RUSHONROCK editor Simon Rushworth caught up with singer Biff Byford to talk new album Sacrifice, songwriting and last summer’s Download experience.
Look out for more exclusive interviews right here soon.
rushonrock: Sacrifice is a controversial album title – what’s the story behind it?
Biff Byford: It’s not particularly significant. I went to Mexico and had a tour of the Mayan ruins and was fascinated by it all. I wrote a song around that called Sacrifice – it was one of the first songs I pulled together for the new album. It was early on in the songwriting process and it was one of my favourites. I’ve been to Mexico a few times and it’s always an inspiration. But Sacrifice is just a good heavy metal song and a powerful title for an album.
rushonrock: After 20 studio albums is there room for experimentation or is it all about improving on a tried and tested formula?
BB: We don’t really have a tried and tested formula – even after all of these years! Look at the difference between Sacrifice and Made In Belfast on the new record. It’s massive. There’s no formula there. Sometimes Saxon songs are full-on metal and sometime they’re not. Sometimes the songs are a little more sophisticated. I just wanted Sacrifice the album to sound like I imagined it sounding when I was going through the songwriting – and it does. There are no ballads on there – it’s pretty intense. I think we’ve broken new ground and, at the same time, gone back to our early 80s roots. A couple of tracks are more flashy metal songs but there’s a good mix.
rushonrock: There are references to ‘Steel’ and ‘Wheels’ on Sacrifice – is this intentional as a nod to the Saxon faithful?
BB: They’re not intentional. I just came up with those lyrics for the new album and they’re good metal words and good words to sing. Wheels Of Terror is something we wrote for a video game called Tank. The developers approached us to write the song for the game and the advertising campaign. But that and Walking The Steel are pretty classic Saxon song titles. Are they a nod to what we did in the 80s? I’m not sure. There are a lot of new metal bands out there right now who have a pretty retro sound and there’s nothing wrong with that. As a vocalist I just like to go to places other singers can’t reach and there are certain words and certain songs that help me do that.
rushonrock: As well as showcasing Sacrifice will the current UK tour reflect the fact that this is the 30th anniversary of Power & The Glory?
BB: It might. We have started playing the title track from Power & The Glory at a few festival shows and there are some very good songs on that record. We’ll definitely play the title track but the rest of the band has got to buy into it if we’re going to play some other stuff. We’ve done the Wheels Of Steel album in its entirety and in Tokyo we did Strong Arm Of The Law one night and Denim And Leather the next. So we’re not averse to celebrating our older records when the time is right!
rushonrock: Do you ever feel under pressure to play a ‘standard’ Saxon setlist or is there plenty of room for manoeuvre?
BB: There’s definitely room for manoeuvre. Sometimes the length of festival sets means we’ll play more of the hits and less of the new material but on the whole we try to mix things up. We don’t play all of the classics all of the time and sometimes we get the fans to choose the songs. Hopefully a Saxon set works for most people on any given night. It is weird revisiting some of the older tracks. In the last couple of years we’ve played Sixth Form Girls from Strong Arm Of The Law for the first time in ages and Suzie Hold On from Wheels Of Steel. They’re songs we don’t normally do but when the mood takes us… It’s always good fun throwing in something unexpected even though it’s quite stressful for the band trying to get it right in rehearsals!
rushonrock: You played a classic setlist at Donington last summer – how does it feel to have become main regulars again in recent years?
BB: It’s great. There’s not too much time to warm up or really get going – we’re not used to playing 35 minutes. But we’re a band that can put a great set together in that time. There were a lot of people who came down to see us at Download last summer despite the fact that we were on early. The audience was fantastic- I think there were around 65,000 people watching us. Of course it would be nice to inch a little bit higher up the bill in years to come but there are loads of bands who’d love to be in our position on the main stage. We could have headlined one of the tents but then people would have asked why we weren’t on the main stage!
rushonrock: Can you believe how much the Donington festival experience has evolved since 1980?
BB: The first festival was a one-day event and so it was never going to be on such a grand scale. Logistically it was a lot easier to run. People came in and out on the day. It was nothing like the monster event it is now. Download, Wacken and Sweden Rock – we’ve played them all and they’re just huge operations. The thing we love about festivals now is seeing all of our old mates and getting to hang out back stage with bands coming in and those about to head off again. Last summer I was talking to Jack Black at one point and the vibe was great. It’s such a cool VIP area. It’s a chance to do press and build the band’s profile and it’s so professional compared to the early days.
rushonrock: Of the bands on the bill last year who can carry the metal flag forward?
BB: I love Trivium – I think they’re great. They had a good time on the main stage on the same day as us. I thought they were brilliant. I watched them with Jack Black and they smashed it. We stayed around for Metallica who were superb and I did hang around to watch Black Veil Brides after we finished…
rushonrock: They didn’t have the best of times sandwiched in between Saxon and Trivium…
BB: I felt a little bit sorry for them to be honest. They were in between a rock and hard place and we didn’t make it easy for them! To me with any band it’s all about the songs but they’re pretty good at what they do. At Donington they looked great and played well. I don’t think they could have done much more. But a lot of the music is based around the look and the attitude and maybe that didn’t go down too well. In a couple of years they’ll write a song that will resonate with rock fans all over – not just their own.
rushonrock: So what are Saxon’s plans after the UK tour?
BB: We’re doing a run of headline festival shows and we’ll be taking the giant eagle with us. We’ll be playing in front of 75,000 people one night and 2,000 people the next but we’re capable of doing that – we’re old pros now. But it would be nice to bring the full production to the UK sometime soon. Bloodstock would have been a good festival for us to do that but they didn’t think we could headline there which is a shame.