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Rob Halford Loves Being in Judas Priest More Than Ever, Reflects on 30th Anniversary of ‘Turbo’ [Interview]

Rob Halford (Judas Priest)
Ethan Miller, Getty Images

The ‘Metal God’ Rob Halford was a guest on Full Metal Jackie’s weekend radio program. The two discussed the 30th anniversary of Judas Priest‘s polarizing ‘Turbo’ album, how the music on this record sounded particularly American as well as the singer’s rampant substance abuse at the time, sobriety on the supporting tour and a lot more. Check out the chat below.

Judas Priest has been around such a long time that every year there is new stuff to celebrate. This year celebrating the re release of the 10th studio album, Turbo, which was originally planned to be a double album. Why was that idea dropped?

We were in a place, at the time, where it’s not peculiar for Priest, I think. A lot of bands hit this kind of groove where there’s an enormous amount of material that keeps flowing down the pipeline. And that was the case with Priest. And, as I can remember, we started writing the music out in Spain in Marbella. We rented a beautiful property on the beach and at that particular point there was myself, and Glenn [Tipton, guitar] and K.K. [Downing, guitar] and we were just burning the metal edge, you know.

We had an enormous amount of material and we were at one point hoping to make this record that in our minds was going to be called Twin Turbo. Anyway, for whatever reason that didn’t quite hit the mark and so we condensed everything down to what finally came about to be the track list in the Turbo release.

What changed most about Turbo once it became just a single album?

I think we just generally focused in on a lot of things that were going on at the time, not only with Priest, but with the rock and metal scene particularly here in America. I’ve been thinking the last few days about this record and what it really means to me in terms of its location. And I think of all the records that Priest has made, Turbo has the most American feel or vibe about it, as I can really use in reference to the other Priest material. You can’t say that about Painkiller, you can’t say that about Sad Wings of Destiny, you can’t say that about Defenders of the Faith.

There’s something particularly American about Turbo and maybe that was where we were coming together. Maybe subconsciously. You listen to the title track, you listen to “Wild Nights,” “Locked In,” “Parental Guidance,” “Private Property,” they all have a very kind of unique Americana type of thing about them. And so something gelled. I don’t think it was a particular plan, but I think it’s just the way the songs coalesced together to give you that special vibe.

Turbo was the most polarizing album album in the Priest catalog. How aware were you that maybe this album had a bit of a risk factor to it?

It certainly was what I call the black sheep of the family at the time. We’d just come off the back of two big releases, hadn’t we, with [Screaming forVengeance and Defenders of the Faith? But I think what this really pushed on more than anything else was that Priest has always worked hard to try and give each of our records their own definition, give them their own character, their own leg to stand on. And that’s where we were with Turbo. You push it up against some of the other material that came before and after that and it is in a unique place. And now, of course, as a reference to everything that we’ve made in the four decades or so that Priest has been together, it is looked at with a bit of affection.

Remember we just got back from that big world tour that finished last December in 2015 — when Glenn fired up the intro to “Turbo [Lover]” on that Redeemer of Souls tour, wherever we were in the world the place just, the roof lifted. So it’s one of these albums, it’s one of these songs, it’s one of these times in Priest history now that is really taken in a different way and a great way. And I think people have kind of looked beyond the friction of some of the music and what it instilled and now they’re just digging it for the songs, there’s some really cool material on Turbo.

Rob, you were going through a rough time in your life during the making of Turbo. How much of your personal life made its way into what you were singing on that album?

You know, I was in a very dark place but by the grace of God I got through it all. I was really going through my substance abuse at the time. I remember trying to do a track in the record plant in Los Angeles and I don’t know how I got through it. I’m surprised to listen to my performances, how they were able to kind of — at least, make it through the speakers. So I put myself in a place where I think a lot of us can relate. I was surrounded by great people who helped me through some of those difficulties.

When we went out on the Turbo tour, my first ever sober show was at the Tingley Coliseum in Albuquerque, N.M. I can remember that as vividly as yesterday. So, it was a dark time, but it was also the moment where I began to see the light at the first time. It was really the beginning of a new life for me in metal. For me, Turbo does have a lot of emotion connected to it in that side of the music, that’s for sure.

Rob, so many Judas Priest songs really stand the test of time. What changes about the way you approach making music when you become aware that people will always be listening to it?

It’s a very difficult question to answer to some extent, Jackie, because I think you always gotta be aware that you were put into a place of success by the amazing fans that look after you. The fans who come to a show. The fans who get a record. The fans who get a t-shirt. There’s a very special bond, we call our fans a Priest Family because we’re so tight with each other.

Having said that, I think our fans appreciate that the heart of what we do — there’s this Priest world and Priest life in our music. I think our fans want to explore that and have as much variety and have as much adventure with it as we possibly can. So I think it’s very important for bands to try and keep a hold on the perspective as to who this is about and what you’re trying to achieve together. But even now, when Priest is writing new material, the fans are always in the back of our minds. That’s without a doubt. There is that bond, that fluid connectivity that has always been there in Priest since day one and the fans that support us.

Judas Priest has been part of your life for most of your life. What changes most with time about a band being so prominent to your identity?

Well I think it’s just a learning experience as you go along. We’re still the band we were from day one and that’s what I like about that side of Priest. We haven’t really changed that much in terms of our character or as people. We still have this grounded belief system and where we came from and the work we put into to where we are now in terms of really staying focused and giving the best that you possibly can. Don’t let anything split out that’s kind of below par. Always be as close as your heart will be to making the best metal that you can make. So, a lot of it is the same in essence, in that respect.

Of course you talk about the life journey and you do grow and you do — your wisdom comes along into your life whether you want it to or not. I think where I’m at personally now is probably more committed and more dedicated and more in love with Judas Priest, our metal and our fans than I ever was before. I think to some extent, this band is more strengthened and more determined as you know than we ever had before in terms of our connection to all things metal.

Heavy metal would be much different without a city like Birmingham with acts like Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin all have strong roots. How has Los Angeles also been important to you as a cultural influence that affected your music?

Well, they’re terribly important and again I think we’ve said many times that we’re aware as much as we can be with what’s going on around us, even now. You know I go way back, Jackie and I’m always excited. I’m always curious and interested about what’s happening in the metal scene around the world.

But Los Angeles is still a very important reference for a capital of music. Any week you’ll find a band jamming at the bar or club or wherever it might be within the Los Angeles area. It still is very much American between the two sides of the nation between L.A. and New York and that’s not discounting the other great things that are happening in the other parts of the U.S. But just talking about L.A. as a place and as a hotbed of activity. As we’re talking now there’s a new band getting together, there’s a new band jamming and making a record and I think that’s what is some of the most exciting things about what’s coming out of the L.A. scene.

The deluxe reissue includes a concert recorded in Kansas City about six months after you got sober. I know you touched on this, but what do you remember most about those first shows after such a major lifestyle change?

Well, just that I was going out there with what I felt and still feel more than ever, about having my priorities in the right place which was to go out there and do my best work and not disappoint the fans. When you put your hard [earned] money down to buy a ticket, you deserve the best possible show that you can experience. So, for me, from where I was standing at the mic, I felt like I was suddenly able to commit and to connect in a way that I wasn’t able to do prior to that moment.

That wasn’t just for me, again, it was more inclusive. You’re in a band, you have a responsibility to all of your bandmates, as much as your crew, as much as your label and everybody who is with you and loving what you’re doing and getting out the same kind of power and love and experience out of a show. It’s all there in a particularly unique way where you’re able to hit the boards with just the mic in your hand and metal in your heart. If you can find a way of doing that, it’s the best feeling in the world. Even now when I go out, I’m floating on it when I’m singing in the stage of life that I’m in right now.

Rob, I don’t know if you’re discussing what’s going on in terms of the new album or touring, but is there anything else you can tell us what’s to come for the rest of 2017?

We’re still focusing on writing and recording the new music. We have some amazing things we can’t wait to share with our fans and as we get closer to that time you and I will be talking and breaking the news and getting all of our fans updates on what’s happening next in the Priest world.

Thanks to Rob Halford for the interview. Get your copy of the 30th anniversary deluxe edition of ‘Turbo’ at Amazon or digitally through iTunes. Stay up to date with everything Judas Priest by following the band on Facebook and find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show at this location.

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