Steel Mill this month features L.A. based tribute kings Priest Unleashed!
First off, why did you start a Priest tribute band and what does the music of Judas Priest mean to you?
So we started as a general Metal cover band, but there was a certain energy or “magic” when we played the Priest covers.
The music of Judas Priest means METAL no doubt about it. From the dual guitars, to the driving bass, to the heavy drums, and the incredible vocals, there is no denying it. Then you have the outfits, they started the whole Leather and Studs look in the genre. We are all metal-heads, and Judas Priest is very much responsible for that.
How long have you guys been Priest fans, how did it all begin?
We all started listening to Priest at various times. The range of the ages in the band spans no more than 10 years apart. Most of the band got their first exposure in their early formative years of music and there was something about it that rang true at that time. It was different. It was always ahead of the curve. I got my first taste in 1982. I was into Pink Floyd at the time when my schoolmate loaned me “Screaming For Vengeance” on cassette. When I listened to it, my reaction was, ”what the fuck is this?!, This is crazy!” and I was hooked. Judas Priest was responsible for turning me into ”metal maniac”. I could honestly say it was my first metal experience.
Some of us wandered of into other genres, but we all came back to our roots. We are musically reliving some of the best years of our lives. We know that there are many others that feel the same, so we wanted to share that with them…..
Of course singing the songs originally done by the Metal God himself isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Do you practice the metal screams or do any vocal training?
I’ve always sang to various artists and have always pushed myself to hit the notes that the singer hits not matter the style. I never try and shy away from it. With Rob Halford, it’s different. There’s such a range and dynamic aspect to his voice that takes time. To sing that classic Halford style you have to find the right place in your voice to do it or you’ll just end up destroying your throat on the first scream. I do a lot more listening to what he’s doing than rehearsing what he’s doing. I find that if you can listen to the subtleties of his voice and what he’s doing in the song it will help you sing it more correctly when you go to actually rehearse it because you have that framework and knowledge to make sure you’re hitting not just the same note, but hitting the note the same way.
How much practice in general it takes to make a successful tribute act?
That is tough to answer. We all rehearse our parts on our own so we have them down before even stepping into a rehearsal. Each member does it a little different. I, myself (Glenn Tipton parts), practice daily. We watch live footage all the time to not only hear the parts, but to see how they are played. Sometimes I’ll be playing the right notes, but in a different neck position, then I watch Tipton play it somewhere else on the neck, so I correct my playing to match his. That is what a real tribute it. We don’t want to play something like what they played, we want to play EXACTLY what they played. It takes a lot of work to be a real tribute band. Most people we’ve come across don’t have the dedication. They call themselves a tribute, but they are really a cover band.
What “gear” are the players currently using?
Drummer is using an amazing custom made Tama double bass kit with maple shells. He also plays through a sampler for the special effects, such as the screams in “Screaming For Vengenace” or the wind in “Riding On The Wind”.
Our Tipton uses a Mesa Mark IV head with EL34 tubes, a Mesa cabinet, Gibson SG with Floyd Rose tremolo and a mirrored pick-guard and SD Full Shred pickups. He also uses a Fractal FX8 for all his sound effects.
Our K.K. Downing uses a mesa Mark V with Line 6 cabinet, a Red Jackson V with SD pickups and a Line 6 Helix for effects.
Our Ian Hill uses a Fender Bass, with Avatar cabinets, Solid state head, and Zoom effects.
Our Halford even has a rack with tube mic preamps and Eventide effects units to recreate the studio sound effects on Halford’s vocals and he’ll use a pedal board during shows to trigger the effects when they are supposed to be there (harmonies, delays, echos etc.).
You put in effort to replicate Priest’s stage look and clothes from 1980’s. How much work did that take?
The outfits were a labor of love. We made them ourselves. Studding is painful, but well worth it. Finding Tipton’s red leather pants was not easy. There are so many details to the outfits that we are still working on them.
What’s the hardest Priest song to play live? Which one took most work to get done?
I’d have to say that “The Sentinel” is the most challenging song to pull off. “Exciter” is a close second. However, to get these songs to within 95% accuracy takes a lot of work, not matter how difficult the songs are.
What’s your opinion on the new Judas Priest single “Lightning Strike” and what do you expect from the new “Firepower” -album?
“Lightning Strikes” is a very heavy song, a bit of a departure for Priest. We, personally, are bigger fans of classic Priest, 1974-1984. I expect great things for “Firepower” but I’m very concerned as we just learned of Glenn Tipton’s current status.
If you could add any song to the Priest Unleashed -set, which would it be?
We currently have 24 songs at the ready and we are adding a few more in the next month or so. We play the songs that make us excited to play. Songs that bring us back to the first time we heard a record or a song that wasn’t played on the radio but struck a chord with us. It’s tough to pick a specific song because each person likes slightly different styles within the JP catalog.
Have you recorded any Priest songs in studio? If not, do you have plans to maybe cut some demo versions of Priest classics?
We recorded a version of “The Hellion” to use at our shows. It was a lot of work because we layered it to match the original JP track down to listening to any effect that was used and adding that as well. Our drummer also used 2 gongs for that last note to even make it more real. We’re quite proud of our version and how close it sounds to the original. We did also pick one song, “Beyond The Realms Of Death” to record on it’s own in it entirety. But it’s not done as of yet. We just have to lay down the guitar tracks; everything else is recorded as of now. That recording should be ready by the end of spring 2018.
What is the most memorable gig that you’ve played and what made it great?
We supported the Iron Maidens at their annual holiday show. It was a local show so the venue was PACKED. All the bands that night were of a similar genre so it was truly a ”metal” night. The energy in the audience was unreal. For the time we played, it was the early 1980’s again!
Are there any interesting “Priest Unleashed on the road” stories to tell?
We just played the Viper Room in Hollywood recently. As anyone will know or can assume, leather isn’t the most air conditioned material, but it’s metal, so it’s part of the deal. It’s so hot you think you may pass out. The curtain was up and no air was getting in or out and it was sweltering to say the least. Our “Hellion” intro begins to play and we’re thinking we can’t wait for the curtain to open so whatever air is out in the crowd will hit the stage and cool us off a little bit. The curtain opened…it was the same damn air. No circulation, not even the wind from someone exhaling towards the stage. But it was GREAT. Packed and just Metal, one could say it was Hot Rockin’ (sorry for the pun), it really was. It had been raining right before we went on so we’re thinking right when we are done we’ll head out into the rain to cool down, it had stopped by then. We caught zero breaks on that front that night.
Have you ever seen other Priest tributes? What sets Priest Unleashed apart from other JP tribute bands?
There are a few, not too many. We initially set out to really emulate the studio tracks to perfection. I mean the amount of hours spent studying them is ridiculous. We felt that most tribute bands just go out and play the songs and only play what’s on the radio. A lot of the guitars are just out there with one or two, one of them being a volume boost for the solos. Well, if anyone knows anything about Priest, they know that the band were not afraid to use current technology in their music. Lots of effect, synth, etc. All of that is captured in their studio tracks. There are millions of fans out there that are so familiar with the studio tracks. That’s where we come in and set ourselves apart from the rest.
We use high end multi-effects units and spend a lot of time trying to replicate what Prist did in the studio. We even play all the little nuances that are only found on the studio tracks. Our singer even uses a processor to emulate the studio vocal effects. In addition, our drummer plays with a sampler that has things like the screams in “Screaming For Vengeance” or the wind in “Riding On The Wind”, even a motorcycle track to start “Hell Bent For Leather”. NO ONE is doing that. Then you add the costumes that Priest used and you have an amazing, high energy, show. Don’t forget, we are trying to give the audience more than the music, that’s easy! We are trying to recreate feelings and memories; you can’t put a price on that!
Any final words for the readers of Steel Mill?
If you’re ever in the Southern California area, please look us up and catch one of our shows. You won’t be disappointed. We look forward to entertaining you! And if you’re from out of state or visiting from another country, please talk to us after the show. We love to meet fans of Priest music. You can always follow our YouTube Channel, Instagram, Facebook or Twitter if you’re not in our area. We have links to all that stuff on our website www.priestunleashed.com.
Thank You! Keep playing and keep bringing PRIEST fans an excellent tribute!
Interview by Ville Krannila
Photos: Priest Unleashed