So is this tour, the Epitaph Tour, really your last?
It will be our last world tour, yes. We've got at least another album in us, if not more. It's more like the beginning of the end, rather than the actual end.
What countries are you hitting?
We've already done most of South America—Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica. We'd never played those places before. Now we're in the United States, and we're off to the Far East in February—Japan, Singapore, Korea. We're not exactly sure, and there's some open-ended dates still, at the moment.
What's the most memorable thing from your really early days of touring?
It's funny you should say that—I just put a diary on my website, some of the old stories. I wrote about Texas today. In the early days, we played in San Antonio quite a bit. A certain disc jockey there gave us a lot of airplay, sorta helped to kick-start us. I think our first tour—it was so long ago—we did six weeks, just in Texas. We used to cover a lot of ground all over the States. I remember one time, we had been touring and touring and touring the US. We were all really homesick, ready to go home, when two dates came up with Led Zeppelin on the West Coast. We HAD to stick around—we had no money, and we had to stay in these awful motels with no air conditioning for weeks and weeks to do these two Zeppelin gigs. We had to do them, though—it was a chance we couldn't miss, and it did us a lot of good.
It's been almost 40 years of touring!
When I saw you here in Washington, Rob Halford rode out onstage on a Harley. What's the most extravagant thing you've done for a show?
Every show's pretty extravagant! People expect this at a Judas Priest show—there's lasers, planes, motorcycles, FIRE! As a band, we've got to know where not to be on the stage at certain times, or we could get toasted. Touring has always been the most important thing for us. We like punctuality, and making sure the kids get their money's worth.
Have you ever seen the documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot?
Yeeeeah, I've seen that, yes...
What did you think of it?
Um, I was speechless, really.
It reminds me of shows back in the day, for sure—I was one of those kids...
I think in those days, people used to get a lot more drunk before the concert than at the actual show.
Do you have a favorite Priest song?
A favorite Priest song? That's an impossible question to answer! Every Priest song has got so much character. I do like the songs on Painkiller—when we're onstage performing, there's nothing better than playing "Living After Midnight" or "Breaking the Law," because everybody goes crazy. To hear everybody, so many people, singing along with us... it's very emotional.
Do you have a favorite audience?
Not really—we're fortunate that we're popular throughout the world. The Japanese audiences are very excitable, American audiences are very, well, metal... South American countries really love heavy metal, too. Every country's got its own character. What is probably most underestimated is the current popularity of metal as a genre. We go to places like Turkey, Iraq, or Chile—all sorts of corners of the earth, and thousands of kids turn up. They're all there for one common enjoyment, and that's music and heavy metal. I think heavy metal's an extremely underestimated form of music.
Are there any new metal bands that you really enjoy?
I listen to everything across the board, and some metal. I also listen to classical music and film scores—very grand things. Those really inspire me. I think grabbing your inspiration from other areas, and then channeling them into heavy-metal compositions, it helps give songs unique character.
You guys have always sounded unique because you have twin lead guitars...
Well, we work very hard. I mean, you probably know now that K. K. Downing left the band? Richie [Faulkner] has joined, and just amazed us, but he's not permanently in the band. Otherwise, myself and Ken [K. K.] have worked together for years—and we worked very hard at deploying the twin guitars, the dual lead, the trade-offs, and the stereo rhythm guitar. We used to sit down and write—myself, Rob, and Ken—and we never really knew what we were gonna come up. We tried to make guitars more versatile and make them do more for the songs. It was fun always trying to think up new guitar sounds—like on Turbo, we were using synthesized guitars. At the time, it wasn't quite what people expected of us. Now if you hear us play Turbo live, it's one of the heaviest numbers we play. Experimenting and always trying new things doesn't always work, but usually something good comes out of it. I think you have to always try.
With 40 years under your belt, what sort of advice would you give to young metalhead kids that are just picking up the guitar for the first time?
Just to believe in yourself... believe in yourself and work really hard—nothing comes without effort. You have to put in hours and hours and hours of practice. It's most important, though, to realize your own character and find your own style. If you only sound like other people, then you only end up playing what they play. The most important thing is to quickly develop your own style, and then progress from there. I think that's very, very important.