Conducted Tuesday July 4th 2009
By: Alex Young
With Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp recently announcing Toronto dates –June 4th to 7th – check out details HERE, Lithium is revisiting our interview with Judas Priest bassist Ian Hill, considering the band participated as camp counselors in the Las Vegas contingent of Fantasy Camp.
Despite that some people are not familiar with the band’s music, almost everyone is familiar with the name – Judas Priest, as a band infamous for their longevity in heavy metal music. Priest has a renowned reputation as influential trendsetters and released their sixteenth studio album last year, entitled Nostradamus. 2008’s Nostradamus is a bold move on the bands’ part considering they strayed from their usual approach and created a double-disc concept album.
The record’s theme focuses on the life of the fifteenth century French apothecary Michel de Nostradame (aka Nostradamus). The songs center on the man behind the myth rather than the nostalgia surrounding Nostradamus’ predictions.
Judas Priest recently kicked off their tour in support of Nostradamus, with hair metal veterans Whitesnake and will be on the road all summer. I recently sat down with Ian Hill, bassist for Priest, to talk about Nostradamus, touring with Motörhead, and what it’s like to be a part of one of metals most endearing and enduring legacies.
Ian: Hey Alex, how are you doing?
Alex: I’m great, and yourself?
Ian: I’m ok, too.
Alex: Well, then we’re off to a good start. Where did you find the original inspiration to make Nostradamus a concept record?
Ian: It was originally suggested by our manager. We got together at the end of the Angel of Retribution tour [in support of the album of the same name that was released in 2006] to see where we were going to go from there. He [the band’s manager] suggested the idea of a concept album and suggested that Nostradamus would be a good subject. Of course we were interested immediately and it was something we had spoken about over the last thirty years or so. We never got around to doing it, but everyone was very patient because it was very time consuming. Everyone’s looking over your shoulder and everybody wants to know where the product is. But this time around we had Sony BMG and they were behind us all the way. They believed in the songs as much as we did.
Alex: That’s great. How did you feel Nostradamus fit into the rest of Judas Priests’ catalogue considering it’s a concept album compared a collection of songs?
Ian: Well, the running order is obviously very important because each song has to flow into the next, you know? There’s got to be passages there that make sense. It’s more about the man, his trials and tribulations, and how he came out at the end of it. He had his ups and downs; he was labelled a heretic at one point and was kicked out of France. He got married and lost his wife in the plague. But he ended up being very socially secure and very well respected physician at the end of the day.
Alex: How daunting of a task was it to release a double-disc album compared to a regular record?
Ian: Well, it takes twice as long! (Laughs) Apart from that, it wasn’t such a great step compared to any other time. We didn’t really set a certain time, we just sat down and told the story of Nostradamus and it was going to take as long as it was going to take.
Alex: What motivated you to release A Touch of Evil [the live album Judas Priest coming out this month from Sony Music and Epic Records]? Was it to breathe new life into some of the older songs, or to show your maturity over the years and how it’s affected your live act?
Ian: A bit of both actually. I guess the main motivation was that there were songs that we hadn’t released before, not officially anyway. All the songs on the album have been released officially, but not with Rob singing, they were released with Ripper [Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens was the lead vocalist for the group from 1997-2003], but not Rob. We thought it was something the fans might want so we went ahead and did it.
Alex: What’s it’s like to be asked to headline the Loud Park festival in Japan and see Judas Priests’ undying influence among heavy metal heavy weights like Slayer, Megadeth and Arch Enemy?
Ian: It’s great! We’ve been going to Japan for years, but we’ve never done a festival there before. We’ve done Budokon and lots of places like that, but with a festival its way more people. To be asked to headline, it’s great as well.
Alex: And despite so many trends in heavy metal over the last ten, twenty years, what do you think keeps Judas Priests’ sound in a complete league of its own?
Ian: Over the last twenty years metal really fragmented, didn’t it? I mean, if you look at the more established bands like ourselves, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and bands like that, we were always trying to be versatile. There was always that variety. We’ve done acoustic songs that’ll make you weep right through to the faster, heavier stuff and everything in between. But over the last fifteen or so, more bands have gravitated towards the faster, heavier side. You’re a death band, or you’re a scream band, or you’re a grunge band, or you’re a Goth, you know what I mean? I think from what I’ve heard on the radio and stuff, upcoming bands, there’s very rarely bands that are versatile like that anymore.
Alex: Yeah, you don’t want there to be too much of a focus on what people call it versus the music itself and the dynamics within that.
Ian: Yeah, that’s right.
Alex: So how is this tour going compared to the last tour with Motörhead and Heaven & Hell?
Ian: It’s early days yet, but it’s going well so far. We’ve been playing with Whitesnake and a band called Pop Evil.
Alex: What was it really like to tour with a band with such a notorious reputation like Motörhead?
Ian: Oh, we’ve known Lemmy for years as well! He’s just Lemmy. Just because he’s hell-raisin’, he does it on his own time. He’s never done anything to stop the show at all, we’ve never run into things with them. It’s always been great work with them and we’ve worked with them many times.
Alex: What have you been listening to these days on your own time? Anything been catching your ear or sparking your interest these days?
Ian: It’s funny; I’ve been listening to things I’ve been listening to for the past thirty or forty years. When I’m on my own, that’s what I do. When you just come off the road or out of the studio you want to relax with some nice familiar stuff. There’s new stuff I listen to from time to time, without mentioning names, there’s some good stuff.
Alex: Now that you’ve done this epic concept double-disc album, what’s the next record that you could fathom Priest making in the future?
Ian: I think it’ll be a traditional metal album. We’ve done our concept album, it really is time consuming, it took two years to write and record that. I think we can’t afford the time anymore, so when we do another one it’ll be a traditional Priest album.
Alex: What’s it like to hear the band’s sound evolve over the course thirty years, almost forty years now, and still see such an unwavering, undying influence?
Ian: We’ve been around a hell of a long time, and we’re blessed with great fans. Our fans have followed us through thick and thin over the years and we’ve tried to do our best to keep them happy. Having said that, we’ve always tried new things as well, just so we don’t stagnate. I think that’s probably the real secret. Some bands don’t do it, some bands follow the formula and turn out some of the same things every time and they deliver for it. But I think people have come to expect Judas Priest to be something different every time.
Alex: Well I can’t wait for the show. The last time I saw you guys was with Joey [Belladonna]. I’m really excited to see Priest again. Thanks a lot for your time and good luck with the tour.
Ian: Alright Alex! It’s been a pleasure mate.
Alex: Absolutely, take care of yourself.
Ian: Same with yourself.