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Exclusive Interview: Biff Byford from Saxon
With a storming new stomp in their boots and a renewed, lithe swagger to their legendary sound, Saxon just released their 20th album Sacrifice. Taking a sharper, re-invigorated approach to the production, Saxon have produced 10 of their strongest, heaviest and most inspired songs – a more than worthy successor to their last album A Call To Arms.
“Less tricks, more power!” roars frontman and founding father Biff Byford. “My brief to the band was to be raw, be real and not be afraid to look back at the old classic material for inspiration.”
The album was recorded at LS Studios in Yorkshire and was produced by Byford with Andy Sneap mixing and engineering by Jacky Lehmann. It fairly bristles with muscular metallic intent, Paul Quinn’s and Doug Scarratt’s guitar work the best it’s ever been, while Biff’s vocals sound fresher and livelier. The songwriting too harks back to a classic era in Saxon’s history, with the likes of ‘Warriors Of The Road’, ‘Wheels Of Terror’ and ‘Stand Up And Fight’ evoking the halcyon days of yore with a contemporary twist.
“It’s certainly been done from a more early ‘80s thrashier perspective,” explains Biff, “and it’s not just guitars bashing away willy-nilly. They’ve got a fresh drive, purpose and perspective.”
Besides the new material, Saxon will also be adding some unique recordings of revisited classic to certain formats of the release, also produced by Byford and mastered by Andy Sneap, including an orchestrated version of ‘Crusader’ and an acoustic version of ‘Frozen Rainbow’.
“From the songs to the production, I wanted to focus on the raw aspects which made us great in the first place,” concludes Biff, “And living in that rawness, combined with some great classic Saxon-songwriting, has in my opinion made Saxon fresher than ever.”
Rock Confidential caught up with Biff Byford before the album’s release to discuss the makings of Sacrifice.
I’m really excited about this album. The songwriting is classic Saxon but Sacrifice may be on the of the heaviest records you’ve ever done.
Yeah, it’s definitely heavy. I produced it myself so I wanted it to be heavier than the last one. We started off as a heavy band and I wanted to go back there a little bit. It’s a different kind of heavy, though. We went back to the 80s a bit more on some of the songs. It’s obviously still Saxon – there’s just a bit more of a bite to it.
I love the guitar tones on Sacrifice and your voice has never sounded better.
The voice is sounding pretty good these days! I don’t do anything with it. I just take a breath and sing, really. (laughs)
Your last album, A Call To Arms, was a hit with fans and help reestablish the band. Was there added pressure to write a follow-up to such a successful album?
We take every album as they come. Of course we want every album to be successful. We don’t look back. I wanted it to be an intense experience. There are no ballads on the album. It’s full-on. There’s so fairly melodic stuff on there but it’s mixed in with some very heavy guitar riffs. That’s all part of the unique Saxon signature I suppose.
What was it like working with Andy (Sneap) this time around?
I produced the record myself and Andy mixed it. He did a great job. We talked a bit about the direction. I just wanted Gibsons and Marshalls. I wanted that sound – to bring a live element to the album. He definitely knows how to twiddle the knobs.
The bonus disc is great. It seems like the band was really inspired right during the recording of Sacrifice.
I wanted the band to look at what made us tick in the early days. What is it that Metallica likes about early Saxon? There’s a certain thrash element they like and we went back to that a little bit.
I noticed Sacrifice is available on vinyl. I’m pleasantly surprised how vinyl has taken off the past few years.
It’s great. Every time we release an album we do more and more vinyl. Vinyl is a brand new experience for some of our younger fans so it’s really cool. I’d like to see 8-tracks and cassettes. I like all the formats.
I’ve got to ask. As excited as the metal world is for a new Saxon record there are a few hints that not everyone in the band wants to continue the run after the next tour.
We’re touring until Christmas this year so we’re doing a long tour. We’re trying to get back to America. We’re gonna see what happens. We’ll have a rest after this tour. We’ve been working now for three or four years non-stop. We’ll have a rest and do a few other projects maybe. There will be another Saxon album definitely.
You don’t seem like a guy that wants to rest…
The rest of the guys can have a rest. I’ll carry on and do something else.
What about a solo album? Have you started working on any song ideas yet?
I’ve got a few song ideas. It’s basically the same idea, really. Maybe just not as heavy. I don’t play as heavy as the guys do. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll write some songs and they may all be rubbish! Then again they could all be fantastic. For me I have to write songs from the heart – not the brain. Using your head is OK to work things out but the words need to come from the heart.
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