Catching Up With Biff Byford of Saxon
As Saxon geared up to release their 20th album Sacrifice in late February, TWRY caught up with Biff Byford to get all the details.
Sacrifice will be Saxon’s 20th record with a US release date of February 26. What would you say fans can expect from this newest release?
I produced the record myself so I wanted to make sure it was a lot heavier than the last one. There are no ballads on this one. It was a bit of an intense experience for sure making sure the direction did not wane during the recording process. We expect it to do better than the last one as we do with all of our albums. It’s gotten some fantastic reviews in the press so far, The release date has been postponed a bit because we were not happy with the booklet and inserts. The US release date is now March 26.
Biff you contributed all of the lyrics on Sacrifice. It doesn’t appear that anyone would ever accuse you of being a romantic at heart. You generally try to write about world history, current events or life circumstances. Do you think this is a fair statement?
Yes, I always write all of our lyrics on each album. That is a fair statement for sure. I’m not real big on rock n roll cliché lyrics. I can do it if I wanted to now and again, most of the time I like to songs to be like a mini book. Lyrics that fans can read and get off on.
Although you produced the album the band decided to work with legendary producer/mixer Andy Sneap (Testament, Accept, Megadeath) this time around on the mix. Was this the first time you have worked with Andy and what do you think he brought to this project?
It was the first time I have worked with Andy on a project together. I have known him for quite sometime. I really liked a lot of work he has done with other bands. He has a real unique ear for metal guitars in particular. I wanted him to mix it because my idea in producing this record was to have something more real and less digitally enhanced. Andy was really up for this challenge and has been a huge Saxon fan for years. We had a chat prior to heading into the studio and came up with a plan After I had finished my production work we took it down to Andy’s place and mixed it there.
You have some re-recorded versions of some Saxon classics as bonus tracks. How did that come about and was it difficult to pick which ones were used?
It’s never easy to pick songs for a set list or in this case to re-record. We were looking for something interesting to do rather than do an entire re-recorded record of the hits or an unplugged album that has been suggested in the past. “Crusader” has been one of our bigger hits internationally and we sent it away to be orchestrated and we were truly blown away when the finished product was returned. We love that track for this idea because it’s so much more epic than some of the others that were considered. As far as the acoustic tracks that were chosen we really wanted these to be completely stripped down. Just the guitars and my voice nothing else. “Just Let Me Rock” was also on the Crusader album but we wanted to give it a heavier treatment and I think we succeeded. “Forever Free” is a motorcycle anthem of sorts and thought it would be fun to give it some new life.
The album cover was once again created by Paul Raymond Gregory. How far back does that relationship go back?
The first project we worked on with Paul was the Crusader album in 1984. Over the years Paul has worked on quite a few of our album covers about 90%. Usually with Paul we will have a chat about the idea in general and tell him broadly what I want. Sometimes it’s as simple as a song title sometimes it’s a bit more than that. This time around I wanted to concentrate on the Mayan Inca culture and symbolism that was prevalent in that culture during that period. The face with the tongue and the sun symbol are representations of strength and what Saxon is really into. Images that are really striking and make you think.
What will be the first single and do you plan on any videos for Sacrifice?
We have a video coming out for the song “Sacrifice” which will be the first single. Seems as though “Made in Belfast” is getting a lot of buzz in reviews and seems to be a favorite track amongst those who have heard the record. That looks to be a possible 2nd video and I plan on talking to the record company about very soon.
Looks as if the “Sacrifice” World Tour is starting in March with the Monsters of Rock Cruise, a date in Mexico City, a few shows in South America and several dates in Europe starting in April and running all the way through the summer sharing the stage on some major festivals. When do you think North American fans might see Saxon back on stage?
We have some time held in May for some possible dates across the pond. We also have plans for some dates in September/October as well. We have a new booking agent so we want to secure dates in America, Canada and Japan as well. Our 2011 tour in the States (although short) was very successful. The website will be updated with dates as soon as they are confirmed.
Heavy Metal Thunder-the Movie was released in late 2012. It’s a documentary on the history of Saxon and includes interviews of past and present members of the band. After watching the finished product did any of its content shock you at all in any way?
No not really. I already knew the story because I lived it!! As far as the kudos and such from other artists that’s always nice to hear. I do realize that Graham Oliver would like a shot at a reunion gig but at this present time we really don’t have time for that. To tell you the truth there are not tons of offers for millions of dollars being thrown around to me. I think for the most part fans are content with this current lineup. But never say never!
In 2007 you released an autobiography Never Surrender. Did you find the experience therapeutic? Also based on your frankness did you receive any backlash at all from family or friends?
I think the film and the book actually tied in quite nicely. Although five years apart I pretty much said the same thing in both. It was a good experience. The book was surly a more emotionally trip for me personally than the film was. I explained in the book why members left the band or were sacked from the band and the film sort of confirms it. The book was more about me personally where the film is more about Saxon its history and the fans . I was really kind to former band members in the book. I made sure I didn’t diss anybody personally or if we had band orgies who slept with who and so on. I wanted to make sure with the book that I didn’t tare open any wounds.
Biff, at 62 years old does it surprise you how technologically gifted an artist you appear to be with frequent podcasts and one of the most up to date band websites I have ever seen?
The thing is with the internet you have to remember that we have been working consistently now since 1979. We have grown up through the digital revolution really. We are not dinosaurs and we have a really great grasp on modern technology. We use the website to get information to our fans as quickly as possible. I spent quite a bit of my time giving the webmaster grief because he’s not updating the content fast enough. The internet for better or worse for newer bands or established acts such as Saxon is the lifeline to the fans and general public.
The first time I saw Saxon was in Boston at the Orpheum in 1987. You played middle on a bill with openers Raven and headliners WASP. Do you recall that tour and any memories that you may have from it?
I remember that tour well because we really didn’t want to it! We wanted a break that winter and we didn’t get one. We wanted to be home for the holidays! My biggest memories from the Orpheum Theater was Saxon opening for AC/DC on the Back in Black tour in 1980. Saxon always had a strong following in Boston. I recall meeting and greeting with fans then and now.
Do you think as you look back on your career at this point is there a place in the world or a country that Saxon has not toured in that you would still like to play?
China we have never been to. I would love the opportunity first hand to view the country, the people it’s culture. India same thing. Would love to go there just for the food! New Zealand as well we have never played.
With all of the bands that point to Saxon as an inspiration to their style or direction do you ever feel ill at ease in meeting someone who may seem nervous in your presence? Have you ever met someone whom you looked up to as a vocalist or songwriter and had a similar reaction?
It’s hard to tell really. When we play festivals with multiple bands on the bill we have great relationships with some current bands like an American band like Machine Head for example. They are more or less contemporaries for us really although they site Saxon as an early influence. The newer bands do seem a bit nervous at times the first time you may say hello backstage. I hate to think of us as “legends” because it makes me feel old! For me I will often attend Rock Awards ceremonies in London and recently Robert Plant was only two tables away from me that was bit nerve racking. I wanted to go over and say hello but I didn’t. But yea even I get butterflies around certain musicians that I looked up to.
There seems to be no stopping Saxon in 2013 and beyond. I cannot see where there will be one defining moment ending the band. Do you ever see yourself in retirement? Will there ever be a ‘farewell tour “or do you think something like that is sometimes used by bands as a ploy to sell more tickets?
No I don’t. Maybe we should finish after this album or tour what do you think??(laughing) We’ll have another go in the studio at least one more time and see if we can better this one! We will just see how it goes. Sometimes bands do these farewell tours and change their minds. Maybe they have an argument with someone in the band and four months down the line they are suddenly friends again. We played with Judas Priest last year and that was supposed to be the end for them as well.
What is your final message to your fans Biff?
Well for one I have a great connection with our North American fans. I used to live in the Northeast for a time in the Poconos Mountain region when I was married to an American girl. I enjoyed the winters riding on my snowmobile. I love that area of the country. I love all areas of the US for different reasons. We will be back in 2013 and hope to see ya real soon!