John Bush Tells Us To Listen To Many Types Of Music, Especially Armored Saint's 'Punching The Sky'

Armored Saint will be releasing their eighth full studio album via Metalblade on October 23rd, Punching The Sky. The much-anticipated release was a long labor of honing ideas and sounds into the band's goal of creating 'timeless music'. For a group of childhood friends who are coming up on 40 years of activity as a band, making sure to step away from doing anything in exactly the same way they've done it before is pretty admirable, but is definitely a driving force for them. Witness their adaptive move to host a livestream concert for their record launch from the Whisky a Go Go in LA on October 10th, drawing in fans globally to keep everyone involved in their big day.

If you're wondering how their cultural relevance measures up on Punching the Sky, their two single and video releases give us a very good idea of where things are headed, with "The End of the Attention Span" focusing on screen-based life, and "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants" whose video really highlights an interpretation inclusive of climate change. The songs steer very clear of a preachy attitude on any subject, but like with a lot of great music, social commentary applies to us all, Armored Saint included.

Recently, the band's Joey Vera appeared on our Tower Instagram Live show to talk about the new album, which you can still check out here. Today, the band's John Bush kindly takes the time to talk to Tower's PULSE! about Punching the Sky, about a very wide array of music, and what his inspirations are for writing great lyrics.

Hannah Means-Shannon: It’s a momentous thing that Punching the Sky is nearing its release date. Many fans have been waiting a long time for this.

John Bush: We’re excited. It’s really a huge step forward for us in terms of songwriting and musicianship, and all the things a band aspires to. Here we are all these years later and we’re still rocking out. It’s a good sign!

HMS: Yes, absolutely. I think a lot of bands have to see their development and new directions almost in retrospect, after they’ve released an album, but it seems like you guys were aware of that all the way through, as you were creating it.

JB: We have lofty goals and want to make records that can stand the test of time. I’m sure that we all think that way, as musicians. No one wants to make a mediocre record, but I think putting that higher goal in motion is the key. We’ve reached a point where we really aspire not to repeat ourselves, so we really took chances to make ourselves more than a Metal band. I think it goes back to when we were kids, growing up with the bands that had such an impact on us in the 70s and early 80s. Bands that we thought were really making deep-sounding Hard Rock records. Bands like Thin Lizzy, UFO, Judas Priest in the early days, Zeppelin and Sabbath. Aerosmith, Queen. A lot of those bands really made an impact on us because they sounded like there was a lot that went into it.

Some songs require simplicity, but there are others that you can build on with that “wall of sound”, if you will. It really comes down to the song and what the songs seems to determine, but in the end we really want is to create records that really stand the test of time and don’t sound like their time. We grew up listening to the music of the 80s, but I don’t want to sound like the 80s. I don’t want to feel like my whole musical career is based on four years from 1984 to 1988. That’s not going to determine every aspect of us musically, and it’s weird when I see people do that.

HMS: Yes, you’re not living in a time capsule.

JB: Exactly. So making it sound new, making it sound modern, but also making it sound true to the roots of the band is the thing. We need to progress from what we started as and show that progression. Mostly, it’s gone incredibly well.

HMS: I would agree with you. It seems like the best scenario if bands can continue making new music for fans, but also progress, which is what they, creatively, need to do.

JB: There are some people out there who would rather a band stay the way they were, and keep it consistent each record. I get it, it’s all about musical taste. It’s just taste, there’s no better or worse, there’s no winner. It’s how we perceive it. I’m a fan, too. I think it’s important to know that. As I said in another interview, I’m not the same person I was in the 80s, thankfully. I probably wouldn’t have made it into the 90s if I was. But hopefully even those people will still check out the record, and think, “Wow, this is good.”

HMS: I personally find it hard to comprehend if fans want things to stay exactly the same, but it’s up to them. It’s how we choose to spend our time.

JB: Music is a wide array of stuff you can choose from. With Youtube, you can really go back into the past. I love going back. I’d probably be the first guy to say that there’s nothing as good as the music from the 70s. I truly believe that. I really do.

HMS: That’s so awesome. You were mentioning all these fantastic bands, and Armored Saint was part of that great movement forward into Metal. Because you were there when it was happening, you would have been drawing on all these various Rock traditions, but is it true that you personally still like other genres of music outside of Metal?

JB: Oh, we always were, and we still always will be. When people ask me, “What would you tell a young musician starting out?”, I always say, “The most important thing is to listen to lots of different types of music.” I think that’s imperative. You want to be able to let all of it feed into influencing you and inspiring you. You can still pick the genre that you dig, and those other things will help you to better in that genre.

As kids, we grew up as friends, listening to 70s Pop. Then we got more into Harder Rock, with Sabbath and Zeppelin, then even into some Punk, when the Sex Pistols kicked in. The attitude went perfectly with our adolescence. Then we got into Metal in the early 80s.

In Junior High, in 77 and 78, we would come home from school and put on Kiss: Alive, then the next record we’d put on would be Earth, Wind, And Fire: Gratitude. We’d have the same feelings listening to both those records. Aerosmith was around that time. It was probably a lot of the music that you’d hear on the radio, Rock and Pop. If I put on Sirius for the 70s on 7, I would put on most of those songs on a 45, even though they aren’t Hard Rock mostly. A lot of it is everything from Steely Dan to Elton John, Stevie Wonder, The Four Tops, who were actually really good in the 70s. Then we went through an era of Jazz fusion.

HMS: That’s amazing. You’re blowing my mind.

JB: All those things made us want to be better musicians. Even now, when I’m cooking or something, I put on Miles Davis or Coltrane. I’m into Jazz but I also listen to a lot of Classical music. In the days when I was driving my kids to school, not at the moment, they used to hate me for putting on Classical. I’m not a big talk radio guy, and I don’t want to be blasting Hard Rock in the morning. Even if none of that is resonating with them right now, I have a feeling that someday it will. It’s all there for the taking, to take it all in.

Then you can go running back to your genre or your style, and incorporate it all in, which is what we’ve done a lot. You find something that works well with a heavy riff, and boom!, you’re doing something a little different.

HMS: That’s so refreshing to hear that you’re such an omnivore with music. I don’t judge people who only love one type of music, or only a couple, and generally, I love people who love music. But it’s really great to hear someone say, “Listen to everything!” I think there’s something to that.

JB: When you’re younger, that’s part of how you fit into your peer group, through musical styles. I get that. But when you’re older, you don’t have to worry about those peer groups anymore. The weird thing is that we didn’t, even then! Back then, I think we were just into music. Of course, we were Metalheads in the early 80s, and we dressed accordingly. It was more about Iron Maiden and Motorhead, and Priest, at that moment. Probably secretly, still, we’d go home and put on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

HMS: Presumably, that influenced you as a vocalist as well as in songwriting, when putting together your vocal style from all these different places.

JB: I think so. I spent many years in my parents’ garage, where I had my record player and all my albums. And I owe them for letting me do that! I would go in there and sing. I would emulate all these singers and bands. I probably sounded pretty bad as a teenager, with my voice changing. I wasn’t some kind of amazing singer. I think I’m really becoming a much better singer now than I ever was. But I would sing to these albums, and I still do that.

The past year I’ve been doing that a lot. When I have a break, I don’t want to sing Armored Saint songs. I don’t want to burn out on them, for one thing. I just go through my catalog, and I type up the lyrics, and sing to them. The next day, I’ll pick somebody new. Lately it’s been Faith No More. It’s good for me, trying to pick up the nuances of their voices. A lot of old school R&B, like Maurice White and Philip Bailey, Al Green, I wanted to emulate all those guys as much as Rob Halford, Robert Plant, and Ozzy.

HMS: You’re partly explaining a question that I had in my mind, which is: How do you do this for 40 years and not storm off and decide you don’t want to do the same thing anymore? But you’re constantly changing and challenging what you’re doing, so that must keep it more interesting.

JB: I would like to do something really out of the box and challenge myself as a singer, but I don’t think I have the balls quite yet to do it, much less release it. Am I really going to convince the Metal public, “Here’s John Bush’s crooning R&B song”?

HMS: That’s awesome! I am so there for that. I will buy that.

JB: You and a handful of people, maybe. I am being a little self-deprecating here, but maybe one day. I want to do it because it would make me better as a Metal singer, for that matter. Who knows, maybe someday.

HMS: It depends on how long this quarantine goes for, I bet.

JB: That’s true! I might make a whole series of records.

HMS: I want to ask you about your song and video for “End of the Attention Span”. I know you probably created those before the pandemic, but right now it’s so relevant, because all we have right now is screens in our faces.

JB: Let me make it clear that, obviously, I think there are a lot of pros to technology and the wonders it has done for the world. I’m not saying that it’s all bad. There are incredible pros to the internet and telephones, but that being said, it’s about finding a balance for most people. For most people, it probably tips toward over-using, as it does for me. And I’m not even very technology savvy.

But my kids do things that wow me, and it’s really their generation I worry for. It was an opportunity to poke fun at that, and when the time is right, I do like to poke fun and bust some balls in society. I’m not just pointing fingers, since I think that’s a bad scenario right now. I’m usually pointing a finger at myself through that. I use myself as the catalyst for it. The part of the song there’s busting chops, watching a show through a screen, and the last verse is asking, “What are we going to do? Are we going to live like this?” How about communicating? Can we do that? It was just kind of a social commentary. The video came out, catapulting things to a whole other level.

The single, “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants”, has a video that’s very different from “Attention Span”, but it was a trip, because we got back the first draft of the video and we hated it. We thought it had nothing to do with the song. The director was in Romania and was working with Joey [Vera] to figure it out. Then, all the sudden, I was reading all these articles about the fires that have been going on, then I was singing along to the song while watching the video.

All of the sudden, singing the song while watching that video, coupled with the fires, morphed into this perfect video. It was weird. It was like the battle between industry and nature, and the things we are currently struggling with. The video then just seemed remarkable. It almost brought me to tears. It suddenly took on a whole new meaning.

Maybe it’s an inadequacy of the way that I write, but I try to write kind of ambiguously to let the song determine its own topic. With this song, what I used for inspiration suddenly meant something new in conjunction with what was happening. I’m not trying to present myself as someone prophetic or better than I am, because I’m not, but it was interesting how the song with the video took on a whole new meaning. I loved that.

This is an important thing, the environment and what is happening. I’m not some militant environmentalist by any stretch, but the Earth needs to be taken care of. I love LA, it’s a great city, but there’s so much garbage in Los Angeles, and it’s really sad. This is important, especially when I have kids who are going to inherit this Earth. I care.

HMS: Timing really has a huge influence on how people interpret and see information, I agree. It can make a big difference.

JB: It’s fun when that happens, and I think it’s a part of wanting to be timeless. With everything going on this country, with the racial unrest and protests, you can connect a lot of that with the music of the 60s. It is cool how music can connect a lot of things later in life, sometimes for the worse, but hopefully for the better. Music can continue to grow with a new generation. It’s awesome.

HMS: So much of the 60s and the 70s feels so relevant. It doesn’t feel like it’s in a time capsule.

JB: I know. I know that some people wrote for that time, and I don’t know what their thought processes were, trying to be relevant later. And I don’t really try to do that either. But sometimes if you make things slighty vague, or ambiguous, then it might be able to connect again. That’s some of my thought process when I’m trying to write lyrics. Sometimes I’m just looking for rhymes, but I’m not always thinking, “This is the exact meaning of this sentence.”

I attribute this to U2 and Bono, actually. There was a time in the mid 80s where we were touring with March of the Saint. We were 21 years old in the thrust of Metal on a classic tour. We were still really into The Unforgettable Fire, which had just come out. That just opened the door, really digging that particular record. They were nothing to do with our genre, but they were still just really rad. The writing on the song “Bad” and “Wired” and “A Sort of Homecoming”.

The way he was writing lyrics, I kind of knew what he was trying to say, but it wasn’t specific. “Bad”, in particular, that sort of song, was one you can listen to and not be sure what he was getting at, but there was still something really cool about it. That really opened the door for me, especially in terms of lyrics. I thought, “You know what, I can do this. I dig it. Let the song kind of write itself.” That’s another influence that helped me through the years.

HMS: That’s awesome. I know exactly what you’re talking about. I know that album really well. That’s a great story.

I’m also going to mention that you have a virtual live release show coming up. It’s at a great location.

JB: Yes, it’s going to be fun. The Whisky’s a classic place. You’ll be able to see it all over the world in different territories, and it’s only ten bucks. There are bundles you can get with it, like t-shirts or the records. This is how we can have shows at this point. I can’t wait until we can go see some gigs, too. I really miss it. But we’ll see how it goes.

1 comment

Awesome interview with the great John Bush. Some really interesting dialogue here and insightful information about a musician whose been at it in a honest and artistic way. Well done!

Jaret Sacrey October 08, 2020

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