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Burning Questions And The Answers Up Ahead: An Exclusive Interview With JOHN BUSH Of ARMORED SAINT

By Andrew Depedro, Ottawa Corespondent
Friday, August 10, 2018 @ 12:32 AM


"We play where we’re supposed to play, and if we’re headlining, we’d probably play small places."

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Photos By Travis Failey/Rocket Sports & Entertainment

If there’s one particular personal trait that has kept John Bush going throughout his 30+ career in music, it’s his candor and frankness. The frontman for legendary LA metallers ARMORED SAINT had just revisited the band’s pinnacle 1991 album Symbol Of Salvation on their recent North American tour and was reminded of the struggles behind the album’s recording – from the loss of the band and album’s chief songwriter Dave Prichard to the band’s label Chrysalis pulling out their contract after slow sales – as well as the music inspired by those same struggles. In my exclusive chat with The Man himself prior to ARMORED SAINT’s show at Montreal’s Le Petit Campus on July 15, we chat about Symbol Of Salvation’s lasting legacy, ARMORED SAINT’s upcoming touring plans, the Ottawa Bluesfest, an official approval to use “Win Hands Down” as a sports anthem and that time when Bush was a KNAC DJ!

KNAC.COM: First off, just wanted to congratulate both you and ARMORED SAINT for over a quarter century since the release of Symbol Of Salvation. That was kinda my exposure to you guys, especially during the time in ’91 when so many other bands such as GNR and METALLICA and then the whole grunge scene exploded, and you were kinda one of those bands who, in the face of adversity, had to really challenge those bands. In your opinion, at the time when the album was released, did you feel that in spite of such competition that the album’s outlining message of overall positivity and hope was as important back then as it is now, especially considering its underlying theme was to celebrate the memory of David Pritchard?

BUSH: Well, I think the record was written against a lot of adversity. We’d been dropped from Chrysalis Records after making three albums, and then we found out about Dave’s illness. So we had a lot of things that we had to overcome to eventually make a new record, and, at times, that was even uncertain as to whether we were even gonna make this record, especially once Dave died. But we kinda figured that the way to do it – the proper way to do it – would be to kinda regroup and become like the family unit. That’s the thing that really carried us through all the years. So we got Phil (Sandoval) back, we got Jeff (Duncan) back, who was kinda in and out during some of the writing with Symbol, and it would’ve been a shame not to make Symbol because Dave wrote the bulk of those songs, and I’m sure he would’ve looked at us and would be like “We did all that work. Why are you not gonna do it?”. So, we had to do it. And the songs, there are a lot of songs that are about grasping on and holding on, y’know, persevering, having a lot of hope, uncertainty, and some of the lyrics are some of the deepest stuff we’ve ever done. So, it’s a great record. It’s fun to play all the deep tracks that we play. We played “Reign Of Fire”, “Last Train Home”, “Tribal Dance”, those songs, but “The Truth Always Hurts”, “Hanging Judge”, “Burning Question”, these are all songs that we’d never played. So, it’s great.

KNAC.COM: Really? You haven’t done those songs live at all? Wow!

BUSH: I don’t think we’ve ever done “Burning Question” before this tour. I don’t think we ever did “Hanging Judge”, we might have done “The Truth Always Hurts” maybe two or three times – maybe. We may have done “Another Day” a couple of times. We just started playing “Spineless” recently at a couple shows in South America which we did before this, and also the Rock Hard Festival, and that is a song that was like “Why weren’t we playing this song? It’s really cool!” *laughs*

KNAC.COM: *laughs*

BUSH: But it’s great, because y’know, I love playing “Reign” and “Train” and “Tribal”, of course, but these other songs are really fun because we just didn’t know! *laughs*

KNAC.COM: Now, as a band over the years, I think you developed a certainly solid reputation as being a reliable co-headlining band although in my humble opinion, I think you’ve always had headlining status.

BUSH: Well, I mean we don’t always have the headlining numbers which is the problem.

KNAC.COM: Yeah.

BUSH: I mean, I’m honest with myself – I always am – so, y’know, we’ve never really had that much success in the numbers. Strictly in numbers. That doesn’t necessarily to me gauge the quality of a band, just like it doesn’t gauge the quality of a movie or, y’know, a restaurant, or whatever. It’s not always based on the financial success, but at the end of the day, to sell out a club or a theater, you still need to be able to do that. So that’s why we’re playing Petit Campus, which is this tiny club. But that’s fine. We dig it. We play where we’re supposed to play, and if we’re headlining, we’d probably play small places.

KNAC.COM: I recall that a lot of the bands that you’ve opened for over the years, like METALLICA, for example in ’85. And for the record, it’s been 31 years since you’ve last played Ottawa! Just had to put that out here.

BUSH: I know. I mean, we’ve only played Ottawa once. But what’s weird is that we’ve only played Montreal twice!

KNAC.COM: Wow.

BUSH: And Montreal is a city where a lot of people come. Probably more than Ottawa, I’m sure. So, yeah, we’ve played with METALLICA but we’ve also played with W.A.S.P. I mean, we’ve played with countless bands over the years.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, I’d noticed because I was doing research as well. You’ve opened for countless bands from the SCORPIONS and JUDAS PRIEST – I think one time you opened for TED NUGENT as well – to SUICIDAL TENDENCIES, SEPULTURA and SAVATAGE. Do you find that your overall work ethic as a band and the flexibility has helped to land so many of these different tours?

BUSH: Well, ARMORED SAINT are a pretty diverse group. We can play with a lot of different bands. A lot of the times we kinda get lumped in with a lot of heavier bands than we are. We were kinda in this quandary because we came from the 80’s and we were from LA but we didn’t sell like a lot of the early 80’s bands, like RATT and GREAT WHITE and BLACK ‘N BLUE. Those bands were great, but we always got more inspired by the SCORPIONS and THIN LIZZY and UFO and PRIEST – y’know, European-sounding groups. So, we really kinda modeled our sound after that. And then the thrash movement happened, and, y’know, ANTHRAXes and SLAYERs and MEGADETHs – they’re great and I think we can play with these bands, but we were never really as heavy as those bands. So we were heavier than the hair bands but we weren’t as heavy as the thrash bands, and so it was “well, what is ARMORED SAINT?” We had to have a label because those were big scenes happening. So, we kinda got lost in the shuffle sometimes and we almost had our own personal identity issues with it. But now we’re over that! *laughs*

KNAC.COM: That’s good to know. I mean, your sound kinda transcends as well over several genres of metal.

BUSH: We took some time when we were in our 20’s, y’know, we were still trying to find ourselves as people. But, we finally got to the point where we were like “Look, let’s just sound like us”. That’s all that matters.

KNAC.COM: Actually, I needed to ask you about this particular rumor. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but around the time that your debut album was taking off, and forgive me if I’m completely off with the details here, but is it true that the whole band had actually appeared in the video for “Heart Of Rock ‘N Roll” by HUEY LEWIS & THE NEWS?

BUSH: No, not the whole band. Just me.

KNAC.COM: Ah. Okay, it was just you.

BUSH: It was just me. I’m getting out of the car and then the girl gets out behind me and shakes her butt. Yeah. It was cool. It was fun. We were labelmates with HUEY LEWIS. That’s why I got on it.

KNAC.COM: That would explain it.

BUSH: They sold a few more records than we did.

KNAC.COM: True. *laughs* Getting back to ARMORED SAINT’s legacy of doing tours as well, you had mentioned that it’s been a while since you played Montreal but I was actually at a festival myself called the Ottawa Bluesfest – I’m kinda doing a bit of self-promotion here.

BUSH: I’d love to go to that! Who was on it?

KNAC.COM: This year? It was the FOO FIGHTERS, BECK, BRYAN ADAMS...

BUSH: (confused) I thought those were gonna be blues bands.

KNAC.COM: It was actually just named after the sponsor at the time, Labatts’ Blue (brewing company)

BUSH: Ah. Okay. I love the FOO FIGHTERS, they’re amazing.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, that was one of the bands I caught, I think, actually, on Tuesday or Wednesday (actually Tuesday, July 10).

BUSH: (excited) Oh, cool! How were they?

KNAC.COM: They were great, actually! I was kinda surprised. I wasn’t really that much of a huge fan at the time but they kinda really exceeded all of my expectations. Honestly, I was really going for GRETA VAN FLEET, but that’s just me.

BUSH: Really? GRETA VAN FLEET, huh? Alright. Cool.

KNAC.COM: So, I guess that really leads to another question: Who would be the new bands that you yourself are really influenced by?

BUSH: (thinking hard) Well, when talking about new bands, I’m trying to think about who put out a record or two recently and I can’t really...I’ll say a new band like TROMBONE SHORTY or QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, and I’m like “those bands have been around for like 20 years, probably”. So, um, I don’t know. I’m always seeking out, purchasing new records, checking out new groups, but, y’know, who was the last new, really new….uh, wow, let me get back to you on that. Let me think about that! *laughs*

KNAC.COM: *laughs* I probably would’ve just given you a hint with GRETA VAN FLEET.

BUSH: GRETA VAN FLEET’s cool, and they certainly sound powerful, I will say that. I think, to me it’s kinda hard because Led Zeppelin II was the second record I ever bought. So, it’s like, I’ve heard it before, and I’m being nice. But, hey, they’re doing well, and God love ‘em because it’s hard in this business.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, I always thought that GRETA VAN FLEET could probably use a better name like, say, I dunno…there’s another band I’d heard called the 1975 who sound nothing at all like a rock band yet they’re kinda promoted as one. They’re kinda like an indie dance band.

BUSH: I dig the 1975. They’re cool.

KNAC.COM: Guess they got their moments. A friend of mine is completely crazy over ‘em.

BUSH: Well, I like lots of different music, man. I listen to everything, y’know, from jazz to rock to…I mean, we were playing in New York and the same day that we played, RADIOHEAD played and I was really bummed that I couldn’t see RADIOHEAD, but we had to play. But I like lots of different music, we all do, and that kinda helps ARMORED SAINT’s songwriting abilities to be as broad as they are.

KNAC.COM: Switching back to your own music now, you did say that there was gonna be some sort of followup to Win Hands Down, the 2015 album, and that you’d mentioned there was already songwriting that was taking place right now.

BUSH: We have written some demos, we have about five songs done – I mean in demo form. We've still got more to write, of course. We’re just a bit preoccupied, but our goal is to strive to get something in realistic terms, maybe by the end of next year. I think that’s hopeful, doable. Whether or not that does happen, that’s another story. We don’t move too quickly, but a little sense of urgency is probably good for the span.

KNAC.COM: It helps, at least, to develop new ideas as well.

BUSH: Well, Win Hands Down was an awesome record. I’d put that up there with some of the best ARMORED SAINT records. I really would. So, like, we don’t wanna do something to follow it up because we want to try to match the quality of that one.

KNAC.COM: Fair enough.

John Bush: And it was good. So, we’re not in a place where we’re relying on making a bunch of money touring, so like “let’s hurry up and get the record out so that we can get back out on the road and make a bunch of money”…that’s kinda not what we’re about. We’re more about leaving a really cool legacy of music, and then if we put a record out, then hey, we’ll go do some shows! KNAC.COM: I remember when Win Hands Down came out, like, the song itself, I thought, it was like the perfect sports anthem.

BUSH: I did too! *background laughter* Somebody needs to use it! Maybe the Canadiens!

KNAC.COM: Maybe the Senators! *laughs*

BUSH: Maybe the Senators! Let’s do it! C’mon, Ottawa Senators!

KNAC.COM: Alright!

BUSH: Win hands down! Make that happen!

KNAC.COM: I’m trying to do that!

BUSH: Make that happen, dude!

KNAC.COM: I’ll do my best! I’ve been using it as a hashtag.

BUSH: I’m serious.

KNAC.COM: Thank you.

BUSH: I completely agree. It’s not like that’s what we wrote it for, but I do think it would be perfect in a setting like that. Let’s do it, Senators!

KNAC.COM: Let’s do it indeed. Let’s do it before the Kings do it. No offense. *laughs*

BUSH: It’s funny because I did a song for the Kings because Fred Coury, who used to be in CINDERELLA, does all of the music at the Kings’ games.

KNAC.COM: Okay.

BUSH: He does. And he’s a very talented man, cool guy, one of the greatest guys there is in the business, and he wanted to do a song that would be played during the Kings’ games. And we wrote it, and gave it to Luc Robitaille who’s a famous King, and he rejected it.

KNAC.COM: Oh my God! That’s just nuts!

BUSH: And so Fred just goes “Well, let’s just write another one or let’s fix it!” and I said, “Dude, don’t lose your job over this song. Y’know, don’t worry about it. Let it go.” So, maybe for the Senators, “Win Hands Down” would be cool.

KNAC.COM: (contemplating) Okay. I’ll definitely run that by someone who’s definitely close to the Sens’ management.

BUSH: Do you have any power?

KNAC.COM: I wish! *laughing*

BUSH: Dude! Well, work on it!

KNAC.COM: Yes, I definitely should. Least now I have your seal of approval for doing it.

BUSH: Yeah, you totally should! For sure!

KNAC.COM: Yeah, that’s good to know. I got made fun over it at one point.

BUSH: It’s a good sports anthem.

KNAC.COM: For sure. Yes. *changing the subject* Guess I got one last question….I actually recalled from the KNAC.COM days when you were a DJ there.

BUSH: *laughs* That’s right! People used to make fun of my typing because I was like a monkey! *laughs then mimicks typing style* Tee-kee-tee-kee...

KNAC.COM: I kinda type like that too.

BUSH: I got a lot better, but I’m hardly a typer/typist.

KNAC.COM: Apparently the best way to improve your typing is to play an instrument. I have a friend who’s a technical/classical guitar player and he’s one of the fastest typists I’ve ever known.

BUSH: I’m not a good guitarist either so I wouldn’t be a good typist. But I had a real good time doing that, it was real fun, I did a lot of interacting with people, and that was a long time ago, right when they went on the Web, and they asked me to do it. I do think I worked a couple of shifts where I worked like 6 to 10 AM and that was pretty brutal getting up early. *turning to Jason* As a matter of fact, we were living together at that time. *turns back to me* Jason’s our tour manager and him and I were roommates at that time.

JASON: You went down and hung out with Lonn (Friend). Remember Lonn was there?

KNAC.COM: Yeah, Lonn Friend was doing a show too. Pretty much when KNAC had quite a lot of DJ’s.

BUSH: Lonn Friend, Nasty Neil, where are you now?

KNAC.COM: That’s what I’d like to know.

BUSH: Long Paul...

KNAC.COM: Long Paul, I guess he still does things like putting new songs into the system. I think I remember one time when you were sandwiched between AJ Motts and The Rack.

BUSH: AJ Motts and The Rack...yeah, I mean, I love those old KNAC DJ’s. Nasty Neil, y’know, Tawn Mastery, man! C’mon!

KNAC.COM: Yeah, God rest her soul.

BUSH: God rest her soul, and then there was….y’know, I had real good times…y’know, when KNAC was not just online, when they were a real station in LA, I mean, they allowed, just by their presence, that allowed bands to play, like, arenas and stuff, simply because of KNAC’s support, which was amazing.

KNAC.COM: Yeah. And hopefully, it still resonates to this day.

BUSH: Laurie Free was another friend of mine back in the day for sure.

KNAC.COM: I just happened to find the website purely by accident I think one time when I was in the university and I just happened to find it in a banner – one of those online banners that had Britney Spears on it for some reason. I don’t know why I clicked on it, but all of a sudden, KNAC.COM came up, and it had mentioned hard rock/metal, and I was like “Well, I could probably stand to listen to something a bit more different than the usual top 40 stuff”, so I checked it out and have been hooked on it ever since.

BUSH: That’s great. Power to KNAC for continuing to go on, and thanks for all your support!


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