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Metal/Prog Metal Interviews

Judas Priest

Interviewed by Mike Korn
Interview with Ian Hill of Judas Priest from 2005

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 4 at

When you had the idea to put a band together back in the late 60's, did you think you would still be plugging along in 2005?
(laughing) I don't think so, no. Although we did have a lot of faith in what we were doing, we didn't look too far in front other than a week or so. In the early days, we were just living from day to day.
MSJ: Was Priest actually put together in 1969?
Ken (K.K. Downing) and I got together in 69, yeah, but Judas Priest got its name in 1970, something like that, when Al Atkins, the original vocalist, joined.
MSJ: I brought 1969 up because that would actually make Judas Priest a band that was active in five decades. 69...the 70's, 80's, 90's and now the new millenium. Kind of overwhelming when you think about it.
(chuckling) Yeah, it is. I get nervous thinking about it, really.
MSJ: You've been back touring in the States for a while now. Has the response met all your expectations or surpassed them?
It's met them in every way and sometimes surpassed them. We have had a tremendous run so far, we've played to a hell of a lot of people over the last year or so. We started in Europe in June at the festivals and then we obviously did Ozzfest, which was great. What a great way to come back to the States that was.
MSJ: I thought playing Ozzfest was such a brilliant way to return. You got yourself on a tour with guaranteed big turnouts and it exposed you to a lot of younger metal fans that hadn't seen the band before. I thought it worked out tremendously well.
You're right there, it was a great way to come back, a great reintroduction.
MSJ: When Rob came back into the band, was there a period where you had to knock the rust off or did it click into shape right away?
We went straight back in. We had booked a whole lot of rehearsal time. We didn't need it. We ended up doing about two days, that's all.It went all the way back to the way it was all those years ago. We found it very easy. Obviously we were still fairly current because we had been performing a lot of the classic Priest songs with Ripper. And of course Rob had been out with his solo band and he had been doing Priest songs as well. We were all still pretty current with a lot of the Priest material. And then of course we just stood up, plugged in and let fly...and it all came flooding back.
MSJ: When I saw you back in action at Alpine Valley in 2004, it was akin to a religious experience. I remember there was a bunch of these younger Slipknot type kids out on the lawn who were saying "do you think we should go now that the old-timers are coming up?" I told them to stick around and find out what a real metal show is. About two songs into the set, when Rob starts letting out these amazing shrieks, their jaws literally dropped. They had probably never heard vocals like that. It did my heart good to see that.
That's great, that's a great story.
MSJ: I recently tried to list all the bands who got their names from a Judas Priest song...Exciter, Steeler, Sinner, Before the Dawn, Grinder, Hellion,etc., etc. When you hear this, do you find it amusing, aggravating, humbling?
Well, it's humbling and very flattering, you know, to know that you are held so high in somebody's esteem that they would name their band after you and probably play the same kind of music as well. It's very flattering and humbling both.
MSJ: The early albums Priest did in the 70's, there was a kind of weird, eclectic vibe to them. I thought that on your new album "Angel of Retribution", you seemed to try and recapture that vibe. Would you agree?
Well, we set out to try and cover the different aspects of heavy metal that we've been known for over the years, not just the fast and furious and heavy stuff. We've also got a good catalogue of the more commercial side of things and a catalogue of the more production-oriented side of things. On every album with the exception of "Painkiller", there's a ballad on there. Over the last 15 years, up and coming bands have forgotten that side of metal. They've concentrated on the harder side of heavy metal. We just wanted to remind people that it's not just the fast and the furious and the heavy, it's everything else as well. It is a very versatile style of music.
MSJ: There were albums in the 70's and 80's where the placement of the song was very critical. You couldn't mix and match like you would on a Cannibal Corpse or Slipknot album, where it doesn't make much difference where the song is. The art of composing an entire album seems to be lost.
It's true. We do put a lot of importance on how an album flows. It's got to flow, you know? Like you say, we think it's very, very important that each song is part of a whole instead of just little pieces standing on their own.
MSJ: The most controversial track on the new album is "Lochness", which most people have a kind of love it or hate it relationship with. I really like it myself. What's your take on this track?
It's a song where Rob came up with the initial idea. We all liked the idea and worked on it from there. It's twelve minutes long because it needs to be twelve minutes long, simple as that, and it wouldn't work if it was any shorter and it wouldn't work if it was any longer. It is a little different from things that we've done in the past.
MSJ: Do you think there's a real Nessie?
No, I think it's dead. (chuckles) I'd like to believe there is but the scientific part of my brain says "no, impossible".
MSJ: There's a mysterious feeling about the place...
Oh yeah, there's no doubt about that I've spent quite a bit of time on Loch Ness, I've had some boating holidays there and it is very atmospheric. That probably gave rise to the legend itself. But there's not much to the place as far as food goes. No, I don't think there's anything there.
MSJ: Maybe in ages past there could have been. But I've read a report saying the Loch is almost dead, there's not enough fish to feed a breeding population of ravenous monsters.
That's it, there's not enough food there for anything. There's fish in there but they're very sparse. The Loch is very, very murky...there's a lot of peat in the water and the sunlight just doesn't penetrate enough for sea grasses to grow for fish to feed on. You'll get a few salmon going through now and then on their way to the rivers, but certainly not enough year around to keep a monster fed (chuckles).
MSJ: Have you ever been tempted to get involved in a side project or another band besides Judas Priest?
Personally, no. Never say never, of course. If we ever put an end to things, maybe then, but at the moment, Priest is taken up all my time and I have nothing planned.
MSJ: Two tracks where you got to show your stuff on the bass were "The Rage" from "British Steel" and off the new album, "Revolution". As far as your own bass playing goes, what would you say is your favorite track that you've done with Priest.
Uhhh....I don't know, it's difficult to say, we've done so many. I think "Love Bites" is a very good one as well. It's very simple but very effective. (chuckles) I can honestly say I don't really have one!
MSJ: Do you keep any tabs on today's metal scene? It sure seems to have mutated in unimaginable ways since Priest first came to the forefront.
I think I hit on it earlier when I said it got fragmented. You're either a death band or a speed band or a goth band and that's all you do. Versatility has flown straight out of the window. And of course you are narrowing your fan base down as well to the sort of people who just like that sort of music. Not just like it, but like it all the time! Not that there's anything wrong with those particular styles of music, but too much of anything makes it common place, you know. The other side of metal has been forgotten for a while - the mellower side and the happier side of it all.
MSJ: I think you can find those things if you look for them, but you really have to make an effort to look for them. Those types of metal don't seem to get as much publicity. They want to market heavy metal to teenage boys and that means stuff that's angry all the time.
Yeah, yeah, no doubt.
MSJ: What was it that inspired you to pick up a guitar and get in a rock and roll band?
Well, my father played double bass in jazz bands, believe it or not! I started off on the double bass myself and learned the basic scales. Dad unfortunately died when I was 15 but I just went out and got myself a bass guitar. I found it was ultimately easier to play than this great big thing I had before (chuckles). I used to listen to a lot of "white boy blues"...John Mayall and people like that. Cream, Hendrix, things like that.
MSJ: So rock was your destiny from pretty early on...
Well, it seemed that I would at least being playing one instrument or another! Way back then, I never thought I would wind up doing it for a living for all this time.
MSJ: Back in the early 70's, did being in a band seem a lot more fun and inspirational, because today the music business is awfully corporate and computerized?
Yeah, it had a rawer edge to it back then. You went out and you made it on your own. We can honestly say that we don't owe anybody anything. The following that we have, we got it from our own merits. We started out playing little bars and clubs in the Midlands, you know, and from them, we wondered if we could really make a go of it. You had to quit your job because you need to be 200 miles away on a Wednesday and things like had to do it, you know! You started to gain your following from just playing live. The first record company we wound up with weren't very good. They did the best they could but they were a tiny company.
MSJ: Was that Gull?
Yeah, that was Gull. They did their best but they just didn't have the clout to get us out of the country. We did a few small club tours in Germany and a couple in Norway, believe it or not, but it wasn't actually until we signed to CBS in 75 or 76 that we could afford to get to America. They had the clout, they had the contacts to get it. So on the tail end of REO Speedwagon's tour, we went from there. Even then we were living in hotels and motels and every now and then we could aspire to a Holiday Inn!
MSJ: It seemed like the possibilities were limitless back then.
Yeah, it was! There was no corporate power over heavy metal or heavy rock, as it was known back then. You got on through your own merit, not because somebody was throwing a lot of money at you thinking you were going to be the new Spice Girls or Backstreet Boys or stuff like that. Which unfortunately is all the big record companies seem to be looking at these days! They're looking for a fad. They're not prepared to look at the long term. When they took us on, they knew damn well they weren't going to make a fortune overnight. It might take ten years time and then they'll get a return on us.
MSJ: With the downloading and file sharing, it's got to be hard these days. I can't even understand that stuff because, like you were saying, albums used to come out in a big, cool-looking gatefold sleeve, the songs were arranged very carefully, it was a whole package. Now people just rip a song at a time over the net. There's nothing to hold in your hands, there's no context to it. I just don't relate to it myself.
It's not so much the IPods and the legitimate downloads, it's the illegal ones that are doing the business in. Some bloke's got music on his website for nothing and it's available to millions of people. Whoever's got a computer has access to his website and they can download not just our record but everybody's record for nothing! It's gonna kill the industry!
MSJ: If I don't get it as a promo, I go out and buy it at the store. It doesn't even occur to me to download because I like to have the whole package. But if I was 14 or 15 years old, I might feel differently.
Well, of course, the youngsters have been brought up on computers and it's a perfectly natural thing for them to do. I mean, I don't go to record stores anymore, I just go to Amazon, order it and get it delivered. But I still have the hard copy in my hand.
MSJ: Is the band already starting to get ideas for a new record or is that pretty far in the future?
It is in the future but it's been discussed. We're trying to get a schedule together and plan when we will have time to write and record again. It could be as early as late winter/early Spring, depending on how the touring side goes.
MSJ: After this current jaunt with Anthrax, do you head over to Europe or the Far East?
We're back into Europe and we're going into Russia for the first time. At the end of the year, we've got to figure out if we're going to continue to tour or maybe start work on a new album.
MSJ: We talked about Ozzfest earlier. What's your take on this ridiculous fiasco involving Bruce Dickinson and Sharon Osbourne?
I wasn't there, you know, I can't comment. I've only heard third hand versions of it anyway. They're both "stubborn lad" people, I suppose! (chuckles) Obviously some stand-off went on there...but as to who was in the right and wrong, I have no idea whatsoever.
MSJ: Isn't one of your hobbies working on old cars?
I've been known to tinker from time to time. (laughter) I'm not working on any hot project at the moment, nothing of any interest in the garage. I've got a Land Rover and a new MG and that's about it right now.
MSJ: What was the last CD you got for your own listening pleasure?
I tell you what, I re-bought an album that I had lost years and years ago. It was something from a band called Quartermass. I don't know why, but it just started to bug me that I had lost this album, so that's the last one I bought.
MSJ: They must be named after the character in the old British sci-fi movies...
They've got nothing to do with the movies, but they're a darn good band. A three piece...keyboards, drums, and bass. Something along the lines of The Nice or Emerson, Lake and Palmer. They may have actually predated Emerson, Lake and Palmer. In the very early days of Priest, we might have actually played a couple of their songs!
MSJ: What was the last live concert you checked out just because you wanted to?
Oh, I haven't been to a concert in a long time, I hate to say. We've been very busy anyway doing what we've been doing and when you wrap up a tour, the last thing I wanna do is go to a concert. (laughing) I can't remember at all!
MSJ: In the long history of Judas Priest, there has to be a "Spinal Tap" moment where something went completely wrong. Any of those you want to share with us?
Ummm....I don't know, we've been pretty organized for a long time now. There's always things going wrong, though. Buses breaking down, things like that. One of the biggest screw-ups that happened was on Labor Day a few years back. We were heading to San Antonio and the bus breaks down. We can't find any sort of land transport so the tour manager goes off and gets a helicopter! It's one of these old HUEY things, an old Vietnam era thing and it lands right on the freeway next to us. Only thing is, the helicopter then won't start! So we have to get another helicopter to bring in this part to start the big one. In the meantime, the police have arrived with the wrecker truck for the bus. (laughter) So soon a police helicopter lands and then the other helicopter with the spare part lands. So it's a total circus at the side of the road! Traffic was at a standstill. We finally get our helicopter going and then we were going to land on the top of some hotel somewhere. Of course, when we get there, somebody else has already landed so then we had to make our landing at San Antonio airport. We were surrounded by the border cops who checked to see if we were illegal immigrants. (laughter) It was a bit of a trip, that one! I think we got to our show just five minutes late, though.
MSJ: You're lucky that didn't happen now or they might have shot you out of the air.
Yeah, we'd have been toast, yeah!
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