Monday, September 8, 2014

Richie Faulkner of Judas Priest - Defender Of The Faith - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

"I think the skepticism that some people might have, or have had was just a testament to how passionate they are about the band, you know? There was a healthy amount of skepticism that comes from that passion, and I think that's a healthy thing. That's a testament to the fans. And thanks to the fans for trusting in the band, buying tickets, coming down to the show. Within 30 seconds, man - they had their hands up in the air, and they're screaming along. It was just instant really, so a big hat's off to them for doing that." ~ Richie Faulkner on Judas Priest's fans.
Richie Faulkner is still the new guy in Judas Priest, though he's been with the group for over three years. He made his debut in front of tens of millions of viewers on an episode of American Idol, he's played well over a hundred shows with the band, and he's now written and recorded the band's highest charting debut on the Billboard charts (#6) - but, he's still the new guy, and nobody gets what that means more than Mr. Faulkner. He's remarkably respectful to the band's history, legacy, and fans - he understands that the job he's taken is a revered position, and that no one would be stamped as approved without thoroughly having their mettle tested. After the last three years, it's extremely clear to see that the band made the proper choice when they hired him.

I talk to a lot of great musicians, and I am always grateful, because time and time again, I not only get a glimpse into what it takes to rise to the heights of an incredibly demanding profession in terms of skills and talent, I also get to see time and time again that those who make it are almost always exceptional human beings - humble, hard working, and grateful. It was no different in speaking with Richie Faulkner - everything he said was couched in the upmost love for the fans of Judas Priest, respect for his co-workers, and when he spoke of himself it was in terms of hard work, effort, and being prepared for life's opportunities.

I chose to begin our conversation by reading to Richie a note I had received from a friend of mine after reading a piece I had written on the band's new Redeemer Of Souls album. Joe Giddings  is a fervent Judas Priest fan, in addition to being a fine musician himself, and I wanted Richie to have a chance to respond directly to those who pay his wages:

1. Wow. Priest have gone back to the basics and have made the record I was hoping for when they put out Turbo Lover and lost me for years.Killer songs, tones, and solos...realactual rock god guitar solos! And Halford may be an older man, but on Valhalla he just smashes you in the face. Metallizer is another favorite with great semi-classical progressions and great vocals. Bla, bla, bla - excellent album.

2. Faulkner is perfect for the band: he doesn't rip on KK Downing, but he's a guy who loves the whammy bar, and you know it. He also co-wrote nearly every song.

3. This particular vinyl pressing is by far the most superior physical pressing I've purchased in many years. The sound is spot on, there's no defects in the vinyl. or in the manufacturing. A great surprise, and well worth the $25+ being a double LP.

Richie Faulkner: "That's great, man, and much thanks to the fan that wrote that! 
"We didn't kind of really go in there to recreate moments from the past, you know, Tony. We went in and did what came from the heart, and that was the only concept we had going in - to do what came from the heart, and the thing is, all we can do is create this stuff. 
"We put it out there, and the fans put it where it is today - the first top 10 entry the band's ever had. So a big thank you to the fan who wrote that, and to the fans around the world. It's an affirmation to how strong and powerful heavy metal still is around the world. It's a very potent force, and we're very happy to be a part of all of that."
Photo by Jose Aragones
One thing that has been very apparent since Faulkner joined the band is the fact that he has fit in as if he were made to do so - it's not an easy thing to replace an icon of almost 40 years such as Ken "KK" Downing. It seems that from day one, Faulkner has been his own man, whether onstage, or in the studio. I asked Richie if that is a fair assessment:

Richie Faulkner: "Yeah, I think that is a fair assessment. 
"I grew up with Judas Priest, and guitar music in general, and I think being aware of everything that comes with that - the whole mindset of standing up for what you believe in, doing what you do, and being proud of it. That's been a part of Priest's music since day one for me, that's how I interpreted it. 
"They have always flown the flag for what they do, and for metal. It was kind of inherent - you have to respect what came before you. Ken was a huge hero of mine, and then with Glenn, and the rest of the guys in the band. 
"you've got to respect what came before, but you've also got to be respectful to yourself. As I said, get all of the mentality that comes with that music, and kind of set up what it is you're doing. You want to put your own stamp on things, you want to make your own way, and carve your own niche, but at the same time be respectful and aware of what came before. 
"It's almost second nature, if that makes any sense, it's not like it's an easy thing to do, but at the same time it's kind of organic. It's something that's ingrained in you as a musician, really. It's really natural and organic, and it's worked really well. I'm very pleased!"

I first saw Richie Faulkner onstage with Judas Priest on a YouTube video of the band doing a song that's been in the band's set for well over 30 years, the Fleetwood Mac classic, Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown) - a song that Judas Priest had made their own, and now Faulkner was seamlessly making it his. He appeared to be the perfect guy for the job:

Richie Faulkner: "Well, that's really great of you to say, that means a lot to hear that from such a longtime Priest fan. 
"It means a hell of a lot. Like I said, it was ingrained in me, and you've got some people that don't like it, like Paul Di'Anno, but that's the thing about the creative arts. People have got opinions, and they're varied. 
"We just wanted the band to continue - we knew it was working, and we just wanted to get out and unleash it on the world. 
"I think the skepticism that some people might have, or have had was just a testament to how passionate they are about the band, you know? It's almost the same as when Ritchie Blackmore left Deep Purple, or when Michael Schenker left UFO. There was a healthy amount of skepticism that comes from that passion, and I think that's a healthy thing. That's a testament to the fans. And thanks to the fans for trusting in the band, buying tickets, coming down to the show. 
"Within 30 seconds, man - they had their hands up in the air, and they're screaming along. It was just instant really, so a big hat's off to them for doing that."

With over 120 shows under his belt, and a certified top 10 album to the band's credit, I asked Richie if the band's upcoming tour would be somewhat easier for him:

Richie Faulkner: " Well, it adds more songs to the never-ending list of possibilities that we can add to the setlist! 
"It creates a kind of dilemma to be honest with you - but, it's a good dilemma to have. It's such a rich tapestry of music with a band with over 40 years of material. We could quite easily rest on our laurels, and just kind of play the songs that everybody knows and loves. 
"But part of the driving force behind any band that does this, bringing the new material to the world's stage, and that's what we're doing on this tour. It's a very forward thinking statement to be making, and again, that's confirmed by the chart positions around the world. 
"The fans have put it where it is, and we can't wait to get out there and do that. We're going to approach some classic Priest songs we can't wait to play like Breaking The Law, and Living After Midnight, but we'll be putting in some new songs off the new record, and also it's the 30th anniversary of the Defenders Of The Faith record this year, so we'll be pulling out some gems from that, as well. 
"It's incredible - we start off rehearsals next week, so we're gearing up now to start off that process. Ironing out the setlist, and seeing what works. You can imagine how exciting that is to a fan - and to be a fan of the band you're a part of with new songs!"

Speaking of new songs, I asked Richie about composing for the new album - did he simply write whatever came out of himself next, or was a voice looming as large as Rob Halford's lurking in the creative background:

Richie Faulkner: "Well, Halford can sing anything. In any key, any register. 
"Obviously, he has more comfortable keys, like everyone has, everyone has a range where they are most comfortable. But Halford can push it to eleven, and he can go right down in the bowels of the growl, and stuff like that, so it's free reign, really. 
"We just did what came from the heart. There's blues elements in there, there are certainly metal elements all over the record, and if it works, we'll just go with it. Halford, once he latched onto a song, or a riff, or a sentiment - he just kind of conjures up all these ideas in his mind. He starts telling a story, and the story takes on more shape after that, based on what he's come up with. If he latches on to something, and he gets it, and he loves it, then his whole world lights up, and then you know you're on to a winner. He was a very important part of the whole creative process."

On a deeper, more personal level, I had to wonder what it was like for Richie Faulkner, the fan, to be hearing Halford sing to his riffs for the first time:

Richie Faulkner: "I have it on my phone! 
"I remember it was a riff to Battle Cry from the new record. At the time, you'd just put down riffs, and melodies, middle parts, and quick versions of things you'd been inspired to put down, and it got to the point where we were putting ideas together, and we put the skeleton of the track down. Now, Rob's coming up with ideas, words and melodies to sing over the top, and I remember - I couldn't believe it. 
"It's gone from a riff you had in your kitchen, or your icing room a year prior, or 6 months to that, and now it's become a completely different monster - it's grown, it's become a whole new beast. Now Rob's singing over it, and it takes on a whole new dynamic - it's an incredibly exciting feeling. 
"I have a really bad, rough recording of it, because on my phone I can just press record as it's happening, and who could believe it, it was just really exciting, and it was Battle Cry."

Getting back to the live side of things, I asked Richie what it was like preparing his equipment, and back line for his first tour with the band back in 2011:

Richie Faulkner: "It was just like doing what you do! 
"It wasn't like 'You have to play this, or you have to play that.' Glenn was using a certain amp, and I tried a few of those - they were the Engls. They seemed to work, and they were reliable, so I went with them. 
"I think it was a testament to them, as well. They kind of knew subliminally, or subconsciously - 'That's the guy we maybe like for the job, and I don't know how they do that, but again, it's a testament to them. 
"Everything fit, from personalities to equipment, to mindset, really. So, we just do what we do, naturally."
Photo by Dan McHugh
By the same token I had to then ask what it was like working in the studio with Glenn Tipton on the album's amazing compendium of wonderful guitar work:

Richie Faulkner: "Again, I'm using those words again, but it was just very natural. 
"Being brought up on a diet of Priest, if you look at it you can see how it may have all lined up. My early influences were Hendrix, and Sabbath - Glenn and Ken's early influences were the same, Jimi Hendrix, Rory Gallagher, they came out of Birmingham at the same time as Sabbath did, so they went on to create this heavy metal that we all know, which I was totally influenced by.  
"So, when you get into the studio, and you're writing dual guitar bits, it's like second nature. You've been brought up on that music, you're turned on by it musically. When you're writing partsGlenn might have an idea that's inherently calling out for a harmony part, or a guitar duel. You just know what to do, it's a part of you. 
"Again, it's a very organic process, based on the musical makeup of the band. It's almost like they schooled me back in the day, without realizing it, you know? You kind of looked at these guys for pointers on how to write songs, guitar parts, and conveying certain emotions with different musical textures. 
"Subliminally, you're kind of soaking all that in from these guys, so you get in, and actually do it with them, and it's kind of second nature!"

I'm a firm believer in tapping into the wisdom and knowledge of my subjects, so I had to ask Richie what advice he would have for a young neophyte who may someday aspire to ending up in a world class rock band:

Richie Faulkner: "I think that is a key word there, Tony - you always aspire to be as good as your heroes, but you never expect to be standing side by side on the front lines with them. 
"I think a key is that there are opportunities in life - and, as long as you are on top of your game when these opportunities present themselves, you can take them by the horns and have a 100% shot at it, you know. 
"I think a lot of that comes from live playing, from practice, from doing what you believe in - all that stuff rolled up in one. Just being as good as you can possibly be, should those opportunities present themselves, but that's not to say they're going to. But I believe we all aspire to being the best we can be, so even without those opportunities, we do it because we are courageous people, and we aspire to do the best we can, naturally. 
"So, just apply that same ethos to what you do on your instrument, and you never know, man! I'm the living proof of it. You get that phone call, and it's Judas Priest on the phone, and they want a guitar player, you'd better be ready, you know what I mean? 
"Just having that mentality, and not letting anything phase you. Be confident in what you do, you might not be the right fit, or it might not work out, but if you're confident in what you do, you're good enough, and you've got that humility, when the opportunity comes you'll be ready for it. 
"That's what I'd say to an aspiring musician, Tony."

Redeemer Of Souls is a high concept metal album - so much so, that at the end of the recording sessions, the band had a handful of fantastic tunes that while fantastic, they didn't quite fit into the Redeemer Of Souls concept. So, instead of burying these tracks, the band chose to include them on a separate disc. I asked Richie how this transpired:

Richie Faulkner: "All we were really 100% on was that we couldn't not release these tracks. 
"We considered a few different way to package things - double album, just a lot of different things. You are actually right, you hit the nail on the head - they didn't quite fit in with the sentiment of the statement of the standard edition of Redeemer Of Souls. But, they were by no means lesser songs, if that makes any sense. We wanted to make sure that they didn't get put on a shelf to gather dust. 
"We wanted to make sure that the fans got everything we did, and we put it out. You know, Priest fans, and that's us included, they're going to love these songs as much as the songs on the standard release. They just slightly didn't match up with the vibe we wanted to put forth on Redeemer. So that's why we did it like that, so we could create a statement, but still release the bonus tracks for the fans."

Judas Priest is well known for their relentless pursuit of quality. Most bands supply a reviewer with inferior mp3 files with which to review their albums, and little in the way of information. Liner notes? Forget about it. Judas Priest and their record label sends out full packages in their deluxe form, so their product can truly be evaluated. This is a band that has have never given their fans less than their best, and they have always lauded that fan base as being their reason to be:

Richie Faulkner: "It all stems from a genuine love for what they do. 
"I don't think anyone can have a 40 year career in anything without loving what they do, and that shines through in the packaging, the creative elements - the music, the image of the band, the statement of the band and what they stand for, it's all very much important, and at the forefront of what they do. 
"It's a great thing to learn, it's a great thing to see. After 40 years there's no stepping back off the pedal - it's full on, enforcing that statement. The packaging is a representation of that. I love the vinyl, I think the artwork is fantastic - it encapsulates everything that Judas Priest artwork should be. You've got the booklets, it's all beautiful stuff, and I think that while you can download everything for nothing, or an mp3, people are looking for value for their money, as well, and when you get that double gate fold LP, you really feel you're getting something for your money. 
"It's interesting, I was reading the other day that there is a 78% increase in vinyl sales last year, so it's incredible to see the return of that form of packaging, and I think it's a reflection of how much people want something for their money. 
"That kind of quality control is always great, and it's great to watch them, it's great to see them come up with ideas. To protect their brand, and that ethos is so well loved and respected by the fans around the world."

Another place the quality shines through on Redeemer Of Souls is in the realm of guitar tones. Many fans are saying these are the best tones and sounds to be found these days, and you'll certainly get no argument from me on this point:

Richie Faulkner: "Just from the writing, the concept of the record - it was just in keeping that natural, raw approach. 
"The characters of the players, whether it's Scott on drums, Ian on bass, and obviously Rob and Glenn. The character speaks for itself. You don't have to over-embellish that with a lot of effects. It's Glenn's guitar through Glenn's rig - just through a microphone, and into the desk for the most part, with an embellishment here or there for production values. 
"We just wanted the character to speak for itself, which is, the individuals, the band, and that essence of Judas Priest that we all love. It was very stripped down. 
"We wanted something unique sounding - both unique to different tracks having a different guitar sound to fit that track, and in the whole, as well. That when you put it on it has an identifiable sound - all Priest records have had that, they've all been different in some respects, but retaining the essence of Judas Priest. I think that's a great thing, a very unique thing they've had over the years."

It's clear that Judas Priest has risen from the ashes - just a few years ago, there was talk of farewell tours, and the loss of a key player such as K.K. Downing has short circuited more than one band, but as the band itself has stated, they were given a new lease on life when young Richie Faulkner came into the picture. I wrapped up our chat by asking Richie how this made him feel. His answer says much about the man, and his band:

Richie Faulkner: "It's obviously an incredible compliment, very humbling, really. 
"I'd never take credit for that - there's five guys in the band, we're all equals in the band, and if I can contribute to that energy, that's fantastic. But we're all part of the same team, you know. I think this stuff is inherent in what we do. You go out, play live, and ingest 40 years of a band's career - it's only going to excite you even more to go back into the studio, and write a record. Which, in turn, inspires you to go back out on the road. 
"It's like a wheel, a big wheel that just keeps turning. So again, it's a great compliment, but we're all responsible for being enthused, and I'm happy to just be a part of that."

We're happy you're a part of this too, Richie - thanks.


Maelsturmer said...

Fantastic article. The only questions I have now are whether he played any of the whammy bar parts(ie: KK), or was that all Glenn, and were the bonus tracks you mention on the vinyl release? If not I must hear them. Excellent interview Tony.

Tony Conley said...

Thanks, Maelsturmer! I believe some of the whammy bar parts do belong to Richie - he uses his Floyd equipped Flying Vs, and I assume he contributed to the whammy festivities. The five bonus tracks are on the deluxe edition of the CD, and the vinyl edition (2 LPs):
1. Snakebite
2. Tears of Blood
3. Creatures
4. Bring It On
5. Never Forget