Q&A: Rob Halford

SoundSpike, July 16th, 2010

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Rob Halford is one busy metalhead. For almost four decades now, the Birmingham, England choirboy turned "Metal God" has been the soaring, shrieking voice of seminal heavy metal act Judas Priest. No mere studs-and-leather figurehead, mind you, Halford is also emerging as a bit of an entertainment titan in the metal world.

When not devoting himself to the band he helped catapult to worldwide success or designing clothing for his new line of metal wear, he puts out material with his eponymous side project on his own label, Metal God Records. "Halford IV: Made of Metal" is set to drop Oct. 5, and the band will kick off its summer tour this weekend in San Francisco (July 17) before joining the Ozzfest crew for August and then hurtling off to Japan for the fall.

But even the Creator got to rest on the seventh day, and SoundSpike wrangled a divine audience when the deity of all things metallic paused in his molten orbit to answer some of our more burning questions.

SoundSpike: What's it like being the "Metal God?"

Rob Halford: (Laughter) What's it...? Sorry for laughing. (Laughter) Because I do have fun with it. I love it. The fans have been calling me that forever, and it's just a real treat, you know? I've been called a lot of things in my life, but "the Metal God" -- it's just tremendous. And I guess it brings some things to the table, really. I mean, you've got to maintain that virtue, if you want to call it that, that the fans have given you. I just don't want to drop the ball or have a bad game, as they say on the pitch.

Who are your own metal gods?

It's quite a list as far as singers go -- because a lot of them are singers. Sadly, I'll start with the late, great Ronnie Dio. He was and still is a tremendous influence to me when I hear his voice. Very inspiring -- makes me want to sing, you know? Same with Ozzy, same with Brian [Johnson] from AC/DC, Bruce [Dickinson] from [Iron] Maiden. There've been a number of metal singers -- and I say singers, not growlers -- that really motivate me.

Your own singing style is one of the most influential and distinctive in metal. Do you do anything special to keep limber?

No I don't, actually. I mean, I don't drink and I don't smoke and I don't drug. I've been clean and sober for 25 years, and I think that's probably had a lot to do with my physical condition as I hurtle to 59 [years old] this August. Just being sensible, really. It is an instrument like I say, and if you respect it and you treat it well, it should hold together.

Are you planning to join Sound Strike, the artist boycott of Arizona in protest of their immigration laws?

I think music can either be a fist or an open hand, and mine's always been open-handed, quite frankly -- even though it sounds like a fist, or some of it does. I understand the idea behind the project, but I don't particularly agree with silence. I think it's much more useful for everybody to sit by the table and have an intelligent, amicable argument, and try and reconcile the discord.

How are Priest fans responding to Halford?

With Judas Priest we've always said that we always only wanted to be accepted and recognized as a heavy metal band. We love that name, we love that label. But then, what is Judas Priest? Is Judas Priest "Loch Ness?" Is Judas Priest "Living After Midnight," "Breaking the Law," "Painkiller," "Turbo Lover?" I'm really happy that I've spent my life in a band like Judas Priest because it's always an adventure. It's not a band that keeps replicating itself and staying in one dimension and approach and direction. You never know from one release to the next what to expect. And I think that moves into my solo activities as well. I mean, OK -- I'm firmly ensconced in the public arena as being a metal musician, but it's a lot more than that. It's a much bigger sphere of ideas and thinking than just saying, "This is Rob. He's a screaming metal singer with a screaming metal band."

So how would you characterize Halford in terms of metal genres?

Well, I think we need to come up with a new name because I don't think we can really pinpoint it. We had a release just recently called "The Mower," which has already been described in more ways than one as a metal song. Multidimensional metal? There's a new word. Because I think that's what the Halford band does, it kind of takes on a lot of different characters and a lot of different positions from the musical point of view. I mean, we're not a classic metal band, we're not a death metal band, a black metal band, a thrash metal band, a nu/core metal band, a prog metal band -- there's all these different things. It's playing. Just playing some tunes.

You recently had a contest for your opening act in San Francisco. How did you pick the winner, Cylinder?

One hundred and fifty bands contacted the office and I went to 150 MySpace pages, and listened to every band. It was absolutely fantastic. The variety more than anything else was just so exciting, and the scope of the different bands from brand new young bands that had only been together for a year to bands that have been together forever. I think I chose a band really in the essence of what an opening act should be about. When you open up for somebody, you try and bring in a band that kind of captures the spirit of the night, musically. So I settled on Cylinder and I think they're going to do a really good gig.

What advice do you have for musicians starting out these days, especially considering the recession and how it's hit the music industry?

Don't let what's going on around you distract you. All that matters is your music. I mean, if you're in a garage and you all show up and you've got an hour to play, that's the most important thing in your life at that moment. Focus on your music and then deal with the other things afterwards. Don't come together for an hour of jamming and be talking about the fucking oil spill -- which is horrific -- or that the gays can't get married yet, or that the state of the world is dire economically. Don't worry about any of that. Just concentrate on your music, and if those things that are going on in the world around you are having an impact on you, then put it in your music lyrically and work through that. Being a young, new musician is just about being true to yourself, believing in what you do, and trying to have some fun doing it.

--Melissa Henderson