Before the pandemic hit, Judas Priest had grand plans for 2020 – particularly, celebrating a half-century of their existence with a global jaunt, dubbed the 50 Heavy Metal Years Tour. However, like all other performers, they had to scrap their plans and wait it out.
But their break finally came to an end on August 15, 2021, when Priest performed a headlining set at Bloodstock Festival in the UK, with a full-on tour of the US starting on September 8th, and a Euro tour kicking off in early 2022.
One half of Priest’s guitar tandem, Richie Faulkner, spoke with Guitar World shortly before the launch of the tour.
Priest’s first performance in two years occurred recently at Bloodstock – how did it feel to finally get back on stage?
“It was an incredibly emotional experience for me, personally. From not being on stage for two years, from all the uncertainty that we’ve all had to deal with in the last 18 months, two years. For it all to come to a head in that setting – with 20,000-plus metal maniacs, a new setlist, and new production... and hopefully turning a corner in the way that all this is going with live music – it was just an incredible emotional moment, really.
“I won’t spoil it for anyone, but there were some songs that the band have never played before – or haven’t played in a very long time. Powerful songs for me as a fan to be up there playing after so long off and so much uncertainty, was just an emotional experience.
“I had a pair of sunglasses on, and it was a good thing I did, really – because I shed an emotional tear underneath those sunglasses. Because it was a powerful, coming together of fans, music, and a celebration for live music and heavy metal. It was a big deal.”
How was the setlist determined? Because I give Priest a lot of credit – unlike some veteran rock/metal bands, Priest reintroduces rarities for each tour.
“We look at what we’ve done on the previous tour or the previous leg – whether it’s an album or live show, there’s an unwavering priority on ‘How do we make it a bigger, better, new, unheard of experience for the fans that have put the band there for the last 50 years?’
“So, we look at what we’ve done on the last tour or tour leg, what we haven’t done in a while, what we haven’t done ever or what the band haven’t played in a long time, new stuff, old stuff. And then, ‘Are there any landmarks that we need to hit?’ – in terms of albums and stuff like that.
“There’s a dynamic in the set – there’s a ‘party dynamic’ and there’s a ‘serious dynamic,’ and there’s a ‘moody dynamic’ and there’s a ‘fast dynamic.’ So, we’ve got to get that journey through the set right.
“And then, we throw out ideas. Literally, me and Rob [Halford] write all the songs down in a big list of about 50 contenders, and we cut them out. We put them in lists. It’s kind of old-school, but you can see them in front of you and you can move them around.
“Once we’ve got a ballpark set, we try it out in rehearsals, and if it works, we go with it. But usually, we have to move a few things around – for the dynamic. And we go from there. Again, not spoiling anything for anyone, but the setlist we put together for Bloodstock in the UK seems to be getting some real strong, positive feedback from the fans on the internet, so I think we may have got it almost right.”
How do you compare playing with Andy [Sneap] to playing with Glenn [Tipton]?
“Glenn is a 50-year veteran and a rock star. [Laughs] Glenn just being there elevates the ‘rock star level’ another 50% in my opinion. I had Glenn in my cassette collection, I had Glenn’s picture on my wall with K.K. [Downing]. I didn’t have Andy’s picture on my wall.
“But there’s no difference of admiration, really – Andy is up there, he’s doing his bit, and he’s taking the challenge on, when we asked him to fill in for Glenn. He’s risen from strength to strength, really. So, the admiration for Andy is there, as well – just a different one. I didn’t have Andy on my wall as a kid.
“But Andy is a very take-the-bull-by-the-horns type guy, and he’s getting more comfortable with the songs and being up there. All credit to him. Obviously there’s a difference, but they have the same tenacity and drive to do their best. You can only give them respect for that.”
What is your current guitar setup?
“On one hand, it’s very simple. I’ve always been an amp head and stompbox type of guy from playing in the pubs, and that’s carried on to the Priest world.
“So, I’m playing Wizard heads, and I’ve got an MXR Carbon Copy Delay, an MXR Chorus, a wah pedal, and that’s it. All the high-tech stuff goes into the switching.
“To be honest with you, I’ve got no desire to know anything about that – as long as I can put the patches on that I want. But it basically controls the amps and the effects speaking to each other as I kick them in and out, and switch amps and stuff throughout the show. Again, that’s my tech’s world, really. But at the heart of it, it’s amp and pedals.
“And I’ve been using – exclusively with Priest – Gibson guitars. I’ve been using Flying Vs and Explorers the last couple of years. And Les Pauls – I’ve always been a Les Paul player. And we’re working on a signature Flying V with Gibson at the moment. So, I’ve got a couple of those prototypes out with me with signature EMG pickups in there, which I’m looking at releasing with EMG.
“But they’re all based on guitars that I’ve used and modified and grown with over the last 10 years. So, the V has a double pickguard, it’s Pelham Blue, ebony neck, block inlay, Floyd Rose. And the Explorers I use, they’ve all been customized in some way or another. But it’s all Gibson guitars and EMG pickups. I’m a ‘cable guy’ – I don’t like radio wireless systems. It’s a pretty simple arsenal. It’s just the switching that gets a bit complicated.
“I’ve always been about Gibson guitars. Gibsons do the job – since I was introduced to them. It will really never be anything other than Gibson for me. Whereas amplifiers, I’m not as committed. I don’t know really what goes into them.
“I think there are four KT88 power tubes. And apart from that, it’s a heavy-sounding amp, but the Wizards, there is a midrange quality which I really like. A midrange ‘bark’ – it’s not really that scooped. I like mids in your face.
“If you imagine that old Metallica curve – where you have tons of bottom end, the scooped mids, and the high treble – mine is the opposite. I boost the mids the other way. So, there’s tons of mids and it’s right in your face. Sometimes it makes it a bit harder to play, but I think it cuts through and is really in your face.
“All the tone controls are on 10 – treble, middle, bass, everything on 10. Gain is around half and volume is up loud. It’s pretty simple – there’s not really a lot of magic going on with them. They’re just good, solid, loud amplifiers.”
How is work coming along on Priest’s next studio album?
“Obviously, we faced some challenges with schedules due to the pandemic. We wanted to keep it the same dynamic as [latest album] Firepower – as we all got together, played the songs in pre-production before recording them. Obviously, we haven’t been able to do that in the last 18 months because of the pandemic.
“So, we’ve got a ton of stuff written and a ton of songs almost ready to go. We just need to get together and start playing them together and ‘trimming the fat,’ as they say.
“You get a sense of that when you play them together – you get a feeling for ‘we need an extra bit here’ or ‘we need to trim that bit there.’ Just to sharpen those songs up and give them the last 20 percent.
“So, once we are able to do that, we can get in a room together, play them, trim the fat, and record them, we will. But we’ve got a bunch of songs that are pretty ready to go and they sound fantastic. We just want to put them down properly and release them to the world. So, I can’t give you a date, but as soon as we can, we’ll get in there and start work on that.”
If you had to pick a favorite solo on a Priest album you’ve played on, what would it be?
“I think Rising From Ruins from the Firepower record was one of my favorites. Traitors Gate from the same record. And why? I don’t know. Sometimes, they resonate with you, or you accomplish everything you wanted to say with that guitar solo.
“I remember when I joined the band, my influences were – and still are – very much on my sleeve. You know, there’s Zakk Wylde, Michael Schenker, and Dave Murray – it would be silly to try and hide those influences. But when I joined the band, it became about, ‘What am I doing to say? These guys have got their voice... what’s my voice going to be?’
“So, I think those solos are some of my favorites because they contain what I think is my voice. Now, someone else could think completely different and they sound like Michael Schenker solos, and that’s fine. But I think they’re my favorites because they contain what I think is my voice in there somewhere. So, I’m going to go with those two.”
Which Priest classics are most fun for you to play?
“My favorites are Victim of Changes, The Sentinel, Freewheel Burning, One Shot at Glory, Painkiller is always a blast. Purely because of the history of those songs and how much they mean to me and all the fans. And from a guitar point of view, the dynamics – the soft passages, the fast passages, the harmonies. They’re just a rollercoaster for a guitar player.”
What are the band's future plans?
“As you know, we’re just about to embark on our first American tour in two years. So that’s the immediate future. We’ve all been out of work facing struggles because of the pandemic. So, to be back out in the US taking this production out is incredible.
“Also, as I said, we want to try to get some time soon to start putting down songs for the new record. And then hopefully, we will tour that, as well. Nothing is set in stone, but if we start the next tour cycle now, it will go on for the next 18 months, get in the studio, put it out, and do it again.
“The future for Priest is looking quite bright at the moment. Just get out on the road and start getting some shows under our belt.”
Why do you think Priest has not yet been admitted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
“I don’t know. And I don’t think it means much, anyway. It’s my own opinion – it’s not the opinion of the band or anyone specific in the band – but I just think if you have an institution called ‘The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’ and bands like Priest and Iron Maiden aren’t in there, it almost means more to not be in it.
“And I think to be carrying on and blazing forward with new music and new tours after 50 years, loved by the fans and being given that lifeblood by the fans for 50 years, I think that is more of an accolade than any ornament on a shelf. We’ll see what happens, but it doesn’t really mean much to me.”
- Judas Priest tour the USA throughout September and October – head to the band's official website (opens in new tab) for full dates.