Ever since the release of their debut album in 1974 (Rocka Rolla), Priest has been proudly flying the metal flag with such classic albums as 1980's British Steel, 1982's Screaming for Vengeance, and 1990's Painkiller, as well as the anthems as "Breaking the Law," "Living After Midnight," and "You've Got Another Thing Coming." And it's not just the Judas Priest sound that has influenced a generation: the band trailblazed metal's venerable "leather and studs" look, to boot.
Three members of Priest - singer Rob Halford and guitarists Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner - were kind enough to chat with Songfacts at the Sony Tower in NYC shortly before the release of Souls, during which we discussed songwriting, the band's trademark twin guitar harmonies, and the meanings behind both a modern-day Priest rocker and a vintage Priest classic.
Glenn Tipton: It can be anywhere around. What we normally do is go and get our own bunch of ideas together and then we meet up, throw it into the pot and see what comes out. When the room lights up, we're onto something - we usually end up with a great song.
So it's very exciting with Judas Priest, because you go to a writing session with nothing and you never know what you're going to come away with. It can be a riff that sets off somebody else's train of thought or it can be a vocal line, or a lyric, or title, or it can even be a riff. And suddenly, a song takes shape. It's amazing the way it does. Like a jigsaw puzzle, it just all falls into place.
Rob Halford: You start the day with nothing and then you end up with something that's going to be around longer than you are. The most amazing part of being in any band, I think, is the creative process and seeing what you've got left.
Some days, you've got nothing. Some weeks you've got nothing. But in the general sense of the word, when we would get together there'd always be a spark, so that you'd have a reference to go back to the next day or maybe a week later.
You can't rush writing music, because if you do rush it, it generally just only has that sense. Some songs will come together very, very simply, but generally, the ones that are really well composed do take a lot of thought, especially when you've got hundreds and hundreds of songs already in the vault that are established and part of your repertoire. You're always trying to better yourself in that respect, so it isn't easy. It's not easy, especially 40 years later.
Songfacts: I could imagine.
Rob: Yeah. That's why I'm so proud of this record. It's not just another Priest record. It's a very strong classic metal statement from the band.
Priest's original guitar tandem consisted of Tipton and KK Downing (which remained intact from 1974-2011, when Downing exited the band, and was replaced by Faulkner). And as Faulkner explains below, it was the work of Priest's guitar duo that served as a major influence.
Richie Faulkner: Well, you come up with an idea and sometimes it's automatically crying out for a harmony part.
You know, it's Judas Priest, so the duty you have to yourself as a guitar player and as a fan at the same time is to create these things. Sometimes they're already locked in, the harmonies. Sometimes it might be a guitar passage that you get in the studio and either Glenn or I will say, "That's the idea." And then someone will say, "What if we did this or try this?" And Glenn or I will throw down a harmony to that.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it's a very organic method from the guitar point of view, because Glenn's been doing it for 40 years and I've been taught by Glenn indirectly. So it is a very organic, instinctive process where the guitars are concerned, and it works really well in a record.
Glenn: Yeah, I think it works itself out, doesn't it Rich? Sometimes you don't even have to say anything, it's almost a sixth sense: "This is a trail-off lead break" or "It's a harmony lead break" or "You take this, Richie, and then I'll take that." It just seems to work itself out. If we had to work too hard to sort things out, we wouldn't be the right guitarists to be playing together. So, the fact that it sorts itself out means we think in the same direction, and that's very important.
Rob: And you try everything if you're in a band. If somebody has an idea and you say, "Have you thought about this?" If that person goes, "No, that sucks," well, how can you say it sucks if you haven't tried it? You try everything, and then you make a determined assessment of the possibility.
With us, we've never been afraid to speak up and step up and say, "I've been thinking about this, let me try to explain." We've never shut each other down and said, "That's fucking stupid." We've always said, "Yeah, well, let's see what can come of it," and sometimes it happens and sometimes maybe half of it will happen, so you keep that half and you know you've got that in a vault somewhere.
So try everything as a musician - the possibilities are endless.
Songfacts: Let's discuss the title track of Redeemer of Souls.
What is he? He's not a destructive guy, he's coming to bring that redemption with metal, and I think that's a very iconic type of representation for Judas Priest.
The whole song for me is very unique in its sound and what's coming through the speakers. If you're a Priest fan, you go, "That's my band. That's why I love this kind of music." And the statement is there in the four minutes that you hear, and this is what I want from Priest in 2014.
Glenn: I just think it typifies Priest. The rhythm of it is very reminiscent of things we've done before. We haven't tried to repeat anything - it's just what comes naturally from us.
That's what I like about that song: it's a very natural Judas Priest song. And I love the high noon reference, as well, which to me typifies that god, half-molten metal, half-human walking down some sort of deserted cowboy town with tumbleweeds and dust and dirt. That's the picture it conjures up for me.
Rob: I was thinking Cowboys & Aliens [a 2011 film about a spaceship that lands in the Old West]. Everybody thought that movie sucked and I loved it!
Richie: To me, "Redeemer of Souls," the title track, it came about very naturally, as the guys have said. It's instantly Judas Priest as soon as it comes in. It does have elements of earlier Priest, as they order it. It's the same band. It's very instant and very direct. It's simple, but it's what you'd expect from a Judas Priest song. It was the first song that got put out to the public just to let you know that Priest is back and this is what it's about, really.
Songfacts: One of my favorite older Judas Priest songs is "Dissident Aggressor." How did you come up with that title?
Rob: It's about the Berlin Wall in 1970 something or other. I couldn't sleep, so I went out for a walk. I went to the Berlin Wall and I walked up on top of a boxy-looking post thing.
Glenn: A watchtower-type thing.
Rob: Watchtower thing. It was in November, it was freezing cold, and I was looking over from West Berlin, which is all brightly lit up - pubs were up and everything. And the East side was just dead. It was pitch black, no lights were on, and there were these Russian guys looking back at me in binoculars. That was the seed for what that song talks about, about "I know what I am, I'm Berlin."
Rob: Did you know that Richie?
Richie: No, I never knew that! There you go.
Rob: Every day you learn something. Amazing.
Songfacts: And what do you think of Slayer's cover, which seemed to introduce that song to a whole new audience?
Rob: It's the best thing in the world when another great band tributes it, and Halestorm did it recently. Lzzy [Hale, Halestorm's singer] did it recently. It's a great feeling. So it's just very gratifying that you know you've made a song that potent that another great band would cover it and tribute it in that way.
July 8, 2014. Get more at judaspriest.com.
More Songwriter Interviews