By David E. Gehlke
Possessor of one of the finest voices in American metal, Tim "Ripper" Owens has been a bit of a musical nomad since his 2003 departure from the band that put him on the map, JUDAS PRIEST. A long-term situation has unfortunately eluded the Akron, Ohio native, namely high-profile stints with ICED EARTH and Yngwie Malmsteen, two gigs known for not necessarily being accommodating to members not named Jon Schaffer and Yngwie. But give Owens some credit: He's shown the willingness to try his hand at a variety of projects to showcase his sterling vocal abilities, including a well-received reboot of his solo career via last year's "Return To Death Row" EP. However, none have felt as right as his re-teaming with his former JUDAS PRIEST bandmate, Kenneth "K.K." Downing, in KK's PRIEST.
The band's new "The Sinner Rides Again" sophomore full-length features all the intangibles of vintage JUDAS PRIEST from dueling lead guitars, rousing, anthemic take-offs on previous PRIEST themes (see: "Son Of The Sentinel", "One More Shot At Glory") and Owens's ear-splitting high notes. In fact, Owens sounds every bit as good as he did on his JUDAS PRIEST debut, 1997's "Jugulator", an album that has maintained a loyal following. Owens's inexplicable erasure from the PRIEST canon remains a source of irritation for the frontman, but when he caught up with BLABBERMOUTH.NET, it was nearly all smiles and laughter as topics ranging from KK's PRIEST, "Jugulator" and those long-ago rumors of him joining PANTERA were discussed.
Blabbermouth: KK's PRIEST recently did its first shows. How do you think they went?
Tim: "It was great. I think the big part was that it was a pretty big production with fire and the stage setup. We did a lot of jamming in rehearsal, but we had to get the whole thing down being onstage. Everything was so good. It's good to be next to Ken [Downing] again. It felt like no time had gone by. I look over and there he is. But, I have to be honest, the shows were way better than I thought. We're playing festivals, which is hard for a new band. The crowds were singing the KK's PRIEST songs. It was really good. It was so much fun. With each show, we got better. The first show was about trying to kick the wheels, but the Bloodstock festival was unbelievable."
Blabbermouth: The set looked split between PRIEST and KK's PRIEST. Do you foresee a time when you'll bring in more PRIEST songs from your era like "Cathedral Spires" or "Blood Stained"?
Tim: "If it's my decision, we'd play those songs. We've played six KK's PRIEST songs so far. There will be another two videos, so that gets us to eight and we'll get that to ten soon. We had to make a setlist that Ken wanted. I asked, 'Why aren't we playing 'One On One' from 'Demolition'?' He said, 'We need to make a set list that's good for a festival.' If we came out of the gate playing our own songs, we'd definitely have 'One On One'. I'd love to play 'Jugulator' and 'Cathedral Spires'. I think we'll do those once we start touring. I think he's trying to make everyone happy. Festivals are a different thing. We're starting with a 12-man road crew and trying to get the setlist right for the people, but some people want to see us fail and others just want to see us play. I think things will start to change once we do our own shows."
Blabbermouth: Does the fact these first shows went so well give you added incentive and vindication?
Tim: "I think Ken sees it now. The reviews of the shows have been so good. Some people won't like the setlist. Even the reviews from people on Blabbermouth are good! That never happens."
Blabbermouth: That's a rarity! But you're still in a tough spot with the set.
Tim: "It doesn't matter who you are. JUDAS PRIEST, IRON MAIDEN — they won't make everyone happy. I've voiced my opinion on songs. We get along so well. He knows how I feel about doing my stuff. But, listen, my job is to get onstage and blow people away. I'll always have something to prove. It doesn't matter. Even if I sing as good as I can, people still won't like me or think it's good. I just sing as good as I can. That's all I need to do."
Blabbermouth: Let's talk about that, then. Between the new album and recent live performances, you sound as good as you have in years. Is it safe to say that?
Tim: "Knock on wood, but I feel as good as ever. I think the best part is my high notes. They've been as good as they've ever been in my life. I'm so much more of an aggressive singer. The lows and the heaviness of my voice, but the high notes are there. I work hard; I don't do warmups. I just hope and go, 'Please just let me sing!' I'm lucky. I know Ken was pretty excited when I came out of the gate singing like this. He was like, 'Phew. Thank god.' I don't know what it is. I take care of myself. I exercise, I take vitamins. But a voice is a weird thing. You could wake up and suck. [Laughs] You never know."
Blabbermouth: Correct me if I'm wrong, but you've never suffered a significant vocal injury, right?
Tim: "I didn't have a great voice for about five years. It's been about a year and a half since I got it back. For about six years, I wasn't singing that great. Years and years ago, I had gotten salmonella, which destroyed my voice. I didn't have any pain. I went to a doctor and he scoped my throat and said it looked good, but ever since then, it has been a struggle. That's why, all of a sudden, it came back. I can't explain it, to be honest. But I've had troubles. I think every singer has, but I've never had polyps or surgery. And I've also never shut it down. I did an interview that asked me what I did during Covid. I said, 'I probably should have been resting my voice.' I had to pay bills, so I was in the studio recording for various projects. I'm fortunate that I haven't had any injuries."
Blabbermouth: Back to Ken: Did you guys hit it off right away when you joined PRIEST?
Tim: "I hit it off with everyone. I really did, but Glenn [Tipton], Ken and I hung out the most. The guys were great. Everything about when I was in PRIEST was like a family. They treated me great. That's what I miss the most about JUDAS PRIEST — hanging out, going to dinner, going to the pub. After I left PRIEST, Ken and I stayed closer. Maybe not right away because we were all busy. Whenever I toured solo, I'd come through England and play Manchester, about two hours from where he lives. Ken would always come to the shows. He'd bring some friends and a couple of cases of beer for the band. We always spoke and had dinner. During my time in PRIEST, we all got along fantastic. When I recorded 'Demolition', he wasn't around the studio in Glenn's house as much. I would go to Ken's house on the weekends and play snooker, drink beers and hang out."
Blabbermouth: Glenn receives the bulk of the credit for songwriting in PRIEST. But what about your chemistry with Ken and his songwriting ability?
Tim: "I don't think there's any question. Ken says it all the time: The proof is in the pudding. You can tell from the writing on the new record who was one of the main writers in PRIEST. When people say to me, 'That sounds like JUDAS PRIEST.' I say, 'That sounds like KK Downing.' He wrote everything — melodies and lyrics. It's so good. The lyrics, melodies and songs are so good. It's amazing how good he's writing right now. I said to someone, 'Maybe it's because he's been gone for 12 years and has this hunger and desire to write. Nothing sounds stale.' When we're together, it's so natural. He'll say, 'Here's my idea.' He's so easy to work with."
Blabbermouth: Can you delve into the logistics of the band? You're the only one in the States, but it seems a little more straightforward because of the internet.
Tim: "Of course. The first record, I flew in and recorded. For this one, I asked Ken if I could stay home and record. I was like, 'Ken. Come on!' He said, 'No. You have to come here.' I said, 'Listen. Send me your ideas!' That way, I can have coffee and listen to them. You can tell on this record. I gave Ken too much to work with. I gave them all these ideas. I layer things so much. I'm a kid in a candy store when recording and singing in character. I grew up with Rob [Halford, JUDAS PRIEST], [Ronnie James] Dio, David Bowie and Jon Oliva [SAVATAGE]. I'm so glad I talked Ken into it. That's how I do for bands all over the world. I came to Australia and had a vacation. I brought my recording stuff with me so I could do a couple of things for the bands I'm working with. It's fun to do, but it's a lot different. Ken's from the era of sending cassette tapes or 'Don't let anybody hear or see it.' Now he has to fly files around."
Blabbermouth: You caught the tail end of that era for "Jugulator". There must be demo tapes floating around from that.
Tim: "I have cassette tapes — which is funny because I was just at home in my storage unit talking to my girlfriend. I said, 'Look at this!' It had stuff from the 'Jugulator' and 'Demolition' era. I'll probably be on Blabbermouth selling it."
Blabbermouth: You need to digitize those. The tape quality may worsen over time.
Tim: "Probably. I don't know. I don't even have a cassette player. Actually, I don't think I have a CD player either. [Laughs] But I would come home with stuff all the time. That's how we did it."
Blabbermouth: You've brought this up countless times. Too bad there are no plans to reissue "Jugulator". People would love to hear those demos.
Tim: "It makes no sense that the records aren't out. I used to think it was because the album was on CMC International. But then they released both albums in the box set. They have to have them. I don't make any money from them. Put 'Jugulator' and 'Demolition' out on vinyl — those vinyls go for five or six hundred a piece when somebody sells them. I don't know why they don't put these new ones out. It's a shame. You could put something special out. Actually, they may not have these cassettes. Thanks for the idea."
Blabbermouth: Reissuing the album on vinyl with those demos would be pretty cool.
Tim: "I even have tapes of my first show with PRIEST at the Boathouse in Virginia Beach. At the next show, someone was selling the cassette tapes of that show. [Laughs]
Blabbermouth: Such a bygone era. Now, there are hardly any CDs, VHS tapes or cassettes.
Tim: "And now we do promo sitting in our houses instead of sitting in a hotel room for eight hours. The hardest part back when I joined PRIEST was doing promo. It was like, 'Oh my god. It's so hard.' Now, it's great. We sit and talk like this. It's fantastic."
Blabbermouth: Did you have any media training in 1997?
Tim: "No! I didn't. I still say a lot of stupid stuff, but at least I'm allowed to say stupid stuff because I've done it for 30 years. I know I've said a bunch of stupid things during this interview. [Laughs] No, PRIEST put me right into it. Maybe I could talk decently. Glenn or Ken was always with me. I would do two weeks with Ken. Then, they would bring in Glenn. I got lucky."
Blabbermouth: That was classic on-the-job training.
Tim: "That was a big leap. You go from singing in the SEATTLE tribute band and working your regular job, then going across the country to sing for JUDAS PRIEST."
Blabbermouth: You briefly touched on this, but how much are you working on various projects?
Tim: "All the time. Right now, KK's PRIEST is my priority. There are still gaps in between touring. I just released the solo EP, 'Return To Death Row'. I'll probably do a full-length with Jamey Jasta. When I'm home, it's how I make my living. I'll often post if there's nothing going on: 'Hey, I'm available to guest on a song or two.' I'm going to publicize it: [email protected]. [Laughs] It's pretty cool. I think it's made me become a better singer. One minute, I'm doing death metal. The next, it's a '70s classic rock song. I did something from 'Jesus Christ Superstar'. But it's fun. I try to stay busy. It's how I make my living. When people say I'm too busy, stick with one band. If I stuck with one band, I'd have to get a regular job. Nothing like me greeting people at Wal-Mart."
Blabbermouth: What would it take for you to join another established band?
Tim: "A simple call from Tony Iommi [BLACK SABBATH] would do the trick. [Laughs] It would be hard to say if [IRON MAIDEN's] Bruce [Dickinson] stepped aside and Steve Harris called. What do you say? To be honest, you never say no to anything. I'm in a pretty good situation right now. I can make a living off touring solo and recording from my name alone now. I can do that all year long, but I never say no about joining any band because I love singing. I'm still a fan. I'd be stupid to say no if Tony Iommi calls and asks if I was interested, or Scott Ian [ANTHRAX] or Zakk Wylde. I love singing and I'm a fan. But I'm fortunate to be in a band with K.K. again."
Blabbermouth: Do you remember the rumors about you replacing Phil Anselmo in PANTERA in the early 2000s?
Tim: "I remember that. I always said back then: Could you imagine me singing, not in PANTERA, but using my regular vocals and more aggressive vocals with Dime's ['Dimebag' Darrell Abbott] guitar chops? Then he went on and did DAMAGEPLAN."
Blabbermouth: They should have asked you!
Tim: "I was so mad."
Tim: "No, not really. I think I was busy. But I used to say that. Dimebag was the guitar player I wanted to work with, but I remember those rumors. People would say, 'I heard you were going to do something with Dimebag.' I'd say, 'No one has called me.' People probably saw a picture of us. Or I jumped onstage and did a song. I don't know. But those were great rumors. I loved them. I love all rumors, but those were fantastic."
Blabbermouth: You probably would have done an excellent job.
Tim: "I can handle them. When I sing PANTERA and SEPULTURA songs, I love them so much. It's easier on me vocally. What great bands and songs."