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Joey Vera – Bassist for Armored Saint/Fates Warning, solo artist and record producer/engineer

Date: 03/27/07
Interviewed By: Rich Catino



1. So tell us about why you called your solo album “A Chinese Firedrill”? JOEY: Well with this solo album I am doing everything on my own, shopping it around and that. Its not out on a label yet but it is available through www.cdbaby.com . Its an online distributor. They basically sell your stuff for you, you have to produce and print everything up, which I did, and then you ship it to them. They keep it in stock for you so its pretty cool. I’ve actually sold quite a few through them already so it does the job.

In reference to question as to why Metal Blade didn’t want to put it out since I’m already associated with them through my other bands Armored Saint and Fates Warning, its really not their cup of tea, it just doesn’t fit into the type of bands they already have on the label. Most of their bands are really heavy, metalcore thrash bands. And my record is very different more experimental than those type of bands. I mean even if they picked it up they probably wouldn’t do much with it because they have bands like Unearth, Cannibal Corpse, As I Lay Dying, all these real heavy bands.

The name of the album is something I just came across one day,….if you look up what a Chinese Firedrill is in the dictionary its defined as a chaotic and ineffective exercise. So I thought that was kind of funny, and ironic given the type of music I was writing for this solo album. Made sense to me.

2. What was your goal with this album. Were you going for a particular message or musical direction?

JOEY: Yeah what the fuck was I trying to do (laughs). Umm you know what it is something I’ve been wanting to do for quite a while ever since I did my first solo record in the early 90’s after Armored Saint disbanded. I had a bunch of time on my hands then and the music had no direction really with that first record. So since then I wanted to do something a bit more focused. In the early 90’s and 2000’s I got back into more progressive music, and it probably came through my association with Fates Warning. But revisiting bands like Jethro Tull, Yes, ELP, Genesis, Rush, all this older stuff that was basically a part of me when I was growing up. And on a side note I was also listening to Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy and Zepplin along with the more progressive rock bands. So then I started discovering newer bands like Opeth and Porcupine Tree and I started to really listen to that music a lot more.

So after the Anthrax tour in April of 05 I started doing some writing and a couple songs came out kind of proggy sounding and right at that time my wife got pregnant, so that’s when I made the conscious decision to make another solo record. So I took a year off to be home with my wife and work on this solo music since I knew had the time to do it. So having all this progressive music in my head I kind of went for that direction with this album. I like to call it art hard rock instead of prog rock because progressive rock has become so fractured at this point anyway. I think it has a bit of an influence of OSI. That was a band that I was really into the first record and I really like working with Jim Matheos I think he is a really good song writer and I learned a lot from him. Same with Kevin Moore as well having played on his first record and playing and working with him for Fates Warning. So I think they both rubbed off on me. I love OSI I think they are really cool.

I tried to take the music on this solo record go to a lot of different places, I hear some Pink Floyd in the music as well.

3. Who played on the songs?

JOEY: I did everything actually accept for the drums, arranging, singing. Took me a whole year to finish it. Some songs were rewritten. A lot of people asked why its not more flashy, you know with a lot of soloing and riffing, the impressive musicianship you know what I’m saying. I wanted to make a record for me that I would find interesting. My intention was to make it very self indulgent to me. Going back to why it was called a Chinese Firedrill, essentially it was an exercise in my songwriting and arranging ability, be the end result chaotic or not. Its pretty gratifying.

4.I know you are working again with Jack Frost and Seven Witches, whom you have played bass for on a couple of records and worked with in the studio. What part are you playing in the new Seven Witches record?

JOEY: This time around I am doing some mixing and pre production, you know I have a studio in my home. Jack is sending the stuff (to Cali) as he records it and I am throwing in my two cents. I already started mixing a couple songs since we are doing it in pro tools. Hopefully we will get it done in April.

5. How is the new Seven Witches material sounding?

JOEY: Its sounding really good. It sounds like he has been listening to the Trivium record a lot. Jack has a tendency to write some things that are a little bit modern sounding so the new music still has that part of it. But many of the new songs are really fast, I think some of the fastest songs he has ever written. The drum beats are flying by like really quick.

6. Can you compare it to some of the older Witches records?

JOEY: Well I haven’t heard all the songs but so far this stuff is really full throttle. But from what I have heard Alan Tecchio is doing a great job and the stuff is heavy. I think its got a lot of elements of the last record “Amped” and “Passage to the Other Side”.

7. Status of Armored Saint?

JOEY: Right now not very much. We are doing the Rock Hard festival in Germany on May 26, its one of the smaller ones but really cool. I have played it before with Fates Warning and Tribe After Tribe. John Bush just had a little boy so he’s busy being daddy right now taking some time off to be with his family. As far as new music, we get asked that all the time, the thing is that I just had a baby last year as well and I’m just rearing my head again to do music, same thing with John and his thing with Anthrax has pretty much ended. So right now after having a baby he’s in no hurry to just back into the band and going back on the road. Its not to say he wont come back to do anything with music its just not the time right now to dedicate to something. And for us it’s a huge commitment to do the band thing so we have to be ready to do it full on. But I am getting the itch back to make music and do some touring. I mean there has been some loose writing but we haven’t said ok lets sit down and right the record.

8. Any plans to have the earlier Armored Saint records remastered and what do you think of the whole remastering treatment to albums?

JOEY: Actually the Chrysalis records have been in like 1997 by Metal Blade because those records originally came out in 84 (March of the Saint), 85 (Delirious Nomad), and 87 (Raising Fear) and this was even before cds started coming out. And you have to remember these came out before cds so they were never mastered for cd quality. When cds were first issued after that they were taking the master from the vinyl so on a record like “Delirious Nomad” you could hear the needles popping, it was ridiculous. So Metal Blade went in mastered them correctly and resissued them in the late nineties, added some extra pictures and made the packaging pretty cool. So I think in those instances its good when bands remaster cds that came out before cds were even out, I think like 1988 or 1989 is when cds really started becoming more popular. So any record before that benefits from being mastered properly. They sound much louder and crisper and especially for harder music. It smacks you in the face more and you can really feel the music.

I mean sometimes it gets a little overboard, we reissued and remastered “Symbol of Salvation” from 91 in 2002, I think, and that may have been a little gratuitous but we made a cool package out of it and made it a three disc set and the price was still like twenty bucks. So people got the original record remastered, a second disc of the same record but in its demo form because we always would make four track demos, back in the day before pro tools, before we made a record. So that was cool. Then the third disc is an interview with us and the head of Metal Blade Brian Slagel talking to us about the making of “Symbol”, what it was like losing guitarist Dave Pritchard to leukemia. So stuff like that makes it cool.

I think if you gonna go back and remaster something newer then you need to something like that to make it worth while for the fans don’t just remaster it, that’s if it really needs to be remastered to begin with, give em something extra.

9. Fate Warning update?

JOEY: Its kind of on hold right now. They are doing some writing but nothing really has been planned. We did the Rock Hard festival last year and were supposed to do some touring in Europe but that fell through unfortunately.

And from what you were just telling me “Pleasant Shade of Grey” was reissued packaged with a second disc of a live show from Germany in 1997 on the tour for that record, which I had directed and edited. That show was a mess when we first got a hold of it, we got the tapes from the people who shot it and it was a real mess. They were gonna scrap the whole idea but I said let me do it let me do it (laughs).

10. Working on any other projects or with any other bands in the studio?

JOEY: I am working with Jeff Duncan and his band called DC4. We did a thing where we recorded half the record and shopped it around and then we are finishing it up for sometime in May.

And then I have been doing some mixing for Hollywood Records and a band called Plain White Tees out of Chicago. They are like a young pop rock band so that was cool to be back mixing again for a major label.

Then I am scheduled to mix this other band on Metal Blade Records called Fueled By Fire and they are out of L.A. Kind of old school Bay Area thrash straight ahead with no death or metalcore vocals. So I am starting the mix for that in about a week right before I do the new Witches record.

I also recently played bass on the new Tribe After Tribe record, they are kind of a for lack of a better way to describe them, a little bit like Janes Addiction meets Ministry but I don’t know maybe that’s not a good way to describe them. Heavy kind of world stuff but very much rock, a little psychedelic. Not sure when that one is coming out. I am trying to get the mixing done soon but I think they are trying to get it out by July.

I also just mastered, I’m just trying to remember all the stuff I’m working on, there’s a band called Mother Superior from L.A., amazing band, straight ahead hard rock, killer song writing, they are just a trio but fucking amazing. A great live band. I just mastered their new record. They’ve worked with Henry Rollins before on a couple of his records.

So yeah I’m keeping very busy in the studio.

11. What do you think of the Hard Rock/Heavy metal scene in 2007 and who are some of your favorites?

JOEY: I think the scene is really exciting at the moment especially in America because there’s this emergence of this metalcore sound although I don’t think its all that original and they are not reinventing the wheel but it reminds me of 1984 all over again. I think its good for the genre and some good bands have come out of it I mean I may be a little biased, bands like Unearth, As I Lay Dying, Killswitch Engage, Trivium are kind of in that realm but they more older Metallica in their sound. Shadows Fall too. To me the thing I miss in these metalcore bands is there is no melody or chorus’, its a lot of yelling and screaming. That’s what appeals to me in Killswitch Engage is that they have both elements of the harsh and melodic vocals. Again what they have created maybe a little formulaic but at least they do it well. There are a lot of copycat bands that came after them that I am not really fond of.

But like you said I hope these bands evolve like Trivium did and take some chances and do something different. I mean of course you want to stay true to a sound, you don’t want to make a reggae record if you’re a metal band (laughs).

My favorite right now is probably Opeth and I love their new record.

I really don’t get much time to listen to new music. I’m a little bit removed and there is so much stuff out there as it is. Anything that comes my way usually is from my wife at Metal Blade or friends at other labels.

Official website: www.joeyvera.com
A Chinese Firedrill is available at: www.cdbaby.com
In Europe: www.justforkicks.de

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