For a band to hang around long enough to produce seventeen studio albums, plus live records and various compilations, they have to have something that music listeners never get tired of hearing. For Judas Priest, they have been thrilling audiences with eardrum splitting, twin-guitar screaming, studded-out leather rocking for four decades. From 1974’s Rocka Rolla to their latest offering Redeemer Of Souls, they have stayed, for the most part, true to their British metal sound. It wasn’t always an easy path that Priest has trod. Original vocalist Al Atkins left prior to the band recording their first album, and his replacement Rob Halford would depart for a time before rejoining once again. There was a highly publicized trial around the band’s album Stained Glass involving two young men shooting themselves in Nevada. And when guitar player KK Downing left in 2011, fans wondered what would happen to the band without it’s signature two guitar bombast, since Downing had been with the band since the beginning and along with Glenn Tipton had formed a powerful six-string duo.
With the addition of Richie Faulkner, Priest fans have been able to relax their worries, as his playing and stage personality have brought in a breath of fresh energy. Joining them for their 2011 Epitaph World Tour, he pulled on the leather and stepped into some mighty big shoes. With Redeemer Of Souls, Faulkner has taken another step with the band: writing and recording a record. A very strong entity, Redeemer features guitar heavy songs such as “Down In Flames,” “Sword Of Damocles,” “Metalizer” and the title track. Last week Glide spoke to Faulkner about helping to create the new music, playing Downing’s solos and the upcoming tour which begins on Wednesday, October 01. “We’re very excited,” Faulkner told me when he called in from Philadelphia. “I’m flying up in a few days to Rochester. We’re doing a few production rehearsals up there for a few days and then we kick off the tour on the first. So it’s an exciting time for the Priest.”
Redeemer Of Souls is your first studio album with Priest. How hands-on were you with the actual creation of these songs?
It was a three-way co-write between me, Glenn and Rob. They’ve always had that dynamic in the band as long as Rob’s been in the band. It’s always been the two guitar players/vocalist writing team and that seems to work and seems to put across that Judas Priest vibe and sound. So we kept it the same. I’m a big Priest fan. I grew up on bands like Priest and the double guitar stuff and you kind of know inherently what to do. As far as being involved in it, I’ve kind of been involved in everything. Everyone is kind of involved in everything, from the stage set ideas to production ideas to set list ideas to even choosing the leather and studs on our stage costumes. So it’s really kind of an evolving creative family atmosphere in the band that transpires all the way through to the writing. So it’s great, you know, it’s not a dictatorship, which you can imagine some bands being. It’s a band of brothers and I think that only benefits the whole group to have that kind of mentality.
Did it surprise you any that everybody works together so much instead of it just being Rob and Glenn in charge of everything?
Well, you always have expectations and you have an idea of what a band is like on the inside but you never quite know. And I always wanted Priest to be that band of brothers and that kind of real old school family unit. But you never know until you get into the situation and they absolutely were, even more so in every aspect. Of course, there are different roles in the band. Like I said, there are three main writers and then Scott Travis and Ian Hill came in after they’d done their bit playing-wise. They were suggesting ideas and different textures we could put in so it just breeds creativity and everyone trusts each other and, again, it’s just an old school band of brothers, which has just superseded my expectations.
What was it like synchronizing guitars with Glenn on these new songs? Did he make it easy for you to add your input?
When you’re creating stuff together, you’re firing ideas off and if I’ve got this idea he might say, “Oh I’ve got an idea that goes with that.” Or I might say, “I’m struggling with this and I don’t know what to do with it.” And vice versa, you know, cause you’re creating things from the ground up. Glenn is very accepting, he’s open to other ideas, but yet he’s got great ideas of his own and he knows the value of what he’s got. He knows the value of his own sound. So it’s a great dynamic when you’re that open to other ideas but you’ve got such strong ones yourself. You know, it was a natural thing. Again, being brought up on the band and that style of music, you just kind of naturally fall into place and the guitar point of view is no different. It was just inclusive and energizing, really, and inspiring to be in the room coming up with new material that hopefully, I mean, you never know, but these songs might be around in twenty, thirty, forty years’ time and that’s an incredible thing to have an opportunity to have a chance at. It’s just a great experience overall.
What was the so-called surprise song on this record, the one that almost didn’t make it on or turned out completely different from the original version?
That’s a good question. We put everything on there. I think there was only one song that we didn’t put on, which wasn’t going quite the way we wanted to, and we actually had to cut it off. We were writing so many songs, so much material, we had to cut off the writing process cause otherwise we’d run out of time to record it. You know, we had to draw the line somewhere. But we put eighteen songs out. We put a bonus disc out with the five extra songs cause we wanted the fans to have everything. And we didn’t want to put it on the shelf and we didn’t want it to gather dust and get forgotten about. We wanted to put those bonus songs out.
To be honest, all the songs from what I can remember, you put down a riff and then the melody and they kind of take shape and they become like, you give birth to a monster, if you know what I mean. At the end of the session you’ve got a skeleton of a track and so I don’t think anything started off one way and became drastically different. We had ideas of how the songs were evolving and how they should sound in the end. But again, we just wanted to put out everything to the fans cause we knew they would love the bonus disc as much as, if not more than, the standard edition (laughs). But they were a bit different in vibe and sentiment but we just wanted to release everything.
Tell us about “Crossfire.”
That’s a bit of a dark horse. You said what’s the surprise track and I’d say that one. Not in terms of it being different of what we intended but the reaction the song’s got. It was a riff that I had, like a Hendrix-y riff, blues-based and that sort of thing. Because of the heritage of where Judas Priest come from, the blues and the progressive blues, and then they brought it into the metal and gave birth to all these branches of metal, what metal became. Anything that fits in that kind of history makes sense and if it’s blues-based or hard rock based and it works, let’s do it. So I came up with a riff and it grew from there. It started off as a bluesy song, went metal in the end, comes back to the blues and then flies off at the end. It’s funny, we’ve had so much response over that. Either it’s a new sound that people haven’t heard; maybe they came into the Priest catalog later on and they weren’t aware of the blues roots, so it’s a new song for them. Or for other people that were aware, it’s a nice return to the roots. So it’s been a nice positive reaction from that so we’re looking at maybe playing that song live; maybe not on this leg but maybe on a leg of the tour in the future.
The thing is, as I said, I was influenced by Priest, by what Priest did, and also the guitar players were influenced by people like Jimi Hendrix and Rory Gallagher when they started, and that’s who I was influenced by as well. So it goes back to these same roots. Even though we’re separated by years, the influences are the same. So we started off with the same influences, then they create another influence, which I was influenced by. So you can see how it kind of all made sense in musical terms. It came from the blues and moving forward, going back to the blues makes sense cause it’s part of their character and part of their makeup as it is mine.
There are a lot of bangs, there are a lot of power songs on Redeemer. Then you get “Beginning Of The End,” which is very quiet. It’s almost as if it’s the culmination of all the songs before it.
That’s kind of what we set out to achieve with that dynamic, really. If you listen to the album, from the opening with the clap of thunder to what Rob calls the drawing of the curtains at the end of the scene, there’s a start, there’s a beginning, and there’s an end. Most of the songs we were coming up with, they were pretty intense and either fast-paced and medium-paced but that intensity was there. And we only came up with two slower songs and it’s an unusual thing to do to put it at the end of an album like that, but we just thought it was a fitting statement to make at the end of the record. As you said, it kind of culminates all the other songs and just brings the curtains closed at the end of the act. That’s what we felt and, yeah, it’s a beautiful song and Rob sang it really well.
Also, on the end of the bonus disc, there is “Never Forget,” which is kind of like a tribute to the fans saying thank you over the years the band has been together and a testament to them. We just felt they fit in at that point of the record no matter how unusual that placing would have been. And I think it worked.
You’ve been a part of this band for a few years now, so you’re settled in. But who was the first of the guys to come in and take you under their wing, kind of like a big brother to you.
I’d say Glenn. We’re guitarists first of all and we got together before the tour, just me and him, and we went through a few things. Because we’re guitar players we connect on maybe a different level. So I would definitely say it was Glenn. We go out quite a bit on tour, me and Glenn. We go out for a couple of drinks or we go out and do a few rounds of golf, maybe go fishing and stuff. Scott, obviously, is closer to me in years. He was the new guy so we can relate on those levels. But I’d have to say definitely Glenn. We actually see a lot of each other in the down time as well. I have a little place in the Caribbean and he came out with his girlfriend at the start of the year and we went out fishing on a boat.
What were you fishing for?
Well, unfortunately I was really sick. I got seasickness and I was throwing up all the time but everyone else was sitting there eating sandwiches and drinking beer. My girlfriend was munching away and I just couldn’t eat anything. But we went out and we were fishing for barracuda and stuff and what you do is obviously you catch them and they fillet them on the boat for you and you take them home and you cook them. You don’t get any fresher than that (laughs) but it’s just a great time and he’s a great guy to hang out with. He’s a great guy to learn from, both in normal life and professionally. He’s an inspiration and he’s a hero. He always was and he is to this day.
What was the most complicated Priest song for you to learn when you first came in?
I don’t know if complicated is the right word but definitely “Victim Of Changes.” It was a big song for my predecessor, KK Downing. It was one of his well-known solos. It was one of his moments in the set where he got his moment, you know. So you have to kind of pay respect to that and uphold that, and also doing your own thing. You just got to be respectful and do a duty to what went before. He was a big hero of mine and I am there upholding that responsibility. So from that point of view, it was a very focused moment and just upholding that and also putting my own stamp on there as well. But it’s a joy to play those solos that came before and those parts that are part of my musical heritage, and also to create new ones now and go out and play those live. Some of the new ones are a ton more complicated to play because they are new and we have to work out what works best in a live scenario, so there is that dynamic as well. But it’s all creative, it’s all inspirational.
Talking about the tour, what is the hardest part about playing live with a band like Priest with all the pyro?
You kind of know which songs are going to have pyro and it gets pretty hot out there, especially wearing all that leather. But obviously we rehearse the show with the production, which is the fire and whatever other production we’ve got, like with the bike and stuff like that. So you are aware of where it’s going to be. Sometimes you forget, especially we got the CO2 at the front and sometimes that’s hit me in the face a few times but obviously that’s not dangerous. And we have guys out there, professional pyro guys that they look and they check to see that everyone is in the right position. If they’re in a bad position, they make the call, and they’ll pull the pyro. Sometimes even if it’s too windy, they will pull the pyro because it blows either over us or the audience or some of the set can catch fire. But they’re really switched on and pros at what they do so there’s never really anything to be worried about.
Are we going to see a lot of the same on this Priest tour?
The last tour was all the bells and whistles, really, and it was as big as big could get. So we don’t know if we can go any bigger. So we’re actually looking at ways of making it effective while making the songs be the main focus of the show. Obviously, it’s a Priest show and we all know what to expect from that but obviously you can’t go any bigger so how do you not go any bigger but still make it strong. Again, that’s a creative thing and exciting thing to be a part of. But there will still be the bike and still be the smoke and the backdrops and the leather and the studs and all the stuff that we associate with being Judas Priest that we love and adore.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen Rob do onstage?
Well, unintentionally, we were in Brazil and he came out on the bike and he drove it just a bit too far. He got an idea in his head that he was going to drive it around the stage and he normally stops in the middle of the stage and sings the rest of the track on it. But this time he drove it further and he went into one of the speakers on the side of the stage and he crashed the bike basically (laughs). And I’m standing on the side of the stag and I’ve watched it happen and for a split second everyone was worried but then he stands up, he picks up the bike and he sits back on it and he sings the rest of his track and everyone went nuts, you know. He didn’t mean to do that but it was just one of those things that happen on the road. And luckily he was okay.
Who was the first real rock star you ever met?
That’s a very good question. I think it was Steve Harris from Iron Maiden. I’ve done some work with his daughter a few years ago and before that, I think he executive produced an album that I did with another band. I was maybe twenty or twenty-one, and it was at his studio, and the band had some history before I joined and he was executive producer. I still remain in contact with him to this day. So yeah, Steve Harris from Iron Maiden.
What was the coolest guitar you’ve ever seen?
I’ve got a few of them (laughs). I love guitars. I just adore guitars. I’m always shopping for guitars, looking for new ones or old ones or guitars that can tell a story. You can go in some of these guitar stores in the States, not the big ones but the small ones in the back streets, the mom and pop guitar stores that are tucked away. You can find some great antique guitars in there that could tell stories, you know, the bars that they’ve played in or maybe someone’s wife sold them. They’re just magic to me. And I’m always coming across new guitars so I couldn’t actually just pinpoint just one that I think is the most amazing but I’ve got a few amazing guitars that I love.
I’ll tell you what, there was one in a show called Counting Cars in the States and we went in there and done some work with them and they sprayed me up a guitar. It was a big surprise. The band knew about it but I didn’t, and they got this guitar out and you know the way they airbrush some of the motorcycle tanks and the cars? They painted this guitar with demons and Judas Priest logos and it was an incredible piece of art. That was a shock and a total one-off guitar, totally unique. I’ll probably be bringing that out again, probably in Vegas with Priest.
It’s been a while now since you’ve been playing these songs with the band. How have you been able to intersperse your personality into KK’s parts without changing them completely?
That’s a very good question. It’s always been a part of my playing. I used to play a lot of cover shows around London, and I still do sometimes when I get the chance; I’ll go down and sit in and play some covers. And part of playing covers is you kind of half to be respectful to the parts that everyone knows and associates with the songs. So you have to be respectful of that but at the same time you improvise a bit, you put your own stamp on it, you try out different things and make it more exciting; all that sort of stuff. And I think because of that philosophy I’ve always had, and I think KK had the same thing. I think he comes from Hendrix, that kind of keeping certain motifs in there but also improvising and making it more exciting. I think that was always a part of his playing as well. So it’s just a natural transition from one of my influences like him into what I do. That is the way I approach it really. There are certain things that I feel should stay, certain melodies and stuff that we all know. And there’s a little bit of artistic license to go in there and do your own thing. And also the new ones, stuff that I’ve created, I’m going to do the same. There is stuff there that I’m going to do different live and I think it keeps it exciting for the musician and the audience as well. That’s just part of my playing and I think I picked that up from him.
Live photographs by Leslie Michele Derrough