Talking About "Screaming":
In 1982, the members of Judas Priest hunkered down in two tropical settings — Ibiza, Spain and Orlando, Florida — and created a monolith: “Screaming for Vengeance” became the band’s most successful album and an all-time fan favorite; easily crossing the two sides of the band—the screaming doomsayers and the good-time hard rockers. It was the first full album to appear as Rock Band DLC, and your reactions told us we made the right choice.
Now on tour with four-fifths of the “Screaming” lineup, Judas Priest is still playing many of its tracks on tour. But the venerable metallists are also getting ambitious this year: Their latest release “Nostradamus” is nothing less than a two-CD rock opera, which they’re also featuring onstage. We caught up with two of the band’s prime movers, guitarist Glenn Tipton and lead singer Rob Halford, who proved to be good blokes with a lot of good memories. We even got Halford to reveal where he found those stage outfits he wore in the '80s.
Glen Tipton Interview
Brett Milano: You've probably heard that Screaming for Vengeance is the first album we ever put up on Rock Band for the entire album being available.
Glen Tipton: Yes, I have. We're very proud of that.
BM: Have you gotten to play the game yet?
GT: No, I haven't. I did hear rumors that you might send us one each.
BM: That will happen. I'd love to hear what happens when you guys get in front of the screen and try to play your own parts. And see how they do it.
GT: I'll have to learn some numbers I wrote fifteen years ago for this. It's very difficult. So I'm sure it'll be a bit of a challenge for me.
BM: I've always wondered if when you record something and you summon all the youthful energy you've got into a solo whether you think about that you've got to play this thing again another twenty-five years from now.
GT: [laughs] It takes some digging out, because I don't really play the scales or anything. So I have to figure out how to play these things. Which isn't easy sometimes, but I usually figure it out.
BM: Let's talk about that album some, if we could. Could you bring me back a little bit to what the atmosphere was like in the studio when you were making this record? I know that back then you had to do an album every six months or every year and you came up with some of your greatest stuff under really short deadlines. How'd you manage that?
GT: In the old days we used to just go in the studio and we'd have five or six strong ideas and more or less arrange the ideas. But the rest we used to try to get together in the studio sometimes. Well usually the best numbers I remember on British Steel we wrote "Rage" and we wrote "Living After Midnight" actually while we were recording the album. And I think it's those things that, the things that you're writing immediately, just spontaneously that sometimes work out for the best.
BM: Was that just down to the chemistry you guys had with each other - you could come up with things on the fly?
GT: Yeah, we don't so much nowadays, but I think we had a lot more vigor and enthusiasm in those days in the studio. We usually get it all sorted out before we go in the studio now. In those days we could easily come up with ideas. We tend to get it all sorted out first now.
BM: What sort of atmosphere did you like to have in the studio? Was it a party? Was it a dark room? Where did you do it?
GT: We could record anywhere, Brett. In fact we recorded in old mills in France, in a theater, in the Caribbean. London, New York. We've recorded all over the place. L.A. So we really don't need to be in a metropolis. We could be in the middle of nowhere really and still write songs. It's probably better if we've got less distractions. If we're in a city, usually we've got more distractions. So we're actually better at a turn, usually. We really get stuck into a lot of work.
BM: Screaming for Vengeance - a lot of people consider it one of the definitive albums. It's a lot of people's favorite. It's the first one for a lot of people. Where would you rank it in terms of the history of the band and how special it is?
GT: I think that Screaming for Vengeance is one of the landmark albums. Sad Wings of Destiny was definitely a landmark album, British Steel, Screaming for Vengeance, Painkiller. I think they're all landmark albums. And I think in particular Screaming for Vengeance. I think that's the first one that went platinum for us in the States. It means a lot. Even the cover, you see it all over the place and it's just got a lot going for it.
BM: I believe you threw out the first batch of recordings you did for it, right? You started it once and it wasn't quite good enough?
GT: I think what we actually did [was], we started to record it in our theater and there was a lot of problems with the studio at the time, financial problems. Actually, the police came and took our tapes away once because the studio owed money. But we managed to give them the wrong tapes so we carried on recording, they just thought they got the right tapes. And I think when we got back - we wanted to mix it in the States. And when we got back to the States a lot of the alignments were out and the quality wasn't great, so we had to end up redoing quite a bit of it.
BM: Is it true that "You've Got Another Thing Coming" wasn't something you had up until the very last minute?
GT: No, that's not true, I don't think, Brett. I think we had written that song. Like I said, on British Steel, I know it's not relevant, but "Living After Midnight," that was a last minute thing. But I'm pretty sure that we [had it]. In fact, I can remember writing "Another Thing Coming" at my house with the other guys at my house at a place called Stafford in England. I can remember putting that together, so I'm sure it wasn't a last minute thing. That was probably just a rumor that spread.
BM: You had a couple of hit singles by then, but "You've Got Another Thing" became a real breakthrough for the band. I think it was your only top ten single. Does it feel any different when you write a song that becomes like that? Do you think lightning struck and "aha!"?
GT: Yeah, it actually did feel special when we put it together. It just clicked. It did a lot for the band because we've never really been an airplay band. As such, we've never been one of radio's favorite bands to play, early rock radio. So that crossed us over a little bit and sort of made us more of a household name, I think. But it's a great track because everybody likes it. People early to metal like it, metal people like it, metal kids like it. It's a great song to play in the car and it certainly is a great song to have on the Rock Band computer game.
BM: I'm curious - a lot of people when they have a song they know is a hit, they put it right up front on the album. You put yours as the second to last song on the record. Was it important to have it in a certain context?
GT: Normally, if you've got a single, for want of a better word, radio decides that it's going to be a hit, or the kids decide that it's going to be a hit, it doesn't really matter where it is. When I used to buy albums, 12", we used to go to record stores and play it track for track. But now I think it's a whole different ballgame out there. People are aware of the tracks on the album before they [buy]. They don't have to put an album on and listen, if you know what I'm saying. They know what's out there anyway.
BM: There's certain songs on this record - "Devil Child" and maybe "Electrica" that to me point to thrash metal being invented. Did you have any inkling that that was starting to go on?
GT: I think we were credited for a lot of things, which we probably did, but didn't quite realize at the time. I can't pat myself on the back and say we sat down and thought, "Let's write like this." We just wrote the way we felt and it just struck a chord with people. And people have named us as their inspirations. A lot of the younger bands quote Priest as being one of their inspirations. It's something we're very proud of, it's something we did naturally, and we just sat down and wrote. And we're very fortunate in this band. We've got a great writing formula that just works and it comes alive when we get together. I think we probably were responsible for a few trends in music, but it was done unintentionally. We wanted to create and we created.
BM: Did you keep your ears open and hear where all the other trends were starting to happen?
GT: We've always kept our ear to the ground. It's a stupid band, really, that thinks they know it all. No matter how old you are and experienced, if you think you know it all, that's a big mistake in this day and age. We've got a lot of respect for the younger bands, just as they've got respect for us. And we've always kept our ear to the ground. We've always listened to what's going on and learned from it, really.
BM: Another thing you sort of invented on that record was power ballads - "Take These Chains" sounds like so much that people like Def Leppard would do a couple years later.
GT: Well actually, "Take These Chains" I think was written by Bob Halligan, Jr. so we've got a lot to thank him for that track. But there's a mixed bag on there. You mentioned "Electric Eye" and "Devil's Child" and we're doing both of those on tour at the moment. The good thing about Screaming for Vengeance is all the songs have got longevity. They're just as good today as they were when we wrote it. And I think that's another good reason and great for us that it's on the computer game because the songs are relevant in a sense.
BM: I would think "Devil's Child" would be one of the toughest things for Rob to sing after all these years.
GT: Yeah seems to deal with it real well.
BM: Was the Vengeance era the beginning of the epic stage setups and the theatrical presentation?
GT: Around about that time we started to escalate the stage sets and put on shows for the people. It's very important to put a show on for the kids. First and foremost, the most important thing is our music and that's always been our priority - music and songs. But then, when you present a show, it's great to give the kids something extra to punctuate it. So it was around about that time that we started to bring these quite extravagant stage sets and all sorts of things.
BM: Around that time, was heavy metal more of an outlaw thing? Were people more looking at you strange for playing the kind of music you did?
GT: I think when it first emerged metal was, all the bands were tarred with the same brush. We were all in NME (ed: English magazine New Musical Express) really, because there are some bands out there that were looking for the extrovert image to get attention to themselves. As you all get tarred with the same brush, we got pulled into that boat. But I think people really know that metal's therapeutic in a sense. We've always felt it's a great way for kids to get non-violent aggression out at the shows on weekends and then go back to college and study. It's very therapeutic in that sense and our music have never been encouraging people to do bad things. I think people are aware of that, but maybe initially some people got the wrong idea, but I think after years and years of following the band people can see that we only mean good things. It's great for kids. It's a great therapy for kids no matter how old they are or young.
BM: Last question, if kids are playing the game and they're playing guitar in the game and they're fantasizing about being you, what sort of hints can you give them for how they should stand, how they should look for those five minutes that they're playing the song?
GT: Get into it - good bit headbanging. Get into the rhythm of the music and the song and just enjoy it. That's what video games should be all about. I just have to say, it's great to see a video game where music's at the forefront instead of some of the games where you end up shooting cops and very bad things as far as I'm concerned. So when there's a video game out now that's just advocating music and the enjoyment of music, I think it's a fantastic thing.
Rob Halford Interview
Rob Halford: More than anything it’s just great to be back on the road again, being in front of all of our friends around the world. We’ve been away making Nostradamus for a number of years, as you’re aware of. We’re back out on the road with a new setlist, playing some Priest classics and also a couple of the new tracks from Nostradamus – “Prophecy” and “Messenger of Death.” Just getting back out there and traveling the planet and seeing all of our metal maniacs and having a wonderful time with everybody.
Brett Milano: I’m sure you’ve heard that Screaming for Vengeance is the first full album that we’ve put out for download on the Rock Band game.
RH: I know. It’s absolutely amazing. We’re absolutely stoked. It’s a wonderful moment for Priest. We seem to be surrounded by these first time events. First of all it’s the concept of Nostradamus, making that, and now this wonderful connection with the Rock Band computer game. It’s absolutely amazing.
BM: Have you gotten to spend any time with the game, or have you gotten to play it yet?
RH: Well, I’m slowly getting myself into discovering more about it. I was aware of the initial launch. What I really need to do is get a hold of one and see how good I am with it. [laughs]
BM: I’d love to see how you do with the vocals.
RH: [laughs] I’ve never done karaoke with myself.
BM: [laughs] We always hope we can stump the people that actually made the music. That’s a pleasure.
RH: It would be a blast, absolutely.
BM: You mentioned that Nostradamus took you a good couple of years. I was thinking what a contrast that must be to back when you were making records like Screaming for Vengeance. You had two or three months in the studio to do the whole thing. Was it very different – the working pressures at that time?
RH: Actually, I won’t say it came together easily, because that wouldn’t be true. But as far as the adventure of writing the music and recording it, it was an absolute joy to do because we were so wrapped up in this whole moment of realizing this concept record that we’ve been wanting to make for years. Having a wonderful man, a historical figure, to chronologically tell the life of Judas Priest’s heavy metal music. We just roared through it and then suddenly we looked at the clock and we realized we were past one hour, and yet there was still a lot more to do. Of course we contacted our label – Sony BMG – Rob Stringer is a very good friend of the band [and] encouraged us, told us how excited he was. He came over and heard a couple of the run-throughs of the music and was absolutely ecstatic about it. Everyone that was involved in the creation of Nostradamus gave it two thumbs up.
BM: It’s a terrific record.
RH: Thank you.
BM: Let’s go back to the game. Say that somebody is playing the game and fantasizing about being Rob Halford, especially during that Screaming for Vengeance era.
BM: First of all, what should I wear, if I’m doing this?
RH: Oh, I think you’ve gotta deck yourself out in the leather and the studs and the rips and the chains. And I’m sure people will be doing that. If they haven’t already done that on YouTube, they will be shortly.
BM: [laughs] Oh yeah.
RH: It’s a great chance, isn’t it, to emulate one of the figures in the music world that they’ve been following in terms of career. I think that’s what people do. You wrap a guitar around your neck, or whatever [instrument] it might be, and you stand in front of the mirror and you become that person. It’s great – that escapism and that place that you go to in your mind when you play these kinds of games. It’s gotta be a lot of fun and [it’s] a real pleasure to be involved with it.
BM: Where did you go to get your costumes at that time? There weren’t a lot of bondage gear-type stores.
RH: No, there wasn’t. The story goes, there was a very famous place in the west end of London, in Soho called Mr. S and that’s where I picked up some of the original accoutrements. Once we felt that this was the absolute token right way to go with our visuals – and of course we contacted people that would actually make the clothing for us - that was just a very profound moment when we finally got the look, the visual, to go with the power and the intensity of the music.
BM: There are a lot of things on that record that pertain to it being 1984. There’s a bit of future shock songs like “Electric Eye” and “Fever” and things like that.
RH: Right, yeah. My role as a lyricist is to try to keep things interesting and to try and reflect on some of the things that are going on around you in life at the time. Of course, Screaming for Vengeance, Satellite Spies in the Sky, way before Google Earth and things like that. Just trying to imagine what the mindset would be like to be one of these pieces of machinery that could spy down at you twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Quite Orwellian, really. Very 1984. I think when I came up with that particular idea, the guys in the band embraced it and said, “Let’s go for it.” It was something that had never really been done before to my knowledge.
BM: Was that the theme of that record – that you’ve got to fight back against this stuff?
RH: I think we’re always doing that. We’re doing that now and we’re doing that in the lyrics of Nostradamus, talking about persecution, banishment and exile. Those elements of emotion are consistent through all genres of metal music. We’re always talking about the struggle and fighting back and standing up for yourself, believing in what you believe in. Those feelings are with us from generation to generation.
BM: Would you have sung so many earth-shaking high notes on that record if you knew you’d have to do them again twenty-five years later?
RH: [laughs] Well Robert Plant said in an interview recently that he wouldn’t have if he knew he was going to be doing “A Whole Lotta Love” at the ‘02 in London, or so many years later. You don’t think about that. I don’t think it’s important. For me as a vocalist, of course, it’s frustrating when I’m not able to achieve some of the things that I could do when my voice was thirty years younger. But that’s just life, you know. In general terms, I’m able to get to the places that I need to get to as a singer. Not disappoint myself, not disappoint the fans and still try and put on a real cross-section of the history of Judas Priest in the setlists that we make.
BM: You’re still singing “Devil’s Child,” right? I think that’s one of the more impossible things on that record to do.
RH: Yeah. What I’ve done with that song is I have adjusted what needed to be adjusted in the way I actually sing that song live. It’s the same with “Painkiller.” It’s in the ballpark. That’s the main thing. It’s not as every person would like it to be but that’s the reality of being a fifty-seven-year-old singer in a metal band. Having said that, I’m still doing the business, as I say.
BM: Was heavy metal more of an outlaw thing or an underground thing in the ‘80s than it is now?
RH: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I suppose when it first hit the public ear through radio and through live performances, I’m sure a lot of people were excited about finding a sound that they could really get to grips with in terms of the angst side of it, the issues that were discussed. I think that’s probably how people felt when Little Richard went up on stage and bashed away on the piano. Or Jerry Lee Lewis or when Elvis walked across the stage. Each generation is looking for its particular music to identify themselves with and it’s certainly the fact with Judas Priest that we’re still able to do that regardless of what generation. In fact, probably more so now than ever, when we look down from the stage, as I do night after night, you see this incredible cross-section of metalheads. From people barely into their teens to people from our own walk of life. It’s just absolutely sensational.
BM: You’ve been through a lot of changes and a lot of different music. Does it feel like you’re back home again now that you’re touring with Priest?
RH: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve said it many times – it is like family to be back with the guys that you love and the chemistry. It’s all about the chemistry more than anything else. This certain magic that happens when the original founding members are back in each other’s company again.
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