On Tuesday, Judas Priest’s 17th studio album, Redeemer of Souls was released. Over 40 years into the legendary metal band’s career, that’s an accomplishment, especially considering that there was a chance it might not happen. In 2011, guitarist K.K. Downing, who’d been in the band since 1970, left the band just before their Epitaph world tour, which had initially been thought of as their last. Replaced by Richie Faulkner, who was born the same year British Steel was released, Priest were reinvogorated and the result is Redeemer, an album that fits in right alongside their catalog. Speaking to Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton and Faulkner, we discussed the new album, whether they’d self-release an album if they were starting out, their guitar synth phase, and being referred to as death metal on The Simpsons.
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The last tour and DVD was called Epitaph, which suggested the end was near for the band. There was obviously a change of heart, which is why we’re here today, how did that all come about?
Rob Halford: We didn’t really have a change of heart in that respect. What we were trying to say before the Epitaph tour took off was that we were just going to restructure the way we were going to tour, differently, which is what we are about to do now. The tour kicks off in the States this October. But you know, when you go out and play to all those millions of metalheads like we did on the Epitaph tour, it just reinforces the bond that we have, and who wants to turn that off? We’re gonna keep that strong, but in a slight different way. It was farewell, but not goodbye, my friend.
Richie Faulkner: Never forget.
RH: Never forget.
Did you know that from the get go? Calling the tour and DVD Epitaph suggests an ending. Were you just like “this is a reset?”
Glenn Tipton: No, we genuinely meant what we said. We said we weren’t gonna do another world tour, but we never ruled out dates in the future. I think we got rejuvenated doing the album, we got re-enthused, more motivated, and it made us want to go out and do some more dates. That doesn’t mean to say we’ll do a schlep all around the world for two years, it takes a big chunk out of your life and we’re probably gonna be more selective about the dates that we do. We haven’t done a U-turn on what we said, and we did genuinely mean what we said.
RH: And rejuvenated is the word, because when Richie came on board things did change perspective, that’s an absolute fact. We never anticipated how great this was gonna turn out as far as the success of the Epitaph tour, so all of those great vibes moved into the writing and recording for Redeemer of Souls.
Richie, did you know that you would be playing and writing new music for Priest when you joined the band?
RF: I knew I would be playing obviously, for the tour, the upcoming tour, I knew there was a possibility that there would be a studio record on the horizon. The main focus was the tour initially. I knew there were a few songs kicking around that could come around in the metal cauldron when we starting writing, so I knew there was a possibility. If you watch that Epitaph DVD, there’s by no means any signs of a band that looks like it could be retiring.
RH: The end.
RF: That was the end of the tour; that was the last date of the tour, and if anything you would imagine some fatigue setting in. You can’t see that on the DVD, you can’t hear that in the music coming across, it was very much vibrant and very much alive. So if you watch that DVD, I guess it’s kind of indicative of where the band was at the end of the tour, reinvigorated, looking forward to the next thing, and this is where we are now. Also doing that tour secured bonds, I’m the newest guy in the band, it kind of built friendships, built trust, and all that sort of stuff that is really valuable when going into the studio situation.
Glenn, what was it like writing with someone new?
GT: It was great, because we didn’t know whether it would work or not with Richie. We knew it totally worked on stage, fitting and blending into the band, but writing is a complete different area. Right from the get go it was natural. The ideas he was bringing to the table were very Priest-like, and they just clicked, locked in, and we were off writing songs, and we wrote two albums. So it was just a natural phenomenon, small miracle, well large miracle. If you get a change in one writer of a trio of writers, and we’ve written together for 40 years, it can change the character. It doesn’t always work, even if they are good ideas, but in Richie’s case they were good ideas, appropriately, they were very Judas Priest.
How long did it take to realize “we really have something here?”
GT: Well he started putting some riffs down in the dressing room on tour, which we never used to write on tour, and just listening to the ideas. The first idea Richie played me I said to Rob “come and listen to this, this is great, very optimistic, the future is looking good.”
It’s been six years since Nostradamus, how long did it actually take to write and record the record?
RH: We worked it out that it took about 18 months from actual starting to write it to completion. Let’s just reference the fact that some of the fans have been saying “What are we doing six years between Nostradamus and Redeemer of Souls?” We did the Nostradamus Tour after Nostradamus, then we did the British Steel Tour, and then we did the Epitaph Tour, and wrote a record. So that’s what we’ve been doing for six years!
Yeah, I’m not suggesting you were on vacation with your feet up…
RH: No, but it goes to show the speed of life that people are living now, going “What have you been doing for six years?” Cast your mind back, because we’ve been really, really busy. It is an important question, and I think that 18 months , considering the great quality work that we’ve achieved is a real testament to the love that we have still for metal and the value that we put on our work, and everything turned out great.
RF: I think we were actually touring in the middle of two writing sessions. Do you remember we got together in 2012, early 2012, done a month writing, went out and done Asia and Europe?
RH: You’re right.
RF: And then came back off that tour and then another month of writing, had Christmas off. It was kind of, we were doing it while we were out on tour. We were writing it and putting it together. I think if you condensed it all, it wouldn’t have taken any longer than any record would have taken to put together. We did the Epitaph Tour and wrote in different stages, we all live in different parts of the world now, so it’s getting all things together.
RH: I forgot that Richie, I think it’s valuable to put a little time and distance between writing sessions because you’re able to be more reflective. Because music is such an instantaneous and emotional response, the way you feel about a song today will be different than the way you feel about it a month from now. So if you can put that perspective into writing, what felt good when you first started to write maybe doesn’t sound as good because it may not match with the material that you’re doing now. So having those little breaks, the run outs from the studio, can be very, very valuable.
You have a special edition version of the album, which has five additional tracks on it, how important was it to do something like that, to have a special edition? And also how many tracks did you end up writing and recording?
RH: We wrote 20 songs; Glenn said we had enough for a double album, but we ended up releasing 18 with the deluxe version. The bonus tracks just didn’t fit into the way the full CD initial release was planned. We take a lot of care in crafting the way the songs sequence in events; it’s like writing a book, or editing a movie. We felt that with these 13 songs, that was the display that we wanted to put from Judas Priest in that moment. But we had this extra material that was really, really strong, and rather than keep it from the fans for another 2,3,4, or 5 years, just put it out now and let everybody enjoy it. Pick and choose what you want to check out.
If Judas Priest was a new band, which obviously you’re not, would you self-release the record?
RH: That’s a good question.
GT: You mean release it ourselves?
Yeah, as opposed to partnering up with a label.
GT: I don’t think so, because the label has done an extremely well with this album. We’ve been with Sony/Columbia/Epic for a long time now, we have a great relationship with them, we have a big back catalog with them. They really have worked hard and they put the right people on this. I think that combined with the independence that we do use; it gives this album a lot of potential, a lot of momentum and hopefully it’ll all work out.
RH: I think it really depends as well as the circumstances of the time that you’re out. If you’re doing it now, I think it might be practical, because the major labels, what is left of the major labels, are really hard to get a relationship with. Most of the major labels already have secured acts, particularly in rock and metal; there are very few rock and metal acts in the whole Sony family. So it is difficult to break into that, that’s not denying the fact that if you do self-release and things start to happen, a major label could come to you and say “we want to work together.” It’s so easy to put your music out there now. That’s one good virtue of modern technology. It’s also a bit of a Pandora’s box, because there’s so much shit out there, I don’t mean shit shit, I mean just so much great stuff out there, for you to have to break though. That’s why we always encourage new bands to make your own identity and sound, and don’t replicate what’s going on around you, try and work hard to find your definitive musical statement.
Do you have an thoughts on streaming services like like Spotify, Beats Music, etc?
RH: I have to bite my tongue on Spotify.
RF: I think it’s like everything in the industry right now, it’s a double-edged sword, you know, it can be. It’s like, everything is accessible and that’s great, the problem is, everything is accessible, if you understand what I mean. There’s a connection, which is great, but a connection can be a bit of a pain in the ass. Things like Spotify and streaming services, I think the industry is still getting to grips with the whole revolution of it all. I don’t think it’s quite got there yet, but I mean, I for one know that if I spend a subscription fee for Spotify, that’s $10 a month, that’s $120 a year, and that’s more than I would spend on CDs for that year. Other people might see it totally different, there’s two ways of looking at it, and that’s just the way the industry is growing.
How up to date are you with current music? Do you keep up? Are there any newer bands that you’re listening to or really liking?
RH: Every day I go on Metal Injection, Loudwire, Ultimate Classic Rock, Revolver. I go on between six and ten metal sites every day just to see what’s going on, and that’s one of the convenient aspects of modern technology. It’s at your fingertips, just to catch up on the world of metal. It’s great isn’t it? It’s just phenomenal when we look back at where we began 40 years ago, there was nothing out there but Priest and Sabbath, and now it’s all over the place. It’s just great, you’re surrounded by extraordinary talented metalheads and musicians that are just forging ahead keeping the flame burning.
How did you come about choosing Steel Panther as your opener for the US tour?
RF: There were a few bands that were put together on the table, and it all came down to scheduling really, who was available at that time, and if they’re out on tour you know. That’s by no means saying that Steel Panther were kind of like a second best or whatever, they were on the table with everyone else. We just thought it would be a great, fun evening. They’re great musicians; they’re great at what they do. If you’ve ever seen the show, it’s a parody or whatever, but you try and do it.
RH: It’s hard what they do. It’s great because they’re experts.
RF: They really are, it’ll be a great laugh. It’ll be a great chance to come down and have a couple drinks and have a laugh with the Panther, and rock out with the Priest. It’s a great package.
Rob, you saw Lady Gaga a few weeks ago. Do you feel like she’s bringing you to a new generation of fans? Are there people that are finding out about Priest via her?
RH- Yeah, she’s very vocal. She’s very clear that she’s a metalhead. She’s not afraid of breaking out of her mold as a pop star. In the old days you would have been forbidden “oh don’t say so-and-so, don’t take a picture with so-and-so.” It doesn’t matter now, there’s this great acceptance, through social media especially. I think it’s another testimony of what musicians are, which is that we’re all open minded and we’re liberated. In her case, because of her background in rock and metal I think it’s a really cool thing. She’s a great talent, extraordinary talent, fabulous voice, great musicians, writes her own music, puts on these big shows, works hard 365 days a year. She’s just the epitome of a professional.
And there’s still a possibility you might work together in the future?
RH: I don’t know. I don’t know if and when that will ever happen. We’ll have to wait and see; it would have to be metal. *laughs*
You’ve been out as a gay man for about 16 years now, did you think there would be a floodgate open of musicians proudly coming out in the metal world?
RH: No, that never entered my mind.
I know that’s not why you did it, obviously.
RH: Because of the circumstances, it was a very un-premeditated expression. I made the statement and there was a bit of a firestorm around the world, and it settled. I’m sure you don’t get up in the morning going “I’m a straight man,” I don’t get up every morning going “I’m a gay guy.” We’re just people.
It probably empowered some people.
RH: If there was an effect, it was to break away the myth of the phobia in metal. There isn’t any phobia in metal, no more than any other walk of life. Metalheads are very tolerant, intelligent people because, let’s face it, metal has been knocked and beat about since it began and even now we get attacked occasionally. So we know what that feels like, so tremendously supportive and it’s just a great moment for everybody.
One of your most misunderstood albums is Turbo, which I loved when it came out. It was definitely one of your least popular albums upon being released though. What do you think about it looking back?
GT: I think it’s a great album, and you know, we took a few risks in that time. We started to use synth guitars on that, and people criticized that “they’re not metal, you can’t use synth guitars.” Eventually everybody started to use them. If you’ve ever seen us play “Turbo Lover” live, it’s one of the heaviest songs of the set. The whole audience singing along with that, the momentum of that song is just gigantic. You know, Turbo was like Point of Entry, was like Nostradamus if you like, they’re all high risk albums that we’ve put out. We’ve always been prepared to take risks. If you don’t take risks, you don’t get benefits; you don’t find new paths to go down. We’ve always been brave enough to push those boundaries apart to give us more room to maneuver and give other bands more room to maneuver as well. Turbo was an example of that.
Rob, was anything ever recorded from the rumored album featuring you, Dio, and Geoff Tate?
RH: Ummmm.. No.. We never did anything, did we? Hm. No. I’m just trying to think, cause I’m thinking the only time we ever did anything, [was] when we did “The One You Love to Hate,” it was in a little club in London. It was me and Bruce (Dickinson) and Geoff (Tate) who traded on vocals on that one track, but we never recorded anything. Bruce guested on “The One You Love to Hate,” but that’s the only stuff we’ve ever done.
Lastly, what are your thoughts on being referred to as “death metal” on The Simpsons.
RH: That was great!
GT: It was put right, wasn’t it the next week?
RH: It was put right by Bart – “Judas Priest are not death metal, Judas Priest are not death metal.”
RF: Nobody got in touch with them to say to put it right, they realized it themselves. And as Rob said, they’re invested in their own brand and they realize how invested we are in the Judas Priest brand for one of the better words, so they kind of cleared it on their own merit.
It was fantastic to see you mentioned two weeks in a row on network TV.
RH: I know, it was incredible, my phone started pinging, “put the Simpsons on right now!” Yeah, they’re very protective of their brand, much like we do in Priest. Let’s face it, The Simpsons is an iconic, cultural entity from America and they’re embedded all over the world. The longest running, most successful TV series of its kind, and they’re very picky and choosy who they have guesting on their show. Very small amount of musicians if you condense it, so we were just like “man, this is a big deal.” American Idol, The Simpsons, Beavis and Butt-Head
You guys are doing okay for yourself; I think you might make it another 40 years.
RH: It’s nice when you’re drawn into some other entity that is also extremely successful and loved, it’s something you treasure.