Judas PriestJudas Priest is rising again
By Naughty Mickie 

Despite the distance and the time difference, speaking with Judas Priest bassist Ian Hill over the telephone was akin to chatting with an old friend. Relaxed, funny and friendly, Hill was discussing the group's tour in support of their latest effort, "Angel of Retribution" (Epic Records), as well as the reunion of one of the band's most formidable lineups, vocalist Rob Halford, guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, Hill and drummer Scott Travis. We began at what prompted Halford's return.

"It was probably inevitable in the long run. It came about, we got together at Rob's house to discuss artwork on the new box set we just brought out, the 'Metalogy' box set, and at the end of the week, we were reformed," Hill laughs. "It was just one of those things, it sort of fell into place. The timing was perfect as well, of course. Robert was in the process of finishing a project he was on and we just finished our tour, our 'Demolition' tour with Ripper... We thought we'd give it a go."

Growing up in England, Hill was exposed to music by his father who played jazz.

"Oddly enough I wasn't that interested until I was about 14, something like that. My dad showed me all the rudiments on the double bass, a couple of scales and a couple of simple tunes. I got my interest from that really, unfortunately, my father died when I was 15 and that was the end of my tuition from him," Hill relates. "I decided to continue. I was into other things, obviously, than my father was into. I was into more progressive types of rock music, Cream, Hendrix, things like that.

"I got my first bass guitar, I found it was automatically easier to play than double bass and went from there. From there on I was self-taught. It's a funny thing because my son is following in my footsteps as well, he's playing bass as well," Hill says.

Hill stayed on for an extra year of secondary school. In England, you could leave, but he stayed for the exams.

"I came up just about above average, some of them, most of them average," Hill chuckles.

After school, Hill was lucky to land a job he enjoyed.

"I worked at a motor factory selling parts for cars and trucks and I specialized in heavy lift springs for lorries. It was nice driving around in a van for a couple of years after I left school." Hill goes on, "I'm a motoring freak, I'm a transport freak, I like anything that moves with mechanical power. I was in my element really, fiddling with all the parts and bits and pieces and people coming in interested in vehicles. It was quite enjoyable really. It was hard work, but enjoyable."

I wonder if he collects cars as a hobby.

"I have collected cars in the past, but I'm in the process of changing a few at the moment so there's not much in my garage apart from the most interesting thing probably a Range Rover and a MG, that's about it," Hill laughs. "But over the years I've had Austin Healys, older MGs, Jensens, Aston Martins, Lagondas, over the years. I'm in the process of changing houses at the moment, so a lot of them got by the wayside at the moment unfortunately. You never know, I might be in the market for an interesting vehicle in a year or two."

He then tells me he plays golf, so I ask him if he's any good.

"Not really, I dig a trench or two" Hill chuckles. "I do cycling from time to time, but most of my time is spent with my family and that takes up a lot of time.

"I've been married twice, I have a son, Alex, who's 25 and like I way, he's following in the footsteps, he's playing bass. I have daughter from my second marriage, she's 13 and she lives with her mother in Albuquerque. And my present partner has two sons, one 18 and one 13. So I'm well-endowed with children." Hill continues, "Richard plays a little guitar and Andrew's decided to take up the bass as well. But I don't think they're serious about it. Well, with Andrew, who knows, he's to young to know yet. But the older one is more into IT, computers and things like that."

Judas PriestI steer our conversation back to Judas Priest, asking Hill to explain their writing process.

"Ken, Glenn and Rob come up with the basic ideas for the songs and get them mapped out," Hill replies. "When that's done, they'll send me a rough copy and they'll send Scott a rough copy and we'll put our drum patterns and bass lines down to that. Then we'll meet up in the studio and start to record it. Generally speaking, the drums come first because once you've got the drum track down, you've got the basis of the song itself. Then build on top of that. Probably guitar next, the rhythm guitars and the bass, then vocals, then the lead vocals and the production pieces on top of that."

This leads to his views on the music scene.

"In general, I'm not too familiar with it in America of course, but in Britain it's getting rather boring," Hill begins. "It seems, especially in the pop sort of things, you have to be famous before you get on. It's one of those kind of things, where you don't go on unless you've been on one of Simon Cowell's programs or something like that. And the bands tend to be wholly manufactured, none of them came up through the ranks like we did and all the older more conventional bands did. It's a great pity because these people are sort of a fad. One reason heavy metal's been around for as long as it has really is because it never became a fad. Fads come and fads go and the music that was in vogue one day is not the next, but with heavy metal, it's never been a fad. It's never been terrifically popular so it's never really gone out of style.

"The record companies as well are a little bit to blame in this. They're looking for the for the big book, whereas, when we were starting out, they would take people on as a long-term project." Hill goes on, "Obviously, if they thought the band was that talented, they would put money into it, give them advances, recording time and publicity and so forth. But they didn't necessarily expect an instant return, they were willing to wait a while to recoup and of course the bands flourished like that because they learned as they'd go along. As opposed to trying to do everything at one time and if you don't get it right the first time, you never get a second chance.

"When we started out record companies took on long-term projects like ourselves," continues Hill. "Heavy metal music or heavy rock or integrated music as it was called when we started out wasn't very popular then either. They were all at war with the charts. They were on the album charts, yes, but the single charts certainly not, with one or two obvious exceptions, Hendrix, Cream, stuff like that. It was never popular music even back then."

A mention of the Internet prods Hill into offering his opinion.

"You can't get along without using it. I do all my banking on it, things like that, you can't get along without it. From a commercial point of view, it's potentially absolutely brilliant, but on the other hand it's potentially disastrous as well," Hill says. "All these people who give away free downloads and things like that really are in danger of ruining the business. Albums sales across the board are down probably more than the record companies will admit to and if the bands aren't going to get anything out of recording, what's the point in doing it. That's the danger at the moment.

"Obviously on the road it's a different thing. It's a live show and that can never be replicated. Except for probably a poor quality bootleg, but other than that it's something unique every night. I think that live shows show a lot of promise. We're playing in front of as many people as we ever had throughout the years. But album sales, like I said, across the board, people are giving them away," Hill concludes.

But to what does he attribute Judas Priest's staying power?

"Probably it's mutual tolerance I think," Hill laughs. "It's being able to put up with everybody's little personality quirk. The thing is we're good friends on and off the stage so that helps a lot and of course we've been in the business a hell of a long time together. We've been through it thick and thin and going through the thin times, it bonds a relationship. I think that it's attributable to that, a great deal of it. And of course, like I said before, we're never out of fashion, so we've always been moderately successful. You reach your level and you carry along. Every now and again, a track or a band or something will jump out and grab the headlines, sometimes it doesn't. It's always there. I think we all love it as well, we all have it in our blood. So it's all of those things, it each contributes to our career."

Judas Priest is slated to tour in South America in September, return to the United States during October and November and then tour wherever they can through Christmas. Next year, they plan to write another album and then tour through the summer.

I lead Hill back to discussing the creation of "Angel of Retribution."

"It was a really great process, the album." Hill states, "The guys wrote very very naturally, everything just flowed out, there was nothing forced and there was nothing contrived either. Like I say, what came out, came naturally. And the recording process was equally as easy. We decided we would try to make this album probably as varied as we could.

"Over the years, over the last 15 years probably, heavy metal bands, heavy metal in general got very fragmented. Bands would be in every aspect of heavy metal, you'd be a grunge band or a speed metal band or a gothic band or a death metal band. I want a band to do all of those things, the versatility, the variety had gone," Hill says. "They were all there, but in different bands.

"We've been known to do all of those things over the years. We decided to try and show that in the new album. There's a little bit of everything in there-- there's the fast, the slow, the heavy, the commercial, the productions pieces, the ballads, there's a little bit of everything we've been known for." Hill goes on, "Just recently, I think that up and coming bands these days are trying to be a little more versatile, which is good news. It's good news for heavy metal in general. Obviously, the more varied you are, the wider your audience."

I ask if Priest is received a good response to the album.

"Yes, we are," Hill boasts. "We play four songs off of it and they're all going down really well, it's getting a tremendous reception. Everybody seems to know each of them off the album, where they're downloading it, I don't know, but they know the new songs, which is great. The audience as well is varied as a whole cross-section of age.

There's people our age who followed us right from the beginning there to youngsters and teenagers. It's very heartening, not just for us, but for heavy metal in general, it's a good sign."

Hill doesn't have a favorite song, "It'd be difficult to pick one. If I had to pick one, it'd probably be 'Judas Rising,' I think because that sums the band up. It's a brilliant album and track."

So what's the secret to Judas Priest's success?

"That's another secret to being successful is to pulling it off live." Hill affirms, "We've always had a bit of philosophy there, if you can't play it live, don't put it on the album. Obviously there's some things we can't do, but most of it's there when we play live."

Check out when Judas Priest will be in town and more at www.judaspriest.com

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