What can any metal fan say about Judas Priest except, “You are my masters!”. The pioneering British band has survived through the decades with a few changes and some slight variations in sound. Still, they’ve never tampered with the leather, the attitude, the take no prisoners rock and roll, and those blazing guitars. Original guitarist K.K. Downing retired in 2010, and his vacancy was filled by 34-year-old Richie Faulkner. Faulkner is a veteran of the London metal scene with credits that include playing with actress/musician Lauren Harris, Voodoo Six, and Dirty Deeds. Faulkner has also earned the distinction of being musical supervisor for London stage and screen legend Christopher Lee, who at 91 years old released a metal album called Charlemange: The Omens of Death.
Faulkner, a regular Music Zoo customer, recently sat down with our resident metal authority, Steve Ternai, to discuss his career, love of guitars (and The Music Zoo), and passion for music. Throughout the interview, he emerges as a thoroughly humble guy who’s still getting over the honor of being picked to play guitar in Judas Priest, alongside the great Glenn Tipton.
Tell us about the record. It sort of has a very vintage Priest sound.
Well we didn’t try to set out to recreate any former glories or any kind of era or sound from the past, or any formula that used to work, really. We just went in and got something from the heart that was pure and natural and Judas Priest. When you’ve got a strength of character from all of the guys individually like Glenn [Tipton] and Robbie [Halford] and Scott [Travis], you’ve got a big, strong, musical character, and when you put all those characters together you get that one unique Judas Priest character that everyone knows and loves. So if you go in and write from the heart and you do what comes naturally it’s going to be pure Judas Priest. If you listen to some of the tracks, some of them harken back to ‘70s style. Some of it harkens back to the Painkiller stuff, or sort of ‘80s stuff, but we didn’t consciously try to strive to recreate our moments. It’s just, that’s what we’re all about.
It came together like that because that’s what the roots are and that’s what happens when you guys play.
Exactly, and myself personally, I grew up on Priest and on Hendrix and the early influencesand those dual harmony parts…Thin Lizzy, [Iron] Maiden…so that’s what’s inherent in my musical character. So when we went into the studio I was doing what came from my heart as well.
It’s funny that you say that about Maiden because I noticed that on Redeemer of Souls there are a few leads and melody parts that seem to go hand-in-hand with Iron Maiden
Well yeah, certainly. There are moments in both band’s careers that where both bands sound sort of Priest-esque or Maiden-esque. And also Sabbath’s in there. They’re at the beginning with Priest and they invented this thing called Heavy Metal. All the strands that came after that, they’ve been responsible for. So I think it’s kind of natural that you have certain characters or certain essences , and you can see similarities between certain bands of the time. And also things like [‘70s German proto-metal band] Running Wild…there was a bit of an influence from that. It’s all kind of intertwined in the great musical Metal tapestry.
In its deluxe edition, Redeemer of Souls is 18 songs which is pretty awesome. You could’ve just cut it in half and put out the other half in two years. The five bonus songs just by themselves could’ve even been a separate EP. Who made the decision to put out these 18 songs in one shot?
Interesting question…we did consider doing a double album, but what we went with is the 13 songs on the standard edition—and five bonus tracks. It was such a creative atmosphere in the studio that we just kept writing and writing and writing. We had three songs and then it was eight songs and then we had 12. It just kept growing and growing and it got to the point that we had to stop writing and focus on recording and getting it all down. We could’ve done a double album but it would have diluted slightly the statement of one single standard release. Also, we felt the bonus tracks didn’t quite fit into the vibe and the statement we were trying to put out there on Redeemer of Souls. At the same time we didn’t want to put those songs on the shelf or in a metal box and gather dust and get forgotten about. We know these tracks and we love them. We don’t’ think they’re any lesser songs. And we knew that Priest fans would love them.
Let’s talk about the tour that’s about to happen. You guys are about to come to the US and tour with Steel Panther.
We’re really excited. It’s been two years now since we finished the Epitaph tour and we’ve been writing since then, recording, and now that the album’s out and Redeemer’s been unleashed on the world and now we can get the band on the road and tour. When you get those songs down, and you listen back for the first time, songs like “March of the Damned” or “Halls of Valhalla,” it’s a feeling of, Oh my god we’ve got to get out and play this live. It’s immediate.
I listened to Halls of Valhalla yesterday and thought, I hope they play this live. This is going to be awesome!
It’s one of those songs where, it’s based on Norse mythology so you just open up your imagination visually and musically. And as soon as you listen back to it, even “March of the Damned,” it’s an immediate feeling of wanting to play it live and we can’t wait to get out and share these songs with the metal maniacs. They’ll be screaming and singing the songs with us, and hopefully they’ll become the future Priest classics, 20 or 30 years to come. For me, it’s an incredible honor to have that opportunity to be creating the future classics, even though you never know it that’s going to be the case. But just to get out there and play these songs. We start off in Rochester [New York]in October. And the great thing about it is, if you start off in the US and then you’ve got to do Europe and you can’t do Europe without doing Japan and then South America. And then all of a sudden, it’s evolved into this big world tour.
Was touring with Steel Panther a choice made by you guys or was it a label decision? Are you all friends? They must be happy as hell to be on this tour, that’s for sure.
It’s all of the above really. Ultimately everything gets signed off by the band and nothing gets done without the band’s approval. If anyone in the band is uncomfortable with the decision we won’t do it. It was talked about with promoters and agents and labels and bands, and very few bands were being considered. There are a lot of great bands out there and Steel Panther just was the best of them. We just thought it would be a great, fun evening. I mean, admittedly, they’re kind of like a parody band but you can’t be a parody band without being phenomenally good at what they do. They’re all great players. The singer’s great. They’ve got some great, fun songs that are excellently crafted.
When you guys are getting ready to play, what’s the preparation like? Are there any special rituals you do [laughs]. Do you practice? How much time do you give yourself to warm up, or do you just grab a guitar and go. Or, do you eat something special, drink something special?
Not really. I mean we all do our little things but there’s no special mystical rituals or anything like that. I wish there was [laughs]. I can try to make something up for you! No hard drink or anything like that. Me and Glenn might have a couple of beers before we go onstage. You put your superhero costume on and it feels like you become your alter ego and a member of Priest, or the Avengers [laughs]! But we do go in a few minutes early just to feel the atmosphere of the room and check out the crowd and just to soak in the vibe. And then the lights go down, the roar goes up, and we go onstage. When the curtain goes up and the lights come down, it’s just incredible. But, you know, you’re travelling a lot and getting up early to make flights and standing on lines and getting on buses and it does take it out of you. And sometimes you can be a bit down. But as soon as that curtain goes up and you hear the roar of the crowd, you’re flying. It’s a completely energizing experience to be in front of those passionate fans.
As far as gear goes, how many guitars do you bring on tour with you at one time?
I know guys who take one or two, but I take six. It’s personal more than anything. Some of the songs require a whammy bar and some don’t. So, a whammy bar guitar and a spare whammy bar guitar—which is a flying V. And I have a Les Paul and a spare Les Paul. And I have two others, because I beat the shit out of guitars. Just normal playing. I wear the frets down pretty quickly. They’ll wear out over time but having a couple more [guitars] out there helps spread the wear across the guitars and they last a bit longer.
What about setups on your guitars. Do you have them setup daily by your tech with new strings?
Normally, my tech restrings the main guitars every day. I’m not really fussy but he likes to make sure the main guitars are as good as they can be. The other ones, the spare guitars, he’ll change strings once every few days. But once you set them up, we’ll check them every week or two weeks to make sure they’re exactly where we like them. They’re all pretty stable. They’re Gibson guitars…all set necks, and they’re all pretty stable. The only thing I’ve had a problem with, as I’ve said, is with the fretwear. And I dig in pretty hard so it makes waves in the frets and we have to shave them. You can only do that every so often before you’ve got no frets left. And that’s why I take so many guitars out and you get more life out of the collection. They’re good workhorses. You can beat them up a little bit and they won’t let you down. I love talking about guitars and I love equipment. In the US especially, I’ll get to the hotel and then find the local mom & pop guitar stores. Sometimes you’ve got the Guitar Centers and the Sam Ashes, and nothing else. But the mom & pop stores are where you’ll find the treasure.
You bought a few Gibson Customs from The Music Zoo a few months ago—a Flying V and a one-pickup Les Paul Custom Black Beauty. How are those guitars doing?
The Flying V is going on tour with us. I’m making a few mods to it. I’ve put a different scratch plate on it just to make it look more individual. But I’m always looking for guitars, both on tour and off tour, and I’ve been waiting to get out to the The Music Zoo. Everything about it is beautiful, from the website to the videos…even before you get to the store! And the guy who helped me out was great—helpful and informative. So, yeah, I walked away with the Flying V and the P-90 single-pickup Les Paul Custom Black Beauty. Now, the P-90 Les Paul…I was going to take that [on tour]. It’s a beautiful sounding guitar. It has a lot of character and attitude in the P-90. The problem was, for the amount of gain that we use with Priest, the P-90 was going to be a bit noisy.
Well, that’s an easy fix. You can always swap that pickup out [laughs].
But I wouldn’t want to with that one! It’s got such character and attitude in the pickup. I did consider it, but I’ll take the V out, and I might change the pickups in that one. I do have a few ideas of what I want to do with that one, like changing the scratch plate. But a V is synonymous Judas Priest, innit?
What are your early musical influences?
The guys that started it off for me were Hendrix, Sabbath, and [Deep] Purple. And then it was bands like Lizzy and Maiden and Priest and then Metallica. So you go through the years with different influences. And there are also people like Brian May from Queen and Eddie Van Halen. Michael Schenker is a big influence. But Hendrix is the man. You know, I go through Hendrix phases all the time. I just bought a couple of old Strats, and one of them is upside down with the big headstock, so you know [laughs].
So right now on your iTunes list, besides metal, what are you listening to?
Well, some things I won’t tell you! [laughs]. But I listen to a lot of soundtrack music—movie soundtracks or video game soundtracks, which these days are amazing.
What games, just out of curiosity?
Well, the [Halo 3] soundtrack…I’m doing these digital paintings and this game and its soundtrack, it just takes you to another world musically and I’m always into that dynamic. So whatever it is, I don’t know, metal or whatever that sound is, if it takes you to another place I really like that. I also listen to a lot of ‘80s…maybe I shouldn’t say this, but Duran Duran [laughs]. I love Duran Duran!
Well, that’s what you grew up with and there’s nothing wrong with Duran Duran. That’s great stuff!
Yeah, well some people might be like, You’re in Judas Priest but you’re into Duran Duran? But I like Duran Duran. I think it’s great music. That’s a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. You know, I like a lot of pop stuff, a lot of ‘70s stuff. Sabbath, obviously. The new Sabbath record came out and I listen to that. I mean, I listen to all sorts, really; a lot of guitar-based music, obviously. Classical music. It’s pretty varied. I don’t really listen to a lot of rap or hip hop music but I understand where it comes from and the statement it’s making, and it relates to a lot of people. I understand it and respect it. But it’s mainly guitar music and soundtracks. Also I kind of create a little bit more than I consume if that makes sense. I’m always creating more melodies and lead stuff, and I’m probably doing that more than I’m listening to other music. If I get a flash of inspiration I’ll sit down with a guitar and recording rig and put that stuff down. More than I’m consuming music, I’m creating it. The last couple of weeks I’ve been on a Hendrix trip again. I’ve been listening to Stockholm ’69 and Rainbow Bridge. Sometimes it’s good to go full circle.
If you were not in Priest right now what would you be doing?
That’s a really good question. I would be doing the same thing and trying to break through with either my own band or…
You were playing with Lauren Harris at one point, right?
Playing with Lauren, playing with a few bands in London, and just writing and creating and playing our own material and just trying to make it in the industry. I think I’d still be doing that. I was playing in a great cover band in London town for the last 10 years. We played Priest and Sabbath and Maiden and Ozzy, and all those great things so I’d be doing that too. So, I’d just be trying my best to make it in the industry as I was before, you know? I’ve got a big creative drive. I love the guitar and playing the guitar and taking the opportunities that present themselves and making new ones. I love doing graphic arts and painting, and I’d probably be doing that, too. And fortunately a new opportunity presented itself with Priest. I was a big fan of them and it was a perfect match. It’s such an honor to be up there and be considered for the band. The ethos of trying your best and writing your best and being true to yourself…that’s the ethos I’ve always lived by and that’s again why I fit so well in Priest.