Armored Saint is a Los Angeles based Heavy Metal quintet who's self titled EP came out in 1983. They have since released 9 studio albums the last of which, 'Win Hands Down', came out on Metal Blade Records in June 2015. Roland Oei talked with lead guitarist Phil Sandoval before the band played at the Electric Ballroom in London to find out more about the writing and recording of 'Win Hands Down'.
There have been five years between the last two albums. Did it take that long to write 'Win Hands Down'?
No it didn't take five years to write it. It took about a year to write it and it took six weeks to record. I am also in a side project called Black Raven which has an American Indian flute and it is kind of instrumental. It is kind of a Pink Floyd meets Indian flute kind of thing and it sounds really cool. Joey does Fates Warning and produces and Jeff lives in Las Vegas and plays with all kinds of bands but we are excited about the new album and looking forward to writing the next on as soon as possible.
Well in a perfect world I wish that would happen but hopefully it won't take five years.
How many songs did you write for this album? Did you write more than nine and pick from them or did you just write the nine that are on the album?
We had maybe 13 or 14 and then John and Joey selected the nine. 'Full Head of Steam' is one that I had a little bit of writing on and so did Jeff. So it was Jeff, me and Joey that wrote that one. We gave it to Joey and he broke it down and he put his magic on it and when it came out, 'Full Head of Steam' was one of the ones that I had a part in the writing. John and Joey are the writers of the band.
All the band's songs have to go through them. Do you not feel that you want to contribute a bit more to the song writing process or are you happy to take a backseat and let them do their thing?
There is a good thing about being a team player you know what I mean? They are like the John Lennon and McCartney of Armored Saint. Their vision is...you can't mess with it so I like to be a part of the team and whatever I can contribute I can, and it is a good result as the album sounds great and we are proud of it and they are great songs. I am writing stuff right now hopefully for the next Armored Saint record but that is just me doing things because I do want to contribute and that is the way it is now whereas before me and David Prichard wrote a lot of the songs but now things have changed but I think the writing team of John Bush and Joey Vera is something that you can't break. You don't want to mess with that so I just let them drive the car you know what I mean? I am in the car but they are driving.
When it comes to the lead solos do you come up with them together with Jeff?
We come up with the lead solos. Jeff comes up with his stuff and I come up with mine but we are all in the control room helping each other out, you know what I mean. Joey has a great ear and he knows what sounds good and it totally helps.
One of the songs on the album, 'In an Instant' is over 7 minutes long. Is there a concept to that song?
That just came about. It has acoustic guitars in it. John and Joey wrote that one and it came about as a concept. It just happened. I do the first solo and then Jeff does the end solo and basically we are just like two half and half solos and we contributed like that.
Most of the songs on the album have personal lyrics. What sorts of things are covered in them?
The album has very current lyrics that deal with things that we deal with all the time and it is not just the regular let me bang you in the back of a car baby, you know what I mean? It is a little bit more thought process and a little bit more personal like there is a song about Facebook and things about pornography and debauchery and one is about helping the planet get cleaned up and it is called 'Mess' because we shouldn't be leaving such a mess on the planet because we only have one planet but it is done in a way where it is not stated completely like that. You can create your own interpretation of the song.
Did you change the songs much while you were in the studio or did you do a lot of preproduction and just go into the studio and slam them out?
Joey gives us the ideas on MP3 and stuff like that and we work on it and we usually go into the studio and once in a while things come up and it is improvised but mostly on this record I was very influenced by Michael Schenker and I put that influence on my leads and the creative process that I have. Certain things do come up in the studio that just pop up and you don't want to mess with that.
In the early days you guys used to jam a lot while writing music. Do you do that at all anymore?
Actually, no. It is all done differently now. Back then we were kids and we used to go and jam but now the writing process is on the internet and just the way things are in the world with the web and stuff, it is just a different thing. The ideas are brought up together with John and Joey and then they are given to us and we work on them and that is how 'Win Hands Down' was recorded.
This album debuted at number 71 on the billboard charts and went in at number 33 in the German National charts. Were you surprised when it went in the charts?
I was surprised with it and we love that it happened. I wish that happened all the time but I think this is our highest charting album and I think it shows and I think it is one of our best albums.
Pearl Aday guests on this album. What did she do?
She sang on the bridge part of 'Full Head of Steam' and that was Joeys idea to include her because I think he still also plays in a band with her. Motor Sister I think it is called and it needed a part, it needed something exciting and stuff and it is the first time that we have had a female singer on Armored Saint and it is the first time that we had a piano on Armored Saint on a song called 'Dive' and it turned out great.
What challenged you as a guitarist when you were writing and recording the album?
Getting influences...like I said I was very influenced by Michael Schenker and I am still influenced by him. Trying to come up with something inventive and different but at the same time rocking. We are definitely not going to go into Jazz and stuff like that although some of us like to dabble in that but Armored Saint is Armored Saint and it is Metal and that is what we are going to bring to the world.
Can you tell us about the writing of fan favourites 'Can You Deliver' and 'Reign of Fire'?
I actually came up with the first riff for 'Can You Deliver'. That was my riff and that was written by me and David Pritchard and 'Reign of Fire' was I think David Pritchard's riff. He wasn't on 'Symbol of Salvation' but we took a bit of a demo track and we flew it into the album and he was on the solo part. That was written before 'Raising Fear' and we had it as a demo and that was brought up and 'Reign of Fire' turned out to be a great song and also turned out to be a video.
What are your fondest memories of Dave?
He was a great musician and a great artist. Most people can only play the guitar but he was able to play on the piano and he was just overall a great guy and he was part of the originality of Armored Saint and without him there wouldn't be an Armored Saint back in the beginning and he is missed.
Can you pick two songs that people that have never heard the band before should check out to get an idea of what Armored Saint is about musically?
I would say 'Can You Deliver' and 'Win Hands Down' because 'Can You Deliver' is a very popular song of Armored Saint and I had a part in writing it and 'Win Hands Down' is a great song and it has harmony leads and there is almost like a Jazzy part in the middle and it has a bit more depth to it and you can see the growth in the band.
What are the first three highlights of the bands career that come into your head?
I would say the first time that Cliff Burnstein from Q Prime management came to see us play and he asked us if we wanted to sign to Q Prime management, the time that we signed to Chrysalis Records and the first time that I played a huge stadium which was at Cobo Hall in Detroit which is no longer there which held 20,000 people. That was the first time that I played to so many people. It was with Whitesnake and Quiet Riot. It was on the Slide It In tour.
I don't feel Amored Saint has got the recognition that it deserves. What do you put that down to?
I agree. I think we had a European influence when we first started. We were influenced by Judas Priest and I think in Hollywood you were either big Hair Metal or you were like completely Thrash Metal and I think people didn't know where to put us. We always stuck to our guns and we always wrote good music and we are thankful to our fans that still love us and it is a blessing that people still like us and we just want to keep touring and writing music and do things that we like to do.
Do you have any message for your fans?
Yes, we want to thank all of our fans for the support of Armored Saint and we have the best fans in the world and the future looks bright.