The Metal God Speaketh
Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford speaks about incessant touring, the secret to his voice and his inspirations
By Bobin James
Think heavy metal and one of the first names that comes slamming into your head is that of Judas Priest. This is one band that has, for close to four decades, kept the studded flag of heavy metal fluttering high, earning themselves the crown of ‘Metal Gods.’ Rob Halford, the lead singer of Judas Priest (yes, him of the three-and-a-half octave range) spoke to Rolling Stone India long distance from Osaka, Japan, where the band was on the Nostradamus tour.
Hello Rob! You are in Osaka today?
Yes, we started our Japanese tour a couple of days ago… in Nagoya. We are in Osaka right now, and then we go on to Yokohama and Tokyo. After Japan, we move on to South America. Then we take a small break before we go back around the world. Typically a Judas Priest tour takes two to two-and-a-half years to really go around the world.
I was going through your tour calendar. In August, you have played some 21 dates! How do you manage that?
We never think about it. We just get on the bus, on the plane, on the train – as we are doing in Japan – and go out there. We never think about the journeys and the thousands of miles. It’s only later when we see the number of dates that we have performed that it seems unbelievable…
But it’s fantastic. It’s a solid signal that heavy metal and Judas Priest have a great following across the world.
Nostradamus – it’s a monster of an album… How did it come about?
You might already know the story of how our manager Bill Curbishley suggested the idea first. We had just finished the Angel of Retribution tour, and Bill knew that we always had the desire to make a concept album. But we never did have the time. For something like Nostradamus, we needed time and energy.
It was a great concept and I saw parallels with heavy metal music.
My favourites from Nostradamus are ‘Prophecy’ and ‘Revelations.’ Do you have any favourite tracks?
I listen to it every other day, and now I am able to let go and listen to it without analysing it as a musician. My personal favourites would be ‘Pestilence and Plague’ where I sing in a bit of Italian… Then there is ‘Banished in Exile’ which has beautiful feel and emotion…
There are very few bands - Judas Priest, Iron Maiden - which manage to transcend generations and countries. What do you think makes a great band? Separates it from any other band?
I really don’t know the answer to that question… I wish I did. We played a show in Seoul recently, and the crowd was mainly teenagers. And they knew all the lyrics to all the songs, including the older ones. So I am constantly amazed. Why this is, I don’t know… but we are thrilled and delighted that our music is able to reach all these people. And I think, all the good stuff in music eventually floats to the top where everyone finds them… through the internet, through friends.
About Judas Priest, we have been there from the very beginning. So I think there is that interest, kind of like you are going to see the inventors… like seeing Picasso or Michelangelo paint. Except in our case, you are seeing us live…
You’ve been singing for over 35 years now! How have you managed to keep your voice as soaring as ever?
I am just blessed, I guess. All singers have their own individual styles and techniques. My good mate Ronnie Dio is a good example… or Robert Plant - a good friend…
With a guitar, you can change strings. With your voice, though, you just have to get plenty of rest and relaxation. And I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs… I guess that helps. I turned 57 in August, so I can’t do all that I did earlier, but I can still deliver passion and power…
Going back, what is the kind of music that you listened to growing up?
I have great memories of the Midlands, Birmingham where I grew up… You don’t really think of music as a kid. It’s only when you are 12-13 that you start to think about it… when you really start to deal with emotions, that’s when music becomes your friend…
In the Sixties, the Beatles were an important group. There were the American groups coming from across the Atlantic – the Doors, Jimi Hendrix… and then a mixture of Brit bands… early Led Zep, the Who…
And then when you started singing, who were your inspirations?
Bessie Smith, Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters… these musicians sang from the soul. Janis Joplin… they all had a great impact on me as singers.
When can we see Judas Priest here in India?
We have been speaking to friends in India for the last couple of years now. We do know there is a massive following there for heavy metal and for Judas Priest. So we are keeping our fingers crossed and hoping something works out… I urge all promoters to get in touch with our manager. Next year, when we continue the Nostradamus tour, we intend to go to a lot of places we haven’t to before and India is at the top of that list.
Coming to your other band, Halford. I believe you are working on the fourth album now? Is that right?
Right now Judas Priest is my number one priority, so Halford is in the background. But yes, at some point, I am looking forward to the next Halford album.
(September 24, 2008)
© Bobin James/Rolling Stone India, 2008