative output. But all-in-all, he’s been a hero of mine since way back to The War album and the way they approach writing songs and pushing limits, I think has been a big influence on me as a singer and writer. So I mean, I’d be over the moon, just sitting there and chatting, interviewing Bono. That would be amazing.
Mark Dean Interviewer: You’ve achieved many goals and ticked many boxes. Do you still have hopes and dreams and aspirations?
John Bush: Sure. I mean, I think when you make a record, I still feel like I’m 21 in the sense of the excitement and the enthusiasm associated with it and doing something that feels like you’ve put so much energy in and time and effort into your creative ideas. So I mean, I don’t want to get too caught up, as I said earlier. I mean, I think you have to do it for the love, but I mean, I’m a human being and I want to see people like it too. And I went to YouTube this morning, it’s three weeks since The End of the Attention Span video has come out and I want to see what people think and see what they say. And I’m not immune to that by any means.
Mark Dean Interviewer: Do you ever have a desire to make an album someday in a different musical style or genre?
John Bush: I would, I would like to do that one day. Like I told you earlier, I’m a big fan of old school, R&B and I kind of always had this bluesy voice to kind of definitely lean towards that way. And it’s been a big influence on my idea of singing and writing through the years. I just, I haven’t had the gumption or maybe the time to actually do it. I would, I mean, I don’t know how many people would want to hear a John Bush R&B record, singing soul-type music. So I would have to do it again, back for the love of doing it. But yeah, one day that would be a pretty fun project, I think.
Mark Dean Interviewer: John, that’;s been great. Thank you very much. I love the album. Hopefully you can get to the UK and play some live shows.
John Bush: Thank you.Did you see our show in Manchester when we played there that time?
Mark Dean Interviewer: I did indeed, yeah.
John Bush: The one and only time?
Mark Dean Interviewer: Yeah.I was there-great gig.
John Bush: Yeah. That was a great gig.
Mark Dean Interviewer: Loved it.
John Bush: So hopefully we can make it back 2021.
Mark Dean Interviewer: Yep. Thank you very much. Cheers for talking.
John Bush: Thanks Mark. Have a good day.
And there you have it! Check out Mark Dean at the following locations: