Rob Halford loves Christmas — and he has a rocking new seasonal album titled Celestial chock full of tried-and-true caroling classics to prove it. The Judas Priest singer and solo artist is full of the holiday spirit, and he wants you to be filled with it, too. Even as we're introducing ourselves to one another on the phone recently, he adds a festive air to the conversation with his comments on New York City after asking where I was located — a technique he employs to put himself into the "headspace [of] the place where friends are calling from."
"Beautiful New York," he coos warmly in his unmistakable Birmingham accent. "I love New York this time of year and always miss being in the city as we get into the holiday season because it always lets us get an extra exciting, magical buzz. It's good to walk around Rockefeller Center and everywhere ... Does anyone still call it The Big Apple?" You don't hear that phrase so often these days, but he's Rob Halford and he can call it anything he damn well wants.
While Christmas doesn't immediately stick out as the holiday most likely to inspire headbanging, the Metal God instantly transforms anything he touches and thus managed to take several traditional tunes from the season, combine it with a bit of original material, and enlist a full team of family musicians to record an album that effortlessly melds the firepower of Priest with the genuine affection of brotherly (and sisterly, and nephew-ly) love.
Celestial is just a small part of Halford's yuletide plans, however. The outspoken fashion plate and LGBTQ+ icon has plenty else in store for the holidays, whether it's decorating with multiple trees (he has around six, based on our research) in his Arizona home, or plotting a potentially risque Santa outfit for a mid-month performance with his friend Alice Cooper in their shared home state. Below, the singer discusses how he and his family members came together to create Celestial, his tried and true Christmas traditions, and his ideas for some adult-themed gift-giving.
HAVING FAMILY AROUND FOR THE HOLIDAYS CAN BE VERY FUN, BUT IT CAN ALSO CAUSE A LOT OF STRESS FOR SOME. HOW DID IT FEEL FOR YOU TO BE IN THE STUDIO WITH YOUR LOVED ONES?
ROB HALFORD It was one of the most wonderful experiences that I could have had a musician, and that really correlates to this wonderful record being made with my immediate family. It was a tremendous sense of adventure and a little bit of the unknown, which I think for a lot of musicians is generally the case.
When you're creating music, it's an open book. You can literally go anywhere — anything can happen. You don't know what's going to happen in rock & roll. I've always loved that. I've always loved the chaos elements of music — that it should be free and liberated and anything can kind of come together.
So there was this sense of "What's going to happen?" when the record was being created. The cool thing for me was that I was kind of out of the loop because I was busy working with Priest on the Firepower record, so my brother and nephew, along with their friends on guitars, really put this record together by their own merit, by their own skills, and by their own professionalism. They would send me stuff along the way, and I'd be blown away with the demos! Like, "Great guys, wonderful job. You don't need my fingers all over it."
So the whole experience was a very unusual one for me as a musician. The way I've generally made records — almost 50 years now —there was a whole different flavor and texture to making the music on Celestial. The only thing that it had any connectivity to was the previous kind-of Christmas record I made [in 2009] called Winter Songs, and that was a decade ago. That was the only linkage there.
All of this was just a wonderful adventure and the end result was nothing short of spectacular from my point of view. I couldn't have been happier when it was my turn to go in and do the vocals. Wonderful stuff, wonderful stuff.
YOU'VE SPOKEN IN OTHER INTERVIEWS ABOUT CAROLING WITH FAMILY AROUND CHRISTMAS WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER. DID YOU CHOOSE ANY OF THOSE SONGS FOR THE RECORD?
Yeah, I made a list of the classic Christmas tracks, and the thing about holiday music is there's not a lot of it! If I go, "Alexa, play me some Christmas carols," there not much of it. [Laughs] But there were certain songs that I really looked forward to bringing a new vibe to. So, you know, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman," "Away in a Manger," all of these songs that were kind of embedded into the holiday season were ones that I hadn't tackled myself. Those were the first two songs that I suggested to the guys, and then, of course, along the way we had the wonderful opportunity to bring some original tracks into the field, as well. That's how it was all formulated.
SO EVERYONE KNOWS YOU'RE THE METAL GOD, BUT YOU'RE ALSO QUITE THE LEATHER ICON. IF YOU WERE GOING TO PICK SOMETHING MADE OF LEATHER TO BUY FOR A LOVED ONE, WHAT WOULD YOU SUGGEST?
I'm gonna take the easy way out here! We're talking about a Christmas album ...
YOU'RE GOING TO SAY "JACKET" AND KEEP IT INNOCENT, AREN'T YOU?
Well, no, you know, these hats that are made generally in, like, red velvet or white? I would have some made in leather. Black and white leather with maybe some studs and jingle bells attached to it. In fact, you've given me a great idea. I might call up my guy and get him to bang me one of those up! I'm doing a wonderful "Christmas Pudding" show again with my friend Alice Cooper, and I haven't got a thing to wear.
I THINK WE NEED A LEATHER SANTA LOOK.
You've given me some inspiration, let's just say. But [getting back to the question], let's go with a leather Santa hat.
A PERFECT ANSWER. I KNOW YOU'RE BIG ON DECORATING, TOO. HOW DO YOU TAKE THE TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS DÉCOR AND MAKE IT METAL?
Well, there's one particular tree that's just, like, a silver tree with silver garland and silver balls and globes on it, and that's about as metal you can get. You can't get anything in black. Somebody needs to make some black tinsel, some black globes. I'm sure if I did my internet search, I could come across something because everything in metal now is crossing into all territories.
I do have on one tree — there's this thing called Caturday I do on my Rob Halford Legacy Instagram and we have cats featured every Saturday — I do have some Christmas kitty cat globes. I also have some Christmas cactus globes that almost look like they form the heavy-metal sign. You know, you do what you do. I love the whole experience of the holidays, and I'm slowly putting my house together here in Phoenix where I'm talking to you from today. You'll be seeing one or two Christmas things showing up on my Instagram over the next few days.
I'M EXCITED TO SEE IT! SO TELL ME HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME NOMINATION.
Oh, it's great! It's wonderful. I love what it represents. It's all across the board now and brings in every kind of musical talent, which is great because, you know, I've always been a real strong advocate for inclusiveness, including music. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has the rock & roll thing attached to it, but it's great to see the other nominees this year that are not exclusively rock & roll or metal. You're looking at a list of very, very talented, deserving artists.
Some are not with us, unfortunately, but to have given them the nomination hopefully speaks volumes about what they're contributed to music not only in this country but worldwide. So here's the second nomination for Priest, and we're keeping everything crossed that we might get in, but just to be recognized is always a thrilled and we're excited about what happen in 2020.
PRIEST'S 50TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION IS COMING UP NEXT YEAR, TOO. DO YOU HAVE ANY BIG SURPRISES THAT YOU'RE ALLOWED TO TELL US?
Only that the Keebler heavy-metal elves are working feverishly behind the scenes to create something very spectacular, as would be the case with Priest because our stage show is legendary. The Turbo robot, the Screaming for Vengeance eagle, the Defenders of the Faith battalion. You know, you look online and see all this incredible metal imagery, and we're raising the bar for when we go out on the 50th.