Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Interview: Joey Vera of ARMORED SAINT

Photo: Greg Ramar

Armored Saint are a colossus, and Win Hands Down will long be remembered as one of the seven wonders of modern metal. The album – the band’s seventh studio offering in a career spanning more than three decades – is all things Armored. This is Armored Saint, and this is nothing short of magnificent.

Antihero Magazine spoke to bassist Joey Vera prior to the show in Manchester about the album, the music industry, and the enduring legacy of the band.

Armored Saint - Joey Vera
Photo: Stephanie Cabral

Mark Dean: How was the Hard Rock Hell Festival which you played recently?

Joey Vera: Yeah. Everyone stuck around. Take the big stage, it was cool. We tore the place up.

Mark Dean: You guys don’t play the UK that often. Why?

Joey Vera: Not ever, really. We’ve only played London twice. Well, three times if you include the first time at the Marquee in ’91 or ’92. Then we played Sheffield, and we played Glasgow and Belfast.

Mark Dean: Definitely Belfast, because I was there.

Joey Vera: Yeah, back in, I don’t remember…2007 or something like that? This is our first time playing Birmingham. First time playing Wales. First time playing Manchester. First time playing Dublin. I don’t know why it took us so long. We’ve fancied ourselves super influenced by British bands, and our whole life has been wanting to play in the UK for some reason or other.

Mark Dean: It’s just taken so long.

Joey Vera: It took us a long time to even really tour Europe, period, to be honest with you. When we first signed to Chrysalis back in the early ’80s, I think that there was a misconception that they wanted us to be more of a pop rock commercial radio band. We were like, “We actually have more in common with the mud at Donnington than we do with radio play in the US.” We got a lot of resistance with coming to Europe. It took us a long time to get here.

Mark Dean: These days it’s expensive as well for a lot of bands.

Joey Vera: Yeah. It’s always been expensive, I guess. That was another thing that our management at the time used to tell us. “You don’t want to go to Europe. You’re going to lose money. You don’t want to go to Europe. It’s too expensive.” We were like, “Yeah, but fuck. We don’t care. We’ll go in a van. We’ll build a grassroots following. What’s wrong with that?” But it never came to be, so we’re trying to make up for lost time, 35 years later.

Joey Vera
Photo: Greg Ramar

Mark Dean: You have used the pledge scheme for the release of the live album. I just wonder what your experience was with that, and do you see the band using that again? Maybe for the next Armored Saint studio album?

Joey Vera: We might. It was a cool experience. We didn’t know what it was all about. We’ve never done anything like this before. It turned out to be a cool thing. The way it’s set up, it makes it more like a glorified kind of fan club. People, for lack of a better term, they join. Then once you get in to pledge, you have access to things that are only available within the pledge. It’s pretty much for the diehard fans.

Mark Dean: It seems to be something that splits fans. A lot of people are in favor of it. A lot of fans go, “No, it’s not for us.” The way I look at it as a fan, you’re contributing to some of your heroes, and you get a heck of a lot of extras. It’s a two-way.

Joey Vera: It’s a cool thing. We’re able to get closer to fans that we’ve never been able to have a connection with in the past. It also gives them access into our world a little bit. Nowadays with social media, having access to your heroes is something that a lot of people want. Some people don’t care, but a lot of people want that. This was a way for people to really get on the inside, and really be a part of something. People basically helped us, this release, they helped us get this thing out. That also helped us. The pledge campaign was going simultaneous with the Queensrÿche tour that we did in the United States. That also helped us as well. It was a really cool thing, actually.

Mark Dean: It’s changed times economically. The whole business has changed. There’s no record company pumping in the cash that you had back in the ’80s.

Joey Vera: Yeah. That’s very true. Back in the ’80s, people were throwing around money like it was going out of style. The record deals were six digits, six figures. It was crazy. I don’t even know how it was like that, but it used to be like that. Nowadays it’s not like that. Even the labels, they’ve had a hard time adjusting to the curve of how people get their music and how they share music and how they buy music, or not buy music. They need to find out new ways to earn income as well. Not just the artists, but the labels are suffering too.

I’m married to the label. My wife is the CFO for Metal Blade. I know firsthand how hard it is for the business to adapt to this.

Armored Saint
Joey Vera – Armored Saint
Photo: Mik Connor

Mark Dean: You’ve been doing music a heck of a long time. If you’d think back, what was your first memory of music? A song on the radio? Maybe a relative’s record collection? Maybe something not even rock related.

Joey Vera: I guess way back when, my parents used to listen to records. My parents got divorced when I was young, I was about five years old. I stayed with my mom, my siblings stayed with my mom. My dad basically moved away. But the thing that we got to keep were the records. The records that she kept were my first real exposure to music, and it was basically all the good Beatles records. It was Sergeant Pepper, Abbey Road, the White Album. Those three records, for some reason those three were the ones that I really gravitated towards in the very beginning. I’m talking seven years old.

Mark Dean: Then obviously, you’re going to have a soft spot for those records.

Joey Vera: I do. Those records to me now… They have that nostalgic thing about, when I hear it, it reminds me of my youth.

Mark Dean: We touched on how difficult the music industry is these days. How do you get through the difficult times? Or is it just a case of, you’ve learned from experience? The knock backs, the setbacks. I’m sure you’ve experienced it.

Joey Vera: We’ve been doing this a long time, and we’ve been through lots of ups and downs. Mostly downs. No, not really.

Mark Dean: Really?

Joey Vera: No, not really. Mostly half and half. But yeah, they say the school of hard knocks. That’s how you learn. You go out, fall down, you get back up. Go out, you fall down, you get back up, and you keep going. That’s really how you get through anything in life. It’s the same in anything in life. Adversity comes your way, you learn, you figure a way around it. You look for the warning signs in case it happens again.

Mark Dean: A little bit stronger from the experience.

Joey Vera: Yeah. Absolutely. It’s no different than that.

Joey Vera
Photo: Greg Ramar
Rockbar Theater – San Jose, CA – May 29, 2015

Mark Dean: You touched on the lows. What about particular career highs? What would those have been?

Joey Vera: We’ve done a lot of great gigs, played a lot of great shows. Big places, a lot of big crowds. Special places. Japan recently. A lot of places, a lot of things like that. I think if I had to say one thing, it’s that we’ve been doing this for, the fact that we’re still doing this 35 years in. We’re still able to make records and tour, and we have a fan base that wants to hear music from us after 35 years. That is far beyond any dream I ever imagined. When we first started out when we were 19 years old, I couldn’t even think five years ahead of me. Here we are 35 years in, and we’re still doing this. People still give a shit about us and want to hear. Not just they want to hear the old stuff, but they want to hear new music. That’s a blessing we could never have asked for.

Mark Dean: Do those old albums still stand up as well?

Joey Vera: I think that for a lot of people, it represents a time and a place. That will never go away for some people.

Mark Dean: Outside of Armored Saint, who would be the most inspiring musician that you’ve worked with?

Joey Vera: I don’t have one.

Mark Dean: Because you did have a few years away from Armored Saint.

Joey Vera: I have personally been really lucky, having been able to play with a lot of great musicians. I can’t say there’s any one. If I start naming names I’m going to forget one, and then I’ll feel bad. But all my work with Fates Warning, and all the people connected with that. My work with Kevin Moore from Chroma Key. All the drummers I’ve worked with through my career. They’ve all taught me a lot.

Mark Dean: Was music always a career you wanted to pursue from a young age?

Joey Vera: I guess. I first got interested in music when I was probably 13. Ever since then, yeah. Before that I didn’t really care. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or anything before that. It’s something that’s always been with me.

Joey Vera
Photo: Greg Ramar

Mark Dean: When you’re not recording, when you’re not playing music, what do you do in your spare time? Interests? Hobbies? Anything unusual?

Joey Vera: Nothing unusual, not really. I actually enjoy traveling even outside of touring. I enjoy traveling with my family. I love architecture. I love cities with great history. I love traveling. I’m into food, I love cooking. I fancy myself a pretty decent cook.

Mark Dean: What’s your specialty dish?

Joey Vera: I don’t really have a dish, but I love rustic cooking. Rustic Italian cooking, Mediterranean cooking. I love that.

Mark Dean: Poor cooking must really piss you off then, when you know how to create your own tasty dishes and you’re not actually getting them.

Joey Vera: It’s hard. I’m not a fancy, I don’t mind a good fancy meal every now and then, but I really appreciate the good home cooked mom and pop stuff.

Mark Dean: How do you view your own musical legacy? Do you look back, you’re thinking, “I’ve done pretty okay”?

Joey Vera: Sure. I take it all with a grain of salt, but I’m proud of all of the projects I’ve been involved with, all the musicians I’ve been involved with. All the records that I’ve contributed to. Whether it’s been Armored Saint, or things outside of Armored Saint. My work with Fates Warning, and all the records I’ve been on with other people. The people I’ve met on the road and have made friends with.

Mark Dean: Is there anything you go back and think, “Oh shit, what was I doing there?” Or do you view each thing as a little step?

Joey Vera: Everything’s very different. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made a few. I don’t really have any regrets though about anything at all.

Mark Dean: It’s made you who you are.

Joey Vera: It’s every little thing I’ve done, every step I’ve made has led me to here. I’m really happy.

Mark Dean: With the increasing importance of social media in recent years, is that something the band are actively involved in? Or do you have somebody that does all that?

Joey Vera: We do a lot of it ourselves. We get some help from the label, but we do a lot of it ourselves. We’ve had to learn how to do it, because all the kids are doing it, everyone else is doing it, so we need to become savvy ourselves. It’s been a learning curve for us.

Joey Vera
Photo: Greg Ramar

Mark Dean: How do you explaining the enduring appeal and longevity of the band? You’re still releasing albums, you’re still playing shows. People are still coming along.

Joey Vera: I don’t really know, to be honest with you. The only thing I can say is that we’ve always done things with authenticity, and we’ve always tried to be humble and honest about what we do. We’ve never really gone too far to try to force anything. We’ve really done things in our own way. There were a few years in the beginning where maybe we felt like we needed to belong to a certain clique or a genre in the mid ’80s. But other than that, we’ve done our own thing. I think that maybe that is part of what is our appeal to a lot of people. That we’re a band that’s on our own island.

Mark Dean: Who would you like to sit down and interview, with you asking the questions?

Joey Vera: You.

Mark Dean: Seriously. If roles were reversed. Maybe not even a musician. A hero maybe?

Joey Vera: That’s tough. I don’t know. It’s funny because, I don’t know. I would just like to sit around and listen to stories by people, you know? I don’t really want to interview or get to know anyone that well, because I’m afraid that my image of them will be shattered, and I’ll be like, “Oh. That’s not how I imagined you.” They might end up being a prick or something, and I’d be disappointed. But I had the pleasure of hanging around with Lemmy one time. I was with a few people, and he was just telling stories for six hours. I just enjoyed sitting, listening to him talk. Someone else who I’d love to hear some stories from is Keith Richards.

Mark Dean: That’s good. Thank you very much.

 

About Mark Dean

I'm a 40+ music fan. Fond mostly of rock and metal - my staple musical food delights. Originally from Northern Ireland, I am now based in the UK-Manchester. I have a hectic musical existence with regular shows and interviews. Been writing freelance for five years now with several international websites. Passionate about what I do, I have been fortunate already to interview many of my all-time musical heroes. My music passion was first created by seeing Status Quo at the tender age of 15. While I still am passionate about my rock and metal, I have found that with age my taste has diversified so that now I am actually dipping into different musical genres and styles for the first time. Photo: Mark Dean with Jeff Kendrick of Devildriver - Photography by Olga Kuzmenko

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