Hit The Lights: Judas Priest's Rob Halford - Real-Life 'The Baron' A Man Cut From The Xmas Cloth

artist: Rob Halford date: 10/17/2009 category: interviews
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Hit The Lights: Judas Priest's Rob Halford - Real-Life 'The Baron' A Man Cut From The Xmas Cloth
Vocalists come and leave the metal sphere, all with varying degrees of impact upon the scene. Whilst some vocalists make little impact if any, some greatly shape and inevitably influence the scene. Extremely few vocalists have influenced metal as much as Rob Halford, the frontman of Judas Priest and the Halford band. Dubbed the "Metal God", the man's high-pitched screams forever resonate. A staggering thirty-five years have elapsed since the release of 1974 Priest debut "Rocka Rolla", and it seems extremely certain Halford will enter a fifth decade as the "Metal God". On October 26th, Rob Halford's first solo release in more than seven years sees issue. Entitled "Halford III - Winter Songs", the album is a Christmas themed release. Written, arranged and recorded during 2008 and 2009, three newly penned, original Halford tracks are paired alongside traditional Christmas tunes with original arrangements by the Halford band (consisting of Judas Priest's Rob Halford on vocals, Roy Z and Mike Chlasciak on guitars, Mike Davis on bass, and Bobby Jarzombek on drums). Inaugural single "Get Into The Spirit" debuted at radio on September 29th, it being available for digital purchase the same day as well as "We Three Kings". "Halford III - Winter Songs" will be released through Halford's new record label, Metal God Records, distributed globally by ADA Global / Warner Music Group, Fontana / Universal Music Group, Conveyor / Universal Music Canada and Sony Music Japan. A new solo full length isn't the only current happening in the world of the Judas Priest frontman. Metal God Apparel is Halford's clothing line, and its Spring 2010 collection will debut thirteen, side-seemed, fashion-cut designer tees with art inspired by the man's music. Issued during mid October, console game "Brütal Legend" sees Halford voicing two characters: General Lionwhyte, and The Baron, the latter specifically created with Halford in mind. On October 7th at 22:40 GMT, Rob Halford telephoned Hit The Lights" target="_blank" class="midl">Hit The Lights' Robert Gray to discuss "Winter Songs", Metal God Apparel, and "Brütal Legend". UG: Hello? Rob Halford: Hello. It's Rob. How are you Rob? Fine, thanks. How are you mate? Alright? I'm alright, yeah. Would it be alright I began the interview? Oh yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. What prompted you to record a Christmas album in 'Halford III: Winter Songs'? Well, I'd never done it before, so that was the main reason. Where I am in my metal life, I just look for things that interest me, and try to find music that I haven't explored previously - 'Winter Songs' was a chance to do that. It's that time of the year as well, being a Brit, even though this record is for everybody around the world, and for all different faiths and everything. We all like that time around December; it means a lot to a lot of people, and it certainly means a lot to me. I was able to find time to record 'Winter Songs', and there you go. The album's all ready, and about to launch. Have you heard the first two tracks Robert?

"I write music that you can enjoy, and take with you wherever you go, depending on whatever mood you're in."

"Get Into the Spirit" and "We Three Kings", yeah. 'Winter Songs' is a little bit more than that, but with the first couple of tracks, I just wanted to send out a signal to metalheads that it is a record for metal fans more than anything in the world. The album goes off into some really cool, different places musically, and is a really interesting record to listen to. Was 'Winter Songs' in the works for quite some time? No, not really. In 'Winter Songs'' liner notes, it says that the album was put together over 2008 and 2009, but that doesn't mean it was a two year project. The record was just bits and pieces like a jigsaw puzzle coming together. I've been out on the road with Priest for almost the last two years, so it was a case of finding time for me to record my vocals. Also, the rest of the guys in the Halford band had to find time in their busy schedules as well, and more importantly, we just had to find the right material. I wasn't going to record "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (laughs) - that's already been done to death. I just wanted to find songs that were not overly popular, songs that could take the right kind of treatment in the arrangements. Trying to get the right things together was just a long process, but in the end, 'Winter Songs' is seven songs that have been rearranged and produced by Roy Z and myself, and then three original tracks that we've put together. I've been listening to 'Winter Songs' off and on since it was finished about a month ago, and I try to listen to it with an open mind, even though it's a music project that I'm close to. I think 'Winter Songs' is great, a really, really nice record - if nice is the right word. The album is just for the experience of this time of year, and is like everything you do. When people hear the music, they'll make their decision on whether they're going to like it or not, but I feel good about it. I feel really good about it. Do you feel that people can listen to 'Winter Songs' all year round then? Although the two songs I heard, "Get Into the Spirit" and "We Three Kings", are Christmas songs, you can listen to them whenever really, and they still sound really good. Yeah. That's a cool... Yeah, why not? Some of 'Winter Songs'' tracks specifically use the Christmas time reference, but there are others that don't have that. On its musical merits, there are some songs that you could enjoy at any time you wanted to enjoy them. Having said that, my specific intention was to make a record that you could enjoy at that time of the year, and enjoy year after year. That comes from my background, when you think about it. I don't write music that's disposable, or has a short shelf life so to speak. I write music that you can enjoy, and take with you wherever you go, depending on whatever mood you're in. Having said that, 'Winter Songs' is a holiday release. Is there a reason why you opted to cover lesser known tracks, as opposed to opting to cover more obvious tracks? Like, I don't know, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town", or "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and all those type of well known Christmas songs? Yeah. Those songs are fun, and they're lightweight. They create a certain kind of emotion, but I wanted 'Winter Songs' to just be a little bit deeper. There's a couple of cool tracks on the album, like "When Christmas Comes for Everyone". I was totally thinking of the UK time. There's a very exclusive British vibe that you get around Christmas, because that's what I am. I'm a Brit, and I carry that in my blood. To me, that song is a very British feeling, sounding track. Another one, called "I Don't Care If It's Christmas Night", was kind of inspired by the Chuck Berry type of experience, and the way that Chuck has written his music over the years. I just went into that frame of mind. That song tells the story of how you're struggling to get home in time to be with the family at Christmas, and you can't cos the weather's fucking shit. You get stuck in traffic, and all that kind of thing. I think that's another dilemma we all have - last minute Christmas shopping (laughs). It drives you mental. But how can I put that into a song? That's the message of that track, but some of the other material is quite big; big guitars, big drums, and big choral voices. All the other material has some very, very strong moments musically. Were there any songs recorded for 'Winter Songs', but left off the final track listing? No. In fact, we were listening to the nine completed tracks, and I said to Roy "We need another track. I don't like this number nine. It just feels wonky to me. I think we need another track". Roy agreed, so I picked up a guitar, and went into the studio. Half an hour later, I came up with this song which turned out to be quite strong, actually. It's called "Light of the World". We then had our ten tracks, so there was nothing left over. It was all used up. I had such a great time, and so much fun recording 'Winter Songs'. There was no stress, and no pressure. I had such a really cool time recording the album that I'm already thinking of maybe recording another one next year. 'Volume 2'. If you search, there's a lot of material out there. Are there any specific Christmas songs you would personally like to cover, providing you recorded 'Volume 2'? Like I said, to me, it has to have some balls to it. You have to be able to give it some welly. I like the lighter material, the fun material, but just because of my background I'm inclined to go for the bigger experience. Off the top of my head, I wouldn't know. It took us forever to get this list together, but I know there's other songs out there. Listen to the final track "Oh Come All Ye Faithful", which is a great, traditional, very famous song, and a song that everyone loves in the UK. We just threw everything on that track, the whole kitchen sink. It sounds like the Coldstream Guards are providing the back up on "Oh Come All Ye Faithful", marching past Buckingham Palace (laughs). That was the fun we had. We treated each track very differently. All the tracks are produced in a very unusual way, and all these ten tracks are very, very different from each other. That's why I'm excited to get the feedback from the fans when they start hearing the other eight tracks, after having had a chance to listen to "Get Into the Spirit" and "We Three Kings". You made reference to Chuck Berry, so would you cover "Run Rudolph Run"? I think songs that have already been done don't really... unless you're going to kick in a different direction, it can get a bit repetitious. That's one thing that was always in the forefront of my mind, and that was to hopefully give people a chance to listen to something in a brand new way. Again, it was a case of trying to avoid material that didn't have some weight to it. 'Winter Songs' is a strong record, a really strong record. I've always been a fan of Chuck Berry though. He's one of the great, great grandfathers of rock 'n' roll, and he's very inspirational - still is to a lot of people. Very, very simple, direct three-bar chords, whatever. Straight to the point, getting the groove on, getting the attitude down, and getting the melody and getting the licks in. You can learn a lot from Chuck Berry songs, as a musician.

"I look for things that interest me and try to find music that I haven't explored previously - 'Winter Songs' was a chance to do that."

You described 'Winter Songs'' first single, "Get Into the Spirit", as "a real ball-crusher". The opening track? Well, yeah. I guess in terms of vocal technique, and that riffage, the way "Get Into the Spirit" starts off, I think it has a lot of balls. It's a big racket, a really strong song. Like I said, it was important for me to let my metal fans know that this wasn't going to be something too lightweight and wimpy. 'Winter Songs' was going to have some solid riffs, and great drums, and big guitars, and big vocals, all over it. What are your memories of Christmas as a child? Well I suppose like yourself. Christmas is a time of excitement, and a lot of love between family and friends. We all try to put our differences to one side, and look forward to those three days in the UK; Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day. As a little kid, I came from a time in the early fifties when we were still recovering from the end of World War II. Things were still rationed to a certain extent, so it was tough for people in the UK at that time. You had to make ends meet to a certain extent, but my mom and dad, God bless em, always made sure that there was something on the table at Christmas. We had a few little Christmas gifts, so I have really, really nice memories. That's really what I remember about it. Even now, even though I'm an old metalhead, I still enjoy Christmas. I see it with my nephews and nieces, and I know what they feel like. Christmas is a wonderful time for family. You recorded some voice work for the console game 'Brütal Legend'. What were those recording sessions like? Really cool. Tim Schafer, the guy that designed the game, was with me. He directed the performance. Basically, you just read the lines off the script, and Tim describes the characters. Initially, I only got the one role, the role of this guy called General Lionwhyte. We had such a good time doing it together though that he gave me another character to voice, which is the Baron. The Baron plays alongside Jack Black's main character - I'm like Jack Black's sidekick in the video game, and the character looks like I used to look a long time ago (laughs). It was a lot of fun - I'd never done anything like that before. Tim was brilliant, and gave me all the directions and ideas. I suppose, because Tim's a metalhead, he knows of my ability to voice these characters that I've made over my career with Priest. Glenn (Tipton, guitarist) wrote "The Ripper", and I had to put myself in the character of The Ripper, and we wrote "Painkiller", "The Sentinel", "Sinner", and "Night Crawler". Tim was aware of that type of sensibility. It was a lot of fun to record. I was at the E3 Convention a few months ago, just wandering around there. It was the day that 'Brütal Legend' was launched. and they had some convention space. The 'Brütal Legend' set up was absolutely mobbed, rammed. Everybody was so excited. It's a brilliant game because it's all about metal - the music is all metal. The whole game is based on that metal type of experience. 'Brütal Legend' comes out next week, I think. I was hoping to actually do something with Jack, but I'm going to be onstage in Japan on the official launch date of the game. What prompted you to launch Metal God Apparel? Again, a bit of fun. There's not that many people in metal doing anything insomuch as .... You have other companies making that type of thing, but I don't think there's that many people like myself who've explored the opportunity. I put on a T-shirt, and that's all I wear. I just thought "Why don't we try and get a team of people together, and design them ourselves?". It came out of a simple idea, and took about a year to put together. Actually, it was a lot of hard work to get the final product. These aren't like T-shirts you buy at a rock show or a metal show - they're real, high-quality stuff. It took a lot of time to get all of the right material, and the fabrics, and to sort out the way it's supplied. You have to stick it in the wash for a month to make sure the T-shirt doesn't fall apart... there's a ton of things you have to do before you launch. Yeah though, I'll just see what happens. The T-shirts are cool, interesting, and kind of different. I don't think there are any other T-shirts out there like what we have, which is important. What I did discover though is that having a clothing company is like making a record, or making a song. It's all the same effort, in terms of creativity. You get the final thing completed, and then it's in the lap of the Gods in terms of how people react to it. We've been going through the business side of it for the last few weeks, talking to people that are in the industry, and they've been very encouraging - we've had very positive signals from them. As we head into the public launch phase, we have about thirteen designs at the moment. We're going to double that for next February for the clothing convention that's called MAGIC in Las Vegas. I'm hoping to be there for that. We'll see where it goes. And Metal God Apparel's range will be exclusively T-shirts? At the moment, yeah. Everyone's asking "Are you going to do shoes? Are you going to do jackets? Trousers?", or whatever. I don't know. I might do, but that just depends on how people take to this first type of endeavour. If it doesn't work, I'll knock it on the head. I'm paying for this all myself, and I don't have any investors or anything. If it does take off though, and it does look strong, then I'll bring in some outside investment people. We're just doing things step by step step though, bit by bit, and we'll see how it works out. How would you describe the design process between you and Marc Sasso? I've known Marc for a very, very long time; he's known me through all of my work in Priest, and has been to loads of Priest shows, Halford shows, and Fight shows. He's an illustrator by definition - that's his life, his living, his career. Marc's the man, basically. He uses his creative mind from watching the shows, reading the lyrics of the songs, and listening to the music. He just illustrates in his head, and fetches out these different possibilities. We just jam together our critiques, our ideas, and it just grows, grows and grows until we say "Yeah, there's one", and we just move onto the next, the next, the next, and slightly build things up. I'm not the expert, even though over the years, everything that you've generally seen me wear I've been involved with. I've known myself to sit down with a clothes maker, the people that make what we wear, and just basically say "I want this, this and this". I just fetch the basic plans and ideas. I don't really have the talent to do the great work that Marc Sasso has done, so my involvement is there inasmuch as it's needed basically.

"The 'Brtal Legend' set up was absolutely mobbed, rammed. It's a brilliant game because it's all about metal - the music is all metal."

In the future, do you see yourself working with other designers? Oh no, I don't think so (laughs). I don't think so. I should've trademarked everything that you see me wearing, because a lot of that comes from my own head. Some of those outfits cost about ten thousand dollars a pop. That's quite a lot of money Rob. It's mad, isn't it? But then, it's au couture, like something by Dolce & Gabbana, or Versace. They're one-offs. I dare say, you could do knock-offs, but it's difficult isn't it then (laughs)? Everybody walking around looking like Rob Halford - just really bizarre (laughs). Some of the ideas can be adjusted, mixed and matched though, and that kind of thing. People often say that Priest was the band that gave metal its defining look. I don't know whether we did or whether we didn't, but that's what a lot of people say. As a result of some of the things we wore in Priest through the early eighties, metal got its distinctive type of appearance. Now, if you go into any of these shops that sell those kind of things, they sell the wristbands, and the studded belts, and the leather jackets, and all that kind of thing. It's timeless really, when you think about it. That's what's so nice about it - to be a timeless experience. You see it coming around again, like the guys in Steel Panther, my mate Russ Parrish. Steel Panther are just picking up the eighties, and banging it out again. People wandering around at Download in spandex pants (laughs). Bad, but it's a laugh. It's a lot of fun. What do you feel the future holds for the Halford band? Priest will always be the band that leads me in my life, but I still have that streak of creativity that I need to find an outlet for. That's what the Halford band provides me with. I don't think Priest could've done this Christmas'y kind of record - it wouldn't have been right, because that isn't what Priest is about. My solo activities allow me to do that, and anything else that I might choose to do in the future. It has to be useful Robert. I can't just go banging out songs that I can do with Priest - what's the point? I need to be able to find music and songs that need a solo touch to them. I still want to explore those possibilities. The great thing about music is you can get up any day of the week, and you can find a brand new way of expressing yourself as a musician. It's a never-ending journey in that respect, when you think about it. It's just as exciting for me now in Priest as it was when I first started in metal, and it's just as exciting for me now with the solo ideas that I've got swirling around me. I haven't lost that passion. I'm fifty-eight, but I still have that streak of creativity in me, and determination, to keep working into the metal future. Ok. Thanks for the interview Rob - it's really appreciated. Alright Robert. Thanks mate. It was a pleasure to talk to you. Have a nice Christmas, and hopefully we'll see you next year. Ok. And the same to you mate. Brilliant. Cheers mate. Thank you. Alright. Bye. Ta-ra. Interview by Robert Gray Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2009
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