Judas Priest - Halford Interview

By Elric on 11:34 PM 18 May 2008

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Jeb Wright of Classic Rock Revisited conducted an interview with Judas Priest vocalist Rob Halford on May 6. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow.

Jeb: When I first heard that Priest was going to be doing a concept album on Nostradamus I thought, "How are they going to pull this one off?" I have to admit, you pulled it off. I just finished listening to the CD five minutes ago and I am almost speechless.

Rob: It is an enormous amount of information to try to consume on the first listen but I think even in that first moment things pop out and grab you right away. You have twenty-three song titles but thirteen songs are the bulk and the other titles are segues into the other songs. Each of those thirteen tracks are very distinctive and full of melody and great hooks. They are full of the things that we know we have got to do; they are instinctive for us to do as well. That was always in our mind when we started this long, two-year epic of putting it together. We wanted to make sure that we didn’t get distracted or lose the plot. We think we’ve got it. We have really accomplished what we set out to achieve, which is to tell his life story in an entertaining, interesting and exciting heavy metal way.

Jeb: Your manager, Bill Curbishley, actually had the idea.

Rob: Bill came to see us at the end of the Angel of Retribution tour in Russia. We sat down to discuss what would be the next move for the band. Bill has been in the business for as long as we have and he has had pivotal success with Priest, the Who and some of the guys from Zeppelin. His mind is always thinking of where we could possibly go next. He said, "Look lads I know you have had great success with Angel of Retribution and now you can either go back into the studio and do another studio album or you can really take a gigantic step and do something great. Do the concept record you have been wanting to do forever. You have this opportunity to have a great story."

You can do a concept record about anything, really. But if you have a man like Nostradamus then the possibilities are endless. He came up with this idea and we immediately said, "Brilliant." We took a couple of weeks break and then Glenn, KK and myself sat down at Glenn’s house for our first day of writing and we were off.

Jeb: Did you have to do a lot of research on Nostradamus?

Rob: We did. For me, as a lyricist, it was important to get as much information that was needed. It was my job to pick out the highlights of this man’s life and to tell a story in sequence from when he first realized he had the ability to make visions to the very end where he passes away and crosses over.

We got books and I watched TV documentaries. He was a real man. He wasn’t a fantasy figure like the Painkiller or the Sinner. We knew he was a well-documented individual and a lot of people had an insight already. We stayed true to the cause and although we have artistic licence, we have not veered that much away from the facts.

Jeb: Nostradamus actually made some money off of his visions.

Rob: Originally he practiced in medicine. He was from a Jewish family and there were a lot of animosities from the Catholic Church to the Jewish people at that time in Medieval Europe, five hundred years ago. His family converted to Catholicism, not because they wanted to but because they didn’t want to end up dead. It was just a horrible time. He enrolled in a medical university. He got expelled. From the moment he became an adult he was always facing adversity.

He discovered astrology and horoscopes and that is where he was making the money. He did that for most of his life. He made his cash from meeting with the Queen of France. She heard about his horoscopes and was intrigued with that. She summoned him to Paris and he was afraid he was going to get his head chopped off. Little did he know that she was a fan of his work. Once he was in the royal court a lot of his troubles went away but to get to that point was a very difficult journey. He was making money doing these horoscopes but at the same time he was having these nightly visions and prophesies alone at night in his room.

Jeb: As I listened to the album I thought you did a great job of putting emotions to what Nostradamus was feeling at these different stages in his life.

Rob: On a human level, he went through a lot of things that we all can relate to. He had acceptance and rejection. A lot of people didn’t like what he did much in the same way some people don’t like Metal. He was banished into exile and he lost his wife and children to the plague. A lot of terrible things happened to him. We thought it was important to get that human part of the story and still have a great time with the prophecies like the Four Horsemen and Death. We mixed it up. We could have just done all the prophecies but then it would have been laborious. We wanted to give more of an insight to his life and as a listener you can kind of know what he went through.

Jeb: A biographer for a book will do so much research and writing that they will have a feeling as to what type of person their subject was. What is your take on what kind of person Nostradamus was?

Rob: If you believe in clairvoyance and psychic people then you know it is a great gift. It also has to be very difficult to deal with. You would ask yourself, "Why is this happening to me? Am I going crazy? Why have I been chosen?" At the same time he embraced it. He kept documents of everything he was experiencing when he would go into these trance like states. He kept it initially for himself because he knew that some of these prophecies were very difficult. He actually put them down in riddles and rhymes and abstract forms. Even now you have teachings of Nostradamus that are being reinterpreted. I don’t know what to believe. I am thankful that we have such an interesting man to talk about and I think our fans will feel the same as well.

Jeb: Vocally you are all over the place. When you think of Halford, you think of "Judas Rising" or the song "Resurrection" and that Halford boom. I noticed you sing in many different styles. "Lost Love" is a different type of song for you. You were really challenged on this album.

Rob: I love going into character. I love to become these painkillers and sentinels. I like to go into that world and it is a great opportunity for any singer to embrace that. Glenn and KK would also change their guitar tones to fit a certain sound or feel. Ian and Scott would play the bass and drums differently to convey what needed. This was a terrific experience for me because I could show off everything I have learned over the last thirty odd years. I sing in every range and I sing in Italian and I sing in French; I do a lot of crazy stuff.

To keep your attention for an hour and forty minutes – we hope that is how people will listen to this. We want people to listen to this the same way people listen to Tommy, Operation Mindcrime or Tubular Bells. We don’t want it to be tedious. We want people to be excited about what is going to happen next. If you have a favorite movie then you look forward to seeing certain parts over and over again. It is all a big picture experience you try to get across. I had a blast using all of the vocal things that I do.

Jeb: Scott’s drums are not as out front as they are on other Priest albums.

Rob: Balancing this thing was a little bit of a nightmare. You have an enormous amount of information. You have to treat a concept album differently than a normal studio album. You just try and work your way through and push it forward or pull it back a bit. It is part of the complexity of putting the thousands and thousands of bits of recorded information in sequence.

Jeb: Were the segues harder to write than the songs?

Rob: Only in that they needed to do the right job. We said from the get go that we didn’t want to do a song and then have five seconds of silence like a normal studio album. We needed a continual flow to keep the whole thing connected. The very beginning of the record is to get you focused and listening – it prepares you mentally for the first song "Prophecy." You then move onto the next cut and you have to think "How are we going to make this connect?" You have to try to not give too much away. It is a set up really. When you watch a movie, the camera will set up the scene – it is like that. Everything had to be really thought through.

Jeb: Detractors of Metal and of Priest would have loved for this to come out one dimensional and make Spinal Tap references. Is there some satisfaction to make such a valid piece of music that goes beyond Metal?

Rob: I would agree. We are anticipating the crossover moment. This can reach people who may have never thought of listening to Priest. This can go anywhere. We have already talked with management about when this goes through its release cycle that we can pass this over to special events. We can have other interpretations. I would personally love to see this done in a classical opera format or instrumentally by a symphonic orchestra. You can only do that when you have a conceptualized musical event.

I know what you are saying. We have never really been directed by stepping outside of ourselves or worrying about what people might think of our music or what their reaction might be. We are Judas Priest and we make Judas Priest music. All of our fans are rabid and passionate. It is natural to get some push back. Some people think that Turbo sucks and some think it is amazing. Some people think Painkiller was the best thing that this band has ever done. It is like being a sports fan. You have your favorite team and all the players and sometimes they play great and sometimes they don’t play as well. But they are still the same team and they are still aiming towards the same destination. It is natural to get opinions, attitudes and speculations. You have to let that go or you won’t have any inspirations. You have to do it for yourself. It is not really a selfish endeavor but you are looking after your own needs and wants as a band. We are lucky enough to have millions of fans that generally agree with what we do and they love the Metal that we make for them.

Jeb: What challenges will this present when you play live?

Rob: Whatever we do in terms of recording we know we can translate into the live performance. Everything that you hear on Nostradamus can be created live in some form or another. They are all basically Metal tracks – they have the drum, bass, guitar and vocals and then you have the other embellishments around it. However it turns out in a live performance it will be recognizable.

Jeb: You have an hour and forty minute story. Will you play all of it?

Rob: We will play it in its entirety. That will be another first for us as we have never done anything like that. It is going to be incredible. We are going to have a big stage show with a bunch of audio and visual. Priest is famous for theater. The lights and costumes are part of our life. We are just going to turn it up a notch and take it to another level.

Jeb: Angel of Retribution was the reunion. Does a project like Nostradamus bring you all closer together?

Rob: Only in that this is a different endeavor. I think the satisfaction is to look at what we have done. Glenn, KK and I, as the primary writers, could only do this because we are reunited. Scott and Ian also do great work in the studio and on stage. We had all the right ingredients and we had a lot of fun. Angel of Retribution is a great album but I think that Nostradamus is above and beyond anything we have ever done before.

Jeb: As I got to the end of the album I turned to my friend, Ron, and said, "A Metal band has made a valid musical statement."

Rob: I think that in the world of concept albums this will became a classic. It will get that status in the future. It could be five years from now but it will get there. The album has a complete life of it’s own. Nostradamus is unique and special.

Jeb: Do you feel his life has parallels to Metal music?

Rob: That was the joy, wasn’t it? We have this man who was an alchemist and who lived in a magical time with all the swords and the shields. Depending on where your heart is at you can say it is cliché but it is just perception. We feel Metal fans embrace this time period of five hundred years ago, Medieval Europe. There were a lot of magical things that were happening at that time. It was a very Metal time and he is a Metal man. You couldn’t really do that with many people who have lived through history. There is a very small amount of individuals who have maintained that kind of connection to the modern world. It is a brilliant opportunity to cover his life.

Jeb: You also have the Metal Masters tour.

Rob: We got excited about this. Before we had the Metal Masters idea we just planned on going out with some friends like we always do. The industry is still in a state of flux. The last ten years have been really turbulent. There was a really interesting piece in the LA Times the other day that talked about how all talent is going out in package deals whether it is Kenny Chesney or Motley Crue. I think that is great because we have a real set up here for real Metal Heads. If you are a true Metal Head then you want to see Testament and you want to see Motorhead and you want to see Heaven & Hell and you want to see Priest. You don’t want to show up halfway through. This is a Metal magical moment and we are thrilled.

Jeb: You have Lemmy, Ronnie James Dio and Halford.

Rob: The Three Tremors so to speak. I trademarked that name because I really want to do something with three vocalists and call it the Three Tremors. We have not even talked about this but Ronnie would be a great one. Geoff Tate would be great. We will wait and see. There is so much to do. The longer you are in the Metal world the more there is to do. I have been in the Metal world for thirty-five years.

Jeb: Judas Priest and Black Sabbath are the two bands that every Metal band looks up to.

Rob: It is great. It is a wonderful feeling. If you had told me when I first grabbed the mike for Priest that over thirty-five years later I would be sitting in the Sony building talking about Nostradamus then I would have thought you were crazy. Life is a wonderful thing and I am extremely grateful, as are all the members in Priest, for the fans. We could not have done this without the fans constant support and their inspiration to make another record. It has literally been non-stop. We don’t even think about when or where it is going to end. There is more Metal for us to make.

Jeb: You also have a new business for your other bands called Metal God Entertainment. How are you going to find the time?

Rob: I am able to separate the two. I am fortunate to have the solo endeavors. The important thing is that they don’t bump into or clash with Priest. You just grab life by the balls and squeeze them and get everything that you can out of them. There is nothing worse at the end of day then having regrets and wishing you had tried this or that. If you can continually satisfy your dreams and ambitions then it is a wonderful feeling.

Jeb: The solo endeavors were actually the reasons you left Priest the first time.

Rob: The contractual aspects had me having to serve a Leaving Member Clause. Since that moment came all the confusion and difficulty. Painkiller was a great record but we had a difficult time coming off the Reno trial and we had a grueling tour. We should have taken a couple of years off. We should have said, "It has been great. Now we are going to chill. See you in a year." That is the turbulent life of rock n’ roll.

Jeb: Back to Nostradamus. The first CD really took me back to parts of Sad Wings of Destiny.

Rob: I can understand that. If you are a Priest fan like yourself then you know everything about the band. Some people think Sad Wings of Destiny was a concept album, although it wasn’t. There is a flow and there is a wonderful feeling you get from listening to the album from the beginning to the very end.

We put three decades of Priest into Nostradamus. In a sense you have the entire life of Priest in the album Nostradamus. We could have made Nostradamus twenty years ago but I don’t think it would be anywhere near as valuable and important as it is now. You need to take all of your experiences and all of the hundreds of songs you have written and all of the thousands of hours of recording and millions of miles of travel and have them all play a little role. They make you confidant enough to tackle this type of project. We never knew it was going to be a double CD. One day we looked at the clock on the ProTools and we said, "My God, we are at seventy minutes and we are nowhere near the end." We just said, "Fuck it, we will know when we are done." We sat back at Glenn’s place one day and we listened to all the rough demos and we said, "That’s it. We are done. Now lets get into the real moment and record it." Writing was a blast; we had so much fun writing the music. Then you have to go into the replication mode of the recording studio.

Jeb: Are you going to be involved with the stage set?

Rob: We all are. We are all directly immersed in that. We have a pretty basic stage set for the upcoming tour. The big moment will be when we play "Nostradamus." We will pull out all the stops for that one.

Jeb: You won’t be able to play the entire album on the Metal Masters tour will you?

Rob: No, it is not practical. We have been away from our fans for a couple of years and we want to get back in front of them and play our Metal and our Priest classics. We are already looking at the list and trying to find songs that we have never played live before and songs that we have not played for a long time. It is crazy as we have over two hundred and fifty songs to choose from. It is overwhelming because all of them are great. You have to put a list together that is entertaining, exciting and leaves everybody satisfied.

Jeb: Someone is still going to be saying, "Why didn’t they play this one?"

Rob: I know, I know. It is mad. Priest fans would have us on stage for six hours.

Jeb: Before you go, we need to talk about the artwork for Nostradamus.

Rob: The same person did this as did Painkiller and Angel of Retribution [artist Mark Wilkinson]. He is an amazingly talented guy. We knew what we wanted from the get go. We wanted a figure of Nostradamus. We went further and we have a wonderful forty-eight page booklet that has all the lyrics. We are doing three limited edition vinyl editions. You can get a super deluxe package where you get the three vinyl pieces, the two CDs, the forty-eight page book and the poster. You can also just buy the straightforward CD jewel box case. We are mixing it up because of the state of the business. It is great for the fans to pick and choose. You can get it from iTunes or you can pick and choose between the three physical packages.

Jeb: Priest fans would buy it if it was in a cardboard box.

Rob: I think the super deluxe edition may already be sold out. We want to maximize the event as we will never do anything like this again. You ask yourself what you can do that embraces the huge adventure of the music. We could just put it out in a box but then it is gone. We think it is great to have the book, the poster and the vinyl. You can do whatever you want. It is really getting the most out of the release. It is like going to a sports game. You can buy a hat or you can buy a hat and a shirt and some boxer shorts. Hmm, Nostradamus boxer shorts... not a bad idea!

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