ROB HALFORD On JUDAS PRIEST's New Guitarist, Split With K.K. DOWNING And Band's Future - May 13, 2011
On May 9, longtime Spanish heavy metal journalist Rafa Basa of RafaBasa.com conducted an interview with JUDAS PRIEST singer Rob Halford about the departure of the band's founding member, Kenneth "K.K." Downing; the addition of 31-year-old guitarist Richie Faulkner (LAUREN HARRIS, DIRTY DEEDS); and the group's upcoming "Epitaph" farewell tour. Several excerpts from the chat follow below (transcribed exclusively by BLABBERMOUTH.NET from the original 27-minute audio, which can be streamed at the bottom of this article).
On why JUDAS PRIEST has chosen to embark on a farewell tour at this point in the band's career:
Halford: "I think we're just being very careful. We wanna be able to still do these big shows and to still give out the same kind of power and energy that we've always been able to do. And so, 40 years later, we're doing that really successfully and we feel that we would like this to be a kind of celebration of many, many things about JUDAS PRIEST and give the fans a really, really great metal show. And then maybe just take things easier next time, you know, because… I wish we were all immortal. [Laughs] Metal is immortal [Laughs], but I don't feel immortal. It's a lot of reasons, and it happens to everybody in one way or another. I think metal touring is very, very difficult. I mean, you've got all the travelling to do and you don't get much sleep. And it's different on your body all these years later. PRIEST is famous for these very big, long grueling tours, and we just wanna still be able to make our shows, but we just wanna be able to kind of enjoy them and put on a great performance. But just kind of kick back a little bit and enjoy the golden metal years and still be with our fans, but just on a different level now."
On whether the next PRIEST studio album will be similar to the band's last CD, "Nostradamus" (2008), or if it will be a return to a classic PRIEST album format along the lines of "Angel Of Retribution" (2005):
Halford: "Well, I can tell you that it's gonna be a very strong, powerful, solid heavy metal album with all of the famous things people love about PRIEST — all the big sledgehammer heavy metal riffs from Birmingham and the screaming vocals. And it's just a very straightforward record as far as looking at our past and all of the wonderful things that we've done in heavy metal — from 'British Steel' to 'Painkiller' to 'Sad Wings Of Destiny'. We've got this wonderful heritage in our music, so I think we're just letting our heart lead us on this record. It's not as complicated or as complex in the arrangements as 'Nostradamus' was and I think we always felt that it would have been wrong to finish the recording side of PRIEST with 'Nostradamus'; we felt it was very important to kind of re-focus and put the metal in its place that we're most famous for, and I think that's what we're gonna do with this new record. It's coming out next year. It's almost completed. A lot of the songs have been already written, not fully recorded, but all of the arrangements have been made. That's the time-consuming part — the actual writing of the songs and then getting the arrangements right and all the pieces into place. And then when you go in the studio, the studio is generally a pretty straightforward operation. But we're excited, yeah. It's kind of unusual, isn't it?! 'Cause it's farewell, but it's full of new things; we have a new show, new costumes, new setlist and that's we've always tried to do for our fans and for ourselves — to make every tour special, and that's definitely the case with this one."
On the future of JUDAS PRIEST after the "Epitaph" tour:
Halford: "It's a very open set of opportunities, of course. We will still be making shows, we won't be going out on these long, massive world tours as much. But we'll still be getting together every now and again and doing a festival here and there. Personally, I don't see any reason why we need to stop the writing and the recording, because that's always a great joy and pleasure and it's not as stressful and difficult, physically and mentally, as a tour. So yeah, the future is not really laid out for certain, but I guess we'll just be and do what we've always tried to do as a metal band, which is, in one way or another, still keep recording and still do some shows."
On what it means to him to be working on a new JUDAS PRIEST studio album at this point in the band's career:
Halford: "I think it's just another testament to the self-belief we have as a band. We still feel that we've got something to say. We still feel that we've got important things to display in our music, especially. And so, for a brand new studio album to come this far on in our career, I think it's a wonderful achievement, and I think it's just letting our fans, especially, see that the things that are important to us — the passion of metal and the power of metal — is still alive inside of us and we still get a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from making metal songs and recording them and putting on a show. That's not changed. I think in our hearts we wish we could do this forever. [Laughs] It's like your favorite soccer player; you wish he could keep playing the game forever, but eventually you have to be realistic and sensible and say, 'This has been great. I'm still gonna do a few things — maybe do some coaching.' Still stay in the mix of metal. But life goes on and things change. But like I said, we hope that people will see this as a time to celebrate, with a lot of new experiences. We're celebrating a lot of great moments from our past, but we're also looking forward to the future."
On K.K. Downing's statement that his departure from JUDAS PRIEST was brought on in part by "an ongoing breakdown in [the] working relationship between [him], elements of the band, and the band's management":
Halford: "Well, I'm sure you've been around a lot of bands in your life as a journalist and I'm sure you've heard a lot of stories about the creative differences that happen in a group, and you always overcome them. It's not easy being in a band; it's a very difficult, temperamental machine, because you're dealing with very emotional people, very talented people, and so you have your ups and your downs. I think that in the light of all of the excitement and the confusion over the last few weeks, a lot of the things have been kind of distorted out of the fact. I don't really know why K.K. said what he said in his press release. I think maybe K.K. himself was feeling very emotional and very kind of… I don't know… maybe retrospective about all of the things that have been going on in PRIEST for the last few years. . . If you go onto his web site today, he put up a new press release and he says, you know, he's had a great time and he's not feeling bitter, he's not feeling in any other way than feeling just very satisfied and complete that he's done all the things that he wants to do. And I think that's great. I think K.K.'s really answered a lot of questions for a lot of people. But I think it was unfair to single out the bandmembers and I think it was unfair to single out management as the reason why he left, because it was more than that. And so there you go. We're all separate, individual people that all have lives to live and all have different needs and choices to be made, and this is the one that K.K.'s gone with. And we love him dearly; he'll always be in the spirit of JUDAS PRIEST. We wish things were different, but they're not, so we have to look forward and be positive and be excited about the shows that we're gonna do and a great new guitar player, Richie. JUDAS PRIEST is not just one person, JUDAS PRIEST is the whole experience, and we've always felt that way. Even when I was away from the band, JUDAS PRIEST carried on. So this is what we're gonna do — we're gonna be strong and we're gonna put on some powerful shows and we're gonna celebrate and have some great metal experiences together again."
On why K.K. couldn't wait until after the "Epitaph" tour to leave the band:
Halford: "It's a great question. I can't answer it. You have to get in touch with K.K. and ask him that question, 'cause I can't answer it. I think we've tried to be as honest and as straightforward as we can be on both sides of the discussion, and it is very emotional. I mean, you could just as easily [have asked] that same question — which you may have done — when I was away from the band, and Ripper, my good friend Ripper, was holding the mic for me. You just have to carry on. I think more than anything, it's just kind of difficult, 'cause it's a farewell tour. Why is it happening now? Well, you've got no control over life, have you? [Laughs] You can't control life and these things happen. So you just have to accept them and see what your options are. So that's the way it is. Of course, it will never be the same without K.K., like I'm sure a lot of people said it was never the same without me. But you can't just grind to a halt, you can't just stop everything — that would be ridiculous. We have obligations to our fans and to promoters and to everybody else, and to our record company, and we wanna fulfill them and be professional and do the right thing, which is what I think we are doing."
On how he feels personally about K.K.'s departure from the band:
Halford: "I just feel very sad that this whole episode has taken place at the time that it has. I think that we're all dealing with it differently. I love Ken like a brother; we've been in each other's lives for over 40 years. And we're all still good friends; that's the important thing. It doesn't matter about the breakdown in the communication or the creative differences; that's just part of being in a band. The friendship and the caring for each other, that doesn't go away. It should never go away. Because we've been through too much together and you can't let differences of opinion over different incidents and different moments, you can't let that affect your long-term-standing relationship, business-wise and personal-wise, you can't let that get destroyed; that would be a terrible thing to do. So you just respect each other, you respect each other's choices and you respect each other's decisions. And I'm sure that at some point K.K. will probably want to be a little bit more open about his reasons for departing PRIEST; that's entirely up to K.K. We've made it clear that we're not speaking for K.K.; we can only speak for ourselves and what we need to do. So there you go — that's about as much as we can really offer to the press and to our fans at this point."
On what fans can expect from the upcoming tour:
Halford: "Well, I think, looking at the history and the tradition of PRIEST, whenever we've gone out on these world tours, we've tried to do something different, so we do have a brand new stage set, light show, we've got some special effects that we're bringing back in terms of pyro and lights and lasers and flames and all these other great, crazy things that you love about metal that we haven't used in a while; we're bringing all those back. I think the setlist is the most exciting part, because we're trying to do everything from all of our music, so it really is a celebration of the music of PRIEST as much as anything else — right from 'Rocka Rolla' all the way up to maybe a track from the brand new record. So that's quite special and unique; we've never done before that for our fans. New stage, new costumes, new songs… it's just gonna be a really special event. . . The fact that we've said we're gonna try to do something from every record is already creating a lot of excitement and people are looking at the songs and going, 'I wonder, will they do this song?' or 'I wonder, will they do that song?' So I think we wanna keep that as a surprise until the first few shows because obviously when the first few shows start to happen, it will be all over the Internet and everybody will know. But we are actually rehearsing a lot of songs, so we're gonna try to mix it up. We're gonna try to put on… maybe one song will be not in the setlist one night, so maybe we'll put two more in another night. So it will be quite varied. It's important, I think, to try and keep an element of surprise; it just gives you something to look forward to."
On the decision to hire a relatively unknown guitar player, Richie Faulkner, to replace K.K. Downing:
Halford: "I think it would have diluted the moment if we would have gone with one of our friends. We know some very famous metal guitar players and I'm sure that they would have said, 'Yeah, I'll help you out if you need the help.' But I think we wanted to give this moment its own special feeling. Obviously, nobody can replace K.K. entirely, so I think we worked really hard to find someone of the same caliber and with the same kind of discipline and guitarmanship as K.K.'s always displayed, and I think we found that in Richie. Richie's been around for awhile; he's already had a successful career up until this point with his solo activities and some of the other bands that he's worked with. But this is a big leap for Richie to go into a band like PRIEST. And he's gonna be the right man for the job, you know. It is gonna be a tremendously exciting moment for Richie as a player. I can only imagine what's going on in his mind. I suppose it's the same as when Ripper walked out each night; you just have to go out and do your very best, and that's what Richie's gonna do. I think he's gonna show the metal world that he's a very competent, exciting player that's gonna not only be able to do the parts he needs to play but also inject his own special style and technique. And I think the metal fans are really grateful that Richie's there, because if Richie was not in the spot, this tour would have been canceled. So, yeah, it's gonna be tremendous for Richie to be able to do what's gotta do and he's gonna do it really well. And I think the fans are gonna love him."
On how it will feel seeing Richie in K.K.'s spot on stage:
Halford: "Yeah, I think K.K. felt the same when he looked to the left and saw Ripper [Laughs], he didn't see me. So history repeats itself, doesn't it? Emotionally, it's always very challenging to deal with these types of things, but you just have to accept the facts and this is it now; this is the way that PRIEST is looking and the band is still together. I know we've always said JUDAS PRIEST is not just one member; JUDAS PRIEST is the whole combination of players coming together to make the sounds of PRIEST, and we have 100 percent faith that Richie can do that part. So we're excited about the shows that we're gonna and the way that we're gonna display ourselves."
Rafa Basa's entire 27-minute interview with Rob Halford can be streamed using the audio player below.