Richie Faulkner: "I'll always be representing Judas Priest, whatever I do"
An interview with Richie Faulkner about the debut album of Elegant Weapons and the upcoming Judas Priest album
Richie Faulkner has managed with both his amazing playing and his attitude to be accepted as the guitarist of Judas Priest by the fans of the band. This is truly an achievement considering how great, influential and important Glenn Tipton and K. K. Downing have been and the weight he carries on his shoulders. Now, he spreads his own wings as well with his new project Elegant Weapons and we had the chance to talk with him about the band’s debut album "Horns For A Halo" and a few other interesting topics as well.
The formation of the band, the collaboration with Rex Brown and Scott Travis, choosing Ronnie Romero as the singer, the sound he aimed for, his influences and his top-5 guitarists are only a few of the topics we cover in our conversation below. Also, we get to know the latest update on the upcoming Judas Priest album that is in the making. And we had the chance to find out firsthand that Richie is, first and foremost, a great guy!
Hey man, how you doing?
I'm doing fine. How are you doing?
I'm doing very well, Sir. Good to see you.
Good to see you too. I'm very glad to have the chance to talk with you right now.
Are you in England or the U.S.?
We live outside of Nashville, Tennessee. So, we're in the States.
That's great. First of all, I wanted to ask you if everything is well with your health and the issues you've faced, because you know health and safety come first! So, I hope everything is OK and you’re… running wild again…
I appreciate that, man. Yeah, I’m running wild! I appreciate you asking. I'm feeling good. I like that running wild. That's good. I might use that. I might borrow that! But I'm feeling good as far as I know. Everything is checked out, everything's working properly.
It's always good to have positive feedback. You can't expect it all to be positive, because that's not the world we live in. But just having any sort of feedback is great
That's great and I hope that it continues to be that way. So, we're here to talk about the new album of your new project with Elegant Weapons and I'd like to ask you how you feel now that it's a couple of weeks till the release date of the debut album. And what’s the feedback you get so far.
It's very exciting. The feedback's been great. I think since the last video we released, which was "Do Or Die" last month, it's been really positive. We've had a lot of connection on that video, so it's positive. It's always good to have positive feedback. You can't expect it all to be positive, because that's not the world we live in. But just having any sort of feedback is great. You know… opinions, feedback, good and bad, it's a privileged position to have people listening to the music that you put out. Especially, when there's so much music out there, it's great to have people listening to the music and commenting on it and having an opinion. I'm only grateful. So, I’m looking forward to the release date. It's exciting.
I think it's going to be well received because it's really good album, in my opinion. So, congrats for it!
Thank you very much, man. Again, you know, whenever you release an album, you do what you think is the best performance or the best batch of songs or the best solos or the best means at the time. Hopefully, it connects well, and we can go on the road and play the songs live and it will connect well there as well and we can do another record and start the life of a new band. That's what we're intending to do.
Fortunately I've got some buddies of mine, that happen to be legends
Alright, now let's get first things first. I'd like to know how this band came around. What came first? Did the songs come first or the people that you had in mind to collaborate with? How did this work out?
Well, the songs were written before I called up the guys that recorded the record. I mean, fortunately I've got some buddies of mine, that happen to be legends... (laughs) I'm incredibly fortunate. Scott and Rex and obviously Ronnie Romero as well… But all the music was written and then I've called them. I mean, I've always promised Scott Travis, that if I ever did anything outside of Judas Priest, I'll give him first refusal. And I was lucky enough that he was able to do it. And Rex as well. I've known Rex for a few years, and I called him up and said "Bro, I've got this record. I've got a batch of songs. Would you be able to record the bass on the record for me?". And he said "yeah". He dug the stuff, and we went from there. So, it was all done before I got the guys on board.
Hopefully, the next record will be different. Obviously, I’m taking the band forward. Rex is doing Pantera, Scott's doing other things, so I had to get a band together that can play live. And hopefully I'll be able to take that those guys into the studio and we can write stuff and record stuff as a band. You know, what I mean? So, as the band grows and evolves, hopefully those characters of Ronnie and Christopher and David that are in the band now, they will shine through on the record as it should be.
Alright! Now let's stay to these "legends" as you mentioned them. You know, Scott Travis, Rex Brown and Ronnie Romero. Each of them is quite well known for his own reasons and history, so why were they the perfect ones for Elegant Weapons and what was their contribution in the songs? Of course, you've written the songs when they recorded them, but did they contribute something more? And what do you love more about their performances of the album?
That's a good question. I think when you call, got Travis to ask him to play on your record… you would know… If me and you put a band together and we call up Scott to play drums, you know what you're going to get. When he sends those drum tracks back, you know what you're going to get. And the same with Rex. If you call up Rex Brown or Ronnie Romero you don't have to ask them "play like this or sing like this". You know what you're getting. So, I think that's what they bring. They bring their character to the record. Rex brings a grit and a groove and a power in the bass that we know Rex is going to bring. That's what Rex does. You listen to those Pantera records and that's what Rex brings. Scott's the same. Ronnie’s the same. They've got a character. And hopefully it's the same with any musician really. They've got a character, and if you get those characters together, hopefully those characters combined make the unique character of the band. So that's what they bring when you call them up.
First and foremost, they're friends of mine, and that will always be the case. And if they said they couldn't do it, then it’s fine… you ask someone else. But, fortunately for me they could… because they make me sound good, you know? Fortunately for me they were able to do it, and they brought their characters to the record. And Christopher and Davey and obviously Ronnie are bringing their character to the live band and the band in the future. So, I'm really excited. Again, I'm grateful that they make me sound so good.
Also, Andy Sneap plays a crucial role…
I wanted this band to sound like a band in 2023, but I also wanted those influences to shine through
…not only because he did a great job as a producer, but also because he got you in contact with the legendary Monty Conner, who signed you to Nuclear Blast. He did a great job with the sound of the album, didn't he?
You're absolutely right! I mean, me and Andy Sneap talk almost every day… about guitars or albums or Priest or the next tour or amplifiers or whatever it is! We talk every day. So, Andy, obviously has been on the road with Priest for the last two tours as well, so we traveled together, we played together and all that stuff. So, when it came to a producer there was no one else really. I mean, Andy grew up on the same music that I did… you know, the heavy stuff. It was music from a certain period of time where those influences are obvious. But he's also a producer in 2023. So, I wanted this band to sound like a band in 2023, but I also wanted those influences to shine through. You know, I didn't want to be ashamed of those influences. I wanted to be proud of those, because I am who I am. We are who we are. That's the influences. That's who we are. But it's 2023. So, I wanted to contain both of those elements. And Andy Sneap is the perfect guy for that. Because, that's who he is. He's. That's how he grew. That's what he grew up on. But he's a producer in 2023, so it was a no brainer really for me to have Andy as the producer.
If you take a song like "Devil's Child" from "Screaming For Vengeance", that was heavy metal back then. If you released that today, that wouldn't be called heavy metal
And my next question is personally answered by what you just said, but I'll, I'll still make it. As I already said I really like "Horns For A Halo". But, what I wanted to ask you is how you would describe it musically. In my opinion it's stands somewhere between heavy rock and heavy metal. Traditional and modern at the same time, so it's somewhere in between. It's not old-school traditional metal, it's not modern metal, it's something in between. How would you characterize or categorize it?
Yeah, I don't know. That's a good question. It's always for the listener to characterize it. I think it's hard. I don't know… Metal’s changing and evolving all the time. If you take a song like "Devil's Child" from "Screaming For Vengeance", that was heavy metal back then. If you released that today, that wouldn't be called heavy metal. You know what I mean? It wouldn't be … Metal’s changing and evolving, so, I don't know. I mean it there's heavy elements, there's melodic... melements… Melements! That's a new word! Maybe that's what it is… It's melements… (laughs) No, I don't know...
There's melody and there's some heaviness, but it's not over the top heavy, it's not over the top, melodic. It's somewhere in the middle, I think you're right. It's somewhere between hard rock and heavy metal, at the moment. Well, I'm not quite sure where it is. As I said, it always seems to evolve. You've got some super, super heavy bands and then you've got bands like Ghost who I guess are heavy metal too, but kind of at the more melodic end of the scale. So, I don't really know. I think it's for the listener to decide what they think it is. I just write music that comes from the heart, and I just think "oh, that's a good song" and that makes me feel a certain way. That's what I tend to try and do.
Me as a listener, I do like this gray area. You know, this balanced area between heaviness and hard stuff….
It’s gray metal! Gray Jedi, you know. Somewhere between light and dark… (laughs)
You mentioned that you had some certain influences for this album. Would like you to maybe point out some bands, albums or even guitarists that have inspired you to write these songs and have the sound that you have on this album?
Ah… I mean, to me, they're obvious. As I said before, I'm proud of them. I'm not ashamed. I don't think I can hide them. You know what I mean? I I've never been able to hide. I've never been one to hide my influences. As for the guitar players... Michael Schenker, Zakk Wylde, James Hetfield, Jimi Hendrix, Dave Murray. They're the top five. They're the ones that I can't get away from. I mean, there are hundreds of them, there are hundreds of influences, but they're the top five. And it's the same on the records. I think there's Black Sabbath, there's Judas Priest, there's Alice In Chains. There's some pop influences on in there as well, which I can hear, but I won't say what they are because I don't want to... (laughs)
Why not? Sleep Token have made pop influences trendy in metal music nowadays… (laughs)
Well… I mean, I won't say specifically, but all that … I'm a huge Bryan Adams fan, Duran Duran, Ultravox, Roxy Music, Flock Of Seagulls, all that stuff. I grew up with that stuff. All that melodic stuff and chord changes and all that kind of stuff. I can't help but be influenced by them. And then I guess it kind of funnels through the guitar and comes out in a different way anyway. We're all influenced by different stuff, but you know, mainly it's the ones I said… Iommi, Zakk Wylde for sure, Black Label Society, Ozzy and Randy, you know all those guys, it's all on there… I think it's obvious, really. Thin Lizzy, UFO, Schenker. It's all in there. I can hear it 1,000,000 miles away. And, again, I'm proud of them.
Yeah, but you've made them their own. And that's the most important thing.
Well, hopefully! Hopefully! That's the goal really. Hopefully the listener again gets something out of it that's unique and hopefully all those influences come together and hopefully make something unique to the listener. That's the goal for me.
Alright, now let's get to the songs of the album and start with "Bitter Pill" that opens up the album and it's one of the strongest tracks in my opinion. Why was it the best choice to be the opening track?
Bitter Pill"? I don't know what you've heard…. (laughs) I don't think it opens up the album. You might have got the songs in a different order...
That's the promo I got. I didn't change that up...
"Bitter Pill"… Well.. I don't think it opens up the album, but I'll tell you… I mean, I can't answer that question in the way that you asked it…
You're right, I had. I had the track order in alphabetical order. That's why I had this one first. I just found out...
Ah, see, that's the way you've perceived it as well.
Don't know why this happened…
So again, someone could have heard it like that and perceived it as the first track. And that's the way that they'll always perceive that song, you know? It's interesting how that happens.
The first track is a track called "Dead Man Walking" and it's because it has like a guitar intro and I thought that could work in a live scenario where the intro could be played. I tried to see it from a live perspective. Whether that will happen that way, who knows? But, I just thought it had a good... I could see it live. So yeah… But, maybe we should have put "Bitter Pill" first... (laughs)
It worked for me.
Oh, there you go. That's what I mean! Maybe that was a missed opportunity. Well, I should put a note on the album to play "Bitter Pill" first… (laughs)
When Monte Conner says that's gotta be the first single, you got to listen
Then you have "Blind Leading The Blind" which is probably my favorite track on the album. It's super dynamic and catchy. So how did this one come around?
Well, that was always a favorite of the label and the management to be the first single. And you mentioned Monte Conner earlier, and Monte's a legend. And when Monte says that's gotta be the first single you got to listen… you know what I mean... So, we went with that. I think it was one of the first songs that was completed and the first video that we put together. It can be a political message. It can be a religious message. Someone I spoke to said it sounds like it’s talking about the American schooling system. Well, I had nothing to do with it, but if that's what you wanna perceive it, then fine! (laughs)
But, yeah, the video was about people in power that basically sometimes don't know what they're doing and they're responsible for a lot of people. But they don't know what they're doing at the end of the day, it's up to us to trust our instincts and find our own way, really.
Now you mentioned it, there are some interesting lyrics on the album, like on "Dirty Pig", for example, which is kind of pissed off and fits to the music and the heavy riffs. So, what are the lyrics in general about? Are you the ones that wrote all the lyrics or someone else contributed in them? And what did you want to talk about with the lyrics of the album?
First of all, I'm not a lyric guy. So, I'll contribute. I'll either start an idea off if I've got a melody that's working, I'll put some words that will fit to that melody. Or I'll contribute later on like "I think we should change that". But I'm not a lyric guy at all. I'd rather write the music and let other people write lyrics. I probably could do it, but there's better people at it than me, so I'll let them do it for the for the greater good. But, I think the overarching theme is the universal concept really. As you said, like "Dirty Pig" it's kind of a little bit…. we're we can all be dirty pigs sometimes. There's things in there to do with that.
"Blind Leading The Blind"... We've all been in situations where we've been responsible for people. I'm a relatively new father, for example. I've got an almost three-year-old kid. I'm the blind leading the blind. I've got no idea what I'm doing. Or we've been in situations where we're being led by people that we feel don't know what they're doing.
"Ghost Of You" is a song about lost love or someone who's passed on and we think about them all the time. We can't get that away. You know, we keep getting the memory of someone.
The overreaching thing is the universal things really. Things that people can relate to.
"White Horses" is about the occult. So, there's a little bit of the fantastical occult type stuff in there. It's not reinventing the wheel at all, but it's just touching on stuff that I think we can all relate to.
Doesn't have to invent the wheel, it's got to be well written. And it is.
Now, there is only one mid-tempo, kind of bluesy song on the album, "The Ghost Of You", which is kind of different from the rest of the stuff. First of all, how did you decide to have such a track? And the would you consider developing more on that side of songwriting in the future?
Well, it came about like they all do. It was something that came out on the guitar and was developed from there. It was a different vibe. But I thought it was strong. You know, I thought it was a strong track, even though if it's something that's different. If something I think is strong, I'll pursue it even if it is different. And it was strong. I could see like imagery, like a smokey bar with a piano and a singer, like in New Orleans or somewhere like that. I just thought the song was strong and I felt the album needed that kind of dynamic, to pull back a bit. It's not an acoustic song, I don't even know if it's a ballad as such, but it's got that kind of element and I think we needed that dynamic.
Lzzy Hale was a voice that I considered once
I agree with you. Now, while listening to the album I could think of various singers/voices on it. Was Ronnie Romero the first choice from the beginning or did you consider other vocalists, old or current ones? Was he the obvious choice and the first choice? Or did you consider other voices as well for the album?
I considered different people. I mean, I remember, like from a long time ago, I think it was around 2017 when I started putting some of these ideas together. I think it was around the COVID pandemic when everything stopped so I could get all these ideas and really focus on them. But I remember some of these tracks being around for a lot longer than that.
I was thinking who could be the vocalist on tracks like these? I'm always thinking of different voices. I think Lzzy Hale was a voice that I considered once. I love Lzzy’s voice and I think she's just phenomenal. I’ve played with Lzzy. I think it was 2019 or 2020. I think it was 2020. I played a couple of songs with Lzzy and Joe from Halestorm at Gibson event at Namm, and Lzzy was just phenomenal. Just unbelievable. She was someone that I considered singing with this.
But, I remember I was actually talking to Damon Johnson. He's with Lynyrd Skynyrd now. And he was with Thin Lizzy and Black Star Riders. I was looking for a singer. And he actually brought up Rainbow and Ronnie Romero. And as soon as he brought up his name, it was like a light bulb went off above my head and I was like "that's perfect! Ronnie is perfect". Everything that we've been talking about with the influences. It's classic influences, but in 2023. He's a classic sounding singer, but he is a modern singer in 2023 and it would be perfect just to talk to him and ask him if he'd be up for it. And luckily he was, so we went from there.
I also thought of Lzzy Hale, that’s the kind of voice I had in mind while listening to the album, but I think Ronnie did a great job. He has all this versatility and these different sides to his voice that he delivers different songs in a great way. Now, could it be OK to ask a couple of questions about Judas Priest as well?
Alright! We all know there's a new Judas Priest album in the oven right now baking...
And there's already a lot of conversation cause Rob called it a bit more "progressive". And you know the Internet works that way… it takes things and makes them something else than they are…
(laughs) Yes, I know that…
The new Judas Priest album is a bit more progressive in terms of it's got a few more twists and turns musically. It's not a Rush album. It's not Dream Theater. And it's not "Firepower"
I guess he just meant that it's just going to be a bit more adventurous than "Firepower" and I have to say I’d prefer it that way. So, could you share a bit of information about it and how it's going to sound and what’s the feeling you get up to now?
I think you're absolutely right! The Internet hears a word like that and all of a sudden they've heard the whole record somehow! They know exactly what it's going to sound like. They know "I'm not buying it. I'm not going to buy it, it's going to be like "Nostradamus"!". Apparently, they've heard the record! You know, it's hard to say things like that. You know, adjectives for a record without people running with it. But it's only it only seems to be one site that seems to do that. And I'm not naming any names, but there seems to be one site that seems to be doing it… You know what I'm talking about.
So, for all the grown-up sites out there, it is a bit more progressive in terms of it's got a few more twists and turns musically. It's not a Rush album. It's not Dream Theater. And it's not "Firepower". As an artist or whatever you wanna call it, when you create something that connected as much as "Firepower" did, and it's been the same with Priest throughout their career as far as I can tell, they always wanted to do something that's quite better than the last one. Better songs, better production, better concept, better performances, whatever better means… And this is no different.
So where can we go from "Firepower"? What can we do? How can we make it a better journey or a better experience? Actually, how can we make a better album? What do we need to do to be able to do that? That's the mindset going in. So, it's got a few more twists and turns musically. Instead of going verse/chorus, it might go verse/riff/riff/chorus. Like "The Sinner" or "Tyrant" or something like that. And that's what we've meant when we've said "progressive", it's just a bit more bit more musical and I think that's a good thing. Ultimately, it's gotta be what the band feels is the right thing to do, and they've been around for 50 years, so I think we can trust them…
And we can trust you as well, by now…
Well... I mean…you know… you can't trust me, but you can trust them! Obviously, they've been around for 50 years. They've got more of a track record than I do. So, I think they know what they're doing.
One day Judas Priest won't be around anymore and I'll be on my own. And I'll take all these lessons and apply them to the future
You you've earned your credits by now. You shouldn't be reluctant about it. You you've earned your badges…
I'm still earning them. The way I see it I'm still learning. And still earning. I'm just grateful to be here and being a part of the that education. So, you know, maybe one day, as I said before, Judas Priest won't be around anymore and I'll be on my own. And I'll take all these lessons and apply them to the future. But I'll always be representing Priest whatever I do, and that's just the way it is. So, hopefully I can take these lessons and apply them to whatever I do. And I'm still learning them now.
Well, I was thinking that there are many cases that new guitarists have replaced successfully legendary guitarists in their bands, but I think that you may be the only case that a single guitarist has replaced successfully two great guitarists at the same time.
I'm incredibly fortunate to be considered for the first one, you know… Just to be just to be considered for the position. And then obviously the challenge Glenn is facing, we're just we're just all pulling together to make it move forward in the best possible way. I'm just doing what needs to be done… (laughs) Whatever the band thinks and whatever we think is best. I've been accepted by the fans and I'm grateful for it and I've been accepted by the band and I couldn't ask for a better position to be in. I'm just incredibly grateful for it.
I know what Judas Priest means. I know what those songs mean to people
But as we discussed earlier, you know metal fans. Sometimes they’re full of criticisms, full of negative feelings. I'm pretty sure that if you weren't up to the standards, the negative comments would come first. And I can tell you by my own experience… cause last summer that you played in Greece I was there, and everybody was talking about how good you played the songs and how you true you were to the spirit of the songs. Because that's the first thing that you want to get from Judas Priest. These songs it's not just playing the right notes, it's playing them in the right spirit. And it's something that everyone said that "Richard Faulkner did a tremendous job". So that's something you’ve earned. If you didn't do that well, the criticism and the negative comments would be flooding the Internet the very next day. But it's not that case. So I don't think that you have by now anything to prove. That's how I feel about it…
No… I appreciate you saying that. That's very nice of you to say. And let me tell you that gig in Greece, that gig in Athens was off the charts. It's always great coming to Greece, always great coming to Athens. It's always spectacular. It's always great for us as well to play in Greece. It’s so exciting! It's almost dangerous, but it's exciting… (laughs) It's so much fun. We love it.
So no, I appreciate you saying that. I think I understand. I understood what it means to so many people around the world before I joined the band. I know what Judas Priest means. I know what those songs mean to people. I know what those songs mean to me, and it's just I don't think you can fake that. You you've got to feel it. You know, I don't play them note for note. I play them the way that I feel them. And luckily the way that I feel them is the right way to do it, so it seems to work. So, I appreciate that.
Even if Glenn struggles with the physical side of things, he can always communicate the creative side of things
Really, I forgot to ask! Has Glenn been involved in any stage of the new album or in any way?
That's good to know…
Yeah, he's still got his creative mind. Obviously, if he struggles with the physical side of things, he can always communicate the creative side of things. So yeah, he's involved in the writing of the record and we're fortunate to have him.
Yeah, that's really good to know. So, Richie, I don't want to waste more of your time. I think it was a very nice conversation. I really enjoyed it and I’m glad I had the chance to talk with you about your really good album that’s coming out. And, of course, we’ll be waiting for the next Judas Priest album to see how the world will react to this progressive side of yours…
(laughs) Thank you very much, brother. It's been a pleasure, man. Hopefully see you in Greece soon.