Metal God: A Conversation With Rob Halford
I’m just going to put this out there. Rob Halford is a metal icon with very few peers. If you’ve been in the music scene for even half of the time that he has been around, I think you not only earn the title Metal God (a phrase coined by Judas Priest), but you get to display that title without much argument from fan or foe. And although Rob Halford’s career has not been without its bumps in the roads – issues about his sexuality, the severity of his lyrical influence on impressionable youth or even his departure (and ultimately his return) from Judas Priest – it has been a storied career to say the least. A career that will one day be chronicled (we hope) with the opinion that he’s lived his life with grace and style.
When Circle Six caught up with Rob, he was in the middle of preparing to be one of the headliners for the Ozzfest as well as putting on the finishing touches to his upcoming solo album and, as you will soon read, having a hand in creating something from just about every other opportunity that has been thrown his way. If we can add anything else to the story of Halford it would be that one of the reasons why he might not have many peers is because there also might not be a higher class of gentleman in music than Rob. Certainly there aren’t as many as nice. So kick back, relax and take in the wisdom.
Rob Halford: Hey Paul, it’s Rob.
Circle Six Magazine: Hey Rob, how are you?
Rob: I’m going great.
C6M: Thanks for taking my call.
Rob: It’s my pleasure, good to speak with you.
C6M: So I just heard the single…
Rob: Which one?
C6M: “The Mower…
Rob: Oh “The Mower” (laughs) Okay…yeah.
C6M: It seems like you have a lot of projects going on…
Rob: Oh yeah, I’ve got lots going on this year, yeah.
C6M: So you’re currently working on a new solo project?
Rob: Yeah, Halford IV which is slated for release in October. And “The Mower” is going to be on it. And we’re going to drop another track within the next few days probably called “Made of Metal.”
Rob: So we’re just kind of ramping up the interest. And I’m excited. It’s just a real nice opportunity while Priest is having a bit of a down time this year before we roll back into 2011. It’s just nice to be able to reconnect to the solo stuff, you know.
C6M: Is it similar in style to Resurrection and going in that direction?
Rob: No, it’s kind of unusual really. It’s just a bit of mix of everything. I suppose, really, where I am in my life and my musical career and everything else. I’ve done so much and I’ve covered so much territory, I think this is just me enjoying myself. It’s a little bit of everything. Some of it’s kind of surprising. And some of it is what you would expect from me. I suppose at the stage now where it’s nice to be a musician, I don’t have anything left to prove if there’s anything to prove…you know what I’m saying?
Rob: You know when you start off you’ve got an agenda and you’ve got a plan and everything…and I’ve had such a wonderful career that I’m really just enjoying myself. So this record goes from some really early blues ideas – right up to the kind of…extreme moments on “The Mower” and everything in between.
C6M: Right. Well I noticed that there are definitely some screaming moments, which is why I asked if it was going to be a little more like Resurrection…
Rob: Yeah, I think again. I’m just using all the options that are still available on my voice. And I can still get to those registers. And I think that’s what the fans would like to hear me do. And I also enjoy that challenge of trying to give that kind of vocal performance. So that’s just one example of the different voices that I’m going to use on this new release.
C6M: So are we going to hear much of the new stuff at Ozzfest?
Rob: Um, I dunno. Probably not. I think that what we’re going to do is play one maybe possibly two of the new tracks. But I just wanted to have the opportunity just to reconnect with the fans again and play the material that they’re generally familiar with. You know what it’s like when you play fans a new song, they tend just stop what they’re doing and kind of look and listen…which is nice, but I mean really I just want people to be jumping about and screaming and moshing and doing whatever else they want to be doing, you know? But we’ll probably give a little taste.
C6M: So getting back to the material that you will be featuring.Â Does that include material from bands you formed like Fight or 2wo?
Rob: Probably a couple of Fight songs, yeah.Â Mostly material from Resurrection and Crucible.Â And maybe one or two of Priest songs.Â But there really isn’t a reason for me to do Priest in Halford because I’m back in Priest now. And you know I think the fans understand that.Â But there’s probably an opportunity here and there to pull out a song that’s probably not that well known rather than the obvious ones.Â I really hope that fans will warm to what this band can offer as a completely original group.Â The Halford band has its own music, and it’s own sound and appearance and I think that’s what we’re trying to re-establish.
C6M: Let’s talk about your relationship Ozzy Osbourne and, ultimately, why you chose to do Ozzfest this year.
Rob: Well I’ve known Ozzy forever, of course. Obviously coming from the same part of the UK we’ve literally run parallel careers to some extent.Â And he’s a good friend of mine. I mean I think that everything that’s been said about Oz has been said.Â Where I’m really happy for Ozzy right now is the fact that he has again made his mark, as a metal singer, cause Oz has a unique voice…nobody else sounds like Ozzy Osbourne. And he has a great new single out and a new record. And it’s important for all of us to have new material. I suppose, much like myself, I could live on my past glories and so could Ozzy, but that’s not what its about. You’re as good as your last effort. So it’s great to see him come out with this Scream album after the success of Black Rain. So there you are. And I just put my name up like everyone else did for the Ozzfest. And I was really delighted when Sharon and Ozzy gave me the thumbs up and said, “Yeah, come out and join us.” So it’s going to be a very interesting and multidimensional Ozzfest with all different bands covering all different territories in metal and hard rock on the main stage and the second stage.
C6M: So getting back to that relationship, was that relationship (with Ozzy) one of the reasons why you seemed to be the go to guy when it came to Black Sabbath needing a fill in…was that recommendation by Ozzy Osbourne or was that a previous relationship established with them separately?
Rob: Well you know, it’s just that thing that, I think that anybody does with friends. I mean you look out for each other don’t you? Over here you say, you watch each other’s back. And I think that’s the way it is. He’s a mate of mine as we say in the UK. In those instances where I’ve been asked to step to step forward I’ve been more than happy to deal with that because that’s what friends do for each other.
C6M: Well you’ve had a very long career…
C6M: …and a very successful career. You’re considered an icon by people that just love this music. When you look over your career, what is the most surprising thing looking back?
Rob: I don’t think there have been that many surprises. Because it hasn’t been a career that’s been kind of…not like a 4th of July thing launching up and exploding and fizzling out. It’s been a slow and steady progressive development over the past almost four decades. And I think if you can have that kind of opportunity rather than suddenly being thrown into the deep end, so to speak. I think you enjoy it more somehow. You just become more adept to dealing with things as they come into your life as you go from a club to a small theater, to a bigger theater, to you know to a massive venue to an outdoor tour whatever it might be. In all honesty, I don’t think there have been any real major surprises to really consider as I’m talking to you now. But I’m glad really. Personally, I don’t like surprises. I’m not really keen on that. I’m a bit of a planner as far as those types of things go. I don’t really like the unexpected to a certain extent. I can deal with it. But it’s just my nature. I like to know what I’m doing when I’m doing it and how I’m doing it…all connect the dots types of things…
C6M: Very much a man of routine…
Rob: Yeah that probably sounds bizarre for rock and roll…because a lot of its chaotic. But I suppose that’s just internally, I’m more comfortable if I’m prepared, let’s put it that way.
C6M: How have things changed then over the years? I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a few of the newer bands that have been around ten years or less and they seem to be watching the landscape of music (that includes the new media) with a very curious eye. No one seems very sure about what to make of the age of iTunes and YouTube…
Rob: Yes, it’s different isn’t it? It’s totally different. Look, if you sell half a million units now it’s considered a massive success. In the eighties people were dropping double platinum, triple platinum, quadruple platinum releases. And that’s just the advent with what the internet has done with the illegal pirating that’s going on now…
Rob: I mean just talking on a business level, because that’s what I do with my other my ventures. You can’t make money on records now. You only make your money from touring. You know, Bowie said back in 1998, he had a premonition that once the internet was underway, he said, “Within ten years bands will not being making cash from records anymore. It will all be from live shows.” And that’s pretty much how it turned out to be.
Rob: And you need that. And I’m just bringing that into the equation because any band needs economic sustenance otherwise you’re just struggling.
Rob: So where is the next great massive monster metal band going to come from? For example where is the next Metallica? I mean I don’t know of one on the horizon. Where are the next giant bands? I hope there will be one because I think it’s exciting. But I think we seem to be at a place now where everybody has a chance, but everybody reaches a plateau and then it doesn’t go much further than that. Which is just the way it is. Twenty years isn’t a very long time, in music, but in twenty years we’ve seen the whole world of music turn upside down.
C6M: Right. Massively.
Rob: So it’s really difficult now, particularly for new talent to get a foot in the door and be recognized. We did a competition for the opening act for the San Francisco show the other day and I looked at 160 MySpace pages for bands that kind of said, “Give us a chance.” It was very interesting. I looked at bands from all over the country. And it was a real eye opener for me. Because I haven’t done that for a while. I hadn’t a chance before. It was just interesting to see the broad scope and depth of all the different kinds of metal and hard rock acts that are just from those 160 MySpace pages. And how many MySpace pages are there now? Millions and millions? Hundreds of thousands of bands? More than ever it’s like trying to find a diamond in a coal mine, you know? I mean they are there. It just takes a longer way of finding it and equally keeping a band in a growth pattern…that’s what we had in Priest and Sabbath. Your label supported you through one, two, three, four, five, six…however many vinyl releases it took you to get established. Now a days if you don’t hit the demographic in the first release and it’s like next…whose the next in line? And that’s a shame because the musicians don’t get a chance to develop their musicianship.
Rob: Any profession the more you’re in your profession the better you should become. It’s difficult for musicians now.
C6M: Absolutely. Now you mentioned that there wasn’t much that you hadn’t done yet. But what I noticed was that, for the first time, you and Priest released a concept album.
C6M: Which as a fan of the genre itself and of metal, your voice and your band’s style seemed to…for years I always thought that your style was kind of a heavy metal opera sound and I was surprised that you didn’t do that sooner. What was the reason that you decided to do it now versus earlier in your career?
Rob: (Searching) I don’t really know…I mean…I suppose, firstly you can do a concept record about anything off the top of your head…you can just run into hundreds of different opportunities. It was our manager Bill Curbishley that suggested Nostradamus. And that was just a brilliant choice. Bill was very successful with the Tommy rock opera that Pete Townsend put together. He’s a very savvy man when it comes to those types of opportunities. So really that’s it. And the fact that we knew that if we were going to do something like that it wasn’t going to be a quick in and out of the studio and that it was going to take a long time to create. And it was almost a two year project…spaced out to two years. Because you can’t rush something like that. And it turned out really well. I don’t know if you’ve had to listen to the whole thing. But it’s just a fantastic journey, trip, fantasy…whatever you want to call it. It’s great. Really it’s like…maybe it’s like going to the movies or going to a Broadway show. Especially if you put headphones on and close your eyes and shut the world out for an hour and twenty or thirty minutes. It’s just a wonderful piece of escapism.
C6M: Oh absolutely, and I thought that was the brilliant part of it. And so my other question is, like Tommy, have you guys considered taking that to the next level and maybe creating a stage show around that concept?
Rob: I think we loved to. Yeah. We’d love to. But again, multiple opportunities. We’re looking right now, actually, to see what we can do. And…I don’t know. It might be in a year or two. It might be in five years. It might be in ten years. You just don’t know with something like this.Â It took Tommy how long before it went on stage? It took the Tommy thing years and years and years….
C6M: Absolutely, I think it was around twenty years…
Rob: Yeah, I don’t want to wait that long because I’ll be plucking into eighty years of age. You know, I wonder if I’ll be an eighty year old metal head? I would love to see Nostradamus on stage when I’m eighty…that would be an absolute trip. But anyway…yes, that was in our mind when Glenn and K.K. and myself were writing it. We were thinking as we were writing oh this is going to be great if we do this scene with that scene…this effect and that effect so it kind of went hand in hand right from the beginning of the project.
C6M: So let’s change gears a little bit and talk a little bit about the passing of Ronnie James Dio and your relationship with him.
C6M: Do think that we, as an audience of the music itself completely get what his legacy is yet?
Rob: Probably not now because unfortunately it takes something as terrible and as tragic as this for people to get the full understanding of what he accomplished as a musician and the footprint…the vocal footprint that he left in rock and roll and metal. And I think unfortunately that’s the way it is for a lot of rock and roll people that we’ve lost over the decades.Â But you know, again you just have to kind of celebrate through the sadness, if there is such a thing. And when I hear Ronnie now…I probably listen to Ronnie more completely now than I did before. For just the psychological and emotional reasons. And his voice is absolutely fucking unbelievable. You know, again, Ronnie James Dio is instantly recognizable. His style. Just his intensity. His subtleties. Very real…a great real rock and roller. No heirs in graces. Just dead straightforward, easy going. Always asking how you were doing. Never about himself. Never saying look at me – what I’ve done. There was nothing about that with Ronnie. He was a very selfless person. So, yeah to lose him, you lose a dear friend. And you lose a musician – a live performing musician. But thankfully we’ve got the music and the visuals to keep us connected that way.
C6M: Okay, I have a couple of fan questions.
C6M: One of them was, “Are you ever planning to revisit a past project like Fight?” Or do you think that they’ve kind of run their course?
Rob: I never say never. The first Fight record was more important to me than the second one for a lot of different reasons. I think that the first Fight record had an intensity about it and an attitude about it that kind of shifted gear when the second one came along. So if I did do another one, I think I would like to try and reinvestigate that feeling that I felt from the first one, from War of Words. And I never say never. I never say no to anything because that’s what life is about. Why shut the door before you’ve opened it and walked through it? Walk through it and see what’s on the other side.
C6M: Are you going to ever going to write an autobiography?
Rob: It’s in the works, yeah. I was in New York recently and I had a meeting with a few people. Again you got to get it right, haven’t you? It’s a one-time event. I mean, I don’t want to be one of these people who run out and just scrape it all together. I’ve got forty years worth of stuff in my head, you know? I think it’s just inevitable that it’s got to come out at some point because that’s what we do, isn’t it?
Rob: So again, when the time is right. Probably something I would actually enjoy. But it would have to be everything – it would have to be as raw and as open as “The Dirt” by Crue or you know, Guns N’ Roses or Hammer of the Gods. I mean it would have to be one of those things. I mean I would probably really expose things that are personal to me that people don’t about. You see, I think those books have to do that otherwise what’s the point and they’re just a rehash of all the interviews you’ve done.
C6M:Â Sure and that’s stuff we could find anywhere…
Rob: Yeah exactly. It’s important to do all that because otherwise what’s the point because again it’s a commercial venture. But you have to really say, do you really want to bare your soul? It’s a big thing to do isn’t it? It’s one thing to live a public life on stages and chat like we’re chatting. But it’s another thing to disclose all the probably really private things that have happened to you. So again, I think it’s inevitable, but I just don’t know when it’s going to happen.
C6M: Last question.
C6M: What do you think the secret to your longevity is in a business where relevance to the metal world is rapidly becoming more and more disposable?
Rob: You’ve really gotta…you’ve got to be addicted to it. You’ve really got to be addicted to it. You know, you look at a band like Anvil…there’s the addiction. You just can’t let it go. You can’t shut it off. It doesn’t matter whether you sell a hundred records or a hundred million records. That’s got nothing to do with it. It’s the commitment. Why are you doing it? You ain’t doing it for the cash or the Rolls-Royce or whatever. You’re doing it because you’ve got to do it. It’s like why did Picasso paint or why did Michelangelo sculpt or whatever? You can’t stop yourself. You’re driven to create that kind of thing. And that hits the stage with you or it fizzles out or whatever. So you really have no control over it. If you no control out of it I think the best things can generally happen from those kinds of internal feelings.
C6M: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to talk to us and we look forward to seeing you at the Fest!
Rob: See you there! Cheers! Bye.
Once again, we can’t thank Rob Halford enough for talking to us. It certainly ranks up there as one of the most enjoyable conversations that I have had with anyone, much less a Hall of Fame rocker. We’re definitely looking forward to seeing him perform at the Ozzfest which starts it’s run on 8/14 in San Bernardino.