JOEY VERA (ARMORED SAINT): “My Main Objective Was To Make The Songs Sound Epic, Not Necessarily Long But Really Epic With Big Choruses And Strong Melodies”

Armored Saint

Five years on since their last studio album Armored Saint have returned with their 8th studio album, Punching The Sky. Mick Burgess called up bassist and songwriter Joey Vera to talk about the making of the album, the plan for playing live and a quick update of his other band, Fates Warning.

The recent passing of Eddie Van Halen has come as a shock to many. What did Eddie mean to you?

I never met Eddie but I am just a giant fan like so many other people. He was a game changer not just for guitar players but for music in general. When that first record came out, I was in LA listening to KISS and Queen but when that record came out and hearing “Eruption” and “You Really Got Me”, my jaw was just on the floor. I’d never heard anything like that before. He set the bar so high and flipped everything on its head. He was so influential. I’m from LA like Van Halen and I saw them on their very first tour and they made a huge impression on me. I was about 15 or 16 years old at the time. That stays with you forever. It’s such a tragedy to lose him. I think everyone was shocked. Nobody knew that his health had deteriorated so rapidly. It’s really, really sad and he’ll be missed for sure.

You have a new album, Punching The Sky out very soon. How do you feel ahead of its release?

We’re looking forward to the release. The press has had the record for a couple of months now and we have two singles out and the response has been very positive so far. The fans seem to like the couple of songs they’ve heard and the press seem to be into the record so we’re anxious to get the album out now.

It’s been 5 years since your last studio record Win Hands Down, when did you start work on the follow up?

We started writing around December 2017 but it didn’t really start moving forward until February 2018 and we were writing until the fall of 2019 so we had a good amount of time for writing which is pretty standard for us these days but we did have a couple of tours that took us away from the writing so it wasn’t continual writing. There were a few breaks in there. We tend to take our time and not rush things.

What were your plans for the album when you first started the writing process?

I don’t approach writing by staring at a blank piece of paper and wonder what I’m going to do now. I just sort of let it happen organically. I’ll write a few riffs or just doodle and see where that goes. “Bark, No Bite”, “Missile To Gun” and “Standing On The Shoulders of Giants” were the first three that I wrote and they really set the tone for the rest. Me and John write most of the material and we don’t tend to have discussions about the direction to move in. It’s more about just writing then letting things happen. I like to challenge myself to let some other influences in such as R&B or Funky influences come in and push some boundaries. With this album I wanted to write the songs with a precise effort with the arrangements. As a result, the songs ended up coming out a little shorter than the last record. My main objective was to make the songs sound epic, not necessarily long but really epic with big choruses and strong melodies. There was nothing more specific than that really.

When you are creating Armored Saint music, how do you work together?

The songs are predominantly written by John and myself but I take it upon myself to make demos. I make them very elaborate and play all the instruments and programme the drums that sound like a human playing them. There’s a lot of attention to detail in the demos that I do so that John can get inspired and it also gives me a clearer picture of how it should end up sounding at the very end. It gives me a better vison of what the end result will be. John and I go back and forth with the demos and then he will come over my house and record the vocals. At that point I send the other guys basically a finished song. It’s not until it comes to the recording part of it that all of us get together in a room and start to fine tune all the parts. We replace all of the parts in the demo, rebuilding it if you will, from the ground up so that’s pretty much been the process for the last three records.

How long did you spend on the recording process?

We started in December doing drums and took three weeks off over for the Holidays then we resumed in January and finished in early March before the lock-down.

There’s 11 songs on the album. Did you write and record anymore or did you put everything you did onto the record?

We ended up putting everything on the record. We were going to hold back “Bark, No Bite” and just put 10 on the record but decided to put it on anyway. It’s funny because a lot of people really like that one. We didn’t record anything extra. There’s a few bonus tracks on some European and Japanese versions but they’re just live tracks.

The album flows so well from start to finish. Is the sequencing and pacing of the album something that you take time over?

I always do. It’s always a thing for me to look at it like a live show so you want to come out the gate grabbing attention real quick, then you can get into some more artsy stuff in the middle then you have to bring it back and punch them in the face again. I almost think of it like an LP with a side 1 and a side 2. So, first track side 2 should be another slam in the face. The problem for us was the sequencing for the LP version of the record as we had to split it onto a double LP. We did it because you get better sound quality because of the length of the record. If it was all on a single LP you’d sacrifice some of the audio quality and I didn’t want to do that. Breaking it up onto four sides was harder because the flow was different so we had to rearrange the sequence for the LP. I was willing to sacrifice that for the sound quality.

You’ve saved the best song until last, “Never You Fret”, is an absolute banger of a way to end the album. Gonzo plays the Indian flute on the intro. When did you discover that he could play that?

We knew he could play for a while. He has a side band called Black Raven with some friends that he occasionally does gigs with and they put an album out a few years back. It’s led by an old friend of ours called Dan and the whole vibe is Native American music. It’s not Rocking it is more Ambient and Dan plays flute in the band and I think he gave Gonzo a flute and he’s been tinkering around with that for several years. The song had this world ethnic feel to it and is based musically on Middle Eastern scales so it was definitely not a Californian vibe so I thought using Gonzo’s flute would be cool. He suggested it and I thought it sounded like a great idea.

As part of the rhythm section you and Gonzo are so integral to the band. What is it about Gonzo’s playing that that works so well for you?

His main asset is that he’s a real solid, backbeat Rock drummer. He comes from that school of John Bonham and Cozy Powell. We also share an affinity for Funky music and Jazz Fusion so him and I always try to incorporate things that are a little outside of the Rock box. We’ve used Latin rhythms here and there and we’ve always made a point to have the kick drum and bass guitar play a lot of things in sync together. I think those are the type of things that we’ve tried to exploit throughout our career. I think that’s what separates us from other rhythm sections in Metal.

You brought in a couple of guests including on Patrick D’Arcy on Uilleann Pipes on the title track and album opener and Dizzy Reed on keyboards. Whose idea was it to bring in a couple of additional musicians?

It was mine because I always like to have different flavours and inputs into an album. I can play keyboards and piano but I’m not a piano player. I can write things but I’m not a performer. There were keyboards on the demos and the same with the Uillean pipes which I’d used samples for but I always knew I wanted to find someone who actually played pipes so I reached out and found Patrick, who lives in Los Angeles and he was really game and brought another flavour to it. He even improvised a little of what I’d written and added a whole new vibe to it. Jeff Duncan, our guitar player is friends with Dizzy and they actually play together in Dizzy’s side band called Hookers and Blow. Dizzy is a fan of Armored saint and when he heard we were recording he called up Jeff and said that we had to find something for him to play on. Jeff told me and as a matter of fact, we had two songs which had keyboards. One had piano and the other, B3 organ so it was perfect. Dizzy came down and added his own thing to it and did great. I think it’s fun having other people on the record too.

You handled production duties as you have done on the last few albums. How do you balance your role as a band member and a producer?

It’s a lot of work and a lot of things to think about but I just think about the end result and try to get there. A lot of it is trouble shooting and whittling away at this piece of wood in front of you and try to sculpt it into something at the end. I think that I’m a good leader in that sense but I also know when I need to be a team player and do my part for things. It’s just something you’ve got to strike a balance with.

You’ve worked with the likes of Max Norman and Michael James Jackson in the past. What did you learn from them about production?

Everybody that I’ve worked with does things in a different so I pick up things from everybody that I worked with. The album we did with Michael was the first one we’d ever made in a major studio and we were all Punks and 20 years old. We didn’t really get along with Michael very well. He was going through some personal problems and spent most of the time on the telephone so my experience with him was very limited. I actually worked closer with the engineer, Chris Minto and he ended up co-producing Raising Fear with us. Max Norman, was a task master and very strict about getting a good take with the rhythm section and the tempos. He would take a section of a song and break it down and ask us what exactly were we playing. Up until that point no one really cared what we were playing, we just played. Max would show us things to fine tune and improve the music and he’d show us things that made sense to me. He was really good about analysing ourselves and he also had this real Rock ‘n’ Roll sense of making sure it had attitude. He had a good balance in his approach.

Live shows have been severely affected by Covid but tomorrow you’ll be doing a special online stream to celebrate the album’s release. Who came up with that idea?

Our booking agent suggested it originally but we thought it was alien and didn’t want to do it at first. This was back in June or July. Once we realised that things were not going to change and as we were having a new record out on October 23rd, we thought we wanted to have a record release party and connect with our fans. We reconsidered it and decided to do it. We went into it with a smile on our faces. We want to Rock out, play a full set with four new songs and some deeper cuts too. We just want to have fun with it. We are playing at the Whiskey A Go Go club with the full lights and sound but there’s just no audience. We’ll just have to go in and pretended there is an audience. We may in the future make the soundtrack to the show available from our website. It’s certainly possible.

Outside of Armored Saint you have worked extensively with other bands over the years. Has the experience working with different musicians in Fates Warning and Anthrax for example help you develop as a musician?

Absolutely. It all started when I joined Fates Warning in ’96 and working with Jim Matheos has rubbed off on me quite a lot. Being in that band and playing with the different musicians, particularly the drummers, have made me raise my bar much higher and raise my game. It’s made me a better bass player and a better songwriter and the way I look at music differently and chord changes and harmony. I appreciate the chances that Jim takes and that inspires me to take chances too.

Do you get involved in the song writing in Fates Warning?

No, not really. My role is to be predominantly as the bass player. I’m asked my opinion about a lot of things, sometimes business decisions too. Jim and I are long-time friends and he trusts my opinion on a lot of things. He allows me to be myself to be a player within the Fates Warning framework. When he writes it’s sometimes very specific what he wants from the bass. I’m a team player so if that’s what he wants, that’s what he gets but he leaves the door open for me to interpret it my own way. It’s much less stressful for me to be just the bass player rather than writing and producing too.

There’s a new album due soon, Long Day Goodnight. Doing an Armored Saint album and a Fates Warning album too must have kept you busy this year. How did you balance it all out?

It was one right after the other. I finished dropping off the hard drives to Jay Ruston to mix the Armored Saint record and two days later I got an email from Jim with the first Fates Warning tracks and I ended up recording late March all the way into April.

Do you have any plans to do a live stream show with Fates Warning or anything while you are unable to tour?

It’s possible but it’d be difficult as we all live in different parts of the world. If everyone was prepared to travel to do it then I’d be in for it. I think everyone has their fingers crossed that everything is going to start to open up in the spring. Everybody, Armored Saint included, is waiting to see what’s going to happen.

What have you got lined up both personally and with Armored Saint and Fates Warning over the coming months?

I have some time off. There’s some things in the pipeline for Armored Saint in terms of videos and singles but nothing that really requires me to leave the house so we’re hunkering down and will try and keep involved with social media and stay connected with fans. There may be some press with Fates Warning and possibly a video as well but really nothing more than that. The only thing we may do, if we can, is to resume recording a Motor Sister record as we were recording that when the city shut down. We are 50% done with that and need to go back to the studio. The city is still locked up so we don’t have any studios to go to so if that opens up over the next 3 or 4 months we may go and finish that.

Armored Saint’s new album, Punching The Sky is out on 23rd October on Metal Blade Records. See and for more information.

Interview By Mick Burgess


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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