Latest release: Live in Anaheim-Original Soundtrack (Metal God)

Aside from being one of heavy metal’s greatest and most enduring vocalists, Rob Halford is also one of the friendliest, most approachable interview subjects one could ask for. Brendan Crabb caught up with the Metal God to discuss the Halford band’s new Live In Anaheim release, the 30th anniversary of Judas Priest’s landmark British Steel album, his favourite Priest album, his memories of the late Ronnie James Dio and much more.

Q: Hello Rob, how are you doing?

A: I’m good, Brendan. I’m just talking to a lot of my mates around Australia this evening. I’m in San Diego and just talking to my friends throughout Australia. Then I’m off to Hollywood later on tonight to get ready to see the lads in the Halford band and get ready for this show that we’re going to be doing on Saturday in San Francisco.

Q: What else is going on in the Halford band camp?

A: Everything’s going great, I’m kind of excited. We haven’t really done much in the past seven or eight years obviously while I’ve been back with the band that I love more than anything, Judas Priest. But because we decided in Priest to have a bit of a break this year I said to the lads, “let’s just go out there, have a bit of a knock and some good times and make some metal”. So that’s what we’ve got planned through the rest of 2010. But everybody’s doing good; everybody’s been busy in their own way. Bobby’s (Jarzombek, drums) been out with Sebastian (Bach), Metal Mike’s got his Painmuseum project, Roy Z’s always doing this, that or the other with his producing, same with Mike (Davis, bass). We’ve kept in touch obviously, but it’ll be great just to be with the guys again and make some music.

Q: The Live In Anaheim album was recorded just months prior to your return to Judas Priest in 2003. Do you have mixed emotions when you listen to it now?

 A: I do really, because that’s music’s about, isn’t it really? It touches your heart and soul. But the fact is it’s there, it’s done, it’s something that’s part of your life, part of your career and I think you should kind of enjoy it. It’s good to reminisce; a lot of music is about nostalgia, isn’t it? A lot of music is about remembering the good times that you’ve had. And that’s no different in metal and these are some really good metal memories from the past that I think (are) still worthy of today’s situation. Even though the show is from several years ago, I think when you see it and hear it you just get… you really connect. You reconnect, that’s what it is really, more than anything else. I think that because we still feel that we’re a good band and we can go out and give people a good time, that’s part of the whole reason of wanting to get back out there. Apart from supporting the independent label Metal God Records and all the other business ventures. There’s so much going on in metal, more than ever, that you’ve really got to kind of find a way to put the spotlight back on your own part of the field for a bit, just to let people see that you’re still around doing something like that.

Q: The Halford band – which has remained relatively stable throughout the past decade or more – is comprised of an excellent group of players, which really comes through in the new live album. How privileged do you feel to have perform with them and maintain such a strong lineup?

A: I’m very grateful to them for sticking with me and that’s a really cool question to ask actually, Brendan. Because they’re all busy in their own world, they could have just as easily said, “Rob, let’s leave it as it is”. But I said to them, I distinctly remember saying to them after that last show we did in Anaheim, I said, “look, we’ve all worked hard for a number of years doing what we have to do. So obviously this isn’t going to be end for me, obviously I’m going to be very busy for the foreseeable future. But I do believe that there will be a time to get back together again and do some more work and if you’re up for doing it, then I think it would be great if you could still kind of stick together and go back out on the road and do a few shows.” So bless them, they’ve stuck with me, you know? This is an opportunity now to go out and just let people see what a really band it is – a really good band, as far as the players (are concerned). Really stellar players, great musicians, it’s a really, really good band to go and bang your head to.

Q: You mentioned Metal God Entertainment earlier. There have been a lot of Halford-related releases hitting the shelves through your label and a lot of Priest-related material also coming out, such as a recent series of DVDs and box sets. How exciting is it to have all of these out there and all of this interest still existing for the band?

A: Yeah, it’s a blessing isn’t it really? I’ve got my plate full in that respect and it’s just wonderful. There’s nothing worse than scrambling for ideas and fortunately I’ve never really had to do that. There’s always been a supply of metal in way or another, whether it’s composing or recording or performing live. The life I live is the one that I’ve always hoped to, as far as keeping busy and keeping new things on the horizon. I think it makes for an interesting life (laughs), and the fact that you can share it with your fans as well is just fantastic. It always comes back to the fans for me and I think for any musician that’s had the blessing of having a long career. You can’t do anything without the support of the fans that you have around the world. That’s certainly the case for what I do.

Q: You also mentioned that this is an “off year” for Priest. When are you looking to reconvene with the other members?

A: Oh, we’ll be roaring back out next year. The shows are already being booked as we speak and I suppose that we’ll be doing the festivals in Europe and something of a similar nature through America. Then of course there’s other places to go to – South America, Australia. Australia we’d love to come back to. We had a brilliant time the last time we were there; it was all over too quickly. But we just have such wonderful memories of our trip to Australia in Priest that it would be fantastic to come back sometime next year hopefully.

Q: With regard to Priest, this year marks the 30th anniversary of British Steel and also the 20th anniversary of Painkiller, even if the latter’s anniversary hasn’t received as much recognition or fanfare. Both are landmark albums in the band’s career – what are your reflections on these milestones?

A: Well, they’re both very important records for Priest, aren’t they? I would say that maybe British Steel has got the edge over Painkiller, just because it really was an important year for heavy metal. If you look at the records that were released in 1980 in metal and hard rock it was like no other year since really. It was a turning point on a global level for the heavy metal scene in many ways. It’s an important record for Priest as well, as far as what we were doing leading up until that point. I think British Steel was the one, as it turned out to be, to kind of get locked in… It’s become a very important record, even outside of Judas Priest. I think that’s what happens sometimes when you’ve been blessed with a long career. Sometimes the music becomes bigger than yourself, you know? That’s most definitely the case with the all of the popular songs on British Steel.

Q: Indeed. British Steel was recently reissued and has been the focus of magazine feature stories and other attention throughout this year. Has it been enjoyable to revisit the making of that album?

A: Oh, yeah. Because like I said before, there’s a lot of elements of nostalgia with music and it really touches everybody in a way. Even outside of the music – what were you doing at that particular point in your life? What things were you experiencing musically (and) in your private life? It just generates a tremendous amount of different thoughts. And so it was with us; just telling the stories of making that record at John Lennon’s house and just the whole process, the experience of not really knowing what we were going to do as far as making that particular record. I mean, we had a few songs already under the belt so to speak, but the bulk of it came together while we were working at that house in Tittenhurst Park. So yeah, it’s just full of wonderful metal memories, the whole experience.

Q: Great stuff. On a lighter note, on a forum I regularly visit there is a long-running debate with regard to what is the best Judas Priest album. Can you settle this argument once and for all? (laughs)

A: (Laughs) I think if you were to ask that question to everybody in Priest you might get five different answers. ‘Cause I think that’s the joy of being in a band like Priest and the rich heritage of material that we’ve got to look back on. I’ve always said that Sad Wings Of Destiny is a very important record as far as a lot of the elements of heavy metal. Coming up as it did around 1975-76, the very beginnings of the metal scene, the metal movement. For most parts of the world it was still a new experience. There’s just something, special things in the whole record. If you really listen to the song structure and just the way the performance is coming through, it’s always a magic record for me when I listen to it now. It just transports you to a different time and place. But the most important thing is that the music is still as strong and powerful all these years later.

Q: Fair enough. Changing topics, the heavy metal world suffered a terrible loss with the recent passing of Ronnie James Dio. Do you have any particular memories of him that you’d like to share?

A: Well, just on a personal level, as a friend, as a mate, he was one of the best. He was always so giving, he never kind of talking about himself, he was always asking how you were doing and what was going and how the lads were. He was very selfless in that respect. Even when he was going through these great difficulties in the latter part of his life, he still kept his chin up. He was still very optimistic, as I think it is for people to be when they’re going through an illness. I think we all believed that he was going to be able to pull through but sadly that wasn’t to be the case. So what you’re left with is just the music, which is the most important thing for any of us really. I mean, the off-stage memories, just being mates, having some food, having a few drinks; those are brilliant. But the main reason why Ronnie did what he did and I think why all of us in metal do what we do is because it’s the music, isn’t it? The love of the music and Ronnie’s voice was the most spectacular, original voice to ever be recorded in that essence. So God bless him, his music will live on.

Q: Well said. To wrap up the interview, any famous last words?

A: Yeah, heavy fucking metal (laughs), keep the metal faith. Especially to all of our Australian fans, thank you so much for sticking with us and as far as the slight chance that the Halford band might be able to pop in to Australia when we go to Japan – I’m looking at that. If that doesn’t happen, I’m sure that the Priest will be gracing the shores of Australia some time in 2011, fingers crossed.