Interview with PHIL SANDOVAL [ARMORED SAINT] 09/18/2017

Interview with PHIL SANDOVAL [ARMORED SAINT] 09/18/2017 

Written by Marc C. Pietrek 2017 

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[DISCLAIMER: I DO NOT OWN, NOR DO I CLAIM TO OWN, ANY OF THE PHOTOGTAPHS AND/OR VIDEOS USED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS INTERVIEW/ ARTICLE] 

***********************************************************************************************************[Marc C. Pietrek filed this report for VITRIOL, INC / A DARK UNITED FRONT (www.vitriolinc.com) on 12/10/2017] When it comes to classic metal, the ARMORED SAINT name carries a shit-ton of weight. Formed in 1982, the Los Angeles area band is one that has never taken the easy way out and succumbed to following the trends that so many metal bands have done over the years. In the early-eighties, when glam metal bands in L.A. were creating basically re-invented bubble gum pop music with distorted guitars, “dolling it up” and appearing like bastardized versions of the NEW YORK DOLLS or ADAM and the ANTS, ARMORED SAINT went in the opposite direction. They embraced their European metal/hard rock roots, writing more in the same style of JUDAS PRIEST, THIN LIZZY, U.F.O., etc. while donning an image of knights of the Crusades in the early years of the band. When thrash metal bands were popping up everywhere in the mid-eighties, many trying to play faster and look angrier and eviler than the others, they stood their ground and remained true to themselves amidst the exploding popularity of that genre. From their debut album, ‘March of the Saint’ [1984 CHRYSALIS RECORDS] to their latest, ‘Win Hands Down’ [2015 METAL BLADE RECORDS], that stoic stance has earned the band a high degree of street cred they possess three-plus decades after their formation.   

Guitarist Phil Sandoval has been a member of ARMORED SAINT for most its existence. An original member, he departed the band after the ‘Delirious Nomad’ album [1985 CHRYSALIS RECORDS]. However, he returned to the fold a few years later, filling the sad void left by the late David Pritchard and put forth an absolutely stellar performance on (in my opinion, one of the greatest metal albums ever) ‘Symbol of Salvation’ [1991 METAL BLADE RECORDS]. He is an excellent guitar player who was influenced by the likes of Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads and Michael Schenker during his formative years and loves and appreciates works of everybody from Gary Moore to JOURNEY’s Neal Schon to STEELY DAN’s Walter Becker to jazz giant Al Di Meola. A truly well-rounded fan of the instrument, he continually strives to progress as a player. His overall technique and feel that he fuses into his playing has made him into one of metal’s best, sweeping arpeggios be damned!! 

I reached out to Phil a few months ago via social media and requested to do an interview with him as well as asking for a quote that I could possibly use for an upcoming interview/article I did with Kelle Rhoads (the older brother of Randy Rhoads). He very nicely agreed to take time out of his busy schedule (the man has a family and regular day job like many of us, rivet-heads) in order make that happen. On 09/18/2017, he telephoned in and we did the interview which is listed directly below. Be sure to visit the ARMORED SAINT official web-site( http://www.armoredsaint.com/ ), check out their albums listed on their official BANDCAMP site ( https://armoredsaint.bandcamp.com/ ), their official FACEBOOK band page ( https://www.facebook.com/thearmoredsaint/ ) as well as the links listed at the bottom of the page. Cheers, ya rivet-heads!!

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 MP.: So, I am here with guitarist Phil Sandoval Sandoval of ARMORED SAINT. Phil, how you doin’ tonight? 

P.S.: How you doin’, Marc? 

M.P.: Really good, sir! Really, really good! Again, I want to take the time to thank you so much for doing this for VITRIOL, INC / A DARK UNITED FRONT. It’s really an honor to have you with us tonight! 

P.S.: Sounds great, man! You guys are doing some rocking stuff, man! 

M.P.: We really appreciate that! We really, really do! 

01.) M.P.: What made you decide to pursue a career in the music Industry? Was there any band, artist, album or song in particular that was instrumental in you making the decision? 

P.S.: Well, I think music just found me. John Bush (vocals), Joey (Vera; bass), and my brother (Gonzo Sandoval; drums) knew each other. He’s younger, my brother, so they were like a grade below me and they used to always talk about music. I was into LED ZEPPELIN and stuff and they were into KISS and QUEEN and I would always hear them talking about it and I got introduced to John and Joey. We would always talk about music. Like CIRCUS MAGAZINE was popular back then and there would be these articles like KISS doesn’t know how to play and just weird stuff. I don’t know where those writers are now, but KISS is still around. But what I am saying is it just kind of like happened, when we got asked to form a band for this “Battle of the Bands” in junior high-school I think it was. We formed it and we learned “Heartbreaker” and that is kind of how it started. I took the guitar a little more serious as I got older, but Jimmy Page was definitely the one who kind of started me off. I used to love, “Since I’ve Been Loving You”. It’s this kind of bluesy song off the third album (LED ZEPPELIN III) and we just kind of started like that. I think it was in high-school. I think Rodney Bingenheimer from KROQ actually mentioned us. That we went to Woodrow Wilson High School and we won “Battle of the Bands” and we played a U.F.O. song in that “Battle of the Bands”, “Natural Thing”, and I just got the bug like that. That’s how it happened and we just started to grow from there. 

M.P.: Nice! 

ARMORED SAINT circa 1984 (left to right): Phil Sandoval (guitar), John Bush (vocals), Gonzo Sandoval (drums), Joey Vera (bass) and David Pritchard (guitar).

02.) M.P.: Who are your guitar influences and inspirations in your formative years as a guitarist, metal and otherwise? 

P.S.: Well, early on it was definitely Jimmy Page and then I got into Michael Schenker. U.F.O ‘Lights Out’. I just loved that album! The great songs on it influenced me. And then I got into Al Di Meola and of course I can’t play like him, but it’s definitely something that I’d listen to. And then when Eddie Van Halen came out, I just couldn’t believe that “Eruption” was crazier than I had ever heard even Jimmy Page play! I just couldn’t believe it because Jimmy Page was my first guitar hero and then I gravitated towards Eddie Van Halen and he was from Pasadena which is right around the corner from us. I used to go see QUIET RIOT at the STARWOOD and Randy Rhoads was somebody I totally looked up to. I used to have this little cassette recorder and I used to sneak it into the STARWOOD and record his solo and a lot of that stuff that he did in that solo wound up on ‘Blizzard of Ozz’.  

M.P.: Did any of it end up on ‘Diary of A Madman’? 

P.S.: Yeah, it was all there. If I could just find that cassette, you know?! [laughs]. I was still working my way around the guitar. I’m actually learning all the time. It’s such a humbling instrument.  

M.P.: Absolutely!  

P.S.: Yeah, totally. But it was Jimmy Page, Michael Schenker, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads and then JUDAS PRIEST was a big influence on ARMORED SAINT. The two guitars of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing. We loved JUDAS PRIEST and we kind of spawned from that. 

M.P.: When you used to see Randy Rhoads and QUIET RIOT play, did you ever have a chance to meet Randy? 

P.S.: Yes, I did! I met him at the WHISKEY. He was there with (QUIET RIOT vocalist) Kevin Dubrow and he was a small guy. Very short. Just and incredible human being! You could just tell that he was soft-spoken with a wild side [laughs]. Totally cool dude! I actually went up to him and he shook my hand I told him that I admired his playing and I thought that he was amazing and we talked about his Les Paul. Kevin Dubrow was right there telling him, “Come! We gotta go! We gotta go!”, but he actually stood there and talked to me and you know, as a fan, it means a lot. Even though he had to go. He was being pushed to go by Kevin Dubrow, but he just took the time to actually speak to me and we had a nice little conversation. That’s the only time we met but it was definitely a wonderful experience for me!  

03.) M.P.: Back in the late seventies and early eighties, were you aware of any American (pre-thrash underground) metal bands such as TROUBLE (from Chicago) and RIOT (from New York) and to a lesser extent, Y & T (from San Francisco)? Did you think at that point in time American metal bands could compete with the N.W.O.B.H.M and European metal bands? 

P.S.: Well, Y & T used to play at the STARWOOD a lot. We knew them as YESTERDAY & TODAY. They were a big influence on us, too. We always loved them. RIOT was good, too. It was all like a plethora of completion back then. It was just something in the air with the English bands and we were influenced a lot by the English bands. LED ZEPPELIN, JUDAS PRIEST, BLACK SABBATH and then IRON MAIDEN came out and that kind of blew everybody away because they were just phenomenal players and the songs were amazing. I thought they were all just in one big mixing bowl of music. We didn’t put too much into separating them into competition. We just knew them as music. 

04.) M.P.: The word “family” gets thrown around a lot when band members refer to other band members. However, ARMORED SAINT is one of the closest examples of a “family” that you will find in music. Obviously, there is the family connection that you and Gonzo have together. How far back do the members of ARMORED SAINT go? How did all you guys all meet? 

P.S.: Elementary school. We all went to Sierra Park Elementary School here in El Sereno (Los Angeles) and we all lived less than a mile away from each other.  

M.P.: I had the pleasure of seeing you guys open for SUICIDAL TENDENCIES back in 1991 and then later I got to see John twice with ANTHRAX. His demeanor that he has on stage and from what I’ve seen in interviews with him, he just comes across as a really classy dude and that’s something I’ve always thought about him. 

P.S.: Yeah, that’s exactly what I’d like to say. He’s a very classy dude. It was always cool to hang out with them. And then these opportunities came up to play ‘Battle Of the Bands”. Joey actually played guitar first. 

M.P.: Oh, really? 

P.S.: Yeah, he played guitar first and John got a bass at first. And since John had problems playing bass, he at one point gave it to Joey. The very first time that they got together, It was a junior high. This other guy, his name was David Alvia. He was a cool dude. He passed away. He was the first local guitar hero that we knew of. He had a Gibson ES-335 in junior high. It’s like a jazz guitar. We were like, “What the..!”  He was advanced! So him, Joey and John did this “Battle of the Bands’. That was the first one. I was in the audience and was like, “Wow! This is cool, man!”. When we got to high school, I joined in and played guitar and Joey played bass and John sang. So that’s how that happened. 

Early ARMORED SAINT show flyer.

05.) M.P.: Tell me about what it was like being part of the rising underground metal scene in Los Angeles in the early eighties. Who were the bands on that scene that you most liked to see and play with and what clubs did you like to play at the most?  

P.S.: Well, there’s the PALACE, ODDFELLO’S, POOKIE’S PASADENA, the ICE HOUSE, the ROXY, the TROUBADOUR. We did play the WHISKEY and we did play GAZARI’S. GAZARI’S thought we were too heavy and we didn’t bring in any chicks [laughs].  Back then it was all glam. It was weird. We were never really part of the Hollywood scene with the hair and the makeup and all that stuff. We were more like European influenced. So GAZARI’S didn’t like ARMORED SAINT. They didn’t want us to play there at first. They thought we were too heavy and we didn’t bring in the chicks [laughs]. But the scene back then was cool, man! You could see MOTLEY CRUE, METALLICA, LITA FORD, DOKKEN, ARMORED SAINT, SAVAGE GRACE, Y & T all in like a weekend! There was no internet back then. There’s no Facebook, no Instagram, or Snap-chat. None of that. So back then, what we had to do was flyers. We had to go out there in the scene and pass out flyers and that’s how you got to meet people. You were there with the person. It’s not like where you’re at your keyboard and you’re sitting down and you’re saying whatever you want. The internet I find to be brutal! It’s harsh territory, man! Especially some people on YouTube. Nowadays, people say things on the Internet they would never say to their face.  

M.P: Hell no!  

P.S.: So, coming back to where it was happening in L.A at that time, you would be meeting people face to face. “Oh, What’s your band? Oh! Who is this? ARMORED SAINT! You guys are playing? OK Cool! Where at, the TROUBADOUR?”. Then you’d have to start a real conversation with that person. Not like the Internet where you don’t know who the person is and you’re just going by what they wrote and they’re saying, “Well, your band sucks! [laughs]”. Know what I mean? 

M.P.: Yeah! 

P.S.: You would never say that to a person you actually meet, so that was a big difference from the scene now. But I save to say that it was totally happening! I saw GUNS ‘N ROSES at the TROUBADOUR when they first fucking come out! There was just a vibe! You’d see RATT with Jake E. Lee, METALLICA with Dave Mustaine. All here in the clubs, man! It was like opening a can of worms of new things. METALLICA were on the verge of opening the world to thrash. Thrash was not invented yet! They were playing the TROUBADOR and there were still seats lined up. Once we played the TROUBADOR, it was like the first time they ever took the chairs out and it was because everybody was headbanging, 

M.P.: Nice! That’s bad-ass! 

P.S.: Yeah, we introduced headbanging to the TROUBADOR. They didn’t know. “Oh, my God! Look what those guys are doing!”. We’re like, “Leave ‘em alone! They’re just enjoying the music”. Yeah, they kind of panicked. 

M.P.: I remember as show back in ’89 with DEATH ANGEL in Hayward, California. There was a stabbing across the street from the club and somehow the Police had thought it originated in the club. They went into the club in full riot gear, so of course you know what happened next. 

P.S.: Yeah. 

M.P.: Yeah, when people don’t understand something, they tend to go a little overboard. 

P.S.: Yeah, so we introduced headbanging to the TROUBADOR. Moshing hadn’t been invented yet. That came out when we toured with METALLICA and W.A.S.P. It was the very first time I started to see this whole new thing. They took the headbanging to the next level and it was breaking new ground. I had never seen anything like that before. The thing is music moves people. Metalheads don’t dance. In a way, that’s kind of their dance. They’re going to move around. That’s kind of what I’m trying to do with my writing. I want to be able to move people with my riffs and stuff like that.  

M.P.: Absolutely! 

06.) M.P.: ARMORED SAINT has never been a thrash metal band, but yet the band has always been associated with the genre. Why do you think that is? Has it ever bothered you?  

P.S.: Let’s see. We’ve played with every freaking thrash band you could ever think of. From SLAYER to SUICIDAL TENDENCIES to METALLICA, ANTHRAX, MEGADETH, IN FLAMES, NAPALM DEATH. Actually, NAPALM DEATH likes us. SEPULTURA. I’m talking the original SEPULTURA with the two brothers.  

M.P.: Yeah! Max and Igor (Cavalera) . 

P.S.: Right, Max and Igor. We’ve played with them. The thing about it is [slight pause] back then when thrash was being invented by METALLICA and MEGADETH and bands like that, we were just kind of like in the middle. We didn’t know how popular it was going to be [laughs]. We were in shock like, “What the hell is this?”. We were metal, like JUDAS PRIEST style. They’re not thrash, but they’ve played with all those bands. ARMORED SAINT was in that spot. We were sticking to our guns because that’s all we knew. Should we go thrash? Do we do that? Do we jump on the bandwagon? How are people going to react to that? Or do we stay with what we want and what we know? The thrash bands became more successful. METALLICA, MEGADETH, SLAYER, ANTHRAX, TESTAMENT, DEATH ANGEL…They’re still living. They’re still playing. They’re still writing music. They’re doing all the festivals thirty years later. How were supposed to know that? But we stuck to our guns. At one point, METALLICA even asked John to join. We’re thinking if METALLICA asked John to join, that means ARMORED SAINT ‘s pretty relevant, right?  Now mind you, we’re in our early twenties. We don’t know shit [laughs]! We’re just playing music because we love it! 

M.P.: Well, I for one, am glad that ARMORED SAINT never changed styles. I’m glad you guys a stuck to the formula. A far as fans go, we’re more appreciative of a band sticking to their guns rather than to jump on the style that’s popular at that point in time.  That’s one of the thing that fans most like about ARMORED SAINT. Fans like myself really appreciate that.  

P.S.: Thank you. Here’s what I think when we tour. We’re playing with all these death metal bands from Sweden and Finland and all these thrash metal bands.  It’s because we sound different. Like when you go to a festival in Europe, you see seven band that have that whole [imitates standard death metal grunt-style vocals] and then here comes ARMORED SAINT sounding different. You’re like, “Wow!  That sounds cool! I kind of like it. It’s not thrash, but it sounds cool”. That’s how we were able to play with TESTAMENT, SLAYER, IN FLAMES, NAPALM DEATH, METALLICA and all these other thrash bands. We hold our own on stage with any thrash band! And we’ve played with all of them.  

M.P.: Exactly! 

12″ radio promo for “Can U Deliver”.

07.) M.P.: Tell me about when ARMORED SAINT signed with CHRYSALIS RECORDS who released the debut album, ‘March of the Saint’ in 1984. In retrospect, do you feel that signing with them was a good or bad idea and why? 

P.S.: POLYMORE RECORDS was interested in us, too. You have to understand that we were young. We didn’t know shit and we probably picked the wrong producer to produce our first album. Michael Wagener should have been our first producer. We didn’t know! [laughs]. He knew metal. We went with Michael James Jackson, who just finished producing ‘Lick It Up’ by KISS [laughs]. That’s a whole different story. Let’s talk about CHRYSALIS. They were more of a singles kind of label. Their metal band that we LOVED was U.F.O.! We were like, “Oh! They got U.F.O. They got Robin Trower”.  We weren’t really thinking that they didn’t know how to promote a metal band. They wanted to make us watered-down QUIET RIOT. Back then, QUIET RIOT had just broken the charts with “Cum On Feel the Noise”. They actually sold a million records and back then, people were like, “Metal’s in! Let’s sign a metal band! Let’s produce a metal band that maybe we can get a single out of!”. And the Ron Fare , who went on to produce the PUSSYCAT DOLLS and the BLACK EYED PEAS and Christine Aguilera. He went on to become a very successful producer. That guy got us signed to CHRYSALIS. He heard John’s voice and he loved ARMORED SAINT. He knew that there was something in there. We did some demos for them. We did like fifty-two gigs across the clubs and they came the TROUBADOR I think, and the place was packed! It was a crazy night and we played our asses off! Right then and there they said, “Come to our offices on Monday…da da da”. Little did we know that we should have gotten a manager first.  To read the contract and talk about stuff. There were so many things that happened, it was like a domino effect. We were young. We didn’t know that we were signed to a label that like to produce singles from HUEY LEWIS and the NEWS and Pat Benatar. Not really a metal company, but they were a huge major label! Back then, ARMORED SAINT gets signed to a major label. They’re fucking huge! We don’t know the inside of the business. We’re like twenty-one, twenty-two years old, still learning how to wipe our own ass [laughs]. We sign a million-dollar record deal. We recorded it at one of the most amazing recording studios, OCEAN WAVE RECORDING STUDIOS, where Michael Jackson did ‘Thriller’, Eric Clapton just finished doing an album there, Barbra Streisand, you know what I mean? We’re talking a hundred-thousand-dollar budget for a record for metal band! That first record of ours should have been tearing the walls with the production, but they watered it down. When we recorded it and we could hear the tracks, we were like, “Man! This sounds fucking amazing!”. But something happened in the mix. It was like, “Whoa! That sounds different”, but who are we to argue? Who’s going to step up and have the balls?  

M.P.: Right! 

P.S.: You know what we needed? We needed a Peter Grant! 

M.P.: Oh, hell yeah!! 

P.S.: Peter Grant with LED ZEPPELIN! “You’re the fucking assholes with the fucking producers! Now you go back and remix this shit and make it sound like the walls are sweating!”. Somebody like that who fought for us. We didn’t have anybody like that. And then with METALLICA on the verge of busting everybody’s balls and THEY go to Europe and WE don’t go to Europe?! What the fuck?! That’s one of the biggest regrets. We didn’t go to Europe until years, years, years later and then it’s like, “Oh, well”. The time to plant that seed passed. Music has it waves. Are you going to surf the wave of metal or are you going to kick back and wait another five years until it comes around again? We didn’t surf it because we didn’t go to Europe.  We lost momentum.   

M.P.: It kind of sounds like when DEATH ANGEL was dealing with GEFFEN RECORDS. They were young and on a major label for the first time. They didn’t have the support staff that was really needed, and it affected them in a negative way. I think it’s happened with quite a few bands over the years and it’s unfortunate. 

P.S.: Yeah. The music industry if so full of sharks and you need to have a Peter Gant on your side.  

M.P.: There’s a reason why LED ZEPPELIN has been able to retain seventy-five percent of their royalties. It’s because of Peter Grant.  

P.S.: Right! Exactly! You need to have somebody to fight with you. When people say, “Yeah, I made it on my own”, that’s a bunch of bullshit! I mean, are you kidding me?! Nobody makes it on their own. You got relatives. You got people that work for you. You need to have a nice attitude and be nice and be humble about it. You can’t be some dickhead, unless you’re some god on guitar. Personally, I wouldn’t be like that. What I’m trying to say is the bands need somebody to fight for them, that believes in them. Not screw them over. There’s enough people trying to screw you over, you know? That’s what kind of happened to us. We didn’t have a Peter Grant. We signed very young. CHRYSALIS was more interested in promoting singles that promoting a metal band. We were their first real metal band and they didn’t know what to do with us. That’s what happened. 

ARMORED SAIONT’s debut album, ‘March of the Saint’ [1984 CHRYSALIS RECORDS]

08.) M.P.: ARMORED SAINT also played two shows supporting METALLICA on the ‘Ride the Lightning’ tour at the KABUKI NIGHT CLUB in San Francisco in March of 1985, which also featured a very young DEATH ANGEL. Those two shows are considered by many who grew up during the Bay Area thrash scene (like myself) to be monumental and legendary gigs. At one show, I believe that they stopped counting the number of ejections at fifty. Can you tell me what you remember about those shows? Any specific memories about a very early DEATH ANGEL? 

ARMORED SAINT and METALLICA (left to right): Gonzo Sandoval, John Bush, David Pritchard, Cliff Burton, Joey Vera, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammet, Phil Sandoval, James Hetfield.

P.S.: Oh, yeah. Well, first of all, the [DEATH ANGEL] drummer [Andy Galeon] was late. I think they were about to go on. I’m not kidding. They were like setup and everybody was worried. There was this air of like, “What the fuck?!”. It’s like there’s a bunch of people out there, you know what I mean [laughs]? By the time DEATH ANGEL, ARMORED SAINT and METALLICA finished, I’m not kidding, the KABUKI’s walls were sweating.  

M.P.: Nice!! 

P.S.: That’s another thing I remember. But it was a legendary show and he made it on time. He barely made it on time. He knocked on the door backstage I remember. “I’m here. I’m here” and their like, “We’re about to go on!”. It was like, “Oh shit! Thank God, man!”. People were like ready to get violent or something. 

M.P.: Wasn’t Andy like fourteen? [Editor’s note: Andy Galeon was actually a few days shy of turning thirteen at that time] 

P.S.: Yeah. He was a young guy. They’re all cousins and very family oriented. That’s where we met them, and they were cool and stuff like that. That would have been a great tour right there.  

M.P.: Hell yeah!! 

P.S.: Those three bands. DEATH ANGEL, ARMORED SAINT and METALLICA. Oh, man! I remember, it was one of those nights. It was a very special night. Those two shows were fucking amazing and a highlight of a newsreel of things to come in the metal scene. 

M.P.: I remember friends of mine who were able to go to the show and the said, “Of course, we were there to se MEATALLICA, but fucking ARMORED SAINT, man! Those guys held their own!”. You guys made a lot of fans at those shows as they were pretty fucking impressed with ARMORED SAINT. 

P.S.: Cool. Thank you.  

09.) M.P.: You left ARMORED SAINT after the recording of ‘Delirious Nomad’ to take care of some priorities. If you don’t mind, tell me about that period. Were you still making music while you were away from ARMORED SAINT?  

P.S.: Oh, yeah. I was always playing. I went through some dark times, but here’s the happy ending: I’m back in ARMORED SAINT, you know what I mean?! 

M.P.: Fuck yeah!! 

P.S.: So that’s all I have to say about that. I was playing here and there. There was a band called ICE COOLER and the ALTER BOYS that I started with my friend, Jim McDonald, and we had characters. My character was SPANISH FLY.  

M.P.: Nice!! 

P.S.: The drummer was MASTER CYLANDER. [The singer] didn’t know how to sing, but he knew how to rap a little bit so it was a little bit of both, rapping and singing. I wrote a song called, “Bitchcraft”, which went like, “Bitch…bitch…bitch”. That kind stupid shit but it was kind of funny. My character was SPANISH FLY. I played guitar. In my interviews that we did, very local, they go, “Why do they call you SPANISH FLY?”, and my line was, “Because I make people want to fuck!”, you know what I mean [laughs]? 

M.P.: Nice!! That’s bad-ass! 

P.S.: It was kind of on the edge. We didn’t give a fuck and kit only lasted for like nine months or so. 

M.P.: Yeah, but it kept you involved in music. 

P.S.: Yeah, it kept me involved in music. 

10.) M.P.: Dave Pritchard passed away during the writing/recording of ‘Symbol of Salvation’ in 1990. You were approached afterwards and asked to re-join the band. How did that come about and what was your initial response? 

P.S.: Well…God bless, Dave Pichard. He was an amazing, person, amazing artist, amazing guitar player. You know, one of the things that I do remember is on early on, I could his talent was [slight pause] you know when Eddie Van Halen had everybody and their grandmother learning “Eruption”? Well, I remember walking into the living room one time and he goes, “Come here. Check this out”. He sits at the piano and plays “Eruption”.  

 M.P.: Nice! 

P.S.: I was like, “Fuck! I’ve never seen anybody do that before, so props to you, brother!”. 

M.P Can you tell me about the time when you first met and you asked him if he was any good? 

P.S.: Well, David Prichard was making a guitar in high school. This really weird guitar and Gonzo met him first. They went to South Pasadena High School.  Now, I was on my last year at Woodrow Wilson, and I didn’t want to go like, “Oh, man! Now I got to meet a bunch of new people and it’s my last year”. No, I’ll just stay here. You guys go. So, John, Joey, Gonzo and bunch of other friends, they all transferred to South Pasadena High School.  Gonzo noticed Dave Prichard. He had red hair and Gonzo noticed he had red hair. This guy’s making a guitar and goes, “So, you play guitar? Yeah…yeah…yeah”.  So, I remember meeting him on a hill, playing, and he’s like, “So, you play guitar? Yeah…yeah…and he says. “We let’s get together and stuff”. I said, Cool!” And we talked songs by Eddie Van Halen and stuff like that and it was apparent that he fucking kicked ass. I didn’t have to ask him if he was any good. He just showed me, you know what I mean [laughs]? We had these Tom Sholtz Power-soaks back then and that was what the ARMORED SAINT sound was. The Tom Sholtz Power-soaks that we put on our amps could turn up the gain on the amplifier and then you could lower-down the Powersoak and you could play low-volume with complete full-gain… 

M.P.: Oh, nice!!! 

P.S.:  ..coming from the amp. That was discovered by Eddie Van Halen.  

M.P.: Right. 

P.S.: He did that that with a light dimmer. But I didn’t need to ask David Prichard if he was any good. He showed me. He showed me, you know what I mean? He was actually more advanced than I was.  

M.P.:  Oh, OK, ’cause I that I heard a story that when you guys had met, he asked you if you were any good and you said, “Yeah, I’m alright”. And then you asked him, “Are you any good?” and he was like, “Yeah, I’m good!”, or something to that affect. 

P.S.: Oh yeah, you’re right. That did happen. It was on that hill when I met him. Yeah, that conversation did happen. Yeah.  

The late David Pritchard (L) and Phil Sandoval rippin’ it up at a northern California gig.

11.) What was it like being part of a guitar tandem with Dave Pritchard?  Do you have any specific memories that you would like to share about your experiences with him, both as a friend and bandmate? Where do you think he would be today, musically, if he were still alive? 

P.S.: Shoot, man! [pause] Uh, as a guitar player, like I said, he was little more advanced than I was. Like he had taken piano lessons. He knew how to play the piano and the guitar. He was making his own demos and stuff. I was just playing guitar [laughs]. So, he kind of spurred a lot of things. At first, we were both writing. Like “Lesson Well Learned”. That’s my riff. “On the Way”. That’s my riff. Like, I would start a riff and then he would complement it..very well (!), you know? And that’s how we started and there was no arguing or anything like that. It just happened. “Take A Turn”, “Can You Deliver”. Those riffs were… [pause] I think “Take A Turn”, he started that riff and then I took the middle section. “Can You Deliver”. I started that riff and I did the middle section, too. And then he just added to it. “March of the Saint”. That riff was mine. I started the first riff, but then he had the beginning riff, you know? 

M.P.: Yeah. 

P.S: So, we were like fifty-fifty, and that’s kind of like how it was. We bonded that way. And he was a beautiful guy, man. A beautiful guy in defense of a person, you know? I just have to say that it was a pleasure to have met him in his lifetime and it’s sad what happened to him through leukemia, he’s not here now. Right now 

M.P.: Right. 

P.S.: Right now, he would just be frickin’ on another level! 

M.P.: Aboslutely! When I interviewed Joey (Vear) last year,  he said it would be really kind of cool to see where Dave and Chris Olivia from SAVATAGE would be nowadays. Their lives were cut short. The incredible musicians they were. Just to have their talent just gone at such an early age. You have to think like, “Wow! What would they be like now, all these year later had they survived”. 

P.S.: Yeah.

‘Symbol of Salvation’ [1991 METAL BLADE RECORDS]

 12.) M.P: Dave Jerden, one of my favorite producers who has also worked with JANE’S ADDICTION and ALICE IN CHAINS, did the production on ‘Symbol of Salvation’ at a time when he was one of THEE top producers in rock. Describe what it was like working with him on that album. Tell me about how he let the band get comfortable recording the album before asking the band to re-record the material. 

P.S.: He was very laid back and [pause] probably the best producer we’ve ever had. Definitely the best producer we’ve ever had as far as having producers is concerned because he was very relaxed. Bryan Carlstrom, rest in peace. He passed away. He was his engineer and they worked in tandem with us on the ‘Symbol of Salvation’ record. It was just a very awesome collaboration because he kind of like let the band kind of grow. (But) mind you, if there was something that needed to be fixed or talked about, he brought it up in a very cool way. He had an air of total respect, like I could imagine like George Martin. Like he was the American George Martin.

ARMORED SAINT (1990 – Present; left to right): Jeff Duncan (guitar), Gonzo Sandoval, John Bush, Joey Vera and Phil Sandoval.

13.)  Can you tell me about Francisco Studios in Los Angeles and what role it helped play in the recording process of ‘Symbol of Salvation’? Any cool stories or people you can talk about, like “old Ramon” or the old-school screen door on your and Gonzo’s apartment there? [We have a mutual friend lol] 

P.S.: OK, there’s Vernon. That’s not Los Angeles. 

M.P.: Yeah! Vernon. That’s what he was talking about. 

P.S.: OK, well here’s all kinds of crazy shit [laughs]. But I do remember that MEGADETH was around the corner and there was a just a weird air about the area where it was at.  Like kind of spooky [laughs]. There was always something going on over there. But it was cool. It was a pleasant place to rehearse and stuff. I do remember one time I was playing this riff, by myself, and I had a Marshall and I think I had a strat-style guitar. I was playing the rhythm to what I think is one of the that ARMORED SAINT riffs on ”Symbol of Salvation’. And there’s a knock on the door and I’m thing, “What the Hell?!”. So, I open up the door and it’s Chris Poland [MEGADETH].  

M.P.: Oh, no shit! 

P.S.: I know he doesn’t remember this, but I’m not making this up. So, he knocks on the door and goes, “He, man. I heard you playing some rhythm” and I go, “Yeah?”. And he goes, “I’m kind of looking for a rhythm guitar player. Would you want to try out?”. And I said, “Oh, Wow! I’m actually practicing to go on tour with ARMORED SAINT” and then he goes, “Oh, ARMORED SAINT! Nice gig!” so I go, “Thank you!”. Then he walked away and that was it, but it was funny that he asked me.  

14.)  ‘Symbol of Salvation’, for my money, is one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all-time. The songs-writing is as top-notch as the musicianship and from beginning to end, the album has a great flow to it. What are your reflections on that album over a quarter of a century after it was released and how do you think that it holds up today? 

P.S.: That was produced by Dave Jerden. It’s probably one of our better sounding albums. It’s one of my favorite albums for a lot of reasons. I don’t want to say favorite, but because they’re all different, you know? I mean, ‘March of the Saint’ could be a favorite of mine. ‘Win Hands Down’ could be a favorite of mine. But, I would say ‘Symbol of Salvation’ is probably the one album where the sounds on the album come out and represent ARMORED SAINT very close to where we are live and at the same time, in the studio. I remember just like being very…..[pause] Dave Prichard’s presence  was there when we were recording it and we all had the kind of had this thing about paying homage to him on the album because he was a great part of ARMORED SAINT and he had passed away and a lot of the material there was written by him. I wrote one riff, “The truth Always Hurts”. I wrote that riff. Everything else in the writing was like him and Joey. Jeff Duncan even wrote stuff there. I did manage to get one song in and that’s “The Truth Always Hurts”. So, the air of David passing away and us paying homage to him was very present in the recording, writing, playing on ‘Symbol of Salvation’ and without saying it, it has that like that presence of spirit and I think we captured it well. It’s one of the reasons why that album’s very special and even Brian Slagel, in his book, mentioned that it’s being one of the more special moments for him in recording studio, is because there was the presence of spirit and showing love to David Prichard for his presence in ARMORED SAINT and his writing and his spirituality. And I’m not talking about religion. I’m just talking about the presence of his being.  

M.P.: Absolutely!! 

15.) M.P.: Bassist Joey Vera explained to me what his reaction was to John Bush leaving ARMORED SAINT to join ANTHRAX in 1992 when I interviewed him last year. If you don’t mind telling me, what was your reaction to it? 

P.S.:  I accepted and we all accepted it because we love John. He’s a brother. So, he did it and there’s now a happy ending to it. He’s not in ANTHRAX anymore. He’s in ARMORED Saint!!

16.) M.P.: ARMORED SAINT has always tried to push the envelope as far as writing albums and have never recorded the same album over again. The last two studio albums, ‘La Raza’ [2010] and ‘Win Hands Down’ [2015] really took the band to a new level in my opinion. The diversity in the types of musical influences in the songs really show. In the writing process for those two albums, how much of it was structured or “pre-planned” and how much of it was organic? 

P.S.: John and Joey are the main writers right now as s far as ARMORED SAINT is concerned so it comes from them. Me and Jeff work our thing in the studio and stuff like that.

The twin-axe attack of Jeff Duncan (L) and Phil Sandoval.

17.) M.P.: You and fellow-guitarist, Jeff Duncan, seem to work well together and it comes across amazingly well on the albums. What is the writing process that you and Jeff use for writing the guitar parts? 

P.S.: John and Joey do all the writing and stuff like that and then me and Jeff, for the last two albums, have just gone in and done our thing.  

M.P.: It come across really well. It’s like you guys have been playing together for many decades it sounds like. It’s like the right hand knowing what the left hand is doing and conversely. 

P.S.: Yeah. Well, thank you.

‘Wind Hands Down’ [2015 METAL BLADE RECORDS]

18.) M.P.: 2017s ‘Carpe Noctum’ is the first “true” ARMORED SAINT live album. The band used songs recorded from two different shows in Germany on the ‘Win Hands Down’ tour. Where were those shows recorded and why did the band decide to use songs from those two specific shows? 

P.S.: I think it just kind of happened almost accidentally. One show was from Wakken and the other show was from…..[consults with ARMORED SAINT drummer, brother Gonzo Sandoval] It was Munich and it was Wakken.  That was by accident, actually. We were going to do a live DVD and I know this is going to sound very elementary, but somebody forgot to press the record button on the camera.  

M.P.: Yep. It happens. 

P.S.: So, it was like one of those things, like “What the …”. So, we had all this audio. We didn’t record the video, but we had the audio. So, now what are going to do with the audio? So, somebody had the idea of, “Why don’t we do a live album with it?” And it was like, “Oh! OK”. So, it’s not such a loss. We made a negative into a positive. That’s how that album came out. It was an accident. Somebody forgot to press the record button on the DVD camera and then we had the audio but we didn’t have the video. 

M.P.: It reminds me of we saw the METALLICA Day on the Green 1991. My buddies and I went primarily to see SOUNDGARDEN. One of my buddies got his recorder in and we were able to get him inside the barricade area. SOUNDGARDEN went on. Put on an absolutely amazing performance. They actually opened up with “Into the Void”, by BLACK SABBATH. Met up with him afterwards and found out that he had put the batteries in the wrong way. 

P.S.: [Pause] Ughh! Yeah, it’s just one of those things. 

M.P.: Yeah, but you live and learn.    

19.) M.P.: What is your rig rundown these days when it comes to guitars, amplifiers and effects, both in-studio and out on the road? 

P.S.: Right now, I’m playing a Peavey 6505 cabinet and amp. Thank you, Peavey! My guitars are ESPs and I use FU Tone Products on my Kirk Hammett 605 LTD. I strongly recommend using FU Tone accessories on the bridge. I have a brass block and steel inserts on the bridge. I use chorus, delay, wah-wah pedal and I have an effects loop that I have a boost pedal and a delay and that’s basically it. Basically, it’s trying to play the songs like very well. Like paying homage to the music and keeping up with the playing and playing every day because ARMORED SAINT music, whether you want to believe it or not, it’s not easy to play.  

M.P.: It’s pretty intricate. 

P.S.: Pretty intricate. And be on time and with some fire and some finesse and with energy. So, basically, it’s all about playing the song correctly AND well. That’s the focus.       

M.P.: I was going to tell you, man.  really like that white Flying V by ESP, man! That’s a really a sweet, sweet guitar!! 

P.S.: Yeah, it is sweet! It is very, very nice. I really appreciate that guitar. It’s one of my favorites, actually.

M.P.: Do you happen to still have your old Gibson Explorer? 

P.S.: Oh, no, no. Some of the guitars….You know how people always say, “I still have my first guitar”? I don’t have any of those guitars. It’s like things happened in the years.

The Sandoval brothers in full-on attack mode!!

20.) M.P.: What is next up for ARMORED SAINT? Are there any scheduled live shows coming up? Has the band already started working on the follow up to ‘Win Hands Down’? 

P.S.: Well, I’ve been writing riffs and stuff. I haven’t given any of the ideas to the guys yet, but there’s actually a DVD. You remember how I told you that we wanted to do a live DVD? 

M.P.: Yes. 

P.S.: There’s a live DVD that we want to do and we want to setup some shows to record that DVD. That is something that is possibly in the books. And then in in the new year, hopefully we’ll start getting ideas to record a new album. But I’m writing stuff right now. Jeff’s kind of busy with DC4. They’re just coming out with a new album. And then Joey’s doing FATES WARNING in January. So right now, we’re just kind of working on our own stuff and privately, on our own, riffs for the new ARMORED SAINT album.  

M.P.: Is it fair to say that you actually have some projects outside of ARMORED SAINT going right now? 

P.S.: I do have the BLACK RAVEN project. It’s not metal. It’s more American Indian flute music with a David Gilmour style. We have an album called that came out like three years ago. I played on that album. I did all the lead guitars on it.  It’s call BLACK RAVEN ‘Native Night’. 

M.P.: Is that available for sale? 

P.S.: Yeah, you can get it on CD BABY. I have to let you know, it does have actual Indian taking. It’s like the real deal. We do, “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”, by LED ZEPPELIN. It does capture and pay tribute to the original, but it does have a Native American flute played by Dan Hicks, whose Dad is Patrick Hicks who started M.I., which is the MUSICAL INSTITUTE in Hollywood.   

21.) M.P.: Any bands or artists that you would care to do a “plug” for? 

P.S: Well, not that they need it, but Marty Friedman, Chris Poland. There’s this chick named Saint Vincent. She plays the guitar. She plays a very trippy, trippy kind of music. Um, MY MORNING JACKET, which is a trippy indie kind of music. That’s about it from what I can think of off the top of my head. 

22.) You, Phil Sandoval, are a heavy metal concert promoter for one day/night only. You have to pick one traditional metal band (and it can be ARMORED SAINT if you choose), one thrash metal band, one death metal band, one black metal band, one stoner/doom metal band and one cross-over band to represent their respective genres. You can pick any era/lineup for each particular band. You need to decide the order of the bands on the bill. GO!! 

P.S.: Oh, Shit! That’s crazy! Ok, for a metal band, ARMORED SAINT! Throw ARMORED SAINT in there! For a thrash band, I would have MEGADETH. For death metal, I would have CANNIBAL CORPSE. 

M.P.: What about black metal? 

P.S.: Well, black metal, uh…shit!  

M.P.: You can go old-school black metal like VENOM and MERCYFUL FATE or new-school like….. 

P.S.: MERCYFUL FATE! MERCYFUL FATE! 

M.P.:  What about stoner/doom metal? 

P.S.: CATHEDRAL. Doom metal, though. I don’t know that genre too well.  

M.P.: What about cross-over? 

P.S.:  SUICIDAL TENDENCIES 

M.P.: Good choice! Your former touring buddies! 

P.S.: Yep. 

M.P.: Now, what’s the order of the lineup? 

P.S.:   

***ARMORED SAINT***   

SUICIDAL TENDENCIES 

CANNIBAL CORPSE  

MEGADETH 

MERCYFUL FATE 

CATHEDRAL 

M.P.: Thank you so much, Phil, for you taking the time to let me interview you. It is very much appreciated!!

P.S.: Thank you for interviewing me, Marc!!

Another one in the books for the mighty ARMORED SAINT!!

Armored Saint – Detroit FM Broadcast September 11, 1984 HQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3FRzae-7Eo

Armored Saint-March of the Saint Full Album (Vinyl Rip)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rjc-nlr_NWA

Armored Saint- Delirious Nomad (FULL ALBUM) 1985

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TldU_NyFOU

Armored Saint “A Trip Thru Red Times” (DVD)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtTBwLd_vgY

Armored Saint “Lessons Not Well Learned” (DVD)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eq1_yyfN4I

Armored Saint Live Graspop 2006

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1l7oP0E3q68

Armored Saint @ Ozzfest Meets Knotfest Kick-Off Party in Devore, CA 9-23-16

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbPD7o_Z7SE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author: Marc Pietrek

I grew up in northern California during the 1980s and have been an AVID heavy metal fan since 1982. Having experienced the Bay Area thrash metal scene first hand, thrash metal will always be at my core, However, I am also a huge fan of death metal, doom metal, traditional heavy metal, stoner rock/metal and old-school black metal. If it concerns any of those sub-genres, (to borrow a quote from Christopher Walken in 'THE KING OF NEW YORK') "I want in on it!!". Cheers, ya rivet-heads!!

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