K.K. Downing Couldn’t Cut Ties and ‘Leave It All in the Past’
Nearly a decade after leaving Judas Priest, a band he helped form, guitarist K.K. Downing found himself at a crossroads in 2019.
His attempts to perhaps rejoin the band had been rebuffed, so he made the decision to move forward and form his own group, one that unapologetically calls on his past sound and influences. The band's name, KK’s Priest, made it pretty clear what the music would sound like.
“Everything that I am and that I’ve worked for, I just couldn’t cut the ties and leave it all in the past,” he tells UCR. “The past is going to follow me anyway, because [of] the style that I write, the way I play and the way that I look. ... I am from the past. I am the past. But also I’m the present, because I’m here now talking to you.” KK’s Priest includes former Priest bandmate Tim “Ripper” Owens on vocals. Their debut album, Sermons of the Sinner, arrives this week, but Downing is already working on ideas and planning for the band’s second album.
What sort of discussions did you and Ripper Owens have about where you wanted to go with this record?
I have a definite style of writing. It wasn’t to be a compromise. I didn’t have to consider what anyone else liked or what style they liked. I was able to just come out with everything that came naturally to me, really. Every song has a meaning to me. The whole album’s full of emotions and rejoicement and lots of sentiments. I think that it’s glorious. ... I think that it’s the freedom that I had to do the whole thing, and that’s why it just came very easy to me. For better or for worse this is my style. This is what I do, and this is how I do it. That will just continue, I think. But all of the songs have a meaning - they all mean something to me, whichever song it is. Some of it’s quite deep. It’s down to interpretation from the fans, but even “Hellfire Thunderbolt,” that has a meaning to me. When I’m writing it, lyrically, I’m thinking about this has a meaning, because this music that we know and love, this genre of music that’s very unique, it could end up as just a page in the history book in the future in 50 years if we’re not careful.
Watch KK's Priest's Video for 'Hellfire Thunderbolt'
How did the song “Metal Through and Through" take shape?
I guess more often or not, [Judas Priest] had something that was quite anthemic on the album. You know, “Take on the World” or whatever songs. I thought that’s always nice to have. It’s always one of those songs where you can really join as one with the crowd. But it went from that to what it is now. So it kind of just grew and grew into a musical centerpiece. But essentially, all of the time I’m writing a lot of these songs I’m thinking about playing them live. So there’s lots of - especially “Metal Through and Through" - areas where we can get the audience singing along and being part of that song with us onstage. Because I’m the fan, and a lot of the fans are musicians, so we are as one, which, essentially, that song says that having started, that we joined together the metal fraternity, even though we didn’t know it at the time.
We may have been very young, but we took your hand and we went on from there, and we gained strength to strength. Judas Priest, we couldn’t get a gig in the early days. Not even in a pub. People didn’t want this music. It had to be augmented and popularized, and something had to happen to make it valid. But it happened. Only because the audiences grew from a few to millions. That’s with “Metal Through and Through.” It’s a rejoicement. But the key thing is that when it does reach the climax and we can get together, hopefully in the stadium - if not, an arena will do. Or somewhere a large theater, but I want to just hear everybody singing that anthem. So that’s just something I hope we can take with us over as many years as we possibly can, and it will be an integral part of a stage performance that we can all look forward to.
You and guitarist AJ Mills have a really strong bond on this album.
AJ started his life out as a guitar player at a very young age, 14 or something. He came to see Judas Priest with Ripper in Birmingham, when Ripper was in the band on the Demolition tour. He decided there and then that he wanted to be a guitar player, which is what happened to me when I saw Jimi Hendrix in 1967. I went out and bought a guitar. He did the same. He’s grown up, and I’ve worked with his band. He actually reminds me of me, so that makes us pretty compatible, really. If I have musical ideas, he’s on that kind of wavelength. The guitar playing, that just comes pretty easy, to be fair.
You say it’s easy, but there’s some stuff on here that’s pretty complex.
It was lots of fun doing the guitar parts. I have lots of ideas to do, little harmony things here and there. Little things that some guitar players don’t really do. I’m just mixing it all up, really, and just doing a lot of stuff that I used to do. We’ll do a lot of harmony style runs, which I wanted to do more of in Priest. But myself and Glenn [Tipton], we weren’t that type of team. We did things more separately, really. So some of this stuff I like to play. We just get on with it and do it, really. It’s loads of fun. And it’s good that I’m playing more guitar on this album than I did on Priest albums. Obviously, I can do this stuff, so that’s a real treat for me.
“Brothers of the Road” is another great road song from your pen. You could put that right next to “Heading Out to the Highway” and it stands tall.
That is right exactly in that ballpark. Like “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” and “Heading Out to the Highway,” that type of song, which is definitely a Priest style of thing. It’s exactly like what we call a driving song, really. You’ve got the windows down or you’re on a bike or something. I just had this thought one day - we’re all brothers of the road, really. Being in bands, we’re always in that tour bus with the trucks and stuff. We’re always on the road and [traveling in a] convoy.
We are brothers of the road, but also everybody that’s on wheels, whatever time of day, we’re all brothers of the road. We all like to get out there on our wheels and blast some music. It’s quite enjoyable. Feel the wind in the hair, it’s just one of those cut loose and footloose-and-fancy-free type of songs. It’s very Priest-like. You don’t think about anything, just about cruising and enjoying cranking up the music. Even if you’re on the way to work. [Laughs]
What are you thinking as far as that second album now that you’ve had a chance to live with this one a bit?
Just a continuation of this one, really. It will be more varied. There’s probably going to be a couple more ballads than there is on this record. But I’m not sure yet. I have got pretty much the outline for enough tracks. The lads are flying over, and we’re going to be shooting more videos, which is really great. We’re going to be together and do photo shoots and interviews. We’re going to do all sorts of things, like a band does. Hopefully, we’ll go to the pub and have a few beers as well, like bands normally do! We’re very much looking forward to that.