Every metalhead around the world is aware of the achievements of Judas Priest having forged their true British steel in the metal world since the early 70’s. The mighty Judas Priest headlined the second day of the Swedenrock festival at the beginning of June. Before the metal gods rose on the stage under dark black skies to unleash prophecies of Nostradamus in front of 30.000 lawbreakers, they sat down in front of enthusiastic heavy metal press maniacs who expressed questions in a rapid fire sequence. Because this was a press conference where press staff from various countries attended, the questions dealt with many issues. Here we go freewheel burning… enjoy !
By Arto "Jawbreaker" Lehtinen and Marko "Turbo Lover" Syrjälä
Transcription by David Groves
Judas Priest at the press conference
The album NOSTRADAMUS – was somebody in the band interested in the life of Nostradamus? How did the idea come about in the first place?
Rob: The actual idea to make Nostradamus came from our manager Bill Curbishley. Bill’s been looking after Priest since the 80’s, he’s a wonderful man and he’s full of great ideas. He knew we’d been wanting to make some kind of a concept release for many years, and so he came to see us in Latvia at the end of the ANGEL OF RETRIBUTION tour and basically said ‘I know you guys have been wanting to do a concept record and have been looking for an idea – what about NOSTRADAMUS?’ – and basically that’s all he had to say. We knew of the man obviously, independently of each other but we’d never even thought about covering this guy’s life. So that’s basically where the idea came from.
About doing a concept album, what were the hardest parts of writing this album, and how it was as an experience compared to anything else you’ve done in the past?
Glenn: It was really quite easy to write because we were so inspired by the guy – by his life. He had tragedy; he lost his wife and his children. He was exiled and then found a new life. He was a very mysterious character and we were inspired by that. The composition itself wasn’t very hard – what took a long time was to fit it all together so it was fluent and so it told his life story. The album is really about his life story, it does broach on his visions and his prophesies but it’s really about his life story. So it was actually the putting it all together so that lyrically and musically it all flowed. There are thirteen primary tracks but there’s twenty four pieces of music actually and we wanted them to just work so that you leave this world and step into the world of Nostradamus. So that was the thing that took most of the time. Because we all so inspired by it, it all really came together very, very easily.
Here’s a question for Rob. In some recent interviews you have stated that you can also speak some Italian, how that’s possible?
Rob: I wouldn’t have been able to have done the Italian without this guy that we know who runs at Italian restaurant in Birmingham. Because we knew what we wanted to say, and then a friend of ours said ‘we know this guy who’s got this really good Italian restaurant, why don’t you call him up?’ So we called him up, the manager, and we said ‘Hey we’re Judas Priest and we’re doing this opera and we want to sing in Italian – these are the words we want to say’ and his first words were ‘Eh, you come and have some food first, I’ll give you pizza and spaghetti’ – and we said ‘no, we’d just like to get these lyrics,’ and he’d say ‘no, come and have some food and some wine’…we finally got it together. It was just a joy to do, we sing a little bit in French as well towards the end – it just felt right, and like everything we do in Priest, we try to have fun and do things that we’ve never done before.
K.K. Downing: How’s his pronunciation? He’s not singing about spaghetti, though right? Did that guy trick us?
Rob: I thought it might be like that Monty Python moment where he goes: ‘my nipples explode with delight.’ I think we got it right.
Rob: Well I don’t know if we’ll be doing that one but the intention is at some point to play all of NOSTRADAMUS in concert, so I shall have to get my pronunciation correct when we come to Italy especially.
On this new tour, are we likely to hear some Priest classics at a concert like “Breaking the Law”, “Electric Eye” or “Painkiller” as well?
We’ll be playing all three of those. I mean we weren’t going to but we’ll play them especially for you (laughs).
So far you’ve released 14 studio albums, what kind of challenge was NOSTRADAMUS in comparison?
K.K Downing: Everyone in the room I think knows that we’ve pushed the boundaries of Metal as far as we can and we’re always willing to find new ways to do that. After the last album ANGEL OF RETRIBUTION a lot of people said ‘what’s in store for Priest now, where can they go from here.’ And therefore when the idea of doing this concept album with NOSTRADAMUS we just took to it instantly because it’s new, it’s fresh, it’s something we haven’t done before and I really do think it’s enabled us to expand what we do even further. Hopefully one day in years to come when people look at Judas Priest they might think, well, that was a band that was really versatile and did a lot to bring a big audience to this music that we know and love so well.
The relationship with Judas Priest and Sweden – is it a kind of special relationship, would you care to tell us more about that?
Glenn: Yeah, it’s a very special relationship. We always enjoy playing Sweden, it’s got some great heavy metal fans, great Judas Priest fans, we’ve played there many times and we’ve got a great rapport with the audience and so have they with us. It’s never ‘Judas Priest and the audience’, it’s the whole thing, it’s always us together and people will sing along with our songs. And they sing no louder than the Swedish fans, nowhere in the world and it’s a great place to play, we love it.
Rob: We’ve got lots of memories. Looking way back to the 70’s, we used to get in the transit van and drive all the way up to Newcastle and get on a ferry in the middle of the winter and go across the north Atlantic, you know – up and down, drink a beer, throw up, drink a beer, throw up…and we’d arrive anywhere in Scandinavia and there was an audience waiting for us. Sweden is a great place to keep coming back to because it’s a trail of metal memories that we leave behind us. As we’ve been saying, next year the name of Judas Priest has been around for 40 years – 4 decades. And we’ve made a lot of friends who’ve been with us right from the beginning of the journey, a lot of new metal heads like tonight – there’ll be fans out there that have never seen Judas Priest before, that’s an extra kick for us. But Sweden and the Sweden Rock Festival especially is a very important part of the metal season. So we’re just really thrilled to be taking part in it again.
Like you mentioned you really like being here in Sweden and especially at Swedenrock. What makes this festival so for you and many other metal bands?
Rob: This particular Sweden festival is becoming a real top of the situation in so much as it’s so diverse, there’s an incredible amount of different styles of bands and that’s what we love about the festivals in Europe and Sweden Rock especially. You’ve got bands from all different genres of Rock and Metal, it’s not an exclusive, one-style festival event, it’s covering loads of different types of music in Rock and Metal. Again, we’re just thrilled to be part of this roster of different talent that makes the Swedenrock festival a very special one.
Here’s a question for Ian Hill. I’ve been wondering about this question for twenty years – who is the best guitar player in Judas Priest?
Ian Hill: Neither of them!
Rob: Ian’s the best guitar player (laughs). Well you should have said Glenn Downing or K.K Tipton.
After Rob decided to leave Judas Priest in early 90’s, there were many great metal vocalists looking to get the job. Did you actually audition anyone except for Tim Owens?
K.K Downing: Tim was the only one we actually auditioned – because when we first heard ”Ripper” sing it seemed that he was the obvious choice for the gig so we didn’t continue to audition anyone else.
Judas Priest is sometimes called ‘Gods of Metal’. Do you believe that Metal is some kind of religion, what kind of Gods do you believe in?
Rob: Well I think it’s great to be called Judas Priest. It’s a great name. We’ve always said the words Judas and the word Priest to us exemplify the light and the shade, the power and the subtle moments. The fans were the ones that were the first people to start calling us “Gods of Metal”. We don’t see any religious affinity at all, but it is kinda cool that we’ve got that name. Our fans definitely have the type of religious fervour, it is like an evangelical get-together when you go out on stage and you’re interacting with the fans and you’re getting the feedback and the response. That’s very a much a spiritual thing so there’s probably something to be said for that, if you can cut through the beer and the smoke (laughs).
Of course your fans expect you to play “Painkiller”, “Breaking the Law” and stuff like that – but how about doing some more obscure stuff? Have you ever thought of playing “Dissident Aggressor” or “One Shot at Glory” live?
Glenn: We’ll play “Dissident Aggressor” for you tonight then.
Rob: It’s getting increasingly difficult to pick a set list because there’s hundreds and hundreds of metal songs to choose from. If you go onto JudasPriest.com there’s a section where the fans say what songs they’d like Priest to play live in concert and it is hundreds and hundreds of tunes. We just try and balance it out. The set list we play tonight covers a lot of the classic Priest moments, some brand new moments from Nostradamus, some songs that we haven’t played for quite a while, a song that we’ve never played before, so we try and do our best, you know. The first show we had the other day was just incredible and the message boards on the internet across the world were lighting up saying this was one of the best live Priest sets that the fans had heard for many years so that makes us feel that we’ve got it right. There’s always somebody that wants that special song. The thing is to keep coming back and seeing us again and again, we keep changing the set list.
Here’s a question for Scott Travis: Do you remember when you were playing in Croatia on the PAINKILLER tour and during your drum solo the electricity of the hall broke down twice?
Scott: These guys always do that, they unplug everything when I’m doing a solo. I do remember that it was a great show. We want to go back to all those Eastern countries, it was awesome.
A few years ago Dave Holland your former drummer, was imprisoned for sexual harassment and more or less at the same time you were re-releasing your old material in the form of a box set, and you erased Holland from all the album liner pictures. Why did you decide to act in this way towards your old band mate and the drummer who was a member of the band for 8 years?
Rob: Well I think there’s an enormous respect for Dave and what he did for the band. As you know we’ve had many drummers, we’re almost like the living Spinal Tap in some respects. The drumming for any band is absolutely vital, it’s the anchor, and it’s what keeps the band locked together. So after going through 3 or 4 drummers we finally found the best man for the job, Scott Travis and he’s been with us for how many years Scott? He doesn’t want to remember…
Scott: 19 I think?
Rob: Since PAINKILLER, so we’re talking 18 years now. So there’s a reflection of thanks to all the drummers who we’ve worked with for doing great work but it’s important to reinforce that Scott Travis is the exclusive drummer for Judas Priest.
There were two unofficial biographies about you released recently, one called “Heavy Metal Painkiller” and then there’s another called “Defenders of the Faith”. Did you get a chance to read these, and if so, what was your opinion about them?
Glenn: These are the unofficial books, right? We haven’t read them, because they’re unofficial. We are in the process now of doing an official Judas Priest book where everything that is recorded in there will be the truth. I think in the unofficial books there’s a lot of things said that actually didn’t happen or were embroided on the truth, so I personally haven’t read them, I don’t know if any of the other guys have. It’s important to read official books opposed to unofficial books on any band, so that’s all I’d say really.
Rob: I think once people start writing books about you you’ve reached an important level – there’s a curiosity about what makes the band get to that particular stage. And again, like Glenn I haven’t bothered to waste my time reading these books. We would ask the fans to wait for the official release where you will actually get the truth. A lot of these books are just made up of interviews and things that are from the past so they’re not really giving the fans what they really want. But as Glenn said we are in the process of putting one together, so when it’s ready we’ll make it happen and it’ll tell you things you’ll only find from the band itself.
A lot of other metal acts have conceptual storylines about Nostradamus. Are you aware of this and did this affect you when you were in the writing process of your new album?
Rob: It doesn’t matter, because we’re doing it for the first time ourselves. To some degree everything’s been done once – a type of a book, a type of a movie, it’s all been covered. When you do it for the first time yourself, it becomes your exclusive property, and so we feel that what we’ve done with NOSTRADAMUS is very special, it’s unique to Judas Priest, no one will have made the life of Nostradamus this way before. And that’s the way it should be. When you’re covering something that’s well known, that has been tackled by other people, that doesn’t really become part of the equation. You’re doing it for the first time and that’s the most important thing.
Rob, in brief, what caused you to leave the band and rejoin?
Rob: Well I think that’s water under the bridge now. I mean, I went away like other musicians have gone away from bands for whatever reasons – mostly creative reasons. Again it’s important to reinforce that Priest has always been together: while I was away Priest was still going strong and touring the world and making records. The biggest thrill in my life was to be able to come back to the band that I love more than anything else in the world, and that’s as much as I think needs to be said about the subject.
Are you anxious about the fans’ reaction to NOSTRADAMUS album?
Glenn: Not really anxious because we believe in it. It’s very easy for a band like Judas Priest to make the same album every year with different lyrics and know that we’ll sell X amount of albums around the world but we’ve never been like that if you look at our albums. Right from SIN AFTER SIN, through to the landmark albums POINT OF ENTRY or BRITISH STEEL or SCREAMING FOR A VENGEANCE, right up to ANGEL OF RETRIBUTION and now NOSTRADAMUS we’ve always tried to do something different. And we know there’s a risk – we know that some people might like it and some people might not, we just ask people to try and understand our albums. Each album is like a different chapter in the book of Judas Priest, we’ve never made one album the same as another – they’ve all got strong characters. Nostradamus has got a strong character and you need to listen to it a few times, and step into the journey and then you’ll understand it; then you’ll enjoy it when we perform it onstage. So, everything we’ve done has been a risk in Priest, we’ve always tried to push the boundaries of heavy metal wider to give ourself more room to manoeuvre, but at the same time, giving other bands more room to manoeuvre. NOSTRADAMUS is just another example of I suppose a little bit of bravery on our part – or stupidity – I don’t know, we’ll tell you later on this year.
Rob: I think that the important thing to remember as well is that when we released one of the tracks on Live Nation in the States, we had 100,000 hits, 100,000 people listened to that song within a few days. And immediately the reaction on message boards around the world was ‘this is great’, and we followed it up with “Visions”. And, you know, we have mixed feelings about the Internet because we come from a time when it didn’t exist – we see its advantages and its disadvantages. Unfortunately there are certain things that have already leaked out in the world but the fact is that the response so far has been absolutely incredible. So there is an air of a little bit of anxiousness but I think every artist feels that way – you’ve got to feel that way. Having said that, from what we’ve seen and been told at this point, everybody’s given it the green light, the thumbs up; they’re raring to check it out and enjoy it live in concert.
Would each of you to say which is the best Judas Priest song ever?
Rob: We’ve probably all got different ones – mine’s “Painkiller”.
Glenn: I don’t know, I really couldn’t say. There’s so many favourite songs I have I couldn’t single one out really.
K.K: Same for me, I couldn’t pick one – it’s just feeling like I was doing all the others an injustice
Scott: So which one did you say Rob? “Painkiller” ? (laughs).
Rob: I said “Painkiller” because of all your amazing drumming in it Scott (laughs)
Scott: I’ll give you that payment later.
Rob: Can you give me the five dollars now?
On NOSTRADAMUS there’s some amazing keyboard work by Don Airey. What kind of freedom did you allow Don for the arrangements?
Glenn: We didn’t. We did all the composition and the basic arrangements on the album. But Don came in and put the keyboards down properly. We’ve got a great respect for Don and we’ve worked with him many times, he’s an incredible musician and I think if we ever performed it live, it would be nice if he could get away from Deep Purple for Don to come and guest and play with us because we’ve worked with him a lot through the years and we’ve got the ultimate respect for the guy.
What is the prophecy of Judas Priest?
Rob: The prophecy? That’s in quatrain 486, which was written 500 years ago by Nostradamus, which says that Judas Priest will release NOSTRADAMUS and it will be the biggest, most successful metal album ever in the history of heavy metal music (crowd cheers).
Rob, what’s your best memory from your experiences working with Black Sabbath and how much harder or easier was that experience in your brilliant career compared to anything else and did Ozzy ever tell you what he thought of your performance?
Rob: He thinks I’m shit. He’s a great friend. You talk about heavy metal music, the roots of heavy metal: Black Sabbath and Judas Priest from Birmingham. We grew up in the same town, we all live within a few miles of each other, and we are great friends with each other. As you know we’re doing the Metal Masters tour in America later this year with Tony and Ronnie and Geezer. On the instances I’ve done that it was just helping a friend out – it was a genuine thing where he was having trouble with his voice and he asked me to help him out, so you do, it’s what you do in a metal band. We’re all Sabbath fans as well as being good friends with them so it was a fun thing to do. I was terrified – but it was fun.
Rob, you’re one of the world’s metal best singers – at the beginning, how did you get your voice, any tricks?
Rob: No, all singers are different, all singers have what they’re born with, and all have different styles and techniques. As a singer I’m much like everybody in this band: it’s an instrument and you just experiment and you see what you can do with it. I’m inspired by how we write because we write things that make me sing in different keys, with different tones and different approaches. And I feel really good about being the singer for Judas Priest because I couldn’t use my voice in that way if I was in a different band. But there are no lotions or potions or anything like that.
Rob, why have you stopped your solo career? Can we ever expect new albums from HALFORD or FIGHT?
Rob: We have an understanding; we’re all very creative people and when the time is right if any of us want to do any other endeavours then we’re free to do them. But Priest is this massive metal monster that consumes all your time and for me this is what I am: I’m the lead singer of Judas Priest is this is where my heart’s at.
Another question Ian Hill – your kid is playing in a band – what’s going on in this band and have you any thoughts about giving them a support slot on tour?
Ian: I would have done that but they split up, unfortunately.
What’s Judas Priest’s opinion on downloading and what do you think can be done about it?
Rob: Well obviously we’re still fighting the battle against illegal downloading, we think its wrong – we think it is stealing, that’s the fact of the matter. I remember when cassette duplication came into the business and I wondered how that was going to affect the music industry. And at the end of the day that’s who it is – it’s not just Judas Priest, it’s everybody, it’s every band. It’s a difficult thing to try and get through but at the end of the day if you’re a fan of a band and you want to support your band you’re going to get the official release, you’re going to get the official merchandise, and the vast majority of Priest fans are that way with us – they support what we do. So even thought it’s been a thing for us to get our heads around and understand we obviously appreciate the value and importance of the internet when it’s used in the right way. All we ask is: please don’t steal our music. And that’s not about money, it’s just the basic fact that you don’t take something for nothing, it’s not the right thing to do. You don’t walk into a store and help yourself to clothes or food or whatever, it’s the same principle if you think about it. You can’t say ‘oh they’ve got millions of dollars;’ that’s not the point. But fortunately our fans are real hardcore, they want the real deal, especially with NOSTRADAMUS, it’s the multi-packaged, wonderful experience that you can get in a deluxe box set with three pieces of vinyl, a 48 page book, posters – you can’t get that on the download, you’ve got to really be there and hold it physically. It’s a treasure to add to your Judas Priest collection. So we support the Internet when it’s used in the right.
Glenn: But I think it’s worth mentioning that one of the biggest disasters is really that Internet downloading creates it that it totally robs the new bands of any opportunities to come through. Because if the record companies are not selling records, they can’t do – I mean we were quite fortunate, it was hard work for us to get ahead in our day but eventually we found a record company that would put some money behind us and support us and do justice to our records but now it’s definitely the younger bands that will get the most heavy downloads because people will try them out first. Obviously established bands like our selves can still sell records in the stores but for the younger bands it has definitely had a catastrophic effect.