An Interview with Joey Vera of Armored Saint & Fates Warning

Joey Vera’s journey toward Heavy Metal immortality started as many others have, idolizing the likes of John Paul Jones, Geezer Butler, John Deacon, and of course, Paul McCartney. But if Joey’s journey shows us anything, it’s that it’s not where you start, not where you finish, but where you stop along the way.

As a young Funk and Blues-influenced player, Joey Vera met John Bush as kids, and the two soon formed a deep musical bond that would follow them for the rest of their lives. Vera and Bush, along with other neighborhood kids soon formed their first band, Rhapsody, a proving ground, which would function as a springboard for their eventual Hard Rock and Heavy Metal dreams.

Fast forward several years, Bush and Vera, along with another childhood friend, Gonzo Sandoval, as well Phil Sandoval, and Dave Prichard formed what would become Armored Saint, where early on, the band made a name for itself with high profile gigs at hotspots such as The Troubador along The Sunset Strip.

It wasn’t long before upstart label, Metal Blade Records, run by Brian Slagel, came calling, and before the members of Armored Saint knew it, they were leading off Metal Blades’s second installment of its Metal Massacre series with their classic track, “Lesson Well Learned.”

As the 80s gave way to the 90s, Armored Saint’s first chapter came to an end, but for Vera, his career was only just beginning. The decade served as a period of self-reflection, and musical experimentation, which saw Vera release his debut solo album, 1994’s A Thousand Faces, and in 1997, Vera joined stalwart Metal outfit, Fates Warning.

After a brief stint in Anthrax, filling in for Frank Bello, Vera maintains his post for Fates Warning, as well as his duties in a now reformed Armored Saint, both of which are still touring and releasing new music regularly.

We recently sat down with the veteran bassist, where, among other things, we dug into Joey’s origins in music, the formation of Armored Saint, recording his debut solo album, joining Fates Warning, filling in for Frank Bello in Anthrax, the reformation of Armored Saint, his band’s newest music, and a whole lot more.

Be sure to follow Joey Vera via Twitter, and check out Fates Warning, and Armored Saint’s respective webpages for the latest comings and goings of all.

Andrew:
Joey, thanks for taking the time. As a young musician, what first gravitated you toward the bass guitar?

Joey:
I started learning guitar at thirteen years old in 1976. Around that time is when I began really listening to music as a fan. I liked The Beatles, Queen, Earth, Wind and Fire, Aerosmith, The Brothers Johnson, etc. but it was KISS’ Alive! that made me want to play an instrument. I played guitar and was in a group called Rhapsody with John Bush on vocals, and other neighborhood friends by 1978. In 1979, we formed another group called Royal Decree with John, Gonzo, and Phil Sandoval. We couldn’t find a bass player, so I picked up a bass that John Bush had collecting dust under his bed. The rest is history.

Andrew:
Who were some of your early influences which shaped your style? How has that style changed over the years, if at all?

Joey:
At first, as a bassist, it was John Paul Jones, Geezer Butler, and Paul McCartney. Then a little later, Louis Johnson, Verdine White, and John Deacon. And in 1980, I heard Jaco Pastorious, and I was obsessed. I have always gravitated towards a funky style of approaching bass, but also, very Blues-based playing. I was self-taught until about 1992 when I studied theory. This opened my playing up to be much more melodic. So, at this point, I still have foundations in Blues-based, funky playing, but with a broader sense of melody than when I was younger.

Andrew:
Take me through the formation of Armored Saint.

Joey:
Myself, John Bush and Gonzo have been friends since the third grade, and as I mentioned, we’ve been together in and out since then. In our senior year of high school, we all moved into different parts of town and changed high schools. After graduating high school, Gonzo, Phil, and Dave Prichard started jamming in the summer of 1981. By winter of 1981, John Bush joined them. By this point, I was playing in another band called The Greg Leon Invasion. The Saint had another bassist join shortly after John joined. By spring of 1982, I left Greg Leon and joined Armored Saint.

Andrew:
You mentioned The Greg Leon Invasion. I wanted to hit on that. Can you take me through how you met Greg Leon and subsequently joined his Invasion? It looks like you left before the release of the debut album. What were your first impressions of Greg, and ultimately, what led to you leaving the Invasion?

Joey:
I was in a band called Sapphire during the summer of 1980, and the drummer was Tom Bass (Tommy Lee). Before that, Tommy was in a band called Suite 19 in 1979, which included guitarist, Greg Leon. Tommy and I left Sapphire around December 1980. We were both looking in local ads for a band to join when Tommy found an ad posted by Nikki Sixx. He went and met Nikki in January 1981, and the rest of that is history. Also, in January of 1981, Greg Leon called Tommy looking for a bass player, and Tommy gave Greg my number. Greg called and we hit it off, so I joined his new band called The Greg Leon Invasion. I was in my senior year of high school at this point. I had known of Greg from the club scene, and it was known that he was one of a handful of local guitar players that were hot contemporaries of the great Randy Rhodes. He was several years older than me, so I was in awe of him. I played with Greg for about a year, and in that time we played lots of gigs in the LA clubs but nothing was really happening. The NWOBHM was coming on the scene right then, and I would often hang with my friends (including John, Gonzo, and Phil) and blast Maiden, Saxon, Motörhead, Def Leppard, etc. During the later part of this time (winter 1981), Armored Saint was forming. Being school pals, they were constantly asking me to quit Greg and join them. By springtime 1982, I was done with being in Greg’s band and wanted to be with my friends playing NWOBHM style music, so I quit Greg’s band and joined Saint.

Andrew:
Armored Saint’s first EP, which was released in 1983, was for Metal Blade Records. How did you gain their attention? What do you recall about the recording sessions?

Joey:
Our first meeting with Brian Slagel from Metal Blade Records came when he came to see us play at The Troubadour in Hollywood in the winter of 1982. He was impressed and told us that he was putting together the tracklisting for the second installment of the Metal Massacre compilation record aptly titled, Metal Massacre 2. Mercyful Fate was slated to appear as track one, on side one, but they could not deliver a track in time. So, Brian said, “If you can get me a recording of a song, you can be the first song on side one.” He introduced us to engineer and producer, Bill Metoyer, and we immediately went in and recorded five songs. Brian put “Lesson Well Learned” as the opening track on Metal Massacre 2. The sessions were at off-peak hours in order to get the cheap rates, so we would show up at midnight, and work until 6:00 am. We recorded for about five days to finish all five songs. Yes, we partied a lot. [Laughs]. We began tape trading our demo of these five songs, and after six months, Metal Blade offered to release a maxi-single of three songs, and that’s what the EP really is. The EP/maxi-single came out in late summer of 1983, just prior to us playing support for Motörhead at a local club on the Another Day Tour.

Andrew:
In supporting Motörhead in the early 80s, what were your impressions of Lemmy, and what do you recall about the tour and its effect on the fortunes of Armored Saint?

Joey:
They were on a headline tour in 1983, and we opened for them on Aug 14, 1983, at The Country Club in Reseda, CA. This was during their Another Perfect Day Tour. We were huge fans, of course, but they were all super cool and down to earth. We watched their set sitting right behind Phil Taylor, and it was incredible. Lemmy was already a God to us, and he couldn’t have been nicer. Being a Thin Lizzy fan, seeing Brian Robertson with them was the icing on the cake. Their down-to-earth vibe has stayed with us from that moment on. 

Andrew:
In an era where Hair Metal and Glam was beginning to rise, Armored Saint chose a different path. What do you recall about signing with major label, Chrysalis Records, prior to the recording of March Of The Saint?

Joey:
Well, we agreed to sign with Chrysalis in late 1983, and in early 1984, we were signed. At that point, Hair Metal and Glam were not really a thing yet. We were only really enamored with the NWOBHM at that point. We had Mercury records also grooming us in 1983, but they could not make an offer. But Chrysalis did, and at the time, we were very into it because some of our favorite bands were on the label (UFO, Robin Trower, Jethro Tull), and we saw them as a boutique major label. We thought we’d get better attention. At first, we were right. But it didn’t last long.

Andrew:
Paint a picture for us of the Metal scene outside of the mainstream. What was it like for Armored Saint in the 80s as an up-and-coming band who wasn’t commercial, so to speak?

Joey:
It was a very cool time to be in LA from 1982 to 1985. The term “Heavy Metal” was just in its infancy then. A lot of us were very inspired by the NWOBHM, along with those great European bands that came before. So, Saint felt like we were a part of bringing something new to the scene. It was all very new and exciting. You could go out virtually any night of the week, and see bands playing Eurocentric Hard rock, and Metal. The clubs started to become packed with Headbangers. It was beginning to look like all the photos we saw in Kerrang! Magazine. Then, Quiet Riot released Metal Health in 1983, and the flood gates opened up. By late 1983, every label in town was signing bands, and by this time, we were headlining our own shows, and selling out clubs. So, then we got the labels knocking at our door after only being a band for eighteen months.

Andrew:
After a few more albums, Armored Saint disbanded in 1992. What led to the fracture?

Joey:
The first crack was when we got dropped in 1988. Then, when Dave Prichard died in 1990, we felt like the band was truly broken. But we got back together and made Symbol Of Salvation in 1991. There were high expectations for us, from the label, from management, and from ourselves. And although the record received great reviews and accolades, it was the dawn of Grunge, and we got lost in that shuffle. This opened up the wounds and contributed to inner fighting. Then, John Bush got the call from Anthrax. That was it.

Andrew
You recorded your solo record in 1994. What do you recall about the writing, recording, and reception of A Thousand Faces?

Joey:
After Saint disbanded, I felt free. I started writing music for no particular reason. Just for myself. I made this public, and a friend of mine offered me to use his studio to record my music for free. His name was Eric Grief, and the studio was in Gurnee, IL. I live in Los Angeles, but my wife encouraged me to go there, so I did and lived there for about a month. I used the studio at night and recorded a bunch of songs using a local drummer, Reggie Bordeaux, and guitarist, Moni Scaria, from Milwaukee. Brian Griffin engineered it. It was a great experience, just writing and collaborating with these guys I’d never met before. I came home and played the music for a bunch of people, and they all suggested I should release it as a solo record. I was scared as fuck, but I did it anyway. It’s a snapshot of where my head was at during that time. Originally, it came out on Metal Blade Records via Priority Records. It got mostly good reviews, but some of them were mixed. I don’t think most people were expecting the style of music to be so all over the place. In hindsight, this record was a public way of seeing myself sketching ideas.

Andrew:
You joined Fates Warning in 1997. How did you get the gig?

Joey:
I’d been friends with Jim Matheos, and the guys since 1984. In fact, they asked me to fill in for Joe Dibiase back in 1989, when he had a family emergency during their No Exit Tour, so I flew out and played four shows with them on the east coast. One day, I got a call from Jim in 1996, and he asked me if I wanted to play on their new album. I said, “Hell yes.” I didn’t know then that I’d still be working with them after all these years, but it’s been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done.

Image credit: Fine Art America

Andrew:
Take me through the reformation of Armored Saint. What’s kept the band going strong since 1999?

Joey:
In 1998, I had been writing music mostly for myself again, but it was in the Metal vein. I was chatting with John one day, and he mentioned that Anthrax was going on a short hiatus because of the SOD reunion. He was worried about being bored, so I suggested he write some lyrics and help me make demos with the songs I had written. So, I gave him a few songs, and he loved all of them. We demoed a few songs, and it led to us writing about six songs or so. At that point, there was no real discussion about what we were going to do with this music, but eventually, we decided we could attempt to make this an Armored Saint record. We reached out to Brian Slagel about this, and he was totally on board. Then, we went to the other guys in the band, and they were also on board. So, we sussed out the business stuff and went in to make Revelation. At the time, our intention was not to put the band back together per see, but rather keep it as a one-off. Over time, this gradually has turned into something a bit more than a one-off, but really, we try to keep this attitude about us as, “This is not make or break.” And I think this is what keeps us able to make strong records.

Andrew:
You have consistently maintained your position with both Armored Saint and Fates Warning, and have recorded and toured at a rapid pace for both camps. What are the main differences between the two? How did you find balance?

Joey:
There are many differences, but the main difference is that I have a lot more at stake personally with Armored Saint because not only am I a founding member, and we all have childhood connections, but I also act as the band’s manager, and accountant. My position in Fates is one of much less stress. I am just a team player, and I play my part in that with complete commitment. I am also great friends with the Fates guys, but it’s a more relaxed, and carefree atmosphere because of my position.

Andrew:
Armored Saint and Fates Warning both had new albums out for 2020 with Punching The Sky and Long Day Goodnight respectively. How did the writing process for both bands/albums differ?

Joey:
Well, in Saint, John and Myself are the primary songwriters. I have also been the producer on our last four records. So, I wear many hats in Saint. In Fates, Jim Matheos and Ray Alder are the primary writers. I don’t contribute any music there. They have a great thing going. I just play bass. Both bands write and record in a similar fashion though. We both demo songs in a DAW, and then, use that demo session as a guide to record the real instruments, and performances.

Image credit: Stephanie Cabral

Andrew:
I mentioned your 1994 solo album, but you also recorded another solo effort, Circles, for your Chinese Firedrill project. Where does your solo career stand today?

Joey:
I have been mentally toying with recording more music someday. But I have not gotten to the stage where I’m ready to go into the laboratory yet.

Andrew:
I also wanted to touch on your tenure with Anthrax where you stepped in for Frank Bello in 2004/2005. How did you get the gig?

Joey:
Frank had decided he needed a break from the band just after they released We’ve Come for You All in 2003. I believe Scott [Ian] simply asked John [Bush] if he thought I would be into filling in for Frank. So, John asked me, and I said, “Hell yes.”

Andrew:
You never recorded with Anthrax. Was that always meant to be temporary, or were you hoping for something more long-term? Ultimately, Frank Bello returned. Where do things stand between yourself and the Anthrax camp today?

Joey:
No, it was always just a fill-in gig. I was never under any illusion that I would do any recording with them. I knew that Frank was coming back into the band soon. We were friends before I joined them, and we’re still friends today. In fact, I’ve kept a close relationship with Scott, and his family since then. Our families often get together socially.

Andrew:
What sort of equipment and guitars are you using today live vs. in the studio?

Joey:
I use ESP basses and Hartke Amps. Also, I use Tech 21 Sans Amps, Darkglass Luminal Compressors, DR Handmade Strings, Babicz Bridges, EMG Pickups, Jerry Harvey in-ear monitoring. When I record in the studio these days, I tend to only go direct. I don’t mic-up a bass cabinet. I’ll record up to three different direct bass tracks per song. I have a home studio, and I use custom-built Neve 1073 Mic pre and 1176 Blue Stripe Compressors. I use all my ESP basses, and sometimes, I’ll use my 1972 Fender Pbass also.

Andrew:
Last one. What’s next on your docket, Joey?

Joey:
I play in a band called Motor Sister along with Scott Ian, his wife Pearl Aday, John Tempesta (Testament, White Zombie, The Cult), and Jim Wilson (Mother Superior), and we have our second record coming out this May. I’m also playing with Mercyful Fate this summer, playing in Europe at a whole bunch of major festivals. I’ll be away from home all summer. In Fall, Saint is touring with W.A.S.P. in the US for six weeks. So, I will be busy this year!

Interested in learning more about Armored Saint & Fates Warning? Check out the links below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full catalog of VWMusic Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found VWMusic in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Idle Chatter. Over time, the column grew into a website that now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process. Some of Andrew’s favorite artists include KISS, Oasis, ACϟDC, Elvis Presley, Ace Frehley, The Rolling Stones, Rush, The Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, The Gaslight Anthem, Iron Maiden, John Lennon, The Melvins, Noel Gallagher, Regina Spektor, Rory Gallagher, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Thin Lizzy, Elvis Costello, Van Halen, Neil Young, Blur, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and many more.
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2 thoughts on “An Interview with Joey Vera of Armored Saint & Fates Warning

    1. Only so many I can ask, and it also comes down to the flow of the interview, and what the artist would like to chat about. Thank you for reading!

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