Former Anthrax, Current Armored Saint Singer John Bush Reflects on His Diverse Career (INTERVIEW)
John Bush‘s spot in heavy metal history is assured. At first, with LA metal vets Armored Saint and then as the gritty, soulful voice that propelled Anthrax for twelve years. Since exiting the ‘Thrax in 2005, Bush’s life has taken a quieter turn – doing voice-over at home in Los Angeles and doing the occasional show (and very occasional record – the last being 2010’s excellent La Raza) with Armored Saint.
Noisecreep caught up with Bush a few days after performing at the Hard Rock Cafe in Universal City as part of the launch party for the much-anticipated video game, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Talking to Bush about a career that began when he donned Armored Saint’s trademark armor in the early ’80s to the last shows he played with Anthrax in 2005, he’s reflective but still enthusiastic about his three-decade true metal legacy.
While the vocal powerhouse has taken a step back from the stage these days, Bush still does the occasional guest spot on records like the last effort from instrumentalists Long Distance Calling as well as the Nuclear Blast All-Stars album of a few years back. Have we heard the last of John Bush? Hell no! Saint John Bush marches on!
What are you up to these days?
My wife has a casting studio called Silverlane Studios, that she started twelve years ago and has since built as a business that is pretty strong and going really well. I pretty much entrenched myself in her world. I help her with the studio and I also help her as a casting director. We’ve cast a bunch of commercials and done some movies and videos. We have a facility here where we provide that for other people. We are a little mom and pop business that’s really cool and really fun and pretty much consumes most of my time. I’ve done a bunch of voice over work myself. There were a few years where I was basically the voice of Burger King. I still try and do as much voice over work as possible. It’s fun to do and it’s me using my voice. It’s cool to do some acting and not be an actor. I don’t really want to be an actor. I spent enough years trying to convince people about being a great singer.
Watch Burger King Commercial with John Bush
Why are you OK with not doing music full time anymore after so many years with Anthrax and Armored Saint?
I do love making music. I actually think I’m a better singer now than I’ve been at any point in my life. I totally know my voice and know what I can and can’t do. It’s still super-strong but I’m more in touch with the dynamics and soulfulness of it. I do love singing and writing lyrics. I just don’t really have a desire to be a touring guy anymore. When I first left Anthrax the first time in ’05, it was right around the time my daughter was born. At that time, it just didn’t feel like it was time to go pursue another band. I didn’t want to. I was happy to just be at home and raise my daughter. Now, leaving my kid and my business for a month at a time is something I don’t want to do. I do love making music and playing live shows still. I just want to do it on my terms.
Thinking back on various stages of your career, what were some of the biggest accomplishments you had with Anthrax?
First off, me joining and then putting out Sound of White Noise. My first record with Anthrax was a gold record! It was also a record that in retrospect was also ahead of its time. The funny thing about me and Anthrax is that for years we tried to convey ‘It’s still Anthrax, it’s still the same band, it’s still the same thing’ and now looking back, it really wasn’t it. It was still certainly Scott [Ian, guitarist] and Frankie [Bello, bassist] and Charlie [Benante, drummer]. But, it was also all of us thinking ‘The ’90s are here and we’re going with it we want to do something innovative and modern – something that we think is natural’. I think Sound of White Noise was that record and it certain begin my time in Anthrax. Then things changed in the business and we never had the success that did again on that record. We certainly made some cool records and wrote some great songs.
It’s hard to compete with big, cool bands, let alone yourself and your history: there was the Anthrax from the ’80s and Anthrax from the ’90s. I keep telling people even now that you can like both. You don’t have to like one or the other. We were inventive, we took a lot of chances and it set the tone for how I have looked at music for the rest of my life. I’m proud of my time in that band.
Watch Anthrax’s ‘Only’ Video
You had a lot to do with redefining the sound and potential of Anthrax. In a lot of ways you took them from being a great thrash band to giving them a more commercial sound.
We just went with what was natural for us to do. Anthrax is a band that has always taken chances. I’m not going to mention names but there are a lot of bands that have made the same record over and over again. That can work against you. Personally, for me as a musician and a singer, I don’t like making music like that. I find it boring. You’re not the same guy you were 20 years ago, so why are you going to make the same record you did then? Chances are that it’s not going to be as good of a record. You’re constantly growing and evolving. You can’t base your entire existence on something you did in 1985. That’s retarded. It doesn’t make any logical sense to me. If you’re not growing, then you’re dying.
You were asked to join Metallica in 1984. How do you think things would have been different if you did?
I can’t ever imagine myself there. When they did the Fillmore anniversary shows in 2011 and I came out and did ‘The Four Horsemen’ with them and it was like ‘OK, that’s what it would have sounded like.’ It was an awesome, beautiful moment and it was really fun. That was satisfying enough. It was never intended to happen. Even back then, James was James. He was and will always be the voice of Metallica. In fact, I feel like James has made the biggest improvement of any singer in the history of rock. If you listen to Kill ‘Em All and then you hear what he grew into on the Black Album, what an incredible jump he made! Truthfully, I always say that it would have been a much bigger mistake for me not to join Anthrax than to join Metallica. That was destiny. That other thing was not.
Watch John Bush Perform ‘The Four Horsemen’ with Metallica in 2011
Do you have any great memories of the early LA metal scene?
It was great. It was fun to be part of that. 1983. The Troubadour, The Roxy, The Country Club. Even with the bands that went on to be associated with the hair metal scene, there were some really cool bands and people: Ratt, Great White, Black ‘N Blue and WASP. Back then, LA was just happening. Armored Saint was a little bit of a black sheep in all of that. We were all into Priest and Maiden and Scorpions. We certainly loved Aersosmith and Ted Nugent as well. At that point, bands like UFO were such a big influence on what we loved musically so we embraced more of the British-Euro scene and weren’t as cock-rocky as some of the other LA bands. We didn’t sound like the ‘LA Scene’ but we were certainly proud to be part of it.
Armored Saint was very critically well regarded but never attained the success of some of you contemporaries. It was a bridesmaid but never the bride situation. Why?
I think we were a band that probably was cooler and better than we got recognition for. In the early days, we had this association with the image that became an albatross. We eventually shed that. We just knew it wasn’t going to help us. I certainly don’t look back at pictures of me from March of the Saint with any kind of weird feelings [groans]. In fact, we did a show recently where we wore the costumes (Metal Blade’s 30th Anniversay Party in late November 2012) and me and Joey (Vera – Armored Saint bassist) wore wigs and people’s jaws dropped. It was our way of saying ‘Yeah! We identify with that and we’re cool with that.’ When I took the wig off, people were booing and I started laughing. ‘You’re going to boo me? You really want me to wear that for the whole show?’
There were a couple big mistakes that were made early on: we didn’t go to Europe when we should have. We literally didn’t set foot on European soil until 1989, which was six years after we put out our first EP. It was an enormous mistake, It’s funny because Q-Prime was our management and Chrysalis was our label and they wanted to solely concentrate on America. We were like: ‘Metallica is going! Anthrax is going! WASP is going! Why aren’t we going!?’ I was on the cover of Kerrang! at one point – on the cover of Kerrang! We needed to go to England. We sounded more like an English band than we did an LA band. But it just didn’t happen. Some balls were dropped. If we had done that, I think it would have trickled back into the States and we would have been popular in England and Europe as well. I think that the fame that eluded us in America may have happened for us in Europe but we didn’t capitalize on it, which was the biggest fuck up of the band’s career. There were a couple of questionable decisions on producers and records. Still, we made some really cool music. Truthfully, none of this really keeps me up at night these days.
What’s going on in Armored Saint right now?
We started writing some new songs, most of which are in a very embryonic state. Since way back when Dave (Prichard – original Saint guitarist who succumbed to leukemia in 1990) died, Joey has taken over the role of being the pilot for the band. He’s got a lot of music running through his bones and his DNA and I trust him and believe in his abilities. He’s written a lot of stuff and I just keep telling him to push the envelope. When we write, I want to be as broad as possible and not to put any limitations on what we do. If something doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work. Joey says he’s written a couple eight-minute songs. It’ll be fun to put out another record. I don’t when it would come out but it’s probably not going to be too long from now.
Watch Armored Saint’s ‘Left Hook from Right Field’ Video
If you were to sum up John Bush’s musical legacy, what would it be?
[Laughs] I think I’ve done pretty good actually! One of the goals I had after singing for a couple of years was to create my own type of vocal sound. My own voice. The singers that I loved the most in various genres are the ones you can hear and instantly go ‘That’s that guy!’ I think that’s what I finally developed. It took a little time and what I was doing may have been a little juvenile back in the early Saint days but that was a case of being young. After a while, I developed this soulful, bluesy rasp in my voice and I became confident. I’ve been associated with two great heavy rock bands and I’m proud to be a part of those. I think I’m a great singer still and I still want to make music. I can still belt it out.