Friday, 13 January 2012

Glenn Tipton [Judas Priest]


Back in 2001, I interviewed legendary Judas Priest axeman Glenn Tipton about a forthcoming trip to Japan. The interview was by telephone and lasted about 26 minutes, during which he clocked up a grand total of 46 y'knows, a rate of 1.76 per interview minute.

CBL: Hello...Hello.

GT: Hello. It's C.B.Liddell, right?

CBL: That's right. Is that Glenn Tipton?

GT: It certainly is.

CBL: It's an honour to speak to you.

GT: It's an honour to speak to you.

CBL: This is a piece I'm doing for the Asahi Shimbun International Herald Tribune here in Japan.

GT: OK.

CBL: And...well, I'll just get on with it then.

GT: Alright then.

CBL: OK, when was the last time you were in Japan?

GT: It was about three years ago. I'm not very good on dates, but round about three, three and a half years ago, I believe.

CBL: You did some gigs then?

GT: Yeh, I think we did about six dates.

CBL: Uhuh, so quite similar to this time?

GT: That's right.

CBL: OK, now with regard to the forthcoming trip, how do you feel about coming to Japan, and what are you looking forward to?

GT: Well, Japan's always been the sort of country, y'know... The kids there are real loyal supporters of Judas Priest and they've been with us right from the start and so we love the people, and we always look forward to coming back to Japan. It's just a joy to play for the Japanese fans.

CBL: Do you ever get much time to see the country?

GT: Sometimes. I mean we've played Japan a lot and there have been times when I've got a chance to go to Kyoto, y'know, the old capital. I used to collect Japanese pottery so I spent many happy hours browsing round there, but normally we don’t get a lot of spare time. We're in and we do the gig and we're out the next day which is a shame.

CBL: Yeh. So, you're on a tight leash this time?

GT: Pretty so much...

CBL: So?

GT: We see a lot of the bullet train though.

CBL: Sorry?

GT: We see a lot of the bullet train.

CBL: Oh yeh, you're doing Nagoya and Osaka and...

GT: That's right. We've passed Mt Fuji lots of time on the bullet train.

CBL: Uhu. So, it seems that heavy metal/hard rock is still very popular in Japan, much more so than in Britain. Also, nowadays, like, y'know, Britain used to produce most of the great heavy metal/ hard rock bands, which are mainly American now. Why do you think hard rock music's declined in the UK?

GT: I don't think it's declined as much as changed. I think it's going to, I think, to New Age metal. Has South America, really. Europe is still pretty big. Europe itself, Germany and Spain, Italy and France, and we've just been in Scandinavia and it was just fantastic, y'know. So there are pockets of heavy metal fanatics still left. I just think Japan has always been loyal to metal and just appreciated it for what it is. I mean Priest, although we've been around for 30 years, we have evolved a lot so I think that's why we're still around. Our music's still got classic undertones of metal but we have progressed a lot, and we've been fairly brave on some of the albums so I think that people understand that.

CBL: I would say that it's a bit more marginal than when you started out in Britain anyway.

GT: Marginal? In what way?

CBL: I mean like most of the new bands which come through in Britain are into much lighter styles of music. Like even rock music, there're bands like Travis and so on which play this very delicate rock music rather than the real heavy stuff.

GT: Well, I mean, we've always been… tried to be heavy metal. Some bands try to avoid the type of heavy metal because they feel it's dated. But in our case I don't think... I think Priest are a unique band. It's got a unique character in its music and therefore we've existed quite easily in the ever-changing, y'know, backdrop of heavy metal and I think that the fact that we genuinely love heavy metal and we genuinely love Priest music is what's carried us through. We don't just go on stage and go through the motions. We really love what we do and we've always believed in it and stayed faithful to it. I think people respect that.

CBL: Yeh, em, I've always thought of heavy metal as a very industrial working class kind of music. Do you think so too?

GT: I think whatever, y'know... It appeals to the masses. I don't know whether you come from the upper or lower or middle classes. I think that it's got a wide appeal. Y'know I was born in an industrial area. Priest came from Birmingham. I worked for British Steel for years. Y'know, I think it was a good thing. It gave me the determination to break out of there, so I think what it does do is give you a lot of determination. In our case definitely we were influenced by the Black Country sky so to speak. But for the kids, I think it's got a wide appeal, and, no matter what walk of life you come from, there's always someone in it who knew it.

CBL: So, OK, it's still very valid for people from, y'know, a more privileged background or like a less working class background?

GT: I think it's right across the board. It appeals to all classes.

CBL: I'm sort of still amazed that you're doing these very heavy touring schedules and at your age you've still got the energy, the aggression, the hunger, and indeed the stamina to keep it up. How do you manage to do that?

GT: Again, I just think it's a belief in the music. I've got more enthusiasm than ever, and I surprise myself sometimes. But I think it's deep down, it's quite honestly just the fact that we love Priest music and we love what we do, and, as long as you're enjoying it, it gives you the enthusiasm. So I think it's that combination really that drives us on.

CBL: So, on the new album, Demolition, I was looking at the lyrics of In Between. It kind of sounded a little bit like a kind of middle age song or a kind of song of male menopause or confusion because of all the contradictions...

GT: I'm not sure it's a middle aged song. It's a song that I think is very appropriate for the younger generation because I think a lot of people nowadays are lost, y'know, they're 'in between,' y'know, they're not one thing or another, or sometimes they are in between and sometimes they're not. It's just a, y'know, I'm either polite or obscene or I'm nowhere in between, so it's just as though an appropriate song for the confusion that you're getting more, I would have said, in adolescent years, not knowing where you're going. I mean so many people go to university and study something that they never use again. It's a part of life where you sort yourself out. But it's a good message really in the sense I would say it's trying to tell you to focus on things, but it's just pointing out maybe that a lot of people maybe don't round about that age. It's just a little bit of, well, advice in a sense. It's just a [lacuna] in that area.

CBL: Would you say that society's becoming more like that, where people are left not really knowing what they’re there for?

GT: I think absolutely. Today's society is an ever-changing...particularly with recent events as well, but nobody really knows where they stand, what the future holds, and sometimes it's good to talk these things through, and I think that In Between sort of sums that up from my point of view, anyway.

CBL: One of the key things in heavy metal is its uncompromising stance so that seems to be something which doesn’t really sort of fit in with the modern world where people are constantly having to adjust themselves and assume certain kinds of faces.

GT: I think our music and our lyrics... I mean there are serious elements in there. There are with Priest a lot of tongue-in-cheek lyrics and we've always had a sense of humour woven in there, which is essential really because you can't take yourself too seriously. I mean, you can stand on a soapbox and say whatever you like, but there's only certain people going to appreciate it, understand it, or agree with you, and so many people are going to disagree so you can't really put yourself on that platform and believe that what you've got to say is right or wrong, but you can voice opinion and as long as you don't do it all too seriously I think that there's some good in that, and that's what I try to do lyrically is broach some of our opinion without pushing it down people's throats and still try and maintain a lighter side in there. I think that's essential.

CBL: So, when you're writing lyrics, I mean, how much of the lyrics do you actually completely subscribe to or believe in?

GT: I believe in everything really, but I mean a lot of the lyrics you don't have to believe in. A lot are make belief, y'know, like Metal Messiah or Jekyll and Hyde, y'know, they're just fun lyrics. There's a message, like, in One On One, which is just about, again, the music today, to give some determination and strength for the ups and downs, to pick yourselves up, focus, and get going. So, in a sense, when it's an issue like that, I try, y'know, and make that serious because it's only going to do good. We've never written lyrics that encourage people to do bad things anyway, so, in that way, we're pretty conscientious.

CBL: I've always thought, like, that Heavy metal is a music of extremes. The themes are destruction and horror and the Devil – things like that – and I've always thought that maybe this somehow reflected the horror of nuclear destruction that used to hang over the World during the Cold War year and, of course, that's all finished now, so what gives you that sense of rage and horror when you're writing lyrics now?

GT: We don't really write about things like that. The problem with heavy metal is it's its own worst enemy. There are a lot of bands out there who look for sensationalism, y'know, and they look for extremes and unfortunately we get tarred with the same brush, but if you look back at our lyrics, y'know [lacuna] but at the same time our lyrics have never been, y'know... If it's about battles, it's about star battles and futuristic battles, and, y'know, it can be what you want it to be. Unfortunately there are a lot of bands out there who do specialize in horrific lyrics bit we're not one of them, and I think we do get tarred with the same brush, but I mean if people delve into our lyrics I think they'll see that our lyrics are harmless, but interesting and very current in places, and they should be entertaining really. Y'know, lyrics aren't just words for a song. They should have some interest going for them, and they can be as evil as you want them to be, but in our case we've never believed in those extremes.

CBL: So you're saying that the lyrics, it's a bit like the Rocky Horror Picture Show: it's a bit of fun; it's a bit tongue-in-cheek; it’s a bit Halloweeny? Is that right?

GT: Well, our lyrics cover many subjects, y'know, on this album I mean. For example Hell Is Home. It's got the word "Hell" in, but, if you listen to the lyrics of that song, it's not about Hell at all. What it's about is again finding your level in life. If you aim too high then you're not going to be successful in that particular level, but if you're realistic and set your sights a little bit lower, on that level in life you can be somebody, so it's all about finding your position in life...

CBL: It's about someone having their basic integrity and not trying to pretend to be something they're not?

GT: That's right, and I mean it's got the word Hell in but it's not really about Hell at all so, y'know, sometimes you can read the title and, unless you actually listen to the lyrics, you can get the wrong impression.

CBL: Do you think it's misleading then to put, to slap that title on it 'cos people will start thinking, "Oh, great – Hell is home! This is the Devil and everything"?

GT: I don't think it's misleading at all if you read the lyrics, and I think the kids have got far more intelligence than people give them credit for, y'know. They don't just go "Mwwah, Hell is home! Bwoah!" y'know. They do listen to the lyrics, and if there's something to be got from them, they get it, y'know. You can say that about any song really. You could read it, I mean, we know more than anything, but, y'know, then you get taken to the... It's a subliminal title, y'know, so you can't win really. If you're in a heavy metal band, people often say to me, "Oh, you write about demons and black magic," and I say. "No, we don't," but, y'know, I can't really blame them for thinking that because, y'know, heavy metal has got a lot of bands in that do specialize in that and that's quite OK if that's what they want to do. I've got an open mind. My son's 15. He doesn't, y'know... He's not brainwashed by any means. He picks and chooses what he likes...

CBL: What does he like listening to them?

GT: ...and he switches off what he doesn't want to listen to, and if he likes them, he likes them. They choose what they like and what's good and bad. They're, y'know, more intelligent than people think, I mean, kids are probably far more intelligent than what the adults, y'know. They're certainly more astute at working out what's good and bad.

CBL: What sort of music is your son into then?

GT: He's into new age metal, y'know. He likes all the bands that are out there at the moment, yeh, the Limp Biscuits, the, em... But he's also... I mean, I suppose he's a little bit influenced by me. He's got an open mind and he'll accept anything, y'know, if it's good.

CBL: So, he's got quite diverse musical tastes?

GT: Yeh, I think he's got every band that [lacuna] there at the moment, but he changes on a monthly basis, and, y'know, he's only searching for something new to listen to.

CBL: So, what are your thoughts on the current state of the music scene?

GT: I think it's good. I think it's interesting. I think it's more visual at the moment than anything else, but there are some great bands out there, and I think, y'know, it's a necessary thing to evolve and change. It keeps the whole heavy metal scene interesting or it can be very stagnant. It can be very old-fashioned and when things evolve, good things come from it. I mean some bands fall by the wayside, but the stronger bands or the more talented bands are still up there, and they've got a lot to offer for quite a long time. I think if you've been around a long time, it proves that you've done a lot of things right and you have got something to offer that people want.

CBL: Which bands do you particularly like at the moment?

GT: Em, System of a Down. System of a Down are pretty unique. Looking at what's out there at the moment, a lot of it sounds the same. I'm not – although I've tried to get into it – I'm not particularly into rap metal at all but there are certain bands that stand head and shoulders above the rest. I checked System of a Down. I particularly like the singer. I think he's got a unique voice.

CBL: Yeh, I think there's a bit too much rap metal going on at the moment.

GT: Um, I wouldn't say there's too much. If there's a demand for it then the kids obviously like it. As for my preferences, I don't dislike... But I think some bands actually pull it off, and, again, if the lyrics have got something to say or are funny, y'know, or are amusing or entertaining, then that's fine. So often I think they're mundane lyrics with very little meaning.

CBL: Yes, that's often the case because they spit them out. And also they're often singing over something so there's less of that kind of organic interplay between singer and guitar and drummer and bass player, so I think they lose out a bit there as well... OK, talking about the music evolving, you had that very major change in Judas Priest when Rob left, and people are still sort of digesting that. It's been digested through the cinema as well, apparently. What do you think about the recent movie Rock Star and how much of the Ripper's story is in there?

GT: Very little actually. We've sort of kept our distance from it. They did ask us to write some music for it, but when we saw its format we decided... Definitely the only factor that's true in there is a guy from a tribute band joining the real thing, and, well, after that, they've just gone off on a Hollywood trail. We thought that if we got too involved with the film people might mistakenly think it was the story of Ripper Owens. It just isn't! It just isn't! So we've just distanced ourselves from it.

CBL: Do you think that the controversy it's generated has sort of got you back in the media spotlight to a certain degree, and it's been useful in that respect?

GT: Not particularly because what we're trying to do is show that the film has nothing to do with us. Unfortunately a lot of people think it has because they bought the story from the New York Times. [lacuna] joining the band but we [lacuna], y'know, so we just tried to keep as far away from it as possible.

CBL: I was reading somewhere that you're not too keen to sort of focus on the past and things like that, but still I want to ask you anyway what are the main differences between Rob and Ripper as singers for you.

GT: Um, it's a difficult question to answer because they've both got their own characteristics but they're both Judas Priest singers. What really surprises me about Ripper is the fact that he... Over the last two albums, I've helped him to find his own character and style, which there is an immense amount within him. He's very versatile, very flexible, and keen to develop his own character, but the thing that's amazed me is that it's still Judas Priest, so at the end of the day I'd say there's very little difference between them. They're absolutely perfect to sing for Judas Priest.

CBL: You'd say they're both equally as good?

GT: Oh yes. Yes, I would think so. Yeh.

CBL: There must be some differences like, y'know, they must have different strengths or weaknesses.

GT: There are different characters in the voice, but, as I say, it's still, y'know, acceptable in Judas Priest, and that's the thing that amazes me, 'cos with Ripper we found new routes to go down but once it's all done and dusted, recorded, it's just so appropriate for Priest and there's no real definition of why. That's just the way it is, which is it's a small miracle really that we found Ripper.

CBL: People are bound to harp on about Rob for quite a while. What do you think it'll actually take for them to forget about that whole question and to sort of just concentrate on the band as it is now?

GT: I don't think the subject will ever drop, y'know. I think it will always be there and will always be old.

CBL: So, you're quite happy to live with that then?

GT: Absolutely, yeh.

CBL: So, you've changed an important member in Rob and, of course, you’ve been through quite a few drummers as well, and would it be possible for Judas Priest to keep going even after you leave the band, y'know? Do you think that would ever be possible?

GT: I've really no idea if another key member left, the band would continue or not. Um, I've never even thought about it yet. It hasn't crossed my mind because I don't see any point where I will leave the band. Until we lose the energy and enthusiasm that we've got at the moment, and then I think it is time to give up, y'know. If you're just going through the motions and just going out there for the dollars – or yen perhaps as I should say in Japan – but I just don't think it's right to carry on. It must be very soul destroying to go out there and play when you're not enjoying it, y'know; just for the money.

CBL: Well, you don't really need the money, do you?

GT: I'm never going to say I don't need any more money. There are always good things to do with money but money isn't the issue, y'know. The issue is enjoying your music and going out there for the fans because, y'know, they've been so loyal throughout the years and they deserve it. They deserve their just reward.

CBL: So, what is the essence of Judas Priest? Is it something greater than its sum parts?

GT: Em, I think Priest is an institution in a sense. It's been around for a long time and people... We're a yardstick really. People, they wait for our next album. Whether it's to criticize it, they still wait for it, and, because we've done over 15 albums, people have got a lot of regard for us. A lot of the younger bands at one time or another have done a Priest song, and they respect us, and we respect them as well, so, I think, at the end of the day, y'know, we're looked to with respect and that's something I'm very proud of. I think that, y'know, most bands out there have got a lot of good things to say about Priest, and, again, that's something I’m very proud of because it means a lot to us.

CBL: What's your favourite track on the new album and why?

GT: I think Hell Is Home for the reasons I said that it's all about finding your level in life so it's...

CBL: I'm sorry, I didn't hear what you said.

GT: Hell Is Home for the reasons that I've already stated. I think it's all about finding your own level in life and trying not to bite off more than you can chew just to get it right, and if you get it right you can be somebody. I think it’s a good sentiment.

CBL: I particularly like the lyrics on Cyberface. I thought they were quite, eh...

GT: Ehhh, Scott [Travis] was involved in the lyrics on that track as well, the drummer, so I think it’s very current really, y'know.

CBL: Sorry?

GT: Very current the lyrics on Cyberface.

CBL: Yeh

GT: [lacuna] computers

CBL: So, part of your attempt to always keep Priest up to date? Is that right?

GT: I suppose it is in a sense, but I mean I think you're [lacuna] just keeping your ear to the ground, not really trying to do it or contriving it, just being, moving ahead and trying to progress which is what we’ve tried to do

CBL: Yeh. Em, could I ask you a little bit about where you are right now?

GT: I'm at home.

CBL: In England?

GT: Yeh.

CBL: Yeh. Oh, 'cos I was half expecting that you'd be in Sweden or somewhere

GT: No. We've just finished over there. We just got back, well, yesterday.

CBL: Mmmh.

GT: Doing Scandinavia for about three weeks.

CBL: And how was that?

GT: Fantastic. It was... The people there are so much, so much into metal, y'know. They're so enthusiastic. It was great. It was a fantastic...

CBL: They've still got that Viking mentality, haven't they?

GT: I don't know whether it's Viking, but it's certainly totally into metal and it was just really enjoyable to do.

CBL: Where is home at the moment? I mean, I don't know where...

GT: I'm in Worcestshire.

CBL: Mmm?

GT: Worcestershire, yeh.

CBL: Leicestershire?

GT: Yeh.

CBL: OK, well, thank you for speaking to me this morning.

GT: It's been a pleasure, C.B.

CBL: Hope to see you in the future sometime.

GT: OK.

CBL: OK, thanks a lot. Goodbye.

GT: Bye bye.

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