Joey Vera of Armored Saint: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview

Photo by Stephanie Cabrel

Joey Vera’s metal bass journey started by idolizing John Paul Jones, Geezer Butler, John Deacon, and Paul McCartney. And if that journey teaches us anything, it’s that it’s not where you start, not where you finish, but where you stop along the way.

As a youngster, Vera met John Bush, and with local neighborhood kids, the duo their first band, Rhapsody. Fast-forward, Bush, and Vera, along with childhood friend, Gonzo Sandoval, along with Phil Sandoval, and Dave Prichard, formed Armored Saint. Soon, they made a name for themselves via high-profile gigs at hotspots along Hollywood’s Sunset Strip.

It wasn’t long before Brian Slagel’s Metal Blade Records came calling, and before they knew it, Armored Saint was featured on the second installment of its Metal Massacre, with their song “Lesson Well Learned” being a highlight. In the early-90s, Armored Saint called time, but Vera, wasn’t done. Soon, he released his debut solo album, 1994’s A Thousand Faces, and in 1997, joined Fates Warning.

After a brief stint in Anthrax filling in for Frank Bello, Vera cozied up with a reformed Armored Saint, where he remains. These days, Vera is busier than ever, and ready to hit the road again in 2024 with old scene mates, Queensrÿche. To that end, the veteran four-string slinger beamed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to dig into the nuts and bolts of the tour, his current bass rig, and more.

You’re heading out on tour with Queensryche. What does a tour like this show us about the health of today’s metal scene?

I think it’s a great display of how two bands with legacy careers can join together and share a stage to bring our music to two slightly different audiences. I think fans appreciate that.

How long have you known the guys in Queensrÿche? Any memories from back in the day to share?

We’ve known them since around 1986. I first met Eddie Jackson while I interviewed him for a bass column I was writing for Circus Magazine. When Saint was on tour in 1988, we played Seattle and had a day off. We went to see Anthrax open for Kiss, and the Queensrÿche guys were there.

Eddie tells us their new record is done and invited me, Gonzo and Joey Belladonna to listen to some of it in his car in the parking lot. So, he starts cranking what is soon to be Operation Mindcrime and Gonzo and I are in the backseat with our jaws on the floor. It sounded amazing. That was a moment.

What will your bass rig consist of for this tour? 

I’ll be taking my Hartke Rig, two LH100 heads with two Hydrive 8×10 cabs. My signal chain is bass, Shure GLXD16, DarkGlass Hyper Luminal Compressor, Radial Stage Bug DI, Split to Tech 21 YYZ Shape Shifter into FX Return on the LH1000. I’ll be taking my two LTD 87 Surveyor basses by ESP. I use DR Handmade Hi-Beam strings.

What goes into those choices?

The live rig has become an evolution over time. In the last 15 years, I’ve been experimenting more with getting the sound right with my IEM more than anything because that’s the world I’m playing in. In my head, anyway. I’ve been using Tech 21 for almost 25 years, and I like using their pedals as preamps, so the YYZ is my newest acquisition, and I want to use it in a tour situation.

What will Armored Saint’s setlist look like, and what tracks are you most excited about playing?

We are playing most of the fan-expected classics, but we are also adding several songs from our most recent release, Punching the Sky, which we haven’t been able to play much since it came out during 2020. We also have the opportunity to play several headline sets on some of the days off, so we’re digging deeper into our catalog for those headline sets. I’m excited to play the new songs as well as the deep cuts!

Armored Saint is firing on all cylinders now. Give us the rundown on the latest in the band and how things are going.

Currently, we have recorded a single, which will be released in June 2024 on Metal Blade Records in digital format only. It’s a cover of a song recorded by the R&B group The Four Tops. It’s one of my favorite songs from that era, and I thought John Bush would do it justice—which he does! He killed it! We are also writing for a new record. We’re looking for a 2025 release.

Ah, so you’re working on new music. Can you tell us anything more?

Yes! We’re about seven songs in with new material. All the guys are contributing, and we’re just trying to write great songs. As usual for us, we’re trying to stretch out a bit and take some chances but still keeping it in the Armored Saint world. It’s going great.

Looking back, which of Armored Saint’s albums means the most to you, and why?

I don’t ever listen to our records, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate them. Each one represents the time and place of where we were at, at that moment. So, they all mean a lot to me because each one is like a stepping stone. But I suppose I’d say the first step, March of the Saint, because it was our firstborn, if you will.

Then, Symbol of Salvation because it was a time of a little reinvention for us internally. Then, I’d say La Raza because, for me, it was a very free record to write; I felt safe that we could do whatever we wanted to. Then, I’d say the last two, Win Hands Down and Punching the Sky, because, to me, the songwriting quality has become all our own. It’s unique.

Are there stories or anecdotes on any of those records to share?

I could only sum it up by saying that for me, anyway, it’s all about the process. I want to learn and get better, and I don’t feel like I’m doing that if all I do is repeat myself. So, we all try to take chances here and there, experiment, and see what happens. Sometimes it works. Keep going; what else can we do? Challenge yourself. Each time I start writing for a new record, I spend time reflecting on where we came from, where we are now, and how we got here.

If you could go back, would you redo any of Armored Saint’s records?

Hah! There is always hindsight that can mess with your head. There are reasons I would like to redo several records, but no one in their right mind would give a damn. So, I’d say the answer is no. That’s the snapshot we took when the record was done, and that’s it. There is no perfection, only the search for it.

March of the Saint is 40 years old this year. Can you believe it? What does that record mean to you?

Wow, yeah, that’s old! Like I said before, it’s our firstborn. We were so young then. We wrote all that music when we were 19 years old. We were very naïve at that time with regard to the music business, as you can imagine. The memory for most of us is probably bittersweet because, on the one hand, we had this innocent excitement of being signed to a major label, recording in one of the top studios in the world.

We were on top of the world, but we quickly felt the paws of the producers, managers, and record execs meddling with our cookies. We had lost control during the recording process. In the end, none of us felt that the record represented what we thought we should sound like. But I can look at it positively because that was our first hard lesson, and we have some good memories from the studio. It was our intro to the world, and it’s a good one.

What’s changed most for you from a stylistic and gear perspective since then?

Keep it simple! When I was younger, it was always about making an impression or keeping up with the pack. Even with gear, I tried all kinds of new toys, set-ups, etc. I even bi-amped for a while. But with everything, I ended up coming back to basics.

The same is true for playing and songwriting. I pay massive attention to the kick drum and snare. I think leaving holes, as in not playing, makes heavy music sound even heavier. So, my playing, for the most part, has gotten simpler. Same with songs. I listen to some of the things we wrote back in the ‘80s, and I say to myself, “What were we thinking?”

How do you measure the importance of Armored Saint on ‘80s metal? I feel like you guys should have gotten more credit.

I guess since we’re even still discussing Armored Saint 42 years later, the band must have etched a place in the annals of metal. For that, we are grateful. We had no idea back then that we’d be here talking about this 40 years later. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t hope for more in the beginning, but honestly, we’re grateful for what we’ve had.

What’s your outlook as you move forward?

We still have some music left in us, and we still have some territories to play in. We’re not done, and it’s as exciting as ever for us to keep going. We’ve been enjoying this kind of renaissance in the last ten years, so that’s been a shot in the arm.

Any regrets? 

Regret has a negative connotation with me. I think we choose to see any mistakes we made or choices we made as learning experiences. And for me, personally, there’s no greater gift than the experience itself.

 

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