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Punching The Sky: An Exclusive Interview With ARMORED SAINT Vocalist JOHN BUSH

By Travis Failey, Planet Earth Contributor
Monday, September 21, 2020 @ 2:19 PM

"...unfortunately the youth of today can be exposed to a lot of really terrible music, especially terrible current pop music. It is just awful."

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All Photos By Travis Failey/Rocket Sports & Entertainment

John Bush has fronted two popular heavy metal bands in ANTHRAX and ARMORED SAINT, with the latter getting ready to release their 8th studio album, Punching The Sky, due out October 23rd via Metal Blade Records. John recently sat down with me and discussed the state of live shows, his recent quarantine sessions, his past and present bandmates and their albums and some surprises along the way.

KNAC.COM: John, I just wanted to say congrats on an amazing single and video for "End of The Attention Span". To me, it truly sums up where the live show experience has been over the last five years and where we are pretty much as a society. Does it annoy you as a performer to look out and just see a sea of screens out there?

BUSH: So I don't sound like a complete fuddy-duddy guy, there is one cool thing about people recording shows and that is when I try to look back on a gig, in particular, to see we're playing a song at that show or maybe a certain performance, I can pretty much almost immediately find something. So, in that perspective it's always cool to be able to see something people recorded, and you can bet that most people are recording a lot of things.

I think the big problem is that people are just watching the show the whole time through their phone. Especially if they're in close proximity to the stage, like the fifth row in front of this big stage, it’s kind of, to me more humorous than anything. But, you know, like I stated, there are certain pros and cons to technology and I'm certainly not just some crazy person that thinks that it's all bad. I don't think that.

I think that there are pros and cons and one of the key elements to the song "End of The Attention Span" is there is a slight sense of humor with it as well. So, I'm not just over here trying to point my finger at society and go, "Look at you guys." Like, I really don't. A lot of the times I'm one of those people. So, it's just merely making an observation of 'hey there's a lot more to do in life and if we're just sitting there spending hours in front of a phone or on computer and or playing video games and you're not doing other things in life, you're probably doing something detrimental to your mind.' That's what I think.

KNAC.COM: In regard to that, It seems like we're all suffering from some self-inflicted ADHD as far as social media is concerned, and everyone having an opinion and that the world needs to hear it. Do you agree with that?

BUSH: Right. Of course. I mean, it's funny, everybody's a journalist now. Everybody's a critic. You know, Yahoo had to take down their comments section recently because it was just getting too hostile, obviously. But, again, there's pros and cons of this. The pros to social media is that some things are being exposed that needs to be exposed in the world. So, I’m down with that. Also, at the same time, you see just the expansion of hostility towards people and the emergence of groups that would be better served if fewer people knew about them. But, the reality is, is that it's the world we live in and what are we going to do? We can't go back. I think it's utilizing technology when you can helps benefit your life and then, also, not feeling like you just lost an appendage if you, like, forgot to bring your phone with you when you went to the market or you went on a hike or something. I mean, we need to shed a little bit of the dependency, not a thing, and a lot of other experts say. Not that I'm an expert. Let's make that clear. Like I said, there's plusses and minuses. Some of the things in conjunction with technology I just like to poke fun of, because I poke fun at a lot of things.

KNAC.COM: Sure. I think we all do when we get to... I'm 50 now, so I think we all like to have a little bit of cynicism and little bit of sarcasm, so I think that puts a smile on our face here and there.

BUSH: How are we going to get through this crazy time if we're not laughing, you know?

KNAC.COM: Exactly. John, Let's talk about something a little bit more positive here. So, Punching the Sky, the new release or new album as the old guys say is scheduled to come out on October 23rd. Did the band think about holding back the record until, you know, there was a vaccine and then you're able to go out and tour on it immediately?

BUSH: Not really. I mean, that conversation maybe happened, might have been a series of email chains, you know, mentioned once. But the reality is, like, this is when you need music and you're not being able to go to concerts or go to sporting events or do a lot of things that you normally did in life. So, you want to give people more things to do, not less. You want to let them hear music if they're sitting home and hanging out and having a couple of drinks and putting on headphones and escaping the madness. So, I think it's actually more important to have the record out. And, of course, it's a normal procedure putting out a record, at least Rock and Roll has been for years. You put a record out and then go and do shows in conjunction with the record and it helps promote the record and the record helps promote the shows and they all go kind of hand in hand. But, it's just not a normal scenario here, so you just roll with it. You know, we don't know... I mean, I don't know when things are going to completely go back to normal. I mean, it could be, I mean, I don't want to get too negative, but it could be well two years, it could be. You just don't know. And in the meantime the last thing we're going to do is say, "Well, we're going to hold the record out. We're going to hold it." I mean dude, I'm 57. It's not like we've got a lot of time here. I mean, I'm not like thinking that I'm, you know, I'm racing or heading towards the grave or anything, I'm not suggesting that. I feel pretty good about my physical health, knock on wood. But, at the end of the day we're not a band who are all 30 years old. If we had that, maybe we'd consider that. But, we're older guys in our mid-50s, so, you know, kind of, time is of the essence.

KNAC.COM: Absolutely. Well, you guys are scheduled to do a virtual album release on October 10th at The Whisky and personally I wish I was going. Will there be anyone else in attendance other than the band and your team and tell me a little bit how that decision was made to do that virtual album release?

BUSH: I don't know in the end. I know probably including my wife and maybe my kids if they care or maybe everybody's significant other or something. When we originally talked about doing the show our agent has booked a few shows this way through The Whisky. They're doing these shows so they can try to survive, and we want to help them as well. I think that we have this, kind of, optimistic feeling of several months ago when we talked about it to say, "Okay, maybe, like, 50 people there." Because we talked about the show in, I don't know, June probably, realistically, maybe even sooner. So, at that time we were, like, maybe we can get 50 people there then. I don't know, maybe a month went by, and we started becoming a little more positive and optimistic thinking maybe we can get 250 people there. And now we've got to, like, maybe, we'll have 10 people there and they'll probably be all related to the band. You know, I mean, but even in that I'm still,kind of positive, thinking "Hey by October 1st maybe things will be different again and maybe we'll get 100 tickets that we can sell."

KNAC.COM: Well, I love your attitude. A positive from the virus has been, you know, the quarantine sessions. I know you guys got together to record "Isolation" which is a fantastic version of that. Whose idea was that? How did that come about?

BUSH: I don't know if it was... Probably Joey's or maybe even the record company's idea of, "A lot of people are doing things, so why don't you guys participate." We said, "You know, that sounds fun." So, doing the song "Isolation", which is pretty funny because we really haven't played that song since maybe the '80s, it seemed like the obvious choice, because let's face it we are in isolation. We're that for sure, so it was cool. But we kind of had to relearn it. We had to play a different version of it. We did the acoustic version and had to retool the arrangements and stuff. In the end it was cool. It was a great song. People loved that song in regards to ARMORED SAINT and now we're going to play it live at The Whisky as a full band. So, it'll be fun.

Let me point out The Whisky thing is, because there seems to be a little confusion or perhaps there might be, that it is a livestream and you can view it from anywhere in the world. You just go to the website at www.armoredsaint.veeps.com. And then you just go, and there's a click bubble associated with the show and you can get a t-shirt from the show and you can get the record, which you want to get the record, of course. And then you can purchase the show, or you just get the show. But, it is something that people can do anywhere in the world. So, let that be known.

KNAC.COM: You also did a quarantine session with Charlie Benante for the anniversary of Sound of White Noise by doing "Packaged Rebellion". You also did “Only” at the METAL ALLEGIANCE show. It seems like you and Charlie (Benante) are back on good terms. Is that correct?

BUSH: Yeah, yeah. We had a period of time where we just didn't speak and it was disappointing because I love Charlie. He's a great musician. He was a very good friend of mine when I was in ANTHRAX. We had a lot of laughs and just talked about music a lot and other things, of course. But time has to go by sometimes for relations. It's no big deal. We saw one another on the MegaCruise. It was great because I saw him on stage that night and they were amazing. We went backstage and hung out. It was a cool environment, you know? The “Packaged Rebellion” thing kind of happened organically. I think I texted Scott and Charlie and said, "This is the anniversary of the record coming out." Somebody told me. I didn't even know. The next thing I know he sent me that clip and goes, "You want to sing on this?" I was like, "Whoa. All right, let's do it. Let me just remember that song." Like, I mean, I knew the song, of course. But, I had to... That was another song that in the history of me being in ANTHRAX, I don't even think maybe we played it once or maybe a handful of times, but I don't even remember playing it live. It was not something I could do in my sleep like "Reign of Fire" or whatever. It's something I had to listen to again and learn and know how to sing it. Especially, when you're singing something like to an acoustic song or it's just Charlie and his guitar and that. You make it happen, so you better be on it. You can't just be like, "Oh, I'm a little raspy today. But, hey, it's Rock and Roll." This is... But, it's just a guitar and vocals, like, you've got to be on. It was fun. It was a great project.

KNAC.COM: I agree. Could you ever see ARMORED SAINT and ANTHRAX going on tour together?

BUSH: It would be a great tour for the fans and ARMORED SAINT could benefit by playing with a band that is more popular than us, which is ANTHRAX of course. It would be a great tour. It would be fun. You know, maybe a handful of shows if nothing else, but, yeah, that would be awesome. We never really played together back in the day. In the '80s, I don't think we ever played with ANTHRAX, so it would be fun.

KNAC.COM: So, JUDAS PRIEST is going out on their 50th anniversary next year. What do you think of a tour with ARMORED SAINT, ANTHRAX, and JUDAS PRIEST in 2021. We'll book it right now, John. Boom, out the door. How about that?

BUSH: If you can make that happen dude, you'll be a magician.

KNAC.COM: I’m getting my wizard cap out of the closet. Both ANTHRAX lineups have made music that stands the test of time and even the last studio release in We've Come for You All, is an absolute monster album.

BUSH: Well, you can love both, you know. Obviously, it's indisputable what great music they made with Joey Belladonna and continue to make. And you can like both. It’s like with AC/DC, I love Highway to Hell and Back in Black.

KNAC.COM: In your career you made two back-to-back must have metal albums of all time in Sound of White Noise with ANTRAX and ARMORED SAINT’s Symbol of Salvation. Do you look back at both of those in such high regard as the metal community does?

BUSH: What is funny is the connection there is Dave Jerden, who has made them both at Eldorado Studios, the old one in Hollywood, which is an amazing place, a place where a lot of amazing records were made. And we did the drums for Punching the Sky at the new Eldorado, which is in Burbank now.

In regard to your question, yeah sometimes in life I think that you get close to hitting it right on the head. People, they always ask me about my career and what I think about all the records I've made. And I'm pretty candid about things. I always say things like, "You know, some records are better than others." I wouldn't say I've made a flawless record. Actually, my personal opinion, something that would be on par with ZEPPELIN 4. But I think that in your career you'll look back and go, "Okay, that record was a cornerstone type record," and Symbol definitely is it. And then, you know, the first album with ANTHRAX, Sound of White Noise was another amazing record because it was the first, it was new, and we were like, "Oh wow, this is fresh." So, when those things happen, you know, you have a tendency to be right on the money. I'm proud I got to do them with Dave, because Dave is amazing. Bryan Carlstrom was the engineer who lost his life several years back. He was an amazing engineer and a great person. He was on both those records. And I just have cherished memories of those times.

KNAC.COM: I've got to ask you this question. There was a big change with you between Sound of White Noise and Stomp. What made you cut the hair?

BUSH: Losing your hair. I mean, that's just something that's probably the truth. As you start to have this development on your head, which is traumatic for a lot of guys, you just got to want to make the adjustment, at least a lot of people, not everybody.

KNAC.COM: Well, you're talking to one of those guys, too, John. So, I get it 100%.

BUSH: What are you going to do? Just cut it off and now I have no hair. But, that's just who I am. I've accepted it at this point.

KNAC.COM: Probably a little bit easier to maintain, and I have to tell you the hats that you're wearing these days are pretty fantastic. So, you know, when silly lists are made everyone puts you on the Top 10 of metal singers. Obviously, Dio, Halford, Dickinson, etc. I believe that your guitarists in Jeff Duncan and Phil Sandoval should be in the same conversations as KK and Glenn from PRIEST or Dave Murray and Adrian Smith from MAIDEN. What are your thoughts in regard to that?

BUSH: Well, that's a nice compliment you're paying. Those guys are great players. They do some really cool guitar exchanges and they probably don't get enough credit for the leads that they do. I think they have done some very inventive things throughout the years. I can't imagine this band without those guys and we could probably pull in Dave Pritchard when you're talking about that. Dave was extremely creative and influential. So, the guitar playing through the years has been amazing. And, actually, Joey is a great guitar player as well. So, I mean, all of those guys make major contributions to this band and probably are underrated.

KNAC.COM: You and I have a few things in common, but one of them specifically is that your older brother got you into THE BEATLES and ZEPPPELIN and stuff like that and so did my brother. Do you think you would have been a musician without his early influence as far as the music that you enjoyed back then?

BUSH: Well, I had two brothers, and they probably both influenced me a little bit. And, believe it or not, my mom and dad did too, because they probably bought those records for us. So, I was making the joke that the first show I went to in my life was KISS at Anaheim Stadium. But, maybe I might have seen Trini Lopez at the Greek theater before that. My mom might have taken me, so I can't remember the timeframe there. But yeah, even though my family wasn't musically inclined, for the most part my little brother, he did do some singing and some playing and is pretty talented. But in the end I think having that exposure to music, especially at a young age, is really critical for me to find a love for it. I tried to do the same thing for my kids, too. I want to try to expose them to some cool music because unfortunately the youth of today can be exposed to a lot of really terrible music, especially terrible current pop music. It is just awful. So, I'm always trying to go, "Listen to this. Check this out." My wife and I have done a pretty good job at exposing them to some really cool music, whether it's through artists or even classic old school rock artists. They both love THE WITHERS. So, we want them to know good music and I think that's set the tone. And same thing for me, learning about THE BEATLES when I was, like, 5 years old was pretty helpful.

KNAC.COM: My mom loved BOB SEGER and THE BEATLES but my dad really liked BARRY WHITE and TOM JONES, so I know you're an R & B and soul guy, too. It was a very interesting variety of music that I was brought up on, and it sounds like you were also.

BUSH: Well, BOB SEGER is from Detroit, and was probably influenced by a lot of soul singers before him. Bob is an incredible singer. I love Bob. I can probably tell you certain songs that I sang that I'm trying to emulate BOB SEGER, who probably was emulating most WILSON PICKETT. So, it's like, it's all passed down.

KNAC.COM: So, I know during this craziness, thankfully you've been able to spend some more time with your family and work on a skill that I hear you're damn good at and that's shooting some hoops, especially the 3-ball. Hey, if this music thing doesn't work out with you, should we be expecting a tryout with LeBron and the Lakers?

BUSH: Yeah, 57 year old, 5 foot 5 white guy. He's got it. He's gonna be the one. He's gonna bring it on down for the Lakers. So, the bummer is I had good pickup game that I had been playing for years and that all went south when quarantine happened and Corona kicked in hard and we haven't played since. It's really, really frustrating to me. It really bums me out. Number one, it's another form of an exercise that I can't count on, on a weekly basis, and I love playing ball. It's a great comradery. I mean, at this point, a 57 year old to be playing full court hoops is pretty amazing that I still can do that. And, even though my game is quite erratic, I still have a lot of energy which is pretty awesome. So, I really miss it. As much as I need to get back on stage, I need to get back in the gym and play some hoops. So, again, just come on vaccine, you can do it, you can do it.

KNAC.COM: Well John. I'm 5 foot 8 and I play with all heart and hustle, because you know that movie White Men Can't Jump, the title fits me perfectly.

BUSH: Ha Ha. That's was a good movie.

KNAC.COM: Your drummer Gonzo has developed a passion that we both share in photography. Is he driving you crazy with that Nikon of his?

BUSH: Well, he's got a new passion and hey, go for it. You know, it's a good thing, good photos, and he seems to really enjoy taking shots of bands we play with. If there's a festival, he gets some really cool photos of various groups and that's pretty neat, plus when it comes to our own photo sessions. So, I go to him and say c'mon he’s the photographer. You're in the band, get in the picture. But, no, it's all good. We really bust some chops here and there, but Gonzo's a really good photographer and so that's great.

KNAC.COM: Well, he's definitely saving the band some money having a tour photographer with you guys.

BUSH: We need one of the cutouts made like the ones at the baseball games. Then we could put the cutout in the photo, and then Gonzo could take the pictures.

KNAC.COM: Are you still doing any kind of voiceover work? I know you were doing stuff for Burger King back in the day.

BUSH: The last one I did was a podcast promotion for the band NIGHT DEMON, which was really cool. Jarvis asked me if I would like to do it and he basically hired me, and it was great. They were a bunch of cool, great guys. Cool studio in Ventura, cool band. And, I was honored to do it. It was a lot of fun, actually. A lot of big name actors are doing voiceovers now, too, so when you're trying to compete with George Clooney and Jeff Bridges who have a little more fame than I do, it's a bit hard. But, I'm still plugging away and trying to do some auditions, and I still love the craft of it. It's great.

KNAC.COM: Well, John, I want to thank you for your time today. I really appreciate it. And, you know, your two last albums in La Raza and Win Hands Down were two of my favorites from the whole ARMORED SAINT catalog and I can't wait for Punching the Sky to come out. I just want to say once again thanks for, you know, providing us with the music of our lives.

BUSH: Yeah, I appreciate that. It's been a great interview and you had some fun and interesting questions. So, thanks for providing me a fresh interview.

Punching the Sky will be released on October 23rd but you can watch the virtual album release on October 10th at https://armoredsaint.veeps.com/

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