Rob Halford on Winter Songs

The Metal God talks to Metal as Fuck about Winter Songs: what it means to him, why he did it, and which tracks he personally likes best...

When I talked to Rob Halford about his latest release, the Halford Christmas album Winter Songs, one of the first things he said to me was that it must be weird to be talking about winter songs when for us in the Southern Hemisphere it's summertime. While to some extent it is a bit odd for us, I had the opportunity to tell Halford that the Aussie Santa is a bloke in short shorts, thongs and beer in hand.

Halford laughed. 'Now there's a thought,' he said. 'I don't think I've ever seen a Santa in a thong. I'll have to do some Google imaging and surfing later on.'

It wasn't long before I talked to Halford that he'd gotten back from the last date of the Judas Priest world tour – at the Loud Park Festival in Tokyo. Work never stops for the Metal God; as soon as he got off the plane from Japan, he dived headfirst into working on getting Winter Songs released in time for Christmas, and will keep on working on promoting the release until he goes back home to the UK for Christmas.

'Busy busy busy. It's been a really solid year, but that's the joy of having these fans that are absolutely passionate about whatever goes on with the Priest or whatever goes on with my solo activities,' Halford explained. 'The fans are why we do it, you know; at the end of the day you can't do a thing without the fans supporting you. I've got the best fans in the world, so they keep wanting the metal, we keep making it.'

Halford went on to talk about how the relationship that he has with his fans is a good one because it's very real, and very genuine. But at the same time, he said that he thinks it's the same in all forms of metal: that the metal community is a breed unto itself, that it is really just one big family.

'Let's face it, some portions of contemporary pop music, or whatever, is a very limited time of supporting each other because there's always something coming around the corner. But I think with metal, it's just a very hardcore system of generously sticking with the band that you love through thick and thin,' he said. 'That's certainly been the case with my career over the past thirty years plus. Thirty-eight years now, I think it's been. Amazing.

'It is a metal community,' he went on. 'And it is world-wide. You can take a metalhead from anywhere in the world and stick 'em in a room together. They might not be able to understand each other's language but there's a common ground with the music that we love to share. So I think what we have is very special, definitely.'

For those of you who follow the industry side of things, in Australia at least, you might have noticed that Winter Songs is distributed by Stomp. It was just a one-and-a-half or maybe two years ago that Metal God Entertainment signed an exclusive distro deal with Riot! Entertainment. Not having heard anything about the changeover, I asked Rob what the deal was. As is nearly always the case in the music industry, the change had nothing to do with the people, and everything to do with the best distribution possible.

'It's a fair question,' Halford said. 'I don't think it's uncommon for label changes to happen, for lots of different reasons. I really enjoyed my time on Riot!, they were great people. I think they did as much as they could do – and still do – and then if you feel you need to kinda look somewhere else to get some other things happening, then I think you have to do that,' he explained. 'And that's not to dismiss the value that I have had with Riot!. It's a great set-up, so I'm just doing what a lot of other musicians do. You just move around from place to place and look for the things that you need from your label in terms of distribution. So I'm happy to be with who I'm with right now in Australia.'

It was seven years ago that the last dedicated Halford release came out: Crucible in 2002. Since then, Halford's been doing all sorts of things. Part of this is driven by his desire to work with all sorts of musicians, and the Halford band functions on the understanding that they all have different needs, musically.

'You're right it has been seven years since Crucible! And this isn't an official studio release from the Halford band. It's a little bit selfish on my part, because I really wanted to do this and I wasn't sure how the rest of the lads would react,' Halford explained. 'But they immediately embraced it, so it ended up being a really, really pleasant experience putting this music together.'

As Halford went on, he believes that the material is strong stuff. Some of the messages were specifically designed for Christmas, but, as he says, overall it's a great display of the talent of the band.

When I admitted to Halford that Christmas albums tend to make me trepidatious – having had some right shockers cross my desk in the past – he told me that he understood that feeling in advance.

'I'd like to think that once you hear that rip-roaring track Get into the spirit, that it might put your mind at rest, if you think I was losing my mind,' he laughed, 'doing what I did'.

Looking back over the album, Halford told me that he believes it's a strong and beautiful album, filled with messages that he believes in. He also went on to talk about the fact that some of the songs are quite adventurous musically, in terms of the arrangement and the strength of the performance.

'I don't think I've dropped the ball,' he confided. 'In my own mind I think that this is just another offering from what I make in music that's just specifically for this time of year. Be nice to have a bit of metal or rock at Christmas in 2009,' he went on. 'I'm not the first to have done this – other bands have done it – and I think that we've proved that the metalheads and the rockheads love this kind of music from the bands that they support.'

When I told him that the guys here at Metal as Fuck enjoyed the album – which, of course, includes myself – Halford said that it meant a lot to him to hear it.

'You can only do your best effort,' he said, 'and see what comes of it. But I think my fans have been very open-minded and supportive with everything I've done over the years in metal, and I'm pretty sure that they'll accept this for the way it was made, and have a rocking Christmas with it.'

For the bulk of the work on the arrangements for Winter Songs, Halford himself was out on the road with Priest. Z and Mike and everybody were putting the arrangements together themselves, which is realistically the way it is with the Halford band. With Priest it's a different set-up entirely: it's always Glenn and K.K. and Halford starting from scratch.

So the Halford band were doing their thing, and Halford heard the arrangements as they were being completed.

'I was absolutely over the moon. I thought that what they did was really top-notch, first-class,' he said. 'And you take a song like We Three Kings, and you listen to it in its most obvious form, which is like a Christmas song with choirs or church organ or whatever, and then you hear what the lads did to it musically and it's absolutely brilliant.'

As Halford said, one of the biggest joys of doing this album was the fact that the band put on the release tracks that they penned themselves. Hearing the arrangements that the band was putting together was inspiring for Halford; so much so that he sat down with a guitar and pulled together a couple of songs. These were Light of the World and Christmas for Everyone.

'I didn't quite expect that to happen. At some point I didn't think we'd have enough material,' he said. 'I thought we might have to wait until 2010, but as it turned out we were able to put ten tracks together, which is more than enough in today's world, where people live at the speed of light and listen to you for thirty seconds before they have to text somebody,' he laughed.

I asked Halford whether the fact that they penned songs themselves was important to them, and whether Rob himself finds that it gives the release a different vibe.

'I think it's important to do that. Very important. You know, there are some standards, aren't there. There's classic standards, that, no matter how they're interpreted, stay the same. Just from my point of view, and the reputation that I've made for myself, you know there's some built-in expectation I think from the fans. Everything has to stand on its own legs, otherwise it's just really not worth doing it.'

Halford has wanted to do a Christmas album for a long time, and there are lots of different reasons why this is the case. Christmas still means as much to the Metal God now as it did when he was a little kid.

'I think none of us really grow up at Christmas. We're all like big kids on Christmas day, it's magical,' he said.

But aside from this, some of the messages are important to Halford. As he said, you have to believe in what you're singing. The emotional connection when he's singing about certain things from a faith point of view is very important to him.

'You know as a solo artist you have the opportunity to do these personal statements. You either decide to talk about these things that mean a lot to you or you keep them in the back of your mind. I think with me I've always tried to be as open and straight-forward and honest as I can be with my music.'

Given that Halford loves all of the tracks on the release, it was hard for him to pick a favourite, saying that if there were two or four mashed together, he could pull that one out as a favourite.

'Every one is different, isn't it really?' he said. 'From Get into the Spirit to O Come all ye Faithful. And I think it's early days yet. You know, in terms of the way that we listen to music for a lot of us you have to play it a few times before you finally connect. But if I listen to it now, I think I can enjoy it more now without criticising myself. I always beat myself up, I always think I can do a better job,' Halford explained. 'And I'm always complaining about what I do. Erm, I think I'm just about past that point now. But if you were really to kind of push me, I would say I really like Emmanuel, I really like that song, just very special somehow. Course tomorrow if you ask me the same question I'd probably pick something else. But it's all good. I love everything.'

Rob Halford's Winter Songs is out now on Metal God Entertainment/Stomp.