Few bands can lay claim to being ‘legendary’ and even fewer bands can lay claim to having a hand in forging an entirely new style of music. The mighty Judas Priest is one of those esteemed few, and Ian Hill, bassist for the veteran Birmingham heavy metal group, was there when it all began.
Back in 2010, the band announced the Epitaph World Tour, describing the then-upcoming dates as the band’s farewell. And though the band later revealed that this simply meant they were “winding down” and not quitting, Hill tells Music Feeds that the very idea of the latter is petrifying to the band members.
According to the West Bromwich native, there was no reason not to continue and continue they did, recently unveiling Redeemer of Souls, the band’s 17th studio album. Catching up with Hill, we discussed the new album, the band’s future, their past, and their upcoming spot on the Soundwave 2015 tour.
Music Feeds: Glenn called Nostradamus Priest’s farewell album, though he admitted it wouldn’t necessarily be the last, while Rob mentioned winding down the band. What precipitated a return, considering you gave fans some time to get used to the idea of a world without a forthcoming Priest album or tour?
Ian Hill: I think one of the catalysts to do this album was Richie [Faulkner, guitarist]. He brought a lot of enthusiasm and he sent it to the band, that’s not to mention youth [laughs] We started kicking ideas around. The ideas were good, they were prolific, and there wasn’t any reason not to do the record.
It was quality music, it’s top notch. The record company was keen, obviously. Our management was keen, so we went ahead and did it. And it turned out really well.
MF: You guys went into this new album consciously wanting to make a classic-style Priest album. How much of the “classic-ness” was inspired just by the fact that you guys have been at it for 40 years? Did the Epitaph Tour put you guys in a retrospective mindset at all?
IH: I think at least subconsciously yes, it did. We’d just come off, as you say, the Epitaph Tour, and we’d obviously not just played the biggest songs that we ended up playing onstage, but had delved back through all the years and listened to all the early albums, just to figure out which songs we were gonna play off ’em. Then of course when we had to do new stuff, it’s there.
It’s there and it’s gotta have some sort of influence on new material. We did set out to try and cover all aspects of Priest. We’ve done all kinds of music over the years – fast, slow, heavy, commercial, and everything in between. We tried to make an album that would portray all those different aspects of the band. And I suppose obviously you’d have to delve back a little bit to cover some of the areas.
Listen: Judas Priest – Halls of Valhalla
MF: Is there a song from the new album that you think will become a classic Judas Priest song?
IH: It’s early days, I suppose. Valhalla is already a fan favourite in Britain, at least. We’ve had a load of feedback from that. Crossfire, the old ones like that song [laughs] That riff, you can hear that kind of material in the old Cream [albums], old blues players.
Is it a classic? It could be any one of a number. It’s early days yet. We’ve played a few of them and seen fan reactions to the ones we’ve played. It’s about five at the moment that we’re kicking around. It’s hard to say, there’s probably gonna be one or two, yeah.
MF: Can you tell us about Never Forget? It sounds like something of a swan song, but Rob referred to it as more of a thank-you to fans. What’s your view?
IH: Yeah, we’re all getting on. We’ve had a long career and we wouldn’t be here without the fans and the older you get, you start to realise how important they are. Not that we’ve ever taken our fans for granted, of course. You do realise you have a huge debt of gratitude to them after all those years of supporting the band.
So it’s just that, it’s a thank-you to the fans. There’s a couple of songs on there like that, but Never Forget just about sums it up. We’re intending to continue. We’re not gonna halt, I think the thought of that, of not doing it, terrified all of us. So we’re gonna carry on. I mean this tour is not slowing down, it looks like it’s gonna be a regular tour. Five shows a week, that’s a regular Priest tour.
MF: Priest will soon be in the country for Soundwave, which we must talk about. What have you got planned for that tour?
IH: Early days yet. It’s not until early next year. It’ll be something derivative of the stage set we’re doing now. We’re just starting off in America and then off into Australia in the new year and Southeast Asia. So the set and setlist will be something similar to that.
We’re looking forward to it. We’ve heard of all these festivals in Australia for years and years and for some reason it’s never been around at the right time, we’ve never been able to do ’em. So we’re looking forward to experiencing the great festivals you have over there.
MF: How much of the set will be new material? Will it be a 50/50 split of classics and Redeemer of Souls?
IH: It’s a nightmare! [laughs] It’s not quite finalised yet, we haven’t started band rehearsals. We’re kicking things around. We’re gonna try and put as many new songs in as we can, because it’s a new album and we’re proud of how it turned out. But for every new song you put in, you’ve gotta drop somebody’s favourite.
You have to have a compromise there. Obviously, we still enjoy playing the old songs. We have to be wary of what songs we drop. We’re putting in as many of the fan favourites as we can in the set.
MF: Is what you’re trying to get across to the audience today the same as 20 or 30 years ago or have your motivations changed?
IH: Absolutely not. We just love doing it. There’s no more motivation than that. As I say, we’re all petrified of not doing it, because we all enjoy it so much. To be able to do something that you love for a living is unbelievable. I look back on my career with a great sense of privilege, really.
I love the travel, I love playing, I love the people you meet, the places you visit. I love all of it. And that’s our motivation to do any of this. We’ve had long careers and none of us need to do it, but we do it because we love it.
Listen: Judas Priest – Dragonaut
MF: Is there anyone on the lineup that you’re looking forward to seeing live or getting to know?
IH: I haven’t even looked at the lineup yet! [laughs] I’m busy learning songs and things. I’ve got my head down at the moment. We only learned a few weeks ago that we’ll be doing this festival. I’ll have to have a look and see who’s on there. There’s bound to be a few old friends.
MF: Do you keep up-to-date with what’s going on in the metal scene? We know Rob checks the blogs regularly.
IH: Not as much as Rob, no, I must admit. Obviously, I hear what’s on metal radio and the stuff in the car when I’m driving. But I don’t actively seek it out. I’m a bit stuck in my ways, I’m afraid. What I’m listening to is basically the stuff I’ve been listening to for the last 40 years. I listen to the old favourites.
MF: Who are some of your favourites?
IH: Oh, Cream, Hendrix, John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac, Purple, Sabbath, Zeppelin. I love all of it. There’s not much room for the new stuff.
MF: When you’re listening to the new stuff, are you doing that in a musically analytical way or do you sit back and appreciate it as something that’s part of a scene you helped forge?
IH: Oh, analysing it, I drive my wife mad with that. I think it’s like anything, really. If you’re a truck driver and go and sit with someone else in the truck, you’re gonna critique his driving. It’s the same in any walk of life. What you do for a living, you start to analyse it. Seeing how things fit together and songs fit together. I do drive people mad with that.
MF: Something we always like to ask metal bands is if you ever get frustrated with the cliched metalhead closed-mindedness? Metal fans tend to like what they like and so much as a clean vocal could turn them off a band forever, yet Priest have done it all.
IH: It’s always been there though, hasn’t it? I think in a way, human beings are partisan, aren’t they?
IH: Yeah, you follow a band or you follow a football team or rugby team… The thing is recently, well, over the last 15 years, 20 years even, metal sort of fragmented, didn’t it? It went in its different avenues. The older bands like ourselves and Maiden and Sabbath, we were quite versatile. We’d do things that would make you weep and we’d do things that would make you scared. And everything in between.
But these days, you’re a speed metal band, you’re a goth metal band, you’re a grunge band, and that’s all they do. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, don’t get me wrong. But there’s no versatility within any one band at the moment. The versatility is there but they’re in separate avenues.
I think it’d be great if a band could come along and be unafraid to do the commercial stuff, do the slow stuff, do the ballads. It’s all part of metal, at the end of the day. But the only people that are doing it are the older bands, if you don’t mind me saying.
MF: Rob’s proudly stated that the band aren’t jaded or cynical, even 40 years in. Are there things that are out there to be cynical or jaded about? How have you and the other members of Judas Priest avoided them?
IH: Stagnation. That’s something to avoid. With every album and tour, we’ve always tried to take a little step forward here and there. Bands get a formula and that’s all they do. People love ’em for it. We’ve never done that, we’ve always tried to push the envelope a little bit.
Anything that’s come along, any recording technique or gadget, we’ve always had a go at it. If it sounds good, we’ll use it, if it doesn’t, we won’t. And I think that’s the secret, not to stagnate. Try and move forward.
MF: Well, thank-you so much for your time, Ian. Good luck to West Brom against Swansea.
IH: Ah, that’s my boy!
Judas Priest’s new album, ‘Redeemer of Souls’, is available now.
Listen: Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls