In a world that can often feel uncertain, love remains a universal force that unites us all, regardless of how it is found. For some, the timeless power of a great love affair is beautiful and fleeting, while for others it is a life-long journey that guides their heart every step of the way. There are even musicians out there, like Richie Faulkner, who have discovered that the very art of playing guitar has kept their heart beating.
From a very young age, Faulkner was drawn to music in a very intimate capacity. “ I remember the first time I heard my father’s Hendrix albums. I mean, how can you not, as a six or seven year old, listen to or see Hendrix and not be totally blown away by him, you know? For me it was like ‘what is happening here and how do I make my life about it?’ And from then on, it was about the guitar. It was about Jimi, it was about music, and learning the notes, “ Faulkner recalls. “I used to put the needle on records and learn it note for note. I would find a note and then pull the needle off, put it back on again once I got it, and find the next note. It was that arduous, but I was just so dedicated to finding out exactly what was going on there that it didn’t matter. That was the start of my love affair with the guitar, and it continues to this day.” Although many guitars have had the honor of gracing Faulkner’s fingertips, there are a few in particular that he will always remember. “My father had a friend in a punk rock band called Angelic Upstarts, which I thought was a great name, and he had a guitar that he let me borrow. It was something like a Gibson double-cutaway special and painted a fluorescent red color splattered with yellows and greens and purples. It was like a graffiti wall and it was fantastic. I learned a few chords to Wild Thing, or the Hendrix version of The Troggs’ Wild Thing, and I went out into the street in front of the house and started playing it. This little old lady walked past and she put 10 pence on the wall,” Faulkner laughs honestly. “Thinking about it, I don’t know if she liked it or she took pity on me. I don’t know what it was, but either way it made me feel like I’d made her feel a certain way by playing it. So, that was the guitar that I played on first and that’s how I got started.“ It wasn’t long before Faulkner began living and breathing music outside of his family life and academic studies in the UK. He met a friend through a local music store who had a cover band and became interested in Faulkner’s guitar skills. “I was thirteen or something at the time and he said to come down and play a few songs. Cause it was a bit of a novelty, really, to have a young thirteen year old getting up and playing Thin Lizzy and Jimi Hendrix,” he explains. “There was a pub called the Queen’s Head in Wood Green in North London and I went down there and I played All Along the Watchtower and Don’t Believe a Word. After that they would invite me down every now and then to play more songs and eventually more songs became the whole show. It’s sort of like now really – music was my whole life. I washed pots and pans during the week after school, and then I would work in the music store and play gigs with the band on the weekends. It was nonstop, you know? It was that dedication and that passion for the guitar, to learn more and play, and play for people. It was the improvising and that spontaneity of live music that pushed me on and it still does.”
Richie Faulkner with Judas Priest at the Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA, March 5, 2022 – Photo Credit: Matt Quina
Faulkner continued gigging and working his way up the musical ladder in bands such as Deeds and the Lauren Harris band, which afforded him the opportunities to open for one of the bands that he had idolized as a young guitarist. “My first Iron Maiden record was Live After Death, from the World Slavery Tour. They had the mummies to fit the Egyptian theme and I used to look at the album cover and dream about what it must be to see a band like that,” he remembers fondly. “And then fast forward a few years and I was going out with Maiden on their Somewhere Back in Time World Tour, which revisited all that Egyptian stuff. It was a dream. It was literally a dream being part of that. I was answering the questions that I had, what it was like to be not only watching the band, but being up there onstage. It kind of took a bit of the magic away from it, because now you saw all the props and they’re not real anymore. By then you’d learn that anyway, but ultimately it was just amazing really to be a part of something that big, that professional, and something that touched millions of people’s lives musically around the world. We went around the world with them and we saw that firsthand. It was just an incredible thing to see.” After an ambitious Iron Maiden tour, sarcophagi, sphinx heads and all, Faulkner had a bittersweet taste for what it felt like to tour with one of the biggest metal bands of the decade. Little did he know, he was about to get the one call that every musician yearns for in a lifetime.
The legendary metal band Judas Priest was looking to replace K. K. Downing, the metal icons’ longest serving guitarist and they were very interested in Faulkner, who was intimately familiar with the band’s material after years of playing their discography in his cover bands. Even knowing his dedication and skill set, he was still in disbelief when he received the call from Priest’s management. “There’s obviously the age old cliche that you think it’s a joke initially, because although you aspire to be in a band that’s that good…for all those years I was looking to those guys for inspiration on how to write and what to do. You never think that that call is gonna come,” Faulkner reminisces. As the call continued it became abundantly clear that he was going to meet the band at Glenn Tipton’s house and audition for the role that could be a complete game changer for him. “I knew what Priest meant and what it meant to people around the world, so I knew it was a big deal. I was kind of humbled, really, that I had a shot at it at all. If I didn’t get it, then great, but just to have a shot at something like that is an incredibly lucky thing.” Faulkner’s very first performance with the band took place on May 25, 2011 where the band performed Breaking The Law and Living After Midnight on American Idol, where singers with dreams of super stardom audition and compete for the hope of living their lifelong dreams. Uncanny coincidence isn’t it? At that moment, the eight year old boy playing along to his favorite records had come full-circle and was playing alongside the musicians that made him. “When you think of it like that, it’s really living the dream, you know? And I’ve always considered myself very fortunate and very lucky to have been able to have done so much and to still be playing music, creating music, and touring the world with Judas Priest,” Faulkner expresses his gratitude. “Having the opportunity for people to listen to my music that I’m creating is an incredibly privileged position to be in, really. And one that I just can’t take for granted, because of where I’ve come from.”
Photo Credit: Jeremiah Scott
Shortly after the big debut on American Idol, Judas Priest embarked on what the world thought was their big grandiose Farewell Tour. Stepping into a very famous role could be considered quite the challenge, due to the convenience of comparison, but for a seasoned rock guitarist staying authentic to yourself is what helps you stand outside of that shadow and Faulkner quickly proved that to the devout Priest following. “I think that playing in a cover band for so long helps you stay authentic, because you kind of figure out how to improvise around those classic songs and guitar parts. It might be Thin Lizzy or Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore or Tony Iommi, but whoever it might be, you pay homage to them and then you interject little bits here and there that make it your own,” Faulkner explains. “Also, when you join a band like Priest, you’ve gotta stay true to the legacy that went before you. But I think that it wouldn’t be staying true to Priest if you didn’t represent yourself in some way. That’s what they’ve always been about to me. They’ve always been about being true to who they are, you know? Flying the flag for heavy metal, even if it goes against the grain or against the trend. I think you’ve gotta embody the same kind of spirit as a guitar player and a musician, otherwise you wouldn’t be faithful to what they stood for.” Luckily, for Faulkner and the rest of the world, Judas Priest continued on touring and creating new music. In 2018, they released Firepower, the band’s first studio album since 1988, which gained even more respect for the band’s latest member. But even with steady motion, Faulkner knew that he had to consider what life after Priest would look like and more importantly, sound like. At the time, the thought of going out and playing shows on his own seemed disingenuous to the band that had made him part of their family and to the fans that had welcomed him in. But the pandemic changed his mindset and his progression in an unexpected way. “Priest was my band. They let me write, they let me create, and they made me a part of the family,” Faulkner says assertively. “The pandemic really kind of focused everything else in. We had some time off, we weren’t touring, and the Priest record was already written. All the creative ideas I could draw a line underneath and anything I did now I could dedicate to what became the Elegant Weapons record. It was kind of like an alignment of planets. Timewise and creatively, it was all the right time. I didn’t know what I was gonna have… I just wanted to put something down. And it was important to have something that was different in character than Priest. Obviously it’s the same DNA. I create music with them and I’m fortunate to do so, but I wanted something that stood on its own, because otherwise there’d be no point to write another Priest record. I could do that with Judas Priest. I wanted something that was stylistically different, so that maybe I could have the opportunity to take it further when Priest decides to call it a day.”
Elegant Weapons, l to r: Christopher Williams, Ronnie Romero, Dave Rimmer & Richie Faulkner – Photo Credit: Matt Owen
That is when Faulkner’s latest musical journey began and Elegant Weapons was forged in the fire. But why Elegant Weapons? “In almost any endeavor, the craftsman needs the right tools for the job. For a musician, those tools are things like their instruments, their voices and the emotions that the right combination of all those can bring to the surface,” he clarifies. “You can also consider it a reference to the instruments we play, because they’re almost antiquities now. So yes, it references our instruments and also this kind of music, where we’re carrying on the tradition of the greats like Sabbath and Dio but also bands the guys are connected to, like Rainbow, Pantera and Priest.” In addition to Faulkner, Elegant Weapons consists of Uriah Heep’s esteemed bassist Dave Rimmer, Rainbow’s riveting vocalist Ronnie Romero, and Accept’s heavy metal drummer Christopher Williams. Lyrically, Faulkner welcomed his secret weapon Emmy winning, Grammy nominated, composer and producer Tommy McWilliams to the lineup. This super-group’s debut full-length album Horns For A Halo (produced by Faulkner’s Priest bandmate, Andy Sneap) is set to release on May 26th via Nuclear Blast Records, with two surprising album features by Pantera’s Rex Brown and Judas Priest’s Scott Travis. “You can imagine that stepping away from the mothership after twelve years and going out on your own is exciting. It’s all the emotions of feeling a little bit anxious and a little bit excited to see how it goes and see how it’s received. Once it’s out there, it’s a living, breathing thing, so I’m excited to get it out,” Faulkner exclaims when asked about the upcoming release.
Horns For A Halo is the heavy metal delicacy that this day and age has been craving. With 10-tracks in tow, it is an album that deserves to have 53 minutes carved out in unison to enjoy. Notably, the harmony between dark and light can be felt guiding the movement throughout the entire musical journey. “I’ve always been attracted to the juxtaposition of things like light and dark and even the name Elegant Weapons. There’s a certain juxtaposition to it – something that’s beautiful but also deadly,” Faulkner delights. “Horns for a Halo is the same kind of thing. I like the imagery it conjures up, where we’re all human and we all do things that are good and things that are bad, but what defines us? Even in heavy metal, there are songs like Victim of Changes from Priest, where there are beautiful passages and then it explodes into heavy passages in contrast. I think that’s part of heavy music and a dynamic that I really like.” Regardless of the material, Faulkner continues to believe that the love affair with his guitar drives his creation for Elegant Weapons and beyond. “I’m always writing something. The guitar, as I said before, is my inspiration. The guitar writes and it brings it out of me. That’s my process. I sit down with my guitar and see what comes out,” Faulkner exudes. “Sometimes it’s instantaneous and sometimes it takes a while, but as long as I’m doing it all the time, it sort of seems to take shape. I think David Lee Roth once said, it’s like banking. You are always banking those ideas for the day that you might need them and then it all comes together one day.”
With the album release and a stocked summer festival roster the Elegant Weapons’ crew is ready to take on the world by streaming services and stages alike, no matter the challenge. “With Priest, it’s been there for 50 years, so it’s objectively good. You can’t argue that Priest are legends. When you get up there with Priest people are already there and they love the music. They’ve lived with it, some of them for 50 years as well. When you get up there with a new band, like Elegant Weapons, no one’s heard it and you know they might not like it,” Faulkner proceeds with caution and enthusiasm. “It’s all very different, but you’ve gotta take new stuff out there. Sure, the fans are probably not there to see you. They’re probably there to see the main band and you are opening up for them. So, it’s a totally different dynamic, but it’s a dynamic, which I’m familiar with. When I was out with Iron Maiden, it was the same dynamic. You get out in front of a new audience that doesn’t know you and hopefully you win over some fans. We’ve even been in that position with Priest as well. We went down to New Zealand a few years back and it wasn’t only my first time with Priest in New Zealand, but it was the first time Priest had ever played in New Zealand. So, you’re always conscious of the fact that there’s someone out there that hasn’t seen the band before, or that you’re playing in a city that hasn’t seen the band before, or even a country that hasn’t seen the band before even after 40, or 50 years. You’ve always got to give a thousand percent no matter where you’re playing.”
Faulkner’s resilience has shown since the very beginning, but on September 26, 2021 he showed that giving your thousand percent could even save your life. Judas Priest was playing support to Metallica on the final night of the Louder Than Life Festival in Louisville, Kentucky. This meant that their normal hour and forty minute set would be shortened to only an hour, but Faulkner planned to play with the energy of a full Priest set. During the band’s encore of Painkiller, Faulkner unknowingly suffered an aortic aneurysm without missing a single note. After somehow finishing the set, he was rushed to the nearest hospital, which just so happened to be the University of Louisville’s Rudd Heart and Lung Center; one of the most well-renowned heart hospitals in the country. That night he was put through ten hours of emergency surgery, where his girlfriend Mariah Lynch (daughter of Dokken star George Lynch) was told by the surgeon to prepare herself that he was not going to make it. Typically, with an aortic aneurysm of that severity people only last a few minutes and rarely even make it to the hospital. But in an interview done shortly after his recovery, Faulkner explained that the doctors think that it’s possible that his adrenaline was so high from playing that his heart was pumping hard enough and fast enough to keep him going just long enough to get him to the hospital. Even after dancing on stage with the reaper, his heart of metal saved his life.
Photo Credit: Jeremiah Scott
Fast forward to 2023, and other than regular checkups and medication he is happily creating and living life with his girlfriend and their music-loving daughter in a total rock n’ roll household. Faulkner met Lynch at a show in San Diego years prior and unknowingly made a lasting impression, sunglasses and all. “She thought I was an absolute tool. I think that’s what you call it in the US. We don’t use that word in the UK, but I think it’s an incredible word,” Faulkner laughs. “I think I had sunglasses on at night, which is obligatory when you’re a rock guitar player in Judas Priest, you have to have sunglasses on at night. But we stayed in touch over the years, and then we finally got it together and ended up having a beautiful daughter. I mean, who would’ve known? Maybe having sunglasses on at night did the trick and she didn’t know it. But we went through what happened to me and obviously our daughter doesn’t know anything about it. She’s blissfully unaware that any of that took place and that’s the goal really, just to make sure that she’s unaffected by all the bad.” His daughter frequently joins the tours, travels around the world with an iconic band, and according to Faulkner is a good drummer even as a toddler. It’s clear that he has a lot to be grateful for. “This was a massive realization. I’ve been doing quite a bit since then. Some people I’ve spoken to think I’ve maybe been doing too much, because I was back out on the road with Priest about five months after it happened. I finished this record with Weapons, we’re finishing the Priest record, so I have been doing a lot musically, but it serves as a medicine really. I said it right at the beginning. If the guitar is the reason why I do it all, getting back to playing guitar is healing, you know?” Faulkner says passionately. “And if you’ve got a book to write, or an album or a song you’ve got in your brain – record it, get it done, do it. Because I can say from experience nothing’s promised, nothing’s guaranteed. We might not be here tomorrow. You could be healthy and you just never know what’s around the corner. So live your life to the fullest. There’s nothing profound that I’m saying. It’s nothing new, it’s just become a lot more real to me after what happened.” We can all take a page from Faulkner’s great love story and follow our hearts from here on out.
Stay connected with Richie Faulkner / Elegant Weapons
Very interesting story and well written.
Hey Darlene, thanks for your comment and for reading Screamer Magazine. Emma, is an amazing writer and photographer, we’re lucky to have her.