Judas Priest have been kings of the Heavy Metal scene for around forty years and are one of the headlining acts at next year’s Soundwave Festival. Our reporter John Goodridge spoke to founding member Ian Hill about the tour and their latest album, Redeemer of Souls.
Hey Ian, how’s it going?
Great mate, how’s yourself?
Yeah pretty good. You looking forward to the Soundwave tour next year?
We certainly are, yeah. It’s been along time coming, but we’ll get there eventually.
Your latest album, Redeemer of Souls is a really fascinating album. I really love how tracks like “Crossfire Blues” have gone back to the roots of rock and roll. What was the inspiration behind the album?
There’s a few sort of briefs, if you like. One of them, we wanted to show Richie off. Obviously we’ve just done the Epitaph tour with him and at the end of that tour he’s gone a talented colleague to a great buddy. We got to know his character and got to realise what a great bloke he was. On the epitaph tour we played something from every record over the last forty years or so, and it’s not so much listening to the songs we played, it’s the delving back and listening to those records form all those years ago to get your set list. I mean it all sort of sticks between your ears, so when the writing process starts it’s at least subconsciously there. We wanted to show Richie off in as many aspects as we could and hopefully we’ve achieved that.
So with such a huge back catalogue, how do you pick a set list?
Ah jeez, that’s a hard one. I mean, we’d love to play the whole new album, but I mean for every new song you put in, you’re gonna drop somebody’s favorite. It gets more difficult as time goes on. I dunno, we’ll end up doing three, four or maybe even five songs from the new record and try and keep the major fan’s favorites there and not piss too many people off.
It will be hard just picking three or four from the new album, they all stand up as great tracks.
Yes I know. It’s a nice problem to have.
“Sword of Damocles” is almost looking at looking at your band – do you ever feel that you have the Sword of Damocles hanging over your head?
Er, hopefully not yet. The thing is though we love doing it, which is the main thing. As long as we carry on doing it in the way we’ve been doing it for the last forty years or so I think we’ll be okay. Nobody’s really talking about quitting. I think the thought of not doing this terrifies all of us. So we’re just gonna carry on. There’s no reason not to, as long as people want us and we’re fit and able, there’s no reason to knock it on the head. We’ll carry on and try and keep the Sword of Damocles at bay.
As far as the metal community goes, how much do you think that you control Judas Priest and how much does the fan base control Judas Priest? Whenever a new record comes out or a band member changes there’s always a lot of comment on the Internet.
Obviously we have to take their views, they’re as much a part of the band as we are. Without the fans we wouldn’t be here, it’s as simple as that. So we have to appreciate their views and what we think their views would be. If a song comes along and it doesn’t fit the band, no matter how good the song is, we just have to shake our heads and move on. They do have an influence and quite rightly so.
You appeared on The Simpsons TV show earlier this year as yourselves. How did that come about?
It was completely out of the blue. Management called up and told us we were going to be on the Simpsons and we said “yeah, ok.” That was about it. They wanted us to read through the story line that they had. We met the producer and all the characters, you know and just went from there. It was all about illegal downloads, something that we need to get on top of I suppose, but yeah it was great fun.
One of the topics you addressed in “Crossfire Blues” was the hypocrisy that exists in the world. How do you see heavy metal music addressing that?
Well it’s hard – it’s really best not to spout off about things if you can avoid it. You’re gonna end up making a fool out of yourself sooner or later. Everybody has their views but unless you’re a politician, it’s best to keep them to yourself until voting time. We’ve never been politically motivated at all. I’m not a staunch Tory, I’m not a staunch Labour, or socialist. I don’t put anything that I don’t think will benefit myself or my family, it’s as simple as that. I’m not gonna vote or anyone that‘s famous or for the sake of it. It’s hypocrisy you know.
One of the things you’ve talked about is how fans have come up to you and told you about how music has helped them get through difficult times.
I imagine it’s the same with anything; you’ll get someone who’s sick, whether terminally or otherwise, their favorite thing, not matter what it is, it’s a comfort thing. Because of the aggression in our music, not just our music, we’re talking Maiden, Led Zeppelin and everybody else; the armed forces listen to our stuff. We have people turn up to our shows and we’re chatting to them afterwards and they’re like “Oh I used to fly helicopters in Vietnam and I’d listen to you all the time”, which is great. But I imagine anyone who’s recovering or in a bad way, it’s gonna cheer them up a bit.
Can you tell me a little bit about the Judas Priest image and specifically how Ray Brown and his clothing design fits in?
It’s evolved over the years, you know. If you look at photographs of the early days we were all in velvet and satin, like Deep Purple and the Zeppelins and what have you – even Black Sabbath. I rocked up in a leather coat one day and gee that’s cool and then we’ve all got one and then the studs go on it and it evolved from there. We’ve been using Ray now, God knows, it must be thirty years. He knows the band, he knows us personally, he knows what needs to be portrayed and so on. When stage clothes times comes up, we just say Ray, we’re going out on tour and he’ll just come up with a few ideas, a few sketches, meet him, out our own ideas in, he’ll measure us up, to see how fatter we’ve got and that will be it, off he’ll go. We’ve got a great working relationship with Ray; excellent bloke.
The new album has such a range of musical styles, how does that come together? Is it a collaborative effort?
Well this time round, obviously the last album was a concept album, Nostradamus, and the songs had to have relevance to each other, if you know what I mean; it was an album that was designed to be listened to from start to finish and everything leading from one thing to another. Well this album obviously has stand alone songs, and as long as the songs fit into place, like a jigsaw – you can’t have a screaming fast song followed by another screaming fast song for example – you have to get a balance there. That was the only brief. The lads came up with all of these ideas and they were great ideas.
In days gone by they’d come up with certain ideas but things would get discarded along the way and you’d end up with ten, twelve songs on an album, but this time there was nothing that deserved to be canned. Hence the bonus CD. They were good songs but they would have unbalanced the album. If you’d put one of those songs on the major record instead of another, you would have unbalanced it a bit. So they were extra songs, but they certainly didn’t deserve to be discarded, so we released that bonus CD for those that wanted it.
I know you’ve talked about “Halls of Valhalla” being written on the road. Is that something that happens regularly?
Rob’s always doodling; if something springs to mind, he’ll write it down. But for the rest of us it’s more difficult, you can sit there on the bus, but it’s not really the environment to create really, when you’re travelling. We don’t get any time off, if we get a day off it’s because we can’t get there in a day, that’s the only time we don’t play, so it would be physically impossible to do so. But I know Richie likes doodling along, he’ll have a few sessions in the dressing room, getting a few ideas together, but involving the whole band it’s pretty much impossible.
Do you still get a thrill from playing live on stage?
Oh yeah! That’s the sole reason we’re doing it. We don’t have to do it any more, but the thought of not doing it terrifies all of us. I look back on my career with a huge sense of privilege, to have been able to do something that I love; it’s been an absolutely superb journey and I’m a very lucky bloke. We just love doing it.
When you started the band some forty years ago, did you ever imagine you’d be where you are today?
No. Back then you didn’t look much further than tomorrow. You got on and you took it as many steps as you could at the time. But you never thought that at sixty years you could be retired or dead or both, but you never thought about it, you just got on with it. It was just natural, it came naturally, it was something you didn’t think about, something you did. But I think if we had to force ourselves to do what we did it might have been a different question. But it’s something that we all enjoyed doing and it’s something we never thought of.
An album like British Steel, which is an iconic album in rock history, you took that on tour back in 2009, how did it feel revisiting that album?
Yeah well there’s a lot of fans’ favorites from British Steel. It really was a huge nostalgia binge when we started going through al those old albums. It took us right back to the early days, the struggles of sleeping in the van outside the studio and all this shit, it really was a great time, a great bit of nostalgia.
Judas Priest play Soundwave Festival 2015, which is on sale now. Tickets and more details are available here: http://soundwavefestival.com/welcome.html