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The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world
Biff Byford Saxon - Interview
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BIFF BYFORD

SAXON


Biff Byford Saxon

We recently had the privilege to sit down over Skype with Biff Byford, the Legendary front man regarding their upcoming debut at Rock on The Range. Biff is the creative genius behind one of Britain's greatest heavy metal bands... Saxon! With 20 studio releases, over 15 million albums sold, a 35th anniversary tour going on with new Box sets and Special releases abound. Biff fills us in on writing for the new album, some new inspirations and looking forward to the the U.S. portion of their tour.

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Steve: I seen that you just came off of two dates in the Netherlands, how did those shows work out for you?

Biff: Very good, very good. First two shows for Nigel, since his sort of brain problem. It was really good, the first one was in a huge tent and freezing cold.

Steve: And it must be nice to have Nigel behind the drum kit again.

Biff:Yeah, great yeah, and then the second show was excellent. The first show was an hour, it was quite a big festival we were on, and the second show was an hour fifty, so we did very well yeah, it was great.

Steve: Now you released "Sacrifice" in 2013, and after that "Unplugged and Strung Up" and the "Warriors of The Road" DVD set, How do you feel that this has all added to the Legend that is Saxon?

Biff: It's good, it's just for the fans really, we don't want to just keep putting out the same old stripped down songs, it's a package, the record company is quite keen on keeping us current if you know what I mean. There are tons of stuff out there and we've got tons of stuff there in the background that we could put out, but we don't want to beat ourselves and put out too much. At the moment we're working on the new album.

Steve: I've done some reading on that and came across some of the new song names, particularly The Devil's Footprint, how is that song coming along?

Biff: The lyrics are done on that one, the drums are finished on those tracks and the bass, half the guitars are done. So we started on the 5th of April and now we're having 3 weeks before we come to North America.

Steve: I have heard that in the past you have written and recorded your albums fairly fast, is this one any different?

Biff: Well, we never write fast, we always write quite slowly, true in a sense because, you know, we're fairly critical of ourselves.

Steve: A lot of what was being said about "Sacrifice" is that it is a return to the Saxon of old, yet with a new edge. How do you feel about the last album and then carrying that forward onto the next release.

Biff: I do yeah, It's a little bit different on this one, we've not written as many songs together on this album. Um, me and Rich have written a few things together, so it's a little bit different than the last, but we're all working together. You know, the last sort of three days, Doug and Paul have come up with some stuff and so we can get it on the album as well. So um, it's looking pretty good, a lot of the heavy stuff comes from Nibbs anyway, the actual guitar licks and that so. If we're doing something different this one's a little, not quite so all together, if you know what I mean.

Steve: And I read that Andy (Sneap, producer) was playing a bigger role in production on the last album?

Biff: Yeah, I gave him production on this album. I haven't the time cause, as I said we're writing and arranging and writing notes as we go. So um, it's good for him to take that pressure off me so I can concentrate on the songs.




Steve: On "Sacrifice", when you were producing, was there a learning curve or did it come sort of naturally for you?

Biff: Well I co-produced more or less 15 albums with Saxon so I know how to record. It's um, you know you just have to have a great team, a great engineer and a great band. If the engineer works, (that we have) then I'm usually the co production credits. On this one, I thought I'd give Andy a chance to do everything with the band really himself. Obviously I'm in control of the overall executive duties type thing. And he's doing really good, ya know, he's produced bands before.

Steve: I've been listening to Saxon for years and am reliving that excitement through my 12 year old son, whom is really excited about "Sacrifice".

Biff: Ya, it's got some deeper stuff like Devils Hoofprint or (Devils footprint) and it's got some rock and roll stuff. I think the album is going to be called um... I don't think I should tell you or not... It's going to be called (To Be Revealed by band later)

Steve: Well I won't put write it down anywhere until you release it yourself.

Biff: That's fine, well it's going to be the lead track, It's more or less.. it's a bit like 'Heavy Metal Thunder', just a new version, it's about the audience raging at the barriers.

Steve: Now to one of the songs from "Sacrifice", with society today being such a 'Hurry up and Wait' environment, how did the song 'Waiting In Queue' come about?

Biff: Well in rock and roll music and when you're in a touring band, there is a lot of waiting. It's mostly waiting and ah, you come back and your waiting at the airport, waiting on the plane to get off, then your driving home and it's a nightmare. I think everybody these days, unless your have a private jet or a helicopter or something, spends a lot of time waiting. So that's really for the waiters of the world.

Steve: Now after hearing about how you found your inspiration for "Sacrifice" while in Mexico on the 700 Tons of Metal cruise, what is currently inspiring the writing on the upcoming album?

Biff: Like what I say, some folklore, that general blueprint. 'Hoofprint', is a legend of a couple hundred years ago, people woke up with fresh snow and they saw hoof prints on the roof, across the lake and they followed it for many miles and it couldn't be explained. So if anyone wants to look it up, you can search hoof prints and England and the legend will come up. So a little folklore there. I'm doing another song about, well I used to be a big chess player, I used to play a lot of chess but not so much these days. So I wrote a song called 'Queen of Hearts' or 'Red Queen', which is a little bit, Alice in Wonderland(y), a little bit Chess(y) game. So, a little bit deeper lyrics. And other lyrics, are sort of you know.. There's another one called 'The Drinking Song'

Steve: Well I'll tip my bottoms up for that, I look forward to hearing it.

Biff: Well, there's going to be a little bit less Rock and Roll on the album and more of the heavier stuff, there will be one, more or less, one 'Wheels of Steel' like track if you know what I mean.

Steve: Also I've seen that you have done the Scintilla Project? I have to say that when I listened to it I was blown away, I don't want to just blow smoke up your ass, but your voice was just stellar.

Biff: Yeah, I think the record company can probably agree and agree from all angles that it might have been a mistake to put out as just a plain rock album, it quite prog rock(y).

Steve: I am a huge prog rock fan and was thrilled when you released 'Unplugged and Strung Up' and infuse that sound, all the orchestral music, I thought that was just brilliant.

Biff: Yeah, well the rule is, don't release anything that isn't great. Well we don't want to have... We don't particularly like bootlegs and stuff. The general rule is that it's like a give away, like outside VIP where we would give everybody a CD that we burn off our laptop every day. They get an exclusive live recording, from I think it's from 2014 and one of our live shows. So it's a little bit of a... we'll get asked sometimes to record gigs and then sell the discs at the door, and we don't really want to swamp the fans with Saxon live recordings. We more or less did another version of that, and people buy a VIP Ticket and they get this numbered and signed basically blank disc that I burn on my own laptop.

Steve: That is wonderful, because it's a moment captured in time.

Biff: Yeah, a moment captured in time. It's not the gig that they're obviously buying that they're seeing, though it is a full gig. I think it's from Glasgow actually.




Steve: Your next leg of your tour brings you to the US, and myself being from Canada, are you planning any shows here up North?

Biff: We're not doing any shows in Canada this tour, though I'm sure we're going to, obviously. We may come back in October or November.

Steve: Now here at the Rock Pit, we are currently promoting the Rock on the Range festival May 16th in Columbus Ohio. With festivals being such a large part of touring and this being the biggest in North America, are there any other groups that you're a fan of that you'd be excited to see?

Biff: Well, I don't really know who's going to be there really, if there's anybody that we know we'll definitely get to see them. Who is headlining?

Steve: Well Judas Priest will be there.

Biff: Yeah, well we're doing a show for Judas Priest anyway so.

Steve: Right, you'll be doing 4 shows over 5 days starting May 17th.

Biff: Yeah Yeah, so we'll meet them anyways.

Steve: There will be Godsmack and many American bands, there will be Sabaton playing from Sweden.

Biff: Yeah, we know Sabaton, they're a great band.

Steve: I'm sure you've heard how big of an influence Saxon was for them.

Biff: Yeah, we were going to do some touring with them in Sweden last year but we just couldn't get it, couldn't get the time to do it. But yeah, I like Sabaton, they're great really. They're bringing more traditional metal to the younger fans.

Steve: Now for your younger fans, what are you hoping they will take away from "Sacrifice" and your upcoming album.

Biff: Yeah, well I think people just have to check it out really, I mean these days people just go online and check it out. Go on our Facebook page, go on our website (saxon747.com), drop down on YouTube, just check out our music really, I mean I can't.. ya know, we've been around a long time, there are a lot of people, especially in America, and we're not on their radar, so if they do check it out, whether they check out the 80's stuff or they check out the new stuff there's some fantastic stuff there. That's what I would recommend really, because you know I think that we are writing quite credible and relative music at the moment.

Steve: Now with the evolution of the media and technology, an example is our interview over Skype today, how have you found over the years your ability to change with technology?

Biff: Yeah, I think we're one of the most tech savvy bands in the world, we grew up through the digital revolution and we're always using cutting edge equipment, in fact we've had people giving it to us to try. Remember, we are one of the few bands that stay in a studio, ya know. We don't make records in our living room. We use a lot of equipment that is state of the art. Sometimes we'll use analog, depends if we're in a playful mood or not. Just most of the time we use creative pro tools. Sometime we use analog, I have a 24 track machine.

Steve: Biff, I really appreciate your time today and I want to ask if there are any other products of information you would like to add?

Biff: Well I gave you the title of the album, that's an exclusive. The Saxon Chronicles DVD is out isn't it.. (Warriors of the Road Box Set) with the package with Heavy Metal Thunder which is the re-recorded classic. So that's out now actually if anyone wants to check it out. Well the new album should be out this year.

Steve: Final question Biff and on a different note. Something close to home for many is the effect mental illness has in this world and the stigma that can be attached to things like depression and such. Can you share how, if at all during touring or recording, that you have experienced this and what you would do to cope and bring yourself back?

Biff: I'm very positive, I'm a proof positive kind of person, I'm very lucky. I mean you can get down, basically you don't really get down because of work load or anything, you tend to get down if someone cuts you too deep. You know and sometimes (people close) can cut you real deep, so you can a bit. But generally I'm quite lucky, and I do know people with BiPolar and some disorders and it's not fun. I mean at one time these things weren't sort of registered were they, you just sort of had to pull yourself together, or you're just being difficult and in the last 10 years they found a lot of these problems these people get are linked to different health problems and mental health. I don't think there's really much they can do really, I mean you can take drugs (prescription) can't you, but that's not always great is it. So I think ya know, that people really just need to try to get through it all and try to live your life and treat people how you wanted to be treated, that's the key!

Steve: Do you have any songs in your catalog that you would suggest as a good sound to help them life their spirits?

Biff: Yeah, all our driving songs, ya know like, 'Wheels of Steel' and stuff like that. 'Never Surrender' and 'And The Band Played On', you know, things that are up. We do have a lot of up quality songs ya know. Even some of our darker songs like To 'Hell And Back Again', 'Stand Up And Be Counted'. They're all quite positive songs, even '747' is a positive song, it's was about a plane going down at night that didn't crash, quite positive. I always put a positive spin on things.

Steve: I'd like to thank you again Biff for the 20 minutes you've given today.

Biff: Yeah, it's good, we're looking ahead to the festival and we're still doing our 35th Anniversary tour, Warriors of the Road, so the festival shows we'll be doing more of our anthemic songs, we have a lot of songs that are great at festivals.

Steve: Obviously you know how to work a crowd.

Biff: Well ya know, I did it a time or two, they're all great. Crusader... they're all great crowd songs.

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Interview by Steve Wilder on April 9th 2015