JOHN BUSH FROM ARMORED SAINT AND ANTHRAX: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
It must be an interesting time to be John Bush. Armored Saint have just released La Raza, their first album in a decade – and its rightfully being met with cheers of “It was worth the wait!” from critics and fans alike. Meanwhile, last year he re-joined Anthrax after more than four years away, and, it would seem, is now back with the band for good. Given that he was pretty much absent from the scene altogether during those years, this sudden abundance of new output can only be good news for the John Bush fans of the world – like us!
Last week I got to talk to to Bush about getting back together with Armored Saint after all this time, the writing process for La Raza, whether or not the band has any plans to tour, and what exactly is going on with Anthrax (the answer may surprise you – it looks like we may get to hear at least some of a Bushful of Worship Music after all, despite what some other members of the band have said in the press). Read the full transcript of our chat after the jump.
Why now, after all this time? Jesus. Why not? There wasn’t really any grandiose plan behind what happened. It was as simple as me and Joey [Vera, Armored Saint bassist] just started writing songs. It went well, and the next thing I knew he said, “Well, what are we going to do with these songs?” So the logical conclusion was Armored Saint!
Like I said, it wasn’t like… obviously a lot has happened in my life in the last ten years, as well as his. We made Revelation and had all the intentions of putting out a second record two years after that. It was just our lives kind of went in a whole lot of different directions. But, yeah, you know. Maybe we’ll put out a record every ten years or so.
Yeah. I was going to say that it’s been about twenty years since the album before that.
Yeah. Symbol of Salvation came out in ’91. Yeah, so… moving slowly. [laughs]
Is it hard to get back into a room together and start writing again after all that time, or do you find that you very quickly fall into old rhythms?
Well, we didn’t do this in the traditional sense that bands do. Heck, I don’t know what bands do anymore. The way Armored Saint did it back in the early days was to get together in a room, hash it out, probably get stoned or whatever. We don’t work like that anymore. Joey, who wrote the music, makes these really amazing demos that have this incredible quality that sound like [finished] records. I guess he’s all into it, and he’s an incredible engineer. When he actually had a couple of things to work on, he said “Alright” and he gave it to me, and it sounded awesome. I just picked one, and that was the first song that we started working with. I would go to his house and do a vocal performance. I wanted to stay on his level, so he would give me these incredible album sounding quality songs, and I wanted to do an equally album quality performance of my singing. We kept probably about 50% of the vocals that I did in the demos that we made [on the finished album]. It was fun. It was a nice way to work. It felt real organic. It wasn’t like we had any obligation to what we were doing. It sounds kind of almost snooty, but I felt like a songwriter.
Have you found that, obviously in some of your other projects in the intervening years, that there has been more pressure that has made it less fun?
Well, look, whoever you work with, you kind of gravitate to those people that you work with. That is very normal. Although I haven’t worked with that many different people. I’ve done some tribute records and things of that nature. So you’re still working with different people, but obviously I’ve worked with the guys in Armored Saint and Anthrax primarily. They’re both different, and they both have their own styles of working. I kind of just try to blend into that, because I want a good working environment. This time, it was mostly just me and Joey working together. It’s funny, we’ve known each other since we were nine years old, and we have a huge history of a friendship. We don’t always see eye to eye on everything, but strangely enough, even if we do have a dispute about something, we are able to figure out a way to overcome it relatively easily and painlessly. From that perspective, it’s cool, because as a writer you want to connect. I’m not one of these people that believes that “Oh, you need a little dissention.” You know what? Most of the time that’s just a pain in the ass. You’re not robots, so you’re not going to see eye to eye on everything. But if there is a gap in the way you come to some creative resolution finally, then that’s going to be a problem. For Joey and I, we’re just fortunate that we never had that problem. So it’s cool.
What about going and getting the other guys involved? So it starts with you and Joey, but then you have to call up Jeff [Duncan, guitars] and Phil [Sandoval, guitars] and Gonzo [Sandoval, drums]. Is everyone just like “Yeah, we’re on board”?
Yeah. The reality is that they’ve probably been waiting for this call. Not to say that they’re not doing anything, because Jeff has his own band, and everybody has their own aspirations in life. When it comes to music and Armored Saint, I’m sure people were excited to be a part of it and do it. We said “This is how we’re working and here are the ideas. Obviously we want you to put your stamp on it because you’re an individual, and you should do that.” Jeff has a certain way of playing, and he plays the rhythm [parts] that Joey had done, but rerecorded them and gave it his own style of playing. Obviously Phil has his own kind of style of lead playing. Gonzo has always had this Latin style with his drumming which is great. It’s going to be different than the drum machine that Joey was programming. [laughs] That sounded good, but now we have a human playing it. That’s the whole objective.
It’s difficult to have a full democracy in a band, and quite frankly, it rarely works. I know that you, especially in the old days when you’re just starting out, it’s about as close as it can get to that. Usually, you need somebody to be the orchestrator of it. It’s just how things get moving.
Originally Joey gave me the demo version of the [title track, “La Raza”], and he would give me working titles. Some we kept, and that was one that we thought was cool. The song has this very Latin kind of Santana-meets-Mars Volta and throw in some metal vibe. It just sounded huge, and I thought the title was cool because it was something strong. ”
La Raza means” “the race,” and it usually means the Mexican race, which is how it is referred to. There’s always going to be a correlation with that and Armored Saint, because obviously Phil and Gonzo are Mexican, and Joey is half Mexican. We always just kind of had that. We grew up in East L.A., even though I’m a white boy, I have a lot of Latino friends. It’s our background. I thought it was cool that it exemplified that.
But I didn’t want to write a song about the Mexican race. It just didn’t feel right. So I took a spin on it and said “Let’s write a song about the human race. This is the bigger picture here, and we really need to address this.” I kind of just ran with that and got kind of deep. I’m going through a phase where I’m a father now, and I’m concerned about humanity. About where we’re going. Now that I have kids, I want to make sure that when they look back and go “Dad, you knew about this. What did you do?”… I want to make sure that I give them the right answer about, at least what I feel you can do to make the planet a better place. It’s a little hokey, but I believe it. It’s important to me.
I was actually going to say – never mind that it’s been ten years since the last Armored Saint album. It’s been a long time since John Bush has been on a new record, period. [Bush’s last full album of original recordings prior to this was the 2003 Anthrax release, We’ve Come for You All. – Ed.] Did you feel that you had a lot on your mind, creatively or philosophically, to unload on this album?
I didn’t realize it until I actually started trying to write. Then it felt like it came out real easily. Luckily, we didn’t have any kind of deadline or anything of that nature, so it was just cool to write on my own terms. I probably did the majority of the writing in my car. I have a minivan, but the stereo system in it rules. I would blast it and have my notebook and start writing ideas. I try to pull over a lot of the time so I wasn’t injuring myself or my kids or other people on the road. [laughs] “Alright, idea. Oh, wait, red light. Here we go!.” That’s probably the place where I spent most of my creative time working.
I think because it was on my pace, I guess it felt good to be able to do it that way and it came easily – better than I even anticipated. I felt like I had a lot of things to say, and there is a lot of introspective things that were going on in this record lyrically. It was cool. It just felt like a good way to get a lot of feelings out about various topics, and it felt sincere. I was really proud of that. That’s one of the best things that I can say about it, is that I got in touch with myself. I can strip layers off myself, and I didn’t care. It felt very cathartic in that way.
Vocally, too, I kind of felt like I could push myself a little bit, because it was kind of in the same realm of the writing. I always had this bluesy style to my singing, and I would always wonder if it was “metal enough” or this or that. Some of my biggest influences are soul singers. I just wanted to really get that out and really push that part of my singing out. It was another area to explore and push.
Do you guys have any plans to tour or do any live shows?
Well, that really wasn’t the original idea behind it. We just wanted to record, and once we did, we put it out. We’re not, like, a real band. [laughs] This isn’t some working unit, maybe to the dismay of some [fans], but it just isn’t. That ‘s not reality. The idea of doing shows, although it’s something I want to do, I also want to do it on my terms. I want it to be right. As great as we were as a live band, we spent many a show playing to forty fans and various bartenders and cocktail waitresses and club owners and opening bands and their crew. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s beneath me by any means. I just want it to be right. I don’t want to do that again, quite frankly. Whatever show it is, it can’t be a club. It doesn’t have to be in front of thousands of people, but I want it to feel like the right gig. I don’t really have the desire to go slug it out. I think it would actually bring down the morale that we built with the coolness of this record. It’s important to me. I don’t know. Right now me and Joey are talking about doing a show in L.A. because it is our home. [laughs] We haven’t figured that out yet.
We got an offered of a show in Germany with Rock Hard magazine – we’re very friendly with those guys. They’ve been nothing but supportive over the years, but we just couldn’t do it because I already committed to doing some shows in Europe with Anthrax. At this stage in my life, I couldn’t see myself going to Europe for four months in a row. I just can’t do it. I’m so proud and happy that I’m probably more famous in Europe than I am in America or anywhere else. I’m flattered by it, but it’s hard. It’s like “Here I go again!” But if it’s just an hour flight to San Francisco or something, I’m like “Yeah, okay. I’ll do that.”
So since you brought up Anthrax, I have to ask you… Everybody is kind of wondering what’s going on with you and Anthrax, because it seems like every time somebody asks Scott [Ian] or somebody else in the band gets asked, they kind of go “We still don’t really know.”
Well, we just did these shows in Australia that were really fun. They were for the Soundwave Festival, and they were great. I had committed to doing these shows to these four shows in June as well as more festivals in August. As of now we’re trying to figure out a way to see if we can re-record some of the songs that the band had already recorded [for Worship Music]. We’re just trying to iron out some of the legalities on it. That’s where we are at today.
So you think you would be re-recording some of Dan Nelson’s vocals?
That is what they want to do, and it’s been a conflict for me, to be quite frank, simply because I kind of felt like I wasn’t part of the creation of it. On all the other Anthrax records, I was part of it when it happened. I just wasn’t involved in this, and it’s something that they’ve already actually completed. I haven’t disregarded it completely, and I know it’s important to them. I realize they made this record and they’re kind of sitting on it. They want to put some of it out, if not everything… at least a single, and we’ve talked about [releasing] an EP. We’re still trying to figure out if we can do that, especially in conjunction with these shows in June. We’ve just got to kind of iron out some specifics. That’s where we’re at today, March 15, 2010.