HRH Mag’s Neil ‘Not’ Coggins caught up with Armored Saints’ John Bush, to talk all things band, lockdown, and Barbra Streisand…
NC: Congratulations on ‘Punching the Sky’, another solid effort in the Armored Saint arsenal! It’s been 5 years since the previous album ‘Win Hands Down’, and 10 after the one before that, ‘La Raza’. Are you comfortable with taking time between records, or is it more of a necessity nowadays to stay on the road?
JB: In a perfect world we would put out records more often. I marvel at my favorite bands of the ‘70s (Thin Lizzy, UFO, Aerosmith, etc…) who were able to put out records every year. That with touring AND extracurricular activities. They were incredible!!! How the hell did they do it? But it’s the way it is for us at this point. We combine being musicians with other forms of making a living cause quite frankly we have to. The records will live on way after we do so they have to be of the highest quality. It’s our legacy. We haven’t been a touring machine like we were in the ‘80s for a long time. We strive for great tours that will be fun, lucrative, and as high profile as possible. I would like to avoid 10 guys in a van all crammed in a room at the Red Roof Inn. That wasn’t even fun in my 20s.
NC: It’s been a whopping 36 years since the release of the debut, March Of The Saint. How has writing and recording an Armored Saint record changed in all of those years?
JB: Most of March was recorded at the lavish Ocean Way Studios on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. The other people recording while we were there were Barbara Streisand and Supertramp. Although we had a blast we kept saying to ourselves this shit must be expensive!! And it was!! That recording pretty much put us in debt for the rest of our run with Chrysalis. This record’s guitars and bass were recorded in Bill Metoyer’s backroom studio. The vocals were all done at Joey’s house in his attic home studio. The budget was about a tenth of March’s and it sounds wayyyyy better. That’s one of the positives of technology today. We also use technology to help us with the writing cause we don’t have the time to hang out in a rehearsal studio for 6 hours a day. I reflect on those days nostalgically – I just don’t know how productive they really were in hindsight.
NC: Do you still get a buzz from the whole process surrounding the release of an album: writing, recording, mixing, promoting and touring, after all these years?
JB: Absolutely. It’s extremely rewarding when you finish writing a song. All the members put their stamp on it and it gets recorded. You hear the final mixes, see the artwork and this embryo of an idea becomes this product that hopefully fans will dig. You rehearse new songs, put them in the set with the older songs and it becomes another part of the group. This is what you dreamt about years ago when you began. If it doesn’t still give you a buzz then you should call it a day.
NC: The album title ‘Punching the Air’ can be interpreted as defiance or celebration: do you think this album is an amalgamation of both, and where did the title actually come from?
JB: Ha! Well how about both! Sounds good to me. My original thought was celebratory but defiance works too. Recently a journalist said to me maybe you’re punching God. I said well that’s a perspective of frustration that certainly can be felt at the moment from people. I really enjoy getting listeners’ own view of the lyrics. It’s really amazing. I do love the feeling an athlete has when they raise their arms up in victory. Or the raised arms of an audience at the end of a musical performance. There’s nothing like it. The lyrics and this title can have multiple meanings. Better if it does.
NC: In these days of Spotify and streaming, do you think the lyrics are as important as they once were? I used to love sitting there with the LP insert and studying all of the lyrics but with more people streaming, that experience is becoming rarer. Also, what lyrical themes are explored on the album and where is the inspiration mainly drawn from?
JB: Well obviously as the main lyricist of course I think they’re extremely important and always will be. Certainly having vinyl or even a CD makes the listener more connected with the music in terms of having an actual tangible product to read the lyrics. Or at least to this old school guy it does. You can always find the lyrics online too. We explored many topics on this record. A lot of social commentary for which there is an abundance of current topics to choose from. Personal feelings of coping in life and a little sarcastic sense of humor always works too. Attention deals with the dependency of the digital world, Missile is a song about the divisiveness of our country and Never You Fret reminds everybody what a great band Saint is to name a few.
NC: The whole Covid 19 situation has thrown the whole music industry on its head. How much of the album was written and recorded before lockdown, and how difficult was it to complete the whole process?
JB: We were fortunate that all our recording was done by lockdown. We gave the tracks to Jay Ruston and he was able to mix it on his own, so in terms of our record getting finished it was a non-factor. It would actually be just our luck that hell would break loose right when we hit the studio. Luckily that was not the case. There could’ve been a decision to delay the record however my feeling is fans are already deprived of going to concerts, why deprive ‘em of listening to a record too. You need a new record now more than ever.
NC: Even established acts such as Mastodon have had to claim unemployment benefits during the pandemic. How difficult is it for a band like Armored Saint to keep the wheels running as it were? And despite not being able to tour it, do you think releasing a record at this time keeps you in the public eye?
JB: Everybody has got to do what they got to do to survive. We are in uncharted waters right now. Live shows may be one of the last forms of entertainment to open up worldwide! So musicians have to get creative. Livestreams, more production videos. Whatever it takes. It would’ve been agonizing to have our record finished and to have to sit on it for a year. Perhaps longer. It was a no brainer for me. Release it!
NC: There is also the documentary due to be released. How long has the idea for this been in the works, and how much input did the band have during the process?
JB: Russell Cherrington is a filmmaker friend of ours in Britain. He ran with the idea and got some great interviews done. Everyone from Lars and James to Cliff Burnstein and Max Norman. He was aggressive in making it happen and filled up his passport in doing so. Furthermore, he asked uncomfortable questions at times which makes it feel raw and real. We helped provide a bunch of photos and footage. He did a great job and it will be entertaining for Saint fans as well as all music fans. It’s a good story of persistence and unity. Remember most of Saint has known each other since we were in grade school. 50 years!!
NC: You mention Metallica – was it a surprise that they were keen to be a part of it? And what memories do you have of those days in the ‘80s when you were playing gigs with them?
JB: It was very nice of them to be willing to be interviewed. Every group wants them to talk about their band. Obviously they can be very selective. Even though our communication can be sporadic we will always have that history together in the early days. The Metallica, WASP, Armored Saint tour in 1985 is still something people talk about all the time. We had a blast and had some crazy times where we were all discovering life. Metallica, Saint and Death Angel two nights at the Kabuki theatre in San Francisco was also a classic show. Watching metalheads become so passionate about Metallica was a once in a lifetime situation. They went on to be the biggest band in the world. It was cool to witness that development first hand.
NC: With 2020 being a virtual write-off for live music, what’s in store for Armored Saint in 2021? Are promoters fighting amongst themselves to book you onto tours and festivals?
JB: I’m trying to stay optimistic for shows happening in 2021. There are still plenty of territories that Saint has either never played or haven’t played in years. I want to make that happen. Festival season in Europe in particular is always a blast. I also would like to get out a DVD of the Symbol of Salvation in its Entirety Tour we did in 2018. We filmed a bunch of shows and it was a special run so I would love to get that released. Also the documentary. There’s a lot going on, but of course performing songs live from Punching the Sky is a top priority.
NC: Finally, for a bit of fun, Armored Saint have been asked to curate a festival featuring 6 bands as well as yourselves. In non-running order, who would your dream bill be to share a stage with, and why?
JB: Rival Sons, Mastodon, Faith No More, Anthrax, Metallica. Oh and Saint of course!! Maybe a surprise guest performance by AC/DC in a 500 seat club adjacent to the festival site!
NC: Cheers guys, much appreciated!!