Make no mistake that Judas Priest forever changed the development of heavy metal, helping it progress in a way that few other bands ever will. Though we know few fans of the genre are ignorant enough to fail to make that distinction, it's important to remind everyone now and again that this band -- and its iconic vocal athlete and frontman, Rob Halford -- will absolutely be included when the carving of the heavy-metal Mount Rushmore commences.
What might be most remarkable about Judas Priest, however, is that this band, with a career spanning more than 40 years, has remained as vital as ever and recently released one of its best albums, the sublimely intense Redeemer of Souls -- a nearly unprecedented feat in a young man's game.
And while all this is not to ignore the fact that Priest has surely endured its share of hard times, lineup swaps, and the odd rough album, the group has entered its twilight years firing on all cylinders and screaming for vengeance as loudly as ever.
New Times was fortunate enough to speak with the disarmingly affable Metal God himself, Rob Halford. He was gracious enough to muse upon the current state of Priestly affairs, talk about why heavy metal is still exciting to him, his longevity, and his plan B -- becoming a lounge singer if the Priest thing doesn't work out for some reason.
Hey Rob! How has the tour been thus far?
Absolutely brilliant! Yeah! Absolutely fantastic! We're into maybe the second week now and the shows are already starting to kind of roll by under the wheels of the tour buses and the trucks and everything else.
It's remarkable that just under two weeks, it's just extraordinary that you can go so many places in such a short stretch of time. But that's rock 'n' roll for you! You know, the difference is a different hotel, a different stage nearly every night, much like it's been for Judas Priest for 40 years now, and everything is going solid -- absolutely solid.
The new album is fanatic and really is such classic Priest material. How did the band approach writing a new album, especially considering K.K.'s (Downing) departure?
You know, it didn't really change, actually. Obviously you know that Richie (Faulkner) came on board for the Epitaph tour, in which time he got really, totally embedded into Priest.
We told him from the beginning that we wanted him to feel that he was in the band, even though he was coming in at this point in our career. He's so valuable and we wanted to make him feel -- especially as we were going to go into the writing stage -- that everything he was going to contribute was going to be very important.
Obviously we got to know each other really, really well over that tour which was almost two years in length and went around the world twice. So when we came together to write, it was the same as it ever was, and what I mean by that is we've always written as two lead guitar players and a singer. I'm not sure if there are many other bands that do it like that, but we've always felt that that's been kind of an advantage for us musically.
So, for example, if Richie's jamming away and I'm sitting there with Glenn (Tipton) and Glenn goes, "That's a really good idea, but try this or put another note in there." So, you get two guitar players exchanging ideas instantly and simultaneously and I'm in the room at the same time making my contributions with lyrical ideas and vocal melodies and everything, and that's the way we do it! And that's the way we've been doing it for practically the entire career of the band!
It was just very special to Richie in the mix because he's from a different generation and his enthusiasm and the way he writes with his guitar style and his technique was in his own world, so it was very cool to have Richie in those writing sessions.
You have always demonstrated an awareness of what's happening in metal trends. Do you feel the new blood and younger ears in the band really changed things that much?
Well, I think it does, yeah. I always equate it to like if you're a sports fan and you bring another player on to the team, that player puts a new dynamic in there, puts a different twist and a different look on things and that's exactly what Richie did.
I think that just by the critical acclaim of Redeemer of Souls, we seem to have kind of reignited a lot of things again. There is so much energy and there is a very kind of cool vibe around Redeemer of Souls. I mean, I know it kind of re-establishes a lot of the important ingredients about Priest, you know -- the roots of what we're about, the classic elements of what we're about -- but it's still brand new metal from Priest.
This deep into your career, what is it about metal's specific energy that still appeals to you?
I don't think you can really talk about it. It's such an internal thing, isn't it? I mean, it's so driven by emotion, and I think it's also driven by the creative flow that you still hopefully have, and we've definitely got a ton of that. It's a mixture of things and, a lot of the times, it's just waiting for the opportunity to show itself, and I think as long as you've got those ingredients in stock, then there's lots of potential waiting to be discovered.
I know you read a lot of the heavy metal blogs and I'm sure you're aware that there is an entire genre of young bands aping the first few Sabbath albums currently. While I see a lot of trends heading back to the roots of metal, I see far fewer bands trying to cop the operatic style of yourself or say Dio. Why do you think that is and do you expect to see the style you perfected return at some point?
I'll be the first to be critical of other singers because I know how wonderful it feels to sing, it doesn't matter whether you're a growler or a classic metal singer -- we're all singing from the heart. Personally, I do love that style. You've mentioned Ronnie (James Dio), who was a dear, dear friend of mine, and he was the grandmaster of the way to sing a song and deliver a song with the right attitude and the right emotion.
I love to hear that kind of performance, I like to hear the words, I like to hear the story. So, I think that if there is a kind of throwback to that time for new metal singers to listen to and be inspired by, I think it's a really good thing.
Do you feel like people shy away from the difficulty of that style?
Yeah, again, you've got to put the time into it -- it doesn't come easy! You know? That's why when you see a band like Priest doing what we appear to do effortlessly, it's because we've had forty years of practice and forty years of rehearsals (laughs). And we still do that! You can't let go of the reins, so whenever I have the opportunity to meet younger players and we talk about metal and so forth, I always tell them practice, practice, practice -- you can't practice enough!
That's where you learn your craft! That's where you discover what your potential is, and it's not easy. If you want to be a cookie-cutter band like everybody else, then so be it, but you're not going to push ahead of the pack. You've got to really strive to find your own spark and your own originality.
How do you keep your voice in such incredible form after all these years and with the band's intense schedule?
Yeah, my voice is holding up really well. Again it's all down to style and technique. I wouldn't say it's any different than what Glenn does on guitar or Ian on the bass. You learn how to use the instrument that you've got. Maybe I'm the only person that can do it because vocal chords are kind of exclusive to everybody. Singers might sound a bit like each other, but we've all got a different set of pipes.
Obviously I can't do the things I was doing forty years ago -- Pavarotti couldn't do that in his in late career -- but I think that you mature with your voice and I'm able to do things now that I couldn't do then, and vice versa. So, it's a bit of a tradeoff, really. When I hit the high notes and do the the big things now, I'm feeling pretty good about it, and the fans kind of light up, so I'm hitting the marks.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I've read that you may or may not have aspirations to become a lounge performer in the future.
(Laughs) I'm sorry I'm laughing about that! Sometimes I should keep my big metal mouth shut! I have a lot of fun with what I do, I've got to say that, David. It's a wonderful life, being in a heavy metal band. We take our music seriously and we take our performances very seriously, but you've got to be able to lighten up every now and again or else you'll go fucking crazy! But here's the deal: I want to keep doing this for as long as I can do it. I don't know how long that's going to be.
You know, I look at all these other great artists like Leonard Cohen, he's still out there! Willie Nelson, he's still out there! Mick Jagger, he's still out there! I'm like, "I'd love to do that" you know? Will l have the opportunity to do it in the same place I'm at now? Maybe or maybe not.
If not, then you'll find me in the Bada Bing Lounge off the strip in Las Vegas!
I'd love to see that! You know, few of the acts in your court have had the longevity coupled with the relevance Priest has. Through all of heavy metal's cycles and trends, the band has always remained relevant somehow.
Well, thank you! I think that's just the way things have been for this band. We've seen the tide come in and out, and we're at a high tide right now with Priest, and our kind of metal music. It's thrilling, it really is. Wherever I end up or wherever we all end up, I think we'll still be playing our metal hearts out, that's the main thing!
Judas Priest. With Steel Panther and host Eddie Trunk. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, October 30, at Hard Rock Live, 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood. Tickets cost $59 to $79 plus fees. Call 954-797-5531, or visit hardrocklivehollywoodfl.com.