ARMORED SAINT's JOHN BUSH Finds Side Project Home In CATEGORY 7: 'Everyone Is Beyond Talented'

June 18, 2024

By David E. Gehlke

The John Bush story now practically writes itself: The singer co-founded ARMORED SAINT in 1982, declined an offer to front METALLICA in 1984, left ARMORED SAINT for ANTHRAX in 1992, reformed ARMORED SAINT in 1999 (while still doing ANTHRAX),was replaced in ANTHRAX by a returning Joey Belladonna in 2005, came back to ANTHRAX for a few shows in 2009 and 2010, but left and has stuck with the venerable ARMORED SAINT ever since. While Bush has made regular appearances with the all-star METAL ALLEGIANCE, he'd yet to partake in a legitimate side project until ex-ADRENALINE MOB guitarist Mike Orlando and ex-VIO-LENCE/MACHINE HEAD and current KERRY KING guitarist Phil Demmel convinced him to join CATEGORY 7.

Rounded out by EXODUS bassist Jack Gibson and OVERKILL drummer Jason Bittner, CATEGORY 7 emerges as the ideal thrashier and heavier outlet for Bush's vocals. Per the usual, Bush delivers a highly satisfying array of vocal hooks and choruses, providing hope that CATEGORY 7 may become one of the few supergroups that lives up to its pedigree. Bush treaded carefully about potential CATEGORY 7 live shows during his chat with BLABBERMOUTH.NET, but that was days before the band got some out-of-the-blue praise from the man Bush nearly took over the vocal spot from in METALLICA, James Hetfield.

Blabbermouth: How often do you get offers to do side projects?

John: "There's probably been a few or a couple, but I wouldn't say it's something that happens often. I don't know if I gave the vibe that I wasn't interested. There was a period of time when I left ANTHRAX in '04 or '05 when I didn't do much. Even though SAINT made a record in 2010, 'La Raza', we still didn't play a lot of shows, I'm sure much to the chagrin of the band members. I was the catalyst in not wanting to do much. Everything happened around the same time. I left ANTHRAX. My daughter was born; she was four months old. My wife, a big part of her business, went through a change. We were going, 'Okay…what are we going to do here? We have a baby, and all this stuff is happening from a business level.' We kind of embraced it. I just wanted to be home when my kids were young. I didn't want to miss the pivotal time when they were growing up. My whole thing is that you'll get money and make a living somehow, but you can't get time back. The time is going to go. I made a conscious effort to stay home during that time. Maybe because SAINT wasn't doing a lot, even though we were doing some things, maybe that feeling was out there and people thought, 'He's not interested.' It's possible."

Blabbermouth: By most accounts, it appears you were more worried about fitting into CATEGORY 7 from a musical, but not a personal level. Can you elaborate?

John: "That's been the case for my whole career. [Laughs] METALLICA wanted me and I said no. Even in the early stages of ANTHRAX, I was asked and I said no at first. I'm not trying to play hard to get with anybody. The whole thing with ARMORED SAINT is that we have this weird mob vibe with blood loyalty that we don't want to break. I felt that way and it was hard to do when I quit to join ANTHRAX. In regards to CATEGORY 7, I think it came down to music. That's what I remember. I don't remember anything more other than, 'Look. Is this music that I like and can I add to it?' It really comes down to that. I didn't put the cart before the horse about where it's going to go after we made the record. To me, it was about, 'Are these going to be great songs? Can I add to it? Is it something within my style?' That was the important thing. Phil said, 'Are you interested?' I said, 'Send me something!' It came down to being able to do something that I thought felt right musically. Once that was the case, I said, 'Okay. I want to do this. Let me try to write some lyrics. Let me try to come up with some ideas. If it's great, it gets the ball rolling and we'll take the next step as we go.' That was the important thing."

Blabbermouth: Another thing about that is you've mainly worked with [ARMORED SAINT bassist] Joey Vera. Was it more of an adjustment to Mike and Phil's writing style?

John: "At the end of the day, it is metal. This isn't some pop, bluegrass thing that we're doing. It's metal. I want to make sure that it's something I feel good about doing and that it feels right and natural. In the end, that was the key thing. It's funny because at the time, I think Joey was doing stuff with MERCYFUL FATE. We weren't doing anything with SAINT. My wife, one of the people who works with her in her casting office, and her boyfriend are rockabilly blues guitar players. He's always saying, 'Dude. Let's do something!' I'm like, 'Yeah, yeah…but I don't know when.' I didn't want to say I blew him off. I said, 'Yeah, sure. Let's do something.' I always thought he was talented. I finally went, 'Send me something!' He sent me something and it was almost right around the time, the same time as the CATEGORY 7 guys were sending me stuff. This has turned into a project. It's a band called ELECTRIC SPAGHETTI. It's like blues, country and rock and roll. I'm like, 'This is great! I think I can write to it.' It was simultaneous when it was happening with what Mike and Phil were sending me. I was trying to record a few things at home, but I'm so technically inept that it sounded terrible. [Laughs] I asked Tara [Novick], who is the guitar player for it and has a home studio: 'Would you record me doing this other thing and then we'll also do our thing and you record them both?' He goes, 'Of course!' One day, I would go to his house, and we'd do an ELECTRIC SPAGHETTI song. I'd write a CATEGORY 7 song and I'd say, 'I got another CATEGORY 7 song.' He'd go, 'Come on over.' We kept a lot of the demos we did at his house and we kept a lot of those ideas. It was funny because that's not his world at all. The beauty of it was that in a span of months, I wrote 20 songs for those two things combined that were super-different from one another and ARMORED SAINT. It opened my eyes and mind up to, 'Hey, I'm a really good songwriter. I can do these different things.' It helped me think: 'I have a lot of ideas. I don't have any kind of blocks. I can write lyrics. I have great melody ideas and I can use them in this country song or a metal song.' It was super helpful. It was a great little experience."

Blabbermouth: You are known for being a singer who can write "hooks." You largely accomplished that on the CATEGORY 7 album.

John: "Look, those guys are riff maniacs. They're incredible, awesome players. Jason and Jack are incredible players. Everyone is beyond talented in terms of their abilities and what they can do. That's not a question. But can you take some of these riffs and really heavy parts, and can you have some really cool songs to go with it? That's where I come in. I go, 'Now it's my turn to add some vocals that are powerful and heavy.' Also, I have some of the hooks. Granted, Mike and Phil wrote a lot of great ideas that enabled those hooks to come through. That's the key thing. For me, that's what I do. Look, I was ingrained in pop music. When I was in elementary school and junior high school, I was raised on amazing pop artists. I had all of those records, like Elton John, THE COMMODORES, EARTH, WIND & FIRE, CHICAGO and even more rocking stuff. Then you go into UFO, THIN LIZZY, BLACK SABBATH and LED ZEPPELIN. Those were my favorite artists. That set the tone for songwriting and then it went into the early days of SAINT and I did the same thing as a musician myself. As time has gone by, I've become an even better singer. I think [ARMORED SAINT's] 'Punching The Sky', and I know people always say, 'Our last record is the best.' But I think it is. The hooks on it are amazing. I feel like I've done pretty well. If it all ended today, I could walk away from it."

Blabbermouth: Does CATEGORY 7 now quench any thirst for a potential John Bush solo album?

John: "I always felt a little insecure about that, to be honest. This may open the door to new ideas that would prevent me from feeling the need to do that. I don't even know what I'd want to do; that's the thing. Some of my artists are old-school '70s guys like Stevie Wonder and the THE O'JAYS and Maurice White. ARMORED SAINT just covered a FOUR TOPS song ['One Chain (Don't Make No Prison)']. Would it be metal? Hard rock? Soul? Would people go, 'What the hell is this? What is he doing?' [Laughs] I don't really know. I don't see that happening, but again, doing these two other projects certainly fulfilled a little need if there was any desire to do that."

Blabbermouth: What prompted you to touch on more social commentary with your lyrics in CATEGORY 7?

John: "It's hard to ignore what's happening in society unless you're living under a rock. Maybe that's for the best. [Laughs] It is looking at things at times and saying, 'Wow.' I'm raising ideas and thoughts and maybe my own personal feelings, but without saying, 'You should think this way.' That's not what I want to do. I don't even know how I feel about things sometimes. My feelings can change, which, again, I don't understand why that's a problem. I don't understand why people feel like they can't hear somebody's perspective: 'I never thought of it like that. You know what? Maybe you are right.' We're not in a place at all on both sides where people can do that. It's really a big problem and scary. I always want to have an open mind. If I see things from one perspective and somebody raises a point and says, 'What about this?' I want to go, 'Let me think about that.' Unless it's insane—which a lot of it is. [Laughs] As a person who has lived a long life, I want to be able to see life that way. That makes me a better person, husband, father and artist. I want to have an open mind to everything. That's how I look at life. I love food and culture. It was awesome going to Gettysburg National Cemetery and then we went to Niagara Falls, which was disappointing, but it was cool to see the Falls. All the casinos there are a bummer. There's this amazing, environmental creation and they put all these casinos right by it. Whatever it is, I want to be open-minded and have something inspire me. It's a weird world where people feel very aligned with a perspective and that's it. I don't get that. It's very peculiar."

Blabbermouth: What's the general consensus on touring or live dates for CATEGORY 7? Are they a possibility?

John: "I'm probably the wrong guy to ask because I just finished a tour and will be going to Europe for six weeks. Phil is in Europe with KERRY KING. Everybody's got a lot going on. I think Jason just did some shows [with OVERKILL] and Jack is always busy. I don't know and I'm not putting too much into it yet. I think everything will be determined by the response and how people feel and what people think about it. Look, I'm not going to go and get in a van and do 25 club shows throughout America. I don't want to do that. That said, I want to do something really cool and feel right to do. That's an important part of it. We'll see what comes of all this. I'm not sure. I still think of it as somewhat of a project, but I don't know. We'll see."

Blabbermouth: You missed some dates on the last ARMORED SAINT tour. How are you feeling?

John: "I'm feeling better. I got some sniffles, which is really annoying because I want to be back and singing again. My life is not the same until I can fix myself. I finished the tour and everything was great, but I still took a beating out there. I wasn't quite at the level I wanted to be. It was a drag because the first month of the tour, I was killing it. Then something happened. Maybe a chest cold or something minor, but it was minor enough to affect me. That was the problem. Until I'm back to where I was, I probably will feel out of sorts. I went to the doctor the other day and he said, 'Your cords look great.' That was cool to hear. I still have a lot of work ahead of me, but I feel good about it. Like I say to people, 'I'm like an athlete. I was injured. I'll heal and I'll be back.' I also say, 'I'm not the first guy to lose his voice and I won't be the last.' It happens to the best of us. It sucks and is a pain in the ass and pretty much one of the worst things ever. It got to the point where I felt that I was done because I couldn't deal with it. I go from the highest of the highs when performing and singing at the best levels of my voice. I had people telling me I sounded the best I've ever sounded to going, 'I can't even sing.' That's like jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge."

Blabbermouth: When you say "done," do you mean calling it quits? Or a short-term thing?

John: "During those moments, I feel like throwing in the towel. I have to get over it mentally and emotionally and go, 'Dude. You'll be okay. Settle down.' But, yeah, it's very disheartening. It's happened a couple of times. I ain't no spring chicken. You don't bounce back as quickly."

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