INTERVIEW WITH JOEY VERA OF ARMORED SAINT
INTERVIEW AND PICTURES BY ARTO LEHTINEN AND MARKO SYRJALA
Joey Vera is one of the more recognizable names in the metal scene. He has carved his name into metal history as a member of Armored Saint and Fates Warning. Metal-Rules.com had the pleasant opportunity to talk with Joey Vera at Wacken Open Air. The 20min conversation covered the making of the new album WIND HANDS DOWN and a bit of discussion about Anthrax and Fates Warning.
First of all, it’s going to be great to see Armored Saint finally because the band never played in our country but…
Joey Vera: That’s true, we’ve never played in Finland.
But we saw you on the stage here in 2004 with Anthrax.
Joey Vera: With Anthrax, okay. Right!
It was an exciting show to see because you had replaced the band’s permanent bassist Frank Bello in the band at that time. What was the story behind their temporary split back then?
Joey Vera: Yeah. For a year I was taking his place while he was doing the Helmet, he did a year with Helmet. Back here, doing a couple of tours and stuff. I had a great time; I got to be in another band with my best friend, John Bush. Then I got to tour the world basically, a lot of places I had never been to before. So it was cool, it was a great time.
Actually, I remember having read some articles that the last show you did with Anthrax, then was some private show in Brazil?
Joey Vera: Yeah, it was in Chile. It was a club because the show had got canceled. The promoter didn’t have the proper paperwork for the government. You need to have some special permit to have a show, and they didn’t have the papers and so literary two hours before the gig they canceled it. Where we couldn’t play? So there were so many fans that were disappointed, the show was sold out or something, and everyone was so disappointed. We even had to go onto television and make a statement about it. It was crazy. So anyway, a long story, in short, we had nothing to do. So we sat around drinking out all day and then later that night, some of us decided to go to a club. So, I, John Bush, and Rob Caggiano went out to this rock club. They brought us there, and it was just packed with metalheads, people who were going to the show, and they knew we were there, and talking to fans and signing autographs and stuff. Somebody says; you guys can play here. Because it was like a rock club, cover bands were playing. We said; let’s hit it. The three of us can play; we just got to find a drummer. So they asked everyone in the crowd; is there a drummer? Someone was a drummer, so they set up a band; set up bass and guitar and drums. We played about six or seven songs.
Scott Ian and Charlie weren’t there?
Joey Vera: They didn’t go out, Scott and Charlie didn’t go out with us that night. They stayed at the hotel and did something different. So it was just the three of us, and a fan came up and played all these songs with us. It was crazy; it was completely crazy. With a big mosh pit and the fans were like, it was cool.
It was right after that tour when Anthrax announced the reunion with Belladonna and Spitz, right?
Joey Vera: Yeah. It was right after the South American tour, that was the last tour we did, and they came back and told John what they were going to do. That’s when the split happened.
But you have stayed close with the Anthrax guys, and you have helped them out later on as well?
Joey Vera: After that, yeah. After that, a couple of times there were a few reasons Frank couldn’t do shows or whatever, I did a couple of festivals with them. I did one in Canada, and I did a couple of other one-off shows. When Charlie’s mother passed away, they asked me to fill in because it’s Frank’s aunt. So they left to go for the funeral and something, so I went to, filled in for about a week.
WIN HANDS DOWN
Speaking about the new Armored Saint album, WIN HANDS DOWN, many fans say that it’s kind of back to the roots album, and I do agree with that. But how do you like that?
Joey Vera: It’s funny because what my intention was when I was writing that record, I was actually trying to go further than where we went with LA RAZA. I sort of thought that LA RAZA was going back to basics in a way, a lot of those songs are blues-based, and the arrangements are; most of them are somewhat simple. But there are a few that have some experimenting going on, and I wanted to go further with experimenting and with the arrangements. So the songs on this record, I feel like there are a lot more interesting things going on in the arrangement part of it. But it’s very much guitar-driven, and that was also intentional. I just wanted to have a lot of riffs and a lot of really good solos, and a lot of harmonies and vocal melodies. My biggest intention on this record was that I actually wanted it to be a huge epic thing; I wanted it to sound like a wall of sound. I think I accomplished that on this record in doing that. So it’s interesting because I never know what people are going to think when we make records because every time we make a record, it’s always different than the one previous that we put out. We’ve never put out the same record twice in a roll, and we never really repeat ourselves. So I never know what people are going to think, they’re either going to hate it, or they’re going to love it. Maybe they just view it differently like; I kind of like it, I kind of don’t like it. So this one is no exception. The response has been very, very good for it. It’s been actually better than I expected.
Regarding the name of the album, WIN HANDS DOWN. What does it mean, is that something to do with poker playing?
Joey Vera: It’s actually not; it comes from horse racing, believe it or not.
Horse racing? Do Armored Saint guys are into horse racing? “Laughs”
Joey Vera: No, we’re not in the horse racing. The song has nothing to do with horse racing. But it’s a common term in English that it means that when a jockey is racing in a horse, and when the jockey gets so far ahead of the rest of the horses, and he’s coming to the finish line; he lets go of the reins and the horse can easily… Because when you have the reins tight on a horse and that makes the horse run faster. But when you let the reins go, the horse slows down, and it’s easier to handle. So when you’re that far ahead of the pack, and you let go off the rein, and then you win hands down. That means that you win, you easily win. It’s what it means. You can use it for anything in life. “Win Hands Down” just means I do this easily. I can do this easily. That’s what it means.
When you start writing new songs, it’s mainly you and John who write most of the stuff. But how much do the other guys take part in the writing and arrangement work?
Joey Vera: Everybody gives ideas. John and I ended up writing most of it, only because we have a very easy working relationship. We do a lot of work together; we are on the same page just about everything. Then the other guys, they give us some material, but a lot of times it doesn’t always fit exactly what work we’re doing. But we take stuff that we think that works and then we incorporate it into what we’re doing. Really the only good example that are on this record is “With a Full Head of Steam,” that’s a song that originally that Phil Sandoval came up with. He had a completely different arrangement and different way that he played it, but he came up with the chord progressions and stuff. I kind of took it and took it upon, rearranged it. Then Jeff and Gonzo had something that also got included in that. So that song is actually a complete group effort, everybody had some input on that one. But the rest of it ended up just being John and me.
FRIENDSHIP THRU THE YEARS
One thing being unique with you guys is you’re really loyal to each other through these years. Where does that loyalty come from?
Joey Vera: Maybe because we’ve known each other for so long. John, myself, and Gonzo, we are all the same age, and we went to the same grade school. So we’ve known each other since we were nine years old and we grew up in the same neighborhood. So we were always friends and as soon as we entered the seventh grade, which is 11, 12 years old maybe. We’ve been best friends since 12 years old, this whole time. So I think that that has a lot to do with it. We have just known each other that that long.
Even best friends will have crises along the way, but you have successfully coped with the difficulties as people and as a band.
Joey Vera: Everybody does have problems, yeah. Even us being best friends, it’s actually sometimes harder for us because a lot of the times we’re like brothers. When you have a brother or a sister, you fight. You can really hurt that person because everything is very personal and you know them so well. If you say the slightest wrong thing, it cuts deep. So it’s the same thing with us. So it can be hard for us, but we’ve always tried to… We felt like it’s always been important for us to keep the same band members in the band, by whatever cost almost. It’s very easy just to say; will just get rid of everybody and keep the name and one left in the band. Sometimes it’s unavoidable to do that, and I understand that with some bands. But for us, it’s kind of very important that we keep as much as possible keep the same original lineup. We’ve been through a lot of downs together, and that, of course, brings you together when you’re a group. It’s we’re a team, everybody is got to be the team player, and I think we all appreciate that.
Times have changed a lot in the music world, but how do you view the current state of heavy metal and what type of music/bands you listen by yourself nowadays?
Joey Vera: There is always a cycle that goes with that; the stuff I grew up on was the music era, was in the ’70s. So I’m still influenced by all that, I still reference that, and I think it’s obvious. I’m not afraid to say it. A lot of the stuff that I write it comes from the ’70s, I was pulling from a lot of bands that I love; Queen, Thin Lizzy, UFO. Those are bands that I had a big impact on why I like music. So in a way, I let that influence me because it’s just part of who I am. So I don’t need to try to feel like I need to make some new invention or create something that’s like totally unique. I’m not concerned with that. I just want to write good music. Stuff that I like to listen to. So that’s what I still listen to at home, I don’t really listen to that much music that’s been recorded since 1990.
Why? That’s interesting to hear because I’m thinking the same way in most cases. “laughs.”
Joey Vera: I just don’t like it. I don’t say all of it, there is a lot of new stuff that I like. But in terms of like hard rock, heavy metal. To me, the best stuff is that a friend of mine has a song called; it was a name of a song that’s called; “It was great until ’78”. I like that because for me I think that’s true. From 1970 or ’69 until the first Van Halen record, that’s an amazing period of time. After that, sure. A lot of great. Of course, a lot of great stuff. A lot of my favorite stuff has been since then. But I mean as a whole collection in a generation, that was the best time for me.
A BIT OF FATES WARNING AND LIZZY BORDEN
Besides Armored Saint, you have always been working with the other bands, especially with Fates Warning. I guess you joined Fates Warning ’96 or ’97
Joey Vera: ’96, yeah.
How did this come about in the first place?
Joey Vera: I’ve always been friends with Fates since the early days, we were both on Metal Blade Records. So I’ve known them since ’83, ’84. About ’84 was when we first met. So I’ve always been friends with Jim Matheos, and when Joey, their bass player, decided he didn’t want to tour anymore, Jim called me and said; hey, would you be interested? I was like, yeah.
The latest Fates Warning album came out a couple of years ago.
Joey Vera: Yeah.
I guess they are now also doing the Parallers –lineup? That’s the version which we saw at Sweden Rock a few years ago. So there are two different versions of Fates Warning’s going on now – or is it still?
Joey Vera: No, that lineup is not working for anything right now. They only did that one tour, and it was because of the PARALLERS re-issue. The 20th anniversary, I think it was. So they just did a short, a couple of dates and that was it. That’s over. We’re running a new record with the same lineup, and we’re about halfway down writing, we’re doing a tour of the United States in October. Then Fates is doing a reunion of WAKEN THE GUARDIAN at Keep It True in next year, April. But that’s only one show, and that’s it.
You have also played in Lizzy Borden, right?
Joey Vera: Yeah.
You played with them a couple of times, but you never joined the band permanently.
Joey Vera: I’ve known these guys forever too, and they’re good friends of mine, and they just asked me to be a guest player on a couple of records, a couple of songs. Yeah, it’s fun. I love those guys. Yeah, I love those guys.
THE FUTURE OF ARMORED SAINT
What’s going to happen with Armored Saint after this current tour is over?
Joey Vera: For Armored Saint, we go home. After this is done, we go back home, and we’re shooting a second video. So we’re doing a new video when we get back home, and then we do a one-off with Saxon in San Diego. Then a couple of weeks later, we go, and we do a full two weeks with Saxon in the United States. Then after that, I’m doing other things, but for Armored Saint, we’re off until December. Sorry, November we’re doing a one-off in California. Then in December, we’re coming back to Germany, we’re doing the Christmas bash. It’s in Hamburg and Essen maybe, with Accept and Hammerfall. So we play these two shows with them, and then we’re off until the New Year, and we’re doing some more shows in the New Year. We’re playing Monster of Rock Cruise in February, and then we’re working on more shows next year.
WIN HANDS DOWN came out earlier this year, but do you have any plans for the next Armored Saint album already?
Joey Vera: A new album, we haven’t even talked about that. It’s very soon for us to talk about that, but we still like writing music together and making music, so as long as we still enjoy it will probably still make one. Hopefully, it doesn’t take another five years or ten years, hopefully, its sooner because I’m getting too old to wait for that.
Alright, thank you for your time.
Joey Vera: Thank you, guys. Thank you.
ARMORED SAINT PHOTOS FROM WACKEN FESTIVAL 2015