Recently I was given an opportunity to speak with Ian Hill, bass player and the oak upon which the JUDAS PRIEST sound is built. Never is that more prevalent than on the band’s outstanding new record Redeemer of Souls. I have to be honest…to speak with a member of one of my favorite bands in the universe terrified the hell out of me, but I did the best I could. And at the end of the day we wound up two blokes just having a conversation. I truly hope you all enjoy this one as much as I did. Here it is:
Amps: What is the writing recording process for JUDAS PRIEST in 2014, as opposed to earlier years? What was the studio vibe with Richie (Faulkner, guitar) who also writes?
Ian: It was great, Richie slotted straight in. Where Ken (Downing) left off he fit in seamlessly like he’d always been there. We did the Epitaph tour and when we started it Richie was a talented colleague and by the end of the tour we got to know the bloke and he’s a friend as well. Which is always a good factor for the writing process. The recording was in the same format as when we did Nostradamus and no different really. As far as being different from the early days, the differences are unbelievable. Everything went down on a reel-to-reel tape (laughs) if any of the young people even know what that is. Back then we played live as a band and the basic tracks would be myself and rhythm guitars, drums, and a guide vocal. And we’d keep playing the song till everybody was happy with each part. And then the lead breaks and whatever production would go on. You had a finite amount of tracks. Even with a tight level of recording you had 48 at most, and that was really pushing it.
With digital now the amount of tracks is infinite which is a major difference. Plus, you can do it individually. Every time you play a tape it starts to degenerate and lose sound quality. With digital that’s not an issue so we can afford to take our time and play our parts until it actually seamlessly fits into the track. And I’m not just talking about playing it right, if you nail your parts you can listen back and see if there’s room for improvement. So you end up with a very polished album at the end of the day.
Ian: Well we knew we’ve got a good album. We have 13 songs on the standard album. We haven’t had 13 songs on an album ever, I don’t think, unless it was a double album. But when we recorded the material was such that we couldn’t really drop any of it. We knew we had a decent album on our hands but we’ve been really surprised and flattered at the chart positions we’ve been achieving, you know? I think it’s our highest chart position in the States ever. And it seems to have echoed throughout. Wherever albums have sold it’s been doing record business which is great news. It’s nice to see we’ve still got something to offer after all these years.
Amps: Maybe it’s something in the water some of you veterans are drinking. JUDAS PRIEST, ACCEPT, OVERKILL have all put out phenomenal records this year.
Ian: Maybe we’re old enough to know what we’re doing now (both of us laugh)!
Amps: “Crossfire” has such a bluesy feel to it, it’s definitely an album favorite. Tell me about that song and what your favorite tracks are.
Ian: “Crossfire” echoes all the way back to the 60’s with its blues feel. We set out to show the versatility of the band. We’ve always been known for that, to not just go down our avenue. It’s been that way for some years now with newer bands, your speed bands, grunge bands, death bands, Goth bands or whatever bands and that’s all they do. And there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s great, it’s all metal. But I don’t think heavy metal would be where it is without the different aspects of it like the commercial side of things, the lighter shades, as well as the faster and heavier pieces, you know? And just coming off the Epitaph tour where we’ve been playing all the old material from 1973-74 and a lot of that’s still rattling around in your head, that’s kind of how “Crossfire” came about. It’s one of my favorite songs; it’s got a great groove to it. I think “Cold Blooded” is my favorite on the whole album. The atmosphere on that song, I think it’s brilliant.
Amps: Are you still with Spector basses?
Ian: Still with Spector, yeah. I’m very happy with them. They really are a great piece of kit. I’ve been using them since ’86, I think. Our producer at the time, Tom Allom turned me onto them. I lived in Florida for a couple of years and he was there producing a band and the bloke playing bass had a Spector. I picked it up and played it and thought “This is a really nice instrument.” And I got the number of Kramer guitars who were distributing them at that time and they gave me a couple of them straight off, and I’ve been using them ever since.
Ian: You’ve got to have a good sense of timing and tempo and if you can get that and you’re both in a groove and can trust each other you can get every drum beat to fit every bass note. It’s something that you can probably practice, but it also has to come naturally to some players. We’ve been blessed that we’ve dovetailed right from the word go when Scott joined us in 1989. We get on well together musically as well as personally.
Amps: I also noticed that your bass is much thicker-sounding and higher up in the mix than on past records.
Ian: We went in a bit of a new direction with it and beefed it up. I’m really happy with how the mix turned out.
Amps: In all the years of playing with the mighty PRIEST, what sticks out to you most about being in this band?
Ian: The thing is it’s been so long it’s a part of me now; I think it’s part of all of us. It’s not so much what’s great about being in the band more so of being terrified of it stopping. It’s like a drug. We’re all fans of the band at the end of the day. And we were talking about slowing down, which is what Epitaph was all about, not touring as often, and when we do it’ll only be two or three shows a week. Next thing you know we’re back on a regular PRIEST tour and nobody batted an eyelid or said, “Wait a minute. Aren’t we supposed to be slowing down?” Everybody is just as excited as we were 30 years ago. I look back on my career with a great sense of gratitude, really. It’s a privilege to be able to do something you love for all these years and make a living at it. I’m a very lucky person.
Amps: You’ve always picked very different and exciting bands on your tours? CINDERELLA in ’88, MEGADETH/TESTAMENT in ’90 and now you’re taking STEEL PANTHER out with you. What goes into picking the guests and have you had any dealings with the boys in STEEL PANTHER?
Ian: We haven’t gotten to talk with those guys yet, no. When it comes down to picking our special guests a lot of the time it comes down to availability. When we get ready to tour we have a list of bands we’d love to go out with and more often than not they’re on tour with someone else (laughs). But this time round with STEEL PANTHER they were ready and willing. We’re looking forward to it. I’ve never seen them live so I’m looking forward to that.
Amps: I saw them for the first time in June. Great metal show and get ready to laugh…a lot. And you’re here in Allen, TX in November. I can’t wait!
Ian: Oh great, we can’t wait!
Ian: Wikipedia got my date of birth wrong, they have me a year older than I am (laughs)! Basically we’re all just normal guys. People sometimes get the impression, not just of JUDAS PRIEST, but entertainment in general that they’re sort of aloof and separated. And it’s not true; I do my own shopping, laundry, and we’re just ordinary regular guys. We sort of prided ourselves on never having big egos, you know?
Amps: Yeah, but you have to have a screw loose somewhere to play this metal music that we live and die for, right?
Ian: Oh yeah, absolutely right! Bloody true (Both of us laughing)!
Amps: Please say something to all the JUDAS PRIEST faithful.
Ian: Well, firstly it’s been a few years since we’ve played in Allen, TX. Looking forward to getting back and playing for you guys. It’s always a fun time in the States and Texas in particular. It’s one of the first places we got popular, Texas. We love playing in the States and we can’t wait to see everyone.
And we can’t wait to see you, Ian. Redeemer of Souls is an absolute monster of a record, and JUDAS PRIEST are getting ready to remind everyone what true heavy metal is for the next two years on tour. Buy a ticket, get your ass in a seat, and recognize the metal!! The show hits Allen, TX on November 6. Seeya there!!