Interview with Rob Halford: A Metal God Christmas

Halford III, Winter Songs has had legions of fans bracing themselves for the worst. The Metal God invoking the yuletide spirit is a curveball straight out of @#!&. A posting on exclaimed that this was Rob Halford jumping the shark, a reference to the farfetched and declining year of the once acclaimed Happy Days TV show. Well, Arthur Fonzarelli also wore a leather jacket and rode a motorcycle, but the parallels between Halford and the poorly constructed reference to the episode end there.

Timeless classics like “We Three Kings,” “Oh Holy Night,” and “Come All Ye Faithful,” ring more poignantly then their over commercialized and contrite renditions from other artists that simply don’t possess Rob Halford’s penetrating range.

There are also three Halford originals, including the exhilarating “Get Into The Spirit,” which would delight any Judas Priest enthusiast. However, “Winter Song,” first penned by Sara Bareilles, is a ballad that just astounds with its rich imagery and authentic sentiment. In sum, metalheads can rest assured that their idol just wants them to be counted among those who find happiness at this time of year. Moreover, musically speaking, the seven holiday standards have been given a pristinely crisp metallic makeover. Halford III really reinforces that fact that great artists have been deemed as such only by taking great risk.

As if he wasn’t busy enough with Judas Priest and his solo recordings, Halford has also launched a clothing line, Metal God Apparel, that boldly proclaims metal with a screaming vengeance. Rob Halford spoke to the Aquarian Weekly about his undertakings and the intentions behind them shortly after finishing the Priest world tour in Japan.

‘Winter Song’ is beautiful and sad all at the same time.

I love Sara Bareilles, she is a wonderful songwriter. I will tell you how I found that song. We were putting the record together and I just felt that there were some things missing—musically, emotionally. So I went onto iTunes, because I am a Mac-head and I put the word ‘winter’ in the search and a bunch of this came up. Then I saw this ‘Winter Song’ by Sara and I thought, ‘That name rings a bell.’ So I played that 30 second advance snippet you get and I was just bowled over, I thought ‘Oh my God, here is the opportunity to cover this wonderful song that she has written.’ So I downloaded it, legally. Paid for it legally. I sat there with my headphones on, and thought, ‘I can’t wait to start on this.’ It’s so powerful, so I quickly called my producer Roy Z and told him. We got together a couple of days later in San Diego and mapped out the arrangement, so all the credit goes to her, she is absolutely fantastic. She is an absolute genius. You can’t do full justice to a song unless it’s a wonderful arrangement and composition in the first place, so she composed something very special.

Funnily enough, it was a bit of a challenge, because I sang it in a lower register. Roy was urging me to try a different key, and I go, ‘Yeah, I just feel like it’s going to turn into this kind of screaming metal thing.’ He goes, ‘No, I know you well enough, you can find a key that’s comfortable to sing in, but it’s conveying the emotions in a stronger way.’ The words are absolutely mind-blowing. So just experimentation, but I instantly felt that was the best way to convey the emotion. That song is very sad song, very poignant, but it also has a lot of hope, it also has some wonderful, elevated feelings of hope in the lyrics. So I had a blast doing that track.

What was the springboard for making a holiday album?

When I was working in Amsterdam with Andy Horn who engineered and mixed the Fight records with me, we were working together, this is around ‘93, ‘95. We were working around Christmas time, and I have an apartment in Amsterdam, and I just felt like doing a Christmas song, and so I said to Andy, ‘Do you mind if I just have a couple of hours to put together on a Christmas song? I want to do it, for my family and my friends.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, okay,’ and I ended up doing ‘Silent Night.’ We put it together in a couple of hours, it sounded great, and I made copies for my family and my friends and they loved it. So 2009, I have really gotten the opportunity to really fulfill the feelings that I got from that session into a more complete CD release. It’s been a long time coming really, it was a just a question of finding the right moment in the calendar to get it all together. It means a lot to me share these songs with the metalheads all over the world, but I hope that it will crossover and maybe reach into a newer audience as well.

It’s nice because metalheads walk around thinking they have to be tough all the time. This is like a chance to breathe.

I agree, and I am looking around and there isn’t enough of this type of music for the metalheads. Some of this record is really strong and some it is really ballady, but that’s what metal is about anyway. The texture atmospherically and emotionally that I am performing in is no different than what I’ve done in all my work over the decades. But metalheads celebrate Christmas, it’s for people of all faiths and denominations, I am not selling something here other than the great feelings, ‘Let’s have something different.’ We love to hear the standards, and the traditional songs that come around at Christmas, but there is never enough, is there? That was another feeling, why don’t I try and do something a little bit extra.