Interview By Ville Krannila & Jari Asell / April 2009
The visitor engine at Steel Mill keeps grinding and this month the legendary vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens dropped by at The Mill offices! Tim has just released his first solo album “Play My Game” and currently tours with Heaven And Hell – both bands just recently featured on the Download festival. The man was happy to talk about his present with “Play My Game,” Yngwie Malmsteen and Beyond Fear plus his past with Winters Bane, Judas Priest and Iced Earth among others.
Hello Tim! How’s it going?
It is great. In Nottingham today for press at the Download fest and playing there tomorrow..crazy! On the road with Heaven and Hell as well!!
You just released your debut solo album “Play My Game”. How’s the reception been so far?
It has been great. I think most fans an critics get what I made here. A straight forward metal CD that sounds like ME! And I’m proud of that, so to all out there, thank you and keep spreading the word.
The title “Play My Game” is a strong statement, where did it originate from?
I got to say, it was not written about me. LOL! It was written about racing a car in NASCAR. I took out a verse and shortened it so now it doesn’t look like it but it is. You will be able to tell that it is about going fast. The label loved the title and said this is what it should be and I do agree. It says it all..WORLD, it is now time to play my game, like it or not..if you dont like it, DON’T PLAY..hahahaha!
The new solo album has plenty of talented guests contributing. How did you make sure the record sounded like one cohesive concept and not focus too much on individual players?
Yeah it is filled with killer guys and they all did so good. I really would have loved for all the Judas Priest guys to play on it but I knew they were way too busy! Having the sound being the same across the board was really important to me so most of the players did their parts in Bob Kulick’s studio in L.A…I mean a lot of the guys are from there so they would just come down and put their parts down.
What are your touring plans after the release of “Play My Game”?
I am on the road now with Heaven And Hell. Got Simon Wright on drums, David Ellefsson on bass, John Comprix on guitar and Chris Caffery on guitar so it is a great lineup. We just did Download – we went on nice and early but on the Main stage and also played Sweden Rock. It has been a great run. Now I’m off to Mexico with some friends backing me up and I will do a tour for the month of July! I hope to get back out there with another all star line up with me and tour the world.
What type of set list will audiences get to witness? Large chunk of new record probably and will you be playing any Priest or Iced Earth songs?
Yeah. It depends on how long the set is. I will do a few tunes from my era of Judas Priest and maybe “The Ripper” as well. No Iced Earth. I will do some Beyond Fear songs and a bunch of new tunes from “Play My Game.”
What’s the current state of Beyond Fear? Any plans for a second album?
Oh yeah, the first one was a very well received CD and the next one will be better and a bit more brutal. I can’t wait, maybe sometime next year.
Winter’s Bane did a cool concept album “Heart Of A Killer” back in 1990’s. It’s since then been re-issued. How do you view that album now?
It was cool, fun days. It was a really good CD, to me it doesn’t compare with what I do now but it was a really good album. I would love to do a “Heart Of A Killer 2”,that would be a lot of fun.
Are you a self-taught singer or did you ever take vocal lessons?
A bit of both. I had great choir teachers and I did a lot of work on my own. A lot of singing to CD’s and singing in my room…I also read a lot of books on how to do it right..The problem is every book was different so I did what worked for me.
Who are your own idols, the singers you grew up with and who influenced your vocal style?
Well Rob of course and Ronnie Dio, Chris Cornell, Anthrax, Jon Oliva..I mean a bit of all the great singers…And I still try and learn everyday.
Your vocal style is very demanding, how do you keep your voice in shape especially during long periods of touring?
Hahahaha I pray..hahahaha! I get my sleep, try not to talk too much and drink a ton of water. A bit tougher now. LOL.
In your opinion, what’s been the hardest song ever for you to sing?
I would say the third song in Iced Earth’s “Gettysburg” piece (“High Water Mark”)…Maybe “Scream Machine” (Beyond Fear). Not really sure, if I’m on, none of them are too hard. LOL.
You recorded two albums with Iced Earth, “The Glorious Burden” and “Framing Armageddon”. Both contained some quality material and the band seemed to be on a strong track. What happened to bring your departure?
It just didn’t work out…sales were down and I was told it was my fault. So I started to think about other things and writing on my own. At the end of the day everybody got what they wanted and realized it wasn’t my fault. LOL! I do wish them the best of luck. Matt is a nice guy and a really good singer, the best of luck to him.
Going back to your Priest days, do you still remember the first time you stepped on stage with the guys and played a live show – the first Priest show for some years – must have been an exciting moment for you?
It was great..I was ready for it and it was awesome. Heard people chanting “Ripper” after a few songs and that was really cool! The show was at the Boat house in Norfolk, Virginia…good times.
From Jugulator one of the somewhat forgotten tracks is the closing epic, “Cathedral Spires”. While heavy it also bears the trademarks of classic Priest. Do you agree and was there ever discussion to play it live?
I don’t think it was forgotten at all. I have people come up to me all the time and talk about that song…It was a great tune, well I should say it IS a great tune. A classic Priest tune.
After “Jugulator” Priest recorded “Demolition,” which was more experimental in different scopes. How much influence did you have on the sound and almost ten years after its release how does it stand up to you?
Well I really didn’t have much influence. I guess vocally Glenn and Ken could wander a bit and try things. You know, that is a great CD and I actually get more people nowadays talk about that one more then “Jugulator” – funny.
With Priest you co-wrote the song “What’s My Name?” – can you tell us the story behind that number?
Not a whole lot. To be honest, I haven’t heard it since we recorded it..hahahahah! Mostly Glenn and Ken’s ideas in that song. I helped out a bit but just a little.
More recently you appeared on Yngwie Malmsteen’s “Perpetual Flame”. Yngwie isn’t the first artist one would associate with you, being very different compared to for example Priest and Iced Earth. How did you approach singing his classic material?
I had a blast. I just went in there and just belted the tune out. Hahaha! Man I have fun doing it. I mean one of the worlds best guitarists ever. Love it and can’t wait to do more with him.
With Beyond Fear and now “Play My Game” You were stepping into a new territory writing all the songs, when previously you had sung lyrics mostly written by others. How is the creative process for you and how different is it writing music and lyrics for your own voice compared to singing someone else’s stuff?
Listen, I love to sing but doing what I want to do is the best. I think my new CD is the best I have done and that is because it is ME. I just sit down and just start writing a tune, what comes out just comes out and I love it. If someone doesn’t like it for some reason, that is fine but to me, this is just awesome metal. I put on a CD..and this is what I want.
Looking back on your career, had someone told you 15 years ago, you’d get to sing for Judas Priest, Iced Earth, Yngwie Malmsteen and get to front your own band, what’d you have said?
Hahahahaha! Funny isn’t it, who would have thought this all would happen….doing that and now having my solo CD “Play My Game” with all these great musicians on it and playing the main stage at Download and supporting Heaven And Hell”…amazing! I think making into Priest and being good friends to this day with them is something that I am very proud of…..Ok, I would have said You are crazy, I will never be in Judas Priest or with Yngwie, go smoke another joint..hahahah!
The ongoing Heaven & Hell tour, how does it feel to play with these metal legends? And recently in Donington 2009 – How was it to play in Donington for the first time?
KICK ASS….The guys in Heaven and Hell are class acts and it is an honor to be with them. Ronnie is just great and everyone can learn from him, class all the way!!! NEXT, maybe me supporting Judas Priest!! HINT, HINT!
How did you put together your touring band, star act of players in Chris Caffery, David Ellefsson, Simon Wright?
I picked up the phone and called them..hahahahah! And that is really how it happened, and don’t forget John Comprix! These are my friends and the guys I wanted to do the first run of shows with me and it has been great.
Back to Priest, this is a tough one : what would be your ideal setlist for a Judas Priest Tour?
The set list we did on the last tour I did, maybe throw in “Dreamer Deceiver” and “Cheater.” But a Priest set list must have “Burn In Hell,” “One On One” and “Bloodsuckers” in it..hahahah!
What are your top-5 Priest albums?
Man, that is tough. “Painkiller,” “Jugulator,” “Screaming For Vengeance,” “Sad Wings Of Destiny,” “British Steel” and “Demolition” tied..hahahahah!
Any last words for the viewers of K.K. Downing’s Steel Mill?
Thanks to everyone..LOVE YA Ken..miss ya bud! Now everyone go out and get “PLAY MY GAME” and if you need any Ripper- info or merchandise..go to:
Thanks a lot for your time!
THANKS BUDDY, KEEP IT HEAVY AND PLAY MY GAME!