An interview with Glenn Tipton
by Scott Hefflon
It’s been years since Painkiller, your last album. When did the band break up, and when did you get your new singer?
In ’91 we lost our singer (Rob Halford, duh) as everyone knows. He chose to pursue other forms of music and who can blame him? We’ve always wished him well. Rob chose to leave and cut off all communication, which was stunning as we’ve always been very close in this band. It was fairly devastating for us as you can imagine. After touring and recording together for 15 to 20 years, to suddenly be without him without much warning was pretty devastating. It was at a time when we really needed a break anyway. We’d been on the road continually, and I think we all wanted to spend time with our families. So that’s what we did for a few years.
So you had no musical side projects during that time?
I’m very musical, very prolific, so I’m never very far from a guitar. But having said that, I don’t eat, live, breathe, and sleep guitar. I live in the country and I love the country. I love animals, I like to tour and travel… But I’m always puttering about, I’m somewhat of a warped professor at home, always got some idea or another. I always jot them down, so I’m ready whenever I decide to have a purge. We got together and decided to start looking for a singer. It might seem like a mission impossible, but we set out to find a better singer, because that’s the kind of standard we set for ourselves.
What were you looking for in a singer?
We obviously needed someone who could sing Priest classics as well if not better than ever, but we really needed someone with a belief in the band, a pride in the band like we’ve got. We wanted someone who’d contribute their own input and style into the music, someone looking toward the future, moving forward to the millennium. Most importantly, we needed someone who fit in with the band. When we started looking, we had over a thousand applicants. We whittled it down slowly but surely over the years – and we knew it was going to take years – because you can pick a good singer up anywhere, but we needed absolutely the right man. After three years, we had the list down to 30 auditions, scheduled to begin in March of ’97, but in February, Scott Travis, the drummer, came over and threw a video on the table saying, “You’ve got to check this guy out.” We couldn’t believe what we saw. He was in a Priest cover band, which some people think is strange but for us it made him an ideal candidate. He had total confidence on stage, and that’s very important. We booked him on a plane, and two days later he came to see us in a recording studio in Wales. He walked in, tired and disheveled, so we told him to get some sleep, we’d audition him in the morning. He said, “Do you really think I’m going to be able to sleep? I’m here to audition for Judas Priest.” That was our first impression of him, hungry and respectful. We put him in the studio and after the first verse of “Victim of Changes” we stopped the tape and gave him the gig. It was astounding, stunning. I looked at K.K., he looked at me, and we said, “We’ve got our man.”
How did he fit in personally?
Not only is he the best singer on the planet in our eyes, he has total faith in Priest, in metal, and he immediately fit in with us. We went down to the local pub that night, and it seemed like he’d always been there.
What about the age difference?
He’s 29, a great age because he’s seen and done a lot himself, but he’s still hungry and has a lot of enthusiasm. He’s also not so young he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Don’t you run into any perspective differences? Him being a fresh-faced 29 year old, and the rest of you being veteran metal gods… How old are you?
I’m a young 40 year old. I’ll tell you, the reason we’ve been around for 20 years is we’re adaptable, and we try different things. My record collection is full of death metal and South American bands – I love everything that’s going on currently, but I’m still unashamedly in a heavy metal band. One of the few people who’s brave enough to say that. Albeit a 1997, very current metal band, the Priest have always evolved. We’ve always had our ears to the ground. We get inspirations from the younger bands as we always have. Bands that have grown up and been weaned on Priest can still be inspirational to us in turn. You name it and I’ve probably got it in my record collection. I don’t just go out and get one record a week, I get them dozens at a time. And K.K. is the same. I think a lot of the old dinosaurs think they know it all, they’ve done it all, and they don’t need new inspiration. We’ve never felt that way. We’ve always felt we could learn from the younger acts.
Who are you going to take on tour?
We haven’t made that decision yet. At the moment, we’ve crossed one hurdle: we found a singer. Then we cut an album, now we look toward the tour in, I think, January. Before that we have to do a video and some promotions, and most importantly, we have to rehearse. When we were in the studio putting these new tracks down, we’d suddenly break into “Electric Eye,” “Victim of Changes,” “Metal Gods,” or “The Sentinel,” and it sent shivers down me backside.
Have you been playing those songs over the years or are you a little rusty?
We’re a little rusty, but it takes about three milliseconds to get back into it again. Particularly with someone like Ripper up front singing, it renews all our enthusiasm for playing these songs.
What did you think of the Priest tribute album on Century Media?
I think it was great. We were consulted a lot on it, and I think it came out very well. We’ve never really condoned tribute albums in the past, because one can’t really do a classic better than the original so why bother? But in this instance, we thought a lot of the bands did their interpretations, and they did a good job. (At this moment in time I nearly bit my tongue in half so I wouldn’t blurt out, “But ‘the best singer in the world’ was in a tribute band and that’s OK, huh?”)
Were there any covers that you really liked?
I rather liked (Strapping Young Lad’s) Devin Townsend’s track.
I only have a two-song sampler from Jugulator, which I guess is due out on Halloween. Is one of these going to be the single?
That’s one of the things we haven’t decided yet. We put the two songs out which are kind of representative of the album, but the album obviously covers a lot more ground.
What’s the new album like?
It’s very, very brutal. It’s the way we feel at the moment. There’s not much room for melody in there, and we weren’t in much of a melodic mood this time around. They’re fierce songs because we’re in a very fierce mood at the moment. The songs are fast, furious, powerful, and heavy. Yes, it’s a shame Rob left the band when he did, but we look back on the series of events then and now, and I think it’s probably the best thing that’s happened to this band. We’ve got young blood in the band, I had the time to do a solo album, I had the opportunity to dig deep to find what I really wanted out of this, and we now have a band that’s closer than ever, and totally focused on a direction. More than that, we have five people with their whole hearts in the band. I say this with no animosity whatsoever toward Rob.
I was a real fan of Painkiller, undoubtedly the heaviest album you’ve ever put out.
The two tracks you’ve heard, “Bloodstained” is a favorite track – very modern while being unmistakenly Priest. It’s got a lot of texture and depth, different styles, yet very heavy. Most of this record was written before we met “Ripper.” He came in and sang the songs we’d already written. I’m confident in the future we can utilize the breadth of his range even more. While being totally Priest, it adds a whole new dimension to be explored. I don’t mean to upset the purists, but Tim has more range, and more character in the mid-range than Rob had. I think “Bullet Train” is more representative of a traditional Priest song: D-tuned guitars, fast kicks, with lots of aggression. We’ve also got tracks on the album like “Braindead,” “Dead Meat, “Death Row,” and “Decapitate,” nothing lightweight.
Are there any epic ballads on the new album?
We do have one song, a nine-minute track called “Cathedral Spires” that ends in totally dramatic death-chant, full of grandeur. It’s a Priest classic, much like a modern version of “Beyond the Realms of Death” but much more serious, much darker. It starts out quite beautiful, but ends up completely… I don’t quite know how to describe it…
You write the songs and I’ll describe them. That’s the deal. What about all the guitar geeks out there who buy Guitar for the Practicing Musician and learn all your solos, note for note? Are there screaming solos to appease the screaming masses?
There are definitely solos, but we didn’t belabor the point. Not that it’s very important to us, but current trends don’t demand lengthy lead breaks. We break the rules whenever we want anyway, but it’s safe to say K.K. and I were in a crunchy riff mood. We put riff on top of riff on top of riff on this album. We wanted to push the horizon of what metal can be, and although there’s quite a bit of lead work on there for the tourists, it’s not particularly in a lengthy block. We intersperse licks and bits and pieces throughout rather than having them in one laborious section.
But there are a few dueling leads to sink our teeth into?
Of course. There’s still some pristine K.K. Downing/Glenn Tipton leadwork to enjoy.
This is the second record Scott Travis played drums on, right?
Right. He also played on Painkiller. In the early days, we had the double kick, but then we changed mood with Dave Holland. When Dave left, we went straight back to what we know and love best: Fast and furious mayhem.