Gay Judas Priest Frontman Rob Halford Talks

By: Josh Rotter
5.24.2009

When Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford emerged onstage head-to-toe in glass, leather and steel in the late 70's, he not only made a fashion statement but also created what would become a style template for future metal heads – and fans – to follow.  In other words, if Deep Purple and Black Sabbath gave metal its sound, then Judas Priest gave it its look.   

As a legendary tastemaker, it's hardly shocking that Halford, the multi-Gold and Platinum vocalist, songwriter and producer is launching the new, aptly-titled clothing company Metal God Apparel. The collection features fitted t-shirts with intricate patterns of skulls, crossbones and guitars and titles like "Studs & Spikes," "Resurrection" and "Eternal Chaos."   This is the rock 'n' roll-inspired collection that Ed Hardy wishes that he had put out. 

Gay.com's Josh Rotter questioned the out artist about the new line, whether he thinks gay audiences will embrace the designs, and why, oh why, gays are still so resistant to good head -- banging.

Rob, you're such a style icon.  How did you first develop what would become the metal "uniform"?

Rob Halford A lot of it was out of experimentation. As I recall, the whole imagery came out of a song called 'Hell Bent for Leather.'  We had an idea of bringing a motorcycle on stage and it made sense that if I ride a bike, I should wear a biker's jacket.

It felt right. Elvis was doing it, and he was Mr. Rock 'n' Roll. It was a tough thing, a macho thing. And we had things around at the time that I felt should be utilized, like our fashion designers at the time, who took a jacket and vest and put studs on them all over the place.

The sound was there, loud, brash and aggressive, but the look was not yet in place. That's what's so wonderful about the journey we've been on. Once we established a look, you just looked at yourself in the mirror before going on stage to make sure your fly was zipped.  We finally looked like the music sounds, and everyone picked up on it and it became the look.

Why did you decide to launch an apparel collection?

In my golden years I'm looking to fulfill a lot of dreams and ambitions that I still have. One was to be in the world of apparel. I have to confess that I'm not like 'The Real Housewives of Orange County.' I'm not in Neiman Marcus every two seconds. But I love fashion. I think it's fun and important, culturally, and I have my eye on that side of the world.

Being connected to rock 'n' roll life, I can see how you can go from the roots of cowboy boots and that Ralph Lauren thing to some of the extremely flamboyant displays like the Elvis outfit last night on 'American Idol.' It's what we're all about.

Also, we need to wear clothes, so there's a natural interest to explore that.  I've always had fun with costume changes with Judas Priest and my solo work and I wanted to see what would happen with this new venture. It's just another project with my company; I got my record company up and running, a clothing line about to launch, with even more things on the back burner as we speak. Life is great… I love life… I just wanted to see how much I can get out of it really. And it's a good feeling to have that contact, musically, with people.

How much of the design process are you responsible for?

Rob Halford I have to give all the praise to Mark Sasso. He's quite well known within the illustration side of the world for doing comic books and his own self-expressions. I've been with Mark since the solo activities began. He knows me and knows what I do and tries to reflect something that I do in the designs.

He's in New York, and he sends pieces to me outside of Birmingham, England or Phoenix, AZ, where I keep homes, and I say, 'What if we try this and what if we try that?' He has incredible ideas.  He just keeps ideas coming, which is important in the fashion world; and I say, 'That's cool or I'm not so sure about that.' I don't have talent to sit and doodle with a pen and paper, but I like to feel that I'm no different than most celebrities in their ventures. I'm happy with what we've produced so far.

OK, after checking out the collection online, I have to say that while I liked many of the t-shirts, the one that stood out to me was the "Pray For Rock & Roll" t-shirt. What's the inspiration behind that catchphrase?

When I saw that, my eyes lit up. It's so cool. Out of everything, it just pops out. But tell me what it means to you.

I saw it as rock 'n' roll has really suffered in the last two decades (but especially in the last 10 years since so much music is now entirely produced on computers.) It's been muddled with electro, and there are no new rock stars anymore in an age where albums are released independently online (without big label pushes), and kids seem more concerned with their 'Rock Band' scores than with actually starting real bands with real instruments.

Rob Halford That's great. That's such a great thought process. It just inspired me to write a song called, 'Pray For Rock & Roll'; the image of the skeletal figure with the guitar in prayer position... it's a very strong statement, very evocative.

The roots came from Little Richard bashing on the piano. Then came the electric guitar, but the same principles still occurred. There's emotion attached to that statement. That particular design may become a Che Guevara type of thing, the way that images keep recurring in that viral attitude.

It's all about, in essence, whether it's a four-piece band, with drums, guitar, bass and a singer... that's a rock 'n' roll band.  I get excited when bands like Kings of Leon have that essence. The singer is so sexy and has an amazing voice. It's encouraging when I see basic elements of rock 'n' roll making a statement in today's world.

I'm 57, and I've been through really interesting periods, from vinyl through twittering, and these things affect rock 'n' roll and life in general. But the true essence of rock 'n' roll will always be there.

I read that your t-shirt collection uses the latest in fashion technology.  Talk to me about that.

Rob Halford It's a process of making t-shirts. There are some new techniques that have been created on how to take the material itself and make it distressed and the way you apply the designs, the applique process. We're trying to be in that world, to utilize new and advanced techniques. Our t-shirts also have a raised 3D effect, but have gone further than iron ons. You can do extraordinary things in manufacturing and apparel these days.

So will you stop at t-shirts or expand the collection to include other apparel?

I don't know where this will go... pants, shoes, boxers and jocks?

What has been the reaction so far to the clothing collection?

I've shown designs and samples to my guy friends, and they're always saying,  'I'll take six of them, I'll take four of those.' It definitely fits the niche for that type of look. So far the reaction has been encouraging, so I'm fingers crossed that when we hit the official launch, it will be successful.

Do you think that gay audiences will be drawn to these designs?

I think so. I think the gay community is just as open minded as the rest of society is... but I know what you're saying... A t-shirt is a t-shirt, and in terms of visuals, the gay crowd, as can we, can also relate to it. I think that as long as it's cool and edgy, it's got a place.

Along those same lines, I love metal, but I rarely meet mo's that are Metallica heads.  So I'm curious, do you think that heavy metal is still a straight man's arena? 

First, I think it's great that you're a metalhead. I also think that we go as far as stereotyping ourselves, like if you're gay, you've got to be into leather or the white party circuit. I don't understand that because we already have a lot of difficulties. At the end of the day, it's freedom of choice, but we shouldn't be pecking away at each other. There's no doubt that there are LGBT metalheads all over world, because I see them throwing up the devil sign at my shows. Yes, we're a minority within a minority, but metal is for everyone. It's a great kind of rock 'n' roll music.

Do you really notice specific audience members when you're performing? 

Rob Halford Absolutely, that's just human instinct. But you can't do that mid-song, because if you see something you like in the front row, it starts running through your brain as you're trying to remember the words.

What we do, that's me doing my job, so I'm focused 100 percent on doing the best that I can do. That's in essence combining performance with other talented people onstage and zeroing in on someone, when you want to get the best moment out of that song.

If you saw somebody and thought 'That's a great looking guy,' that's a fact of life, in terms of recognition -- remembering a face from a concert after the concert. It definitely takes place. 

I imagine that you just made many of your fans' lifetimes, especially if they have imagined that you were singing directly to them from the stage.

It does have a lot of... a really charged feeling for a fan... to think 'They remember me.'  In general terms it's a blur, but it's fair to say that there are certain fans that I see on every tour that I recognize. Some pop out, because of what they're doing, the way they look and what they're wearing.  There's a possibility that I might meet them afterwards. If we make eye contact, and I look at them for a couple lines of a song, I can see their eyes bug out.

It's magical and wonderful and what we do in show business. You don't think about it until you get a cool question in an interview like you've just asked.

I know you have a tour with Whitesnake coming to the U.S. this summer.  What else are you up to these days?

I'm keeping busy as ever. I've done so much work in the last four years. Ozzfest was a huge success and that was to celebrate the reunion record, the conceptual 'Nostradamus.' We're still supporting that Priest-wise, and gearing up for the second leg of the American tour.

We're also kind of celebrating, getting the party started early for one of our most famous releases, 'British Steel' with 'Breaking the Law' and 'Living After Midnight.'  30 years has past since the release of that much-loved album. So we'll be promoting that.

The world is also full of solo activities like this apparel project, for which I've just dove into the deep end.

Watch the Metal God Apparel commercial here:


To check out Halford's rockin' t-shirt collection or to place your order, check out: www.MetalGodApparel.com.

READER COMMENTS ()