Interviewed by Robert Cavuoto
Armored Saint will be releasing their latest CD, Punching the Sky, on October 23rd via Metal Blade Records. This new CD sees the band returning with a diverse, attitude-drenched collection of songs. It’s everything the band’s faithful followers have come to expect from Armored Saint while pushing their signature sound forward. Songs like “Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants” explode with the crunchy, rousing guitar, and fiery vocals, and the CD doesn’t let up until the closing ruthless riff of “Never You Fret.”
Punching the Sky is possessed with a sense of urgency and vigor that can only be the work of Joey Vera [bass], Phil Sandoval [guitar], Jeff Duncan [guitar], Gonzo Sandoval [drum], and John Bush [vocals].
I had the pleasure of speaking with Joey Vera about the band being re-energized with this release, how their writing style has evolved since the 80s, and what fans can expect from their virtual streaming show at the Whisky A Go-Go on October 10th. Tickets for the virtual show can be purchased here: armoredsaint.veeps.com
There are some tremendous songs on Punching the Sky. Do you and the band feel re-energized as it’s been five since you released Win Hands Down?
We do! We were stoked to be doing so many tour dates for Win Hands Down. Over the five years, we did more than we have done in a very long time. I think it was a good shot in the arm for us to see so many fans come out to see us play. It inspired us to make this CD.
The songs on this CD are quite diverse, like the melodic “No Bark, No Bite,” the haunting broodiness of “Unfair,” and straight-up metal on “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” Tell me about the importance of providing those different dimensions to your CD?
It comes naturally to us. It is no secret that a lot of bands have inspired us, and we like to bring that into the fold as much as we can without getting too bizarre or too far outside the box. Some of our favorite bands growing up in the 70s who made diverse records were Bowie, Thin Lizzy, and Queen. It’s been like an experiment on the past several records to bring different elements into the picture. When I look back on our catalog and career, we have diversity on almost every record. Each one is a little different, and some are more diverse than others. There are different styles of songs, so it’s not the same song over and over. It wasn’t intentional where we said to each other, “Let’s make a diverse record!” [Laughing] We are always trying to stretch our wings, and maybe we stretched ourselves a bit further this time around as the songs unfolded.
How has writing changed for you from when you were a kid until now?
I would like to think we have become better songwriters in our old age [laughing]. When you are young, you’re a sponge and a blank canvas. You are being influenced by what’s around you. That has a tendency to override your writing. It’s pretty clear that when you look back, we were influenced by Judas Priest, Scorpions, a little Maiden, a little Motorhead, a little Def Leppard, and Saxon. The older you get, you start to get those things out of your system, get better at your instrument, better at writing, and better at creating melodies. Armored Saint’s music and songwriting have become more elaborate and sophisticated from when I was 18 or 19 years old. That’s a broad stroke on how it’s different. The way we write now is also different from the early days. When we first started as a garage band, we all got together and would jam on a riff for 30 minutes until we stumbled on another riff that would be the second part of the song [laughing]. It was a very long and laborious process. There is something to be said about that juvenile nativity as great things come from it as it’s very genuine, young, and real. When you get older, you tend to use a different part of your brain to think things out, so when you get an inspiration, you can get them to come out of your hands quicker. The writing process now is different as we don’t all get together in a room. We write at home and send the ideas to each other via email.
Being influenced by so many bands when you started out, when do you think Armored Saint founds its own unique voice and style?
It took quite some time to realize that. The pinnacle moment for me was in 2010 when we put out La Raza. At that point, I looked back and realized that we have been doing our own thing the whole time. In our early days, we struggled with some identity crisis issues when Heavy Metal was a new musical genre in the early 80s. When it began to splinter off into the sub-genres like Trash, Hair Metal, and Glam Metal, we felt as if we didn’t fit in. Once we got pressure from our record label and management to fit into something; or lack of a better word, commercialize ourselves, we started to have some self-doubt, which affected our songwriting. When we got dropped from Chrysalis Records, we started to climb out of that while writing and looking to find a new record label. It was during that time we wrote Symbol of Salvation. There is some great diverse music on that CD. It stood on its own, but then the band broke up [laughing], and then you have 12 years of not doing anything. Around La Raza, we felt we were okay with this approach, and we will continue to write quality music. We were no longer going to be looking over our shoulder to keep up with anybody. A lot of fans appreciate it as being honest, and that is all we are trying to do.
It’s also very authentic.
That is what you try to do. Having authenticity should come naturally. It should not be something you are manufacturing or conjuring up. I think this is why John and I have very little discussions about what we are going to write. We want the music to be authentic, and it has to come naturally. We just let the music come out.
The CD sounds sonicaly powerful; at what point in your career did you decided to put on the producer’s hat?
Joey Vera: The turning point in me with Armored Saint was when we lost Dave Prichard to Leukemia. Our band never had a leader, which was another problem we suffered from. We had five reluctant leaders, and none of us wanted to take the reins at one given time. We all have strong personalities and still have to this day. In many ways, Dave was the guy. He was the only guitar player and came up with a lot of the music as he was very talented. I co-wrote with him, but his riffs were the jumping-off point. I would contribute to what he started. When he passed, the void was obvious, and by default, I knew I was the guy that was going to have to step up for the songwriter. I went in and filled the shoes. When we were making Symbol with producer Dave Jerden, he recognized I was his point person who wanted to help him make the decisions to get to where we wanted to go musically. After we recorded the drums, he said, “I don’t need to be here. I think you should continue to work with these guys to get the best performances out of them. I’ll continue to check-in, but I don’t need to sit here all day, because you know better than anyone else what you want performance-wise. I’ll come back when it comes time to mix.” My first reaction was, are you serious? Do you really want to do that? I took it as a challenge and thought it was pretty cool of him to have that faith in me. I really respected him for doing that as it gave me a boost of confidence. That was my turning point as I co-produced that record with him. Ever since then, I assumed the role of director or producer. I’m lucky that the other guys trust me to be that person and have done a pretty good job of it this time around. The people I surround myself with, like the band and the two engineers has been great. I’m happy and proud of the work we have done.
During this lock downtime, the thought of playing a virtual concert seemed completely alien to us, that is, playing a venue with no people. Once we realized things weren’t going to change, particularly in Los Angeles where we live, we needed to do something to connect with fans to celebrate the record’s release. We reconsidered the idea and decided to move forward with it. It’s a live streaming show on October 10th, and it will be available until November 8th. For a $10 ticket, you can watch it any time during that month anywhere in the world. We are playing a full set and four brand new songs from this record. It will be a little strange and weird, but we are going to have fun with it. There will be exclusive signed CDs and merch available as well. We are taking questions on Facebook and will answer some of them as well at the event.