Judas Priest are, to me, the first definitive metal band. While Sabbath invented the genre, Priest gave it its aesthetic and pushed it out of the blues and away from everything that had come before. Ian Hill, their illustrious bass guitarist, was there from the very beginning. I was fortunate enough to be able to chat with him from his home about their new album, his style of playing, retirement, and touring.
Metal Blast: Why call the album “Redeemer of Souls“? Was it simply a good song title or was there a hidden meaning that you guys were toying with?
Ian: Not really. It’s a fantasy album, all of our songs are basically fantasies. It just seemed to fit the album. It’s a song that Rob had written the lyrics for and the name just seemed to fit. It kind of follows on from Angel of Retribution, Painkiller, etc. There’s really nothing sinister going on there [laughs].
MB: I know that officially all of the songs are credited to Rob, Glenn, and Richie, but are there any riffs or licks or lyrics that come from yourself? Do you have any unofficial contributions to the record?
Ian:Well bass lines, yeah! Sometimes things change in the song due to the bass line, but not enough to credit. Richie has fitted right in to the traditional writing setup for the band with Rob and Glenn. They did a tremendous job, and why would I try to insinuate myself into a something that works very, very well! I figured I should stand back and let them create some coherent structures, then I get a skeletal copy of what they’ve put together, as does Scott, and we both work our parts around that.
MB: So all of your bass parts have been strictly your compositions based on what you’re given by the core songwriting team?
Ian:Well obviously things have changed over the years. With modern technology you don’t even need to be in the same room to have a face-to-face discussion about each individual part, like we had to in the early days. These days I just get the song and put my bass lines to it. If the rest of the guys like it, great. If not, then we change it. It’s a very democratic process.
MB: With the departure of K.K. Downing back in 2011, you were left as the only constant original member of the band. I was wondering if this fact has made you feel any different about your experience with Judas Priest?
Ian:Not really. It’s actually something I rarely think about. Obviously the early days were very important; without those early lineups of the band none of us would be here now. But the trademark lineup of the band has been as a five piece, and the final piece of that came in 1974 when Glenn joined. All of our success has been as a five piece, and the Judas Priest we know now started then.
MB: What do you hope that your personal legacy within Judas Priest’s will be?
Ian:It’d be nice to think I’ve got one [Laughs]. I really just think it’ll be nice for the music to live on after my demise and the band’s demise. To be remembered for what we were: key instigators of heavy metal. There’s no really sort of eureka moment in the genre’s early development, it just sort of evolved over those first ten years. It’ll be nice to be remembered as one of the godfathers, grandfathers or whatever.
MB: In a recent interview with Loudwire, Rob, Glenn and Richie talked about the resurgence of vinyl and how the vinyl for the new record is quite lavish. What do you think vinyl’s comeback and it’s implications for the music world in general and metal in particular?
Ian:I think it’s a nostalgia trip. When we started out that was it. There was really only three ways to listen to music: you could go see a band live, you could listen on the radio, or you could go by the record. There were no tapes, hard drives or CDs. Also, when you play a record you get kind of like a warmer feel from it. I don’t know what it is, it just sounds… less clinical; it has a definite different feel to it. I mean when you get a CD or you download it, that’s exactly as it came off the master tape. With vinyl there are variables; the quality of the needle, slight variances in the speed of the turntable, all of these little things can make for a unique experience.
MB: In that same interview Rob also touched upon the feeling that he got upon receiving his copy of your first record. To paraphrase, he said that he stood there shaking, thinking to himself “I made a record!”. Did you have the same feeling?
MB: Oh yeah! To walk in to your local record store where you’ve been going for as a fan for years, and you look at the shelves and there’s Hendrix and Cream and The Rolling Stones, all the bands that you’ve listened to, and been influenced by, and then you see your record there with them. You just think “Shit! We’ve ARRIVED! Nobody can take this away from us! It’ll be there forever!”. It’s a phenomenal feeling. With every album there’s a sense of pride; when you receive the finished product with all the accoutrements… it sends chills down your spine.
MB: As a bass player you have developed your own style over the years. You’re known for a lot of subtlety and for the rock solid accompaniment that you give to the compositions. Do you play like that because you feel it’s what best fits the band’s dynamic or has there ever been any temptation for you to play more aggressively or technically?
Ian:As the old saying goes, “less is more”. If you’ve got a good solid, driving rock or metal number and start playing around and doing licks, riffs and things like that, it takes that solidness away. It becomes lighter. It’s something I’ve been careful with over the years; you need to do what’s required to make the song sound the way it should and not just to self-indulge. You’ll end up playing Jazz if you do that.
MB: Obviously the word “retirement” is one that keeps popping up. Although in the wake of the Epitaph tour you guys said that you’d start to wind down on touring, you’re still going strong. Is there any kind of timeline on when you and the rest of the band are going to put a full stop on your musical activities?
Ian:Not really, no. I think we’re all terrified of not being able to do this anymore. We’ve done it for so long that we just love it, you know? When I look back over the years I get a great sense of… just being so lucky to do something that I love for a living. To not be able to do it is something that none of us are thinking about. We’ve all slowed down, we can’t ignore our age; although the mind is willing to do six two hour sets per week, the body certainly isn’t. So, we’ll be slowing down, doing fewer shows a week, cutting the set down from two and half hours down to like an hour and 45 minutes or something. By doing that it’ll lengthen the career of the band by not tiring ourselves out night after night.
MB: You guys are currently preparing for a North American tour and one of my worthy constituents at the magazine was wondering if you have any plans in the works for European dates, perhaps in 2015?
Ian:Oh yeah, we can’t just forget everybody else! [Laughs] The first leg of the American tour will take through to the end of November. Then we’ll take some time off and start up again probably in February or March. Not sure where yet, but the plan is to come through Europe in the summer. We want to do as many festivals as we can.
MB: You’ve opted to take out Steel Panther as the opener for the US dates. What is it about them that makes them a good fit for you guys?
Ian: I know that they’re a caricature, but at the end of it they’re a good metal band! I think people enjoy them, and it just seemed a good fit. You have to also take availability into consideration. They were available and fit the bill so we asked them to join up!
MB: If you had to pick one song from the new album that you think will go down as kind of a classic Judas Priest song, which one would it be?
MB: That’s a difficult one. The one I like the most is probably “Cold Blooded”. It’s a great, epic track. It’s only a personal favourite of course, the fans will pick what the classics are.
It was a privilege to be able to speak with one of the founding fathers of heavy metal about all of these topics. Ian was incredibly gracious and I want to thank him immensely for both his valuable time and his incredible music. Redeemer of Souls, the band’s new album, is out now on Sony/Columbia.
Read our review for my thoughts on this incredible new document from the metal gods. Long may they reign!