The mighty Armored Saint – a band, forged in the garages of the Gonzo & Phil Sandoval and Dave Prichard’s parent’s houses in the early 1980s – remains one of the finest examples of LA metal to this very day. The band defied categorization back then, not really hair metal, not quite a thrash metal – taking their stages in their first few years when they performed adorned in suits of ‘armor.’ Armored Saint was signed to Metal Blade originally and released their debut EP on that label but was very quickly picked up by Chrysalis Records where they stayed from 1984 to 1987, releasing three albums in that span of time.
The band went back to Metal Blade, releasing a live album in 1988 before setting to work on their Metal Blade debut full-length. Lead guitarist Dave Prichard contracted leukemia during the writing of what was to become Symbol of Salvation, succumbing to the disease in February 1990. Symbol of Salvation was released in 1991, and would become Armored Saint’s most revered album, containing the last written and recorded material from Dave Prichard. After releasing and touring it, John Bush was offered a spot singing with Anthrax. Armored Saint disbanded in 1992, reformed in 1999 through 2003 and then again in earnest in 2008.
John Bush, Joey Vera, Jeff Duncan, Gonzo Sandoval and Phil Sandoval forge on as Armored Saint, taking Symbol of Salvation on the road in 2018 with a Metal Blade re-issue along with an assortment of live performances, including a July 15th, Montreal date and a July 17, Toronto stop. They plan on filming some of the dates for a future live DVD, a release that will bridge the gap between their last full-length studio release Win Hands Down and their next studio effort. John Bush took some time to chat with PureGrainAudio in advance of this upcoming tour dates.
Can you talk a bit about how you all settled on revisiting Symbol Of Salvation in this fashion, John? With a re-issue and a tour?
John Bush: Sometimes you need to keep a band somewhat in the public eye. I think that was one of the first motivations. Our last record came out in 2015. And even though we probably toured on that record more than we had in years, here it is March of 2018, and that record is three years old. We did put a live record out at the beginning of 2017, and that bought us a little time. But we also know that having a new studio record out is likely not going to happen until middle to late next year. Especially the way Armored Saint is moving.
So, we had this idea of doing some kind of live DVD. And we have been entertaining that for the longest time but we never really got around to it. We want to do a live DVD of a concert that looks professional. So we started talking and what we came up with was that we would do that and we will do it will allow us to buy a little time between studio records and then we said if we are going to do that, why don’t we make it even more special. We’ve never done a record in its entirety, and the logical choice is Symbol of Salvation because it seems to be the record that is the center and middle of our careers. It’s also a record that gets a lot of affection from our fanbase. It seemed like that was the one to do.
So, we planned out some shows and booked a couple of weeks of dates that we wanted to do it around, and we will film as many of them as we can – and here we are. There seems to be a pretty good buzz about it which we are excited about. I don’t remember the last time we actually played Toronto and Montreal in Armored Saint. I have to say for Toronto it’s at least 15 to 20 years. Which is ridiculous. So we are really excited about coming up there and playing. That has been a long time coming. So we are all really happy about getting a chance to come back up to Canada.
I was chatting with a friend of mine. She is a pretty big Armored Saint fan. She said 2000 was the last time you played Toronto. That’s 18 years.
Bush: You know that for a fact?
As good a fact as can be. It’s coming from someone who is pretty passionate about your band.
Bush: Were you there?
No. I was not. I’ve never seen Armored Saint live. So, I’m totally looking forward to this Mod Club show.
Bush: Okay, cool. I thought we did play there on the Revelation record. It’s funny. What I usually rely on these days is these days setlistfm.com. I’ll consult it, especially if we want to see when the last time was that we were in a particular city. So, we can kind of change up our set a little bit. I do think I remember seeing a Toronto date in there. But it’s weird; I can’t remember it. And I’m pretty good at remembering old shows. I have a good long-term memory. I couldn’t tell you what I did ten minutes ago, but I’m pretty good at remembering gigs. So, honestly, I really can’t remember that show. Even if it was, that was now 18 years ago. And Montreal was certainly before that.
Careful not to get burned by the group’s “Reign Of Fire” video.
So you mentioned that this album is significant to Armored Saint and to your fans for a number of reasons. Do you recall back then, was there talk of not continuing? You had a band member who was really sick. You were up in flux with a label. Did you talk about chucking it in?
Bush: Well, we certainly did. When David (Prichard) actually died, at that point we were a band that wasn’t sure what we were going to do. We had another guitar player in the band at the time. A gentleman that, no disrespect to him, I don’t think that we believed that he was going to be the main guitarist to kind of take us along without Dave. And so we kind of had to really regroup. I mean, at that point in time I think I was somebody who was really ready to kind of throw in the towel. I was quite distraught about what was happening. I’d gone through a break-up right around the same time that Dave was dying. It was not a good time for me in my personal life as well as where we were with the band.
It was more Joey Vera who was saying we have to record these songs. We actually really have to do that, if nothing else. So we agreed on that and then we had a serious pow-wow when Dave had passed – a little bit of time after Dave had died. We all had to deal with the grieving aspect of him being gone, and we realized that Armored Saint has always kind of been a family. That’s the thing I can’t ever understate because even more now than ever, because Gonzo, Phil, Joey and I grew up about a quarter mile radius from one another. We’ve known each other since we were about 8 or 9 years old. That friendship goes back a long, long way. I think that was the thing that we needed to do. We needed to tap back into the fact that we were all friends and family and that was the thing to do.
So, I know Gonzo always wanted Phil back in the band. He was never happy that Phil left when he did after Delirious Nomad. Jeff Duncan was kind of in and out of the band from 1988 until when we began recording Symbol of Salvation for various reasons. It was a logical choice to just get everybody back together and say “This is how we are going to proceed.” It was just the natural and normal thing to do. The thing about Armored Saint – the beauty of it is that it’s the same guys, you know? If Dave were alive he’d be here, and we’d be like The Outlaws and Iron Maiden and have three guitar players, and that’s what we would do. But other than Dave, it’s really the same guys who have always been in the band.
Even if it was at different times. Somebody like Jeff who is known as the “newer guy,” He’s been in and out of Armoured Saint and has been a solid member since Symbol… in 1991 – that was 27 years ago. That’s the beauty of the band. That’s the cool-factor, in my opinion, of the group. When you go and See Armored Saint play it’s not Joey Vera and a bunch of hired musicians or John Bush and some other dudes. It’s the same guys. And everyone has an emotional connection to the band and to the songs. That’s the cool part. So, yeah, it was a difficult time. Certainly, around 1990 when Dave passed on. Actually, the anniversary of his death was just a week ago. It’s crazy. He’s been dead longer than he actually lived at this point which is really insane. But you know, we just had to regroup. We knew we had those amazing songs that turned out to be the songs on Symbol…. We just had to do it, and do it right and do it the way that Dave would have been proud. I think we certainly did that.
Hey Armored Saint, “Can You Deliver” with this video?
At what point did you all move away from wearing the body armor and costumes when you performed? You didn’t do that for this album back in the day, did you?
Bush: (chuckles) Nah, we started tapering that off around Raising Fear, although we kind of had elements of it. You know, it became an albatross around our necks a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, in the early days of Saint we thought it was cool. We thought it created a separation between us and a lot of other L.A. bands. I don’t look back on it and feel embarrassed or anything. The funny thing about Armored Saint is that we started in Gonzo and Phil’s garage and Dave’s garage playing, and to this day I still think we are kind of a glorious garage band. That’s what we are, and it’s kind of what our style is. We can be kind of loose at times. I sometimes think that kind of adds to the allure of the band.
We actually at one show, it was the anniversary of Metal Blade – their 30th-anniversary show, and me and Joey put on some of the old Armor and stuff that we still had from the garage. We put on wigs, me and Joey did anyway. Gonzo and Phil still have their hair. Even Jeff does. But it was pretty funny. We did that, and we wore some of the stuff that we wore back in the day, and it was a fun show. When the curtains opened to that particular gig people couldn’t believe what they were seeing. There we were, me and Joey in particular, in our stage gear and we wore wigs. It was pretty funny. The crowd really got a kick out of it. And then they started booing me when I took it off after the first song. I was like “I’m not wearing this for the whole show!” It was pretty funny. I think that we look back on those days and we certainly smile. We’re not embarrassed by it. But putting on cold, wet leather in Rochester New York in January when it was like ten degrees outside was just brutal. That sucked.
So there are songs on Symbol of Salvation that you have either very seldom played live or never played live. Can you talk a little bit about revisiting these songs? Have you rehearsed any of them together yet?
Bush: Nah, we haven’t started yet. I mean, I sing them a lot. So that’s okay, but I don’t think we ever played “Spineless” live or if we did, we only did it a couple of times. “Hanging Judge,” same thing. “Burning Question” I don’t know if we ever played that song live. So there is definitely going to be some homework to be done. We’ve had discussions recently talking about how we are going to do that. Figure out guitar parts that. Some of them haven’t been played since we actually recorded it. Same with some vocal parts too. There’s going to be some challenges with all of that stuff.
So, it will be fun. It will certainly be fresh, which will be neat. Because playing something like “Hanging Judge” which we haven’t played hardly ever. Compared to “Can You Deliver,” a song I love playing, and one of the most famous Armored Saint songs. It will be fun playing with some stuff that we haven’t played that much. Of course, we played “Reign of Fire” and “Last Journey Home” and “Tribal Dance.” We play those songs a lot. But even “Another Day” we really haven’t played it that many times and I love that song. So, that will be really cool.
I’ve been playing Symbol of Salvation to prep for the interview today, and two things I noticed immediately are: One; the material holds up really well and Two; on Spotify, all of the demos are there. And those demos are super-tight. Was that a thing for Armored Saint? Were all of your demos that clean?
Bush: Well we always had big and lofty goals to make these really cool demos. You know, back then, we were doing that on a four-track tape cassette. We were trying to make these demos that we thought were at least a major step towards what a record would sound like. And now Joey, more than ever, makes demos that just sound awesome. As a matter of fact, of late, we’ve tried to not over scrutinize the demos so we can kind of keep writing some of those songs. Because we can really fine-tooth them and put them under a microscope with a fine-tooth comb to make sure they sound incredible.
But, we don’t really need to do that at this point because we don’t really want to have an urgency with writing any records. And we certainly don’t want to sacrifice any quality either. But at the same time, it would be nice to get a record within a four or five year period from the last one because we don’t move that fast. It was something we needed to kind of try and do is not really be as extravagant with our demo making. But even back then Dave was the guy who was the engineer of the four-track demos, and they were cool. They certainly had a refinement to them.
“Insert funny comment here”… bah, just watch “Win Hands Down” now.
Can you talk a little bit about Brian Slagel at Metal Blade – your home for well over thirty years now. I suspect that he was more than just a label head from 1988 to 1990 as you were all working on this album.
Bush: Well, I’ve always said that there were times at the very beginning that Brian would probably be in our band. Because he’s always been the guy that we’ve counted on pretty much be there for us. Even when we were with Chrysalis and left Metal Blade for those couple of years, Brian was always a stone supporter of the band and probably even consulted the band in a couple of different ways about songs and some instances about what we should do. So, he has always been there. And obviously, he has been there since then (Chrysalis).
At first, he put out Saints Will Conquer which is a live album. That record came out in 1988, I believe, and that was a way for us to bridge Raising Fear and Symbol… in a way. And we obviously made Symbol… and then we’ve never looked back since then. One could question what our career would have been like if we’d never left Metal Blade and we’d stayed with them. Who knows? It’s irrelevant now. Brian, I love. He’s a great, awesome person. He lives by what he does. He is a no-bones person. He’s just a straight shooter and has a love for music, and he’s had a tremendous career. He’s always been there for Armored Saint. So, we’re honored by it.
We talked a little bit last year, and I remember while we were chatting, you were telling me that it was a challenge for Armored Saint to go out on the road in earnest. And you were looking at doing a weekend here and a weekend there. So, when this tour release got announced – it’s pretty ambitious. It’s two weeks straight in July, right? And then a week in August. That’s three weeks on the road.
Bush: (chuckles) Well, we are trying to kind of merge those things together with our personal lives. Me in particular – I’m probably the guy who is most reluctant to go out on long runs. That’s simply because I’m kind of a hands-on dad. I help my wife with the business that we run. It’s just difficult when I’m gone. It changes our whole family life and our personal ways of dealing with things. Joey as well. He’s a very hands-on father and when he’s gone it changes the dynamic of their family and how they do things. And it’s not easy.
But, we love playing at the same time, so if we can find a way to do it and make it all work with being able to play shows and knowing that if you don’t go out for at least a couple of weeks then it’s hard to make money. I’m not talking about large sums of money, but I’m talking about enough to say we are at least in the black and we are not doing a tour that’s going to begin in the red. That’s never fun. So, to make it work financially this is kind of how you have to do it sometimes.
We’re going to go to Europe a couple of times and were finally going to go for like a week and we’re going to make it work. And then we are also flying in and doing a one-off show – that’s the first time we are going to do Symbol… – it’s at a festival in Germany. The Rock Hard Festival in May. Which is a little daunting because it’s going to be the first time that we ever do it and that’s at a festival. So, that’s going to be a good challenge for us. But that’s a one-off. We are flying in, doing it, and flying out. It’s not like we are flying over in our private jet and doing this (laughs) this is just the way we roll and we try and do it in conjunction with our family lives and our personal lives.
That’s what we want to do. I have nothing but the utmost respect for people that go out on the road for long periods of time. I just don’t want to do it. I would be unhappy. I would be frustrated. I don’t want to be gone from my kids for that long. It’s just a personal choice on how to do it. And like I said, I empathize with a lot of musicians, and not everybody wants to do that. It’s hard, you know? It really is. Because you are away from your loved ones. I mean, there’s probably people that WANT to be away from their loved ones. I’m just not one of them.
Check out this Armored Saint live bootleg of “Dropping Like Flies”.
There are some rose-coloured glasses that comes with traveling. Once you’ve done it a little bit, you understand what it is to be held up in an airport and get a room that’s substandard. Not have a place to piss. There are just all of these things that can make it bad.
Bush: Well, I have this weird kind of anxiety that’s been happening for a while now about leaving. It’s a build-up of anxiety about when I have to leave. Usually, it’s weird; it kind of subsides the moment I actually get to the airport or something. But the build-up of knowing I’m going to leave, especially if it’s like a couple of weeks or so, I really get this serious anxiety that has developed over probably the last ten years (maybe even longer) for me. Which sucks. So I kind of have to deal with that. Like I said, usually, it dissipates. It’s more of the build-up of leaving. And then I leave, and it kind of just fades away. It’s weird.
The press release mentioned that you plan on filming some of these shows. Are you bringing a videographer out on this entire run?
Bush: Not the entire run. We’re choosing places to do it, and then we’re not really going to reveal that. Simply because want everyone to come and be enthusiastic and not feeling less so because we’re not going to film that day. So, I want everyone to be there with their utmost energy. But yes, we’re going to have some help from Vince, who works at Metal Blade Records. He’s a great guy, and he’s going to do some filming for us. We’ve got a new camera for it and everything. It’s going to be awesome.
Back in the day, recording devices at shows were very frowned upon. And now I feel like everybody is filming at least half of the show on their phones. As a musician, do you find it’s harder to connect with a crowd when there is a phone between you and them?
Bush: Well, I certainly don’t like the idea of somebody holding up, their phone and filming for an entire show. I think that’s just absurd. I feel that way when I’m at a show and some moron in front of me has got his phone up for the whole show. Dude, put it down man. I get it. Film a solo or something. Or a part or whatever. But yeah, I find it to be extremely annoying. It’s something I don’t particularly care for as a performer to be looking at phones. Yeah, I don’t like that. What it is, is what it is. It’s the modern way.
Technology now, two minutes after your show is over somebody is posting it. So, it can be somewhat frustrating if you haven’t had the best gig. There it is online for everyone to see. You know what? Such is life. You can’t worry about it. It is what it is. I do feel like people should be in the moment certainly, and not be looking at their telephone at a concert. I think that is kind of lame. You want to be in the moment and experience it for yourself and not through this small little screen. That’s the right way to do it. But people like phone stuff and they like posting stuff. I guess it’s conducive because sometimes I’m looking for things and it’s an easy way for me to find it. So I can’t completely argue it.
Armored Saint “Symbol of Salvation” Tour Dates (w/ Act of Defiance):
07/10 – Poughkeepsie, NY – The Chance
07/11 – Sellersville, PA – Sellersville Theater
07/13 – New York, NY – The Gramercy Theatre
07/14 – Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
07/15 – Montreal, QC – Petite Campus
07/17 – Toronto, ON – Mod Club
07/18 – Cleveland, OH – The Cambridge at House of Blues
07/20 – Detroit, MI – Shelter
07/21 – Chicago, IL – Reggie’s
07/22 – Milwaukee, WI – Shank Hall
08/16 – Las Vegas, NV – Count’s Vamp’d
08/17 – Anaheim, CA – Parish at House of Blues
08/18 – Los Angeles, CA – The Regent