Interview: Judas Priest’s Rebellion, ‘The Simpsons’ and New Album ‘Redeemer of Souls’
By Brian Ives
Let’s just agree on this: when a band breaks up and says they’ll “never” reunite, it means they won’t reunite right now. Similarly, a band’s “farewell” tour means that they don’t want to tour anymore…right now. In other words, it’s best not to take these things literally, as it’ll save you from getting ticked off later when it turns out those proclamations are a bit fluid.
So it’s little surprise that Judas Priest‘s 2011 “farewell tour” turned out to be less of an end than a new beginning. Just weeks after announcing the trek, they revealed that they were working on new material…clarifying that they were saying ‘farewell’ only to world tours. Hey, their music can split atoms, so allow the band to split hairs in a press release.
Soon after that announcement, though, founding guitarist K.K. Downing quit the band and was replaced by lifelong fan Richie Faulkner. Replacing principal members of a legendary group can often take away from its legitimacy, but this was the rare instance of a new member bringing fresh life to the band.
In Radio.com‘s interview with frontman Rob Halford, guitarist Glenn Tipton and Faulker, it’s clear that the elder Judas Priest members not only see Faulker as an equal but credit him with keeping the band alive, and in classic form. Exhibit A: their new album, Redeemer of Souls.
Radio.com: Redeemer of Souls is a classic Judas Priest album title.
The first single is “March of the Damned,” which is classic Priest. When you write a song, do you have Judas Priest in mind?
Halford: I just write for Priest. We all live the life of metal, both off the road and on the road, in the studio, out of the studio. That might sound ridiculous, but it’s true. You constantly feel metal, and so with that intensity in mind, you’re always channeling something through your system until it’s time to open the floodgates and get to work.
Some of the lyrics in the song “Dragonaut” could apply to Game of Thrones, or they could apply to several conflicts going on today, for instance in the Middle East. When hit upon certain lyrics do you think, “Wow, that works right now?”
Halford: We’ve been humorously talking about the fact that this record has dragons, it has Vikings, it has aliens, it has zombies, it has a little bit of a religious statement to make. So, those are all the elements that have been in metal for a long time, but I’ve always felt that, you know, you can make some parallels. Priest has always been in the real world as much as we’ve been in the fantasy world. And there are not that many degrees of separation in some instances.
In your new song “Down in Flames,” I can imagine lyrics like “they are coming now, they’re after me…going quietly I just won’t do” might really resonate with your older fans.
Glenn Tipton: I think a lot of our songs have always had a little bit of rebellion in them. Younger kids need something to rebel against, and I think it’s a good theme, you know. Non-aggressive aggression: They get it out of their system at rock concerts and go back to school or go back to work and live a normal life. It’s great therapy.
Were you rebellious as a kid?
Tipton: Yeah, but I never ran with the punks or anything.
Halford: He was a thug!
Tipton: I used to break into my back window and upset my father. I used to say “I forgot my key.” That was a bit rebellious, we used to have arguments over that. But I think teenagers always go through a bit of a rebellious stage when they’re trying to find themselves, when they try to prove a point. And it’s natural, you know. I’ve had kids who went through teenage years, and I stuck with it even if they become a little unstable and they sort of don’t make sense all the time. You have to stick with them, because we’re all the same.
It has to be different for you than a lot of other dads, you’re a heavy metal musician. How does a kid rebel against their dad when he’s a badass lead guitarist?
Tipton: I’m not that to them, I’m just their dad who’s a bit of a nuisance and a pain, you know. Your dad’s your dad, doesn’t matter if they respect your guitar or music.
Rob, were you rebellious as a kid?
Halford: Me? Oh no, I was a sweetheart. I think I was rebelling internally, but not putting it out physically. I think there are different levels of rebellion, mine was probably more cerebral, you know, against whatever was going on around me in my life. [Which] maybe is how I turned out to be so attracted to writing lyrics.
Tipton: We’ve always had that theme, you know, “Running Wild,” “Reckless,” tracks like that. We never, ever encourage people or kids to do bad things. It’s just been Star Wars-type violence, you know, battles in the sky or make-believe monsters. I think our lyrics have always been good and inspire a lot of people. Rob’s a great lyricist you know, one of the greatest in the world. And our songs and lyrics have gotten them through bad times.
Metal has always gotten a bad rap as a bad influence on kids. I don’t think there’s anything seriously negative to be found in the lyrics of your songs.
Halford: It’s the people who don’t understand, the more conservative-minded people or extreme people that try and find something to complain about. They don’t relate. It’s a natural human instinct if you’re fearful of something, you put up a wall of rejection instead of investigating it and being educated to realize it is harmless entertainment.
Richie, were you a rebellious kid?
Richie Faulkner: Not really. You know, sometimes you have to find out who you are as a human being. You know, you get into a few scraps at school but really no more than anyone else. I was too busy listening to these guys and kind of concentrating on the craft of guitar playing.
I imagine you had to practice often, and you probably didn’t have time to get into much trouble.
Faulkner: I was very much primarily interested in music and the guitar. I never saw it as “practice.” I loved doing it, I was attracted to the guitar and attracted to creating something and learning about it. I was taught indirectly by these guys, how to write a song, what is it about that song that makes me feel this way, how do I put that emotion into my creations. I was always interested in that more than other things at the time.
On the song “Down in Flames” you sing, “They’re young and after me/going quietly I just won’t do.” I imagine that line resonates with you, as a metal band that’s been around for decades. And I’m sure it resonates with many of your fans, especially the ones in their 40s or 50s.
Halford: We’re very aware of the scene that’s going on around us. We’d be foolish to ignore that. We’ve always been very sensible about keeping an eye on the metal landscape, so to speak. And so I think the music of Judas Priest can easily step up to the plate with some of the newer, more successful metal acts that are out in the world. We still have tremendous acceptance and respect from newer metal bands who cut their teeth on bands like Priest and Maiden and Sabbath.
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In the mid-1990s, grunge and alternative were the big thing. A lot of those artists loved Judas Priest, but the way the media framed it, metal just wasn’t the “in” thing. However, I feel that in 2014 there’s a very healthy climate for a reemergence.
Halford: I think it’s just another cycle. I think all music that’s popular goes in an ebb and a flow. Particularly interesting in today’s world is how the social media platforms can dictate the trend. And as we’ve seen just recently, the first track that went to iTunes was No. 1 almost instantly. That’s just another example of us still reaching all across the board of people from all walks of life.
Tipton: If you stick with it, believe in yourself and live long enough, it comes around again. And in our case, it’s come around again.
Halford: It’s like getting a royal flush.
Faulkner: Priest held on through the ’90s. They were always flying the flag for metal, they never shied away from it. And that message runs right through their career. I thought that was great in the ’90s, that they were unashamedly heavy metal.
Tipton: We’ve always believed in metal. Kids are very perceptive, they know if you’re going out on the road for a quick buck. We go out and play ’cause we love to play heavy metal, we genuinely love it.
In hindsight, do you regret using the term “farewell tour”? Because it caused a lot of confusion among fans. Was that perhaps a bad choice of words?
Tipton: We probably did confuse a few people, but we never said anything other than we’re not gonna do any more world tours, this is our last world tour. but we will consider other dates and do other shows. It may have caused some confusion, but we didn’t mean to.
I feel like the word “never” or “farewell” are words rock bands should never use. But I guess you feel the way you’re feeling at the time, and then you might change your mind about it.
Tipton: It wasn’t a trick or anything. I think we wouldn’t have been playing two-and-a-half hours a night if it was just another tour.
Halford: Exactly, we would’ve played an hour and 20 minutes, taken the money and run, and that would’ve been terrible. But then of course Richie joined, so we were doing that “farewell tour” with a guy who just joined the band. It was the excitement and energy night after night and the love that was going down around the world that really made us feel that, firstly: we have to make another record, and secondly: we can’t possibly stop this live experience. And you’ve gotta want to go out, you’ve gotta want to pack your suitcase, lock the door and leave your house for months and months at a time. It’s not a normal thing to do in everyone’s everyday life.
Richie, when you first joined for the farewell tour, what was going through your mind? Did you hope that the band wasn’t serious that it was their last tour?
Faulkner: I thought at the time if that was the plan, I’m gonna get in there and change their minds.
Halford: Which he did.
Faulkner: I was gonna put them on for another ten years, whether they liked it or not. I saw it as a duty. I thought it was an exciting time to join the band, it’s not the sort of thing you say “no thanks” to. I hope I found my duty as a fan to keep these old dogs going.
Tipton: I think Richie saved the band completely, it was a miracle we found him. He didn’t only just fit into the live factor on stage perfectly, he just brought so much to the table, not just ideas and riffs but also this energy and enthusiasm and motivation. And honestly, at our age, we need that. We need someone to crack the whip over us a little bit. You get lazy and complacent in your old age, and it’s good to have someone be there and say, “Come on guys, get off your backside.” We need to be told that sometimes.
You guys kind of solidified the look and sound of heavy metal. Have you ever felt that, even though you invented the rules, that they were becoming too stringent?
Halford: The rules? What rules?
When you did Turbo, and changed your look and added synthesizers, a lot of fans had a problem with it.
Halford: Well okay, that’s a perfect example of us believing that there are no rules. We just go for everything, we try everything; sometimes, it doesn’t work. Most of the time it does. I’m glad you raised the Turbo album, there are some great songs on there. I remember the day Glenn got a special pedal board delivered. It was the synth guitar, it was a new invention and rather than going, “No, that can’t possibly be metal,” we embraced it—one of the first metal bands, if not the only metal band, to make it sound great. Like “Out in the Cold” [and] “Reckless,” “Turbo Love,” when you hear that played live, it throws you against the wall. But because of that belief, we’ve never let any kind of rules and restrictions in metal, if there are any…I know what you’re saying, if you’re a death metal band you’re literally boxed, that’s all you can be. But the great advantage that we’ve been having over the decades with Priest is that we’ll try absolutely everything.
I think if The Simpsons taught us anything it’s that Judas Priest is not a death metal band.
Halford: I went there that day to meet the cast. It was just surreal, because you’re at a table reading and suddenly Bart Simpson starts talking, and Homer Simpson is right over there. Like with American Idol, if there’s any way we can keep pushing metal and the name of Judas Priest we’ll do that, and The Simpsons is the longest-running, most successful comedy ever. Who would say no, especially when they’re very picky and choosy. The Simpsons is such a strong brand, any band or artist that has been on The Simpsons is equally strong in signature and brand and uniqueness. It was quite an honor to be on that show.
Did you see in the script that they were referencing you as a death metal band?
Halford: No, we didn’t. We had no idea. And of course when it happened it was just a storm, it was trending for days and days across different [social] media platforms. And I’m here going, “It’s just a cartoon, let it go.” But all respect to The Simpsons people, they realized that it was going off, then the next episode it starts with Bart writing “Judas Priest is not a death metal band” and they didn’t need to do that, but that was a very, very sweet thing to offer back for redemption. That Simpsons episode is famous for calling Judas Priest a death metal band, and then Bart saying “No they’re not, I’m sorry.”
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You’ve done a number of interesting covers through your career. Did you ever hear from Joan Baez after you covered “Diamonds and Rust?”
Halford: She actually came up to us at the Live Aid show at the JFK Stadium in ’86. And we thought, oh she’s gonna give us some [grief], “What have you done with my song?” What she actually came over to say, “My son played me your version of my song, and it was very sweet.” So to be acknowledged for what we did with her tune was very professional, very selfless I thought.
How do you feel when you hear a Judas Priest song when you’re in public?
Faulkner: It’s pretty amazing. I can’t wait to be in a position where you’re in a bar in the future and [new song] “Bring It On” comes on, and you got to be a part of it and you got to experience that side of it as well.
Halford: Strippers like our music. Dunno why I’d like to say that, but I do know that, not from personal experience obviously, but some of my mates are in that world. “Oh, she just took her clothes off to ‘Turbo Lover.’” Hope we get the royalty!
What was the bar?
Halford: It was Cheater’s Lounge or Sugar Shack.
What was the best decision Judas Priest ever made? If there was ever one decision that really changed things for you guys.
Tipton: To get together. Just through the years, to get together. There’s lots of decisions we’ve made along the way, good or bad.
Halford: And staying together.
Tipton: It’s something I thought about earlier. You know, Rob left for a bit, but came back with added vengeance. And just to be together for so long, it’s a sign of a good band.
Halford: We’ve always said that Judas Priest isn’t one person. So when I was away, it was still Judas Priest. And that’s one of the things I love about this band. When I say stay together, the band didn’t break up for whatever reason. There’s always been a Judas Priest for 40 years. And they’re aren’t that many bands that can say that.