When you think “heavy metal” you think Judas Priest. There are only a select number of bands that have accomplished what Judas Priest has throughout their career.
The legendary band has weathered fads and trends for four decades while carrying the torch for heavy metal, black leather and loud music. Celebrating 40 years with the release of their 17th album Redeemer Of Souls to critical and commercial success, Priest is reaching an all new generation of fans as they are once again rocking venues across the country.
Rock Confidential spent some time with Priest frontman Rob Halford to discuss Redeemer Of Souls, 40 years of creativity and why performing live is so important to the Metal God.
Your previous tour along with a releases like The Chosen Few and the Epitaph live DVD were all about celebrating Judas Priest. A follow-up to all of that, especially with something as strong as Redeemer Of Souls, speaks volumes about the longevity of the band.
Who knew? (laughs) It’s just phenomenal. It really is. We have to give a huge thank you to the fans. We would have never got to where we are without this metal marriage we have to our fans. Forty years later we’re still able to get together, write music, record it and take it out to stages around the world. It is a very remarkable time for the band. There are very few bands that have been able to withstand the rigors of the world of rock ‘n roll for this length of time. It’s a wonderful time to celebrate and reflect a little bit and enjoy the party. We’re having a great time with this record and the shows we’re doing to support it.
There aren’t many classic metal bands under a spotlight as huge as the one on Priest. Do you feel a responsibility to the fans to keep metal alive?
You’re absolutely right. I read message boards. Every day I read the Priest boards and at least a dozen metal websites around the world. I read what people are saying about Priest. There is a tremendous display of passion and quite a serious tone attached to some of it as well. You should have a responsibility to yourself to make the best music you can make – don’t take second guesses or drop the bar. That’s difficult in Judas Priest. It’s like the waves coming in to the shore. Sometimes you have a really high tide and sometimes you have a really low tide. That’s natural in any band that’s had a long life. The elements of being aware of what is being expected from you becomes quite strong the longer you do it. You’re backing yourself up to your most successful moments. You don’t want to fail your fans or yourself or diminish in any way. It’s extremely important in Priest that we’re aware of that. We genuinely work hard – I’m not talking about working in the coal mines. Those guys really work hard. I’m talking about the mental attitude and the efforts and the hours you put into making good music. That’s all very much intact in Judas Priest.
Like you mentioned, Priest has been at it for 40 years. Have you ever struggled with writing new songs and working in the studio or has it always been exciting for you?
It’s always exciting. The one area that always excites me is the creative area – whether it’s cover artwork ideas, stage clothes, or post-production. It’s a collection of a lot of different things but I like it. The heart of that is the music. The biggest thrill for me any day is getting in my car and driving to the studio to a writing session. I’m genuinely evolving while I’m there. I can’t wait to see what happens. It’s like venturing off into space and not knowing where you’re going to end up. That hasn’t diluted at all. I still get a massive kick out of that side of Judas Priest.
Having Richie (Faulkner, guitars – replaced original member K.K. Downing in 2011) in the band has to be refreshing, musically and emotionally.
I’ve always said the band is more than one person. I still believe that. It’s all about chemistry and it’s all about the abilities you bring with your musical expertise. When you combine all of those things it becomes part of a process. At the end of that process you end up with a bunch of songs on a record. I can’t say enough about Richie’s contribution musically. He’s such a great guy and an amazing musician. He’s a true player and can perform on stage and has amazing writing skills. Then there’s the generation gap, which isn’t a bad thing. On the last tour I saw that guy on the edge of the stage just playing away and it was so exciting. It makes you react. If you can still pull together the elements of greatness then surely great things will come of it and that’s certainly the case with Richie.
When you compare the new tunes to the songs on the Nostradamus project, these sound more like a stripped-down, less-is-more Judas Priest.
I’m glad you picked up on that because that was our intention. Nostradamus was an epic, dynamic soundscape adventure. We really went back to the simplicity as best we could. It’s all about five guys playing their hearts out. Mike Exeter and Glenn (Tipton, guitars) produced, mixed, and engineered this record did an amazing job. They captured the simple, direct performance of the band. That’s exactly what it is. I’m really happy you picked up on that because we’ve been trying to push that side of this record. The feedback from the fans has been phenomenal. It’s just the band roaring away, you know? You’ll sense that even more when you hear some of these songs live. There absolutely is a sense of directness and purity on this recording that we haven’t had in a long time.
Just like a guitarist is expected to maintain a signature sound and impress with monster riffs and blazing solos, your voice is just as unique and just as important to the band. Redeemer Of Souls is an awesome addition to your legacy as the Metal God.
Thank you. I’ve got to say it’s that combination of everyone in the band. These guys genuinely love what they are doing. You can sense that when you see them play. Everybody in Priest is part of a really strong foundation. We are genuinely passionate about heavy metal music. I am able to listen to this record now a little less critically. The first few weeks of listening to it I was so super critical I couldn’t let it go. I’ve recently been able to really enjoy this record.
Do you remember when you first discovered your unique singing style?
It was all about experimentation and practice. I’ve been blessed by the good Lord to have a set of pipes that can do extraordinary things and I’ve always valued that. I’ve tried lots of different things vocally to be entertaining and keep it interesting over the years. There are some things I can’t do now because I’m an older guy but the core of what I do is pretty much intact. Being pushed to deliver a great performance is important to me. The guys in the band are pushing me along. Always listen to the producer because you’ll learn a multitude of information. They know the design to get the best results. I’ve never put myself in the place of “Shut up, I’m the Metal God. I know everything.” That’s ridiculous. I don’t know everything. I’m supported by wonderful people that help get the best out of my vocal performances.
Just as you’ve done in this interview, Judas Priest has always been vocal about the importance of their fans. The fact that you’re touring is something that was brought on by an outcry from the fans, right?
Yes, and that is really vital. You’ve got to go out and play! It’s part of completing the circle. When you see the fans looking up at you and you exchange that energy night after night, that is what keeps it all together. We’re tremendously excited about playing out again. There was a little bit of a hiccup, the way we did the Epitaph tour. It wasn’t a farewell tour. We’ve just redesigned the way we tour. You’ve got to play live. It’s also about skill. You can do things in the studio but that’s a different world. What makes you is when you’re on stage playing live. It’s your skill and your ability to bring those songs to life each night and make that exchange with your audience.
Performing live is such a huge part of who you are as a person, too.
I would wilt away and die and be dust in the wind, quite frankly. It’s that important to me. It’s part of my lifeblood. I love to sing but the completeness comes standing on stage and singing out to a crowd of people. Creativity is quite a selfish endeavor to some extent because you’re doing things to please yourself in your own way. You want to sustain that when you know it’s accepted and to be accepted for 40 years is an ongoing source of inspiration. The endurance comes from the people who take you in, go to the show, play your music in the car, at home or wherever it may be. It’s an extraordinary part of what we do.