Rob Halford of Judas Priest talks about his late 90's project 2wo
By Bob Gourley | Originally published in 1998
While his former bandmates continue the Judas Priest legacy with a new vocalist, Rob Halford has chosen to expand his musical horizons. After releasing two albums with Fight, his first post-Priest band, Rob has unleashed a much more experimental project – 2wo. Originally started up as a collaboration with guitarist John Lowery, a chance meeting with Trent Reznor took the project in a strange new direction. Reznor, along with Dave “Rave” Ogilvie, deconstructed Two’s sound and added an electronic edge. The material that would become 2wo’s debut album (“Voyeurs”) was extremely varied to begin with, so the end result is unlike anything heard before. The following interview with Halford is from 1998; since that time Halford re-joined and continues with Judas Priest.
Why did you chose to form a new band, rather than record as Rob Halford?
Rob: “That’s just not the way I work. My background is one of working with other great talent. I could never do anything by myself, I need to be led, and directed, and produced along with other good musicians. So that was never an idea in my head. I think that’s a very kind of pompus thing to do, or it would have been for me.
What was it like collaborating with a smaller group of people after so many years with Judas Priest?
Rob: “I really didn’t stray that far away from where I was before, because when I was in Priest I wrote with two other people. And as it happened with 2wo, I wrote with 2 other people. So it was not much of a difference. The main difference was the way that Bob and John create their musical ideas. It was a lot less stressful, it was more openminded. So on that level it was just a much more enjoyable creative session that we would go through in making the songs happen.”
As an artist, how does being in 2wo differ from your previous projects?
Rob: “I think it’s simply because there wasn’t a repetative muscial tone happening, which is where most of my musical career comes from. Most of it has been based on a specific tone, a specific level of music repetition. With 2wo, we’re going all over the place. One minute it’s a real pop-oriented song like ‘Deep In The Ground’ to something very emotional and very moody like ‘Bed Of Rust’ to something electronic, a song like ‘If’ then to a guitar-themed song like ‘Leave Me Alone’. The fact that we were popping around all over the place musically was surprise after surprise, and one that felt great. One that I didn’t really have a problem with, I never felt like ‘we can’t go here, maybe we shouldn’t do this’. I was just ‘hey, that’s great, it feels good, let’s do it'”
Had you been wanting to experiment more with electronic sounds?
Rob: “Yeah, I think that you take advantage as a musician of all the technological inventions that come along, things that are available in the studio today were not available five years ago. So you just use them as tools, really, in the creative process. It’s like a painter finding more colors. You try this shade, that shade. You just constantly experiment in using the advantages of modern technology and incorporate it into your work.”
Is there a regular group of musicians who round out the 2wo line-up live?
Rob: “We have a full band. The way the music kind of re-developed when Reznor came on board was that we brought in a lot of programmers and sequencers, guys that sit at the keyboard, take CD Rom samples, reconstruct and filter them, adjust the parameters. So basically all that kind of binary factor of the music is going to be re-created live. It’s a five piece band, and one that can really take the cd/cassette presentation and just fulfill it in the live environment. But the cool thing is that it takes a much stronger, more energized, powerful, forceful attitude when it’s created live. Which was a big surprise for me, because I couldn’t quite fathom how some of the intricacies and the delicate balances were going to be transferred to the live world. They were, and what we were left with is just a very, very strong experience.”
At what point did Trent get involved with 2wo?
Rob: Trent came in pretty much when the whole first sessions of the songs had been completed. They were well past the demo stage. We had practically mixed it down to where we felt we had something we were almost ready to release. What Trent did was basically strip it all down and re-build it. Essentially the songs are all there intact, but in terms of every aspect of the sound, drums, bass, guitars, vocals. All of that was totally re-developed. All the accessories, all the electronic sounds, samples, all of those came from Reznor and Reznor’s people. To compare the two, they’re light years away in terms of engineering and production, mixing, but the core of the material is pretty much the same ”
Were you ever forced to go back and make changes to songs based on what Trent and Rave had done?
Rob: “Yeah, there were moments where because something happened there was a hole that needed to be filled it, or a space. When you strip it back down, you tend to look and listen to it in a different way. So you just keep an open mind as the process goes forth. It’s exciting when something presents itself that lends a possibility of improvement and change. So it was cool and unusual to be in the room hearing another person’s take, idea, suddenly taking shape out of the speakers.”
So how did you meet Trent?
Rob: “I met him in New Orleans, a little over two years ago. I was in New Orleans at Mardi Gras, where I go every year, and was partying with some friends and they pointed out where Trent’s studio was. One of my friends said ‘why don’t you go knock on the door and say hi?’ I never do that kind of thing. For whatever reason, I got out of the car and walked across the street and banged on the door. Rave Ogilvie opened the door and welcomed me in. We’d never met before, but he was just a really nice cool guy and he showed me around the studio. A little while later Trent showed up and we’d never met before either. We just sat there and talked about this that and the other. He knew I had some demos with me and asked to listen to the music.He listened to it and asked me if I’d leave the cassette, which I did, and that was that really. We hung out together for a couple of more days, because he was in some of the parades and so forth. But then I just went back to Phoenix and didn’t hear anything from him for the longest time. Suddenly he calls me up and first of all offers me a record deal, which was great because I was looking for one. And then secondly, he gave me then his vision, his ideas of where he could see this music going. Trent started in New Orleans, working on NIN and other projects, and then I went up to Vancouver with Rave Ogilvie and his people and things were just sent back and forth.”
Did you have any idea how it would turn out?
Rob: “I didn’t have a clue what he was going to do, I was just so excited that he was even involved with it. I didn’t really understand what was going to happen, or understand things as they were happening. But I just accepted that these were really talented individuals, with a tremendous capacity to grasp a vision and look into the future. Because I was working with such new personalities .. even if I’d stepped up and said ‘that doesn’t seem right’ that may have been the wrong thing to have said and done. It was just a case of hands off, let these people make their musical statements. And as it progressed then I started to understand it a little more. So by the time we were half way through the record, I was so thrilled. Such great things were starting to happen.
How fully-developed was the material when they got involved?
Rob: “As far as I was concerned, it was complete. It was all set to go. If I’d listen to the music now, those original ideas, it just wouldn’t have flown anywhere. Great songs, but the extra things that it needed to have were just not there. The re-creations that Reznor brought, along with Ogilvie and the other people, made it into something very, very special. It just took off on its own merits. A much more important pieces of work.”
What’s your opinion of Nothing Records?
Rob: “I wasn’t completely aware of the Nothing roster and the philosophy of Nothing Records. But as I began the relationship and looked around, and found out what it was setting out to do, I was just thrilled to be a part of it. It’s a label that works very much on artistic purity, it’s not one that takes and steers the artists in various ways of making the hit record. They just look at you for what your worth is in terms of the music that you present to them. They seem to become involved based on what they hear coming out of the speakers, not what you look like, what you’re image is. It’s just what’s coming out of the speakers. If they can relate to that, then you can be a part of the Nothing organization. It’s a very respective and eclectic bunch of people that Trent has put together. He’s the man responsible for the signing on his label.”
How much material did you write for the album?
Rob: “I forget how many pieces we ended up with, maybe 16 or 18. But then we fine-tuned it down to 11. We feel that the 11 that made it only ‘Voyeurs’ is a complete representation of what we want people to listen to.”
Do you think you went out of your way to make it so varied?
Rob: “Some of those tracks by definition, if you pull them out one at a time it is by no way a representation of the rest of the material. The variety is something that we were drawn to as we were composing. We were constantly excited by this direction. That direction. All of it was a real … just a good feeling. It wasn’t us thinking ‘oh, we’ve already been down this road,’it was all new and fresh as we went from place to place.”
How would you describe the 2wo live experience?
Rob:“It’s exciting, because there’s nothing worse than going to see a band and feeling something is missing. Holes here or there. What we have in the live format is something very strong and powerful. Something with a lot of edge, a heavy emotional experience. The live experience has to be a dramatic, impressive thing. So we’re able to do that. It sounds great.”
Can you describe the “I Am a Pig’ video?
Rob: “We worked with Chi Chi La Rue, who is a gay drag porno director from LA. One of the leading people in his genre, has all these awards. Some friends of mine were in one of his videos a few months back, and we were at a bar in San Diego celebrating New Year’s Eve and one of my friends said ‘wouldn’t it bee cool if Chi Chi directed a music video?’ And immediately my mind starts to work. This could be really, really cool, instead of the usual Cliched rock and roll video director, bring in this person that’s more known for erotic, pornographic video work. And so I called Chi Chi, it turns out that Chi Chi’s a big rock and roll metal, hard rock freak, and we met in LA a few days later. I really enjoyed meeting him, discussing the possibilities. When it was presented to Nothing Records and Interscope, they just exploded and thought it was the greatest thing to consider doing. So with their support, we went ahead and made it. It’s a very, very powerful pieces of work. Some adult starts are in it, gay straight, all different background. We just created a video piece that supports the title ‘I Am A Pig,’ which pretty much says what it is. The song itself lyrically contains the idea that what we see as we are now is something different from the potential to be. Like whatever skeletons you have in the closet or whatever. We all carry 2 sides to our personaliity, one where we’re in the public domain, a really different person from what we are in private. So that’s the element of what the song is about. The video is just taking sexuality, physical sexuality, and using that as a metaphor to describe the feelings of the song. So we have all these different scenes going on in the video, of different people doing different things with each other. And collectively it comes up as the boundary lying between being a pig and being a voyeur.
When you first joined Priest, did you ever think music would still be your career over 20 years later?
Rob: “I just go from moment to moment. I’m a strong believer in synchronicity, that if you think about something long enough, hard enough, dream about something long enough, hard enough, it flows through different people and to different areas. You bring things into your life by wanting something strongly. So, I guess I just want to do this so bad I’ve never lost the pasion and the excitement and the enthusiasm for creating music and recording music and performing music live. All of those areas have never diminished. So,I Wouldn’t have dreamed that at this point in my career I’d be venturing out on a new label operated by Trent Reznor, one the great visionaries of music and making a new record with new musicians, about to embark on another trek around the planet showing off a whole new situation.”See all interviews →