Judas Priest’s Rob Halford: Glenn Tipton ‘Is a Heavy Metal Hero Whether He Likes It or Not’
Rob Halford was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. He discussed what went into the making of Judas Priest's new album, Firepower, from the writing process to lyrical inspiration to the production team. The Metal God also touched on Glenn Tipton's battle with Parkinson's and his decision to step away from being a full-time touring member of Priest, which now finds producer Andy Sneap filling his role. Check out the chat below.
We're here to celebrate the new Judas Priest album, Firepower, the 18th studio album. Judas Priest has such a large catalog of music. Does it become a challenge to make new music that sounds like vintage Priest without repeating yourselves?
I think where we are at now we've gained all this tremendous metal knowledge and wisdom that we didn't have in Priest for as long as I can remember. As long as you probably can remember, Jackie and all of your Full Metal Jackie fans. So, that is really substantial.
What I am trying to get at is that that is really substantial and so internally you know where you gotta go. Getting to the place, that is the challenge, definitely. Making sure you don't bump up against anything. Making sure that what you are aiming for has the clarity and distinction and the characteristics that kind of separate itself from what has happened previously.
So, when we began writing the music, Glenn, Richie and myself, we set ourselves that simple task of, you know like all bands do, this is going to be the greatest Priest classic heavy metal album of all time and you've gotta say that to yourself because that is your motivation. And then you wrap all that up with the joy and the pleasure and the thrill and the gratitude of it still being the here all this time later and then you get to work and we have so much fun making this record.
Some of it was effortless. That might sound a bit pompous but I think with Richie's embedment in the band particularly he really shone through in his contribution and you wrap all that up with Glenn's great work and myself as a team of writers in place and then wow, suddenly you've got Tom Allom and then Andy Sneap and Mark Exeter - it’s just great. Those early days of production were tremendously exciting.
The Firepower tour started with the release of the album. How much of the album was specifically designated to play live?
Well, here is the thing Jackie, for the first time in a long time we were all in the studio together laying the tracks down. You know, the normal procedure is you get your anchor down with your drum work and there is maybe somebody alongside doing rhythm or whatever but Andy was very adamant in making sure that Priest played live on this record and you can sense that.
You know, the little subtle nuances that you get when you are playing live together. There is a little bit of push and pull in the music just apart from the human performance is very apparent in Firepower. So, as a result of that, we can take anything from the record and play it live. In fact, we've just come out of rehearsals in the U.K. because we kicked off this tour and it's been another challenge. How much time have we got to play and how many songs can we put in the set.
We've gotta do those classics that our Priest fans want to hear and we still love to play but it's so important for us to play the new music as well. So, the setlist was a bit of a challenging endeavor but we found a balance and this is a great display of Priest through the decades including the relevance of the brand new [album] in 2018.
There is a new album and tour, but Glenn Tipton's health must make it all a little bittersweet. How are you adjusting yourself for what will be a very different tour?
Yeah, the emotions are still raw you know. Glenn is this heavy metal hero whether he likes it or not. First, to be so brave and let the world know that he's been battling Parkinson's for over 10 years. We've all been by his side for all those 10 years and we've seen his determination and his fighting spirit to get this far.
It was only until recently when Glenn, always thinking about the band, said, "Guys, I think I should really step out a little bit from this tour and we should consider getting Andy on that spot." Glenn's got this incredible professionalism in terms of the standard that he wants to play and he wants his fans to hear him play. That even if it's off in the slightest, he gets so angry about the fact that he can't do what he wants to do because the way Parkinson's affects the extremities for guitar players, it's particularly challenging. I won't even go into detail about that but to sit by Glenn while he did all of his guitar parts on Firepower was just a privilege.
He worked really, really hard to get his parts down and he said, "Now we have Andy and I can't wait." This dynamic between Andy and Richie is gonna be very, very special. When Glenn is ready and when he feels like he can get out there and jam on the songs that he can play at the level he wants to play at, he will. He'll come in and out on this tour in the States on this first leg. So, just get ready. Get ready to see those red pants walking! [laughs].
Firepower actually had two producers — Tom Allom who produced British Steel, Screaming for Vengeance and other classics and Andy Sneap who has worked with bands like Arch Enemy and Trivium. How did that meld of the two of them together specifically shape the album?
Just a great kind of experiment in the initial stage before we all committed. We didn't really know how this was going to pan out. Obviously, Tom - you know when you've worked with a producer, you gotta have an element of trust. You've gotta be able to kind of let that go a little bit and go, "Okay these guys have got it. Now we can just focus on what we have to do individually on the work of the recording sessions."
Tom was the given. We knew Tom was gonna be the magic of that specific classic-era sound. Then we're like, "Andy, this guy's just done some phenomenal production work for the bands you've mentioned and more. How would this work with these guys side by side? I don’t know."
The thing about Priest is, we try everything. It's one thing to talk about should have, could have, would have or maybe this or that. But you don't know until you go through the motions. So that first week in the studio was colossal. Just a tremendous relationship right from the beginning. But we really didn't know that much about each other - we went and had a few drinks, talked about metal and music, our love of Priest and so on and so forth.
The trust dynamic was there from day one and those first few days where we could hear the stuff coming back through the speakers we knew this is it. These are the guys that are going to do a great job in the production of Firepower.
Over the years sometimes your lyrics have been based in fantasy and imagination. Sometimes they've been a stark observation of reality. What was on your mind while writing the songs for Firepower?
You can't help but be affected by what goes on around you in the world, no matter where you're at. I just say it how I see it. I can't help but be affected by what I'm experiencing around the world today. Priest has never been a social-political band but there are certainly some very strong references to what's happening around in the world today.
Whether it's "Children of the Sun" talking about the ecology of climate change or whether it's talking about "Sea of Red" referencing some of the terrible difficulties that people face through times of war. Or maybe the slight slant of politics in "Lightning Strike," but however you take it, this is Prest representing Priest as we see ourselves and how we fit in as a metal band in 2018.
Rob, between Judas Priest and all the other bands and projects that you've done, you have a lot of experience as a singer. What new things did you learn about singing and your voice while making Firepower?
You know, Andy got some things out of me that I didn't even know I was capable of doing. I think this is important for me as a musician to understand. I don’t know it all. Just because I've been doing this for so long doesn't mean I can't find out new things about the voice. That's what a great producer will see in you as a musician. They sense that there are certain elements in you that maybe haven't come out just yet. So they dig deep and they make you work really, really hard.
Andy 'Rob Do It Again' Sneap as I called him. He really got me to get down to the raw bones of the emotion of being a singer and I'm very happy with the result. Only now I look to listen to the music without getting too super critical of my work. I'm my own worst enemy when it comes to listening to what I do as a singer. I'm more interested in how Scott's doing the great work on the hi-hat because that's how microscopic I am to detail. But that's the lesson that I learned. The journey never ends in terms of your musical knowledge. You can always learn something new as a musician.
Thanks to Rob Halford for the interview. Grab your copy of 'Firepower' here and head to this location to see a list of all remaining North American tour dates. Follow Judas Priest on Facebook and find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show at this location.
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