Talk about Firepower! That is, of course, the name of the Judas Priest record that arguably represents guitarist Richie Faulkner’s finest moment with the legendary Birmingham band. A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers for over a decade now, Richie is stepping out with a little help from his friends with his own Elegant Weapons. Originally featuring Pantera's Rex Brown on bass, the line-up includes Ronnie Romero on vocals. We caught up with Richie at Hellfest in France, to discuss the project, his shocking onstage aortic aneurysm, and progress on the new Priest album. Horns for a halo; Eamon O'Neill.
Hi Richie, welcome to Hellfest; how the hell are you?
I'm doing okay. It's a beautiful day. It's not as hot as it was last year. I think many people are grateful for that! But it's going well. It's a lot more work this year. Were on a lot earlier [than Judas Priest were in 2022], doing a lot more work, which is, you know, part of the gig really; a new band and all that.
It looked great out front, and one thing I wanted to talk about is the beautiful guitars you were using.
I'm very fortunate. I've always had a nice arsenal of guitars. I'm using the signature V that we're releasing this year with Gibson. I've a couple of Vs, and I've got a Les Paul up there, and an Explorer.
A beautiful black Explorer; that looks fairly new.
The Explorer is. I think the Explorer I got in 2018. We've got a couple of them. We use them with Priest. The Les Paul I've had since 2011, as well. In the V's, the blue V's quite new, obviously as a prototype, and the black one, I haven't had any of them for more than 10 years.
From your set today, one of the standouts was 'Dead Man Walking'; there's a lot of intricate playing going on. I call it the 'Sweet Child O' Mine' thing.
it's a bit tricky, especially you know, you put it down in the studio, you come up with something, you put it down sitting down, and you realise you've got to pay the fucking thing standing up in front of people! So it becomes a bit tricky. But yes, it's one of those things. It's like a loopy thing. "Sweet Child o' Mine' type thing" is a quite an accurate way of putting it; it moves around.
When you were getting this material together, how did you decide; "Okay, this is not for Judas Priest"? Is there a defining lane?
I mean, the Priest stuff [for the forthcoming new album] was written, so it came to a point where you can draw a line under it. We've got all the material we need for the Priest stuff. It wasn't recorded yet, but we'd got demos written for the Priest stuff, so all the midsections, all the solo sections, all the twists and turns musically; we've got enough of that, that's done, you can draw a line under that. Now, everything you do after that is dedicated to this because you have to do that, otherwise you can just keep writing for the Priest stuff. So you draw a line under it, and then you can dedicate whatever stuff to this.
We spoke to Rex Brown in 2021, and he revealed that he was working with a guitar player, and that has turned out to be you. So, Elegant Weapons stretches back that far?
Yeah, I mean, I had a couple of ideas kicking around a couple of years before the pandemic, and the pandemic enabled me some time. No one was touring or anything, obviously, because of lockdown or whatever, so I could get those ideas together and see what I've got.
When did you start recording?
We started recording it early '21. We done it all separately because there was still travel limitations and stuff like that. So Rex done his stuff where he lives, I done my stuff up in Nashville, Ronnie [Romero, vocals] done his stuff out in Europe, and then that year, we went out touring with Priest. Everyone was doing bits and pieces, then I had a bit of a health thing, you know, so that put the brakes on it a little bit.
In '22 we were out with Priest, but then when I was back on my feet again, I got management together, got the label together, and started putting it together. And it's out now, so that's kind of the timeline.
Just to touch on your health, that was unreal story as it unfolded; what was it like for you to be in the middle of that?
Well, when it's happening, you don't quite know what's going on. It's a bit confusing, really. Kind of one thing leads to the other and you end up in hospital and your brain kind of shuts down, I think to protect you, you know what I mean? Which is kind of a good thing, in a way. And you wake up on the other end of it and you hear what's happened to you. It's a lot, you know? I shouldn't be here. What happened was pretty gnarly, you know what I mean? So I shouldn't be here, but I am. So, coming out the other side of it I called up management and said; "listen, I want to get this record finished and mix it up, get the record mixed and finished". And it was important to do it and get back out on the road with Priest, and get back on the horse. It becomes part of the healing process to get back on the guitar, get back on tour, get back to who you are.
Clearly you're fully back, and your playing hasn't suffered one iota.
You know, there's a couple of things I have to deal with.
Yeah, there's a couple of things but hopefully it's not too noticeable.
With your dexterity, or something else?
I don't want to go too much into it. It's a couple of things, like knock-on effects from, you know, a couple of things that happen that I have to I have to deal with.
I can't talk to you without mentioning Judas Priest's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame performance; how was it for you being part of that three-guitar line-up?
Oh, you can imagine. I mean, I've got my own reservations about the whole Rock Hall anyway in terms of what it really means anymore, but in the end, I was there supporting the band. They were gracious enough to let me be a part of it. They wanted me to [be there]. I opted out, you know? They wanted me as part of the representation of Priest in '23, which was really gracious. And as you said, at the end of it, I got to perform as a three-axe attack with Priest. They've always been obviously a two-axe, two guitar attack, and for that one night, it was three guitars, so that was awesome.
It was great to see you playing alongside K.K. Downing,
Playing with Ken, it was great. We looked good up there, the two Vs together and everything, it was great. And it's great to see him playing, hearing him playing, looking great. So yeah, it was a great night really. And you know, there was other bands there as well. Duran Duran and Pat Benatar; they're some great influences of mine, so it was great to be there. Lionel. Richie was like, four feet away! It was pretty awesome.
In terms of the new Priest album that you mentioned, how much involvement has Glenn Tipton had?
Well, as long as we've got his mind. You know, sometimes he, you know, if he can't handle the playing one day, for example, he still got his mind, he still got the ideas, and that's what makes it kind of unmistakable Priest. These little turnarounds that he has that don't make sense initially to me; like I'm thinking; "what?!" When you get together and you write a song with somebody who's got an idea, and you're thinking, you know; "that's not like my idea", but you put them together and you come up with something that's greater than the original idea. As long as we still got that, we blend and then we're winning. You know, that's what we did with the writing process.
You've been in Priest now for over a decade.
I think it's 12 years this year.
You've more than you've made your mark, so you must be uncomfortable, you must feel at home.
Without a doubt. I mean, right from the beginning, from the band's point of view, they made me feel welcome from the get go, really. I felt like I had an opinion and they asked me what I thought about stuff and that sort of stuff, which I thought was insane, really. Coming into a band like that, I'd imagined it to be completely different. You know, you didn't expect them to be asking what I thought.
But then, you know, as you go through the tours and the records and stuff, you gain trust from the fans, I think. They gave me the time of day. The fans will come down and buy their tickets and come down and see the band anyway, and I can only thank them for that, really. And as you said, we're still here, 12 years later on after that. That was the 'Epitaph' world tour; that sparked this whole idea of, you know; I'd better think of something else [to do after Judas Priest]. That was the final tour. That was a conversation I had with Tipton about, you know, they're not going to be around for 25 years, so I'd better start thinking about what I'm going to do.
So that's led to Elegant Weapons.
Fortunately, we're still here [Judas Priest], but it's taken this long for me to put something together. But that was when the seed was planted, really, and why wouldn't it be? It was a band on their final tour. You've got to start thinking about what you're doing. Fortunately, Priest are still putting out new records and touring the world; we've got two lined up next year, and a new record next year, probably.
I'm guessing that it's you that's been responsible bringing the the deep cuts into the Priest live set.
Well, I wouldn't like to take complete responsibility, but I might have had a word in some ears! You know, we're all sitting there, and we might be after a gig, we might be eating some dinner afterwards or whatever, and I might suggest something, or just put a word in somewhere. We're all the same, though; I think Rob [Halford], there has been a couple that he's suggested as well. We're all the same, we're all fans of the band, you know what I mean?
I loved that you did 'Rocka Rolla' on the last leg.
I mean, someone throws in the hat and we try it in rehearsals, and if it works we're doing it.
What's happening for you going forward?
We're going to join up with Pantera. Obviously we've been fortunate enough to have some gigs with Pantera on this run, so we're doing a few more festivals. Beyond that, we're looking for more opportunities for Elegant Weapons, where we can get to the States, maybe open up for someone and nick a few of their fans as well! Then maybe Japan or something like that. We've just some opportunities you know, before the before the Priest machine starts next year, so that's what we're looking for really.
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