Very few bands these days can boast a career that has lasted 40 years, let alone one that is still also going strong. One, in particular, U.S. heavy metallers Armored Saint, just released their latest album, Punching The Sky, via Metal Blade Records on October 23rd, so we sat down with frontman John Bush just prior to the record’s release to chat about the new music, the future, and what Armored Saint means to him after four decades.
The album, Punching The Sky, is just about to come out. How are things treating you at the moment?
John Bush: “Things are good actually. We’re getting ready to do this livestream show tomorrow, the album is due out like you said as well. We’re about to do a new video. We’re just finalizing that which will be our third video before the album has even come out. We’re pretty excited because, even though we can’t play any shows, we know we’ll be doing some cool videos. We’re very fortunate and grateful to the label that they’re doing that for us. All in all, we’re very busy.”
The two videos you put out so far, are they a good indication of what Armored Saint fans can expect from the rest of the record?
“You know, it’s just Armored Saint continuing to do what we’ve been doing. Trying to be the best band we can be making a record that sounds like a classic Armored Saint record but also a record that sounds like it came out in 2020. I think that is a struggle for a lot of older bands. You want to look back at your history and your legacy but, at the same time, you want to grow and not put out records that sound like they’re stuck in the past. That’s what we’re doing and I think we’re doing it extremely well and I’m really happy with it.”
Given the title of the record and the current situation, how good does it feel to actually be able to put an album out?
“I think it was important for us to put the record out. You know, bigger bands might be able to hold their records back because maybe a tour is booked. Those things work together even for bands like Armored Saint. To me though, if you can’t go to shows or put on shows, it seems kind of odd not to put out new music for fans. Essentially what you’re saying to fans is that you can’t come and see us and now the only music you can listen to is old music. I don’t see how that is a good thing at all. It’s strange because you put out a record, you do some shows, you play a bunch of new tunes but you can’t do that now so, at least you can give fans the opportunity to hear some new music, buy the record and crank the new tunes up.”
And everyone will be pumped up for the shows then?
“Exactly… we’ll play shows eventually like everybody will. I don’t know when that will be but it will happen. There is talk about booking a few shows on the West Coast just to have something in the books. We’re ready so that, if something opens, we’ve got dates booked in and there’s no mad dash to try and get something booked in. I heard Pearl Jam have re-advertised their two Hyde Park shows for next year? Hopefully, they know something because that’s pretty optimistic.”
How much of a challenge was it to get the virtual show together?
“It’s a cool thing to do because there is nothing else. It’s not ideal because you’re playing to nobody, just some cameras so, for me, it’s just like a glorified rehearsal really. We’re going to be rocking out and get some banter going. It’ll be interesting to see how that works. I’ll do my best and see how it goes. We’ll be doing some new tunes and some classics and some popular tunes. We’re looking forward to it because we’ll be able to help out The Whiskey in LA which is a legendary venue. If we can help them generate some income and they help us out then that is a good thing for everyone concerned. We don’t want to see a load of clubs going belly up because of this because that would suck.”
You’ve mentioned the length of your career already. How does it feel when people talk about a forty-year career?
“It feels old (laughs). I feel great. I was doing sprints last night (laughs). Not bad for a 57-year-old guy. I think longevity is something we strove for. I think if I met the 21-year-old John Bush now he’d be like ‘man, you’re old, dude.’ Not saying that we didn’t have respect for the bands that came before us because we did and we still do. I think, at the time, the only thing we were thinking about was being the biggest band in the world and that didn’t happen then… reality check.
Longevity says a lot. I think it’s a pretty awesome accomplishment. It really is pretty much the same guys it’s always been other than Dave Pritchard who, unfortunately, lost his life in 1990, but it’s the same band and the same guys and not a lot of bands can say that. Believe it or not, Anthrax is one of the few bands and Metallica for the most part. There isn’t a lot of bands out there who can say that they’re still 80 or 90 percent of the band that started it. It’s a cool accomplishment and I’m really proud of it. It’s not always been easy but it’s cool. We’ve not had a storied career or made a ton of money. There are bands who stay together because it’s easy to take a big paycheck but that’s definitely not been the case here so, for us, to be able to dig ourselves into the trenches, I’m really proud of that.”
Onto the record, lyrically, you’ve talked about your inspiration coming from your surroundings. What has inspired this record as I believe the material was written pre-lockdown?
“It was written pre-COVID yeah. There are songs like ‘Bubble’ which is written about people trying to get into a certain world maybe a group of peers they’re trying to get into or a route they’re trying to get into. It could be a political world, anything. Then, you get into it and you realize you don’t like it and it’s awful and you struggle trying to get out. It’s funny because the word bubble has been used so many times in conjunction with COVID and, while it’s not about that, it certainly connects to it.
‘Fly in the Ointment’ is about how days can be a bitch sometimes. You know, you wake up and something happens and it puts the rest of your day in a funk and how you just overcome that. It’s about how, even though life can be a bitch, how you face that and how you overcome that. Sometimes that’s the way it, sometimes life’s a bitch. Joey said to me that the song was a little negative but I said ‘not negative, it’s just me saying that sometimes life’s a bitch, acknowledge it and cope with it.’
The song ‘Never You Fret’ is about the power of the band and, no matter what, we bring the house down. It’s about the bond we have and the power of that bond. ‘End of the Attention Span’ is about how all these items are affecting us in life and our dependency of the digital world. The pros and cons of that. The song ‘Unfair’ is about two young children who lost their lives in a really brutal car accident from a drunk driver. Written about the people trying to deal with the feelings of that and how life can be unfair. So, quite a lot of different things, stuff I see, social commentary, what’s happening in the world.
I don’t align myself with particular political parties, I’m very individualistic. I don’t wake up and see what the Democrats are thinking then align myself with that nor do I wake up and see what the Republicans are talking about. I want to think my own thoughts on everything. I’m not a fan of either political party honestly (laughs). It’s about looking at things and seeing how I feel about them. Maybe writing in a way that gets people to think without me actually saying ‘this is what I think.’ I don’t necessarily take that people.”
So, you want people to put their own interpretation on what you write about?
“You know what sometimes happens? I’ll write a song about a particular topic and, over time, the meaning of that song will change to mean something else. It’s a trip. It’s happening a lot lately. I’m not trying to allude that I’m some Nostradamus type guy or a prophet. What I’m saying is that you can write something and, as life changes, the song meaning becomes something different. I love that. It’s really cool. I don’t say to people when they tell me how they interpret a song that I wrote it about a certain thing and that is how they should understand it every time they listen to it. Nah man.”
The world has changed dramatically in the last six months. Will that inspire you as a lyricist?
“Well, currently, we’re all coping with this pandemic. If there is an optimistic outlook then it’s that everyone is going through it whether they’re from the States, the UK, somewhere in South America, Japan, Korea. We’re all having to contend with it. In a perfect world, we’d all be able to relate and think along the same lines and agree the objective is to beat it and continue life. Beat it so we can go to a restaurant and not die or we can go to a rock concert with 200 or 10,000 people or a sporting event and watch our favourite athletes. These are the things I think we should be thinking. How we get there is the complicated part as there are a lot of different considerations to take. The thought should be as simple as that we should trust the knowledgeable people like the doctors and the scientists.
However, there is even skepticism in those fields. I’m not a scientist, I don’t know. I’m living my life. I’m trying to run my business. I’m a stay at home dad a lot of the time and driving my kids to their sporting activities and trying to keep them going because they’re not at school right now and it sucks. This isn’t how kids should be living. My son is in his room and he won’t turn on his light and in his pyjamas (laughs). It’s hard because they’re unmotivated… they need to go to school. People can work from home more now and that’s better for the environment, less cars on the road, less pollution, I champion that. That’s what I’m trying to do. Live life, stay positive and look forward to the future.”
What will that future bring for you and Armored Saint?
“I hope we can play and do some shows. It’ll be fine, it’ll be a great time. I love performing. I love travelling. Being on tour when I was 21 was my college education. I never went to college. On tour was where I learned everything. It opened my eyes to a lot of things. Rocking out in front of a bunch of people. We’re super grateful for all the support we get from fans internationally. I want to go to shows too! Me and my wife go to shows all the time and we’re missing it like hell. We follow the local NHL team here and luckily they’re still trying play. I think for massive sports stars, to play in front of nobody must be quite humbling for them which is a good thing I think.
“I may be reluctant to give it to my kids, but I’d take a vaccine though if it meant we could go out and play shows again. What’s it going to do to me? I’m a 57-year-old man. What’s it going to do to me? I’ve done so much partying in my life, some I’m ok with, some I’m not so proud of (laughs).”
Finally, 40 years into your career, you’ve got a new album coming out and you’re still here talking to people about Armored Saint. What does that mean to you in 2020?
“It means a lot. I really cherish the relationship I have with Joey and camaraderie we have. It’s special. We’ve known each other since we were eight or nine years old. I can see us sat in a home when we’re 80 talking about the band. That would be a pretty cool idea for a video, us sat in a home aged 80 still trying to rock out (laughs)! Our relationship has endured and that’s an awesome accomplishment and I think we’re about to put out our best record ever! That means a lot.”
Punching The Sky is out now through Metal Blade Records and you can pick up your copy from here.