For many people he is the creator of heavy metal music and for many other he is the reason for getting into heavy metal. For some people he is one of the best heavy metal singers and for some other his songs guide them through their lives. Rob Halford is for sure one of the greatest personalities, not only in heavy metal, but in the world of music in general. He is the singer of Judas Priest and he contributed in the creation of some of the most classic heavy metal albums ever. Rob Halford is a living legend, and in the age of 59 the flame inside him burns strong.
On the other end of our telephone line, the Metal God himself, in a really great mood, talks with Karagiannidis Panagiotis about his fourth new solo album “Made of Metal” which both musically and lyrically seems to be his most personal one. On the occasion of the 20 years anniversary of the “Painkiller” album, Rob remembers the Judas Priest years back in 1990 and the writing process of the album. In conclusion, Rob reveals the dreams that he has today and talks about his upcoming plans including the tour with Ozzy.
You can download the audio format of the interview here.
Hello Rob. How are you?
Hello Kara (i.e Karagiannidis) I’m fine, I’m having a good day talking to all of my friends in the metal world about Judas Priest, and Halford, and heavy metal, and all good things… the new Halford release, everything about heavy metal.
So let’s start with “Made of Metal”, it’s your fourth solo release, would you characterise it as a classic Halford album?
Well, it certainly seems to have turned out that way, I think it definitely has some classic elements of metal, you know, this record came about in a slightly different way than most recordings of mine. Most recordings are planned well in advance, but this came together quite quickly. For the first time, in a long time, I was writing as a solo writer. In many of the songs that I made mostly with Priest, of course, it’s been with Glenn and KK writing as a trio, and in some instances with the Halford band writing with Michael or with Roy Z. But the bulk of the songs on “Made of Metal” came out of my own metal head, you know? I suppose just because of who I am and what I do and, more than anything, the way I’m feeling right now about metal, I guess I’m in a classic mood, if you want to call it that. So, some of the textures of this record have got that wonderful traditional classic metal vibe. It’s a label really. Hopefully, I would hope my Greek fans will just accept it as the latest offering from the Metal God and just enjoy without thinking about it. I do love the music, I am very protective of the music that I make and I’m delighted that it’s turned out as well as it has.
So, tell me a few things about the composing and the recording process of the album; was it easy for you to record it, did you have any troubles maybe during the recordings?
Well, apart from my producer nearly dying on me!… I don’t know whether you’ve heard that story on the internet… There was one session where I was writing with Roy and he was drinking gallons and gallons of coffee cause he had a very light night the night before, and I said: “Roy slow down, you’re just drinking too much coffee, you’ll get a caffeine rush!”, “No Metal God, I’m ok” (he replied). But about two hours later he said he had to stop because he didn’t feel too well. The end result was, we had to dial for the ambulance and they came and took him away and kept him in hospital for a few hours. So, I was left alone in the studio and after that incidence this song called “Heartless” happened. So, that really is the craziest part of the sessions, everything else went really, really smoothly. Roy as a producer is very efficient, and he has a handful of people that he likes to work with, mixing and engineering and mastering. The whole project didn’t take very long at all when I think about it, you know..
Did you feel more comfortable and free making a Halford album than a Judas priest one?
No, I think the comfort’s the same, really… I just love to write metal, you know? When I’m with Glenn and KK I feel differently, I write differently, my ideas come out differently, you know? So, yeah, there’s a different experience, but both of them are wonderful, they’re both tremendously exciting and very rewarding.
Both the video clip of “Made of Metal” and the cover of the album include a NASCAR theme, are you a fan of NASCAR? How did you decide to link race cars with metal music?
Well, race cars, motorbikes… those two forms of sport remind me of the metal world. The machines that they ride are made of metal, they’re loud, they’re bright, they just create a lot of attention; they contain energy and passion, same way with the fans. So, I just see NASCAR and Formula 1 as a metaphor for the metal experience, you know? And I’m just trying to do something different… Oh God, there’s just millions and millions of ideas you can use for our work, and our work is important because all it is really is an advertisement, you know, it’s like the wrapping on anything, so you’re trying to catch everybody’s eye when you’re doing these kinds of things and have people talk about it. In that respect I think this has been a little bit controversial for me because I’m getting a little bit pushed back saying: “Rob, why is this all about America?”; and it’s not about America, it’s just an idea that’s probably particularly strong in the States. But if I had just released a CD with no art work I don’t think there would have been any reaction, but it would have been a very dull way to make a release. So, it’s just the cosmetics of the art work that give you all of the multiple choices, you know? So, that’s it really, I see the NASCAR thing and the racing car thing as another kind of connection to heavy metal.
Looking at the lyrics in the booklet of the album, “Twenty-Five Years” song has the most personal lyrical theme; can you tell us a few things about that song? Do you really feel tired and lonely from your career’s journey as you say in the song?
I’m really relieved that everybody likes that track, because when I said to Roy that I want to put a message about the difficulties that I had 25 years ago with the drinking and the drugs that I was taking, I said: “Do you thing this is a good idea?” and he goes: “Yeah, because you’re writing from the heart, this is your band it’s your name, you should talk about things that are important to you, you should tell people your stories”. So, that’s what that song is about, and it’s just been making a great reaction, especially to my friends like you, all over the world, people I have spoken to in South America, in Italy, Spain, Japan, the UK; everybody loves that track. It’s been a real surprise how it’s just been instantly connected to. So, that’s what it is, you know I’m talking about 25 years; the devil on my back is my addiction, you know, and so I’ve been claiming sober for 25 years. That just really kind of supports what I’ve talked about, about this being a very personal release, not only lyrically, but musically as well.
So, can we say that “Made of Metal” is your most personal release so far, as you are the composer of both the lyrics and the music?
I think all of that combined makes it a personal release. It’s not just about the lyrics; it’s about the overall construction of the music.
Let’s talk about Judas Priest; it’s been 20 years since the release of “Painkiller” and 30 since “British Steel”, you recently released an anniversary edition of “British Steel”, are you going to do the same for “Painkiller”?
Yeah, it’s funny, we were laughing about this in an amused kind of a way while we were touring with “British Steel”, cause everybody was saying: “There’s an anniversary for ‘Painkiller’, there’s an anniversary for ‘Screaming for Vengeance’ , are we gonna do anything about it?” I don’t know, I mean, I’d do everything, but that’s just me speaking personally, cause I love Judas Priest so much, but I’m just one voice, you know, and it was always the collection of everybody’s feelings that’s important in Priest, so I don’t know. It would be fun to do definitely, I suppose if we are gonna do it we’ll tell everybody first on our website.
“British Steel” is definitely one of the most classic metal albums ever, but what is it that makes “Painkiller” the favourite one for the fans, in your opinion?
It’s funny really because I was talking about “Painkiller” with KK on tour, when we were doing “British Steel”, and he reminded me that the initial reaction for “Painkiller” was very mixed, some people didn’t really like it that much, and now, of course, it’s become a very important record. So, that just goes to show you how everyone can feel differently when some time has passed and you had that time to really listen to the music and digest it and understand what it means. So, “Painkiller” now has become a very important record, not only for Priest, but for lots of musicians lots of journalists, lots of fans, that was just a really important record for heavy metal, so, it’s great, it’s a really good feeling from that time and I look forward to hopefully making some “Painkiller” sounds when Priest gets back on the road next year.
I’m sure you have already talked about it a thousand times, but would you like to tell us a few things about the “Painkiller” years? What you remember from 1990 during the composing and the recording process of the album, and that period in general?
I think the feeling that we had in terms of what we wanted to do next, to do something, not exactly extreme, but to have a record that had a tremendous amount of energy on every track, that kind of started to be “Painkiller”, the title track, and really went through the whole set of dynamics. Even “Touch of Evil”, which is just the way that metal records are made, there’s always a time when, at least for us in Priest, you take a bit of a breather and then you take off again. So, I think there was an intent to make that kind of record with that type of excitement level, which I believe we succeeded in. For me, the other main memory was the fact that we were working with Scott Travis for the first time, and Glenn and KK and myself were living in Spain in the late 80s early 90s, so we brought Scott in Spain, for the first time, I don’t think he left America before, and when we got him to the house we rented for him the first question was: “Where is the 7-11?”, we go: “What?!”, he said: “Dude I need to go to the 7-11 store and get some snacks”, we go: “They don’t have 7-11s in Europe!”, he said: “You’re fucking kidding me dude! So where’s the store?”, and we said “Well you get in that car there, and you drive for about 30 minutes, and you find a supermarket”, it was really funny! (laughs) It was exciting to work with Scott, because of his technique; that was another important memory. And then of course going to the south of France to Miraval Studios which is a gorgeous location in a vineyard in a converted chateaux, that was fantastic. We needed to do that because if you don’t isolate us, or at least in those days, if you didn’t isolate us we’d be down the pub every night or in the clubs every night. So, we had to kind of shut out the world and really concentrate; and it did good. I think that bands should consider that if they have the opportunity. Of course we don’t do that now with Priest. We have a little studio that we use in the Midlands; we just drive there to work every day, and then we go home, which is nice to sleep in your own bed.
There is also a song called “Living Bad Dreams” which was going to be included in the “Painkiller” album but you finally rejected it, what was the reason for that?
You just look at the overall collection of songs. It’s like a film, you know, sometimes the scene is cut out of the film, or a book, sometimes a chapter is removed for lots of different reasons. You know, you have A-list, B-list, C-list; A-list songs you know immediately if they’re gonna make it, you have a B-list which takes songs that need more work on them, and then you have a C-list where you know you’re gonna leave them off the record.
We can’t overlook the fact that the 90s were really difficult years for metal music, since grunge music was rising; however “Painkiller” was released back then and became a classic album, how difficult was this for the band in that period of time?
Yeah, the music scene was definitely changing again, like it changed in the 80s. You know, the rumblings of new metal were starting to happen with bands like Korn, for example, or Panthera. So, it was an interesting few years. The classic metal had already established itself, and had an audience and always will have an audience. The beginning of every decade, if you look through Rock and Roll history, from the 50s right to now, 2010, there’s always something new in the horizon of every decade. So, it was an unusual time for the metal years, but again it was an exciting one, cause I think it’s important that metal keeps changing shape, it keeps it invigorated and stimulated.
Since you are one of the creators of “British Steel” and “Painkiller”, what’s the formula to create a classic record? Does it have to do with the right time maybe, or the right inspiration?
Yeah, I mean, you know, Judas Priest in 1976, when we played “Sad Wings Of Destiny”, it was a different band in 1980 when we made “British Steel”, different band in 1986 when we made “Turbo”, different band in 1991 for “Painkiller”, and so on. Every band does that, you know, you either stay on the course, like for example ACDC, and that’s your style and you’re happy with that, that’s the only way you want to represent yourself, which is great, cause I’m a huge ACDC fan; or you look at the band log Priest have, it’s left a trail of hundreds of metal songs in many different styles and designs. It’s just the way the players come together, you know, you take one person out of the equation, especially writing, and you get a different sound happening. So, you know, you should just express yourself as you’re feeling and as you’re being inspired and motivated about particular points.
Acts such as Judas Priest, Ozzy, Iron Maiden, Metallica, and some others of your time, are the last bands that we can call classics and legends, however you have to agree that these bands are not going to be active for ever, there are a lot of great bands nowadays in metal music, but not a band that we can say that they will become the next Judas Priest, for example, or the next Black Sabbath. What are your thoughts about this, is it possible that a new successor will be born, a new band that will become classic and a legend, like you, and continue the heavy metal history? What do you think about the present and the future of metal music?
It’s a different world now, especially with the invention of the internet and technology, people think differently, people consume music differently. So, I don’t know, I mean I can’t even think who was the last, great, world wide dominating, heavy metal band in recent years, I don’t think there has been one. I think there’s been really good bands, you know…
Yes, but not what we call classics or legends.
Yes I agree, yeah, yeah… I don’t know, I don’t know if it’ll come back. You see, that’s the exciting thing about different generations, every generation claims its bands, you know, it says: “This is my band, this is my music”, even if the music is linked to the past, it doesn’t matter. So, I think we just got to wait and see, you know? There’s always an opportunity for a new metal band to be linked to the great classical past of metal, but I don’t know what level they’re gonna get to in terms of being a gigantic, worldwide force, like some of the other, previous, metal bands were.
So Rob, what’s next both for your solo career and Judas Priest? I read that your are going on a tour with Ozzy…
Yes, I did the Ozzfest this year, and while I was doing the Ozzfest Ozzy asked me if I would join him on the Arena Tour, which I’m gonna do with him in November and December, and then I’m gonna go back to England and start planning the next two years for Judas Priest. I’m going to Japan on Sunday, doing some shows there, and then I’m going to South America, to Peru, Argentina, Brazil and Chile, and then I’m coming back to the States to finish the shows here. I’d like you just to tell all my fans in Greece that I love them for their support and dedication, and that I’ll try to bring the Halford band back to Greece as soon as I can.
We hope so! Last but not least, since everyone calls you “Metal God”, you have won Grammy Awards, you have performed live shows in sold out stadiums, and you have such a successful career in general, is it possible that there are dreams that you haven’t fulfilled already?
Well, I think there are always dreams to fulfil, that’s what should drive you as a creative person, and they still do for me. I have lots of dreams about different things and I always know that there is another metal song to make, and another metal record to be made, and another metal show to be performed; those are the dreams that keep coming true. Outside of what I’m doing right now, you know, I’m very satisfied, I’m a lucky guy, I’m still with Judas Priest which is still revered as one of the world leaders in global metal, and I’ve got the great luxury of my solo career, which is important to me, and you know, I’ve got my production companies, and so on and so forth, just to keep me connected to metal for ever, and that’s all I can dream of, it’s wonderful, I am very grateful and very content.
So is there anything else you would like to add in conclusion?
Well, just like I said a couple of minutes ago, you cannot do these things without the fans to support you. My fans buy my records, buy my t-shirts, come to the shows, all money goes into keeping the bands alive, and keeps us making metal together. So, without the fans we can’t do this, so again I just want to say a big thank you, a genuine, sincere thank you to my fans; especially to my fans in Greece.
So, Rob it has been a real honour speaking to you, thank you for the interview.
Thank you, nice to speak to you my friend and I hope I see you next year.
Interview by: Karagiannidis Panagiotis.
Transcribed by: Elpida Petraki.