Rob Halford Celebrates Sobriety as Final Judas Priest Tour Approaches
The news is out. The beast from Birmingham is reaching the end of the line. Judas Priest, one of the most important and influential British heavy metal bands — and the group that arguably redefined metal, introducing twin guitar harmony leads and chugging, uptempo riffs after the plodding doom of Black Sabbath — are embarking on their final tour.
But that doesn’t mean the group’s 59-year-old frontman Rob Halford is calling it quits. Quite the contrary, after Priest finish their last worldwide trek, Halford will keep guns blazing with his solo band Halford, with which he’s currently on tour with Ozzy Osbourne. In a Dec. 7 interview with the Dallas Morning News, Halford said, “We tried to create with Priest a really entrenching, varied, exciting heavy metal band. By definition we’ve always called ourselves a heavy metal band, but we’ve done many, many things in our music. The legacy of Judas Priest is the songs that we’ve made. It’s been a fantastic journey for 40 years.”
Noisecreep talked to Halford a week or so prior to the announcement of the final Judas Priest tour, and while there was no direct discussion about ending Priest’s reign, there was plenty of talk about keeping the flame of metal alight. During our conversation, Halford talked about the endurance of bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, the creation of ‘Made of Metal,’ his continuing battle to stay sober, growing older gracefully and the world’s obsession with trash pop culture.
You’re on tour with Ozzy Osbourne right now. Did that come out of the shows you did on the last Ozzfest?
Well, when we were on the Ozzfest tour, the day before my birthday I said to Ozzy, “You know, I’m 59 tomorrow.” And he said, “Wow, we old ‘uns have got to stick together.” And we, of course, have. It’s a lot of fun going out with him. He’s absolutely on top of his game again. He’s roaring. His voice and physical performance is sensational. I can’t wait now to see if he’s going to get together again with Sabbath.
Sabbath and Priest have that Rolling Stones vibe. We could keep going forever if we wanted to. Unless you decide to put the brakes on there’s no end in sight. Band looks good, band sounds good, band plays good. Where’s the problem? There isn’t one. The only reason you keep doing it is because you believe in it and you’re having a great time doing it. If you don’t have those feelings anymore, forget it.
Being chosen for Ozzfest motivated you to start writing songs for ‘Made of Metal.’ Was that an enjoyable process or did you feel under the gun?
I decided that if I was going to tour, I wanted to have some new songs. The bulk of the material on this album came from my own head, and I haven’t done that since the Fight album ‘War of Words’ in 1992. That was very satisfying.
Was there something going on in your life that was making you feel creative?
As a musician, you can’t control these things. When they happen to you, they just take over your body and your head and it can be pretty scary. You’ve got to get them down quickly. I wrote those songs in about two weeks. And that reminds me of something Elton John once said. He said if I can’t write a song in about 20 minutes, then I just leave it because it’s not going to happen.
So, you wrote a bunch of songs by yourself. What was the next step?
I took them to [producer and co-writer] Roy Z, and he listened to them and said, “These sound good, bro. Once these are recorded, there are gonna be great.”
How do you write. Do you use a digital recorder or Pro Tools or something?
No, I just scratch ideas into the recorder in my iPhone. I would come home, and most days I’d be inspired and the ideas would be flowing. Everything came quickly, and we didn’t spend a tremendous amount of time in the studio sessions.
How important is it to work with your writing and performing team?
It’s extremely important. Some guys just use any studio musicians. I’ve always felt that I work best with the people that are close to me. And the best things happen when it’s a team effort. That’s why Priest worked so well for so many years and so many great albums.
You said you banged out ‘Made of Metal’ quickly. Was that the intent or were you under a tight deadline?
It was just coming together so quickly, I didn’t want to stop the train. I didn’t give myself the time to tear something apart and accidentally sabotage it. So I didn’t second guess myself. I just pushed away the negativity that all musicians go through. It’s just that ethos that we have from being fragile, which is what all creativity is. It can all fall to pieces like a big glass bowl.
The lyrics on ‘Made of Metal’ are bold and exude confidence and strength. But at the same time, some of the express a certain vulnerability.
I had a blast with the lyrics. How can I possibly write a song about bullfighting without getting egg in my face. But again, if you look at what I’ve done over the years, whether it’s been ‘The Ripper’ or ‘The Nightcrawler’ or ‘The Painkiller,’ that’s my world. I just love to have fun with this imagery. What inspired me was I saw the running of the bulls on CNN for about four seconds, and that was the catalyst for the song ‘Matador.’ But there’s all sorts of stuff on there.
The song ’25’ is about sobriety.
It’s a pretty personal song. I’ve been clean and sober for 25 years next year, actually. I wanted to make a reference to that without it being maudlin. I didn’t want anyone to slit their wrists at the end of it, but I wanted to send a message about how I’m still getting through it and it’s f—ing difficult. It really is.
Even after 25 years of sobriety, you still crave alcohol?
Absolutely. It’s just second nature to grab a beer, but that would just be the end of everything. So I have to constantly check myself. 25 years is nothing. It’s irrelevant. It’s gone. Boom. It’s about what’s happening now, and that’s the philosophy that people like myself have to live with. You’re living in the moment and in the day. Just because you got through 25 years, that’s absolutely immaterial. After 25 years, I’ve still got to face these fears of slipping, and I’ve had the devil on my back. And the devil on my back is booze and drugs.
What’s the closest you’ve come to slipping?
Well I’ve never yet picked up a bottle [laughs]. But for the last tour with Ozzfest, I decided I’m gonna save some money and we’re all gonna go on a bus together, band and crew. Oh god, big mistake! They drink everything in sight. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was like Mötley Crüe all over again, but without the drugs. It was unbelievable. I love them to death, but they’d be f—ing drinking from the moment we got on the bus until seven or eight o’clock in the morning, just rioting.
And I thought, “This is about as close to putting your feet in the fire as I’ll ever do, and I’m not doing it again.” I saved a bit of cash, but never again. The devil was sitting there on one shoulder saying, “Go on, just have a drink. You’ll be OK. Go on, go on, go on.” And the angel on my other shoulder’s going, “No no, stay away.” There are millions of people who have been through what I’ve been through that can smile at that and see the serious side of it as well.
You’re a metal icon and a celebrity even beyond the metal domain. Do you keep on top of pop culture and enjoy the mainstream press?
Oh, I’m an Associated Press news hound. I’ve got it in my iPhone and I check it three or four times a day. I keep on top of the stories, but not in a malicious way. For example, that Lindsay Lohan’s situation is sad. She’s got a great talent and she’s going through the difficulty that we’ve seen other personalities like myself deal with. It’s like I say in ’25 Years,’ you’ve gotta go as far down as you can go and not go any further before you can look up and start crawling up the hole. She’s beautiful and she’s got a great talent, and she needs to get it all back together again, which hopefully she will.
Why do so many celebrities invite tabloid publicity? Even Miley Cyrus is going without wearing panties and getting into limos while the paparazzi aim for that valuable crotch shot. It’s kind of amusing, but also pathetic.
These people ask for some of the bad press through their own stupidity, and some of them are just naïve. And of course, some of it is believing in yourself too much, so you become this untouchable god. You always need a sense of being able to listen to somebody else’s advice — even if it’s something that you dismiss. You should always be prepared to listen to what somebody has got to say and have somebody you trust, like family or management. Nobody has all the answers.
Watch Judas Priest’s ‘Another Thing Coming’ Video