The Priest is back! With an impressive brand new release “Firepower”, Judas Priest surprised friend and foe with a damn solid album, one of their strongest efforts of their long careers. Of course we jumped at the chance of getting to talk with one of the guys of the band when the opportunity arose. At Graspop Metal Meeting we met up with Ian Hill, the bassist and only original member left in the band and had an interesting talk with him…
We want to go back to the beginning first. Nowadays young metalbands have a lot of inspiration when starting their bands and making their music. How was that for you? Bringing a really new genre to the world, along with the other first metal bands of course.
Yeah it didn’t happen overnight, it evolved over 10 years really. When we started out we were just a heavy rock band, you know? We got on from there, started to leave the blues feel alone and go for the heavier stuff. And it evolved like I said. All the various components really came together on “British Steel” and that was where everything was in place. Before then the music was there, but the image wasn’t quite there. We were still in velvets and things like that, you know the hippy touch. But after that everything came together and we were a heavy metal band.
We took the liberty today to go into the crowd and talk to people who were wearing the T-shirt from “Firepower”, and we asked what they would like to ask you. Most questions were quite mundane actually and the first question that a big fan asked was “What do you like to drink?”
Well, I’m quite eclectic with my drinking I guess.
Well if I’m thirsty then I’ll have a beer, there’s nothing more thirst clenching than a nice cold beer. With dinner I prefer wine, preferably red. And my favorite spirit is probably a nice single malt Scotch whisky.
Allright! And for a new album, there’s always a statement you want to make with the band. What is the statement you want to make with “Firepower”?
The same as we always do, we start out to make a better album than the last one. That’s our only idea when we start the writing process, recording process, mixing process and everything else. And that’s also the thing we did with this one. Richie Glenn and Rob obviously write all the music and then I send the roughs to myself and Scott for the bass line and put in the drum lines.
And as soon as I heard it I knew it was going to be a strong album. And we decided to get a producer this time around, Tom Allom of course, his name pops up by default. We asked Tom and he was over the moon! He was already working with us on the background with the live stuff and remastering on some of the anniversary albums, and he agreed straight away.
And then we thought we’d better have someone who’s more up to date with the more modern bands and modern recording techniques, so we approached Andy (Sneap, red.). None of us knew him already but we knew him by reputation and were fond of his work. And he agreed as well and they got on like a house on fire. And they are great and a big part of the sound as well, the overall sound is up to them. We just play it but they are the ones who make it sound fab.
The album is better, it’s different. A lot of bands make the same album, stick to it every time with small differences, and people love them for it. There’s nothing wrong with that. But we wanted to do a bit more than that, take another step into the direction the band is going.
For us personally the album was like the same vibe as the earliest Judas Priest albums…
Yeah a lot of people have said that, it’s just that the intricacy is different, more modern.
I wrote my master thesis about the effects of metal music on adolescents: how they form their identity and cope with their problems through metal. I even quoted the feeling of metal from your song “Heavy Metal”. “Between the eyes I hear it screaming and it electrifies your inner feelings.” What effect do you think (metal-)music can have on adolescents?
Music is an art, not just heavy metal but all music. And different people have their different tastes. And if they’re getting it then it’s a feel good factor, whether it’s heavy metal, jazz, classical music or whatever. Or even visual art or a sculpture. It gives people pleasure, that’s the main thing. If it lightens your life in any way that’s wonderful.
And do you yourself use it to cope with your own feelings and emotions?
Well yeah! Sometimes I feel nostalgic, and I sit there with my iPad and put my earplugs in and go back to all those years, like 30-40-50 years and I start playing all these old songs and I sit there for hours in my own world… With a nice single malt Scotch whisky on the side! (laughs)
I also wrote about the self-discovery and identity formation of young people and how they can use metal to do that, with for example; merchandise and your trademark leather that inspired the metal culture from the early days. What do you think about that?
Yeah that’s nice, the fashion thing is of course an artistic expression. Some people get off wearing the T-shirts, the jeans, some people don’t and have to wear a suit,.. Again it’s all down to what floats your boat, because in the end of the day some people are drawn to that and some aren’t. And some are even drawn to the music because of the way some people dress. But it’s all different flavors and what different people are like.
If playing music was not an option, what profession would you’ve chosen?
I’d probably be some kind of engineer, because I’ve always loved machines. Since the early days I can remember I was that fool that when I found an old clock in my grandmother’s closet and it was broken, I took it apart. Grandfather went berserker after that. But I’ve always been fascinated by machinery, all kinds of machinery. So I would probably have ended up being a grease monkey. (laughs)
And does it show in your career as a musician? Like the new technical stuff that’s happening?
Yeah I’m into that stuff as well but I always prefer to do something with a spanner! (laughter)
So I can’t imagine how many interviews you’ve had over the years… Is there a question you’ve always wanted to answer: if you could ask yourself a question, what would you ask?
Probably not… Well, nobody’s ever asked me what I had for breakfast… and my favorite meal is probably a proper English dinner, with roast potatoes. Following that, again I’m eclectic with my taste, I love food, I really eat all. Probably Indian,.. French, Italian,.. as long as it’s quality.
The last few years our community is discussing the fact that a lot of great bands from the early days are calling it quits. There are not a lot of those greater bands left to headline the festivals and we see a lot of festivals struggling with placing headliners that have a unifying factor over most metalheads like Judas Priest does. What do you think about the future in this regard?
Oh I don’t, no,.. That’s up to you guys! But the enduring thing about Judas Priest (and not just us, but also), bands like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, we’re a broad church, we do a bit of everything. We do a song that will make you weep, and we’ll do a song that will make you scared, and most things in between, we tried it all over the years. And the setlist today is not going to be all in one direction, but there will be all different things in there.
In the ‘90s it was really fragmented, you had the speed metal bands and it was all they did, the grunge, the goth,.. and it was always all they did. There’s nothing wrong with that but it does narrow your fan base down. And I think the reason that ourselves and Maiden and bands like that survived because we have a broader opinion and it’s as simple as that. And that’s a little bit what’s lacking at the moment, but there are bands coming along that I’ve heard on the radio that are great to do various stalls and mix it up a little bit.
But there’s all kinds of stuff out there. If it’s quality stuff and you have perseverance and a little bit of patience you’ll keep at it. And someone along the line is going to catch up and give you a break.
Do you have a final message for your Belgian fans?
Yeah, we love Belgium, it’s one of the closest countries to Britain. It’s lovely. And the thing with Belgium is that it’s always multicultural as well and I’m not just talking about the different colors of skin. You’ll do a show in Brussels and there will be Dutch, French, German,.. people coming and you get a whole melting pot. And we really love that.
Thank you so much! We will see you in Lokeren and our home away from home MetalDays in Slovenia!