Armored Saint drummer Gonzo Sandoval gets ready to

“Win Hands Down”


I first met Armored Saint over thirty years ago during the release of their first album. I have great memories of my time hanging with the band and photographing them thru those early years as well as in the present. With the release of their latest album entitled “Win Hands Down”, it was time to reconnect with the guys and find out what 2015 holds for the band. Armored Saint were on a warm up tour for the release of their new album and one of their tour dates was a stop at The Rockbar in San Jose,Ca. It was the perfect venue to meet up at and I spent the afternoon catching up with everyone in the band as we spoke of those early days and all the years since. Eventually it was time to discuss the new album so I sat down with drummer Gonzalo “Gonzo” Sandoval. This is how our discussion went down.

Mayhem Music Magazine:  On June 2nd, Armored Saint releases their first album in five years. What can the fans expect from “Win Hands Down”?

Gonzo Sandoval:  “Win Hands Down” I have to say is our best record in which we finally captured the energy of Armored Saint live on record. I really think it’s our best effort to date. John and Joey wrote some amazing songs. Phil and I and Jeff contributed to one song on this record. The songs are really well constructed. John is sounding amazing. The lyrics are really thought provoking. It’s still has the classic Armored Saint heavy sound but with creative arrangements. It’s a current sounding Armored Saint.

Mayhem Music Magazine: How many songs are on the album?

Gonzo Sandoval:  There are nine songs on the record and there’s no filler. Each one stands on its own.

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Mayhem Music Magazine: How long did it take to complete?

Gonzo Sandoval:  I know John and Joey were writing for probably for about a year and a half. In 2014, it was a busy year for us so I didn’t end up recording the drums until November. I worked on the very intricate parts that were written for the drums, it took me about three months to get it together and I recorded it all in five days at Clear Lake Audio in Burbank. It was different because with technology now, you can make a template, learn the songs and go back and record them for real. Some of the parts that are in the demos actually ended up vocally on the record. Technology is changing the way we make records definitely.

Mayhem Music Magazine: My next question was how did the recording process change this time around?

Gonzo Sandoval:  Back in the day we would all be in the rehearsal studio and someone would show up with a riff. We’d jam out the riff and just kind of have fun with it and then make arrangements. Then write it as a band together in one room. Now with technology you don’t really have to do that. You can demo a song in Pro Tools and send it out to the guys and have every- body learn their parts. As far as vocals are concerned, John really nailed some really cool moments. Joey and John decided to keep those and they ended up on the record.

Mayhem Music Magazine: How much do you feel the band’s music has evolved since the release of the 3 song EP back in 83?

Gonzo Sandoval:  I think Armored Saint music has evolved tremendously especially on this record. Before we were definitely slamming and pumping it out more straight forward, now there’s more intricate parts and I would say more progressive rock. Armored Saint style.

Mayhem Music Magazine: Is this something that you feel will be pleasing to the old school Armored Saint fans?

Gonzo Sandoval:  I think so because there’s definitely songs that continue the vibe of what was written in the past but done in new songs. I’m telling you there is also some current writing that is relevant today and that is creatively new and it’s holding up.

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Mayhem Music Magazine: Armored Saint has always been more of a melodic metal band. In the bands beginning thrash metal was taking off and so was so-called hair metal. Armored Saint didn’t fully fit in either genre but played plenty of shows with both type bands. (Metallica, Death Angel, Ratt, Wasp) Do you feel that helped or hurt you guys in the early days?

Gonzo Sandoval:  In the early days we were nineteen years old. We were so excited to be rocking and doing everything we loved to do. Breaking all the social rules, having long hair, just being crazy, not really caring to fit in to anything other than knowing we were playing music we loved. We played and people felt what we were delivering. Music was developing and changing at the same time. That time was really strange because it had all those branches. It had the Wasp, the hard rock, the heavy metal, it had the hair bands, Quiet Riot and different things. Poison came later but Motley Crue and it had that vibe and then came the thrashy metal. Believe me when it first showed up we were like is that even music? They’re not even playing together. Are the guitars even matching the drums? That sounds like noise. We have our own noise, we have our loud music but at least we’re constructing songs that interweave with each other. That’s what we were focused on. Armored Saint has always been about the song. In time in those songs there were dynamics, there was attack, there was thought. There were things that made up that music. I just think that we didn’t get it at first. Then playing with other bands of that style five and ten years into the thrash metal scene it became one of the biggest things ever and Metallica becoming one of the biggest bands in the world. They were the forefront in that. And as things go, the different avenues came in and now it’s really diverse. But at the end of the day, I still believe in the song. So with “Win Hands Down” all the songs are really hooky, great to sing along to, and captivating on so many levels. So it makes us feel like back to square one but with the best record ever.

Mayhem Music Magazine: How many of those songs are we going to hear tonight?

Gonzo Sandoval:  We are going to be doing two of those. We’re doing “Win Hands Down” and we’re going to play “Mess”. Now “Mess” is a song that I was talking to John Bush about. It just makes me jump for joy to know we have that song in our pocket. That song in itself has so much diversity it’s unbelievable. This record is the best drum record of Armored Saint and I can say that because I’m the drummer. It’s been the most challenging and the most rewarding.

Mayhem Music Magazine: I first met the band in 84 and we were all pretty wild back then. How is present day touring life compared to those early days for you?

Gonzo Sandoval:  In the early days we were young and ready to go and up for anything. Now scheduling is vital. John has his family, Joey has his family, everyone’s got things going on. So we have to schedule so it works for everybody. So this whole month we’ve been doing the weekends. It’s different we would do van tours and drive ourselves. Sometimes have a tour bus, sometimes no. The struggle was on in the early days but we loved it because we were out. We were rock n roll road dogs. Now later in life, it’s just got to make sense for us and this tour with Saxon has proven to be just that.

Mayhem Music Magazine: This is the second to the last show of this warm up tour. What else is happening with the band tour wise?

Gonzo Sandoval:  We are doing six festivals this summer in Europe. We’re playing Hellfest in France, we’re doing Wacken in Germany, We’re playing Bloodstock in England, we’re doing a couple other festivals in Belgium, in Holland. We’re playing with Queensryche in London. As long as it makes sense for the band and the people come out and represent.

Mayhem Music Magazine: On this tour, how different is the audience since the tours in the early days?

Gonzo Sandoval:  In the 80’s and in the early days all our friends were all our age. All our fans were our age. It was like a group of friends getting together and enjoying each other’s company. There was nothing like it. It was such a fever. I think that that fever got lost with the information age. Getting together with your friends and going to a show is a thing of the past. Instead they just hang out at home, invite some friends over and check out some YouTube. You just hung out with one or two friends. What happened to going out and meet new people and hanging out at a rock show and being physically present with all people that loved that vibe the way it was in the past. Well here we go, there’s a whole new generation. The friends who were are friend and our fans are now parents. They have kids that are fourteen or fifteen and they are beginning to turn them on to where they were and that whole generation is beginning to love metal. That is the fever that is beginning to grow and I see it.

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Mayhem Music Magazine: Not to change the subject but I know during downtime from Armored Saint, you and your brother Phil were doing a side project. Can you tell us about that?

Gonzo Sandoval:  We didn’t just sit around. We’ve been writing music. We have a new band called Black Raven. We have a new record called “Native Night” that’s just about to come out. We are looking for a licensing and a distribution deal. As far as the album itself, it’s all done. It’s 180 degrees the other way, it is not heavy metal.It is working with an American Indian flute player. It’s meant to help heal the human condition. It’s quite soothing and it is a musical journey with a vast amount of styles.

Mayhem Music Magazine: One thing I know about you is that you don’t do anything that doesn’t give you passion.

Gonzo Sandoval:  I don’t really do anything I don’t love. I decided way back when that making love based decisions is the way to go. Anything you do you’re going to do out of love. I love to play drums, I love to rock and roll, I love Armored Saint.


We hope you enjoyed this interview with Gonzo Sandoval of Armored Saint. Be sure to check back for more music interviews.


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About The Author

I've been a part of music industry as a concert photographer for over thirty years. At an early age I hit the road shooting for Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Dio, Quiet Riot, Ted Nugent, Twisted Sister, just to name a few. My love for music has never wavered. I started Mayhem Music Magazine as an outlet to share both established and new artists with others who truly love music.

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