Though Judas Priest fans have been calling him “Metal God” for so long he’s had the moniker trademarked, Rob Halford doesn’t stand on ceremony. When NME meets him at a recording studio in Walsall – he splits his time between the Midlands town and Arizona – the iconic frontman is frank, friendly and full of chat. “That’s the yam-yam in me,” he says proudly, using a colloquial term for someone who hails from England’s Black Country region.

Halford, 72, is happy to look back at his groundbreaking career with Judas Priest, one of the most influential bands in heavy metal history. After forming in Birmingham in 1969, Priest (as Halford tends to call them) didn’t just shape the genre’s rapid, riff-driven style with albums like 1980’s classic ‘British Steel’, but also defined its iconography with their fetish-inspired leather and studs look. “There’s some great pictures of Priest from early photo sessions and it just doesn’t look right,” he says. “But when I rode onstage on a motorcycle for the first time in a biker’s leather jacket, that was it, that was the eureka moment.”

Two years ago, Judas Priest were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but this doesn’t mean they’re ready for a victory lap. Halford is particularly keen to talk about Priest’s new album, ‘Invincible Shield’, a ferocious but focused assault he honed with bandmates Richie Faulkner, Ian Hill, Glenn Tipton and Scott Travis. “In every band, there’s got to be some kind of a leader, otherwise it’s like the Titanic,” he says. “But you’ve got to be respectful to each other. The drummer is as important as the singer who’s important as the guitar player – everybody has to be dealt the same. All of that comes into understanding how we put this record together. I hate the word ‘compromise’, but it comes into play.”

During a wide-ranging interview, Halford also talks about coming out as gay in 1998 – a spontaneous moment of bravery that he’s called “the greatest thing I could have done for myself” – and the band’s unlikely recording sessions with ’80s pop producers Stock Aitken Waterman. Once this yam-yam starts talking, there’s no stopping him – and honestly, you wouldn’t want to.

Photo Credit: James Hodges

Has the band’s recording process changed much over time? Are you quicker or slower than you used to be?

“I would say that we’re as efficient as we ever were…. [in terms of] the writing for ‘Invincible Shield’, I got together for about a month with Glenn and Richie. The chemistry of two guitar players plus singer has just been wonderful for Priest since we did it with ‘British Steel’, and so we’ve done it [that way] ever since.

“We all brought in ideas during that initial month and started to put meat on the skeleton, and then we took a month off for a very important creative break. And then we came back for a second month where we really started to kick things into shape. So a lot of the music for ‘Invincible Shield’ came from just a couple of months of writing.

“I’ve always said that once you start to overthink it, stuff gets in the way – it’s very much instinct. There are certain elements on every Priest album that have kind of made a thread. What I mean by that is: you’re going to have the fierceness, you’re going to have the dynamics, you’re going to have the energy of a song like ‘Panic Attack’ or ‘The Serpent And The King’, you’re going to have different textures like ‘Crown Of Horns’. You know that, and once you’ve completed a certain expression, you know not to go there again. You see where the next place takes you.”

You’re supporting the album with a massive tour that stretches from March to September. Do you still get butterflies before you go on stage?

“Yeah. I’d be dead if I didn’t feel that way. It’s more nervous energy: the responsibility [of knowing] you’ve got a job to do. Fans took money out of their wages and bought a ticket – there’s a commitment right there, so you better not fuck it up. [Like] RuPaul [says]: ‘Don’t fuck it up.’ You know, that’s important: you can’t just be blasé and stroll out and have a bang. No, it’s not that. You’ve got to be aware of every element because you’re under scrutiny.

“We just played to, I don’t know, 50 million people at Power Trip. And every single person was analysing this band: ‘What’s Rob doing? Where’s Richie? What’s Ian doing over there?’ Every single person has you under the microscope and that’s as it should be, because [that way] you’re striving to make every show the best possible show that it can be.”

Judas Priest recorded several tracks with Stock Aitken Waterman in the ’80s, but they never came out. Pete Waterman told NME last year that your unreleased cover of ‘You Are Everything’, which they produced, could have been their “biggest ever record”.

“I kind of agree with him, because I’ve got that on my phone somewhere and it sounds great. I mean, look what happened to Kate Bush with Stranger Things and ‘Running Up That Hill’ – one of the greatest songs ever written. That’s what I’d love to see with our Stock Aitken Waterman tracks…

“I still love those songs even now. In my lifetime I’d just like to see them get leaked. Leak ’em for all I care. Let’s just see where those songs take us, because it sounds great. You can hear the voice, you can hear the guitars, and they’re really fun pieces of music. I haven’t seen Pete in living memory, but maybe I can say [to him]: ‘Just leak these. Send a file off to TikTok and see where it takes us. ‘”

Picture Credit: WE CARE A LOT

You’ve said that when you came out in 1998, it wasn’t premeditated – you just said it on the day. Looking back now, does it feel like a pivotal moment in your career?

“If I reflect on it, it happened in the right way because it wasn’t premeditated. It was simply me talking like I’m talking to you. I just said: ‘Speaking as a gay man, blah blah blah.’ And those simple words resonated and went to a lot of places. As I went back to the hotel afterwards, I thought, ‘That’s it now. Everybody knows I’m a gay guy.’

“Everybody in the band knew I was gay, everybody at the label knew I was gay and management knew I was gay. And wouldn’t you believe it? All the fans were like, ‘Well, we always thought you were gay anyway.’ And there was me thinking I’m the only gay in the village! But the goodness that came out of that can’t be overstated. This is a guy from a world-famous, top-shelf heavy metal band from the UK called Judas Priest, and the singer’s a gay guy [who’s] openly out.

“[But] being a gay man and coming out into a metal world, at the time, that was really difficult because of the homophobia and the pushback. And I still get it now. You know, somebody bullied me the other day on Facebook [by writing]: ‘You say you’re a Christian – well, good for you – but you should drop that husband of yours because it’s evil and you’re an abomination to God. Find a woman, you’ll be happier.’ [My response is:] ‘Thank you, delete!'”

When did fans start calling you “Metal God”, and how did it feel when it caught on?

“It came from [the song] ‘Metal Gods’ from the ‘British Steel’ album. It might have been a writer that said it first, and I just thought it was fun. It’s a bit like Slash, Lemmy – they’re abbreviations of who some of us are. But it kind of got a life of its own and then I started to take it too seriously. So much so that I’ve actually got a trademark on ‘Metal God’ because I cherish it so much – not just not for me, but for the band and the fans as well. But I always have fun with it. I always say: ‘There was only one Elvis, and there’s only one Metal God.’ And I mean that, you know, with my tongue in my cheek.

“I do cherish the fact that none of us [in Judas Priest] have lost our way in that respect – that’s the ‘yam-yam’ in me. None of us walks around with the spotlight on us [being like] ‘don’t you know who I am?’ The yam-yas won’t stand for that. I don’t forget where I come from: I’m a singer in a heavy metal band, I love you to death, and that’s all it is.”

‘Invincible Priest’ by Judas Priest is released March 8 via Epic

The post Judas Priest legend Rob Halford: “Coming out happened in the right way – it wasn’t premeditated” appeared first on NME.


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