How To Sing Like John Bush [of Armored Saint and Anthrax]
I'll go right ahead and say I'm a bigger fan of Armored Saint than I am of Anthrax with John Bush (I'm more of a Belladonna guy!), but John's voice has always been larger than life to me - and I've played the Symbol of Salvation album so much that it barely works on my turntable anymore; I especially loved the song Last Train Home, in particular John Bush's incredible and effortless vocal performance on what is likely their biggest hit.
His voice is huge, powerful, distorted, effortless and resonance all at the same time - so how exactly do you learn to sing like John Bush?
I recently recorded a cover of Last Train home with the intent of putting together this tutorial on How To Sing Like John Bush for you - so you can check out the cover below or scroll down a little further for the true dirt on how to sing like John with a powerful but controlled vocal tone that is gnarly but effortless at the same time.
John Bush Vocal Technique
So what exactly did I learn while doing this Armored Saint vocal cover? Well, for starters - John Bush really is an INCREDIBLE singer; even recent live recordings of John in his late 50's display the same effortless but powerful delivery he was so well known for, with little if any decline in has ability or health as a singer.
Why hasn't John lost his voice like so many other sings that went for the same powerful, distorted tone?
The reason why John's voice hasn't lost it's edge is the 'open' way that he sings his vowel sounds as well as the sensible way that he approaches distortion and intensity in his tone. So let's first talk about the open vowels and get you on your own way to singing with such a powerful but healthy voice;
How To Sing Open Vowels
What exactly is an "open" vowel anyway, and what is "Open Throat Singing Technique"? The "Throat" portion of Open Throat Singing really refers to the vowel opening up into the Pharynx at the back of the head/top of the throat by way of raising the soft palate - I often refer to this as singing with Height In The Vocal Tract - and is the very first component of The Four Vocal Fundamentals.
So when someone says "open throat" they're really referring to the resonance space created in the pharynx by raising the soft palate rather than physically opening up the space between their vocal folds like a can of beans opened by a can opener. The fact is, you actually need resistance to airflow and 'closure' within the throat in many ways to create an open vowel - so there's a reason these terms are so confusing when they're thrown about without any further explanation.
An open vowel simply means your vowel is formed by the space and size of your vocal tract, rather than pronounced with the articulators of the mouth like in many speech accents (such as mine as an Aussie). The key here is to raise the soft palate correctly while aiming for the right vowel character to match each register - sometimes known as Vowel Modification to ensure the most effective resonance when you sing.
The second thing that I noticed about John's voice is just how forward and bright his vocal tone is - even though it's easy to perceive it as dark and overtly masculine. Listen to a song like Last Train Home again and try to listen to the brightness in his voice - this forward placement really is the most important key to developing an intense but effortless vocal tone, especially when it comes to a layer of tasty distortion like John is so well known for.
The grit that he used in Armored Saint was actually pretty subtle - with the double-tracked vocal lines, harmonies and pretty heavy compression used in the recording, it's easy to get fooled into thinking it's way more distorted and aggressive than it really is (I tried to leave my version as natural and unprocessed as possible for this reason).
Distortion in this way is really the result of two processes - forward placement (sometimes known as "masque" singing) and compression; but it's much easier than you're probably thinking. Learning how to sing with distortion is really all about The Four Vocal Fundamentals + Tonal Intention. You might think that distortion and gravel require you to be excessively muscular and forceful with your voice - but it's really just like a very small layer of fine sandpaper that your resonance passes to create a distorted overtone within your placement.
How To Sing With Forward Placement
If you want to work towards a healthy but intensely distorted vocal tone - they key is to first develop forward placement. Forward Placement is actually quite simple and again relies more on tonal intention than anything too physical in your voice.
Think about a singer like Layne Staley, Chris Cornell or even Aretha Franklin - they're "bright" singers, right? They have that twangy, bright, buzzy sound on top of their tone at all times; this is forward placement.
Now, when you come across a guy like John Bush who seems to be pushing chest voice and singing in an extremely masculine way - the first thing you need to do to work out what they're actually doing is listen to the placement. In John's case, it's surprisingly bright, right? And that's the key to developing both that powerfully belted tone, and also the distortion he is so well known for.
Bright but effortless sounds like Nay and Zing are really great for developing forward placement, but there's a few other special ways that I like to help my students with to find their forward placement. Here's a super practical tutorial on creating that forward buzz;
The Roadmap To Better Singing
Singing with an Open Vowel (Height In The Vocal Tract) and Forward Placement are two of the most important aspects of The Four Vocal Fundamentals - basically, the roadmap that every great singer uses to create a powerful and effortless voice with endless range;
- Height In The Vocal Tract
- Forward Placement
- "All In One Flow"
- Mixed Tonality
These four vocal fundamentals have personally changed my life - so much so that I've developed a whole vocal method around The Four Fundamentals, starting with the Foundation 101 singing course which will help you;
- Connect Chest and Head Voice
- Develop Forward Placement
- Sing with Mixed Tonality
- Height In The Vocal Tract
- Increase Your Range
- Improve Your Tone
- Sing Through your vocal break
- SO much more!