Judas Priest’s Rob Halford on ‘Defenders of the Faith’ Reissue, Spirituality + More
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Judas Priest's brilliant Defenders of the Faith disc, the legendary metal band is releasing a remastered version of the album on March 10. On top of that, the deluxe reissue also features two-disc live performance from California's Long Beach Arena recorded on May 5, 1984.
We were lucky enough to get the Metal God himself, Rob Halford, on the phone to speak about the Defenders of the Faith reissue, Halford's memories of writing and recording the album, his personal views on spirituality and much more.
Check out our exclusive interview with Judas Priest vocalist Rob Halford below!
We're celebrating the Defenders of the Faith 30th anniversary, which is crazy for me to think about -- and I'm only 27.
[Laughter from Rob Halford]
Remasters can be tough. Not too long ago, some Black Sabbath remasters had a weird '80s sheen on it and I felt like it didn't really work. With Defenders of the Faith, I feel like the remastering definitely works. Are you happy with the sound these remasters have?
Yeah, it's all gotta connect somehow, you know? You can't just celebrate the moment, its got to have substance for us, which is the right sound. In the big picture, you want to make sure your fans are getting something that's valuable and collectible. I think the overall exercise of what's being done by everybody, it's turned out really good.
For me, when it comes to Defenders of the Faith, the album still has to have that punch to it. It still has to soar in a lot of different ways. For you, what are the essential dynamics that you didn't want to get lost in the remastering process?
We just wanted to sharpen, and again, you can do some damage if you're not very careful. Everything that we do with Priest is we really treasured because we've gotten this far by being really focused on everything we do. At the heart of the matter, it's the songs, the order, the overall experience and what it's doing for you, track after track after track. The job is to invite everybody to come back with us to that time and refocus and listen and enjoy something that's become a real classic in the Priest lore, as we call it.
There are so many awesome songs on Defenders -- "Freewheel Burning," "Jawbreaker," "Love Bites," "The Sentinel"… What do you remember about the writing and recording sessions that were really special with this record?
It started in a bumpy way, actually. I don't know if you know the story, but we had this amazing sendoff from what's now become the legendary US Festival. When we got back to start work on the new record, we couldn't because the studio was completely gutted. Everything had been taken away because the bills hadn't been paid by the studio management. Now we got off the plane, rearing to go but we were stuck for nearly a month because we couldn't play a note. They had to pay some bills and then the band physically carried the equipment back into the studio and rewired everything with the engineers to get it ready to work again. After all that turmoil came a wonderful record from Priest.
You do what you gotta do, that's just part of the metal community experience that I've always admired. That first month, we were in limbo, but maybe that determination and difficult start went into these songs. The bulk of them, we were starting from scratch with bits and pieces and riffs and vocal melodies here and there. A lot of it was spontaneous and I think you can sense that there's this un-plotted type of attitude to putting the songs together. And the production you can sense as well. The production is very simple and direct and un-plotted and more harder sounding than Screaming for Vengeance. It's got its own tone and texture as well that I still find really appealing when I listen to that record.
That record is incredibly fluid. Besides the frustration of having to build the studio back up again, what pieces of your life do you remember putting straight into Defenders?
The statements that have become very part of what we still represent as Priest. Just the simple statements of rocking hard and riding free and having to defend the faith. "Freewheel Burning" - "Fast and furious / Look before you leap has never been the way we keep / Our road is free / Charging to the top / And never give in never stops the way to be." These statements over and over and over again, that essence of metal spirit. That's what I love about this band, we've never lost sight of that. Some people might think, "Well, how can that work?" But it does, because I think it comes from a human resource. All the s--t and f---ing horror that's going on in different parts of the world -- this great human condition of dealing with whatever comes your way is still strong and we've always had that kind of sense of urgency and sense of power and victory -- all these years later.
I feel very strongly about it. I get very tense [laughs] when I talk about it because it means so much to me, personally, and I know it means a hell of a lot to the fans. It's passion, it's what drives us and music is a very important part of life, as we've known since day one. So, it's just a beautiful expression going on all around in music.
With the "Redeemer of Souls" tour, I was honestly just blown away, especially by your voice. It was so powerful, maybe even the best its been since your 2003 return. You guys are in this reinvigorated part of your career. What was it about this tour that made it so special?
It's simple, the band's attitude hasn't wavered. We go out no matter where we play in the world and go 100 percent and never slack off. I don't think we've ever had a band night. We don't need to talk about these things just because it's built in us. When we go out on that stage, we know ahead of time that we're going to do the best that we can at that particular moment. You carry that all the way through from the first record to this one, but I will say that these shows that we're doing now, they're obviously tinged with, not finality, that would be the wrong word, but I think we cherish each performance now more than we ever did before. I think that there's an extra something going into each performance that wasn't necessarily there in the past. So, these are all blessings in the golden years, the golden metal moments, whatever you want to call it.
I just think we're enjoying it more than ever, as well. It's like we've been there, we've done that, we've seen that -- all the accolades, all the praise, the awards, the millions of albums sold -- they're all cool, but what really matters is what's happening when you're live in front of your fans. I think we're doing it more now for ourselves and more now for the fans than we've ever done before.
My voice, I don't do anything. I really don't. I know what I've gotta do to get the voice do what it should do, even though sometimes it's a bitch and it goes off in it's own direction. Like anything, it's a physical performance. You get better at trying to get ready for that moment and go out and complete the show.
You're talking about really cherishing the performances. There are these moments where you're hitting these screams that are already in the songs, but then you're also hitting these screams out of nowhere that people aren't expecting. It's getting people to hold their breath and embrace that moment where you're screaming your head off. Are those little screams about making the most out of each second that you can when you're on stage?
Yeah, really. Last drop of blood from the songs. That's why you keep doing it over and over and over again because you can always push it. You can always put your foot down and make it a bit more than the prior performance. I never feel I've gotten to the place where I feel that's as good as I can do. I always feel that I need to see what else is available. That's just the way I am as a singer. I always feel that the next performance can be a bit better than the one before. You push yourself and at the same time keep it real. You've got to keep it f---ing real. I think that's a part of the life of Priest.
For a video series we did recently about the 10th anniversary of Dimebag Darrell's tragic passing, you were speaking about him but you were also going into this conversation with Full Metal Jackie about your views on heaven and getting up there with Ronnie James Dio and other legends. What is your personal vision if heaven?
Oh, spiritual stuff [laughs]. Firstly, as a recovering alcoholic and drug addict… when I get to 2016, I hope, I will have achieved of 30 years of sobriety. That's not a boast, that's just literally the mantra of one day at a time, and the days add up. Yesterday doesn't mean anything and neither does tomorrow, it's about what's going on now that's important. That's always been in my life ever since I was a kid, I think. But, I really feel that this could mean, again, and it's different for everybody, but for me on a daily basis that helps keep me together in my music. And when you see all the f---ing s--t that's going on in the world, a lot of things test your faith and test your beliefs and that's part of life, trying to figure things out.
I really feel that there is a strong thread through metal with people that have some kind of foundation in their lives on a faith level or a spiritual level. Some of our friends have spoken to me about it, whether it's Alice [Cooper] or [Dave] Mustaine. It's a touchy subject [laughs]. It's like, how could this be in this really angry, volatile, chaotic world of metal? But it's there and it's a wonderful thing to find a balance.
Thanks again to Rob Halford for giving us this interview. The three-disc Defenders of the Faith reissue will see a March 10 release via Columbia / Legacy. To pre-order the re-release, head over to iTunes or Amazon.
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