I learned early on that players should play with attitude. Mean it. Just do it. But do it with passion and attitude […..]
For me it’s always been about groove. If you groove, you’re alright by me
Our passion for Armored Saint has begun with the release of their first legendary EP in 1983. So for thirty-four years we have been familiar with Joey Vera’s name as well as with his nervous, strong and elegant bass that is virtuoso without resorting to the usual tricks of the trade.
Joey is one of those rare bassists who are really aware of their sound without asking for the spotlight, which is an aspect that makes his work even more valuable and significant.
Joey Vera has developed his technique over the years because of his innate curiosity about the sound as well as for his tireless live activity. But not only with Saint, as we must not forget the great support given by himself to Fates Warning, another amazing band, to OSI and Chroma Key, not to mention those two works on the excellent project called Engine and also both of his solo albums “A thousand faces” released in 1994 by mythical Metal Blade and the inspiring prog-oriented record “A Chinese Firedrill” released in 2006 by Progrock Records.
Joey Vera is the witness and the historical memory of an unrepeatable era but he’s also a musician who has evolved and who still amazes together with the Armored Saints as well, if it’s true that their latest live “Carpe Noctum” has been played with an outstanding quality and with an incredible passion; not to mention the latest record of Fates Warning called “Theories of Flight” that is another gem within an already unique discography.
Armored Saints and Fates Warning are really different from each other and Joey Vera is the best possible bassist for both of the bands. His sound is stony and melodic: you should listen to “Crisis of life” of Armored Saint (on “Raising Fear”) to cite just one of their great songs. You should do the same with “Carpe Noctum”: there are perfect wheels and a yet another excellent performance of John Bush as vocalist.
Thus, we have finally interviewed Joey so as to ask him about his relationship with music, bass and the recording industry…
BMF: Joey, let’s start from the beginning. Would you like to tell us how did you start to approach electric bass? Why did you choose it?
JOEY VERA: It came to me out of necessity. I was forming a band while in junior high school and the band needed a bass player. I was playing guitar for a couple years by then but we didn’t know a bassist. John Bush owned a Fender Pbass but it was under his bed collecting dust. So someone suggested I play it. I immediately fell into it. I still have that Pbass.
BMF: What about your main music influences especially as regards bass?
JV: It’s been evolving but in the beginning it was Geezer Butler, John Paul Jones, John Deacon, Verdine White, Jaco Pastorius, Louis Johnson.
BMF: Let’s start with the great Armored Saint. You began with an EP recorded in 1983 and then your career was enriched by the most amazing albums with a constant critical success. You took a break for nine years from the album “Symbol Of Salvation” to “Revelation”, and then you started again with renewed energy. Your latest live called “Carpe Noctum” proves that your line-up is fantastic. Can you talk about your long journey with Saint?
JV: Well it’s been a trip to say the least. I think when I look back, I see all the times we took ourselves so seriously and It’s made we wonder why we bothered. At the heart of what we do, and what we do best is just play Hard Rock music. And we’ve managed to do it in our own way. In our adolescence we wanted to fit into a scene but we just couldn’t. In the end, we have ended up on our own island so to speak. But the truth is, we’ve always been there. We just weren’t comfortable being there all alone. Until recently.
BMF: And now we come to Fates Warning’s chapter. We can find extraordinary works, here too. What’s the difference in approach between Armored Saint and Fates Warning? Can you find any stylistic relation between both groups?
JV: My approach is different in that with Saint, these are guys I grew up with. We’re like brothers. And sometimes it’s very hard working with family as you can imagine. But also, the rewards feel great because we are so close to it. With Fates, there’s much less pressure from me at least. It’s Jim Matheos’s baby. So my role is just to be a great team player which I love doing. The music has made me a far better player and writer. And I think you can hear some influence from Fates in the music I’m writing recently.
BMF: You recorded your solo album “A Thousand Faces” in 1994, and then, after twelve years, you worked on the suggestive project “A Chinese Firedrill”. “A Thousand Faces” was really intriguing in my view, do you feel satisfied with it? Are you planning on recording anything else as a leader, sooner or later?
JV: Yes, when I find the time! I’ve been toying with ideas lately, we’ll see.
BMF: I’m curious to ask you something about both albums of Engine, released by Metal Blade label which are really precious. Don’t you think that they have been inexcusably underrated?
JV: Well that’s subjective to say. I get quite a lot of people asking about it. I think it was a time and place for that and It was great. I like both records.
BMF: You have collaborated with OSI, Chroma Key, Lizzy Borden, Frost, Seven Witches. Recently you have played in Motor Sister’s band and many other projects, but you are one of those bassists with a peculiar style as well as a strong personality. You are able to maintain your individual approach but always working for the band. How did you manage to achieve this eclectic balance?
JV: Ha. I’m not sure really. I guess it comes down to just having a voice, and let it be heard. Of course it’s been evolving just like my influences. But maybe it all starts with having different influences. I’m just reinterpreting things I’ve already heard before. I mean, mix up Geezer and Jaco, two very different things. I guess that’s me. I learned early on that players should play with attitude. Mean it. Just do it. But do it with passion and attitude.
BMF: Going down an ideal path that starts from the eighties and comes to the present day, how do you consider the development of electric bass in Heavy Metal and in all of its derivations? Are there any bassists today whom you like the best?
JV: It’s so different now. So many great players with incredible techniques. Very well schooled as well. Again this is so subjective. Just watching youtube, there are players that just make your head spin. But I tend to go for subtle players. For me it’s always been about groove. If you groove, you’re alright by me.
BMF: Your style on bass is powerful and sophisticated but you are also able to make it easy what is hard to perform in practice. You are a bassist who fills and increases the sound without exceeding the solo insertions. What do you think about bass heroes and shredders? Do they make sense to you?
JV: Again, I really appreciate the tech of it. It’s beyond me sometimes and keep me on my toes. But really, as I said you gotta groove first. There’s a time and place for shredding I guess. Billy Sheehan knows how to groove, and of course knows how to shred. I think the role of bass should always be the same though, serve the song. Sometimes the song wants a shredding part, do it. But the music that I listen to mostly is more groove based and melodic, rather than technically impressive. Martin Mendez from Opeth has a great balance in this way.
BMF: We’d like to know something about your gear over the years as well as the instruments that you preferred most of all…
JV: For Years I was a Fender and Ampeg guy. But really the Ampeg gear became unstable for me especially using rental stuff in Europe. A few years back I got approached by both ESP and Hartke. I made the switch and am very happy with both. Both companies are top notch and the gear is super solid and reliable. I’m still playing Pbass style basses and my rig is still 8×10 Hydrive cabs. I’ve been using tech 21 Sans Amps as my pre for quite some time also. DR Handmade strings for over 25 years, just the best.
BMF: Have you planned any recording this year? Can you tell us anything about the idea of any new project?
JV: Nothing planned yet. But I have a few meetings in the next month or so to make some plans.
BMF: I’d like to know your opinion about the record as a collector’s item and about records sale. The cd seems to be doomed to disappear, while the vinyl is back. What is the state of the market in your opinion? And do you think that Metal continues to be an happy place of enthusiasts who still favour the rigid support to the digital formats?
JV: Yes CD’s are going away. Vinyl will still be around for the collector and fan, but it will never take over as a dominant format. It’s all going into the cloud. No more records to hold in your hand. It’s very sad to me. I think the Metal genre will survive for a bit longer, hopefully much longer. But this way that kids now get their music and share music and even make music is very soulless. One can only hope that artists will try to make art and keep it real.
BMF: Is there any possibility to find you here in Italy on tour, sooner or later?
JV: I will be in Italy in January with Fates Warning. See you there!
(c) Luca De Pasquale-Manuela Avino 2017