John Bush of Armored Saint

A metal icon shares reflections and looks ahead with a new album.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

John Bush of Armored Saint

Armored Saint is a band that you have to know if you’re involved in the world of heavy metal. Like them or don’t, the band has been there from the start of heavy metal and through good and bad have managed to put out albums when they can. This year the band is putting out “La Raza” a record that sees Armored Saint walking into a new chapter in their careers personally as well as the band itself.  That’s particularly true with legendary frontman John Bush.

Bush’s voice has been a sought-after commodity in metal almost since the beginning. Early on he was asked to join Metallica before James Hetfield decided to sing for the band and for the last few years has been singing for Anthrax as well as Armored Saint. Bush is part of a generation of metal bands that are taking hard looks at themselves and their careers. Bush is definitely taking that hard look, something I got to talk to him about during our interview. 

CRAVEONLINE: It’s been awhile since the last Armored Saint album. What’s been going on in that time?

JOHN BUSH: We seem to want to put records out once every decade. Obviously I was in another band (Anthrax) for 2000 and so that was my more prominent job.  The other thing was that for a few years after I did leave Anthrax I kind of didn’t want to play music for a while.  I thought it would be a good time for me to focus on other things like a new career, I became a father, helped my wife out with her business, it was all good actually. I got to take a break from being the guy in a band, which was something I hadn’t done for three years but for more like twenty-two years.  There was nothing wrong and it wasn’t any animosity towards music it was more like I’m just taking a break from this.

 

CRAVEONLINE: So why now for a new Armored Saint album?

JOHN BUSH: When Joey (Vera) proposed writing some new songs I said “For what?” because I was really a little cautious as to what our objective was for this. It was really as simple as Joey saying, “You’re my friend and lets just write some songs”.  Maybe deep down he had some ulterior motive but I think it was more just him wanting to work on some new stuff.  At that point I figured, yeah, okay, let’s work on some new songs.

 

CRAVEONLINE: When you have ten years between records is there ever any fear about how people will respond to the music in a new musical climate?

JOHN BUSH: You have to remember this is a band that started in 1983, then disbanded in 1991 or 92, then resumed for one album in 2000 and now here we are in 2010 so I’m under no illusion that we have some legitimate strong fan base. I mean I’m not undermining people who like or continue to like Armored Saint and I’m very grateful but none of that really matters.

Obviously we’ve had a relationship with Metal Blade and Brian (Slagel) since back in 1982. We’re lucky that Brian’s attitude is “Hey I’ll still put out your records, you’re my friends and I like you’re band” and that we have that outlet. So when it came to the new material we never lost the perspective, Joey and I, that we were doing this for any other reason than just to write music. I have no other pre-conceived notion or ambition with this at all. Record sales? I don’t know, honestly. I hate to say this but it really doesn’t matter.

 

CRAVEONLINE: There’s been a lot in the early press for the album about how approached the recording process a little differently. The quote being you’ve “Taken the computers out of the process”. Talk about that.

JOHN BUSH: When we came to actually putting the songs down officially we went into an analog situation and we used an analog board. We just thought it would be warmer and better for what we were doing.  We’re not opposed to computers, they’re just part of how people make music these days. It was important for us that we didn’t get into a situation where I sang one chorus one time and than just laid it in 30 times or we played a riff and literally just recycled the riff. That’s just counter to what this band was founded on. That’s not to say we didn’t lay some stuff in and use that technology we just didn’t want to rest on it.

 

CRAVEONLINE: When you guys got into the studio was it business as usual or was their weirdness in being together again after so long?

JOHN BUSH: We didn’t record this record the way we have in the past with all of us in a room together. Joey was really creative in writing the songs so he played bass, rhythms and programmed the drums and I sang on it. So when we got into the studio we used that as a template. We never got all of us together slugging it out; we just didn’t do it that way. By the same token everybody was able to get into the studio and add their own unique sound to the record. Gonzo came in for drums and Jeff (Duncan) played about fifty percent of the rhythms. It was a little different than what we used to do but we definitely wanted everyone’s input and personality.

 

CRAVEONLINE: So why call the album La Raza? Is there a story behind the title?

JOHN BUSH: When Joey gave me stuff to work on he had working titles and a bunch of them we kept because they sounded kind of cool. One of the songs Joey called La Raza; maybe because that song has this Santana meets Mars Volta with some metal thrown in feel to it. I thought the name was cool and the actual Mexican meaning of La Raza is “The Race” but I didn’t want to write a song about the Mexican race, that didn’t gel with me so I put a twist on it and wrote a song about the human race. I kept the title and that song is one of my favorites on the album. It has this epic huge feeling to it and I just wanted that to be the title. This is a band where 3/5 of it is Spanish or Latino so I just thought there was a correlation there.

 

 

CRAVEONLINE: Is their any particular song or story about recording that comes to mind?

JOHN BUSH: I really feel like I hit the target when it comes to writing lyrics and the stories I’m trying to tell.

 

CRAVEONLINE: Is it a thematic record?

JOHN BUSH: For me writing lyrics this time was a chance to strip off some clothes and really get in touch with who I am and what I’m thinking about my life and myself. There are songs I listen to and I still get choked up because it gets to the core of who I am, what I’m thinking and how I’m trying to conduct my life. Everyday the challenges of being a better human being. I really pushed myself in trying to write songs that have this story feeling. Not necessarily a story about a particular thing but that kind of style, writing something like it was a story.

 

CRAVEONLINE: Top 5 desert island records?

JOHN BUSH: It’s hard for me because music is always how I’m feeling in that moment but let me try to do it.

Judas Priest: Stained Glass

Thin Lizzy: Jailbreak

Earth, Wind & Fire: Gratitude

Queens Of The Stone Age: Rated R

Faith No More: King For A Day

 

CRAVEONLINE: Any bands now that are really moving you?

JOHN BUSH: Gogol Bordello is this really cool band over the last seven years. The cool thing about that band besides Eugene (Hutz) being extremely talented is that the music is really fun. I hear that music and it makes me smile. Coming from the world of metal, which always has this frown thing to it, I like music that’s energized and powerful but still fun.

 

CRAVEONLINE: With so much time between albums why do you think Armored Saint manages to stick around with some weight behind their name?

JOHN BUSH: Number one is the history of the guys. I mean Joey, Gonzo and I have known each other since we were nine years old lso there’s a real history there, especially with Joey and I, we’ve remained super close. I’m almost 46 so that’s nearly 40 years of knowing each other and that is the foundation.

The other thing is that although we were a band that missed the mark sometimes, sometimes we hit it, but sometimes we missed it, there was a sincerity there that I think people felt. I don’t think there’s one record we’ve made that’s flawless but I think collectively we have a lot of great songs that people have touched on. People can feel that emotion that comes from the guys in Armored Saint. I have to believe, or hope to believe, that is a huge aspect of it.

I mean I use the term now that this band is a hobby and people can misinterpret that like playing darts or pool as a hobby. The way I convey it is the most complimentary of ways because this isn’t my gig where I have to do an obligatory recording or slug it out, I’m doing this because I really love it and it’s not mandatory. So for me that’s the most honest way to do it. We don’t do this because we need a big record advance or we have to go on tour and pay bills, it has nothing to do with that.

 

CRAVEONLINE: Once the record is out what does 2010 look like for you?

JOHN BUSH: We never set out to put out this record and go and do the normal things that bands do like tour and all that, so I don’t know. I am committed to doing a bunch of dates this summer with Anthrax but quite frankly in my life I’m not real eager to spend a lot of time on the road. I have a family and it’s just not something that appeals to me. Don’t get me wrong I love to play live, it’s the other 23 hours in the day I have trouble with on tour.

 

CRAVEONLINE: Is it hard for you to be part of things because the road really isn’t what calls to you?

JOHN BUSH: It’s very hard. It’s like the biggest challenge I’m facing in my life right now. I’m lucky that I’ve done a lot of touring and played a lot of shows, every little nook and cranny of this Earth pretty much and so I’m pretty much like “I did it”. I love walking on stage and performing music I was part of writing but the other aspects of being on tour are hard.

I don’t want to be gone from my family, I chose to have children and I don’t want to not see them. I want to be part of their lives, that was the whole point of fucking procreating (laughs). I’ve been really honest with both things I’m involved with that I’m not going to tour a lot and everybody seems to be willing to work with me. At the end of the day I’m going to do what I’m going to do and if it means doing less then I’m going to do less because I have to. If I’m on tour and I’m unhappy then what’s the point?

With Armored Saint we’re a cool band that has this really neat thing but we don’t generate a huge audience and the last thing I want to do is go play Grand Rapids in front of twenty people. It would be demoralizing and I’m not going to do it. It wasn’t cool when I was 22 much less 45. If there are some selected dates or festivals and it seems like a really neat thing to do and I’ll make a little money then great, I’m all for it. We didn’t put the record out so we could play some shows so if we do that’ll be just icing on the cake.