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Rob Halford Answers Questions About Judas Priest’s Next Album, Their Current Tour and How Much His Coats Weigh

Rob Halford
Eric Haggard

Rob Halford of Judas Priest was kind enough to phone us up for an interview recently, and despite all the talk about the band’s current trek being the last major Priest tour, it’s obvious from the energy and passion the singer spoke with about their future plans that the “Metal Gods” aren’t going away anytime soon.

Thank goodness too, because we recently checked out the tour and it would be a crime for them to quit now. We asked Halford about what keeps him going at such a remarkable pace, the legendary band’s recent dalliance with televised singing competitions and exactly what the future does hold for Judas Priest. Oh, and I’m a nerd, so I asked him about his leather jackets:

I just saw you a few months ago with the Halford band, now you’re back with Priest, you like to keep busy!

Well, I think that’s the essence of what being a real musician is about, to keep making rock and roll. That’s something that all of us in Judas Priest have been doing one way or another for close to forty years now.  The passion’s still there, the fire still burns below, as they say, and that’s definitely the case with Priest.

So this tour’s going to take listeners through the band’s entire history, right?

I think the great thing about this tour is that it’s really a “Judas Priest 101″ moment, to a great extent. You are literally listening to and seeing the bulk of our life, in a show that lasts for about two hours and twenty minutes.  We’re covering everything from the first release that we made, ‘Rocka Rolla’ in ’73, to (2008′s) ‘Nostradamus.’ The significant moments, not everything — otherwise we’d be on stage for a month. It’s a good time to reflect, celebrate, to think about all of your Priest memories. And hopefully, to think about the future, because this is NOT the end of Priest, we will still be working. We’ll be doing limited live shows, but the recorded side of what we do will stay strong.

Will I have to live somewhere besides Ohio to see you from now on?

(Laughs) Like most parts of America, Ohio is very important to Priest. There’s always been a strong attraction to the state, just because of this kind of linkage to the Midlands where we’re from. There are very similar kinds of tendencies in the infrastructure and the culture, the blue collar type of background. I’m sure we’ll be coming back to Ohio in the future.

Your recent ‘The Chosen Few’ collection, chosen by your peers, was a clever idea…

Isn’t it great, yeah? I suppose it’s one of those “can’t see the wood for the trees” things; why didn’t we think about this before? All of our friends — Steve Vai, Ozzy, Joe Elliot, Corey from Slipknot, James and Lars — we all listen to music when we’re on the road. We’ve got our earphones jammed in and we’re listening to other bands. So these are the tracks that all of our fellow cohorts in rock and roll are checking out these days, their favorite Judas Priest tracks.

Is there one you would have added?

I suppose the reality is we’ve written close to 300 songs in our career. If you look at it in that respect, it’s a lot of music.  But I think these are the ones that have become significant, whether it’s “The Sentinel’ or ‘Grinder,’ ‘Dissident Aggressor,’ they’re all strong tracks. If you laid all the Judas Priest tracks out in front of you, you probably couldn’t help but think, “you know, maybe if there’s a ‘Chosen Few, Part Two,’” this and that track might be included. But this is a fun release, with some nice comments from our friends who have picked these tracks.

(Author’s choice: ‘Freewheel Burning’)

That’s quite a bill you’ve assembled on this tour, with Black Label Society and Thin Lizzy

It’s always difficult to find a balance, not only for Judas Priest, but for any band that has a legacy such as ours. First of all, you’ve got these rabid fans that are there to see only you. Then, of course, you want to mix it up, make sure that everybody gets a great night of metal. So we think that this lineup is just as unusual and expressive and widespread as some of the other tours that we’ve made. We’ve known Zakk forever, he’s got a great band, really good hard rock and roll band. And, then of course, the boys from Thin Lizzy, with all of their classics, ‘Jailbreak,’ ‘Boys are Back in Town’ and on and on and on.

Is it true you’ve got a bunch of songs done for your next album?

We do, yeah! Glenn (guitarist Tipton) and I started to write in the early part of January this year. We just went to it from the heart really, there was no specific agenda or idea, as opposed to what we had to do with ‘Nostradamus,’ which was very focused and a real anchor of a project. This one has just been some straight forward, classic British heavy metal. Some of it feels a bit like ‘Painkiller,’ some of it feels like ‘Sad Wings of Destiny,’ some like ‘British Steel.’ We didn’t do much research, we didn’t bother checking some of our previous releases, we didn’t do any homework, we just sat down and played, you know? Glenn came up with riffs and I came up with vocal melodies. There was no outside influence or interference in the writing sessions. We just started the day, plugged in some amps, got the mic up and made the metal that way. It’s a very pure record, in that respect.

Were you surprised the response to your ‘American Idol’ appearance was so positive?

Nothing surprises us now. That’s not to slight the importance of ‘American Idol.’ I think what I’m trying to say, it’s just that, when you’ve been in and seen and done as much as we have in Judas Priest, and we say that with tremendous gratitude, not with cynicism… you know. It was really special to be invited to that great show — and we call it a great show, because the essence of it is really important — it’s just a nice, big strong way to introduce new vocal talent to America. To be there for James Durbin and to be there for heavy metal, in 30 million plus American homes that night, was tremendously exciting. Whatever we do, there may have been some people who said “Aww, why is my Priest on that chump show ‘American Idol?” Well, it ain’t a chump show, it’s a very important music show, and for the first time ever, heavy metal was in the mix.

Hopefully some young, impressionable kids were watching..

Well, yeah, that’s exactly why we jumped in with both feet! James is spreading the message, James is hard-core metal maniac. This is a great way for a lot of people who didn’t know about metal to see Priest and see this new talent James rocking out and delivering the goods.

You recently did a 30th anniversary ‘British Steel’ Tour. Any such plans next year for ‘Screaming for Vengeance?’

The thing is, of course, there was a period where Priest was literally making a brand new record every year — I don’t know how we did that! It was amazing. We’d come off a big world tour, catch our breath and go straight into the studio and keep, you know, making new music, that’s how it was in those days. So now, it seems like anniversary after anniversary is coming up. In all honesty, we would love do it. But (laughs) in practical real world, it’s not possible. That’s not to say we might not do something like that in the future, but ‘British Steel’ was very important for Judas Priest, and probably for heavy metal to an extent. There were songs on that record that crossed over and went into people’s lives through rock and roll radio for the first time ever.

OK I saved the dumbest question for last – don’t you sweat your ass off in those coats? They seem to get heavier and more ornate every tour!

Yeah, I do. We all do. You know, you just do what you do, you don’t even think about it. By the time you’re about 3/4 of the way through the set, it’s a tremendous challenge to go through it all, but you don’t think about it. You really don’t. It’s part of the excitement, history and tradition that is Judas Priest. We’ve always gone out there with 100% in our hearts. We want to give our fans the best show that we can give, because the fans have given us this life. So yeah.. whatever it takes man, Priest will be out there playing and laying down the slabs of metal and giving everyone the time of their lives!

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