Feature Image Credit: Dhruv Kumar
Interview and Photos By Robert Cavuoto
Vault Date: May 13th, 2013
The heavy metal legends whose influence on generations of musicians and metal heads is incalculable, celebrate their 40th year as recording artists with a live concert DVD, Epitaph – a unique live career retrospective. Filmed at the Hammersmith Apollo in London on the last day of their tour in 2012, Epitaph provides the metal fans with 140 minutes of brain surging metal – 23 tracks across 14 albums spanning a 40-year career! To promote this new DVD the concert is being screened at select theaters around the US.
On the bands stop into New York for their debut theatrical screening, I had the pleasure of sitting with Rob Halford and Richie Faulkner to share their behind the scenes look into the making of Epitaph and get the band perspective on their longevity of influencing millions of fans around the world for the last 40 years.
Robert Cavuoto: When I first saw the band with Richie Faulkner in 2011 as well as on the DVD, I couldn’t help but notice that the band seemed re-energized. Do you feel that difference also?
Rob Halford: Musicians feed off each other with their musicianship, their performance, and their energy. You can’t help but feel it on stage. Right from day one Richie connected with us. We wanted Richie to be himself and not a copycat of KK Downing. There is no point in that. We told him to just be yourself. You have the skills and the talent. Night after night you get buzzed just by watching Richie work and the seeing the fans reactions.
Robert: That’s a tremendous compliment from the Metal God. What do you think you bring to the band night after night?
Richie Faulkner: Obviously you don’t know what happened prior to joining the band but from my point of view there is nothing else that I can be but excited and energized. To be playing great songs with great people in front of great fans around the world. You hear the feedback from the band, the fans, and the crew. It’s always a great compliment.
Robert: Some of the songs performed on your new DVD, Epitaph, are 20, 30, and even 40 years old. They really stand the test of time and sound fresh and not dated like so many 80’s bands, what’s your take on that?
Rob Halford: [Laughing] You’re right, a pop song from the 60’s sounds like a pop song from the 60’s as it should. There are subtle differences like in the production of “Turbo Lover” is different than the production of “Nostradamus”. There are certain rock songs that work well today as they did 20, 30, 40 years ago when you play them live, with the modern guitar and drum sound, there is a fluid connectivity that pulls it all together and makes it work. Having said, when you strip a song down to its bare bones if it’s a good song it should last.
Robert: I think Priest is one of those rare bands that can go out and play some of the most obscure tracks and diehard fans will go crazy. Is it tough to pick a list that satisfies everyone?
Rob Halford: It’s difficult. When you have the good luck and fortune to have a long life in rock n’ roll, the longer you’re in the game the more difficult it is because your material is backing up behind you. “If you play this one then you can’t play that one”. You have to get the right balance and there are always a handful of songs that you gotta play like “Breaking the Law” and “Living after Midnight”. The fans made you famous for those songs.
Once you got those set, we look to bring in songs that offer a different texture and dynamic. That’s when you look at the little gems like “Starbreaker”, “Blood Red Skies” and “Never Satisfied”. You listen to them and play them and start to make sense of the show. Every song is given its moment, and costume changes. It lives for 3+ minutes, it’s like you’re watching an opera or a musical. You have to think all of that through. Then you go into rehearsal and try it out and you get a hole in one. You don’t have to make changes. Maybe part of it is instinct and part of is intuitive. We seem to have it right from the get-go.
Richie Faulkner: When you start with 3 ½ hours of material you have to start cutting some songs. You have to make the decision as a band which song you have to let go. That’s the tough decision.
Robert: I would image in the set list there are songs that you both look forward to performing live and others not so much. Can you share some examples of both?
Richie Faulkner: Favorites would be “Victim of Changes”, “The Sentinel”, and “Blood Red Skies”. They all have points which I enjoy playing. It may be a beautiful breakdown section or full on metal. Not so favorites, that’s a tough one. Nothing comes to mind.
Rob Halford: I think what we have always agreed on in this band if there is something we are not comfortable with then we are not going to play it. There has to be a connection and you have to wanna play the song. You need to be connected to the song emotionally so you have the credibility behind it. Every song that we ever played in Priest, to best of my recollection, we all gave them thumbs up.
With that said, some songs are more challenging than others! [Humming “Breaking the Law”], that’s easy, but when you go into “Blood Red Skies” you go into a fucking giant monster. There are so many notes, a lot of time sequence changes, and a lot of drama. I don’t know how these guys remember all of it as I have a hard time remembering all the words! [laughter]. That is the essence of a professional musician to nail it night after night. They go “we doing Blood Red Skies tonight” and I say I don’t feel like doing it [laughing]. We have been on the road for 8 months and played 30,000 miles and now I have to go out and do “Blood Red Skies”. But when the moment comes when we get to the song in the set all of that goes away.
Richie Faulkner: It’s a commitment to the craft. You have to comment yourself to the song. To make sure the music and production are bang-on. You are giving yourself to it. When it comes together and you hear the crowd at the end of it, you know it was great
Rob Halford: Can I have a Alleluia? [Rob Halford raises the devil horns to the sky – laughter]
Robert: When you joined, was as it decided that you would take off all KK Downing’s leads and fills or did you and Glenn Tipton decided to change things up as to what parts fit the player best?
Richie Faulkner: I took all KK’s leads and harmony parts. There were something’s we adapted for the encores like on “Electric Eye” “Another Thing Coming” and “Hell Bent for Leather”. The songs landed where Glenn had the solos. Glenn actually came to me and said he wanted for us to solo together so we made a few new parts and now both sharing ending solos.
Robert: Knowing that this DVD was being filmed on the last day of the tour was there any nervousness or concerns that if you didn’t nail it, you won’t have a DVD?
Rob Halford: [laughing] It’s only been our friends like yourself that have asked us that question. I think if someone would have said: “Look I want to point this out to you, this is the last show of the tour, everyone has flights leaving at 4:00 am, the crew is going home, the film crew has other commitments and if there is a fuck up – we lost it!” I think if someone had said that to us we would have said, “Ok maybe it’s best that we shouldn’t do it we’ll wait until the next time around” [laughing]. We went out there and played our hearts outs. The amount of power and attitude on that last show after 100,000 miles we traveled around the planet several times and playing for close to a million fans, it felt as if we just started the tour. That reinforces the professional commitment, respect, and dedication to each other. To give the fans the best show.
Robert: I speak with so many bands that modeled themselves after Priest, often imitated but never duplicated. What do you attribute your success and longevity too when so many have failed?
Rob Halford: It’s obviously the players and the chemistry. I think you look at any of the acts that have lasted as long like Maiden, the Stones, and AC/DC it’s all down to the material and how these people come to each other lives. There are certain components that if they weren’t there it wouldn’t last. You can’t deny that good music will travel time and it will still connect with the fans.
Richie Faulkner: Anyone out there who has legacy was blazing the trail and pushing the envelope for everyone follow, like Maiden and Metallica they were the first of their kind and carved their own niche. Each Priest LP has a different flavor where they experimented and blazed new trails.
Rob Halford: We didn’t follow any set pattern. Some people said you took risks. Maybe we did but we didn’t consider it risks. Songs like “Parental Guidance”, “Locked In”, “Out in the Cold” and then put on “Painkiller” and you say that can’t be the same band. Well, it’s just who we are. I always said we were like the heavy metal version of Queen. They wrote songs for themselves if you like what you do that’s great. We write songs that we find interesting, entertaining, and challenging. As Richie said pushing the envelope. So that’s what makes Priest a unique heavy metal band. There isn’t another heavy metal band like Priest in the world. We didn’t set out to achieve that, it’s just the way the dice rolled as musicians, writers, and composers.
Robert: When we last spoke you said you were in the infancy of writing new songs for the next Priest CD. What is the status and do you have any working titles?
Richie Faulkner: No working titles that we can share as of yet but we are working on the CD.
Rob Halford: The overarching structure and statement of this record are full of Priest tradition and heritage. It will be as unique in its own life as all the other records we have made in the past. It’s the right record we need to make after Nostradamus. Nostradamus was a wonderful achievement but it had a different emotional texture. We need to get back into the groove of metal, heavy riffs and screaming vocals. All the classic elements of the band. We are not going retro, we know the type of music we need to play. We didn’t commit to a timetable; the label is really supportive so we have this tremendous respect for each other. They know we are doing our best to make another great metal record for them. It’s coming along great; I think we can optimistically be finished at the end of this year.
Robert: Are you writing together in the studio?
Richie Faulkner: Yes, about for two months last year, Rob, Glenn and I got together and share ideas to see what sticks. The creative is not being stifled by 3-minute songs format. There are no confinements or deadlines. We are trying to experiment with some different things.
Rob Halford: It’s fun and thrilling when the three of us get together to write. We will be in the studio listening to a take and then in the background we hear Richie noodling on the guitar. I’ll go, “what the fuck is that Richie”, what are you playing and he re-creates it. We then send him in to record it. That’s the infectious side of how music works. Whenever I hear somebody else from any of the metal bands I’m instantly inspired. I hear notes and melodies. It’s like a trigger, that’s what happens in your own world.