The sound of British Steel in action
Epiphone is proud to welcome Judas Priest guitarist Richie Faulkner to the House of Stathopoulo's esteemed group of Signature artists with his new Ltd. Ed. Richie Faulkner Flying-V. Faulkner joined Judas Priest in 2011 and his energy and incredible chops made an immediate impact on the band and their devoted fans. In the words of singer Rob Halford, Faulkner immediately gave the group the shot in the arm it needed to keep going. "Let's face it," Halford told Ultimate Classic Rock, "to some extent Richie saved Judas Priest, because if we hadn't have found him at the crucial time that we were looking for a guitar player things could have turned out quite differently." If our interview with Faulkner is any indication of what he's like behind the scenes, it's easy to see why Judas Priest is enjoying a renaissance. Faulkner is as engaged, thoughtful, and enthusiastic in conversation as he is powerful when plugged in. Faulkner spoke to us about his early days playing pubs in London, working with Judas Priest on a new album, and designing his ultimate Flying-V.
Welcome to the Epiphone family, Richie! How did your new Epiphone Ltd. Ed. Richie Faulkner Flying-V come about?
Thank you. It's an honor to be part of the heritage. My first proper guitar was an Epiphone and I still got it upstairs. So Epiphone goes way back with me. Being a part of that is amazing really. And the way this one came about is I approached Epiphone to see if they could make a copy of the Gibson I use with Judas Priest. It's basically a '58 shaped bound body and headstock with EMGs. And then throughout the years since I made my first Gibson, I've made my own custom additions--EMG 57/66 pickups, a Floyd Rose® Tremolo and bridge, a double scratch plate to stop the studs from scratching the paint on the body and stuff like that. And that's basically what it is. And I play it every night with Priest and the Epiphones are going to be no different.
Did you bring your Epi Flying-V into the studio to work on the new Judas Priest album?
Yes! I used it all over the new record. It held up well. The tuning was great. The sound was great. I'm taking it out on the road next year when we go out. Right out of the box, man it was a lot of guitar. It was just shocking how good the guitar was and how much guitar was there. The Ebony fretboard and the inlays... everything! The quality of the instrument was mind blowing. And it held up in the studio with my older Gibsons. As I said, it's all over the new record.
What was the inspiration to go with EMG active pickups in your signature guitars?
I think back in the day it was because James Hetfield (Metallica), David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), and Zakk Wylde were using them. And they were three guys that I listened to a lot. And I thought if it's good enough for them, I'll try them on. At that time I was playing a lot of pubs and bars and clubs around London. Like everything, your gear evolves and what you need from it. The EMGs gave me the sound and the feel that I wanted. I still use passive pickups. I have some old Les Paul and I still use them. Every guitar sounds different. They all have their own voice. They all have their use for me as a guitar player. I've now changed to the 57/66 combo, which is an active pickup that has the voicing of a passive pickup so it's best of both worlds.
You made an immediate impact on Judas Priest from the moment you joined in 2011. The band noticed and so did the fans. What is a typical day like for you as a member of one of the world's most famous groups?
Thank you--that's nice of you to say. I've always been included since the day I joined the band. I've always felt like a big part of a family. I tell people that's one of the greatest things about being in Judas Priest. As we speak, we've just got out of the studio after a three-month stint in the UK tracking Priests' 18th studio record and the second record that I've recorded. And it's my fourth release including the live albums Epitaph and Battle Cry. Being in Judas Priest is a great atmosphere. You can imagine working live and touring the world with these masters. It's an incredible experience on stage and also in the studio. Very creative, inclusive--it's great fun. And we're all focused on the job at hand. We all know what we're doing. We're all on the same page and striving for the same goals. So it's very creative, lots of fun. And at the end of it you've got an album. It's amazing to go in with nothing and at the end of the sessions you come out with a new bunch of songs that someone will listen to in the car on their way to work, to the airport, or on their way to show. You come up with something that's going to be around forever. It's an amazing feeling.
Are you writing all the time?
Personally, I always take my guitar to the hotel or go down to the show early. You never know when a little bit of inspiration is going to hit you. You want to capture it. It really is like capturing lightning in a bottle. You never know when those riffs are going to show up. You catch them and they turn into a song. Having a guitar on hand in the hotel, in the dressing room is invaluable, really. We also go away for lengthy periods of time and we all make ideas on our own and then put them together all in a metal pot and see what sticks. For instance, I'll have a riff that goes with Rob Halford's vocal ideas... we'll put it together like that.
It sounds like the band is back to recording as a group in the studio.
Yes. This one, we had two producers. We had Tom Allom, who is a legendary producer with Priest who recorded British Steel and some classic albums. And we've got Andy Sneap. He's the new hot potato that's on the street that everyone wants to record their records with. And we have engineer Mike Exeter who has worked with Black Sabbath. So we had a great team. What they wanted to achieve was to get us in the studio playing the songs. Sometimes there's a push and pull where things will speed up or slow down. Not in an un-tight way but in a way that feels natural. And you only get that natural feeling by playing together. They were adamant that that was the vibe we wanted so that's what we did. I think it's great. The digital revolution has allowed everyone to record their albums in their living rooms, which is great. But at the same time, it's taken away that communion-live feeling which I'm really glad it's coming back.
There is a bit of a disconnect between bands and their fans today in that fans rarely get to hear the full quality of what you've done in the studio if they are streaming a new album on their phone or on their computer. But Judas Priest came of age when analog was king.
Absolutely. As you said, you can invest tens of thousands of dollars into producing a record that sounds fantastic. But the way that people are consuming it is going to be a detriment to your effort (laughs). But at the end of the day, that's the way the world is. It's kind of out of our control. The fact that they're listening is great. The platform exists now to do that. Luckily in 'Priest, we have the luxury of using a great console and getting in there together and playing the songs out. I think that's important. You know, things go away for a while and they change and then they come back. Like the resurgence of vinyl. People missed it and now it's almost like a novelty. Led Zeppelin, The Animals, Jimi Hendrix Experience--those records were all recorded with the guys in the room and they'd throw the overdubs on top. But that initial feel was playing the music together. That's the magic, man. I think that's the way it's going and I'm glad it is.
What are you listening to for inspiration these days?
The old ones have always been the same. Hendrix, David Gilmour, the Iron Maiden guys... Brian May (Queen). I listen to a lot of soundscape music like Pink Floyd. I'm creating more than I'm consuming. I'm writing a lot of riffs, a lot of melodies and songs. I kind of do that more than I'm listening to music. I've got a set up at home so if the inspiration hits me, I can put it down. I've got a back catalog of riffs. You never know. There might be a 'Priest record a few years down the road where they might end up.
Is there any kind of album that Judas Priest hasn't made yet that you might take on in the future?
Well there's so many different styles of Judas Priest. And those sounds have a way of showing up. Perhaps there is something on the new album that sounds like Sad Wings of Destiny or Killing Machine. It's not a conscious thing. It's part of their heritage. It shows up every now and then. We have talked in the past about doing an acoustic record. That would be something the band has never done. Maybe for good reason (laughs)! If you think about it, some of the songs could lend themselves to an acoustic makeover. "A Touch of Evil" --you can imagine that with acoustic guitars and bass, some orchestration. It could be pretty phenomenal. As far as if it will happen or not, I have no idea.
Well if you make an acoustic record, it has to be the loudest acoustic record ever.
Oh without a doubt!