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Reflections of a Metal God—an interview with Ian Hill of Judas Priest

November 16th, 2011 Posted in Arts and Life

Story & Photo by Ben Hansen

Editor’s Note: Judas Priest, one of the pioneers of the heavy metal genre, has been at the forefront of the rock scene throughout the last four decades. The band has embarked on one final world tour—the aptly named Epitaph World Tour—before bringing its boiling pot of metal down to a simmer. Founding Judas Priest member and bassist Ian Hill recently gave HNC correspondent Ben Hansen 15 minutes to discuss the past, present, and future of Judas Priest.

HNC: First and foremost, congratulations on over 40 years of Judas Priest! The metal industry owes much of its evolution to you guys!

Ian Hill: Thank you

HNC: What do you think about the current state of the metal scene?

Ian Hill: I think it’s quite healthy, to be honest. It is as healthy as any other genre. There is lots of new talent coming up there. I think that there’s a future for metal.

HNC: Are there any new up and coming artists that you listen to?

Ian Hill: Not anymore, not particularly. I listen to metal stations on the radio. I listen to some here and some there, but nothing in particular. There’s a lot of stuff coming on, there’s a swing back to more classic metal. Way back in the ’90s, heavy metal sort of fragmented into speed bands, Goth bands . . . all types of metal. We’ve always been a bit more versatile in all aspects, from slower stuff to faster stuff to more commercial stuff.

HNC: How is the Epitaph farewell tour treating you guys?

Ian Hill: Great! We’re really enjoying ourselves. The audience is enjoying themselves as well. At the end of the day, it’s all for the fans. Yeah, we’re really enjoying it. We love what we do, and it’s one of the reasons for this farewell tour. We won’t stop playing—it’s too precious to us, you know. Not playing music is a terrifying thought to all of us. We have to be real, so we’ve got one big last world tour. In the future it will be a bit more compact in size—small pockets of dates.

HNC: Are you sad to see the massive worldwide touring schedule that Priest has been renowned for finally winding down for good?

Ian Hill: I regard myself to be extremely lucky. It’s not just the playing and the music and the fans—it’s all of the travel, too. We’ve seen wonderful places in the world. Any other business, you never get to visit all of these great places unless you were a travel agent, especially Eastern Europe. I’ve been there in the terrible communist years, and you get to see these wonderful places and wonderful people. That’s something that I’ll miss just as much as I will the music.

HNC: Speaking of missing, are you still in touch with (Ken) KK Downing?

Ian Hill: He was a massive part of the band right from the start with myself. Of course, he’s a great loss. Richie (Faulkner, new guitarist) has been in the band for the best part of a year in December, and of course he’s playing good. He’s keyed in masterfully. Musically, with the performance, the fans really won’t miss anything. With Priest, Richie put Ken’s shoes on and fit in perfectly. He’s a great chap, a great guitarist, great performer, and a genuinely nice guy himself. We’ve been very lucky to find him.

HNC: I was very impressed with that when I saw him in your live show. Do you think that personally that Richie has brought about some change in your live performance?

Ian Hill: He’s brought some enthusiasm. He’s great—he’s the same age as myself in terms of when band was back in the day. He’s the same age as my son. The attitude and the enthusiasm . . . it has increased the performance in the rest of us.

HNC: Richie will be writing on the new album, correct?

Ian Hill: Yes. That’s the intention. Rob and Glen have been busy putting ideas together for the next record. We had pretty much finished three tracks before we started the tour, but that was before Richie came along, so obviously we’re going to have to go back into the studio and retool all of that and get his input on it. I’m sure that he’ll have a great contribution to make.

HNC: It sounds like you guys and the fans have both really taken to him.

Ian Hill: Absolutely. He’s a good classic metal player as well. He comes from a classic metal background, and wasn’t playing in any of the niche metal markets—thrash metal, death metal, or whatever. It helped with fitting in with the rest of us.

HNC: What made you decide to move from playing Fender and Hamer basses to Spector basses?

Ian Hill: Spectors are great basses. I can’t speak highly enough about them. They are a great company, and have been very kind to me over the years. I started playing Spectors back in 1986, so I’ve been playing with them for a long time. The old Fender bass is great—I’ve still got that old Fender. It was getting quite beat up—it was the only bass that I used for a long time. Then we had a deal with Hamer [and] Ken and I played Hamers. They’ve got beautiful basses that I used on a couple of tours. Then Spector asked me if I’d try them out, and I did. I’ve used them ever since. They’re great, and a really beautiful bass. Great sound, great to play.

HNC: We know that you play with both a pick live and with your fingers. When you’re not on tour or in the studio, and you’re just kicking around your house, are you playing with your fingers or are you playing with a pick?

Ian Hill: I play with my fingers. I got started playing with my fingers. When you’ve got two guitarists playing with you, you need to come through. The pick gives you a more distinct, sharper sound. It’s my fingers that I play with most of the time.

HNC: After all that you guys have accomplished musically, how cool was it to finally win the Grammy for Best Metal Performance?

Ian Hill: That came out of nowhere. We didn’t believe that was coming. It was a great feeling winning a Grammy. It just shows that the industry is recognizing you as well as your fans.

HNC: Would you mind retelling the story of how you brought Rob into the band?

Ian Hill: Yes. We were playing, but we weren’t earning any money. We were a young family, just couldn’t afford to eat. I was actually dating Rob’s sister at the time. She suggested that I give him a listen, so we went over to Rob’s house. He was still living with his parents. He was up in his bedroom, and he came down singing harmonies an Ella Fitzgerald song. I was thinking, “That was pretty good.” We had a few rehearsals. He brought John Hinch along, the drummer that he was playing with at the time, and once when we heard him start to sing, that was tremendous. He’s a tremendous talent.

HNC: Where did your nickname “Skull” come from?

Ian Hill: Believe it or not, I used to be very, very thin. So in joking one day, they said I look like a skull on a stick, and it stuck.

HNC: You guys have seen and done it all. Metal gods, indeed you are. Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring musicians?

Ian Hill: Basically, keep at it. It’s very difficult these days to get on. Don’t be disheartened if you’ve been out for a few months and you don’t get signed or get on a tour, because albums aren’t selling these days, obviously record companies aren’t very willing to invest in artists. It can be very difficult, but with patience, and you’re dedicated, believe in yourself and you’re talented, then you stand a chance.

HNC: Do you have anything that you’d like to say to all of the Judas Priest fans that will be reading this?

Ian Hill: Thank you for all of the years. Without the fans, the whole thing grinds to a halt. We’ve been very grateful over the years to have a great bunch of fans. We have a huge debt of gratitude to all of them. Without them, we wouldn’t exist. Thank you.



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