Interview with Rob Halford
Ask any Judas Priest fan what their favorite Judas Priest record is and you will probably get hit with anyone of the band’s metallic masterpieces. It would be safe to say without any doubt that the band’s sixth release, ‘British Steel’ would be at the top of the list. Released on April 14, 1980, ‘British Steel’ was recorded at Tittenhurst Park, home of former Beatles John Lennon and Ringo Starr, after a false start at Startling Studios, a recording studio located on Tittenhurst’s grounds. Sampling did not yet exist at the time of recording, so the band recorded the sounds of smashing milk bottles to be included on the track “Breaking the Law”, as well as various sounds on “Metal Gods” produced by “trays of cutlery” and “billiard cues”. ‘British Steel’ was built around the classic singles “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight,” both big hits on rock radio in the U.K.. The record also featured uptempo slices of metallic mayhem bookending the album with the metal assault of “Rapid Fire” and “Steeler”. Then you have the sinister number like “Metal Gods”, talking about gods literally made of metal and steel. Then you have the juggernaut attack of “The Rage,” which features arguably the best Rob Halford vocal on the album. Not everything on the disc quite holds up today, ‘United’ was a hit in the U.K. the song was was used as a football-chant anthem in the unfortunate tradition of “Take on the World,” while “You Don’t Have to Be Old to Be Wise” wallows in the angst of teenage rebellion.
Still, on the whole,’British Steel’ shouldn’t be tainted by minor inconsistencies. Rather, the record sealed The Priest’s status as heavy metal genre’s “METAL GODS”, and started the glory days of heavy metal that ran riot in the 1980s. The record went Top Five in the U.K. and became their first Top 40 album in the U.S., going platinum in the process and paving the way for countless imitators and innovators alike. ‘British Steel’ was remastered in 2001, with two bonus tracks added. Bonus track “Red, White, and Blue” was written in the earlier years of Priest’s career. In 2010 ‘British Steel’ once again gets to flex its metal muscle by releasing the remastered 2001 version of the record along with a bonus DVD. Reuniting Judas Priest wtih Tom Allom (having worked together not so long ago on the audio for the DVD ‘Rising In The East’) for the live recordings that comprised 2009’s ‘A Touch of Evil’. Allom is responsible for the stereo and 5.1 SurroundSound mixes of the live recording from the Seminole Hard Rock Arena concert that appears on the ‘British Steel’ Legacy Edition. The DVD will include bonus content as well, “The Making Of British Steel,” a 30-minute interview featuring the four original band members.
The Rocker and I drove down to Hollywood to met up with Judas Priest frontman and “Metal God”, Rob Halford. He gave us the lowdown and thoughts of ‘British Steel’. As apostles of rock, The Rocker and I would like to share that conversation with you. Here is how it went down…
As we walk into the Hotel room to conduct our interview with the screaming vocalist of Judas Priest, the Metal God is standing gazing out the window. We re-introduce ourselves and BAM! like a battering ram he flips the tables and starts to interview us. He asks, “How old were you when you first heard it (British Steel)?” And we both reply,”17 OR 18″.
He then says, “I think this would be fascinating to speak to some of the fans like yourselves. Because you see, all great records have this amazing connection with fans that have supported you throughout the years and I think it would be intriguing to find, like you guys mentioned, in high school, in the Service and how you first connected with that record and how it made you feel, 30 years later. We obviously saw what it was doing when we played the whole set live last year. People are just there, they’re jsut transformed back in time to 30 years ago. Some people are thinking about being back in school, some people were on a road trip, some people are just home. That’s the power that music has, it’s like a time machine isn’t it really? That’s just another aspect that ties into this big 30th Anniversary event.”
Now how’s that for an opening? Now after that, we proceeded with OUR interview…
All Access (AAM): Magazine: Besides British Steel coming out in April of 1980, what was Judas Priest doing at that time?
Rob Halford: Just roaring along because the grand swell was picking up. We were getting more and more popular. We didn’t feel nervous because we had a feeling that the punk thing was gonna kind of, you know, crash and burn. Which for the most part did. There were a number of great bands that came out and still maintained some kind of profile for a while.
AAM: British Steel stuck out because of that certain “sound”, it was an innovative sound on the music scene.
RH: And I think it still does today. The production that Tom Allom created, it was like nothing else. The way the drums and guitars, bass and everything… it’s like the band is in the room with you. When you listen to it, it has this incredible live texture.
AAM: We were just talking about all the “sounds” in the background, the sampling if you will or whatever you call it.
RH: Yea, those just came out from having fun with the music and you take an expression in “Metal Gods” like, “reaped by robots scythes”, well, maybe we can put a scythe sound on it. Can anyone imagine what it would sound like? You’re thinking, you go, how can we recreate that? So you go look around the studio and flight cases and pick up some guitar leads and whizzem around, yea that sounds like a scythe. You get a pool cue and swish it around in front of the microphone and those are little added embellishments. Even now I think we all look forward to once the basic track is down, where else can we go, what else can we do to kind of put the sparkle, the extra magic on to the particular song that we’re doing.
AMM: Back to playing British Steel live and the live DVD. You must get energized, looking into a sea of people going crazy from “Rapid Fire’ to the last track and you mentioned the different generations.
RH: Yes, different generations, cuz that’s what you see when you look at footage from the performance in Florida. It’s pretty tight actually. For the most part, it’s focused on the band; obviously the event for us is Priest and our fans. That’s what makes the night for us, wherever we play. We didn’t focus that much on the fans reactions, just simply because we wanted to really keep everything looking at the stage and to keep it as intimate as we could. That’s why we chose that venue. We could’ve done it in a bigger venue, but we thought, there’s something very intimate and tight about the sound and feel of there.
AAM: What about everyone singing along?
RH: That only comes with that wonderful connection that you get from a record that’s become kind of iconic in some way. It’s out of our control really.
AAM: What was the vibe like at Ringo’s studio?
RH: It was great. The reason we went into that type of environment, is because we got a lot of work to do in a short space of time. And Tom Allom our producer insists that the whole process take 28 days. Which by today’s standard, it takes 28 days to get to the studio. The connection was the best thing that could happen, because the location’s become the back story,. There’s so many places around the U.K. we could go to, but for whatever reason, chose that location. You know the “Imagine” video where Lennon’s playing a white piano, then you see him on the little lake, we used to walk around that all the time, to stretch our legs or clear our heads from the studio.
AAM: Do you have a memorable moment from recording?
RH: Well, the famous story that we tell is about the way “Living After Midnight” came about. Glenn was chunking away at 4:00 in the am, you know, keeping me awake. I come in, “Glenn, what are you, living after midnight?” He said, “That’s a great title for a song” and that’s how it was born, but it was interesting because, I think it was the first time that we’d actually got into this experience through Tom’s suggestions and idea; why don’t we take everything out of the studio and put it all around the house? We set up the drums in the main hallway, cuz it had marble tile flooring and had an incredible sound. I ended up doing all of my vocals in like a cupboard, a little tiny room because Tom wanted this dead, dead sound. It was just me and a light bulb and headphones.
AAM: Did that change the way you recorded other albums?
RH: Probably did yea. We realized you throw the rule book out in the studio.
AAM: Were there any songs left over from the British Steel recordings?
RH: We’re pretty confident there was nothing left over, just because we didn’t have time to noodle around. Anything that we came up with, we either said right away, yea that’s good let’s make a song from this or discard that. I’m also thinking that British Steel was the first session where Glenn, KK and myself combined on writing. From then on we started working as a trio. I’m sure that’s another important ingredient of British Steel.
Indeed, Judas Priest is celebrated as progenitors of metal’s defining sound. The upgraded version of Behind The Music – Judas Priest (Re-Mastered) continues in circulation on VH1, and the band’s influence spreads far beyond the 30 million albums, singles and videos they have sold worldwide in their career. If this is not legendary we don’t know what is. The Rocker and I along with All Access Magazine would like to thank Rob for sharing his time with us. Rob it was a blast!
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