The holidays begin with
new sounds for the season
By Naughty Mickie
cuddling by a warm fire, cooking a big, family meal and so many
other things, but rarely has it brought to mind metal,
particularly the kind served up by Halford. Well, when you hear
"Halford III- Winter Songs" (Metal God Records), you will be
humming a new tune or two. The album was recorded by Halford's
current lineup of vocalist Rob Halford, guitarists Roy Z. (who
also produced the effort) and Metal Mike Chlasciak, bassist Mike
Davis and drummer Bobby Jarzombek.
I managed to snag some time with Rob
Halford to discuss the work and began with the obvious question-
why a Christmas album?
"I think that I'm at a point in my career
now where I'm looking to do things that I've not done before and
that's certainly the case with these wonderful songs on this
release," explains Halford. "There's a feel about them, there's
an atmosphere, a texture, a production that is quite different
to me, so that's the main point of attraction to me as a
musician, to go and enjoy this whole session.
"Don't you feel differently?" Halford
continues, "I mean it's amazing how I was feeling singing these
songs. Singers always talk about singing from the soul and
singing some of these traditional songs, like 'Oh Holy Night' or
'Oh Emanuel,' 'These Three Kings,' I think it touched a part of
me that, quite honestly, I don't think I've experienced before
on an emotional level. It was very uplifting and very empowering
in a great way just in the messages and what I was singing
about. There's a lot of mixed emotions, they're all great ones,
I had an absolute blast making this record."
"But metal? For holiday songs?" I ask.
"I think again, that was the attraction
for me, just to make people think and blink, 'He's doing what?
That guy is making a Christmas record, is he going to be doing
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"?' Well, no, I'm not actually,
I'm going a little bit more, not exactly deeper, but doing songs
that I think have more-- substance is the wrong word." Halford
says, "I love this time of the year that's coming up. It's
exciting for me and it carries over from when I was a kid. I
just love the feeling of family coming together and just the
"The tracks that we worked with, the
traditional tracks, some of them are well-known, others are less
well-known, but they've all been given a wonderful treatment in
production by Roy Z., my producer. But in essence I would like
to say about those tracks that we sent out, 'Get Into the
Spirit' and 'We Three Kings,' it shows you it's a Christmas
record with big Christmas balls," Halford laughs, "you know,
that you hang on the tree, globes. But what's important, I just
wanted to let my metal fans, if they needed a sigh of relief, oh
thank god. It's pretty diverse."
I wonder how he selected the traditional
holiday tunes he covered.
"We all tried really hard not to run to
the songs that you ordinarily would imagine running to," replies
Halford. "When you think about it, there are not that great many
songs for the season that firstly have not been covered to
death, have been rearranged so many times it just drives you
mental to songs that have been covered that are absolutely
claimed by the artist that covered them. If you're going to go
into that territory, you better really have a way of covering it
in a unique production and arrangement or what's the point?
"We worked really hard to pull together a
collection of songs that when running in the track sequence they
all complement each other and it all feels right.
That's the other important thing about
putting songs together, does it feel right? Does that feel out
of balance? I don't quite get that, the text is wrong, the tempo
is in the wrong place, whatever. It's like anything you do in
the creative sense, it's a sense of balance.
"Seven beautiful songs by other artists
and four that we put together ourselves," Halford goes on, "One
of the original tracks we did, 'I Don't Care if it's Christmas
Night,' which is a great kind of Chuck Berry, planes, trains and
automobiles message it's so much fun to listen to. There's
'Winter Comes,' which is a very British sounding seasonal song.
The one that came out of the gate the very last time was 'Light
of the World,' and there's 'Get Into the Spirit,' there's four
I comment that I would think you have to
work harder to write a holiday song.
"You do," Halford agrees. "It's getting
into it, you have to put yourself in the right place. It's funny
because all of the lyrics for 'When Christmas Comes for
Everyone' came into my head when I was doing my nightly walk
around Balboa Park. I do my three-hour walk, I walk five miles a
day one way or another, I find it very cathartic and it's great
food for your brain, so all the words came from that even
though the music was already kind of in place. The music came to
me while I was on a drive from my apartment to the studio.
That's what's so freaky about being a musician, sometimes you
feel you're almost haunted, these things come into your head,
it's a riff or it's a melody or it's a word and it can freak you
out, but anyway. A lot of them are very spontaneous, a lot of
them take work, but however they come together you have to again
make sure that they are cohesive and they collectively
complement each other."
So did Halford have any worries about
penning the cuts for "Winter Songs," as you are paying homage to
traditions set by other works, but also striving to be original,
which is a fine line to tread.
"It is, you can only do it by having
experience under your belt and I've had almost 40 years of it as
musician," responds Halford. "Having said that, I don't think
that should deter anybody, each of us have the ability musically
to do something unique and so it is a leap of faith thing. It
certainly was for me because in the back of my mind there's
like, 'Are people going to go for this? Just the idea that I've
got this Christmas record, a holiday record, are a lot of
people just going to go, "not interested"?'
"But on a personal level, this is an
important record for me in terms of the message. That side of my
life is an important day to day, meaningful experience. I'm
being pretty open in some way by singing these songs with the
messages of some of these songs."
Halford is readying for the holidays in
another way as well, with his new Metal God apparel line.
"I'm excited about that," says Halford. "A
clothing line is no different than making a record, you've got
to go through the creative process, the teamwork, a lot of ideas
and energy and dynamics. That's something that just came out of
the platform of Metal God Entertainment. When we launched the
production company over a year ago we said that we were going to
be broad-based about some of the projects, so this is one
project that came up about a year back and it's taken about a
year for the initial idea to get to where we are now. I think
it's just another side of me, my music is a display of what
makes me who I am, the tattoos I've got on me are a display of
who I am and what I'm about and it's the same with the clothing,
the designs on the clothing are pretty strong and dynamic and
passionate and just send a signal. I think the clothing is just
another part of the creative bits and pieces that make me a
person and I hadn't done that before so it just was an
opportunity that I wanted to experiment in. I don't know what's
going to happen with it."
We discuss the pricing, which is quite
"It's not like a merch shirt, it's a rock
and roll shirt." Halford clarifies, "Having said that, you put
down 40, 50 bucks for a shirt that will drop to pieces in a
couple of months so the emphasis on quality was very important
to me. I don't want to be linked to rubbish, I want to be linked
to quality in everything I do, that's a professional standard.
There was a bit of a kickback from some, 'Dude, I'm not paying
that kind of money,' but I think they understand now that it's a
great range of clothing of a certain quality that dictates the
price that we're asking for. In the company we keep it's
"I do need to take care of you ladies more
though because I think we had only one or two designs initially
that came out. I just had a mad dash to New York and most of the
people that I sat down with over the 14 hour day, a lot of the
people that I spoke to were girls in the fashion industry and
they were all like, 'You guys, you always leave us girls out.'
I'm saying, 'What are you talking about?' 'We want the same
stuff as you guys, like all of these shirts that are there for
the guys, the girls would wear them, but then our bodies are
different, so make us some shirts like the guys that we can
wear.' I thought how cool is that?
"But it's not much of a stretch because
you go to a metal show, there's a lot of guys there, but there's
a ton of girls there; you've got the Stephenie Meyer thing going
with all those great vampire books, you've got 'Jennifer's Body'
that just came out, girls want that type of experience so I'm
going to put that to rights. By February next year, I'm going to
make sure the ladies have equal dibs on all of the Metal God
What is Halford's Christmas wish?
"It's to be with my family, they're still
important to me, obviously they are to all of us," says Halford.
"The season is for everybody, it doesn't matter if you are the
Christian faith, the Jewish faith, Buddist, Islam, it's just
this wonderful time of year that unites us all and I think that
the heart of that is being with family, so I'll be with my mum
and dad and my brother and my sister, my nephews and my nieces,
we'll all be together over the holiday season.
"For a lot of people thanksgiving is more
important that the seasonal and the year experience, for us in
Britain especially, Christmas Day is a very important day.
That's all I wish for really, to be with all my family and my
close friends and relatives, I'm looking forward to that. I'll
be freezing my nuts off, but I can't wait to get there."
My mother is from England, so I ask if his
family will have a traditional British Christmas dinner.
"My sister will do that, she's a brilliant
cook," Halford replies. "She can cook everything and I keep
telling her we need to open a restaurant for you, but she's
super busy. She's like a caregiver, she looks after my mum and
dad, god bless them, 82, 83 and so her day is totally immersed
into looking after my mum and dad. It's the way it goes isn't
it? When you're a kid your mum and dad raise you and then it's
role reversal later on in life, as it should be.
We discuss cooking and Halford shares one
final thought: "Funny enough, I had a fax from my sister this
morning saying, 'I'm watching Jamie Oliver in Navajo County in
Phoenix he's eating a tamale and I've just realized that I've
never eaten a tamale.' When you come to Phoenix, I'm going to
take you to the best tamale shop I can find for you."
Halford's bassist Mike Davis lives and
works not too far from me, so he invited me to chat about
"Winter Songs" over a meal at the FrontRunner restaurant at
Santa Anita Park, where he is the sous chef. Davis and I went
straight into the writing for the album.
"The Halford band, since we don't get
together often, we zero in on projects, so usually I'll hear
from Roy first or John Baxter our manager who will say, 'We're
going to do this, what's your availability? And here's some
music to listen to,'" Davis begins. "Basically you woodshed for
a couple of weeks yourself to figure out your parts and then you
record it. (I receive a recording with) basically a drum machine
and rhythm guitar and sometimes some scratch vocals.
It's like an open palette. If there's a
basic idea Roy will put one down, but for the most part he just
lets me do my thing and then when we go record it. We hash it
out together, which is really fun because Roy's got some really
I ask him about the recording process.
"It's a little bit different in Halford
band than in other bands because usually you jam together as a
group, we've done it that way too," Davis says. "I guess it's
kind of different with each record, but this one there was an
idea already set up, like Rob already had the idea and he got
together with Roy and figured out some Christmas tunes to do,
some holiday music and then some original songs. They already
had the template, 'Here, here's our new record' 'Cool, all
right,' so I just worked on the bass and there it was."
Davis completed his part, learning the
songs and recording, in just shy of three weeks. All told,
though, "Winter Songs" took four to five months to finish.
"To tell you the truth, when I first heard about the project I
was kind of skeptical- Halford, a heavy metal god, we're going
to do a holiday record? But when you think about it, the holiday
music is based on a winter feeling which is a little more of a
solemn and retrospective feeling, which I think heavy metal is
geared that way any way. Heavy metal is a little on the dark
side," Davis shares. "And after hearing the arrangements of the
tunes, I said, 'Man, this works together really well' and Rob
sang the hell out of it. I totally was behind it, I totally
thought it was a great idea. I think it's really cool when you
do different things and I think it's exciting to hear Rob sing
different things and I think that's why we're here, that's why
the Halford band is here, so Rob can do different things. I'm
really proud of it. That's my first album that I'm on with Rob
and that is just the biggest thrill for me."
I wonder what the biggest challenge was in
making the album.
"We were taking pictures for the record in
July. The album is entitled 'Winter Songs,' so we were in trench
coats and leather jackets and scarves in a 100 degree studio
taking pictures. It was really hot. And a bunch of cold Coronas
on the side," Davis laughs.
So was it hard to get in the mood to
"Not at all because you're looking at the
song like you're recording a Halford song, it's not a holiday
song any more." Davis replies, "And the arrangements were so
great and the playing was so exceptional, it wasn't hard at all.
I didn't think of it as doing a Christmas record in July, I
thought of it as doing a Halford record."
So what is Davis' Christmas wish?
"To make more Halford records," laughs Davis. "To go on tour. My
wish all the time is just the best for my son and my family."
"But you probably won't play cuts from
'Winter Songs' on tour, as it will be summer by then, right?" I
"We could be getting ready for next
Christmas, you never know. You can never rule out anything. If
you had told me last time we talked that the next time we chat
we're going to talk about a Halford Christmas record I would
probably say you were nuts, so there you go," Davis chuckles.
"That's why I didn't tell you," I tease.
"You knew? Well thanks because it's a
great surprise," Davis kids back.
Davis is also the bassist for Dramarama,
which currently has shows on the East Coast and will be at the
Coach House in San Juan Capistrano Dec. 4. The group is also
working on a new album. At the FrontRunner he is creating new
menus in anticipation of the Los Angeles Turf Club (LATC) meet
opening Dec. 26.
"Santa Anita has been so good to me, they
let me do my music and in turn, I bust my butt for them. It's a
great place to work, I love it," chirps Davis.
Thinking over Halford and "Winter Songs,"
Davis says, "This whole thing is a kick for me, to be doing
something with Rob together. You have to sometimes think, when I
was 12, 13 years old I learned how to play the bass to his tunes
and then hanging out with the Metal God now and I get to be in a
band with him, that's ridiculous."
"Halford III -Winter Songs" track
Get into the Spirit
What Child is This
We Three Kings
Oh Holy Night
When Christmas Comes for Everyone
Oh Come All Ye Faithful
I Don't Care if it's Christmas Night
For more information, visit
Halford isn't the only band getting into the spirit of the
season, there's new holiday sights and sounds for every taste.
Here's a just a sampling:
Andrea Bocelli, "My Christmas" (Sugar, Decca).
Jeff Cook, "Christmas Joy" (Quest Records).
Bob Dylan, "Christmas in the Heart" (Sony), CD or deluxe
edition, which includes five Christmas cards, proceeds benefit
REO Speedwagon, "Not So Silent Night" (Sony).
Brian Setzer, "Christmas Rocks! The Best Collection" (Surfdog),
re-release, and "Ultimate Christmas Collection" (Surfdog),
includes "Christmas Rocks!" CD and concert DVD.
Sting, "If on a Winter's Night" (Decca), CD or CD/DVD deluxe
edition, and "Sting: A Winter's Night: Live From Durham
Cathedral" (Deutsche Grammophon), DVD.
Various artists, "A Family Christmas" (Putumayo Kids).
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