EXCLUSIVE: One of the most respected musicians in metal, Joey Vera has made a name for himself as both an in demand bass player, and as a producer. Starting out with Armored Saint, the Los Angeles native has since gone on to work with Fates Warning, Seven Witches, Motor Sister, and a host of others. Along the way, he’s also found time to spend a year in Anthrax, and been courted by Metallica. In Belfast with Armored Saint to promote new live set ‘Carpe Noctum’, we sat down for a chat with Joey about his fascinating career. Stricken by fate; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Joey, how are you today?
I’m doing good, thank you. We haven’t played together since the Queensrÿche tour when we did a month of dates in the US, and that ended right before Christmas. We just got together once to rehearse, and we flew here, and here we are.
This tour sees you playing in support of ‘Carpe Noctum’, which has been well received by the fans.
Yeah, it has. In general, people feel that it is a good representation of the band; people that have seen us live anyway, so that’s a success in itself. That’s enough for me, right there.
Chatting to Armored Saint vocalist John Bush earlier this year, he was almost apologetic about how short the album is.
We never intended to put a live record out. We played Waken [Festival, Germany] one night, and we played another show at Aschaffenburg [Germany] the next night, and it just so happened that they had recording units there, and we said; “Let’s just document it, who knows, we’ll use it for some bonus material in the future, or whatever”. It wasn’t until we were going on the Queensrÿche tour that the label suggested we put something out. It was a high profile tour, so it would promote the tour, and be maybe act like a go between record, so we said; “Sure”.
The album started out as part of a PledgeMusic campaign, didn’t it?
Initially it started out that we were only going to do about five songs and just have it be like an EP, and only available through a Pledge campaign. It started out like that, and while mixing it, I had a good vibe to it, and thought why don’t we add a few more songs and make this like a record release and make it available to the world, not just Pledge campaign? So I pulled some songs out from the other recordings, and I intentionally wanted to leave out songs that were in the set, but also appeared on [1988 live release] ‘Saints Will Conquer’; ‘Can U Deliver’, ‘Nervous Man’, ‘Raising Fear’. So I intentionally left those off, and now we have eight songs left.
That’s quite an insightful move, to leave off those songs.
You know, I get it, you want more bang for your buck these days, and that’s just the way it is, and I understand that. In hindsight, maybe I would have included a couple of those songs, but I kind of just stood behind my theory; artistically, I didn’t feel like we needed to hear another live version of ‘Can U Deliver’.
‘Carpe Noctum’ comes on the back of two strong studio releases; is it nice to be a functioning entity again?
We still don’t really think of ourselves in that way entirely. We’re still doing things at our own pace, at our own schedule, and we fit things in when we can around our own daily lives. We have families, and some of us have jobs back home, so we still try not to make it like this ‘be all end all’, so we’re still working with those parameters. It’s still really enjoyable for us to pick up and; “Hey, we’ve got an offer to play Hammerfest – let’s add on some UK and Ireland shows since we’re going to be there”, but not make a big deal out of it, not turn it into like a four week slugfest out in the rest of Europe in the winter. So we just do these short things, and that’s what makes it fun for us; we don’t get burned out on it, and we get to do these things in little doses.
Mentioning ‘Be All End All’, something that rarely gets talked about is your brief stint in Anthrax back in 2003; were you a full-on member of the band?
No, I was filling in. It was pretty clear that Frank [Bello, Anthrax bassist] needed a break from everybody, and he needed some outlet, which he did with Helmet. So he did a tour with Helmet during that same time, basically. No, it was always clearly I was filling in for him. It was exactly a year; it was like April to April, it was weird.
Were you surprised to get that call to go play with Anthrax?
Yeah, I was. I didn’t even know what was going on or anything, but shortly before I got the call, John [Bush] made me aware of what was going on within the group, and he told me that Scott [Ian, Anthrax founder] had asked him; “Hey, do you think that Joey might be interested in filling in?”, so I was like; “Yeah, of course I would!” Luckily, it just so happened that I had that year pretty much open, so it just worked out perfect.
How did you enjoy playing with Anthrax?
I’ve known the Anthrax guys since the mid to late eighties; I was a fan of the band, so just to be in the band, even playing on stage, it was pretty amazing. But then to look over and there’s my best friend from childhood and from Armored Saint, and he’s the lead singer; the whole thing was pretty surreal. So, I had a blast. That trip, that whole year was great. I basically did the world; we did ten shows in Japan, which I’d never been to, we did Australia which I’d never been to, I did a whole tour of Europe, did all these great festivals, we did a tour of the US, and then we did South America, which I’d never been to. We basically did all the territories, and that was amazing for me.
You never got to record with Anthrax.
The only thing I did was I worked with John and I recorded all of his vocals at my studio for ‘The Greater Of Two Evils’. We did all the vocals at my house, so him and I got to work together [on an Anthrax record]. It was great, and then about a year later they had another thing where Frankie couldn’t do it. They did a festival in Montreal, Canada, and I filled in for that. So they occasionally call me back. When Charlie’s mom passed away, Frankie’s grandmother, I went and did a week of dates with them in the States. So we’re all on really good terms, and it’s cool.
Moving on, and you’ve been busy with Fates Warning, who released ‘Theories of Flight’ in 2016.
We had a great time making ‘Darkness’ [2013’s ‘Darkness Into A Different Light’] also, and it was great to make this record as well. We think that this record is another chapter for Fates Warning. One of the cool things about Fates - and it’s sort of similar, in my opinion, to the Armored Saint records - is each record is very different to the previous one. So this one is also different from everything else we’ve done, but I think it’s got best of all worlds; it’s got some proggy stuff, and some really catchy stuff, with great vocals and great songs.
How has touring been going around the Fates Warning record?
We’re super happy with the way the record came out, and we’ve been anxious to do more dates. We’ve just finished the first set of dates in Europe a couple of weeks ago which went phenomenal, so we’re looking forward to doing more. We’ve got another bunch coming up in Europe, and the US in June.
Is it difficult switching between the Fates Warning and Armored Saint hats, so to speak?
Not really. I just got home from Europe with Fates, and was deathly ill, so I really came home and just got myself back to health and then it was like; “Oh shit, I’ve got to go over these songs again for the Armored Saint tour”. And I’m like; “How many songs are we doing?” And John says; “We’re doing like fifteen”, and I’m like; “Fuck!” Most of them, it’s like riding a bike, but it was a little bit of switching hats, as you put it. It was sort of; “let’s just think about this for a minute!”
Looking forward with Armored Saint, are thoughts turning towards another album?
We haven’t talked about it, but I’ve been thinking. It’s funny the way we work; we don’t write on the road, we don’t write when we’re travelling or in between records. We don’t really work that way; we sort of work in a way where the dust settles from whatever we’re coming off of, say a tour or a record cycle or whatever, and we just don’t do anything and don’t talk for several months. And then the inspiration really has to come from nature. So, we’ll wait and see how long it takes. I’m well aware that we’re getting to our mid-fifties at this point; we can’t wait around for ten years to have that inspiration come. So, I’m hoping that it’s even shorter than five years. I would say that we are thinking about it, but we haven’t actually started yet.
Was it tough for you when the band was inactive, with John going off to join Anthrax?
You know what? It really wasn’t, not for me anyway. Some of the other guys might feel different, but at this point when John got the call, we had just come off of making ‘Symbol Of Salvation’ , which was a really difficult record for us to make, right after losing Dave Pritchard [guitarist, who was diagnosed with leukemia and succumbed to the disease during the album’s recording]. Regrouping, getting back together, actually making ‘Symbol’ was a lot of work, and it was emotionally a lot to get through. And then the record was getting great reviews - it was like a critics ‘darling’ record - but this was in a time when the climate was changing in America, and I think the rest of the world eventually too.
You’re talking about the rise of grunge and alternative music?
Yes, this was really when the climate was really changing; we’re talking ’91, when it was all just starting to get huge. I mean, along the way, we always had a hard time reaching people because we never really fitted in anywhere; we didn’t fit in with thrash metal, we didn’t fit in with hair metal, we were kind of like in between all this stuff, and then here’s another genre which we don’t fit into. So, to be honest with you, we were, internally, getting very frustrated, and we didn’t know if we had it in us to say; “okay, back to the drawing board and let’s do the follow-up to ‘Symbol Of Salvation’ now”. We were pretty exasperated by the end of that.
So John joining Anthrax came at the right time for Armored Saint?
When John got the call, it almost felt like; “okay, this is some kind of a sign or something that we need to take time off and we need a break”. We didn’t know it would be temporary, or if it was going to be forever, but we just knew that if we kept going, we were going to implode, and it would just ruin it. It would have been the end of the band anyway, in my opinion. So, once it came up, he felt like he needed to do it, and I said; “I think you should do this, because if you don’t do it, we’re surly going to implode, because you’re going to have resentment, it’s going to be a difficult road and you’re going to regret not taking this change”. So I gave him my blessing, I said; “I think you need to do this”. So once he did it, it just felt like this big weight off our backs, and I was able to go and do some things on my own – I did a solo record, and then a couple of years later I joined up with Fates Warning, so it was supposed to be like that.
Did you ever get few up with Metallica trying to steal members of Armored Saint for their own band?
*Laughing* I talk about this all the time! You know, to even have a friendship relationship with those guys at any point is an honour. We were close at early parts of our career. We did a tour together with those guys, and I have maximum respect for those guys. I’m a fan of their band.
They obviously have a lot of respect for you too, in that they wanted to take your singer and your bass player.
I think that Lars [Ulrich, Metallica drummer] has always waved the Armored Saint flag, even from way back before any of all this. He’s always loved John’s singing, and he’s always liked our band. He’s always spoken highly of us, and they invited us to their anniversary gigs that they did in San Francisco. They asked us to come and be a part of it, and be a part of their history and their celebration. That wasn’t something that happens between booking agents – that was literally an invitation from the band. The fact that they still think of us in that way, I’m beyond humbled by that.
Are times good for Joe Vera and Armored Saint right now?
Part of this story is that none of us have regrets with anything. Life is where it’s supposed to be. I have so much experience in the people I’ve met, my family is all a result of the choices I’ve made in my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, none of it.
Armored Saint's 'Carpe Noctum' is out now via Metal Blade records.
Fates Warning release 'Awaken The Guardian Live' on 28th April, via Metal Blare records.