Hi Richie, I would like to start with the last studio-album ‘Redeemer Of Souls’ from 2014. What did that album mean for the band and what did it mean for you personally as it was your first release with the band?
I think you’ve kind of summed it up as it was my first release and first creative experience with the band. Next to that it was the band’s first time with a new member writing material, so it was very significant. Commercially it was the highest charting Priest record of all time, which is a huge testament to the fans as they were responsible for that. Being charted high in the Billboard top ten was a potent message that metal was alive and well in 2014, which was an affirmation for the power of metal music. To me it felt like it works in Priest and that it worked being part of the creative team, which king of spurred us on to the future for the tour and another new album on the horizon which became ‘Firepower’.
When did you start with the actual preparation and song writing for this new album ‘Firepower’ and what was the game plan that you had?
Some of the melodies and some of the ideas for ‘Firepower’ were written a long time ago already as I always write both on the road and at home. I continuously record melodies, riffs and choruses and I also did that right after finishing ‘Redeemer Of Souls’, so some of the ideas already started back then. After having had some downtime after the ‘Redeemer’-tour, we entered the studio to start putting our ideas together. That’s when the character of the album takes shape and the vibe of the record is established. Of course you never know what you’re going to end up with, but the more we progressed through the writing stages we realized that these songs were shaping up to be great and progressed in comparison with ‘Redeemer Of Souls’. It’s a new thing, it’s a forward thinking album and it was pretty apparent that we had something that was firing on all cylinders.
As you were part of the band for a couple of years now, did that change the song writing process in any way and if so, how?
I think there’s always a drive to improve, to refine and to get better both as an individual musician as well as with the band. That drive didn’t change, but the process changed to be able to get better results and to improve compared to what we did in the past. So that was really a conscious thing to see how we could make something different and move forward. Creating songs is always a progression of how to get better and how to refine your craft.
How is it for you to work with the other guys that are from another generation? Does this bring new influences and hunger in the band, as the general comment is that your entrance has really invigorated Priest?
Maybe it does, but from a guitar player’s point of view you could say that we’re from the same generation as we both love Jimi Hendrix, Cream and such acts. I started with these and then progressed to Sabbath, Priest, UFO, Maiden and later on also bands like Metallica. Maybe there were different influences in there, but it all came from the same blueprint. Of course when I started listening to Priest as a teenager, that influence went in there as well and if you analyze why it worked so well as it did it’s probably because all those influences were part of my musical make-up. So when we started playing, performing and writing for Priest not only did I know the importance of the band and what it meant to people, but I also knew how to create those songs and how to convey emotion with heavy metal music. It was a very natural and organic process, because I’ve grown up with them.
The first single is the title track ‘Lightning Strike’ for which also a video was created. Why did you choose for this particular track as the first single and how important is a video nowadays for a band like Judas Priest?
I think it one of the most straightforward, classic sounding songs on the record. It’s not a progressive rock track, it’s a short and sharp song and it’s classic Priest. It’s got the screaming vocals, the melody, the thunderous drums and bass, the harmonies, which make it a great song to put out there. It’s really meant to alert everyone that Priest has got a new record coming out and if we would have used one of the more progressive songs of the album, it wouldn’t have had so much impact. I think videos are still very important nowadays as everybody is very visual and streaming moving content all the time. I think it’s a great way to put the emotion of a song across and with that in mind there was no better statement in this than Priest playing live. It’s an intense and strong experience, which comes together nicely with the musical content, so that’s why we chose for that.
The single was already released on January 5th, while the album will see the light of day on March 9th. Why this long wait for the full-length album?
Obviously as many people as possible need to be aware that the record is coming out, so you need a good lead-up to that. There’s going to be teasers and there might be some more releases as time goes by up until the actual release date. Furthermore these days usually there’s a three month build-up to the release to get everything ready, like the physical product, but the main thing is to raise awareness and to get everyone turned on to the fact that Priest have got a record coming out and build some anticipation before actually releasing the album.
How did you experience the response on the first track ‘Lightning Strike’?
It’s an interesting thing, because you never know how people are going to react to it. We loved the song and we were proud of it and fortunately the reactions were overwhelmingly positive. You get the response immediately these days with the internet as people voice their opinions, both good and bad, directly so you get an immediate sense of how the music is being received and I’m glad to say that people seem to be really excited about this new track and the exciting thing for me and the rest of the band is that if they are excited about ‘Lightning Strike’, they haven’t heard anything else yet so wait and see what’s coming next!
As a musician, if you had to pick one or maybe a couple of songs that you’re most proud of, which ones would that be and why?
That’s such a hard question to answer as the songs are like your children. You have a connection to each of them and you love them for different reasons. I love ‘Rising From Ruins’ as it’s a real epic sounding track, I love ‘Evil Never Dies’ for the way it builds up some great musical themes, while ‘Sea Of Red’ is a beautiful track with a great sentiment. I love them all, but definitely the three that I just mentioned are some of my favorites.
In how many different versions will the album become available?
Of course there will be the regular CD-version as well as the vinyl version and as far as I know there will be some limited editions available as well. Fans really love limited editions and they love to collect that stuff, as I’m also one of them. So there might be some more in the future, just to create that buzz and to create that excitement.
There are fourteen songs to be found on ‘Firepower’, but did you write and maybe even record any more material? If so, which one(s) and what is going to happen with these?
We wrote a lot more songs, about twenty-five or twenty-six, than what’s ended up on the album, but obviously you have to break that down into a decent amount of songs for a record. There were more demo’s recorded, but we decided to put all of the tracks on the record instead of having ten songs on the regular album and four songs as bonus for different editions as we felt that we couldn’t leave anything of. Each song had its own character and its own statement to make and as such we felt that we had to put everything on the album.
The production of the album was done by Tom Allom and Andy Sneap, so why did you choose for this combination and what do you think about the actual end result sound-wise yourself?
We were kicking around producer’s names at the beginning of the process and that was one of the things that we wanted to do differently compared to ‘Redeemer Of Souls’. One of the things that we could refine was the production and when we were talking about producers different names came up like Tom Allom, as he had already worked with the band on some of the classic albums, and Andy Sneap being a more modern metal producer of which we really liked the sound. So when we were discussing these two names, someone came up with the idea to combine forces and let them both do the production job. It was one of those lightbulb-moments, because it was never been done before with Priest but it just worked out great. It could have gone horribly wrong with clashing egos and things like that, but it was a great marriage of a classic producer and a more modern producer. They were really instrumental in getting the sound and the energy right for ‘Firepower’ and I think that they did a fantastic job.
The world tour starts four days after the release of the album, but how in god’s name are you going to pick the set list as the fans want to hear both the new material as well as the old classics?
Hahaha…it’s always a problem! It’s a good problem to have though, as we have the luxury of having a enormous amount of truly great songs. It’s difficult however, because if you take a couple of songs out you might take away some of the favorites of the fans. We want to put new songs in, because we don’t want to be a retrospective band, and putting new songs in will allow them to become Priest classics over time as well. It’s going to be a great dynamic between the new and the old tracks. Of course some of the classics have to remain in the set list, like ‘Breaking The Love’ and ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Coming’, otherwise there will be riots. As we start the tour so shortly after the release date, we will probably add new songs later on as the awareness and familiarity with the new material will be increased.
The band is one of the biggest names in the heavy metal scene and rightfully so, but what keeps you going as you’ve achieved so much already?
I’ve noticed that since I’ve joined we got fired up and inspired at the ‘Epitaph’ tour to write and record new material and when you’re in the studio you get fired up and inspired to play the new material in a live situation, so it’s a continuous cycle. It’s an inspiring form of music and an inspiring group of people and an inspiring fan base. It’s really a healthy circle of inspiration!
Of course as a fan of the band it was a dream come true for you to join the band, but you knew that it was going to be difficult to fill the gap that KK Downing left behind, so how did you prepare for that and did that put additional pressure on you?
Growing up with the band, it was part of who I was as a musician and as a guitar player and my mindset was to stand up for what you believe in, seize the opportunity when it’s there and don’t back down. So when I got the opportunity to play in Priest I was definitely ready to take it. I was very respectful of KK in the past and he’s a hero of mine, but it was an organic process. I knew it was a challenge, I knew that there was pressure, but it was good pressure to have. Because everything went so natural and since Judas Priest was part of my musical make-up, things have worked out very well.
As said the album will be released in March, so what are you own personal expectation from this album? When will it be a success for you?
That’s a very interesting question, because you never know how things will be received by the fans. We’re very excited about the record, we love the sound of it and the intensity and passion that’s in the material. It was a great team effort with everyone and we hope that that translates through the speakers when fans listen to it and crank it up to level eleven. We hope that the fans will get as much enjoyment out of it as we’ve put into it making it. We hope that the songs will connect to the fans and that the fans will love them as much as we do.
Okay Richie, I would like to thank you for your willingness to answer my questions. Is there anything that we didn’t cover that you want to express to our readers?
We hope to see many Dutch Judas Priest fans when we will play in your country in August for the ‘Firepower’ tour!
Judas Priest will play an exclusive NL show at 013 Tilburg on August 6th.