“Fortunately, I was blessed with these vocal cords that can do extraordinary things.”
When you talk to a living legend like Rob Halford, it should come as no surprise that you are dealing with a pro; after all, the man not only invented almost all the tropes and conventions of modern heavy metal, but he's been doing it all — show after show, album after album, tour after tour — nonstop for almost 40 years, either fronting Judas Priest or his solo Halford project. So perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised when the man who actually trademarked the term "metal god" addressed me by name as he answered my questions. Priest have announced — well, not their retirement, per se, but the halting of any more world tours. This means that you may get a chance to purchase more albums of new material from the band in the future, but your last chance to see Halford in bondage gear, riding a Harley onstage amidst flaming pyro while breaking glass with his piercing metal scream may be on November 20, when Priest bring their "Epitaph" tour to Lowell's Tsongas Arena.
WHEN YOU STARTED THERE WAS NO METAL, REALLY. HOW DID YOU FIGURE OUT WHAT WAS "METAL" AND WHAT WASN'T? That's a great question, Daniel; I guess we count our blessings that we were around when we were, at the beginning of this style of music. I think the main ingredient was that everything was getting louder: Hendrix was loud, Clapton was loud, amplifiers were getting bigger, and volume was just being turned up and up and up. And when we started, in our teeny tiny little sweatbox rehearsal room in Birmingham, we may have had very basic equipment, but we were loud! There was a new sound around, a new experience, and it was really fresh and hot, you know, and we really related to it.
SURE. BUT AT THE SAME TIME, YOUR MUSIC WAS SO MUCH LEANER AND MEANER THAN OTHER '70S ROCK. AND METAL, ESPECIALLY AFTER YOU, HAS ALWAYS BEEN ABOUT CARVING OUT THE UNNECESSARY PARTS, REMOVING THE LAME PARTS AND KEEPING THE RAD BITS. IS THAT AN ACCURATE DESCRIPTION OF HOW PRIEST DEVELOPED ITS METAL SOUND? Yeah, it's accurate, because heavy metal is always made with the idea of the big riff. That sort of simplicity really connects with people directly, especially compared with a lot of the hard-rock and progressive bands that were around when we started. You know, bands like Yes, for example, who played very complex pieces of music. We just wanted to keep our music straightforward and direct.
YOUR MUSIC, YOUR PRESENTATION, IS SO MYTHIC, DEFIANT, TRIUMPHANT: IT'S MUSIC TO POINT YOUR FINGER ALONG TO. Totally. For us, it's about keeping it simple. A lot of our ideas, especially early on, were inspired by electric blues. Some of the very standard primitive forms of metal are basically four-bar blues, played slower, played heavier, played deeper. And so I think that's where we basically started to investigate who we wanted to be, and what we wanted to be. Fortunately, I was blessed with these vocal cords that can do extraordinary things. And I suppose that my voice led to the soaring nature of Priest's music: at the beginning, when we were serving our apprenticeship in metal, we grew together in finding out what we were capable of achieving. Just like anyone else, Daniel, I was learning my way, it was Heavy Metal 101 at the time! We didn't have too much around us that defined heavy metal: there was Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, the Who, but as far as metal was concerned, we had to kind of create our own genre!