Only a few bands in metal historyin any genre for that matterhold the rare distinction of surviving for more than 40 years in the music industry. Judas Priest
are one of them. But after more than four decades of touring, the boys from Birmingham are calling it quits. Their upcoming Epitaph Tour
will be their final world tour but not to worry because they may still head out on the road when the perfect occasion arises. They announced this semi-retirement at a press conference held on May 24 at the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood. Not only did they talk about the Epitaph Tour but also used the opportunity to introduce new guitarist, Richie Faulkner
. Faulkner, a blazing hot stringmaster with both classic and shred chops, was brought in to replace retiring member, K.K. Downing
All five members were present Rob Halford
, Glenn Tipton
, Ian Hill
, Scott Travis
, and Faulkner
and sat at a long table on a raised podium in one of the hotel's conference rooms. Several dozen journalists and photographers had gathered to participate in the event and what follows is what transpired. Some of the questions have been nominally reworded to create a better flow for you, the reader, but the intent remains the same.
As the band filed into the room to the cheers of the assembled media, Halford delivered his opening statement.
"This is Richie Faulkner, ladies and gentlemen, without whom we wouldn't be stitting at this table right now quite probably
" the singer stated, gesturing to the new guitar player seated on his right. "You know the rest of us don't you? I guess we haven't done this before have we? [laughs] It's pretty much an open forum. We're about to launch the world tour so that might be a good place to start and we'll just take it from there and see where we go.
You have called the Epitaph Tour your final world tour. Will the band continue making music when the tour is over?
It's not the end of the band by any means but it is our last world tour. It takes a big chunk out of your lifeit's 18 months really we'll be out there and we've been doing it for nearly 40 years now. It's not to say that it will be our last show and we certainly willand havebeen recording. So the chances are there will be an album as well next year. We would never turn down the appropriate dates if we were offered them at some point in the future. But it will be our last world tourit's probably the last chance most people will get to see Judas Priest live. We want to go out one final time and play our songs and just be together with the audience.
What we've said is you know when the cowboy rides into the sunset on his horse and it looks really cool? Well, we want to do the same things on our bikes, on our motorbikes, but we don't want to fall off. I think unfortunately there's kind of an area in show business when you really need to look at what you got and what you've done and be proud of it and then make that exit in a really classy way and that's what we're attempting to do.
You mentioned you have been working on new songs?
We used quite a mixed bag and we've concentrated on two things: the archetypal Priest double-kick screaming tracks and really there's more sentiment in this album. In a way, I suppose it's also our farewell album although it might not be our last one. There are some anthems on there, which pay tribute to our fans and it's our way of saying thank you and the lyrics relate to thatjust saying thank you to the fans for all the years.
It's been a real pleasure to write it because at this point if there's anything left to prove, there really isn't anything left to prove. We've been there, done that, and got the t-shirt type of thing. But I think what really is important is we still have this desire, this passion and it hasn't diminished in nearly 40 years. We still have this tremendous love of what we do in heavy metal music and the fans that have supported us are the constant inspiration. I think we all agree that we very happy with the way that Nostradamus came out and it was a great moment for us because we had been waiting forever to make this concept record. And that's not the end with Nostradamuswe have other ideas we want to explore later. But we wanted to make at least, as Glenn said, one more great metal album that really has all the great traditions and attributes of Priest in the music. And we think we've got that down pretty much.
You're releasing the Singles Cuts box set, which is a compilation of all the UK CBS/Columbia singles from 1977 through 2008. What does that mean to you?
They're all special, aren't they? I don't know if everybody in this room lived through the 70s and then the 80s and then the 90s and we're already into 2011it just seems too crazy to contemplate. I think each decade was special but I suppose to some extent the first one because that's when we became professional musicians. When you hold up that bit of vinyl and you get one vinyl record each, and you look at it and go, We've made a record. Anything can happen now because you know that recording potentially can very, very slowlybefore the Internet, before cell phones, before whateverfilter through the system and the word is out: Judas Priest is here and they've made a professional recording. So the 70s, I think, is a time we all look back at with some affection as well because there are so many things to do and so many things to achieve and it's a really potent time to kick the ball and get the game going.
Judas Priest has influenced just about every modern metal band. How does that make you feel?
It makes us feel proud. If we in our own small way have helped to shape the way metal has gone and we've inspired people along the way, it's something that we're all really proud of as individual musicians and as a band. We all feel proud that we've inspired a younger generation to go forth and write great songs and play great metal. We've always flown the flag for metal as you knowwe've always been proud to be a heavy metal band. I think some bands felt the tag was a little bit unfashionable at times and they veered off but we've always been true and we've always kept the faith.
Are there any songs left to play live that you haven't done before?
I think all the favorite songs we've played at one time or another over the years. There are so many songs to choose from that we haven't played, I suppose. Obviously the first album didn't get a great deal of exposure at all reallywe are doing a track off that. Wanna tell em?
No, we're not gonna tell you anything about what we're gonna play. But it's an exciting setlist and we are going to be playing some songs that we've never ever played before.
There are some great production pieces like Fever and things like that that would be great to do live.
What does your new guitar player, Richie Faulkner, bring to Judas Priest that was different than what K.K. Downing brought to the music?
"The chances are there will be an album as well next year."
It's amazing really because obviously when Ken informed us he was leaving, we had to think long and hard. We had two choices: we either carry on and we do the farewell tour, which is what we wanted and we think what the fans wanted or we could've ended the band. Obviously we had to find the right guy and honestly we couldn't have found any better than this guy. You've got to hear him playhe's a tremendous guitar playerbut the most amazing this is he satisfies everybody's need for how Priest should sound in his role on the other side of the stage if you like. But he does it in his own way and it's pretty unbelievable the way he blended into the band straightaway. And as Rob said earlier on, honestly if we hadn't found Richie I don't think we'd be going out now. So it's just worked out really, really well for us.
On YouTube, there are videos of you playing Hendrix and Zeppelin riffs. Do you bring that sort of style to Judas Priest?
I came from that sort of era, yeah. That classic rock, Zeppelin, Hendix and all of that. I think K.K.'s playing was Hendrix-inspired as well so that's kind of similar there. What it feels like to be a part of it? You can imagine it's a bit kind of surreal really. But as a fan of the band and of the genre, they are big shoes to fill and I know what I've got to do. Ken was in the band for a long time so I'm not trying to take away anything from that but as a fan and as part of the band now, it's excitin' as a guitar player and as a musician.
Was it difficult learning any of Priest's songs?
I knew some of them already to be honest and it's kind of where I come from musically. So it wasn't difficult in a sensethat's what I've been brought up on and raised on. The ones I didn't know it was quite easy to go in.
I said to Richie, Come up to the house if you get stuck on any bits and I'll help and he was showin' me bits [laughs]. Songs I hadn't played for 35 years, Richie got em down. I said, How does that go again? It was great.
Have you written any new songs with Richie?
We haven't yet, no, but it's real early days and we're still in the process of rehearsing and that's taken up all our time. I'm sure we will write and when you hear Richie mess around, I know he'll inspire us and I'm sure we'll collaborate and compose together.
Any new Judas Priest songs will feature Richie Faulkner and not K.K. Downing?
That's the way it will beyes.
Did you audition a lot of different guitar players?
We put the word out and got a lot of tapes and videos and guys recommended and we sifted through them. We approached this one guy, Pete Friesen [played with Alice Cooper, The Almighty and Bruce Dickinson] who somebody had recommended to us. He said, which was very honest of him, he said, I'm honored but I don't think it's quite right for me. And we said, Do you know a good guitar player? and he straightaway mentioned Richie. We contacted Richie but he never returned the calls because he thought it was a joke. So we were a bit put out by that really because we thought he turned us down. I spoke to him and he came up and it's very difficult to say to someone, Show us what you can do. So I said to Richie, Show us what you can do cause I couldn't figure out anything else to say. He picked the guitar up and I knew as soon as he started to play not just how talented he was but I could see there was something there that was right. It's very important for us in Judas Priest that we get alongit's no good just having a great guitar player if you don't get along with them and they don't quite fit in. But right from the word go, Richie blended into the band and that combined with his talent, we knew right away we'd got our man. As I said before, we wouldn't be here today, I'm sure, if we hadn't found Richie because I don't think we would have found the right guitar player. We're very lucky.
Did you know that Richie had played with Steve Harris's daughter, Lauren?
We knew by the time he came up, yeah; we'd done a bit of research.
Anthrax have written a song called Judas Priest for their new album, Worship Music.
They did? When did they do that? That's crazywe've got Lady Gaga on one side with Judas and we've got Anthrax on the other side with Judas Priest. That's great. We've known the guys in Anthrax forever and if it is kind of an acknowledgement, it's fabulous. It's like Glenn said earlier, you're kind of passing the torch from band to band and when we were growing up we had our heroes and people that we were excited to listen to and go and see live in concert. You just keep passing it on and passing it on. That's really coolI should like to text Scott Ian later on.
Were you shocked when K.K. said he was leaving the band?
Every one of us was shockedit was a very big deal and a very big surprise.
Did you try and keep him from quitting Judas Priest?
We did everything we could possibly do. This wasn't a simple open and closed type of situation. Everybody worked very hard to try and get to some kind of resolution but when we knew it wasn't gonna go anywhere, that's when we almost went into panic mode. We had a tour looming and the tour was already coming together and we got the deals with the promoters and the fans were excited. And then pazam! [looks at Richie Faulkner sitting next to him]. Because it was very, very difficult to try and deal with both circumstances but it's that British way of stay calm and keep moving on and we were able to do that.
What did Richie bring to the band?
I worked a lot harder in rehearsals than I've ever done because I know this guy loves this band. We hate rehearsing, don't we? We fuckin' hate rehearsing but we have to do it and I think there's an element of tremendous enthusiasm as there always has been in the band. But especially now, as I say, there's a great feeling of energy and excitement that we can go on and complete this world tour and deliver a new record and keep the Priest alive.
Will the next album be called Epitaph?
It's kind of up in the airwe have some titles that we're knockin' around at the moment but I don't think it would be right to say, It's called this and then change it. The material will kind of filter through and then we'll eventually come to a definitive title for the record.
The economy has been going through tough timeswill that affect the way you establish prices and that type of thing?
We don't get involved in any of that whatsoever. We're very aware that we want to make sure that we give fans the best possible deal. We know how much it costs to keep Judas Priest on the road seven days a week and it's an enormous amount of money and we've got bills to pay. But we leave that to the management and the promoters and everybodyall we really want to do is get out there and play.
What bands will you be taking out on the Epitaph Tour?
It's Zakk Wylde with Black Label [Society] and this great Thin Lizzy band. We did the Metal Masters [Wacken] and we couldn't replicate that again but there were some great elements musically in the lineup and I think we're able to do that with this lineup. It's three very exciting bands with powerful songs to play.
What still keeps you hungry?
I think it's something we still love to dowe love playin' our music and we love the people we play it to. We love the traveling and places to go and things to see and it can be lucrative at times so what is there not to love about it? I don't think you really need any more incentive than that?
You've really gotta want to do thiswhen you leave the house and lock the door, you know you're not gonna come back for 18 months to two years literally if you really want to get out there and do your work. And as we said earlier, that love and passion for it hasn't diminished and all of this comes back to the fans, these wonderful fans that have supported us for so many years. They're waiting for us to come back and play.
There are new generations of fans who have never seen the band.
That's itthat never even enters your mind when you start to play in a band. To go this far and to still be able to see your music crossing over to a new metal generation, that's just sensational. When there is so much to choose from now, it's like a metal feast out there and so when these young metalheads choose you, that's a terrific compliment and a great feeling. It definitely keeps you motivated. You look out from the stage and you see three or four different generations coming to see you play, that in itself is a real kick and keeps you motivated.
Do you like being on the road?
Speaking for myself, I love to be on the stage. The road can be airports and all sorts of security problems this day and age and a lot of dead time and that's the downside of touring really.
"We want to ride into the sunset on our motorbikes, but we don't want to fall off."
We still plan to do shows in the future. If you look at this tour we're about to do, it's the same kind of intensity we were doing 30, 35 years ago. That's what I love about this bandwe haven't really pulled back in any respect when it's time to go on the road and do some work. We're all in pretty good nick [health] as we say but I think it is important that we just want to maintain that certain quality that could become a little bit dangerous. Just speaking for myself as a singer, my voice is still strong and I can do what I need to but it's quite challenging as I head towards 60 this year and to do what I need to do at this time in my life is not as easy as it was. So I think we've all got different messages in that respect. But aside from that this is a great way of taking care of business and doing it well and doing it right.
If another worthwhile tour presented itself, you would be interested?
Yeah, I think we've always got an open mind and we'll look at anything that's put on the table. The Big Four thing was just sensation and we have another idea of a Bigger Four or a Bigger Five and whether that would happen, I don't know but it would be great.
It would have to be Sabbath wouldn't it?
It would have to be Sabbath and probably Maiden obviously. We'd get Robert Plant in the bar and get him drunk and have him put Zeppelin together. How big is that? Is that big enough? Just put that in Wembley Stadium in London for a week and 80,000 people a night.
Have you actually started working on a new album?
We've done a little bit already haven't we, Glenn?
Yeah, we've mixed three tracks, which we might put on our web page because some of the songs are a tribute to the fans and a big thank you to the fans throughout the years. We haven't decided whether we'll prematurely release them or not but that's one of the suggestions. We've got breaks [in the tour] and I think we've done about 10 songsthey're not finished and three of them are mixed and the rest of them need a fair amount of work. And of course we haven't done any collaboration with Richie yet so it's early days but there will be an album at some point and we just need time to finish it really and that depends on the touring schedule and how heavy that is and how many breaks we've got. Cause even if we get a break and you've been on the road for two or three months playing every night, you probably don't feel like going in the studio. It wouldn't be the most productive time reallysometimes you need to walk away from music for a little bit and clear the brain. But at some point next year I'm confident we'll release an album.
Do you still have a desire to perform Nostradamus live?
I think as we said when we launched Nostradamus is there's always been this great desire to perform it in its entirety and there's no reason why we can't still aim for that possibility; it can be done. We've spoken to some of the friends in the business and we've got some things lurking in the background with some theater and movie people. Some things take time to create and we knew because that was a massive piece of work. At an hour and 45 minutes of recorded music to do it justice, to give it the full production in whatever way we want to perform it, is gonna take a lot of time. But we're confident at some point we'll be able to display it in its entirety. We got a little bit of a taste with a couple of tracks on the last tour just to show people we can play it live but there's multiple opportunities: do we just play it as a band? Do we bring in an orchestra and a choir? Many, many ways of presenting it so that's gonna be another exciting project to look at.
You will continue to tour to support upcoming albums?
Yes, absolutely. I look at bands like the Stones or AC/DC who just went out and you can do whatever you want to do but it's just that level of credibility and that level of They look great, they sound great and that's really important. You've got to maintain that element of strength and discipline, which we're determined to do for as long as we can. But we feel by pulling back a little bit on these big world tours, it's probably gonna sustain us a lot longer. And we're gonna enjoy it as much so there's no end in sight.
AC/DC seem to go out every eight years.
I actually got my first AARP [organization for the elderly] thing in the post the other day. I was in Denny's the other day and I see that in a few months time I can get my 10 percent discountwaiting for my first Denny's Senior discount!
You talk about AC/DC and the Stones still out there touring and recordingdo you have any sense that there will be newer bands out there in 40 years' time?
Wow! I don't know, it's a different world isn't it? It really is a different world. You sometimes think about that at four o'clock in the morning when you can't sleep. There's tremendous talent in metal now and you kind of wonder, Will that particular band that's doing well be here 40 years later? I hope they are, I really do, because it's a wonderful life. But it is a different world and everything has been turned on its head since the Internet was invented. It really has been very, very difficult for the record and movie industry; there's not as much of a connection to really help bands grow and develop like there used to be for us when we were first with Columbia/CBS in the early days. And we're so happy to still be with the Sony family. You knew you didn't have to meet specific figures; you knew the label would be behind you for two, three or four releases and give you tour support and all the things you needed to grow and develop. And it's a different case nowyou've got to meet your demographic on your first release and if you don't, Sorry, guys, we've got somebody else in line behind you. And it's a shame because that really is, I think, affecting the quality of music. We look back at the wonderful people that surrounded ussingers, guitar players, drummers and all these wonderfully amazingly talented musicians from the '70 and the late 60s when rock was starting to get hard and heavy. And because of the speed of life that we live in now, it's a shame that a lot of these bands just don't get the time to develop and become better than they already are. But that's just the way it's turned out. You've probably got to work harder now to be a young new band than ever before.
When did you first get exposed to Judas Priest?
I think it was around the Painkiller sort of era and since then I've been in various cover bands growing up around London and stuff and we always played Priest songs. You know what I mean? So I was probably 15 or 16 or something like that and I came in listening to Painkiller and then worked my way back through finding different songs through the back catalog. And I'm still finding new songs now really. For different reasons, I liked Turbo and I liked Stained Glass and Painkillerthey were my favorite three.
Any certain songs you're looking forward to playing?
Painkiller because it's great to actually play from a rhythm guitar point of view and back up someone like Glenn. And lockin' in with Scott on drumsno one plays that like he does so from a rhythm guitar point of view it's great to be backing up him and playing with Scott at the same time rather than from the point of a lead player.
As another rhythm guitar player, it's great to back Richie solos as well because he's an exciting player and he's great.
On the Killing Machine/Hell Bent For Leather album, the band adopted a new look and approach. That had a huge impact on metal to this very day.
"It's a bit kind of surreal really. But as a fan of the band and of the genre, they are big shoes to fill and I know what I've got to do."
Roundabout that time, Rob developed the leather look and with songs like Hell Bent For Leather, which was obviously motorbike orientated or car orientated or however, we shifted into that era. Mainly through Rob really but it wasn't contrived. We didn't sit down and say, Hey, this is a cool look. It's sort of what we naturally evolved into and it felt really comfortable. Even now as Judas Priest, we're five individual members with all different interest and whatever, but when we don the leather we become an entitywe become that entity of Judas Priest. Since that point it's always felt right and so we naturally went that way. But it's still evolving nowI just tried to pick Rob's coat up, his new coat, and I physically can't hold it up with one arm. So it's gonna keep him quite fit jumping around on stage with that.
The great thing again is there is only one Judas Priestwe're unique with the kind of metal we make. No other metal band has been able to cover the territory that we've been able to do and I think that's something we're very proud of. We love bands that have their sound and their direction and maintain their steady course but we've never done thatwe're a band that can be Painkiller one minute and then Turbo the next and Living After Midnight and any number of hundreds of songs. One thing that we always kept an awareness about was the way the scene was changing around us and if you don't do that you're a fool. You've really got to look at everything that's happening in the music world and promoting your own area. It can be tremendously inspiring and you can get great ideas from listening to other talent. So I'm sure because we've grown through the 70s, 80s, 90s and so on, that's something that's been poured into the life of Priest musically in the creative sense. Because we're just a very diverse band when it comes to the songs that we've covered and we've always been very kind of stubborn in that we know what we want to do. This is what we want to be and one minute we're in this direction and that direction but in our mind it's all metalthat's the most important aspect of what we try and achieve.
Are they any songs in the vaults that have yet to be released?
No, I don't think there really is much on the shelf that we haven't released now. There are a few and of course we've written recently songs that have yet to be released so we don't know whether they're gonna see the light of day yet. But there's not much up there now that's left unreleased.
You recently commemorated the 30th anniversary of British Steel by performing the entire album live.
It was tremendous really; it was a real joy playing British Steel from front to back because we'd never done that before. It was an amazing experience and I think we only performed it in America, didn't we? And some Canadian dates; we didn't do it anywhere else in the world, which really pissed a lot of people off. So we have to try and make amends in that respect at some point. But yeah, it really is the time constraints to do an anniversary of every one of these records that keep popping in one after the other. You look back at that 80s period and we were literally making an album a yeara record every single year and touring. We'd come off a tour and have a two-week break and then we'd have to go straight in the studio. So that's how these multiple anniversaries keep popping up. It would be great to do something like that but old father time in the corner the man with the scythe is waiting.
Did you have any sense when you'd written songs like Breaking the Law and Living After Midnight for the British Steel album that you'd created something special?
No, I don't think so. You just feel you've got a great song and you have no idea what life it's gonna take on. It's beyond the moment really. You can't consciously sit down and have a plan to make that kind of song; it just happens. There are a lot of good memories cause as we talked about with the release, we did it at John Lennon's former home and it was just magical, wasn't it, Glenn? The whole time there was a very, very strong visual and we should have had cameras in every corner cause it would have been wonderful to have it on film.
We were actually sitting in the living room one day and we watching a music video station and John Lennon came on playing Imagine. You know that white room he played it in with that grand piano? We were actually in that room and it just freaked us out totally. Not in a bad wayhere he was sittin' there playin' the piano and there was a space there where he should have been. It was pretty weird and surreal.
Were you a fan of the Beatles?
Yeah, my favorite band and have always have been.
Had you seen them perform back in the day?
No, I saw George Harrison with the Traveling Wilburys with Eric Clapton and that was the closest I ever got to seeing the Beatles. I've seen McCartney play twice but never saw the Beatles.
What will you do when Judas Priest is finally over?
I'm gonna start a modeling agency.
I'm gonna buy some white t-shirts.
Interview by Steven Rosen