Judas Priest are the only ones who get the coveted title of Metal Gods. No matter who you ask, and regardless of whether or not they like their music, nobody doubts that they were essential in the creation of heavy metal.
I met with Richie Faulkner before one of their last shows in their Redeemer of Souls tour, where they played some classics like “Screaming for Vengeance” (a rare treat for Judas Priest fans). We discussed the future of the band, the challenge of joining Priest, and the new Star Wars films.
May the force be with you
MB: Since you’ll go on stage soon; how do you usually prepare for your shows?
Richie: To be honest, we’ve got the easy job. The real preparation goes down with the crew. They’re the ones preparing everything, washing the clothes, preparing the guitars, etc. We do things like these – we promote the shows, we do interviews, or we go buy some guitars [laughs].
A couple of hours before the show we’ll go to the venue, hang out, get a bite to eat… there are really no mystical rituals about it. We’re just a group of mates, we get our superhero costumes (the leather and the studs) and we play the music we like.
MB: Speaking about putting on superhero costumes… When you joined Judas Priest for the Epitaph tour you kind of came out of nowhere. People were surprised when you were announced as K.K. Downing’s replacement, with only some of them knowing you from your work with Lauren Harris. How was it for you to go from a minor act like that, to suddenly jump into this massive legendary band?
Richie: There are parallels and differences. With Lauren we were on a few tours with Iron Maiden, Within Temptation and others. The Iron Maiden tour, especially, was a big one, so we got used to playing big stages and big audiences, so from that respect I knew what to expect. Priest didn’t want someone who was too well-known; they didn’t want someone who had been in 5 or 6 bands already and who had been around the block. Although they wanted someone who was relatively new, at the same time they wanted someone who they knew would respond well on stage, someone who knew the life on the road and the experience of the big stages. Fortunately I was in the right position; I had been all over the world, I had played big crowds, but was still relatively unknown, so it sort of ticked all the boxes for what Priest wanted.
Part of being with Lauren Harris was that people don’t know who you are, and yet you have to get out there and play in front of thousands of people. It’s almost like a positive fight, getting people into your music. We learned that from Steve Harris, who told us that back in the day they’d go out with bands that they weren’t matched with, because he liked the idea of getting new fans. I took that message to heart; you have to get out there and prove to people that you’re good and that they should listen to you.
It was the same kind of dynamic in Priest, in the sense that I was the new guy. I had to almost convince people, the fans, that I was able to do it and that the band had made the right decision. It was a healthy point to prove; trying to show them that you’re on their side, that you’re part of the family.
The difference between the two was, obviously, that Judas Priest is one of the biggest heavy metal bands in the world, as well as the originators of heavy metal. Things work differently on this level, since people are there to see the band, you’re now the headliner.
MB: For better or worse, with bands like Judas Priest or Iron Maiden fans tend to be quite possessive or protective. Considering that you were replacing someone with a trajectory like that of K.K. Downing; were you nervous? Were you concerned about how people were going to react?
Richie: It wasn’t really a concern, no. You can’t let that get in your way; you’ve been given an opportunity. There will always be people out there who don’t like you and who’ll prefer someone else. That’s the beauty of music, we’ve all got our own opinion.
There was some skepticism, of course; after 40 years there’s a new guy showing up, so people feared the worst. I think that’s healthy, since it showed the passion that the fans had for the band. They cared so much that they are skeptical; it was the same when Rob Halford left. If they didn’t care they wouldn’t have an opinion. I understand; I was the same when Richie Blackmore left Deep Purple or Michael Schenker left UFO. But I was given an opportunity for which I had worked really hard, and which I was ready to grab by the horns.
I knew the band, I knew what they stand for, and I know what KK stands for. They’ve always stood up for what they believe in, even in the face of adversity. If there was ever going to be any adversity, they were the guys I’d be learning from. KK was one of the teachers of that philosophy; people might not like you, but you go out there and do what you do. If I had doubted things in any way, being nervous or doubtful, I don’t think I would have been honoring that tradition of heavy metal and Judas Priest. I knew that I could do the job, so I didn’t want to let nerves or doubt get in the way. I just took the opportunity and it seems like it was the right approach to take.
MB: Well having seen Judas Priest both before and after you joined, I feel that you brought something really incredible to the band. You really bring a lot of energy into the show, which is something that I think the fans have appreciated a lot.
Richie: If you play with your idols, some of the best music you’ve ever heard, I think that it’s impossible not to have that sort of energy.
Back when I was still with Lauren Harris I’d watch Steve Harris perform, and he’d always be getting on the faces of people, singing with them, interacting. I’ve always thought that you can’t recreate that on Youtube or anything; there’s something about the live experience and that interaction that you simply can’t recreate, and it’s a valuable one. I was on the other side of it, looking at Steve and other performers like that, so when I was given this opportunity it was natural for me to connect with the fans in the same way that I had connected with them. I think that it all goes hand in hand and, as Rob says, I think that it has had a knock-on effect on him as well, energy-wise. He moves around a lot, he interacts a lot, and we have fun on the stage. Hopefully, it’s a positive thing, so thank you very much for noticing.
MB: Speaking of Rob, he recently mentioned that the band has quite a few ideas about what they would like to do in their future album; at the same time though, Ian Hill mentioned that the possibility of a new album is still up in the air and that there are still a number of things that you would like to finish before they embark into such a project. Do you think there will be a new Judas Priest album?
Richie: I would say so. I think that they’re both right on what they say. It’s kind of up in the air until we get in the room and start putting ideas down, so Ian is right on that; at the same time though, it’s in the back of our minds. I’ve had conversations with Rob and Glenn about what we could do, what the schedule will be, etc. Until we sit in that room, it’s still up in the air though. If we put ideas on the table and they aren’t very good, if they don’t at least match the quality of Redeemer of Souls, there might not be a case for doing a new record. You and I know that the band won’t release something that they think is below standards. If the ideas we put down are not good, then there may not be a new record; but if there are some sparks in the room, then we’re going to push forward and a new record might take a shape. I think it will! I’m confident that it will. I’ve always got tons of ideas, and I know the other guys do as well.
MB: I don’t think there’s any doubt that if you make a new album it’ll be good; I think that the biggest concern is just that after such a long career there might be the completely legitimate desire on the part of the rest of the band to want to stop. So it’s great to know that there’s still something coming.
In a completely different topic… I know that you’re a big Star Wars fan so, tell me, are you excited about the new film?
Richie: It’s a difficult question for me. I’m excited, but I’m skeptical.
There are a few things in the trailer that don’t really make sense to me, so it puts up a couple of warning signs for me that maybe the film won’t be as great as people think. I want them to be great.
MB: You’re afraid they might be like the prequels?
Richie: Here’s my take on it. In the trailer I saw someone saying that they want to continue what Darth Vader started. I have no idea what he started. He was the Emperor’s whipping boy; he wasn’t respected by his admirals, he was mocked; Grand Moff Tarkin ordered him around. He wasn’t an authority figure; he wasn’t someone who started a movement, he was always told to something by someone else. I think Vader could just be a cashcow to sell toys, to sell the movie, without enough attention to detail being paid to actually what he was. He was a pawn. My concern is that they might be putting it there to sell tickets.
MB: Don’t you think that they’re making the movies to sell tickets to begin with?
Richie: Maybe. It’s hard to tell without seeing the film yet. There’s a lot of speculation, just like with music when fans give their opinions on an album when they’ve only heard a single song. And now I’m guilty of doing the exact same thing with the Star Wars trailer [laughs] Let’s just wait and see.
MB: I’m not a big Star Wars fan, but can I assume you hated Jar-Jar Binks?
Richie: I did. I’m not a fan of the prequels at all. I’m a big fan of the original trilogy. The prequels didn’t need to happen, and Jar-Jar Binks is a part of that.
MB: Richie, thank you very much for your time. See you on the road next time.
Richie: Thank you mate, see you!