Rob Halford is often referred to as the "Metal God.” As pompous as that nickname might sound, it's quite apt—Halford fronts Judas Priest, a band that is arguably the bedrock of heavy metal. His voice is peerless, and when he’s not covered in leather and studs, riding motorcycles onstage, and belting definitive heavy metal songs, he enjoys posting selfies in cute cat T-shirts. In a recent chat with the Mercury, Halford discussed Judas Priest’s fiery new full-length Firepower (with an unsolicited Trail Blazers nod!), the semi-retirement of the band's original guitarist Glenn Tipton, their recent brush with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Instagram, and all things metal.
MERCURY: Lets start with how great Firepower is. How did you approach writing the new record?
ROB HALFORD: We knew this was a very important album for us, in lots of ways. It’s difficult for me to explain exactly why we felt that way. Whether it’s longevity, survivability, or to show the world that we’ve still got the mettle to make metal. All of these things are running through your mind before you even play a note. It can be a bit of a head game when you’re writing music, you know? And then, we were three or four songs in, and we started to get really excited. We’re going, “Is everybody getting a buzz from this, because there’s something happening here.” And we said, “Yeah, yeah. Let’s not talk about it too much.” You might jinx it, you know? Rock and roll should always have an element of uncertainty. A bit of chaos. A bit of friction. A bit of drama. That’s what rock and roll is all about. It’s like catching lightning in a bottle. And we seem to have done it on this one.
Did the vibe of the record have anything to do with guitarist Richie Faulkner doing more contributing this time around?
I think he really shined through on this one. When he joined us on the Epitaph Tour, he learned a lot about being in Priest. He’d been in various other bands, but he stepped up on to the big stage with Priest. We knew he could do it. We had nothing but confidence in him. So we came off that tour, and his first writing experiences with us was on Redeemer of Souls. I was watching Richie and kind of had a feeling that he was getting his teeth into this whole experience on the writing team with Glenn and myself. I thought, “We’re gonna have to go through this cycle once before we get to the next place.” That’s exactly what happened. It’s a team isn’t it? Like… the Blazers. You bring a guy in, you take a guy out. It takes a few games before you know where you are on the court.
Sadly, Glenn Tipton stepped back from the Firepower Tour due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. Having lost my own grandmother to Parkinson’s, I have seen the debilitating nature of it firsthand. What does the future hold for Glenn, as far as Judas Priest is concerned?
He’s a hero. As everyone else who is living or has lived with Parkinson’s. As difficult as it is, they never give up. That’s the beautiful thing about being next to somebody you love and care for, and seeing them not let Parkinson’s cripple them in the stage where they’re still able to function. Glenn is in a great place physically and mentally. He’s coming out again on the road, at some point. He did a few shows early on in the tour. Which was important. It’s absolutely thrilling when he walks out onstage. He just stands there before he plays a note. The crowd goes fucking nuts, because they love him so much. He’s doing remarkably well. He’s had it for 10 years and it was diagnosed five years ago. What did he do? “Well, you know, the band has got to go on. The band has to keep playing, so I think it’s best for the band if I step out a little bit and let Andy Sneap pick up the guitar.” That’s pure selflessness on Glenn’s part. He loved this band that much, that he didn’t want to do anything that would be detrimental to the band. It’s that “the show must go on,” isn’t it? Some of it seems a bit cruel. Having a tour without Glenn. But Glenn wants us to tour. You’ve got to do what you gotta do to move on in life. He’s just an amazing guy. To be living with what he’s got, and still coming out when he can to play two or three songs with the band. It’s beautiful.
Judas Priest was on the list of nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year but fell short. Do you guys care about that recognition at all? Did you feel snubbed?
I wouldn’t say snubbed. A little bit disappointed. For us it’s all about getting more metal into the halls there. Our friends from Metallica are in there. Sabbath is in there. You pay your dues. It’s funny really. We got more milage out of not going in then if we would’ve got in. Our fans are furious! They’re still furious. That’s the love that our fans have got. We love our fans dearly. We wouldn’t have gotten anywhere in life without our incredible fans that support us. Fingers crossed. Eventually, I think we’ll get in there.
You have an almost daily presence on Instagram. For someone with your legacy, why do you personally feel the need to take part in social media?
I just love the fans so much. I think about these things, like right now, here in Bloomington, there are Priest fans probably having some pre-show parties. They’re playing our music. Some of them are traveling quite a long distance, some of them are coming home from work, putting their leather jackets on. Putting their Priest shirts on. Getting in the car, driving to the venue. I think about all this stuff because I used to do it. Still do it. It’s just an exercise in communication on a more personal level. I value it. Other than that it’s, “Here we are. You’ve waited for years for us. Thank you so much. It’s great to see you.” And then you’re off to the next venue. It’s like a blur. At least with Instagram there’s a little bit more of a connectivity. It’s a lot of fun.
I can tell you have fun with it, and I can tell that you personally are running the account.
I have to. Sometimes out of the blue I’ll send somebody a direct message. “Thanks for coming to the show. Hope you had a good time.” You can’t say enough about the fans that support you. They’re absolutely vital to your existence. I think it’s very important that artists understand and appreciate that. Particularly metal. We have the metal community. There are no walls, there are no barriers. It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got, it doesn’t matter what kind of car you drive or house you live in, the color of your skin or your sexuality. All of that is moot.