The holidays begin with Halford ~
new sounds for the season

By Naughty Mickie

Winter means 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 whole experience.

"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 original tracks."

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 fair.

"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 reasonable.

"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 apparel."

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 great ideas."

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 record?

"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 ask.

"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 listing:
Get into the Spirit
What Child is This
Oh Emanuel
Winter Song
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

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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 Feeding America.
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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