Joe Vera is one of the most famous and talentated artist from the worldwide metal scene. He plays in Armored Saint (of course he was one of the former member of this great metal band), and presently he plays in Fates Warning, Engine, Seven Witches, Tribe After Tribe and other projects. David Laci made a very interesting interview with this great man, about past, present and future, reviewing the whole history of Armored Saint.
Hi Joey! Long since I have read an Armored Saint interview, so I would put some questions to you, in all right? Let we start from the very beginning. Armored Saint was established in the early ‘80-s in Los Angeles. How was the scene in LA at the time?
Well it was really just beginning as far as the Metal scene. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal was having an effect here and bands started popping up. There was a mix of European influenced bands with what would become later a L.A. Glam influence which had been here since the 70's.
Later, in the middle of the ‘80-s was the scene ruled by Ratt, Mötley Crüe etc. How do you remember about these bands and about this period?
Actually, from 1982 -1983 the scene in L.A. was ruled by the following bands: Motley Crue, Ratt, WASP, Armored Saint, Great White, Black and Blue, Dokken. We all did shows together but each band could headline their own show and still be close to a sell out in the clubs. By the mid 80's (1985-87).
All of these bands had major label deals so we all became "national" acts. And by then the L.A scene was starting to become more Glam influenced which gave birth to Guns and Roses, Poison etc.
Metallica did come from Los Angeles too and as I as know, they asked you to join the band. Didn’t you regret that you didn’t accept their offer? Or did Metallica make approaches to John Bush?
Metallica asked John to be their singer just before they made Kill em All but John declined saying that James was what made them sound like Metallica.
After Cliff died they had been auditioning bassplayers and they hated it. Lars called me and asked if I'd be interested in jamming to see what would happen. They just wanted to play with some one they already knew. Armored Saint at that time was right in the middle of recording our record Raising Fear for Chrysalis and I had to ask myself the question of whether or not it was time to a life change and my answer was no.
I had to finish the record I was making with my friends who I'd known since the age of 7. I have no regrets at all because my life has been rich with experiences and I would not trade that for anything.
Metallica have moved to San Francisco because of Cliff Burton. Did you hang often together? Were you good friends? How was the old Metallica? In the early period you have played some gigs with Metallica, haven’t you?
Funny enough, we didn't become close with them until after they had moved. We did a few shows with them up in S.F. which were pretty crazy. Then we did a tour with them and WASP in Jan. Feb. of 1985 and by then we became quite close. We hung out quite a bit on that tour and did a lot of drinking! They were just a great band and you could see that they were changing something in the music genre.
Please tell us about your early rehearses and songs! How must we imagine an early Armored Saint rehearse?
Early Saint rehearsals went like this: We had our own room in a big building with many rooms filled with bands so the place was fuckin noisy! We'd call rehearsal at 7:30, show up at 8:30 because John had to pick up each band member in his car. We'd make a stop at a liqour store to buy beer, Jack Daniels, Bacardi and Porn magazines.
So we'd smoke some pot when we got to the room and start playing at around 9:00. We used to play the songs like it was a real gig, headbanging and stinking up the place with sweat. We'd finish at around 11:00, smoke more pot, pile into Johns' car and go to the Arcade to play video games. We would have tournaments on Defender. That was it 5 days a week for several years.
To what refer your name? On your early shows you have played in armoureds, haven’t you?
The name was thought up by Gonzo our drummer after we had all gone to see Excaliber in the Theater. The name came out of a pot induced conversatoin and we all hated it at first but we used it. After about a year of playing live we started wearing things that looked like the Road Warrior which was a favorite movie along with Excaliber. So we thought to use the name to our advantage and have a more unique look instead of jeans and leather jackets.
You have played on the Metal Massacre II. Which song and which bands were on this compilation? Did this song call the attention to you?
We put Lesson Well Learned on the record. First song, side one. Other bands were Savage Grace, Warlord and Trauma which was the band Cliff Burton was in before Metallica.
How did you get to Chrysalis? Didn’t want to get in touch other labels with you? Was your music too hard at the time?
In order to get on the Metal Massacre 2 record in 1983 we had to make a demo. We recorded a demo of 5 songs and picked one for the record. While we were recording the demo, an A&R guy came down to the studio to look at the studio for one of his other bands on Atlantic records. We met him and he said he was thinking of signing Steeler and we told him that they sucked and that he should sign us! He left and we never heard back from him. 6 months later we were selling out every gig and we got interest from Polygram. So we talked to them for a while and one day I get a call from this guy from Chrysalis and it turns out it's the same guy we met at the studio. He said he was going to sign us which he did. Polygram could not commit right then so we went with Chrysalis. We did all this without a manager and in less than 50 gigs!
I would ask you, please comment the Armored Saint releases with your own words! Tell us please about the songs, lyrics, cover, sound, about the circumstances of the recordings etc. Your first stuff was an three-tracks EP, which was titled “Armored saint” (1983).
This was from the same demo recordings in early 1983. It was a true Saint recording, we played it live and left mistakes and all. Mostly we were drunk and high the whole time. I think we recorded and mixed 5 songs in 5 days.
Your first full length album was “March of the saints” (1984).
This was our first major label record with a major label budget. We were in one of the most expensive studios in LA. Supertramp was in one studio down the hall and Barbara Streisand was down the other hall.
We had no idea what we were doing and left it up to our producer who allowed us to spend way too much money. We were very unhappy with the production, it was not the Saint sound we thought we had. A strange mix of elation and dissatisfaction. But we had great songs.
It was followed by “Delirious nomad” (1985). Why have left the band guitarist Phil Sandoval during the recordings? I have read, he have hard drug problems, hasn’t he?
Delirious was like a departure for us. We wanted to do something darker because we were unhappy with our first record and our record company didn't understand us. So we wanted to make a heavier record out of rebellion. Phil at the time had a bit of a drinking probelm and he could not perform to his best ability so we had to ask him to leave.
Instead of Phil has come Jeff Duncan into the band. Where did play Jeff earlier? Did he also take part in the songcomposing or was the stuff ready, as Jeff joined the band?
Jeff came into the picture later around 1988. He was in a band called Odin which had opened for us a few times. We were pretty good freinds before he joined. As Jeff played with us he began to contribute to the songwriting.
Two years later was released “Raising fear” (1987).
A confusing record I think. We had problems with the label, with our management. We began to overthink everything and it shows in the music. The record has some cool moments but it's my least favorite.
“Saints will conquer” (1988) was a temporization. It was a live material. Didn’t you think about, that you should have released a full live material? Where did you record the concert?
The record was recorded in Cleveland Ohio during our Raising Fear tour and it was for a radio broadcast. After the Fear tour, we got dropped by Chrysalis and we felt like we needed to do something quick to hold us over until we got another record deal.
Metal Blade offered to put out this live recording as a one time only pressing, which is why it's an EP and not a full record.
We thought we'd be signed quickly but that was not the case.
This EP was released by Metal Blade. Why did you leave Chrysalis? I have read, they didn’t understand what does mean heavy metal. How did you get to Metal Blade? Why did you choose them?
Like I said we got dropped by Chrysalis as we became a poor business deal. We owed them so much money. Metal Blade has always been a supporter of the band since Metal Massacre. We tried to get another major label deal but no one was interested. But we also are able to have much more control over things at a label like Metal Blade as opposed to a major label. So, it seemed to make sense.
Do you know Brian Slagel personally? Is he a good man? I know, he is a big metal fan.
I've know Brian for over 20 years. Yes, he's a good guy and huge Metal fan. We sometimes hang out socially.
Besides the change of the label have striked a tragedy the band: Dave Prichard, your main song composer has died. When did turn out he has leukemia? Couldn’t the doctors save/deliver his life?
He found out around the summer of 1989 and of course we were all shocked. We knew nothing of the disease but quickly learned. He did his best to try to beat it but it is a very complicated disease for which there is no cure. But he went in for an operation that could have extended his life but it was a very risky operation. He fought like a beast but could not win. He died in Feb 1990.
I think, you were wore out by the death of Dave. How did it success to survive this period? When did return Phil Sandoval?
Yes, we were beaten down as far as you can be and talked about giving up the band. After a few months of talking with friends and family and business associates we were convinced that we should not let all of the hard work we had done between 1988 and 1990 go to waste. We had written over 25 songs with Dave and it would have been a shame to let it go. So we had auditions for guitar players and it did not go well. We thought we should try to get the family feeling back and recruit 2 players we had played with in the past. Phil Sandoval and Jeff Duncan.
As I as know, you have played in Eindhoven at the Dynamo festival. How was your gig? Do you remember about it?
We played in the summer of 1989 right after learning about Daves illness. So, there was a great feeling with the warm reception we got from the European fans. It was our very first time playing in Europe, a dream come true. We had a great time.
“Symbol of salvation” (1991) was dedicated to the memory of Dave. I think, he would be satisfy with this album. What do you think about it?
Yes, I think he'd be happy that many of his songs made it to the record and that the production was really cool too. That record has a great vibe.
This record became very strong and heavy filled with awesome songs. “Symbol of salvation” is an underground classic, it was praised by the reviews at that time. Do you agree with me?
Yes, it was a critics favorite. Mostly every review was great.
In your opinion, did “Symbol of salvation” become heavier than the previous Armored Saint releases? This is my favourite one from you.
Well, heavier in vibe and attitude. We had such a problem getting our live sound and vibe onto a record. The studio always seems to spoil somethimg. But Symbol was the closest we had come to getting that sound. Largely due to Dave Jerdan and also that he gave me control over some of the recording. Someone in the band was able to have serious input which helped make the record "our own". I was the co-producer.
The greatest unjustice of the fate the break-through failed. Why? You never became superstars, you are an underground legend.
Are we? Legend sounds so old! There are many reasons why the band never got to that other level. Some of it was poor management, poor record label promotion, and poor decisions on our parts too. It's a mix of a bunch of poor decisions basically.
Why did Armored Saint split up? Did you think so, it wasn’t a point to continue the career of the band?
At the end of the Symbol tour we were tired and frustrated because we had such critcal acclaim but the record was not selling. The label was unhappy, the management was unhappy and we began to fight over why people were not buying the record. We began to dissagree on everything.
Then came along Anthrax, just at the right time and asked John to join. He first declined and came back to Saint where we were still bickering. But after a month Anthrax called back and insisted he audition. At that point John and I had a talk and I could tell he was confused. I told him he should go and find out if it's right for him otherwise he would never know and always wonder.
As it turned out it was something he wanted so I told him to do it and he agreed. After that there was no question that Saint would continue without John. It was the end of a 10 year struggle and it was time to stop and do something else.
We know, after the splitting up the band John joined Anthrax, you have taken a part in some bands, but what did Phil, Jeff and Gonzo do? Did they stay together? In which bands did you or/respectively do you play?
Gonzo and Phil formed a band called Life After Death. After a few months Phil quit and they replaced him. They made a record in the late nineties for Rising Sun. Jeff formed several bands but could not get any record deal until he formed a band in 2000 called DC4 and they made a record for Rising Sun records which I produced. They are still together and looking for a new deal.
In your opinion, how was the metal scene in the USA during the ‘90-s? Was the metal scene dead? What do you think about the popular, shit nu metal bands?
In LA there was no metal scene. It was bands trying to be Alice in Chains or Nirvana. The only band that came out of that was System of a Down but that's about it. I like some of the nu metal stuff but I really get bored after a while. There doesn't seem to be much time spent on good songwriting these days. There still isn't great songwriting but there is a new Metal scene starting to rise in LA but it's more hard core influenced and the fans are very young 14-19 years old. It's kinda cool to see again.
For three years have reformed Armored Saint. The line up was which can be listen to on “Symbol of salvation”. When did you decide to come back? Was it hard to realize?
I think the realizatoin came after John had tuored Europe, Japan, S. America and he encountered many Saint fans. I had the same happen to me when I toured Europe with Fates Warning. So, we began to talk in 1997 about maybe getting together to do another record. So we decided to do it when our schedules allowed it in 1999. It was a good thing.
“Revelation” (2000) was very heavy too, practically the continuation of “Symbol of salvation”. Do you agree with me? In your opinion, there are differences and similarities between “Symbol…” and “Revelation”?
Yes, I think the sound is even closer to how we sound live on Revelation. To me it's a more brutal record, in your face. It was a great time making it and we're quite happy with it. It has some of the same songwriting qualities but the guitars just rip your face off.
Whose idea was to release “Nod to the old school”? What was your point with this album? Its title is totally clear, an awesome stuff, it meets all demands of all Armored Saint fans, isn’t it?
We wanted to put out another record but without having to write and record an entire record. So we thought about doing a quasi box set with extra tracks, new tracks, alternate versions, unreleased tracks and in a cool package. Something only for the die hard fans. We did one tour in the US with Dio to support it but we did not try to over promote it.
What would you say about “Trip thru red times”? When was this video officially released? What kind of unreleased songs can be listen to on the re-release version? How would you sell it?
Trip originally came out on VHS in 1991 right before Symbol. We have reissued it on DVD in November 2003. It contains tons of extra bonus stuff. An hour long interview with the band talking about our whole career, a photo gallery, animated menus, 5 extra live videos and 5.1 surround audio. It's a really cool package.
Since the releasing of “Revelation” you’re in silence. Did you write some new songs? I hope, you haven’t disbanded again.
I have written a little but we are waiting to find the time to dedicate to make another record. John is busy with the new Anthrax record and I'm quite busy with several projects. We might be talking about another record sometime this year.
How can you spare/find time to Armored Saint? When do you plan to release a new album or to go on tour? Are you very busy with your own projects?
Always busy. I try to dedicate my time to each project individually. Sometimes it's not easy and I have to turn down work but I like being busy. At the moment I am finishing a new DVD for Saint called Armored Saint Magazine: Lessons Not Well Learned. It contains live bootleg videos from 1991-2001 and has many extra stuff as well. I am directing it and it should be coming out in late Spring on Metal Blade.
Joey, thank you for your answers. It was very good “to speak” with you. Armored Saint rules forever!!!
Thanks for the questions, they were good ones. And Thanks for supporting the band after all of these years. I hope to see you on tour with Saint soon. Keep an eye on armoredsaint.com or at my site too joeyvera.com for any news! Cheers!
by David Laci