Worship Metal Talks To John Bush of Armored Saint
Before Armored Saint’s gig at the Limelight in Belfast on the 21st March 2017, Worship Metal had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with iconic Armored Saint and ex-Anthrax frontman John Bush.
What we thought would be a quick chat turned out to last for 40 minutes and only stopped when we pointed out the band was starting to sound check! Refreshingly honest and positive throughout, a more genial and friendly man you’d be hard pressed to find. Here’s what went down….
You started the tour in Dublin last night, how did that go?
John Bush: “We did, it was fun. Our first time ever there, it was a great show.”
But you’ve played Belfast before?
John Bush: “Yeah, I think it was ’06 or ’07 at the Spring and Airbrake but it’s a different venue now (Limelight 1). They must have renovated it because I don’t remember it being that big and we’re playing this room tonight (Limelight 2). It’s a cool room, it’s going to be awesome. It’s funny because of the five shows we’re doing on this little run, Belfast is the only place we’ve played before. We’ve never played Wales, Birmingham, Manchester or Dublin.”
Can we just take you back to when you started? You’ve been a band from around ’82, is that right?
John Bush: “Yeah, if you want to be official about when we started doing something, in the Fall of ’81 but personally I always think of us as being official as when we made our first record, the EP that came out on Metal Blade and that came out around May of ’83. We were a band before that obviously, a local band playing some of our own songs and some cover songs but when we were official with our first product was ’83.”
How did it feel at the time being lumped in unfairly with the thrash bands, did it annoy you in anyway?
John Bush: “Well the funny thing with Armored Saint was that we came out and were a very powerful band but we were from Los Angeles and a lot of the people that were from LA, not that they weren’t powerful because they were like W.A.S.P or Ratt but we didn’t sound like an LA band.”
You had a very European sound at the start.
John Bush: “We were very European inspired, you know by UFO, Thin Lizzy, Maiden, Priest and Motörhead whatever. So, we emulated them more than American bands but we loved Aerosmith and Ted Nugent. We were from LA but really didn’t sound like the bands from there. We were powerful but not everything was on a double time beat. We weren’t a thrash band but we were sort of in a limbo state of ‘are they thrash?’ Well, not really. Are they hair metal? Well not really. So what are they? And it lead to some issues with identity at times and looking back now, after time went by, I think it was actually kind of a good thing for us. But, during that time in our early 20’s – when you’re trying to associate with something – it was a frustrating time too and I think it created issues with our own identity because we wanted to write songs that were powerful and heavy. And, we wanted to write slower ballad type songs because we were into “Victim Of Changes” so we wanted to emulate that because we felt we could do that. So again, there were some identity issues but after time went by we figured fuck it, we’re just us and that’s what it’s been throughout.”
You were invited to the Metallica 30th anniversary shows, have you kept in contact with some of the bands you came up with?
John Bush: “We have always been a band people admired. Lets face it, I joined Anthrax, Joey was contemplated for Metallica, I was contemplated for Metallica. We ended up playing in Anthrax, Joey in Fates Warning, I think people respect us and as time went by we got more respect, which is cool. Our road, our journey was fragmented. We never ended up being the band we expected to be. When we were 19 or 20 we thought we would be the biggest band in the world – like everbody does – and then reality sets in and you get humbled by the music business and that’s ok.”
In relation to that, at the time do you think it was more your management’s fault that you didn’t get to Europe enough?
John Bush: “That was always something that bothered us for sure, it was something we made a mistake with. It was a decision made with the management at the time which was Q Prime, the best and biggest in the world. They had Def Leppard, Tesla, Metallica, Queensrÿche and it was like, why are we not going to Europe? Come on man, I was on the cover of Kerrang at one point.”
Especially with regards to Armored Saint’s debut album? That’s the sort of sound European metal audiences would have lapped up!
John Bush: “For sure right? But, the label were like lets concentrate on America and we did tour America but it’s something that never sits well but it’s not something that I toss and turn about at night. It’s water under the bridge but i think it was a mistake but like I say sometimes I think our destiny was what it was and I certainly don’t blame anybody at this point, that would lead to some bitterness and I don’t want to feel that way.”
How do you feel about your time with Anthrax?
John Bush: “I feel like it was a great time, there’s this idea that it wasn’t because of the way some things are presented but you know, it’s all irrelevant now. Being in a band is like being married to four or five guys. Sometimes, it is a struggle, not everyone thinks the same. When I left it was a break up and how often do they end well? They don’t. So time goes by and yeah, I was happy. I had some great times in my life, amazing. That’s what I reflect back on. I don’t look back at petty arguments, who cares about that stuff.”
Going back to Armored Saint, there was the untimely death of Dave Pritchard before Symbol Of Salvation came out. Apart from that you’ve pretty much kept the same line-up which not many bands do?
John Bush: “Yeah and that’s awesome, we’re the same dudes and I think it’s an important part of the band as we’ve an emotional connection to the music. It’s not just Joey and three dudes getting paid ‘x’ amount of money to play the songs, they would still be into it but this is way deeper and I think it’s amazing. These guys will play something and it sounds like Dave, so he’s there. I think he’s always hovering around and busting our balls, I miss him but I feel like he’s always here which is cool.”
He had demoed songs for the album so is it fair to say it’s a tribute to him?
John Bush: “He was a big part of that record. He wrote most of the songs and it was a trying time because we found out he had leukaemia and the future was obviously not certain because his life was not certain. We had been dropped by Chrysalis at that time, so we were trying to get another deal but in the meantime we kept writing songs. It was all we could do but the future was so undetermined – because of Dave – and the business of the band was floundering. There’s some emotional songs on it like “Another Day”, “Last Train Home” and even “Tainted Past”. A lot of songs on the album are a yearning to survive.”
We were going to say there’s a lot of hope on the record, it’s not bleak.
John Bush:”No, it’s not bleak but it’s certainly unsure. There’s an unsure feeling but it’s not negative. It’s reaching out, hopeful, yearning. It’s an awesome record.”
And then, “Hanging Judge” was used in a Hellraiser movie.
John Bush: “That was like the first song we wrote man. It was fun, it was cool to do that.”
How did you find the experience?
John Bush: “They asked us to be in the movie and we were like hell yeah! We loved it but quite honestly, I thought it was the weakest of the first three. We were on tour and had a few days off in North Carolina and we filmed it, it was awesome to be immortalized in a horror movie, it was neat although we weren’t on the soundtrack which was kinda lame. The Motörhead song was kinda big but whatever. We were supposed to be killed in the movie but with editing it didn’t happen, it was cool though.”
Armored Saint split soon after. Was it getting too hard to be a band?
John Bush: “I think so, I mean there was a lot more to it than that. There was some inner strife happening, we had done a tour which was very gruelling, we were in a van, the crew was in the van, I’m surprised we weren’t in car accidents every other day. There was a mutiny taking place with the crew, the tour manager. There wasn’t a whole lot of love at this point and what I think was happening was we had done this record that was exhausting emotionally. We maybe had expectations that we were maybe going to have a gold record and we never got it and it ran through the band a little bit. Then Anthrax came calling and I was like I’m going. But, it’s easy for me to say because I went on to make a bunch of records and join a band that was established. It’s part of our story, it was supposed to happen. Maybe these guys have a different interpretation.”
Then there are the stories of Metallica wanting you to stand in for Hetfield in the early days, how close did that come?
John Bush: “I don’t think it was that close, it was when Kill em All was being recorded and they were uncertain whether or not they wanted a lead singer. I don’t think it was ever going to be the right thing. James was destined for Metallica, he was just unsure of his talents.”
Was an actual offer made or was it just talk?
John Bush: “There was. At least to come and play. But, Armored Saint were really popular in Los Angeles – not as big as Metallica – and all the guys were my buddies so it didn’t make sense to me to leave them.”
Things then came full circle when you got to do their 30th anniversary shows.
John Bush: “That was awesome, I got to do “The Four Horsemen” with them. It’s funny because Cliff Burnstein, who was our manager back in the day, said to me “I fucked up, I should have done more with you”. I was like, what? Really? It doesn’t matter, it’s cool he said that. Could he have done more? Maybe, but to what degree? We made a lot of our own mistakes, it wasn’t on the cards for us to be a big arena band, could we have done more or better? Maybe but it’s done, whatever.”
The thing with the music business is that most of it is out of your hands. Arguably, with the quality of your music Armored Saint should have been bigger.
John Bush: “You know, this is the world of entertainment. You know it’s funny, I was just reading something recently which said you can’t even judge how important someone is when they’re alive, once they’re dead people try and guage what they meant, it’s crazy but there’s a truth to that. Nobody says you’re going to make it. What’s the percentage of bands that make it? 2%?. There’s a lot of feast or famine, even more so now. You just do your thing and control what you can, everything else you just say hey, lets hope for the best.”
How would you feel about your own kids saying, ‘Dad we’re going to join a band and tour the world’?
John Bush: “I just got my son a new drumset. Music is one of the best things in the world, it has been my religion, it has been heartache too at times. Making music and writing songs is awesome, when you write your first song it’s quite an accomplishment.”
It must be a hard feeling to beat when someone turns round and says that’s a great song?
John Bush: “You know there’s no doubt about it, we want to think somebody has connected to your song; one person and your job is kind of accomplished. Of course, I don’t think anybody ever got in a band and didn’t want to be big. I’d be hard pressed to find anyone that feels that way and if they did I’d say come on man, give me a break. But, what you’re willing to do based on that is a whole other story.”
Do you find it harder going on tour now your family are a bit older (John’s children are 10 and 12) and leaving it behind. Are you used to it by now?
John Bush: “Yeah, its hard to leave my kids, it’s the hardest thing I do. I tell everyone, it’s time and you can’t get that back. You can always find some way to earn a living. Granted, I know sometimes the mentality is ‘strike while the iron is hot’ and sometimes you have to do that. Luckily for me, that was when I was in my 20’s and 30’s and I didn’t have my kids until I was 40. When I leave my family it’s crushing, I get a lot of anxiety, I felt it this time and I’m only gone a week. I’m a hands on Dad and to leave is difficult but they support me, they love that I play music and come to loads of shows and I bring them on tour when possible. We try and make it work but it’s difficult, especially with kids. Man, if you’re gone for a few weeks you really notice the difference, they change a lot. I know some people go on tour for months but I won’t do that.”
Armored Saint then preceded to tear Belfast a new a-hole and you can read Worship Metal’s full review here!
Armored Saint’s latest release, the live album Carpe Noctum, is OUT NOW!
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