Imagine interviewing your favorite singer; a legend in the music business … but you have a mere 10 minutes to do it.
What would you ask?
This moment arrived for me Tuesday as I was given the opportunity to interview Rob Halford, Judas Priest’s frontman since 1973. The metal god — as he is affectionately known — will be at the Rosemont Theatre on Saturday as Priest continues promoting the band’s 18th studio album, “Firepower.” It’s a release that delivers the goods from Halford’s opening wail on the title track all the way to the gripping, hard-rocking finale “No Surrender.”
Halford, who is 67 and rejoined Priest in 2003 after 11 years away from the band, was gracious enough to give me a few moments of his time. It was equal parts a blessing and a curse as I wanted to ask a slew of questions. Queries about guitarist Glenn Tipton’s health (he’s suffering from Parkinson’s), to the constant Rock & Roll Hall of Fame snubs, to his guilty pleasures, to whether cellphones are ruining the live rock ‘n’ roll experience … all went unasked.
Those 10 minutes flew by because Halford is so thoughtful, graceful and poetic with his answers. Truly, it’s no wonder why he’s such a brilliant songwriter.
So how did a conversation with Halford turn to Pavarotti and Dolly Parton? We’ll get to that part, but first …
Priest’s anthems include “Breaking the Law,” “Livin’ After Midnight” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming.” But this leg of the tour is full of material that hasn’t been heard live in decades. I asked Rob what went into dusting off so many different songs.
Halford: We always try as best we can with the time we’ve got to take our fans — and ourselves — through as many generations of the decades of Priest as we possibly can. And that’s getting increasingly difficult, as you can imagine. With a Priest show, we will give you a bit of a roller-coaster ride in terms of the intensity and the emotions of the songs that we play from the stage. We’ve always planned it that way.
Having said that, on the first “Firepower” leg we have this jamming warmup room backstage that we just hang out in and play anything just to loosen up and to get into “play mode.” So calling out tracks like “Killing Machine,” “Hot Rockin’,” “Out in the Cold,” “Take These Chains” — there are literally hundreds and hundreds of Priest songs that we have to choose from.
It’s a bit of dilemma — it’s a pleasant dilemma — but what we’ve got now on this third leg is a great treat for our fans because we’re still pushing the “Firepower” record … but we’re also ducking and weaving through the decades.
Q: Rob’s favorite song to play live is “Victim of Changes,” which is on “Sad Wings of Destiny,” the band’s second album. One writer called it “the song that changed the course of heavy metal.”
Halford: The reason I reference that song always is because it’s got so many elements of the great metal tune. It’s got the string guitar intro, it’s got this really slamming riff that ties into the opening of the song and then you’ve got the story. And stories are always important in Priest.
Then you’ve got the breakdown section where it cools down a little bit and then it ends with this crushing crescendo.
So if you want to know anything about classic heavy metal 101, check out “Victim of Changes” because it still gets the job done.
Q: Has there ever been consideration to producing a retro-sounding album that sounds something like the band’s music from the late ’70s or ’80s?
Halford: That’s a good question. When I listen to those very early recordings — “Rocka Rolla” and “Sad Wings of Destiny,” which is still a bit of a template for a lot of Priest bands around the world — there is a distinctive sound. The way music was recorded in the ’70s — the instruments, the amps, the guitars, the mics, everything — was in a different state. … It’s magical to listen to that then.
Having said that, we’re a band that’s always moving forward, a band that’s making metal for today. We did get close to kind of recapturing some of the classic elements and sounds of Priest on this “Firepower” record. … I think what’s been valuable for us is to be aware of what’s going on around us and to make adjustments to what we need to do to have our place in today’s metal scene.
There was a great movement from Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters (when he) put together a record with a lot of old, vintage classic sound and equipment.
Yeah, it’s an idea. Who knows? You never say never in the Priest world.
Q: Is there an artist on your iTunes playlist that would absolutely stun people?
Halford: (Laughs). To me, music is just one great, big feast. I love all kinds of music. On my phone I’ve got everybody from Slayer to Hank Williams Jr., from Dolly Parton to Pavarotti. This is what’s so important about music in life. I’ve always felt that if you (can’t) be accepting of all kinds of music, you don’t know what you’re missing.
I love all kinds of music because to me music comes from the heart and soul and the spirit. I think it’s dangerous to crush things like that, saying you hate this or you hate that. Because you don’t. Emotionally you are connected. We use hate in a very obscure way these days.
So there you go. I always will be all over the place when it comes to my love of music. Heavy metal music will always lead me, but I’m an open book when it comes to music.
Q: What’s the strangest place you’ve been recognized?
Halford: Oh, Lord. I get recognized all over the place. Funnily enough, I watched this amazing documentary about Bill Murray that’s on Netflix at the moment. I suppose I’m a bit like Bill in the respect that celebrities — if that’s the word — doesn’t really mean anything to me. I have my life when I’m working.
But when people see me in the aisle at Fry’s and I’m doing my shopping and picking my milk off the shelf, some people (look at me and say), “What are you doing? Don’t you have someone who can do that for you?” Well, no.
Maintaining a level head and remembering who you are and where you’re from and being grateful is very important.
• • •
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, May 25
Where: Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Road, Rosemont