When you think of iconic images of heavy metal, especially in the early days, two things come to mind: first the leathers and motorcycle of Rob Halford. The other is the white flying V and long blond tresses of KK Downing. Downing is one of the pioneers of metal and has grown to be a living legend.
While KK was still in the beginning stages of writing the next record from Judas Priest, he was drafted to help a friend's project. Mick Cervino, former Malmsteen bassist started his own band, Violent Storm and called on Downing to provide some guitar solos. Eventually Downing became closer to the project and ended up executive producing it.
I had the great pleasure of speaking with KK recently to find out how he became involved.
antiMUSIC: KK, this is a great thrill for me to be allowed a few minutes of your time.
KK Downing: Hey, thanks a lot buddy. No problem at all.
antiMUSIC: I guess to begin with, how did you get involved with the Violent Storm project?
KK Downing: I guess we can blame it all on the beer, I think. (laughs) I think what happened Morley was we were on tour with Ripper and I forget what year it was exactly. We're going back a bit now but we were down in Miami where those guys live and it's...always when we play certain areas there's always a like hangout fest backstage you know. Because like Nicko, the drummer from Iron Maiden, lives down there and you know, it's kinda where good mates and really old friends meet. And of course those are our guys are down there so the beer was flowing and we were talking and stuff and I met Mick. And that was it really. We just kinda met up and then I guess it must have been like a year later, it was actually in Spain and obviously Mick was playing in the Malmsteen band at the time. So I actually flew with a friend because we were a bit bored on the south coast down there you know. Plenty of sun. Plenty of girls. Pretty good beer but no real good metal you know.
So I was on the internet and Mick and the boys were playing in Barcelona so we jumped on a plane and went to the show and we met up again. And that was the first time I ever really came face to face to speak with Yngwie really. I met him months before in Sweden in the toilets. (laughs) It was kind of a bit of a weird place. It was bit like a pub or casino. We didn't actually speak, you know. That was a long time ago. But anyway that was really cool. I was talking to Mick and he was saying he was going to do a record. I think he mentioned over a few beers, you know, would I fancy playing on it, you know. And I thought, sure yeah. Let's have another beer and talking about it you know (laughs). So I said yes and asked him to send me the songs. And he did actually send me the songs. And when I heard them. I thought, there were two songs actually that he sent that he thought would be cool for me to play on. Obviously "War No More" and "Deceiver" which is what I ended up playing on and said, 'Well hang on. This sounds like the good ol metal that I know and love', you know. And so I just picked the guitar up and just had a bit of a jam of the songs and I thought it was pretty good. And that was the beginning of a journey I might say (chuckles) you know. And then obviously I just got more and more involved. I got to hear the rest of the stuff and everything. And everything was pretty much done on a budget as you could imagine. Lots of things are these days you know, with young and new bands. And so basically I offered my services and years of experience dare I say, (laughs), my face is testimony to that. (laughs) Years of experience. And of course I dragged Roy into it. We'd just finished working with the album Angel of Retribution. I said to Roy, 'Can you do it? Do some work on this. Can we work together?' And can you do some work on this, an engineering job, and he did. So basically I oversee the whole thing, whatever; arrangements, edits, song edits, mixing, artwork, logos, whatever just to kinda bring the project up to a standard. Especially with Yngwie being on there as well. And I managed to get Roy on a bit of guitar as well so it's a bit of a guitar fest. And I think for a first effort it's really good. I think it's really good with the guys picking up a couple of shows with Heaven and Hell, Black Sabbath with Ronnie Dio again in Europe. So hopefully those guys can out there on obviously on your wonderful continent and hopefully do some damage if you know what I mean.
antiMUSIC: Absolutely. That would be awesome. Had you been very familiar with mic prior to meeting him, KK?
KK Downing: I hadn't, I really hadn't you know. I must say once I heard him play with Yngwie and he did his bass solo and all that…you know, he's kinda on fire really. He's just kind of a small guy like me but he makes a big noise. (laughs) And then obviously I found out more about him, obviously he played in Ritchie's band, Ritchie Blackmore, and a bunch of stuff. So it's kinda cool. And obviously I hadn't done anything outside of Priest before and so I thought …it could be pretty cool for the asking really. And that's it. So things have gone from one thing to another. I'll eventually catch up with Rob and Glenn. But now I've got my own website: kkdowning.net which was just been launched yesterday.
antiMUSIC: I was just on that, it looks awesome.
KK Downing: So I'm really pleased with that. And if it's any sign, you know, all the signs are really, really cool on that, so far, you know. So, I'm really quite happy at the moment, really.
antiMUSIC: Was it very hard to don the producer's hat after years of being on the other side of the board?
KK Downing: No not really because obviously we've always kind of involved you know, especially myself and Glenn. We've always been there for every note that's ever been played. (laughs) really. Including, whether it's a bang on the drum or whatever it is, you know. We're kind of pretty fastidious in that sense really when we knuckle down. In fact I'm going there to studio this afternoon and it goes on really.
antiMUSIC: What's the up to the minute status of Nostradamus?
KK Downing: Yeah, well obviously I can't say too much other than what's already out there, we're just working very hard/ that's all I can really say. And we're going to deliver as soon as we can so that we can get the show on the road so to speak.
antiMUSIC: Is Rob back over now, or are you and Glenn still shaping stuff?
KK Downing: Yeah, it's just about to…in fact he's been calling me and I don't know what he's been calling me about. Just to probably shoot the breeze you know, but everything is going fine. And yeah, we'll all be in one place pretty soon because it's probably getting to that stage.
antiMUSIC: At times have you regretted undertaking such a massive project?
KK Downing: No, not at all. It's a fantastic project. Everybody's really, really into it. And we're looking forward to meeting our fans again as soon as we possibly can.
antiMUSIC: Is the plan still to do a two-disc set or is that still up in the air?
KK Downing: It's still up in the air. Anything could happen really, you know. Everything's pretty much undecided. I said before I'm not able to say too much, because I actually did an interview with the Violent Storm and the guy did ask me at the end about what's happening with Priest. And he made a bit of a meal of it, and actually posted it actually as an exclusive studio report which was a bit annoying really. I'm obviously not tarring everybody with the same brush but you know, obviously I don't want to get myself into trouble. (laughs)
antiMUSIC: As you rack up more years on the road, do you approach tours the same way as you did earlier on? Do you have to start getting in tour mode before you head out and are you disciplined nutrition or fitness wise to withstand the rigors of the road?
KK Downing: I think the good thing about it, I think everybody's pretty...I don't know if it's vanity or just health conscious or what it is, or we just want to be metal warriors to the very end. That we'll keep ourselves in pretty good shape. We're always, I think pretty much, staying fit, to be honest. But it's a funny cycle: by the time you're finished touring, like we did before, you know, after kind of an 18-month tour period, you think, god, I'm glad that's over, you know. Towards the very end of an 18 month stint, you know, you just sort of want to put your suitcase in one room, for two consecutive nights and that would be nice. And then obviously, you get into the writing and recording mode and then it's funny but by the time you've finished a project, you can't wait to get back out there. Which is a good thing you know. Cause after you finished doing it, you think, oh god let's get this thing over, let's stay in one place for a while. And then that wears a bit thin after a time so you're raring to get back out again, you know, get back on the road.
antiMUSIC: Are you breaking in any new guitars for this record/tour?
KK Downing: Hmmm. Not really. I have got some new guitars. If anything, I think when you feel comfortable with some guitars you tend to think…anyway, I mean, when does a guitar get old? I don't really know. (laughs) when the frets wear out, yeah, other than that, just carry on playing it, really, I think because the reason I got it in the first place: because it sounds good, you like the look of it, and you know, it feels comfortable.
antiMUSIC: How does it feel to be in Priest at this point? Rob left for a while and when he came back I'm sure the energy pulled you through the year and half tour. Once that was done, was there ever a point of almost a let down where you thought OK I was always suspecting we'd reunite one day and do another album and we did that and it was universally acclaimed. Now what? I know you began planning for Nostradamus almost right away but I guess what I'm asking is, how long do you expect the magic to keep working for you. When do you go, I've climbed most of the mountains I imagined. What's next?
KK Downing: Yeah, that's a good question. But I just think, I consider myself definitely lucky to still be here and still doing it, because you know, I might never have gotten to this stage. A lot of really good musicians don't really make it and they have to look to other things to put bread on the table so. Priest is fortunate. I think the good thing is we weren't an instant overnight success like some bands have been fortunate to be. But I think that's good because we've kind of trodden the boards year after year and I think that makes for a solid apprenticeship really. And if you can keep building, it's like a business you know, I think you'll always be in business as long as it's steadily growing and building.
antiMUSIC: Right. Is producing this record a job that may have whetted your appetite?
KK Downing: It's kind of a cool feeling in one way. I don't know...it's you know, maybe, it's kind of, if you can help, you know, give people a bit of a helping hand and some guidance there's a bit of feel good factor about it I think sometimes, you know. It's like if you're helping someone elderly across the road or something, because you've got good eyesight and ears, and physical, you know, and somebody that's like, you know, not as able, if you can help, it's a little bit of that really. If you get young bands, or something, because people are asking me now, not necessarily to make money or a career out of it I think. It's just to be able to say yeah this is fairly easy for me, but it's fairly difficult for them, you know. The problem is so many bands now, in fact a lot of producers are going out of business because it's not the industry that it was where record companies would recruit them to get the best out of new acts and new artists, you know, and when they would sign them. Now it seems the case that people have to make their records first on their own , whether it's in their bedrooms, garages or wherever it is and then try and shop it around and get a deal you know. Cause the industry's changed so much over the years. So it's just as well I'm not looking for a future in producing (laughs). So just for the love of it really, and of course if you're into the music obviously with the Violent Storm thing, it's great to see a new band form that are playing, let's say, not nu-metal but sorta more real rock metal, the stuff that I can relate to, you know, of years gone by. So if you're into it as well it's kinda of pretty good. And it's good me I guess as an individual to be able to just to just sort of do a few other things really. As far as Priest's concerned I think everybody knows I'll always be loyal and dedicated to Priest and you know as time goes by if you can use that little be of wisdom and pass it on then that's great.
antiMUSIC: Do you still anticipate Nostradamus will be released this summer?
KK Downing: Yeah, it's difficult to say Morley. The thing is we're just getting on with it, you know. And even at this stage you never really know how much farther you're going to go, go with a project, you never really know.
antiMUSIC: You're lucky to be in the position that you're in now. You don't have to be dictated to by a record company or anybody.
KK Downing: That's the nice thing because you know I mean, fans out there probably never had a realization that we made lots of those early records in a very short space of time because we had the studio booked for x amount of time and after that the money ran out. So it had to be done. I mean, the British Steel album. I think we did in what four or five weeks or something ridiculous. And actually in that one year we made two records. How things change you know. But standards change, so you have to compete with the standards.
antiMUSIC: I know this is a really busy time for you. I really appreciate you taking the time. This has been a complete and utter thrill. I've been a Priest fan since Sin after Sin. I loved Angel of Retribution and can't wait for the new record. Thanks for this.
KK Downing: That's very kind of you Morley. And thank YOU very much and I look forward to see you when we get to the wonderful country of Canada. Please tell all of our fans in Canada and all the rock metal fans, we're on the case. We're getting the job done and we're gonna be there before they know it.
Morley Seaver and antiMUSIC would like to thank KK Downing for taking time out to speak with us.