Saxon is a huge part of heavy metal history but the band and lead singer Biff Byford continue to write the most exciting chapters of that history daily. The band’s last album, 2011’s ” Call To Arms” was a startlingly good album, the kind that is usually hard to equal or top, particularly for a veteran band. It represented everything classic and solid about the British legends but production wise was every bit in the here and now. This year the band unleashed their latest album, “Sacrifice” which is every bit as memorable as the previous record but twice as aggressive and heavy. The band finally did some touring for the last record and are now set to tour America again starting September 12th with Fozzy and special guests Halcyon Way. I recently talked with Biff about their amazing recent history, their killer DVD documentary and much more, read on….
LRI: You’re getting set to tour here in the U.S. for your latest album “Sacrifice” and I want to get into that but first I wanted to talk to you a little about the amazing documentary “Heavy Metal Thunder” you guys put out late last year. Between the movie and the extra live dvd it is quite impressive, was that something that was in the works for a while?
Biff Byford: We were asked by some guys who used to work with the BBC if they could do a documentary. We said “Yeah, when do you want to do it?” and they shot it over the course of a year but then spent quite a bit more time putting it together which allowed them to go into a bit more detail.
LRI: It’s worth noting that it presents the FULL story of the band, even including interviews with former members, guys you’ve had pretty public legal battles. You didn’t have to include them, a lot of people who have just shut them out of the story but it really adds to the overall presentation.
Biff: Yeah, it made it interesting. A lot of our newer fans have never heard of the guys so it really helped to explain the whole story to them by having their side of things included.
LRI: You have been on a real creative tear lately, with the last couple albums being some of the best reviewed and received work you’ve ever done. Is it at all possible that some of that court battle over the band name somehow reinvigorated you or added something passion-wise or aggression-wise to your approach these days?
Biff: Ummmm….I suppose maybe it did before, I suppose we wanted to unleash the beast and be sure that the last album was great and all that. I suppose it does push you a little bit further but not really now at this point. We just like writing albums and we wanna keep making albums that people like. Our style of music is pretty unique to Saxon, we don’t really sound like anyone else.
LRI: ” Call To Arms” was a really nice return to form and really rallied the fanbase, including here in the States. Was it hard to set out to top that with “Sacrifice”?
Biff: Yeah, it was actually. ” Call To Arms” was a great album, a great collection of songs but I wanted to come at “Sacrifice” from a little bit of a different angle. I wanted it to be a little heavier and more from the heart rather than the head so, yeah it was a task but there’s certainly a lot of passion in these songs. I worked quite hard with our guitarist on the choruses and melodies and the twin guitar parts. I think because I was producing the album I was in a little bit more control and felt I could take the band into more of a live direction. We really worked on the songs in terms of how they sound when we’re playing as opposed to just working on them to make them sound good in the studio.
LRI: It’s a solid long player, old school metal album from start to finish and it’s sequenced exceptionally well. I put on “Procession” and had no idea what to expect and then was just about blown out of my seat by the title track .
Biff: (laughs) Yeah, the sequencing was important to me, I knew I wanted “Sacrifice” to be right there at the beginning of the album because it’s such a solid, heavy riff and song. I made a list of songs and (co-producer/mixer) Andy Sneap made a list of songs we thought were ready and we took a look at each other’s list and it was the same (laughs) so obviously we were on the same page which was pretty cool.
LRI: I think you are almost a little unassuming or humble. Lots of bands put out albums as an excuse to tour or fulfill a contract but this is just a complete album of great, no-bullshit songs. Was there anything left on the table other than what made it to the bonus tracks and special editions?
Biff: Yeah, there are a few things that are on my home studio, some songs we didn’t use that might surface on the next album but nothing really complete or finished in any way. Mostly a lot of ideas, you know. It didn’t take too much time to find the ten songs which made the record. The guys were jamming around and I was playing bass on a few of the sessions and I waited a little to do the melodies and lyrics, I just had some basic ideas about the song titles. When we’d go to rehearse, I would really work hard with the guys to come up with melodic choruses which is really what “Sacrifice” is, a lot of heavy riffs with very melodic choruses. That’s really a trademark Saxon thing.
LRI: The song “Made In Belfast” immediately sounds like it would be perfect for a live set. It’s a song based in part on ship building, the ships were stamped “Made In Belfast”. In the documentary you talk about your upbringing in the hard work, steel environment. Do you think some of that also crept into the lyrics there?
Biff: It’s a very working class song about very working class people. That’s also the environment we came from so yeah, it’s a song about us but it’s also a song about the hard workers and people who struggled in mines and mills in years passed, people who created all these fantastic things that really aren’t even around anymore. They’re all made in China or somewhere else due to this massive loss in industry really. It could just as easily relate to America as well.
LRI: I love the last track “Standing In A Queue”. It sort of has it’s own fun feel and definitely documents the woes of the modern life.
Biff: (laughs) Yeah. “Standing In A Queue” is really a bit tongue in cheek. It’s really kind of a cheeky fun song. We spend a ridiculous amount of time standing around waiting, whether you are waiting for a cashier or waiting to get on an airplane, there’s a lot of queuing going on. The British are professional queuers (laughs). It’s a fun song, it has a really 80s kind of riff, not a sophisticated guitar riff and I didn’t want a sophisticated lyric to go along with it.
LRI: A song which is just crushing, along with “Sacrifice” is “Guardians of The Tomb”. What inspired that track?
Biff: “Guardians Of The Tomb” is about the Terracotta Army in ancient China which was built to protect the Emperor, which I just found fascinating. The thought just sticks in your head of these thousands and thousands of Terracotta Warrors under the ground and then suddenly someone discovers them, just by digging a hole. It’s just this fantastic story. “Sacrifice” is obviously about the Mayans and the beating heart and sacrifices and that history.
LRI: Speaking of the title track You went and did the tours of the Mayan temples and all that, did you get a chance to do it after sunset?
Biff: Yeah, we did actually. It was really fascinating stuff, immediately made me think it would be great for a song. It was really spooky and eerie, there’s nothing quite like it, it’s pretty strange.
LRI: You made a great video for “Sacrifice”. I’m glad you’re speaking with me now because I was pretty sure that gorgeous blond killed you at the end of the clip.
Biff: (laughs) Well, girls like that can kill you at any time for sure, but no she was a really lovely girl, she did a fantastic job and was really game for it, especially considering she was semi-naked the whole time. I filmed it with an actor/director friend of mine who is a big fan, I party with him quite a bit and I asked him to shoot our video so he filled it with all of his film crew. The stunt guy had worked on Harry Potter and the pyro guy had worked on a James Bond film so it was great really. There was a huge crew and it was a lot of fun, I think they just did it for some booze and to hang out with the band so, it turned out quite well.
LRI: Your bass player Nibbs looks positively evil in the clip.
Biff: Well, he was positively drunk so maybe it was an “evil drunk” I suppose, we’ve all met them (laughs). No, he was just a bit out of his box so he just went for it and we just let him go, it was cool, yeah. What’s funny is, I was really ill those two days we shot. I had a really raging temperature so I look a bit more evil as well I think just from keeping on during the course of the day.
LRI: He seems to be an excitable guy during the live shows as well, is it fun to have that kind of energy in the band?
Biff: Nibbs is certainly full on isn’t he? He’s a bit like one of those old video game characters just bouncing off the walls. He’s a bit nuts, I must say, It”s good to have a guy like that in the band, he’s got no set routine and it’s not an act, he just goes for it.
LRI: There has been so much made of your influence on classic heavy metal bands like Metallica but do a lot of those bands also influence you guys as well? There are moments on this album which definitely sound like it.
Biff: Yeah certainly. Also, a lot of the bands we tour with, bands like Machine Head for sure, there’s a lot of cross influencing. A lot of the new metal bands have a lot of good riffs we find ourselves listening to as well.
LRI: And of course, Lady Gaga was revealed to be a big Saxon fan….
Biff: She is yeah, she’s a huge metal fan actually. Judas Priest, Saxon, Sabbath, Motorhead, I’m sure she’s into Metallica as well. She’s great actually and has good taste in music it seems. She needs to get some more metal guitars in her music though (laughs).
LRI: Was it a challenge to work on these re-recordings for the bonus tracks?? “Crusader” and “Just Let Me Rock” are pretty well known songs but I think this version of “Just Let Me Rock” is much better than the original.
Biff: Yeah. The original version of “Just Let Me Rock” was during a really weird time for the band really. The whole MTV era changed everything and I think things were a bit lighter then but the new version proves it’s still a cool song. The lyrics are great and it’s about our old manager ripping us off so I think it deserves the heavier treatment (laughs). The original sounded like some kind of groovy rock song and this is much more to the point. The orchestration on “Crusader” is pretty interesting. I think we may do that with “Dallas 1pm” as well.
LRI: “Requiem” is so powerful still to this day. Do you still maintain that the song isn’t about just one rocker who’s passed but all rockers?
Biff: Well, I wrote the song when Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy) died but I didn’t really wanna mention or focus too much on one particular guy because it would have made it too much about Hendrix or Bon Scott or anyone. I wanted it to be ambiguous and not about anyone in particular but just to be a tribute to all of these great people in music who’ve passed on. It’s a song about heroes.
LRI: The festivals you guys do are pretty big productions. Is it kind of fun to scale things down a bit and get right up in people’s faces for these indoor shows?
Biff: Yeah, the venues are nice and good rooms with good sound and everything and it is a totally unique energy. The festivals in Europe we have the big Eagle and the flames and all of the staging but at the end of the day it still comes down to the music.
Thu 09/12/13 Patchogue, NY Emporium
Fri 09/13/13 New York, NY B.B. King Blues Club
Sat 09/14/13 Montreal, QC Virgin Mobile Corona Theatre
Sun 09/15/13 Toronto, ON Phoenix Concert Theatre
Tue 09/17/13 Reading, PA Reverb
Wed 09/18/13 Cleveland, OH Peabody’s Concert Club
Thu 09/19/13 Dayton, OH McGuffy’s
Fri 09/20/13 Flint, MI The Machine Shop
Sat 09/21/13 Joliet, IL Mojoes
Sun 09/22/13 Milwaukee, WI The Rave
Tue 09/24/13 Waterloo, IA The Reverb
Thu 09/26/13 Dallas, TX House Of Blues
Fri 09/27/13 San Antonio, TX Backstage Live San Antonio
Sat 09/28/13 Houston, TX House Of Blues
Tue 10/01/13 Tempe, AZ Club Red
Wed 10/02/13 Long Beach, CA The Gaslamp Restaurant
Thu 10/03/13 Ramona, CA Ramona Mainstage
Fri 10/04/13 West Hollywood, CA House Of Blues
Sat 10/05/13 Corona, CA M15 Concert Bar & Grill
Sun 10/06/13 San Francisco, CA DNA Lounge
Tue 10/08/13 Seattle, WA Studio Seven
Wed 10/09/13 Portland, OR Mt. Tabor Theater
Thu 10/10/13 Vancouver, BC Venue
Appearing with Motorhead
Sat 11/09/13 Paris, France Zenith Paris
Sites That Link to this Post
- SAXON Frontman Biff Byford On New Album: “I Wanted It To Be A Little Heavier And More From The Heart Rather Than The Head” | Metal Shock Finland (World Assault ) | August 28, 2013
- SAXON Frontman: ‘We Don’t Really Sound Like Anyone Else’ « Rss « | August 29, 2013
- SAXON Frontman: ‘We Don’t Really Sound Like Anyone Else’ | Seventh Dimension | August 30, 2013
- SAXON Frontman: 'We Don't Really Sound Like Anyone Else' | Planet Six String | August 30, 2013
- Saxon's Bill Byford: I'm not evil, I'm sick | News | Classic Rock | August 30, 2013
- SAXON Frontman: 'We Don't Really Sound Like Anyone Else' | Planet 6 String | August 30, 2013