Guitar Player of
The Metal Gods themselves, Judas Priest, have just started a fall tour of the United States and Canada. Special guest on this tour is over-the-top glam-metal band Steel Panther.
Judas Priest released a brand new studio album this summer, Redeemer of Souls. This is their first studio album with guitar player Richie Faulkner, who took over when KK Downing stepped down from the band in early 2011. I got to talk with Richie and find out what it was like joining a band with his Idols, about recording Redeemer of Souls, and plans for this tour and the future.
Check out New England Music Blog’s coverage of the October 14th stop of the tour at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, MA.
New England Music Blog: In 2011, Judas Priest announced that KK Downing was leaving the band, and soon after that you would be taking his place. I imagine that’s a pretty life-changing event?
Richie Faulkner: Well of course, I mean even to be considered for the position was a huge deal, you know? And to go down, meet the guys, and initially talk about what they wanted and what they didn’t want, before even getting the position was an amazing experience. But then, just to get it, and then build up friendships and build up all this kind of band-of-brothers with this group that I’ve idolized for years, you know, they’re heroes of mine. It’s just an incredible honor to be a part of.
NEMB: Yeah, that must be pretty amazing. Who made the connection for you with the band?
RF: It was someone they contacted, a guitar player that I knew, called Pete Friesen. I used to play in bars and clubs around London with Pete, and he used to play with Alice Cooper, The Almighty and Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden, his solo project. They contacted Pete, and Pete’s a great player, and he’s a blues player, fantastic blues player, but I think that he recognized that it wouldn’t really fit in with Priest’s style of metal. So when they asked Pete if he could recommend anyone else, he put my name in the hat, and they pulled it out, and the rest is history.
NEMB: When they announced the Epitaph tour, it sort of sounded like we weren’t going to see too much of the band after that point. As the tour went on, it sort of seemed like once you came into the band, it’s almost like you gave them a shot of energy that made everybody a little more excited about doing more in the future.
RF: I think it’s… I mean, there’s five people in the group, and I like to think that maybe I had a little bit to play in that. Obviously we’re a unit, and I think you always get a bit of a different dynamic with a band when you get someone new. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, whatever it is, it’s going to be a different dynamic. And I like to think that, you know, I helped a little bit in reenergizing the band, but we’re all on the same team, we all love what we do, and they’ve been doing it for forty years. So you can’t do something for forty years and not love what you do. You know, that you for saying that, but I think we’re all part of the reason why Priest is still out on the road. And we went out on the Epitaph tour, and it fires you up to do a record, you know? It inspires you to go back in the studio and create some more songs, and in turn, after that, when you’ve got those songs, it fires you up to get back out on the road, and put them out to the metal masses in the live situation. So you can see how that kind of, it’s like a wheel of creativity, studio fires you up for live, fires you up for studio, and you know, long may it continue in my book.
NEMB: When you started rehearsing with the band, was there any song that you were like “I can’t wait to have this chance to play THIS song with Judas Priest?”
RF: Dude, all of them. Every single one, yeah man. If there was one stand out track in the beginning, it was probably “Victim of Changes.” It’s a big song, its a great kind of journey in Priest-style metal, really, and I was looking forward to that one, if anything. But I mean, the setlist at the time, we had new songs that they had never played before, like “Blood Red Skies,” “Starbreaker” which they hadn’t played for years, “Green Manalishi,” you know, classics like that. So every single one of them, whatever the setlist turned out to be, was going to be a joy to play for me.
NEMB: So you guys put out the new album this year, “Redeemer of Souls,” which is great. How much input did you have in the writing of it?
RF: Well first of all, I make a fantastic cup of tea, so I’m invaluable in the studio situation. No, plus the fact that, you know, they’v always had that three man writing team, the two guitar player, singer writing team, which has always given, in my mind, that kind of classic Priest sound. So we kept it the same, it’s a three-way co-write, I wrote the songs with Glenn and Rob and because I’ve been brought up on a healthy diet of Priest and metal and guitar music, it’s kind of, you know what to do. You know, you don’t have to try and put on a different hat, or do something you wouldn’t normally do, it’s kind of ingrained in me as a guitar player, and obviously they’ve been doing it for forty years, they know what they’re doing. It kind of all slotted in nicely, you know? It all came together, both in a personal sense and on a creative level as well. We came up with tons of material, you never know what you’re going to come out with when you go in the studio initially. But you go and you do the first song, then you’ve got three songs, then seven, then twelve, then fifteen, and then we ended up with eighteen songs on this deluxe edition release because it was just a natural process, a creative one. Everyone was firing off ideas and inspiration from the other two guys in the room, you know there was three of us in there. It was just an amazing process.
NEMB: What’s your favorite track off the new album?
RF: Aw again, man, it’s so hard. I’ve got to get an answer and stick to it, because everyone asks me this, and I always give them a different answer, there’s so many good ones. We all hold them dear when we’re creating them, the kind of go from a riff or a melody into this creature, you know what I mean? It’s now in the live situation, it becomes a totally different animal. Because of that reason, it’s like giving birth to little babies, and they’ve all got different characters, and all different character traits and whatever, but you love them all the same. But I mean, I think songs like “Halls of Valhalla,” “Sword of Damocles,” you know “March of the Damned,” “Cold Blooded,” I like the sense in the song that takes you somewhere. You know, like “Halls of Valhalla” takes you to the mythical world of Vikings and Valhalla, and stuff like that. It just takes you in another world musically and conceptually. So I’d have to say those songs, I couldn’t give you just one, but I’d have to give you those few.
NEMB: Right, cool. “Halls of Valhalla” I think probably stands out as mine.
RF: Yeah I think, I’d have to say, if one slightly pushes out above the rest, it might be that one. It’s just epic, again, it takes you off in another world, both musically there’s ups and downs, and screams and guitar stuff, drums are pounding, and vocally it’s amazing. You know so, yeah, I think that sums up, kind of, the “Priest essence” of this record, no doubt.
NEMB: Priest has always been really big on theatricality with their performances. On the Epitaph tour, you guys sort of went all out. What can we expect on this tour, is it another big production?
RF: Well the production is everything you can imagine and expect from a Priest show. We felt that on the Epitaph tour, it was really, you know, everything and the kitchen sink. It was all the bells and whistles, there were lasers, flame, it couldn’t get any bigger than that, you know? So the interesting thing to do from there is how can we make the show bigger in other ways? How can we make it effective? And obviously, we’re still going out, it’s a great light show, we’ve got some great screens, we’ve got, you know, the bike comes out, but we’re looking at making the songs do the talking. The songs with this band, in my opinion, are so strong over 40 years, that we’re kind of making them more of the highlight and pushing those songs forward that we all know and love, and creating the strength of the set more in the strength of the songs. That’s not saying that we’re skimping on production at all, we’ve got some new production going on this time, we’ve got some screens some great stuff going on. And as I said, we’ve got the leather and studs, and the Harley coming out, I mean it’s just a great show. We played the first show in Rochester, upstate New York two days ago, and the next show tonight, and it just goes from strength to strength, we can’t wait and get all over the country and see you all.
NEMB: What’s your arsenal of guitars like on this tour?
RF: I’ve got, they’re all Gibson guitars. I’ve got three Les Pauls and I’ve got three Flying Vs, and they’re all customized in some way or another. What normally happens is I come out on tour, and you’ve got some fantastic guitar stores in the US. Mom-and-pop guitar stores down the back streets, where you may not be aware of them, but you stumble across them. I always do that, get to the hotel, drop my bags down, look up the local mom-and-pop guitar stores and see if we can go and find some treasure. So that guitar arsenal at the moment, I’ve got six out at the moment, but that’s subject to change. So we’ll see how many I end up with at the end of the tour.
NEMB: Do you have any good Spinal Tap-esque stories from tales on the road? Anything crazy that’s happened out there?
RF: It’s always a careful one to bring up stories, because there’s always stuff that happens, but it sometimes makes other people look silly, and I don’t think I should be the one to tell you. You know, Spinal Tap was so great because it was so true. Those moments absolutely do happen, you know most days, if not a few times a week at least. You know, getting lost on the stage, you know stupid things. The olives aren’t stuffed enough, or the ham isn’t the same size as the bread, that stuff it goes on, maybe not specifically those things, but things of that character go on. I’m sure if we had a few beers one night, I could probably tell you a few stories once the recorders are off, but it goes on all the time, I’ll just say that much.
I will tell you one thing, we were out in Brazil on the last Epitaph tour, and Rob came out on the bike, and the bike was on. So the bike was roaring, and he drove it too far on the stage. He got an idea that he would do another lap around the stage, and of course, crashes it into the speakers on the side of the stage, and you know tips the Harley over. For a couple of seconds, when you’re watching it, you don’t know what’s happening, I mean it’s a huge silver Harley, and you’ve got Rob underneath it. You don’t know what’s happening, what the outcome is, but he got up, he picked it up, the crowd went bananas, he got up on the bike, and he finished the show. So that was a bit of a Spinal Tap moment, the lead singer comes off the Harley Davidson on stage, you don’t get much more Spinal Tap than that.
NEMB: Watching you play, it seems pretty obvious that Randy Rhoads is a big influence on your. Is that a correct assumption?
RF: That’s interesting. Randy obviously was, yeah Randy was a huge influence. There were four or five guys which influenced me, and changed the way I play, if you like. Michael Shenker, Zakk Wylde, James Hetfield, Jimi Hendrix, you know those guys. Then there are other guys like Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Brian May, David Gilmore, those guys were always part of the influence, but not, say as much as Shenker or Zakk or whatever. But yeah, obviously I play a Les Paul and I’ve got blond hair and I’ve got a leather vest and studs, so there’s going to be some parallels drawn. It’s not a bad comparison to be compared to, if you know what I mean. So I humbly accept that comparison.
NEMB: Are there any newer metal bands on the scene that you’re a big fan of?
RF: Well I think the state of metal these days, you can’t really ignore the metal bands. You know, metal’s at the forefront of, let’s call it popular music, at the moment. You know you had the Priest record at number six in the Billboard chart, and I think Machine Head were number one, you know you can’t ignore Metal anymore. So you’ve got, I mean they’re not really a new band, really, but Machine Head, you’ve got bands like Avenged Sevenfold, bands like Halestorm, and they all kind of tip their hat to bands like Priest and Sabbath and Maiden. You know they’re new bands, but they’re not ashamed to put that metal stamp on what they do, and they’re not ashamed to reference the old guard of metal, like Priest and Sabbath. So i think it’s a healthy time, and it’s great to have metal and the forefront of what we call popular music. You know the top ten of the billboard chart, between all the Nicki Minaj and all that, you’ve got metal stomping it’s foot down, and saying “No, we’re still here, and still as loud as ever.” And in 2014, for Judas Priest after 40 years to get their first top ten billboard entry, I think that’s an incredible affirmation of the power of heavy metal, and the fans that put it there. So a big thanks to them, and long may it continue.
NEMB: Obviously you guys just put the album out, and you’re just starting the tour, but any thoughts as to what’s next? Or are you just going to do the tour and see what happens from there?
RF: Well at the moment, we are doing the States and Canada, through the end of November, and then we’re gonna take some time off for some Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas and the New Year. In the New Year we’re heading out to Australia and New Zealand, we’re looking at different options around the world. But I mean, these things always have a tendency to evolve. You can’t do New Zeland and Australia without doing Asia. You can’t do Asia without doing Europe. So we’ve got dates coming in all the time. It won’t be as intensive as I think the band has done in the past, you know. We won’t be doing six weeks in Texas, for example. But we’re going to try and get to as many places as we can, while cutting back a little bit on the intensity of the schedule. Not the show, but the scheduling. And then after that, who knows? I know, we’ve said it before, and I know Rob’s said it recently, that based on the creativity in the last “Redeemer of Souls” sessions, we don’t write off another Judas Priest record in the future. You know, it might not happen, but there’s a strong possibility based on those things I mentioned, that there might be another one in the future. So it’s a healthy time for Priest, and we’re looking forward to what the future holds.
NEMB: Excellent, me too. Richie, it’s been great talking to you, and I’m looking forward to the show in a couple of weeks.
RF: You too man, can’t wait to see you guys! We’ll see you very soon!
Check out New England Music Blog’s coverage of the October 14th stop of the tour at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, MA.