Rock Overdose and Zisis Petkanas (with a little help from Chris Doukas) had an interesting conversation with Joey Vera from Armored Saint and Fates Warning.
Joey said many things about his life and his carrier, including Armored Saint’s and Fates Warning’s new albums, his visit in Greece and an interesting story about Metallica.
(Listen to the audio interview below:)
RockOverdose: Hello, Joey, and welcome to Rock Overdose Greece!
Joey Vera: Thank you for having me! I miss Greece!
RockOverdose: I’m sorry to hear this! When was your last time here?
Joey Vera: I believe it was last spring- not spring 2020, spring ‘19… If I’m not mistaken, that’s when Armored Saint played the Up The Hammers Festival, I believe. I was on tour with Fates Warning at the time in the United States and I had to leave the tour. I flew directly to Athens from, like, Ohio or something. I got there in the morning for the show, played the gig… Up The Hammers was a great day - great time - and the gig was awesome. Next morning, I flew right back to Minnesota and rejoined the tour with Fates Warning- it was pretty crazy. It’s one of my favorite stories!
RockOverdose: Those were the great times, when we had live shows!
Joey Vera: Yeah, exactly! Back when we could go to concerts.
RockOverdose: So, where are you at the moment, and what’s the situation like on Covid?
Joey Vera: I’m in Los Angeles, I live here… Well, it’s, you know, very similar to everywhere else in the world. What’s maybe a little different here in Los Angeles is… We’ve started our lockdown in 15 March and the city’s still not opened up entirely but there are some things that have been eased up and opened… Some stores, some restaurants but you can only eat, and the restaurant has to be outdoors, but we don’t have any… There’s no bars open, no churches- you know, anything that’s a closed space is not open yet. They’re starting to open up some barber shops and places like that. But we’ve had many cases here, we’re a very large city so… Of course, we’re gonna have large numbers just because of the fact that we’re a lot of people here.
I think that a lot of people here are really good at social distancing, wearing a mask and being careful. So, I think we were pretty good at getting our numbers to, kind of, even out in the summer. But it’s constantly changing… You know, they’re expecting it to go back up and we’re seeing a slow rise again. They’re expecting that ‘cause we’re going through the winter… we don’t [really] have a winter here in California. It’s not the same as New York or something, but still… It is the flu season and that means people tend to stay indoors more and that could create more problems but, you know… My family is fine, the band members are all fine- we’re all good! I know a lot of people don’t have “good” but we’re doing okay so…
RockOverdose: How do you think this virus will play out? Do you think next year will be better and, maybe, live shows will return?
Joey Vera: Well, I sure hope so! I think- I’m no expert, I’ve no idea. I read the same new articles everybody else is reading so… Then, they’re all saying something a little different so it depends on what you really believe. You know? But it seems to me that, if you look at the logic and the reality of the situation we’re in and the probable methods that we can possibly get out of this, is that it’s gonna take time, and I don’t think that nine months or twelve months from now is enough time to get out of it… I think it’s more, like, twenty-four months.
I’m not really sure that shows are gonna be normal in a year from now. In my opinion, we’re looking at two to three years from now but it doesn’t mean that in some capacity… You know… Maybe some venues will have 50% capacity, or venues that we could have a show outdoors- maybe that will be the first thing… So I don’t know. It’s really hard to say what’s gonna happen but the feeling that I’m getting is… The word around the industry is that it’s not gonna take one but a couple of years before we see ourselves in any sort of state of normalcy.
RockOverdose: Let’s cross our fingers!
Joey Vera: I hope so! I hope it’s sooner than that, believe me! I just don’t know…
RockOverdose: So, the main reason that we’re catching up with you today is the release of a new Armored Saint album.
Joey Vera: Yeah!
RockOverdose: Has this year affected the recording process at all, or did it give you a good opportunity to stay in the studio and work better?
Joey Vera: Well, truthfully, we were actually done with the recording when the city of Los Angeles shut down. We were recording guitars when in January we first heard the news about the new of this thing. But it was January, it was so early- even through February, we were still recording some guitars and vocals and stuff but it hadn’t come to America yet. I think that the first place where it really landed was the East Coast, in New York. We finished recording basically and, literally, one or two weeks later, the city said, “That’s it! We’re closing the city down!” So we were already done; it didn’t affect us at all, to be honest with you.
RockOverdose: Would you like to tell us a few words about the new album? Maybe even some details?
Joey Vera: Well, the record’s called “Punching the Sky”. We’ve been writing it for quite a while. We probably spent about a year and a half, almost two years, writing it. We finished writing in October 2019 and, then, we started recording in December. It’s got eleven songs and we’re really proud of it. It’s got some great songs on it, in our opinion, some really great hooky choruses, powerful riffs, guitars… A lot of the songs are, you know, very big and epic-sounding. We took some chances so there’s a little bit of diversity on the record- like, a lot of different kind-of… I don’t wanna say “styles”; there’s just a lot of dynamics on the record, different kinds of grooves and ambient sounds and stuff… It has some diversity, as well. You know, each of our records is different; everytime that we make a record, it’s different than the one we put out before it. This one is insane- it’s different, all hands down, but to me, in my ears, it still sounds like Armored Saint, but Armored Saint in 2020.
RockOverdose: From the two songs that we’ve already heard, it sounds really huge! Actually, to me, it’s your best album since the late ‘80s or early ‘90s.
Joey Vera: Wow! That’s high praise, thank you! The two singles are awesome, “End of the Attention Span” and “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants”, and, like I said, we’re really proud of those songs and we’re actually working on a third single right now. We just shot a new video on Monday for another video that’s coming out on the release date, which is 23 October.
RockOverdose: Great! Is there any meaning behind the title “Punching the Sky”?
Joey Vera: Well, a little bit. We were looking for titles and couldn’t really decide on something. We were gonna call the record “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants”, but we didn’t wanna call the record from the same song title; like, first song, side one… ‘Cause we’d already done that with “Win Hands Down” (2015) - that was the first song on side one - and we didn’t want to repeat ourselves. So we were looking at lyrics and all the different songs, and this one line kept sticking out to me: “Punching the sky”. I just thought it had a lot of color, it could be taken in different meanings… I liked it so I told John [Bush, vocals] about it and he agreed. Lyrically, the song is about perseverance, getting through life and hardships, overcoming obstacles, and that kind of thing. When he says [it] in the song, he literally means “punching the sky”, raising your fist in the air as if you’re- success! I’m succeeding, you know?
That’s a cool way to look at it but, when I saw the album cover, I started to think about it a little deeper. I thought that “punching the sky” really, kind of, represents the band in a kind of way, in what our goal has been since Day One. That is to just keep moving forward, and evolving, and expanding, and growing, and becoming better songwriters and better people, better brothers and fathers; just constantly pushing boundaries, growing, expanding… “Punching the sky” is, sort of like saying, “going beyond the sky”! The sky is not the limit! We’re going past, and we wanna keep growing outwards, into the atmosphere… That, to me, is a good representation of our goal, of our band’s desires.
RockOverdose: Great! So, if I’m right, you’re hosting a virtual release party next Saturday.
Joey Vera: That’s right! We can’t go on tour, anywhere- we can’t play locally… We can’t do anything in front of people so we have this opportunity to play a show and have it streamed on the internet. It’s the best thing we can do right now. It’s either that, or we do nothing, and we don’t wanna do nothing. We’re looking forward to it! It’s gonna be fun. Trust me, it’s gonna be a little weird ‘cause we will be playing in an empty venue. We’re gonna miss all the fans, of course. We’re hoping people will watch from home, and check it out, and be with us in spirit! We’re planning to have a good time with it; we’re playing a full set and we’re playing some old cuts as well as some of the classics. Then, we’re doing four brand new songs from the new record, and we’re just planning to have a good time with it!
We hope people can come check it out. If anybody is interested, there’s a website, and it’s very easy. It’s only $10 to buy a ticket; it’s very inexpensive and the website is “armoredsaint.veeps.com”. All you have to do is sign up; you can go check it out. I hope people will go check it out and come spend the night with us. The cool thing about this, too, is that, if you start streaming on 10 October, as you said, but it runs for a full month. It runs all the way until 8 November so, if you’re busy and can’t make it on 10 October, you can watch it on 16 October, or 22, or 1 November, or whenever it suits you, at any time of the day so… As soon as you sign up, you get a link and you can access the link at your discretion, anytime you want to.
RockOverdose: Great! It’s very interesting! So, you are juggling duties on Armored Saint with Fates Warning. How hard is it for you to manage your roles in both bands?
Joey Vera: Managing the roles isn’t that hard. You can have two very different roles: my role in Armored Saint is more of a leadership role. It’s a band where I oversee a lot of the aesthetics, and the art, and the music; so, I’m the musical director and the producer. I’m also the band’s business manager; it’s a, very much, hands-on thing. I take on a lot of responsibilities with that band. My role on Fates Warning is way more, like, a team player. I’m not that person; that person is Jim Matheos [guitar]. It’s his band and he does everything so my role as a team player is much easier for me to be in. Of course, the music is more challenging. I think the hardest part about juggling the two bands is really more about the scheduling and making… In the past, I always tried to make sure that I leave space and time for Fates Warning and I also leave space and time for Armored Saint. I try not to let them cross paths but, as I just explained to you earlier at the beginning of our conversation, sometimes they do, such as in the [Up the] Hammers Festival.
I think I committed to that for Armored Saint in 2017. We got the offer to play and we accepted the offer. It was in February 2019 and it was a one-off, it wasn’t a tour. It was just one show and I thought, “That’s fine! I’ve got nothing else going on…” Meanwhile, somewhere around late 2018, Fates Warning got an offer for a tour in the United States and it was a good tour but it run right through February, which was right when the [Up the] Hammers Festival was… I said, “Okay… How am I gonna do this? I can’t be in two places at the same time…” That was the hard part! I got through it. It was difficult physically and mentally for me but, luckily for me, Joe DiBiase, the original bass player for Fates Warning, was very gracious and he helped me out. He filled in for me in the United States for two or three days while I was gone playing in Greece. When I came back, he went back home. It worked out fine but I wouldn’t wanna make a habit out of that.
RockOverdose: Talking about Fates Warning, what about their next plans?
Joey Vera: Well, we have a new record and it’s coming out on 9 November. The record’s great and it’s been mixed by Joe Barresi. The music’s great! Jim and Ray [Alder, vocals] wrote great songs, and all the performances are great; some great melodies, great choruses… It’s super-interesting as you can expect. There’s a few long songs which will, of course, please the prog fans… Yeah, we’re excited to get the record out there. Unfortunately, we all live in different parts of the world and it makes it even more difficult to try to do anything like making videos, or having photoshoots or anything like that. So, we’re just trying to kinda wait it out just like everybody else and see how the world opens up… We can’t really make any plans at all, and the same is true for Armored Saint. We’re not making any plans for tours right now so we’re just waiting to see how the world’s gonna open up.
RockOverdose: Of course! Any news on Engine, Motor Sister, or Seven Witches?
Joey Vera: Um, no… I haven’t been involved in Seven Witches for years and I don’t have any plans for that. Engine, it’s just the same thing… It’s a project that we probably won’t get back to… I mean, Ray and I have talked about it in the past but it’s difficult right now… Motor Sister, though… We were in the middle of making a record when the city shut down. We were literally in the recording studio when we got the news so we had to stop, leave, pack up and go home… We couldn’t finish the record. We are about 75% done on the record so we’re just waiting for some studios to open back up so we can go back in and finish the record. We have something like- twelve songs recorded: bass, drums and some guitars, but we have to finish some guitars, and finish all the vocals, and the lead guitars, and that kind of thing. We’re still waiting for the city to open up a little bit more in Los Angeles so we can finish the Motor Sister record.
RockOverdose: Back in ‘86, after Cliff’s [Burton] accident, Lars [Ulrich] called you during the audition process to ask you if you wanted to jam with them, but you turned that down. What were your thoughts when you received that call and, eventually, passed on that opportunity?
Joey Vera: Well, I was obviously really flattered that Lars called. You know, I was almost expecting a call and the only reason why I was expecting it was because I had heard through friends and management that they were auditioning, like, so many people. It was, like, anybody and their brother could sign up for an audition. There were so many people they were seeing and they hated it. They were just miserable and the reason why was because… Well, lots of reasons… They were mourning their friend and they were also having to deal with finding a replacement. It was a very tedious and long process and they were annoyed, and sad… It was a really hard time for them. The word was that they were gonna start reaching out to people that they knew, people that they were friends with. Since I knew them, in the back of my mind, I thought, “Shit! I might get the call!” Of course, I did get the call. I wasn’t the only one, mind you, though. They called a few people…
So, Lars called me and laid it out. He said, “Listen… This sucks up here and we wanna jam with some of our friends. We consider you friends. Would you consider coming up here and jamming? ” I said, “Lemme think about it…” I was honored and I said, “Yeah, I wanna help you out. I would do anything to help you out a friend.” After I hung up the phone, though, and I slept on it overnight, and I thought about that, I said, “Oh, of course I wanna help them out but I have to go up there with this intention… to join their band. Is that why I wanna go there? That has to be the reason why I go there; not just to help them out but because I wanna be in that band.” So, I had to think long and hard about that… “Is that my intention?” At that time, Armored Saint was in the studio; we were recording “Raising Fear” (1987); we were halfway done so I had half-finished business with Armored Saint.
I wasn’t ready to leave. I’m named 50% songwriter on “Raising Fear”, it was partly my baby so I was, like, “Am I ready to leave right now?” and the answer was, “No, I’m not ready to give up yet. I’m not done working here. We’ve still got work to do”. I also thought that, “If I go up there, I might waste their time, and my time, so why do I wanna do that?” I had to be honest with myself and be honest with Lars. I explained that to him and he said, “Dude, I totally get it. No worries at all! Thank you for calling back and thinking about it,” and that was that.
RockOverdose: Okay, now let’s get back to Armored Saint. With the new album coming out, what happens next? What are your plans with the album and the band?
Joey Vera: Immediately, it’s getting ready for this virtual live stream show so we’re actually in rehearsals at the moment. That’s first on our list to-do, getting that out there and we’re looking forward to the release on 23 October. Like I said, we’re releasing a third single and a third video on the same day, 23 October. I can’t tell you which song yet; it’s a surprise. Beyond that, we can’t make any plans to tour or to go anywhere so our initial plans right now are to just stay active on social media, with video content on YouTube whether it’s personal stuff or videos that we’re gonna shoot. We’ve done a few playthrough videos for some of the other songs on the record… It’s just for fun, and to keep our faces out there and really just to stay engaged via social media. It’s the only real connection that we have right now with our fans so we’re trying to stay more involved in that way. That’s really all we can do at the moment.
RockOverdose: I see! So, you’ve been in the band for nearly forty years now. Is there anything that you would have done in a different way?
Joey Vera: Not really. The only thing that ever comes to mind when- we get asked this question a lot… Look, we are where we are today because of all the choices we made. A lot of the choices we made were good choices but a lot of the choices we made were mistakes; but you have to make mistakes in order to get to a place where you are making yourself better or learning. You can never say that, “I would do something entirely different so I wouldn’t make all these mistakes,” because, then, you would never grow anywhere. So, that’s life with everything. It’s hard to say that I would do anything really that different but, if you were to give me an option to do something different, the only thing I would say is that it took us such a long time to tour in the European continent and we felt that that was some kind of mistake that happened… That would be the one thing we would change if we could change anything.
It would be that we would have made it so so that our label or our manager supported us in the decision to tour in the European continent. Our first record came out in 1984 and we didn’t even set foot on European soil until 1989! We lost so much! We had three records out during that time and we lost so much during that period. A lot of other American bands went to Europe and toured during that time. I think that really helped their success, their reach to get fans… The fact that we didn’t, that it took us so long, that is a big thing that we would change: we would do it all over again, touring Europe, starting in 1984. In fact, we set foot in ‘89 but we only played two gigs, and then we didn’t even tour Europe until it was, like… We didn’t really tour Europe properly until, literally, 2000. I mean, think about that! We were together for almost twenty years before we got there… That was a terrible thing!
RockOverdose: Of course! Touring helps gain more fans.
Joey Vera: Yeah! That’s one of the strongest things about our band; we felt like we were a good live band. We were always a fun band to go see live but the people don’t know that unless they see you live.
RockOverdose: Do you ever have the desire to make an album someday in a different musical style or genre?
Joey Vera: For Armored Saint?
RockOverdose: For you, personally. To make an album in another musical style, not metal…
Joey Vera: Well, I don’t know… I mean, I have two solo records that I made personally. I had fun making those records and exploring different musical ideas and directions. They are not necessarily metal records but they are rock records, for sure. I don’t know that I’ve ever really considered doing something that wasn’t rock-related. I’m a rock musician, not a jazz musician… I’m not a world-music musician, nor a classical musician… I’m a rock musician so I wouldn’t really consider doing a hip-hop record, or country music. That’s just not in my DNA.
RockOverdose: So, would you like to leave a message to your fans, and especially to your Greek fans?
Joey Vera: Sure! Like I said in the very beginning, I miss Greece! We all miss Greece. Armored Saint loves Greece. We had one of the warmest receptions ever in our entire history as a band in Greece. The fans are so passionate and it means so much to us to feel that. We just wanna say, first of all, thank you for supporting us for all these years even though, like I said, it took us just about twenty years to get to Greece. Thank you for supporting us through all that time and thank you for continuing to support us. We miss you, guys, and we hope to see you all very, very soon. We hope that everybody stays safe and we hope to see you in the near future.
RockOverdose: Is there any other news that you would like to reveal through this interview?
Joey Vera: That’s really about it. The only other thing that might be interesting for some fans is that there’s a guy, a friend of ours, that’s making a documentary about our band and he’s almost done with it. I haven’t seen anything yet so I can’t really say… We’re involved only in the aspect that we agreed to do interviews and stuff but he’s making the film. He’s a British filmmaker, he’s a friend of the band’s and it’s gonna be cool. It’s definitely for the Armored Saint fans; it’s a lot of history and stuff like that, it tells our story. A lot of people know the story but there are some things they don’t know yet but, hopefully, that should be out sometime next year. Keep your eyes out for that! It doesn’t have a title yet.
RockOverdose: That’s very interesting, especially for the younger fans!
Joey Vera: Yes, exactly!
RockOverdose: Joey, thank you for your time and this nice conversation! It was a pleasure chatting with you and I hope to meet you in the near future, as you said, in Greece!
Joey Vera: Great! Thank you for having me! You stay safe, too!
RockOverdose: Thank you very much! Stay metal!
Joey Vera: Always! Take care! Bye!
For the RockOverdose Webzine,
Interview: Zisis Petkanas
Questions: Chris Doukas-Zisis Petkanas
Transcription: Stergios Gkoutsidis