We interviewed Armored Saint for archive zine issue #1. Below is a cleaned-up version of that conversation.
In June of 1991, Joey Vera, the bassist for Armored Saint, called me up to do an interview. I saw this band in Washington, D.C. twice in 1987 and it ruled! Since then, the Saint has put out a new album, Symbol of Salvation, on Metal Blade Records, and recruited two guitar players after the death of guitarist Dave Prichard, who died from lukemia before the studio sessions for the new album.
D.U.: What happened to the old logo? I think the new one sucks, actually.
Vera: [laughs] Really?
Yeah, I hate it.
Well, you know, we felt like we had to change it, because, for one thing, the band has been through a lot of changes. And actually, we were just kinda sick of the old English writing [of the old logo]. We’ve had it since , and it was kinda cool back then, but it [was] just sort of feeling a bit stale and dated. And we felt like with a new album, and we’ve got a new band, and it’s a whole another chapter, so we felt like any change is gonna be welcome, and the logo is just a part of it, you know? So that was the reason we did it.
Armored Saint took a 1989 demo recording of a Dave Prichard lead and used it in the song “Tainted Past” on the new album.
Did Dave write the lead by itself, and you plugged it into the song because it was in key or something?
Well, see, what we’ve been doing for the past couple of years, before we had any record deals or anything, is we’d write three songs, and then we’d record ‘em on a 4-track, and we’d make ‘em sound really good, and we’d make like a real production number out of it. So we had recorded “Tainted Past,” the whole song, on a 4-track, and luckily I was able to find the tape that had Dave’s solo on it. It had the solo on its own track by itself. So I was able to pull it off of the track, and we recorded that onto a reel-to-reel tape, and then we cut it into the new “Tainted Past” version, OK? So it took about five or six hours to do, but we made it fit. I mean, we slowed the tape down so it would fit in key, and we hooked it up to a tuner and made it fit.
And then the timing was what took the longest, because the original version was a little bit slower, so we had to eliminate some space in the old version. We he wasn’t playing, we had to literally go in there with a razor blade and cut the tape out. We must have cut it about 20 times. But it was really important to us that Dave was somehow able to play on the record. That was the one thing he really wanted most, so in a very strange sort of way, he did.
When you first started playing, did you play bass or guitar? I know you played acoustic and synth guitar on the new album.
I started out on guitar when I was about 15, and then about a year later I started playing bass.
Why did you decide to do that?
Um, a couple of reasons. For one thing, I felt like my fingers were too fat, and I couldn’t play solos, you know? I mean, I was only playing a year anyway, but I got real frustrated with it. And I always felt more comfortable playing a bass guitar. Also, at the same time, I was jamming with some friends in the neighborhood—one of them was John [Bush], actually, the singer [of Armored Saint]—and we needed a bass player, and I played guitar. Actually, this is kind of interesting, because John had this bass guitar that his mom had bought him, but he didn’t really like playing, so I started playing bass in the band, and ever since I stuck with it, you know? And that very same bass is the same bass that use now [laughs]. A Fender P bass.
I think “Tribal Dance” off the new album is the closest thing to a socially conscious song you have there, since it’s dealing with the drug issue.
Yeah, it is, because it’s so easy to point the finger at other people, like, “Damn those cartel, those evil people.” But it’s really funny if you look at it, because they’re only givin’ us what we demand. So if there wasn’t such a demand for it, then there would be no supply.
What do you think we should do, politically, to stop the demand?
Politically, I don’t know. I don’t know what the answer is. I think the answer lies in the individual, and not so much what a government can do. I just think it boils down to individual education. It really starts in the home, you know? I mean, it’s easy for me to say I guess, but there’s like millions of people in this country, and some of ‘em don’t get proper or adequate nurturing, you know what I mean?
What advice do you have for a band that’s come under hard times with a lineup change, in order to it to make it through?
Well, I know what you’re saying. I mean, there’s the standard answer I could muster up, which is if you truly believe in it, then you must find a way to make it work. I only say that because that’s what we did, and believe me, we considered breaking up several times. And, um, something kept us together, you know? And I can only think that it was just belief in this project, to make it work, whatever it took. And believe me, man, it takes a lot. It takes losin’ one of your best friends, it takes a lot of things.
And I can’t just say, like, “Stick at it and you’ll make it.” It doesn’t always happen that way. I mean, life is a crap shoot. But what are you gonna do? Every time something goes wrong, you can’t run away from it. At one point in your life, you just gotta stand your ground and say, “I’m gonna really do this at the best of my efforts, until I feel like I can’t do it any more.”
Did you listen to a Kiss record when you were little and decide you wanted to be Ace Frehley, and pick up a guitar?
That’s pretty accurate. [laughs] Sure, Kiss Alive! At that time, instruments were like brooms or tennis rackets. Tennis rackets made good guitars. [laughs] Yeah, you know, you could say that. I mean, it never dawned on me that I could possibly make a living on it, ‘cause I’m still not making a living at it. But it didn’t really dawn on me ‘til later in life. But of course you start to put into perspective that, like, you really enjoy music and you really wanna play it, so you have that right to at least wanna be able to play it, which is what we did. So we coaxed our parents into buying us instruments, so we started playin’.
Do you try to retain the classic Armored Saint sound with the new lineup?
Well, I don’t think it’s really that conscious about us trying to retain some kinda sound. I think that we just do things the way that we do things, because we like to do ‘em that way. But you see, I think that Symbol of Salvation is the closest thing that we’ve come to as to how I think we should sound. But I think that we can even do better than that. I mean, I hope I never reach a point where I go, “Wow, that’s it. It’ll never get better than this.” ‘Cause then what? Then there’s nothing. [laughs] Then I’ll have to cut my hair and, like, join a polka band.
“I think that Symbol of Salvation is the closest thing that we’ve come to as to how I think we should sound.”
Musicians get to a point where you just wanna start experimenting a bit, and you don’t really try to do something better; you just wanna do something a little bit different, you know?
Do you guys tune to standard?
No, we tune a half-step down. We’ve been that way ever since the beginning. It was easier to sing for John and also for the background vocals. This was a long time ago, before we even recorded, we did it that way. Even tuning a half-step down, you lose a lot of tonal harmonics when you do that. We’ve [tuned lower] for a few songs, like the song called “In the Hole,” on Delirious Nomad; that’s tuned down to D. And also on the new album, “Warzone” is also tuned down to D. Only the low E string on “Warzone,” though.
Live, will you decide on a new playlist each night or have a set playlist for the whole tour?
We keep it the same every night, because we like to have our show very tight, you know? We don’t just go up and play a song, stop, play a song, stop. We like it to have a good tempo, and once we find a good set, you leave it that way. If it’s working good, you gotta keep it that way, ‘cause ultimately, people pay money to come see us, and they wanna see a good show, no matter if you’re in Des Moines, Iowa, or Virginia.
Do you have a last comment?
Well, Saint is definitely back, and I usually take an opportunity to thank everybody who’s supported us through all this time. Because, you know, the fans are definitely one of the main reasons that we decided to continue. Knowing that there’s a lot of people out there that didn’t want us to break up. We got a lot of fan mail when Dave passed away. So I want to say thank you to all of them, and thank you to you as well, and that’s it. ■