Rob Halford and Glenn Tipton on Judas Priest’s Legacy, ‘Farewell’ Tour and Forthcoming Album
Just to clarify, the members of Judas Priest aren’t hanging up their spiky leather jackets. After 42 years and 17 albums, the pioneering British metal band is simply putting a stop to the kind of global touring it’s undertaken throughout its career. The group’s latest go-round, the Epitaph World Tour, is something of a last hurrah, a four-continent trek that has already taken Priest through Europe and South America.
On the eve of the tour’s North American leg, frontman Rob Halford and guitarist Glenn Tipton — two of the most revered names in metal history — sat down with Noisecreep in New York City. The duo discussed Priest’s past, present and future, explaining why, after all these years, they’re thrilled to tour, proud to play metal and excited about the future.
How’s the tour been going so far?
GT: It’s been incredible. We started off in Europe, and it was tremendous leg of the tour. We’ve just done South America, including Venezuela, Columbia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Costa Rica as well. Mexico. And now here we are in the States, and we’re ready for the North American tour.
Anywhere you’ve never been before?
GT: Venezuela and Costa Rica.
Which continent loves Priest the most?
GT: We’re fortunate across the board, really. We’re obviously popular in America and throughout Europe — we’ve just done a great European tour — and a lot of the Latin countries, Spanish-speaking countries. We go to these far corners of the planet, places like Turkey or Chile, and 15,000 or 20,000 kids show up, so we’re very lucky, really.
Do the politics in certain countries have anything to do with the response from fans?
GT: Not really. I think what people do is they underestimate the popularity of heavy metal. Let’s say we go to places like Turkey or Chile — these far reaches of the planet — and thousands of kids show up. If there are any differences between countries, they’re all forgotten. They’re all there for one reason, and that’s for metal.
Have there been times on this tour where you’ve said, “This is too much fun. I don’t think I can give this up.”
GT: Absolutely, but the emotions runs so high onstage that every night you walk off and think, “How can I give this up?” But there will be a point when we have to call it a day. This is our last world tour, but that doesn’t mean it will be our last live performances, and we’ll certainly do more albums.
Do you still enjoy playing the hits?
GT: When you’re onstage, you can think, “Oh, do we have to play ‘Breaking the Law’ again? Do we have to play ‘Living After Midnight?'” But when you’re onstage, and you feed off the audience, and you feed off the reaction and the roar of the crowd, it’s just as enjoyable every night as it’s ever been.
Is it hard to please both hardcore fans, who probably want to hear obscure tracks, and more casual fans, who want the hits?
GT: No, it’s great. This set we’re doing at the moment — we’re doing a track off of every one of our studio albums, which is 17. We’re doing ‘Never Satisfied,’ off ‘Rocka Rolla.’ We’re doing ‘Starbreaker.’ We’re doing ‘Blood Red Skies,’ which we’ve never played before. We’re tracking the albums through the years, plus all the old favorites, and it’s working out really well.
There are always some track we have to leave out. There are always some people disappointed, but I think we’ve gotten most of it right.
[Rob Halford enters the room]
Rob, thanks for joining us. As we just asked Glenn, have there been times on this tour when you’ve thought, “I don’t want to give this up?”
RH: Well, I don’t think we are going to give it up. That’s the exciting thing for us. Obviously, there’s a bit of poignancy attached to the fact we won’t be doing any more world tours, but personally, I’m having one of the best tours ever, in terms of how I feel onstage. I think maybe it’s the setlist. I think this is a great way of doing a final world tour, because it’s a two hour and 20-minute show, and you’re really feeling it from ‘Never Satisfied’ to ‘Nostradamus.’ Emotionally, musically, it’s like ‘This Is Your Life.’ You feel like you’ve given fans the life of the band, and that’s quite extraordinary and quite rare.
What’s the status on the new album. You’ve said in other interviews that you’ve got several songs finished.
GT: Yeah, we started writing in January and February, and we’re going to get together with [new guitarist] Richie [Faulkner] and do some writing now, which is going to be exciting. We just need a little bit of time so we can get back in the studio and do some writing. That’s the difficult thing, because the schedule is so heavy.
RH: Everybody is coming to us now because there’s a sense this is the last world tour. So we’re getting offers we didn’t get before to go back to certain parts of Europe. Russia is a gigantic country, and we’ve been asked to go to certian places we’ve never visited, and that’s exciting for us. We just did Venezuela — Caracas — and we’d never been there before. It was insane. We love that. We love going to a new country for the first time, because some of the fans are in tears when they see us. “I waited 30 years, and you’re finaly here. If it wasn’t for the fact you came to me, I would never get a chance to see you play life.” So that’s very emotional, very empowering.
Are there bands that gave you that same feeling when you were growing up in Birmingham?
RH: I think when I saw [Jimi] Hendrix at the Isle of Wight, or the Who at the isle of Wight, in whatever year that was — ’71 or ’72, something like that. I was just [thinking], “God, I wish I could do that.”
Being a veteran band must be sort of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you’re already well established, so you have nothing to prove. On the other hand, any new album will invariably be compared to your classic work. How do you approach a new record?
GT: We never plan it. We just write what comes naturally. We don’t sit down and contrive it and say, “We’re going to go this way or that way.” We obviously did more of that with ‘Nostradamus,’ because that was a conceptual album, but we’re just going to let it roll this time and let the dice fall where they will. It will be an album Priest fans want. We know what they want, and that’s what we’re going to give them. Part of the album is a thank-you to the fans. We’ve done a couple of anthems, and Rob has great lyrics saying “thank you” to the fans for all the years. We’re just going to let our instincts drive us on the rest and compose as we go along.
Your new ‘Chosen Few’ record comprises Priest classics picked by some of your famous fans. Did any of their selections surprise you?
I’m citing Geezer from Sabbath choosing ‘Living After Midnight.’ I thought he’d go for something really dark and evil. Apparently, when we did the Sabbath-Priest Ozzfest tour some years ago, that was the song he’d come from the dressing room to check out.
People were all over the place with their picks — old stuff, new stuff, etc. That must have been gratifying.
That’s what’s so cool about this release. All of these friends of ours, they listen to music, obviously, when they’re on the tour bus [or wherever]. Who knew that Ozzy likes ‘The Ripper?’ It’s a funny sense of timing. It’s exciting.
On this tour, you guys are playing with everyone from veterans Thin Lizzy to relative newcomers Hatebreed. Do you still keep tabs on new metal bands?
I check the iTunes charts every few days, and I’m always listening to snippets on there, the top 100 albums. That’s informative, and it gives you a little bit of a cross section of what the world is listening to. It’s cool to see that Anthrax is in the top three with their latest release.
So much of what is now known as heavy metal derives from you guys. Are there any aspects of the genre you would rather not take credit or be blamed for?
GT: Not really. In metal, a lot of bands are their own worst enemies. They’ll do things just to draw attention to themselves, and you all get tarred with the same brush. As far as we’re concerned, we’ve always flown the flag for metal. We’ve always been proud to be a metal band. We think it does a lot of good worldwide.
RH: If you’re asking for words of wisdom, it’s like we’ve always said: Because there is so much competition — it is a competition — the best thing you can strive for is originality, and that’s very difficult, especially if you’re being pushed to be a top 40 metal band. They have these polls for kids at school: “What do you want to be?” “I want to be famous.” “What can you do?” “Oh, I can’t do anything, but I want to be famous.” That’s because they see people who don’t do anything be famous. That’s just the way of the world. From where we come from, you have to work really hard to become famous. You have to work really hard to do something and offer something that is different and original and special that nobody else does. That’s what gave us our growth and the way that we went around the world.
Watch ‘Painkiller’ From Judas Priest
There wasn’t really a heavy-metal model you could look to when you were starting out.
RH: There wasn’t, because there wasn’t anybody else. We would listen to [Led] Zeppelin and [Deep] Purple and the Who, but in terms of metal, there really wasn’t anyone else that was defining that sound.
GT: We used to sit there in our slippers by the gas fire, if we had enough coins in the box to keep it going, and knock out tunes. And they turned out to be timeless, and that’s a great compliment people pay us sometimes.
Your last album was a concept record about Nostradamus. Do you think this one will be more personal and maybe incorporate the feelings associated with staging a farewell world tour?
GT: Not really. Part of it is a tribute to the fans, and our way of saying thank you, but the rest of the album can go any way. We’ve got loads of ideas, and we’ll just see how they all turn out.
RH: It’ll be who we are, basically. The subject matter can be anything we choose to go for and go with. The essence of it is turning out to be a really great classic Priest metal record.
Judas Priest’s ‘The Chosen Few’ is available now via Sony Legacy. The dates for the Epitaph World Tour are below:
12 October AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
14 October Concrete Street Amphitheater, Corpus Christi, TX
15 October The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, Houston, TX
16 October Allen Event Center, Dallas, TX
18 October Ava Amphitheater, Tucson, AZ
19 October Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre, San Diego, CA
21 October AZ State Fair, Phoenix, AZ
22 October San Manuel Amphitheater, San Bernardino, CA
23 October Hard Rock, Las Vegas, NV
27 October Sleep Train Pavilion, Concord, CA
29 October WaMu Theater, Seattle, WA
30 October Rogers Arena, Vancouver, BC
1 November Shaw Conference Center, Edmonton, AB
2 November Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary, AB
4 November Maverik Center, Salt Lake City, UT
5 November 1STBANK Center, Denver, CO
8 November US Bank Arena, Cincinnati, OH
9 November Prairie Capital Convention Center, Springfield, IL
10 November The Family Arena, St. Louis, MO
12 November The Venue at Horseshoe Casino, Chicago, IL
13 November Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI
15 November Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
16 November The Armory, Rochester, NY
18 November Izod Center, East Rutherford, NJ
19 November Cambria County War Memorial, Johnstown, PA
20 November Paul E. Tsongas Arena, Lowell, MA
22 November Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ON
23 November Colisee Pepsi Arena, Quebec City, QC
24 November Bell Centre, Montreal, QC
26 November Sovereign Center Arena, Reading, PA
27 November Lawrence Joel Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum, Winston-Salem, NC
30 November 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre, Tampa
1 December Bayfront Park Amphitheatre, Miami
3 December Hard Rock Biloxi Hotel & Casino, Biloxi