The Metal God is having tea and reading the pitch for a play when I enter his dressing room. The play is based on Rob Halford’s life and work as the front man of Judas Priest, and is titled Rock Forever. I can’t think of a more apt name.
DINOSAUR: If I had told you when you first started playing in bands — age fifteen or sixteen — that you’d still be doing this at sixty-three, what would you have said to me?
Rob Halford: Well, depending on the kind of day I was having, I’d have either said, “Oh, fuck off,” or I’d have said, “Yeah, I’ll probably be doing it until they lower me into the ground.” Emotionally, it’s like a rubber band, you know? Sometimes it pulls you so thin you’re just going nuts, and sometimes it’s just really comfortable and you want it to keep going forever. But if you had asked me that question forty years ago when this band was starting out, I’d have probably said yeah, I’m gonna try and get as much life out of music as possible.
At the end of the Epitaph World Tour in 2012, you guys had collectively decided not to do any more huge world tours … and yet here you are again, touring through (as of this posting) August 2015. The intensity of what you do has to take something out of you. What keeps it at that level? How do you recharge?
[Laughing] I don’t know how it happens, I really don’t. It’s kind of indefinable, you know? I can’t really grasp it.
You hear about creative people going crazy, whether it’s van Gogh or anyone else that becomes desperate. It’s a very delicate balancing act to go from raging on a stage to vacuuming the carpet or going to the store and doing your weekly shopping — which I do, you know. If I didn’t have that escape, that normalcy, I think it could be really difficult.
Yeah, and life is all about that balance. The fact about the Epitaph tour, and the reason we’re out here on another large tour again, all really pins down to Richie Faulkner [the young English guitarist who joined the band after founding member K. K. Downing retired in 2011]. When we came toward the end of that tour, we thought, well, this is probably the time to pull back.
But Richie was such an inspiration. I think we all saw stuff in Richie that we were feeling when we were in our thirties. I see a lot of my own character in Richie, just the way he talks and he writes and he just thinks, and everything about him.
Do you feel like the fire was lit all over again?
Yeah, absolutely. And in all honesty, I think it’s impossible to say no to the people that have supported you and given you a life. “Thanks, goodbye.” How can you do that? You can certainly try and pull back the workload, but then when the promoter from Japan says half a million people want to see you, will you come and play? “Yeah, OK.” Mexico City, Brazil, Europe, the big festivals — it’s ridiculous to say no to those people; I don’t know how you could do it. You owe them your life.
What really amazes me is the degree of consistency over such a long career. Not only the numerous ways your voice has changed and stretched, but the intangible quality in your delivery. No matter how you’re singing, I hear belief, I hear commitment. You always sound like —
I fucking mean it, Joe. I absolutely do mean it. And again, it’s difficult to maintain that intensity. It is commitment, and it’s very real and very raw and very natural. I think that really is what you see from this band, night after night, the belief and dedication. We’re not just going through the motions, or taking the money and running. Now, there are certainly times where you can be singing and your mind wanders: I wonder what we’re having for dinner after the show… [laughs]. Quite honestly! If you ask any musician, they’ll tell you. So it’s human nature for you to wander off, but you can also reel it back in quickly.
I think it’s difficult to be full-on all day every day. And there’s life to contend with as well, equal (and sometimes unequal) parts tragedy and triumph. The longer you’re around, the more you experience both.
When I was a teenager, I would often think, “If I ever make it to the year 2000, I’m sure the world’s gonna be a better place.” And it really isn’t.
And I think we’re just stuck with it, man. We’re absolutely stuck with all this insanity, whether it’s little kids being massacred in school, or people having their heads chopped off in the Middle East. But I have to believe that good always overcomes evil. There is a pureness, I think, in humanity. Those of us who are sticking together for the common good, regardless of race, religion, or orientation, we know that we’re going for the right things. That’s what keeps us rowing against the tide.
Want to find out more about the making of Redeemer of Souls and why Rob Halford loves going off on musical tangents? Read the full interview in DINOSAUR No. 3, out now! Subscribe today or find out where to buy the issue.