Q&A: Judas Priest on New DVD, Album Sessions and Aging Metalhead Injuries
Rob Halford: ‘We’re eager to keep going down the metal coalmine and seeing if we can hack up some diamonds’
British metal greats Judas Priest have released quite a few live home videos and DVDs over the years. But from a track list standpoint, their latest, Epitaph (released May 28th), is their most extensive, with at least one cut from all of the Priest albums that Rob Halford sang on. As a result, obscurities (“Never Satisfied,”Â “Starbreaker”) do battle with classics such as “Breaking the Law” and “Electric Eye.”
With the band also at work on an all-new studio album, Halford and new guitarist Richie Faulkner sat down with ROLLING STONE inside the cozy confines of a Central Park hotel room to discuss these projects, as well as Priest’s touring future and the health hazards of heavy metal.
When did the idea come up to document the Epitaph tour with a DVD?
Rob Halford: Pretty much when we were in rehearsals, before the big world tour kicked off, the rehearsals . . . it was different. It was different musically, because we were going through the decades of Priest metal. And along with the production, all these great things that were being shown to us that we wanted to include, and to some extent, carry on the experience we had with some of the Nostradamus moments. We thought, “The time is right again to put this all down on film.” It just felt like a natural idea to follow up the British Steel DVD.
So as soon as we talked it through, we started to put things into motion and waited until the end, which when you think about it now, we waited until the very last show ”“ it was kind of a ballsy thing to do, because there could have been a technical breakdown, and then, “What are we going to do now?” But thankfully everything ran like clockwork, and it was just great to have that experience captured. It’s a defining moment. It’s a very unusual thing for Priest to do, in that everything we tried to do has had an original attitude to it. And most certainly, the Epitaph tour carried that significance.
The show was filmed at the HMV Hammersmith Apollo in London.
Halford: It’s like, British band, British metal ”“ let’s put it in a British venue. And there you’ve got that world-famous Hammersmith Odeon, which has that rich, incredible heritage of every conceivable musical act. Even now, American bands are like, “Oh, we’re going to play the Hammy Odeon!” So it’s got some magic in the name. And it’s not a massive venue. It’s pretty intimate ”“ maybe a couple thousand and change. Packed to the rafters. Just a great place to do something like that.
How would you say this DVD differs from previous Priest DVDs?
Halford: Just in the musical side of it, as well as the great production all these wonderfully talented people committed to getting for us, to go through pretty much four decades of metal is exceptional for Priest. We’ve never done anything like that before. To go from Rock Rolla all the way through to Nostradamus, to make that kind of statement was, again, an exciting experience for us. You could feel it as you were playing. The musical jump from a song that was written in the Seventies to something that was written in 2008 . . . that’s a jump. And you can hear the music developing through the decades. “Turbo Lover” is separate from “Painkiller,” as “Painkiller” is from “Breaking the Law,” or as “Victim of Changes.” For metal aficionados, it’s a real treat. And that definitely was the most unusual aspect of this whole project.
Richie, was this tour the first time you ever played arenas and festivals?
Richie Faulkner: As far as tours like that were concerned, I had done them before in those sort of venues, but it was as a support act, or on that sort of level. I actually played the IZOD before [in New Jersey] . . . but at four in the afternoon, if you know what mean. So to go on as part of the main band, and especially a band with a legacy and history like Priest, it was a totally different dynamic. People were for you, rather than trying to get you off [laughs].
How was it playing such rarely performed tunes as “Never Satisfied,”Â “Starbreaker,” and “Beyond the Realms of Death” again?
Halford: I love “Never Satisfied.” There’s something just very essential. It starts in an unusual way musically. How does it start . . . it’s like [sings opening], that’s like a fanfare. And I love the breakdown section. The timing of that is very unusual, if you really break that song down. And then it roars back out of that middle section. I love that breakdown section because of what Richie was doing. Guitar-wise, his phrasing, what he was doing in that part ”“ I don’t know how he did it, because it was pure Seventies. And then the other big challenge was “Blood Red Skies” ”“ that’s just a big opus. But “Starbreaker” . . . I’m the world’s biggest Priest fan.
Faulkner: That sort of sound from “Never Satisfied” set the pace ”“ you have Sabbath and Zeppelin, and Priest. That riff is a blues riff. And that set the tone up until now, really. To go back and play those sort of riffs up against “Painkiller” or “Night Crawler” or “Nostradamus,” and they still stand up, because that’s where it all comes from. That was an exciting thing, and “Never Satisfied,” because it was a Seventies thing, from a guitar point of view, there was a bit of a jam going on in the middle. There was room for movement. That’s always great, to improvise. “Starbreaker,” again, bringing those classic songs up to date, and they don’t need any sort of editing or any things put in. They stand up as strong today as they did back then. It was great as a fan and as a player.
Rob, would you say Richie joining has revitalized Priest?
Halford: Yes, absolutely. And that’s not dissing what K.K. [Downing] did. You just have to look at it as a different experience, which is what Richie provides. Richie isn’t K.K., and vice versa. We didn’t want an imitator ”“ we wanted a great, world-class, stellar metal guitar player. And we found that in Richie Faulkner. So he definitely brought a different attitude. I think it’s fair to acknowledge the fact that we’re from a different generation. And Richie’s energy on stage is contagious. [Looking at Faulkner] You are contagious . . . in a non-life-threatening way. [Laughs] When I would look over there and see Richie do his thing, I’d get buzzed ”“ I’d get a rush. So definitely, that was an important addition to Priest.
Richie, how long did it take for your playing style to mesh with Glenn Tipton’s?
Faulkner: It was pretty immediate. I’ve always been into bands like Thin Lizzy ”“ dual guitar bands. So you know you’ll lock into someone else. I was brought up on that sort of stuff. We just had to work out the parts, and off we went. I think we were joking before ”“ Glenn was saying we went over some of the guitar parts, and he had forgotten them, so I was actually showing him some bits and pieces. And you can rehearse only so much. You’ve got to get out there and do it. And when you get out there and play live, you get little things that come up in the live performance that you might throw in there together. Little things here and there, so it grows as you go along. You lock in with those new parts. So it was pretty instantaneous, and got better as it went on, really.
Rob, what happened with your back? I’ve noticed you’ve been walking with a cane lately.
Halford: This has nothing to do with metal, although I’m in the dressing room at the Golden Gods Awards, and Lemmy’s sitting across from me. Lemmy, God bless him, is going through heart difficulties. But I’m comparing my ailments with Lemmy, and Rob [Trujillo], the bass player from Metallica, is doing these stretches . . . I don’t know, these guys, a guitar is 15 pounds, and when you’ve got that slung around your neck for two-and-a-half hours a day ”“ I think it’s just degenerative. It’s accumulative injuries. And you think about it, there’s no difference from some aspects of sports. You think of a golf player just hitting a ball ”“ “Well, that can’t be too strenuous.” But it is. It’s incredibly strenuous when you do that for 40 years. You’re going to have a few nicks and bruises. So I’ve got a bit of a back issue, which is fixable. Thank the lord it’s not happening while we’re touring, because we’d be in a terrible state. But apart from that, everything is working fine. My voice, thankfully ”“ we’re working on a new Priest record right now, and my voice is wailing. It’s strong, it’s powerful. So thank you for asking ”“ I’m 99.999 percent working.
You recently performed “Rapid Fire” on stage with Metallica.
Halford: It was a blast. Firstly, they’re huge Priest fans. They don’t need to do that ”“ a band like Metallica doesn’t need to do something like that. But it’s just them saying, “We love Priest. We especially love this song.” And they always thrash it up. When you listen to their version of “Rapid Fire,” it’s really thrashy, man. It’s that guitar tone of [James] Hetfield and Kirk [Hammett], and they always play it faster. So for me, I just ran through it once in the jam room, and we always get it first time. But when you play it live, it notches up a little bit more, because Lars [Ulrich] gets like a big kid, and he’s just going mental on the drums. So it’s a fraction faster than it was like 30 minutes earlier in the jam room. But it’s really [sings opening guitar part very fast] ”“ it starts like that, and I’m like, “Oh my God. Is somebody on crack?” But it works. They thrash it up. They love that song.
And how is the new Priest studio album coming along?
Faulkner: It’s coming along really well. We’re not saying too much about it at the moment ”“it’s kind of early to say. But it’s shaping up really well. The great thing from a writing point of view is that Priest’s brand of music is so broad, there’s a lot to take from. One extreme from the other. You can put stuff on the table and nothing is discounted. You might get some bands that are like, “Oh, we can’t do that, it sounds a bit like this or that.” With Priest, you can put anything on the table and you’ve got the flexibility from the scope of the sound, creatively. And then you’ve got people like Halford and Glenn, they put their stamp on it. Songs like “Green Manalishi” and “Diamonds and Rust” ”“ when a band like Priest, with that sort of musical voice gets on something, it becomes a whole different monster. And the same thing with the new stuff. So it’s exciting. And from my point of view, to be a part of that is ridiculous. It’s fantastic.
Are you involved in the songwriting process, Richie?
Faulkner: Yes. I put some stuff on the table. It’s always been a writing team. And to even be given the chance to put stuff forward is amazing. It could have been a bit awkward if it didn’t fit in or whatever, but it fit in, and it’s all working really well. And from a fan’s point of view, I’ve been in bands before [where they said], “Oh, you can’t play that, it sounds like Priest.” Now you can. I can’t wait to hear the finished thing.
Any idea when the album will come out?
Halford: Ready when it’s ready. No rush. We don’t want to drop the ball ”“ we’ve never dropped the ball, anyway. We’re certainly not in a “luxury moment.” When you think about it, any band that was in the Eighties that was having success, you were literally making a record a year. The demand was so strong . . . I mean, in those days, you were popping out platinum albums all the time. To get remotely close to gold in today’s world is a massive achievement. It’s a different world altogether. We’ve never slacked off ”“ we’ve always enjoyed writing, we’ve always enjoyed being in the studio. There’s never been like, “Oh, God, we’ve got to make another record.” There’s always been this genuine desire. The hunger has never left us. When you wake up, it’s like, “Another heavy metal day. What are we going to do today?” It’s great. As a 62-year-old man, I’m just really pleased that I’m still feeling that way about my metal. I’m a metal head ”“ I’m sixty-fucking-two, it’s incredible. That side of Priest is just solid as ever. We’re eager to keep going down the metal coalmine and seeing if we can hack up some diamonds.
Although the Epitaph tour was billed as Priest’s last-ever extensive tour, will the band be playing live in support of the new album?
Halford: I think that’s the other reason why we’re making sure we get this right. And we will get it right. But I don’t think we’re going to go out and do another 18-month/two-year trek, straight through. We’ll probably do Europe, and then we’ll take not an extensive break, but a longer break than we would normally do. I mean, normally you do Europe, and then two days later you’re doing a month in the States. We’ll put a buffer in there, for lots of different reasons. But we were being sincere, that there were some places on that last Epitaph tour that we may not be able to get to as quickly and often as we would wish ”“ for lots of different reasons. But if everybody’s patient ”“ which we know our metalheads are ”“ then we’ll come to you and we’ll play. You’ll get another dose of Priest.