Former Judas Priest guitarist KK Downing could stay away only so long before heavy metal called him back. After leaving the band in 2011, he re-emerged in early 2020 with a new outfit, appropriately named KK’s Priest. He recruited a couple old friends for the band, vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens, who fronted Judas Priest from 1996 to 2003, and drummer Les Binks, a member of Judas Priest from 1977 to 1979. (Binks, unfortunately, had to bow out after sustaining an arm injury. He was replaced by Sean Elg.) Guitarist AJ Mills and bassist Tony Newton round out the lineup. After multiple delays, the debut album from KK’s Priest, “Sermons of the Sinner,” is scheduled for release on Oct. 1, 2021, via Explorer1 Music Group/EX1 Records. The four songs released so far show a band committed to flying the flag of classic heavy metal, and while it isn’t trying to be Judas Priest, it isn’t shying away from a sound that so many know so well. As he told Live Metal’s Greg Maki, Ripper wouldn’t have it any other way. In a recent interview, the versatile vocalist discussed the new band, the impact of the pandemic, engaging with criticism on social media and more.
LIVE METAL: You’ve always got a lot of things going on in your career, but we’re here to talk about KK’s Priest, a new band that a lot of metal fans, including me, are really excited about. So how did your involvement with this band come about? Had you stayed in touch with KK over the years?
TIM “RIPPER” OWENS: Yeah, I have. I did with all the guys. We’ve all been friends, and it was all good. But Ken and I really stayed in contact more. When I would go on tours, a lot of my solo tours, I would hit the U.K. a lot, and he would always come by the show. Usually, it was probably two hours away, and he would always drive in and bring a couple cases of beer for the band. It’s funny because AJ, the guitar player with KK’s Priest, he would always come, as well, because Ken was working a lot with AJ’s band, and the band members would come out and KK would come out. So we stayed in contact and talked every now and then, and it was good. The big one was when he did the show with—David Ellefson was coming to his venue, and that was the thing that really opened it up, because David’s like, “Hey, KK, you should jam with me.” And then he’s like, “Man, we should get Ripper to do it, too.” So that started opening up the floodgates, I think.
When did it go from playing that show to let’s do this band together?
I think, right away, I was like, “We should do shows.” I wasn’t sure what he was doing. I think he did Bloodstock with Ross the Boss and the show with myself, and I think he started getting that feeling. But I think when he realized that Judas Priest wasn’t going to have him back for the 50th anniversary tour—or myself. I know there’s a lot of bad feelings. He has his book and Rob (Halford) has his book—blah blah blah, and this was said, that was said. But I mean, it’s Judas Priest and it’s the 50th anniversary tour. I think when he realized neither one of us, especially himself, was not going to be involved with that, I think that’s when he was like, “We should do this. I’ve got these songs I’ve been writing. Are you interested?” And I think the big thing was they had asked me if I was interested because, as you said, I’m a pretty busy fella. (laughs) I’ve got a lot going on, and nowadays, I have to pick and choose what I can do and what I can’t do. But it was a no-brainer. When he said, “Are you interested,” I was like, “Absolutely.” Especially when I heard the music. I thought it was perfect.
He’s been very open about how he’s basically done one kind of music his whole professional career and he’s not trying to reinvent any wheels with it or anything. Did you kind of follow his lead and take that same approach to your vocals?
Well, I did. He had most of the vocals written, and that’s exactly what I think should have been written. He wanted to take charge on this record. He knew he was writing the record for me, so he already had an idea of here’s how the vocals have to go. And then, what was nice was AJ is a fantastic singer, and he laid a lot of vocal templates down and a lot of vocal guides down of the ideas of how we should do it. Ken, I think, laid them down, probably, originally. I’ve yet to hear his version of what he did, his ideas. I imagine they’re good, though. But AJ is a fantastic singer, so it was great. Then we went in and we could embellish and change things.
But here’s the thing: Like it or hate this stuff, vocally, it is what it is with this record. It’s what it exactly should be. People know me by now. They know that I sing different and do a lot of different things. So that’s how I roll. I’ll go with however I’m feeling and if it fits and if I enjoy it.
Doing this record, this is exactly how it had to be. We’re not getting any younger. Ken’s 70. We’re not going to change the mold here. This has to be what we do. This is straightforward. I’ll tell you, people get their ideas off of one song. I have the advantage of knowing every song on the record. So I know that it’s not all “Raise Your Fists,” and it’s not all “Sermons of the Sinner.” There’s a lot of different layers on this record. So if someone doesn’t like one thing, they’ll like the other. But vocally, it’s just straightforward. It’s not high stuff all over the place. I think we came out of the gate with the two songs—the first three songs on the record probably have the most high stuff. But it’s exactly what I should be doing on this record. It’s exactly what we should be doing.
Like you said, KK has written music for 40 years or whatever it’s been. He’s only been in Judas Priest, so this is what he does, this is how he is. And if somebody wanted something different—I’ll tell you what, this isn’t a KK Downing solo record. This is a band. When people leave and make a solo record, they can change. He’s not in Judas Priest. That’s how he writes. When you’re in a band and you make your solo record, you tend to do things differently. You tend to write a little bit different. But he’s not in Judas Priest, he’s writing how he writes, and I’m singing how I sing. And listen, the next record is probably going to be even a wider range of vocals, because I like adding a lot of different styles of vocals. So this one is just starting to touch the surface.
Working with KK again after close to 20 years, did that take you back in time to those days? Or was the situation so different with different people involved that it felt like something new?
You know what, I think I’ve been at it so long now—it’s funny, I was just in the house going through old photos, which I don’t have a lot. It’s totally different now because you have 8 million photos of things, because of your phone. And now you’ve got to try to find a box of photos, and I don’t have a lot of photos, which I must be missing some. But it’s for some TV show or something in England. That brought back some memories, because I’m looking at my first recording session and actually the first dinner we had when I made the band.
Once I made the band, they were like family. They treated me like family. We were friends. It couldn’t have been a better experience, really, than what it was. And so you have a different look at it. When I see Ken, I’m just hanging out. I see other people who’s with me, like, “Holy shit, it’s KK Downing.” I’ll tell you, a good example was when I was doing a show in Birmingham with the Three Tremors, 2020 right before all hell broke loose. I was doing a festival in Birmingham, and Ken came to that show, but he didn’t come into the show. He just drove there, and we sat in his car and listened to the demos he made. People would walk by and be like, “Is that Ripper and KK sitting in this car and listening to music?” First of all, I felt like a teenager again doing that. But it was funny watching people say, “Oh shit, it’s KK.”
Recording with him is just us hanging out together. It’s like you’re hanging out with your buddy. He’s such a great guy. We could have recorded it at a studio—a big studio in London—but I wanted to record by where Ken lives. I recorded in his house, in a studio room there, because I like to just kind of chill, have some tea, do the English thing and look out at the countryside. And that’s how it is. Then we have a pint of beer when we’re done. Hanging out and doing it, it just seems normal. Plus, I do so much and I’ve recorded with so much. I’ve made records and songs with everybody I could possibly think of growing up. It’s kind of crazy.
You started recording the album before the pandemic, and I don’t think it was finished at that point. So how did that change things?
Well, to be honest, it really was. The meat and potatoes—it was really finished. He probably had to do some other solos and some rhythms. But I got out of there, the vocals and drums were finished. Les was doing it up until I started to go do my vocals. When I got to do my vocals, it was like, “Man, Les hurt his arm. I really don’t know if he can do it.” And so that’s when I suggested, “Let’s get Sean,” because he’s a total pro and total amazing drummer. So I did my vocals the beginning of March, and he did his drums the beginning of March, and then we got out of England just in time.
So it was ready, because originally we were going to start doing summer shows and booking dates. That album was going to be coming out in the summer. It was going to be coming out months after we recorded it, really. It was really moving fast, because everything was done. But what happened, COVID hit, nothing can be released, and there’s really nothing to say. Everybody’s like, “Why didn’t you say something about the drummer situation?” Well, when you’re a professional and you’re releasing a record, you don’t talk about it until it’s getting close to release, unless you keep delaying the release of the record like we are. You talk about it, you do these press things and you go on social media and you talk about the output when it’s going to be coming out. So we had nothing to talk about.
But what did happen was Ken had plenty of time to change songs around (laughs). Fortunately for me, in my home studio here, my vocal mic matched up really well to the mic in the studio. So we changed a lot of songs around. One song we changed a lot was “Sermons of the Sinner.” Originally, the verses were very raspy and the attack was very straightforward and a heavier, raspier attack. Ken was like, “Why don’t you try it clean? Sing a little bit cleaner during the verses, like the falsetto clean.” So we changed all that. We changed some things around. We added some things. Unfortunately, when you live with a song, a lot of times you like the demos better than anything and now you start changing it, and Ken’s like, “Man, I’m changing this thing,” because he had so much time. For him, it was a great thing to be able to sit with songs even longer.
But it was ready, man. We were going to put it out. We recorded all of our parts—like I said, just a few overdubs or changes. But it would have been all recorded in the studio together. People are like, “How come you aren’t doing anything?” Listen, we haven’t even been together as a band yet (since the pandemic started). The first time we got together as a band was about a month and a half ago when we recorded the two new videos, “Brothers of the Road” and “Raise Your Fists.” That was the first time we’d been together since it happened. That’s the first time we could get into England. But it was ready, man. We were gonna put it out, and really big stuff was gonna happen. And then the shit hit the fan.
Yeah, but I’m sure I’m sure big stuff is on the way.
Well, as long as we don’t have to have five passports and give blood when we go do things now, because who knows what’s going to happen. And I’ll do that. I’ll do whatever it takes to go tour. So if they need my blood and they need me to spit in a cup or shit in a cup, I’ll do that just so I can go on tour.
Did you and the other guys in the band have a part in coming up with the band name, or was that all KK’s idea?
That was his, and I think it was the label’s, as well. Here’s the thing: You have to stick to something that people are going to know, whether they like it or not. Listen, we know how anything is. If we called it anything, some people would have hated it or they would have loved it. Everybody’s a critic. I got people telling me how I should make music on this record and how I should sing and what we should have done while they’ve never released anything. They’re like, “I know how it would be a big hit.” You’ve never released a single song, and you’re telling me what I should do?
But KK did the name. He said it great in a interview we just did: “Why leave what I did?” We’re not Judas Priest. When people say there’s two Judas Priests, there’s not two Judas Priests. There’s one Judas Priest; they’re called Judas Priest. This is called KK’s Priest. I don’t understand. It’s not trying to be Judas Priest, but he’s trying to pull in these people, because I’m in my mid-50s, he’s 70. It’s not like we can start something over and totally change the music and change the name. We need to draw on what we do, and I think he’s built such a legacy and such a career. Is it the best name in the world? Probably not, but what is? I remember when I was growing up, my grandma would say, “What kind of name is Judas Priest? That’s a silly name.” I mean, it is what it is.
As music fans, we all wish our favorite bands would all stay together forever, but of course, that doesn’t happen. The way I look at it now is that Judas Priest is still out there and now we have KK’s Priest. It’s another band we wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Well, it is that. People, sometimes just have to make it a competition. It’s not a competition. There’s Judas Priest, and there’s us. As a fan of Judas Priest and as a fan of music, how cool is it? They always got to just nitpick. I’ve never seen anything like it like it is nowadays. Everybody is a critic, and everybody hates everything. They go to my own personal page when I post something to tell me that this is terrible. I’m thinking, “Who goes to a page and does that?” Enjoy this stuff, man. Enjoy what you got, and if you don’t like it, just move on to what you like—that’s what I say. You have Judas Priest rockin’ out there, and you have KK who’s put a band together and you have that. I don’t really understand what the problem is, but that is how it is. People just like to find the wrong in everything.
On social media, you’re not shy about firing back at people or just engaging in general. Do you enjoy that part of it?
I don’t. I try to be more of a smartass than anything. Here’s the thing: If people can attack us, or me, on social media, there’s no reason why I can’t say something back. And then they get pissed, right? They’re like, “Oh my god, you’re talking back. What do you mean?” Again, songwriting ideas: “Here’s how you should write. There’s no melody.” How is there no melody in these songs? Where in the fuck are you coming up with that? I don’t even understand. I don’t even get the things they come up with. But these are people that’s done nothing in their life. They’ve never written a hit song. I don’t go and tell them how to flip the burgers when they’re doing it at their job.
Listen, I am fine with somebody not liking the stuff, because I don’t like plenty of stuff. But I don’t go to that band’s site and say that. That’s what’s still silly to me. One—this was on my page, by the way, Tim “Ripper” Owens Official Page—I posted a video and he goes, “You’re nothing but a poseur, but I like you’re singing.” First of all, I’m thinking to myself, if there’s anybody who’s far away from a poser, it would be me. I’m probably the non-poseur guy. I do wear some stage clothes on stage, but they’re still pretty bland stage clothes, and offstage I look just like your neighbor. And I laugh when people say these things or whatever. I just got into it with a guy, which we apologized to each other on. I don’t even know what he said now—I can’t remember. This was on KK’s page, the Priest page. But he said something and I went back at him, and he actually sent me an apology, personal message, and I actually messaged back apologizing to him.
To be honest, I probably shouldn’t say anything, but sometimes people say things. The whole cheesy lyrics thing. You have Judas Priest fans telling me that these are cheesy lyrics. I’m just thinking, “Cheesy lyrics?” This is what’s fun about heavy metal, right? Heavy metal’s fun because you can have cheesy lyrics. I mean, we’re talking about my favorite band, Judas Priest, who are on stage at 75 years old, wearing leather and spikes. That’s what heavy metal is. We can do whatever we want. The problem is, if he doesn’t want cheesy lyrics and I write serious lyrics about how screwed up America is right now, the government is right now, they would get pissed at me for writing something that’s meaningful but just not meaningful to them or something. You can’t win with people. I understand it. It’s when they make no sense to me. You’re telling me cheesy lyrics when I grew up singing cheesy lyrics.
It’s not all cheesy lyrics, though. This is what’s great. I’ve always said this: One minute you can write a song about an alien. On my solo record, I wrote a song, “The Cover Up.” I know nothing about aliens, and I wrote a cheesy, lyrical alien song. And then the next song’s about starting over and losing a loved one, and the next song is about to live again, the next song’s about pick yourself up when you’re down. Because they haven’t heard the rest of the lyrics. Again, I don’t know what’s wrong with raising your fists in the air for the fans and singing.
But I do go at ’em. I try not to. I try to do it with a little bit of humor, and I think that’s why sometimes it’s pretty good. I had this one guy from my local Akron Beacon Journal. They’re all dissing the record, saying it’s cheesy and it’s terrible, and I’m like, “Well, you know, if I can make cheese and sell records, I’ll continue to make six figures a year selling cheese. I like cheese.” And the guy comes back, “Oh, so it’s about money,” and I’m like, “It’s my job!” I love singing and singing about anything. I love singing about everything. I love singing every style. I love it. I love, love singing. But you got to make money. I said to the guy, my smartass coming back to him was, “Well, I’m glad that you work for free. It’s really got to make you proud and make you feel really good.” “Oh, so it’s about money?” “No, you just said that I’m doing cheese.” Cheese sells, but who’s buying?
You mentioned Judas Priest being 75 and still onstage, and that makes me think about how a lot of the classic metal bands are toward the end of their careers, like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath retired supposedly, Metallica is getting up there. Are there bands that are going to be able to take their place when they’re no longer doing it?
I think there is. They’re still there. It’s just different now. But these bands still tour. They get out there and tour. Disturbed still plays arenas. There is different bands out there. My nephews listen to bands that actually play pretty big concerts that I’ve never even heard of them. So it’s just how it is. Will there be this 30 years from now when they get to their age? I don’t know. Let’s just say we’re fortunate that Judas Priest in their 70s, Iron Maiden up in age—all these bands—and we still have them and we still get to see them. So let’s just grasp it. I don’t even want to think of the day when there’s no Judas Priest in leather and spikes on stage. I don’t want to think of the day when Bruce (Dickinson) isn’t running the track show onstage running around and Nicko (McBrain)’s not back there behind the kit.
Listen, we’re the classic people now, right? They probably said the same thing back when Elvis died. And then there’s something else. Because it’s the youth that gets their stuff. We don’t have to like the youth’s stuff. It’s still cool. My parents like my stuff. My parents loved Judas Priest. I grew up with Rolling Stones and Aerosmith and Bachman Turner Overdrive and things. But I think there will be. It’ll just be another generation’s stuff. I always say this: Let ’em have their own. We don’t have to know who it is or like it. Let ’em have their own. And if they like Maiden and Priest and Dio and stuff, let ’em have that, too.
As we’ve said, you’re always very, very busy. Do you have anything else going on or coming up that you’d like to mention or plug right now before we wrap up?
Well, I need to go to some classes and learn how to write music, write lyrics, pick song names, pick titles. Oh, I know what another guy said. This was in the Beacon Journal, too. “These old folks wearing leather and spikes in this video is silly.” I responded back and said, “I’m not wearing any leather and spikes n this video. So not me! Thank you!” (laughs)
Anyways, Three Tremors has a new record coming out. The Leviathan project is something that I did. I’ve done about five or six songs, and actually, some of them are released on cassette, which is pretty cool. I don’t know where they’re gonna play it, but it’s released on cassette. I need to get one of those. And then I did this prog metal one, Pyramid. I did a record with that, and it’s really cool. Actually, I’ve done enough vocals for two records for it. So it’s really, really awesome. But if anybody needs any information or any of my merch or any stuff, they can come to all my sites—my website, my Facebook page, my Twitter, all that stuff. Anything that KK’s Priest is going to have on their pages, I’ll have on mine, as well. The big thing now is to get this record out. Hopefully, it won’t be delayed. I’m hoping I survive long enough to see the release of the record. (laughs) As busy as I am, Greg, I might release like seven records before this record comes out. (laughs)
Well, Oct. 1 is the date right now, I think, right?
Yeah, I don’t think it’s gonna get pushed back again, or somebody will be murdered. (laughs)
Well, I really have been enjoying those four songs that have been released so far. I’m excited to hear the whole album and hopefully get to see you guys on tour before too long.
Yeah, hopefully. We’re planning it. It’s just a little harder to plan it when it’s this kind of thing. I have a Three Tremors tour in November. It’s easier to put smaller things together, but when you’re doing something like KK’s Priest, it has to be pretty grand and pretty big. So as soon as we can, we’re going to get out there.
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