April 6, 2023

By David E. Gehlke

In 2011 Richie Faulkner replaced K.K. Downing in JUDAS PRIEST for what was supposed to be the band's "farewell" tour. While the metal scene was up in arms over the disbandment of the legendary Downing / Glenn Tipton guitar tandem, Faulkner quickly grew into the role and asserted himself as a valuable contributor to PRIEST both onstage and in the studio, particularly 2018's well-received "Firepower". And when Tipton had to step away from performing live with the band before the release of "Firepower" due to complications from Parkinson's disease, it placed an even greater spotlight on Faulkner's capabilities as a guitar player. Whatever anyone says about the validity of a Downing / Tipton-less PRIEST, Faulkner has earned the benefit of the doubt based on the last 12 years.

PRIEST won't be around forever, though, and at the relatively young age of 43 (by rock and metal standards),Faulkner has started laying the groundwork for the future. It begins with his new band, ELEGANT WEAPONS. Featuring former RAINBOW vocalist Ronnie Romero, PANTERA bassist Rex Brown and PRIEST drummer Scott Travis (both of whom have been replaced by URIAH HEEP's Dave Rimmer and ACCEPT's Christopher Williams),ELEGANT WEAPONS is a rock / metal / blues hybrid that should have plenty of legs. The band's "Horns For A Halo" debut brandishes the sort of hook-laden, guitar-driven sounds one would expect from Faulkner and Romero, but without leaning too much on the "legacy" act angle.

When Faulkner rang BLABBERMOUTH.NET for a chat, staking out an eventual post-PRIEST career in an otherwise unforgiving musical landscape was top of mind, as well as not having to don PRIEST's mandatory onstage leather get-ups for ELEGANT WEAPONS shows.

Blabbermouth: You've been a part of the PRIEST "machinery" for 12 years. What has it been like to step outside of it with ELEGANT WEAPONS?

Richie: "When you do something outside the machine, you take the machine with you. Would they approve? Is this good enough? You have to take that with you. Everything I do has got to be approved by PRIEST in my mind. It raises the bar. And PRIEST is still going. We will get back into it next year with a new album. It's doing something that can stand alongside PRIEST on its own two feet. You can see where the DNA comes from. All these things ran through my mind when I put this together, but the main thing was, 'Does this stand on its own two feet? Is it different enough to start a band and put out a record?' I think it did. I think that's the exciting thing when stepping outside of the machine. You're on your own, but you also take everything you've got from them with you."

Blabbermouth: Did you run the idea of ELEGANT WEAPONS by Rob (Halford) or Glenn?

Richie: "I remember showing Rob a few tracks early on when we got Ronnie involved. Before that, I showed Rob the songs because they were bluesy and I thought he might like them. He dug it. They've always given me the blessing. They haven't told me, but in my mind, as long as I do it right, they've given me the blessing. They've made me a part of PRIEST a thousand percent as far as writing. The least I can do is honor that by doing my best when venturing out on my own."

Blabbermouth: Whether it's for PRIEST or not, are you always writing?

Richie: "Absolutely. That's how it came about. I'm always writing and putting stuff down. I had a conversation with Tipton when I joined in 2011. He said he wished he could tell me PRIEST would be going for another 20 or 25 years, but that's not the case. I joined on the 'farewell' tour. It was always on my mind that one day I'll have to go out on my own. But as you mentioned, I'm almost 12 years in with PRIEST. [Laughs] That wasn't the mindset when I joined initially. I thought, 'This is the last tour.' So this was a conscious thing I'd be venturing out on my own. PRIEST made me a part of the family and so did the fans. I wanted to give everything I had to PRIEST because they did the same to me. They made me a part of it — the writing team. I didn't want to be someone who gets a gig and puts their own thing out a year later. I didn't think that was the right thing to do. It was around ten years in and Covid hit. I had all these riffs I had been putting down for years. I figured now was the time to put this together and see if I had an album or a band. I did, and it went from there."

Blabbermouth: You may be established and so is Ronnie, but it's hard to start a new band when most people still want the legacy acts. How challenging will that be for you? Was it a possible deterrence?

Richie: "It didn't deter me. It's a great question. The music industry is very difficult. It always has been. Coming from a legacy band, you could imagine it deterring some people. I think because we come from legacy bands, those legacy bands aren't always going to be there. What happens after the legacy bands? It might be difficult if you don't put the time in and sow the seeds and make something new. But it always has been hard, so why not sow those seeds now and fly the flag for those legacy bands when they're no longer there? Hopefully, we can reach a new generation of people with the DNA from those legacy bands and keep going. It's a responsibility to fly the flag and pass the torch. I know it isn't easy. Back in the day, it was different. You sold millions of albums. These days you don't. That doesn't stop the creativity and the need to get music out there. Hopefully, we'll inspire with our music. That doesn't change no matter how difficult the climate is."

Blabbermouth: Ronnie and I spoke not too long ago and he said the same thing. It's time to start laying the groundwork when PRIEST, IRON MAIDEN and METALLICA hang it up.

Richie: "He's right. When I spoke to Ronnie about joining this band, that was exactly what we talked about. The thing is, it's in our DNA. These legacy bands had selected us. In Ronnie's case, it was the singing mantle. He was selected by Ritchie Blackmore for RAINBOW. I'm in PRIEST. Dave's in URIAH HEEP. These are some iconic bands. How could we not fly that flag? It's our responsibility to at least try it and do what comes naturally to us. We can but try."

Blabbermouth: What led you to Ronnie?

Richie: "I was talking to Damon Johnson, who was in THIN LIZZY and is in LYNYRD SKYNYRD now. We needed a singer and he said, 'What about RAINBOW?' As soon as he mentioned RAINBOW and Ronnie, a lightbulb went off. He's exactly the guy we need. He's got status. He's respected and is in a legacy band. He's in the same position as me. I called him and he was into it. He got where I was coming from. It was great. There was no question that Ronnie was the right guy. I had to call him and see if he was the right guy conceptually. He was. It's been great with Ronnie. He's a classic-style singer, but he's a modern singer. He's got that soul and 'classic' quality we all love. He fits the music perfectly."

Blabbermouth: "Horns For A Halo" is a pretty varied album. It's not all metal — there's a lot to go around. Was that conscious?

Richie: "When writing this stuff, I don't think that far ahead. It's just what came out. When I was writing, it was like, 'Do I have something here that is different enough?' It's not a full-on metal band. There are a few hard rock and classic rock elements in there. It gives it a little more ability to do different things. But that's not the way I think when I'm writing. Some of the bluesy elements on this record could be on an early PRIEST album. PRIEST's legacy is so vast and the musical tapestry is so detailed and varied that PRIEST contributed so many things to the musical landscape. It's about what comes out and stands on its own. If it were a band that sounded like PRIEST, there would be no point. I thought it was important to have its own identity. Where's it going to go musically? That's an exciting thing to think about."

Blabbermouth: Scott and Rex were part of the first announcement about ELEGANT WEAPONS, but Dave and Christopher have since replaced them. Was there ever any intention of them becoming full-on members, or did PANTERA and other scheduling get in the way?

Richie: "I was so fortunate to have those guys part of it and play on the record. I've always talked to Scott about including him if and when I did something outside of PRIEST. He played on the record. It's unmistakably the Scott Travis style. Rex was the same. Me and Rex are buddies. I asked him, 'Would you play on the record?' I didn't think he would. [Laughs] He said yes and was into it. With PANTERA gearing up, he couldn't do the live stuff. I'm grateful and fortunate to have them on the record and kick it off. It was great. But when it came down to touring, there's PANTERA and Scott's got other things going on. I had to put a band around it to represent the record, so Dave and Christopher were the guys. I've known those guys, first and foremost, as friends. Dave, I played with over 20 years ago. We used to tour around England in cover bands. We're intimately connected musically. They just fit in perfectly. They'll come out, do the live shows and be part of the band."

Blabbermouth: You've worked with one of the best in Halford. How does Ronnie stack up in terms of collaboration?

Richie: "There are some similarities. A singer, it's a very psychological thing. If you're having a bad day, it can affect you, good and bad. If you're frustrated, it can pull out the best performance. Other times, it affects you negatively. A singer is a very psychologically-affected being. They are the instrument. With a guitar player, it's a bit different. The instrument is doing the talking. Whereas with a singer, it's you. They're quite similar in that regard. Obviously, a totally different singing style. Yet they both bring something different to the table. But I like working with singers because of that reason. It's such a physical thing. The great thing about Ronnie is that in this band, I don't hear anything he's done before. In RAINBOW, you draw comparisons to Ronnie [James Dio] because you hear those songs. With MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP, you hear the original singers somewhat in Ronnie's voice. Because these are original songs here, you can hear more of Ronnie coming through. As a fan of Ronnie's voice, it's exciting. Long may it continue. The more we play together and write, the more Ronnie comes out."

Blabbermouth: The band has some live dates coming up this summer. What are your expectations? Even going this far: You've been wearing leather in PRIEST for so long, will it feel a little weird wearing "normal" clothes onstage?

Richie: "Hopefully, it will be a lot cooler. [Laughs] I'm looking forward to that. I will be wearing a bit more 'freeing' attire. [Laughs] We did some live stuff last week and some live recordings in the studio. The band lends itself to that three-piece with a singer format, which is really great. It's like BAND OF GYPSYS. You've got [Jimi] Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell [drums] and Billy Cox on bass. It gives a sense of freedom. You could fill it out with another rhythm guitar player or keyboardist, but the three-piece with a singer really gives it some freedom and space. That's a different element I haven't done for a long time. That's going to be an exciting dynamic to be part of. I said it before: How these songs evolve, if we want to add a longer solo or ad-lib a part from Ronnie or pull the tempo back or push them forward, it's very freeing to be in that sort of situation, rather than being tied to an arrangement and this is the song and tempo. We can move it around and have a bit of fun. I keep saying that seeing where this band evolves is the exciting thing. How will it evolve live, take on a different identity and become more connected? How will it evolve during the writing for albums two and three? That's an exciting thing for me to think about."

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