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Interview with a Metal God

I address Rob Halford as “Sir,” something I’m prone to do toward figures of authority or in the presence of a hero, a legend. It’s a nervous foible. “Are you in the queue to be knighted?” I ask, trying to break the ice. “I’m very happy being known as a metal god,” Halford says with a [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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I address Rob Halford as “Sir,” something I’m prone to do toward figures of authority or in the presence of a hero, a legend. It’s a nervous foible.

“Are you in the queue to be knighted?” I ask, trying to break the ice.

“I’m very happy being known as a metal god,” Halford says with a laugh. “In fact I think that might carry more weight than Sir Rob.”

At 63 years old, he’s more than a survivor—he’s damn near immortal. When Judas Priest takes thestage at this year’s Rock on the Range (May 15-17), the band not only celebrates 40 years together, but also a creative rebirth on the back of 2014’s stellar Redeemer of Souls. That album’s out-of-nowhere force isn’t surprising given Priest’s penchant for trendsetting and shapeshifting. Be it speed metal or thrash, leather and stud biker rock, or Halford’s undeniable operatic range, the band’s impact on modern music is unparalleled. In those four decades, Judas Priest have been metal’s oracle, guiding where it was headed and how it evolved.

The thought of which, again, when talking with Halford, has turned me into a puddle of fanboy. Halford’s grace and eloquence during our conversation werent wasted on chatting up the past, even if I tried to prompt him into reminiscing. Instead Halford sounded poised to charge headlong into the future and let the world know that Priest’s “killing machine” is alive and well.

“We can’t do anything without our fans. We’re all in it to win it, basically.”

I remember the last time you toured it was dubbed the “farewell” tour, but here you are again, touring for last year’s Redeemer of Souls. What is it that continues to coax you guys out of retirement? As the story goes, the so-called “farewell” tour suddenly shifted focus. With [guitarist] K.K. [Downing] leaving and Richard [Faulkner] joining the band for that tour, we were in a very reflective state of mind. What more can you say about life? Life changes, plans change. We were just thrilled with the opportunity to keep forging ahead. There’s more excitement and more talk about the future, especially on the back of Redeemer of Souls. For a band like Priest who’ve been together for over four decades and have [had] such a fantastic response meant the world to us. We are motivated by what we do and the people who enjoy what we do. We can’t do anything without our fans. We’re all in it to win it, basically.

I suppose one of the reasons I’m such a huge Judas Priest fan is that you guys are never set in your ways. Throughout your career you were always switching gears, experimenting with different styles and aesthetics. What do you think contributed to that? It’s chemistry. It’s how you come together. In a band, it has to start with a mutual respect and an admiration for the music you’re all striving to create. It’s difficult being in a band—it’s an emotionally driven life. It’s difficult to find a balance of respect, and I think we’ve been able to maintain that in Priest.

JPriest_TS14_050714_0290Do you have a favorite period or album from the discography? I’ve always made reference to Sad Wings of Destiny. When you first make professional recordings and your songs go out to the public and the fan base, that music is coming from a very uncluttered source. There are none of the extraneous pressures that come with being in a band. It’s pure. I can still listen to that album now and still get the same kick out of it when we first made that record. It’s a great example of the roots of this band. There are some wonderfully significant parts to this band’s career, but I steer any new fan towards that one.

You and the band fought wars with the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) and the courts questioning the obscenity of your work. These days there doesn’t seem to be such a backlash against the negative influence of metal on our culture. Why do you think that is so? Do you think you were trailblazers in that respect? It’s a different world. All of those people who were in power and all of those people that were attacking us have moved on and we have people in various governments who know it’s a different time and have a different understanding about music and the way it works. Music is always about giving people a good time, being constructive as opposed to destructive. In the thick of the ’80s, we were caught up in some political turmoil that we had no connection to—we were sort of dragged into it. I think we efficiently explained ourselves to people who were being guided by certain bodies of authority that we were being attacked for all the wrong reasons. There are more important things in life than picking on bands these days.

I recently read an interview with you from last year where you say that now, in your 60s, you want to eventually move out of your comfort zone. Do you have any notion of what that will consist of? As long as the outcome is good and fans are attracted to it. I’m a metalhead. I’ve been a metalhead for almost 64 years. That’s where my heart’s at. But it’s all about adventure. The longer you live the more risks you can take if you want to.

So you’re not planning a “duets” album anytime soon? I don’t see why I shouldn’t. It’s on the table. Everything’s on the table.

Judas Priest plays Rock on the Range on Saturday, May 16. Visit rockontherange.com for full schedules and information.

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Arts & Culture

Live music allowed again in restaurants and bars: how will these establishments respond?

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A major step forward in the return of live music in Ohio took place over the weekend. The Ohio coronavirus guidelines were updated to reflect the new COVID-19 Dine Safe Ohio Order.

The order outlining the guidelines on live music in restaurant and bars is as follows:

Musicians and bands may perform in restaurants and bars as long as the individuals who are performing maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet from all other people including, but not limited to, fellow performers and restaurant and bar patrons and staff.

DJ's are included along with musicians and bands in the order.

Something that was on the mind of a lot of musicians with the reopening of restaurants and the indefinite closing of large venues was how restaurants and bars were going to respond to the immediate venue demand. Places like Woodlands Tavern that already have an infrastructure for live music will have no problem complying with the updated order, but will restaurants and bars that depended on jukeboxes before pivot to a live music model?

With a lot more space available in restaurants due to capacity cuts, does this leave more room for a live music set up? Or will restaurants have to get rid of even more tables if they want to make room for a performer?

The thought of live music in a venue setting is alone enough to get excited about. How these places that now have the ability to host live music execute freeing up space for a band to set up or a DJ to bring his rig in while practicing social distancing is what makes this situation a tricky one.

Not being able to get down in a MojoFlo Soul Train line will be pretty tough, but it’s a tradeoff we’ll have to accept for the return of live music.

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Arts & Culture

(614) Music Club: Sarob

Julian Foglietti

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Every week (614) Music Club teams up with your favorite local artists to build a playlist of what they’re listening to, and what’s inspiring them. This week’s playlist is brought to you by the R&B artist Sarob.


Photo by: Wyze

Tell me about some of the songs you’ve selected.

"The first one is Sobeautiful by Musiq Soulchild. So every week with my vocal coach, I have to learn a song. And I've been trying to figure out how to do vocal gliding. Which is not a strong point for me, and I remember hearing that song and being like, OK, this is it. The song is just beautifully written and composed, so when you add the technique to it, it’s just great. The other song was Workin On It by Dwele, who is one of my favorite artists of all time. Workin On It uses this J Dilla beat that just feels really timeless."

Have the past few months changed the direction or mood of the music you're creating. 

"So I have been making stuff here and there, and then I'll go into something creative for like two days. I'll just be making like a bunch of songs and then I'll stop for two weeks, not even want to look at a microphone or anything. I mean, it's a lot more inward, so I’m learning how to better communicate the things I'm experiencing, and set the scenes for people and talk about what is going on. Also not having my band has been a challenge. I’m more of a thinker, I play the keyboard, and I can build a song, but I’m not the most gifted musician so having to build a lot of it on my own is tricky."

Do you have any plans or releases coming up? 

"Yeah, so I had a song Pleasures U Like that was made for my last album, but it didn’t quite fit the story of the album. So I just forgot about it until recently and I finished the vocals just before the lockdown, and now I’m releasing it on Bandcamp as part of a fundraiser for The Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio. All of the proceeds from the song are going to go to support their Pandemic Emergency Fund, and it just felt like a good way to do something that would impact everything going on."

Sarob's Playlist

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Coronavirus

Breakaway Music Festival will not take place in 2020; to return in 2021

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Those in the music festival community have continued to rally their broken spirits behind live streams and classic archival sets in lieu of the live event industry being put on indefinite hold. 

With each passing day, though, hopes for any large concert gathering happening in 2020 seem incredibly bleak and unrealistic.

News from Midwest college market concert and music festival promoter Prime Social Group on Thursday further confirmed the modern hippie’s greatest fear: a summer void of camping out in otherworldy open fields and following their favorite musicians across the country. 

PSG operates a network of festivals under the Breakaway Music handle that take place annually in Columbus; Charlotte, North Carolina; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Washington D.C.; Nashville; and San Diego. The promotion company made the difficult decision to cancel all six of its 2020 editions of the EDM and pop-focused Breakaway Music Festival with a fully-committed plan to return in 2021. The decision was made due to health and safety concerns stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

Tickets to the event can be carried over for the 2021 edition of BMF. For those who choose this option, you’ll receive an extra ticket and merch bundle. PSG will also provide refunds if transferring tickets for 2021 is not an option.

Columbus has been making its claim as a music festival destination over the past few years. Breakaway, along with events like Sonic Temple, Wonderbus, and Buckeye Country Superfest, has been bringing quality acts to Columbus consistently. The festival’s presence will be greatly missed this upcoming August.

“Now more than ever, we could use that special sense of unity achieved through live events and music festivals,” said Prime Social managing partner Zach Ruben. “We cannot wait to Leave it All Behind and make memories with all of you again. Until then, stay safe, stay healthy, and be kind to one another.”

In the meantime, Breakaway plans to release exclusive behind-the-scenes footage from past editions, new digital content, and various live streams. Visit breakawaymusicfestival.com to keep up to date with what PSG has in store.

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