Rob Halford: 'The Nostradamus Sessions Have Really Pushed Me'

artist: Judas Priest date: 11/24/2007 category: interviews
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Rob Halford: 'The Nostradamus Sessions Have Really Pushed Me'
Expect great things in the coming months from the man known as the original Metal God. It seems Rob Halford has never been more prolific, and the fruits of that labor have already begun to surface with his latest solo compilation Metal God Essentials Vol. I. But he's been up to a lot more than gathering greatest hits material, whether it be working on ideas for an upcoming album with his self-titled project Halford or flying halfway across the world to record with Judas Priest. The octave-defying vocalist has also become the consummate businessman over the past couple of years. His label Metal God Entertainment's first release was Metal God Essentials Vol. I, but Halford is hoping his company will be a home for up-and-coming talent as well. According to Halford, if a new band's first album bombs, most major labels will rarely stick around to give them another chance. With his label, the Priest vocalist wants to allow artists the opportunity to grow and mature, even if their debut albums don't make it onto the charts. And then there is Priest. Halford has been flying back and forth from England to work with his longtime band on one of the most eagerly anticipated records of the coming year, Nostradamus. The concept album, based on the life of the 16th century prophet, is still tightly under wraps, but Halford told UG writer Amy Kelly that his return to Priest has pushed him to work harder than he has ever done in the past. UG: Between Metal God Entertainment and your work with Judas Priest and Halford, it seems like you have been busier than ever. Rob: The great surprise for me is having this organization Metal God Entertainment. It's just really kind of come up out of the blue to a certain extent. The story goes, when I was able to get the 2 solo releases Resurrection and Crucible into my control so to speak, I was in a position like a lot of artists find themselves. You now have the joy of being able to get where you want to go with your previous releases and future endeavors. So how are you going to handle that? I still value the great work that the major labels do. I think major labels still are vital in the recording industry. For example, we have Judas Priest on BMG. They're an amazing group of people that are dedicated and passionate about the artists that they work with. But it's a different business model for different traditions and situations. I looked around to possibly find good deals with labels, but at the end of the day I thought, If there's a way I can really kind of keep this in my own world - and do as I pick and choose with the previous releases and those in the future - that's got to be a really good feeling. So that's when we decided to put together Metal God Entertainment, which is a platform for not only what I'm doing with my music, but in the long term we want to hopefully make it a small, independent metal label. So that's what we've proceeded to do. We've got distribution deals with different people in different territories around the world, and it's just all working out incredibly well. You have such a vast body of work, how hard was it to select the songs for Metal God Essentials Vol. I? The first line of thought was, I don't want to put out what's known as the regular essentials format, which is generally your greatest hits. I never really had that world, quite frankly, with my solo work. What I wanted to do was to bear in mind that there was a possibility that people may not be completely familiar with all of my solo work. It was to steer everybody into the different recordings that I've done, War Of Words, Resurrection, Crucible. There are 2 bands instead of one, Fight and Halford, live tracks and remixes, a couple of new tracks like Forgotten Generation and Drop Out. Then you throw in another little bit of fun with the bonus DVD. I also wanted to get across my answer to the lyricist in this world, which is a different world to the one I used to write about in Priest. I wanted to show the different things that I'm thinking about and observing in the world. So there are 16 tracks that really take you on a trip through what I've been doing since the mid-early 90's, up until recently. The lyrical difference does stand out, particularly in a song that deals with social concerns like Forgotten Generation. In moments in the past in Priest, we touched on these issues, but that has not been the broad-based approach. Definitely with Halford and Fight, I could really push the perimeters of where I want to go or talk about, the obvious things like sex, drugs, religion, politics, and social-political conditions. That all might sound kind of high brow and deep, but this is just the wonderful opportunity that I have to express myself. I think that's what musicians should do, obviously. If you're a lyricist, you have to make a connection with the listener. You have to have something to say so that they get a feeling about what you are experiencing, your reflections and opinions on what goes on in life around you. I can do that with my solo work. Are you currently working on the next Halford album? I read somewhere that you planned on calling it Halford IV. Yeah, I think we've already called it that just to throw a bone out, so to speak. To let people know that there's a collection of musicians - myself, Metal Mike, Mike D, Bobby, and Roy Z - even though we're active in our own separate worlds, we're still together with the band. So at some point, there will be a Halford IV. It may have a name, may have a title. It kind of sounds cool, Halford IV! We have something strong to say, and we may do that. With Forgotten Generation, people ask me if it's about my generation. It's really a song about standing up for yourself. Everything that I write for the most part has got a very positive message. So Forgotten Generation just talks about every generation and that generation's rights and abilities to stand up and speak their mind to get things off their chest. You've got a platform to take, whether it's doing a blog on the Internet or standing on the corner screaming. It's great. So that's what that song means to me.
"Everything that I write for the most part has got a very positive message."
Did you write the music for the new songs or was it a full collaboration with the band? Yeah, it's a collaboration. Of course, since my glorious return to Priest, time is difficult in reaching those writing teams. Everything that I've done with Priest, I've been in a room with Glenn and K.K., and that's how we make our music work. With the Halford band, we have really talented writers with Roy Z and Metal Mike. They're on different sides of the continent. Metal Mike is in New Jersey, and Z is in LA. So there just always noodling and exchanging things over files on the Internet or sending CDs to one another. I generally get the almost-completed ideas, and then I just add my input. Eventually I'm finding vocal melodies and things to say. We've got a lot of stuff stockpiled, waiting to go. When the calendar is clear and when I've finished my next big moment with Priest with the Nostradamus release and if time permits, I'd like to get out Halford IV with some shows to support it. When I first heard you were working on a concept album about Nostradamus, I thought it was one of the coolest ideas I've ever heard. What is the status on that project? Our manager, Bill, who works with Pete and Roger from The Who, he came up with that idea. This was in Russia towards the end of the Angel of Retribution Tour. He just threw an idea out to us and said, You guys need to go back into the studio and do another studio recording. What about this idea? As soon as he brought up the word Nostradamus, the room lit up because we immediately could see it. Firstly, it's this wonderful moment for all of our fans and ourselves to write a concept album, which in itself is a challenge. Obviously anything of a conceptual field means it all has to flow and connect. Then the fact that it was a real guy and a real man that lived 500 years ago. He's a man that has still touched people all these years later. It's a man that's get talked about on every part of the planet. There are books about Nostradamus in all of the different languages around the world, and you get to see TV documentaries about him and so on and so forth. He's still a relevant figure, but when you cut through the main features of his life that he could have these prophecies and visions and premonitions and so forth, he had a pretty difficult, rough life as a guy who was dealing with the attention that he was making. It was difficult and he had to struggle with certain reactions. Of course, he had his family life, his home life, which was quite sad at certain points in his life. It's a human figure, with all the same foibles and conditions in life that we all go through. It's great because I can write lyrics that are maybe about Nostradamus, but we can all kind of relate to it. Then there are more dramatic things, when he had these spectacular, dark visions, which is the metal element. The atmosphere, the drama, and all of the landscapes that you can create with the music, it's all very metal. How is the chemistry among you and the other members of Priest today? It's great. This might sound strange, but you do tend to kind of mellow with age. You get a greater grasp of what's right and what you need and what's important in your life. I think that's where I'm at, especially in Priest now. I'm certain more content and more satisfied with my own self in my life as I am at this point than I was maybe in my 20s and my 30s. I think that's natural. So you mellow, but you don't slow down! Will the recording be quite elaborate, possibly with a full string section? Yeah, but we don't want to take it to the point where we can't recreate it live. We posted that on the website over a year or so ago because people were clambering about what was happening and what we were doing. We basically said that we were making this metal opera based on the life of Nostradamus, and we'll be eventually performing it in concert completely from the beginning to the end with an elaborate production. So that's about as much as we've given out. Musically, we just need to be able to recreate what we do in the studio live onstage. That's always been important to Priest. No matter how complex the arrangement and the sound might be, we need to be able to play just as a 5 piece. We've experimented with a lot of different ideas and possibilities, and I don't think we'll have anything really down till we start mixing, which should be pretty soon. I go in a short while and then we should be ready to go into the mixing mode. Then I think that's when reality will set in on exactly what we want to include or exclude. It's easy to delete with Pro Tools! Do you enjoy using the world of Pro Tools? Yes, I do. I think it's amazing. It's a lot easier. It's a much more comfortable environment in the recording sense now than the old days with reel-to-reel tape. Firstly, it's faster. You can really get your ideas down and you can really catch the moment more immediately. Overall, it's just a fantastic piece of technology. We've been through it all. We've been through reel-to-reel to digital effects and then the invention of software like Pro Tools. The great thing about Pro Tools is I did my vocal tracks for Forgotten Generation and Drop Out in the living room of my house in Phoenix. I just put some headphones on and plugged in. That's the other great thing about Pro Tools - you can take your gear wherever you want to go. I saw this amazing PBS show about Les Paul. Of course, around that time somebody invented this small reel-to-reel tape record. Les Paul had this idea to put another little recording device just a fraction away from the record head, and Les Paul invented multi-tracking. As soon as that machine was created, he said to his wife Mary, Come on, we're going around the country recording. That's what they would do. They would record in clubs and pubs and bars and homes. He's the master. He's the pioneer of home recording. Les Paul, to me, is just like the ultimate god in terms of the guitar world. What he has contributed to the recording industry is phenomenal. I had no idea you had such an admiration for Les Paul. Yeah. I loved Les Paul because of his guitars, but I wasn't that familiar with his life until I saw this PBS show. Suddenly you go, Wow, what an amazing man. In today's speed of life, so many things get passed by. We're overwhelmed and sometimes it can be too much. It's a different world from when I started with Priest. The world was a slower place and things were given time to mature and develop. That's not the case now with a lot of new, young talent. It's really sad that these new players don't have the opportunity to be with record companies that would stick behind them 2 or 3 or 4 releases, before they were starting to make their mark. So it's tough for young players to get the chance to really grow and develop. You can't expect somebody in their early 20s with their first recording to have it nailed down in one go. You've got to give them a chance to develop. Being a musician is like any art form; the more you practice, the more you learn.
"I find it exciting when you see a band that has a really talented lead guitar player."
A lot of metal fans miss the metal of the early 80s, namely Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Do you hear a similar sense of musicality in many of today's bands? I do. I've seen and listened to bands that have come up recently, and there are combinations of some of the great classic metal moments from the past. For guitar players, bands like Trivium and DragonForce, 3 Inches of Blood - there are all these players looking around at the great family tree of heavy metal. They're finding bands that inspire them and fire them up to try and take a little bit of this, a little bit of that. We've all done that. Every musician that you speak to will have a story about a singer that they listened to or saw, or a guitar player, drummer, bass player. We're constantly passing the flame on to one person to the next. That's what happens in all forms of creativity. Everybody has got an idol or hero. That's important to spur you on and to encourage you to grow and find your own way. You see and hear a lot of that now. As a guitar nut, I find it exciting when you see a band that has a really talented lead guitar player. That's interesting you call yourself a guitar nut. Do you also play? Oh, no! I'm absolutely useless! Rubbish! I kick myself because I'm like, God, you've been a metal singer for all these years. You love guitar players, and yet you haven't really made the effort to learn and play. So sadly, I can do enough to get riffs down or an idea down, and then pass it on to somebody who is way more competent than I am. At the same time, I love to listen to talented young guitar players that make it look so effortless. You can only do that just by an enormous amount of practice and dedication. There are plenty of musicians who think the same about your vocal style. I will never forget the way Sebastian Bach used to go on and on about you in interviews. What is it like to be considered an idol in the metal world? It's gotten to the point now where I am getting that feedback, and that's just wonderful. Sebastian is a good friend of mine, and I've known Sebastian since he was like 16 years of age. He used to sneak into the rock clubs in Phoenix, where he used to live for years. All I've ever tried to do as a singer was just to show that the voice is an extraordinary instrument. Some of us can really make it do amazing things. We're all limited to a certain extent because every singer's voice is unique to themselves. It's like a thumbprint. Everybody has got a different ability. But I think what I've tried to do in my own world, which is obviously different to what everybody else's perception of it might be, is that it can do extraordinary things. One minute it can just be extremely insane with a track like Painkiller, and then it can be very, very beautiful with a song like Angel from Angel Of Retribution. I'm just lucky. Pushing yourself and seeing what you can do, some singers just stay in one register, one octave, one tone. And much like a guitar, you've got 6 strings, you've got all these pickups and tonal changes you can utilize. You can make it sound and do different things, and that's what I've tried to do with this voice that I've got. I don't like repetition and I love to be entertained. I want to be interested by a musician's ability. I don't want to sing the song like this way again because I've already covered that territory. Let me see what I can do by changing an octave and changing the tone of the voice through the stomach or from the diaphragm, the throat. It's a wonderful, complex instrument when you know how to use it, and I just get a lot of pleasure out of the whole experience even now. The Nostradamus sessions have really pushed me. I've done things on Nostradamus that I don't think that I've ever done before. It sounds like Nostradamus is going to be absolutely unbelievable. I'm talking the talk, and I think I'll be able to walk the walk with it. I think it's some of the greatest stuff that we've ever done in Priest. Do you have a tentative release date you're shooting for? It's like a movie, for example. You've got all these things, and it depends on how they fit together with the different takes that you've created. You can kind of see, but it's still not completely the way that you can in your mind envision it. Despite constantly massaging it and noodling with all of the things, you finally get that moment. Mixing can make or break a record, quite frankly. You can destroy a great song with a lousy mix. It's all in the mix. What's coming up for you after the release of Metal God Essentials Vol. I? After the Metal God Essentials release, we've got the Fight: War Of Words DVD movie that's coming out in November. That's a retrospective look back at my first venture into my solo work - finding the players, rehearsing, recording, going on the tour. There's an absolutely phenomenal live piece that kind of jumps back and forth, actually during songs from different parts of the world. We're using different camera angles for a song like Nailed To The Gun. One moment you're in Tokyo, the next minute you're in New York, and the next minute you're in Rio. It's like the movie Spun. It's just crazy, but wonderfully exciting. Then we've got the Rock In Rio DVD with Maiden and the Halford band in 2001, I think it was. We've been running Silent Screams on streaming on to give people a little bit of a taste. It's also on the bonus DVD. The band was just red hot that night. We recorded in front of like a million people. It was an incredible experience. Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2007
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