SAXON: The Call To Arms Interview of Rock Icon Biff Byford

Written by on October 20, 2011 in Interviews, October 20, 2011 - 1 Comment

SaxonInterview by: The Atomic Chaser and The Rocker

All Access magazine (AAM): Hey Biff, how are you?

Biff Byford (BIFF): Sorry about being late, we had a live radio station that went a bit crazy.

AAM: Let’s talk about the new album Call To Arms, Was there a certain approach to the recording of this CD versus how you approached recording your previous ones?

BIFF: We wanted a bit of a change from our last three albums, which were obviously fantastic albums, but we just wanted to get back to our roots a bit more into the 80’s thing, like when we started. We sort of rethought a bit how we were writing and how I was writing lyrics. We just tried to bring the spirit of the 80’s really onto the album I think it worked really well and it’s quite retro sounding, but really in your face so we’re quite happy with that.

AAM: Well there are 10 songs on the album, how many songs did you record for this album?

BIFF: We recorded 11 so there’s a bonus track you can download on iTunes. We don’t particularly agree with that, but the record company likes it so, you know.

AAM: We see that you co-produced this album with Toby Jebsen, is that the Toby Jebsen from the Little Angels and new singer for Fastway?

BIFF: That’s right, yea he’s a good mate of mine? He’s a singer guitarist and he lives quite close to me on the coast. We’ve wanted him to work with the band for quite some time. So we sort of gave him a job. (laughing) Now he’s a friend and he’s really into the early Saxon stuff. He just likes the way it draws you in, that sort of sound of the 80’s. Basically his job was to try and capture the performance of the musicians on the album where my job was more on the arrangements and what people played, so it was a pretty good partnership really.

AAM: The chemistry working together with a co-producer, were you guys on the same page as far as what you wanted and it’s obvious from what the outcome was.

BIFF: Yea you know we were on the same page. I wanted to do what he was suggesting, but I didn’t want to suddenly lose all our new fans by changing totally. It’s a mixture really of new Saxon and the old Saxon which is pretty perfect, I think.

AAM: Let’s talk about a couple of songs on the new album, one of them ‘Back In ’79’ for some reason it brought back a lot of good memories, as I was 16 at the time. I remember Donnington. With you guys The Scorpions, Judas Priest and, I believe, Trust (Biff adds April Wine and Rainbow) I was gonna ask, are there any fond memories that stick out about that show?

BIFF: Yea, we were the new band, everyone else was pretty established. It was great and walking out in front of 70,000 people, I mean. Basically, Wheels Of Steel sold 200,000 records in England by the time we walked out on stage and the reception we got was absolutely amazing.

AAM: Wheels of Steel was our introduction to Saxon and we were totally blown away by how you guys sounded live last night.

BIFF: Yea I know again, I mean, it wasn’t a huge production we just went there with our Marshalls and Gibsons and a couple of microphones and our road crew you know it’s all down to the passion and the power of the songs, it really is.

AAM: Now back to the album Call To Arms, we see in the liner notes that you worked with Don Airey on a couple of tracks.

BIFF: Yea, he’s a big mate of ours, we knew him from the 80’s he toured with Ozzy Osbourne and us for a while. He’s a great keyboard player from the 80’s he played with everybody, so. He brought the great church style to the album as well. “Mists of Avalon” especially. I ran into him at the American Embassy in London we were cueing for our Visas. It’s a funny story, all the musicians and actors go at 8 o’clock in the morning so they don’t have to stand in the cue with everyone else, it’s funny but you have to get there really early and he was in the cue. He was getting his Visa for the Deep Purple tour. So I said, we’re just writing the new album, we’re recording, do you fancy playing on a song? And he said. “Sure, some other day.” So that’s how we got to him really, just an accident.

AAM: The other song he played on is “When Doomsday Comes” and you mentioned on stage last night that this song is gonna be featured in a film?

BIFF: Yea, they start shooting next year I think, January or February. It’s a sort of Sci-Fi sort of shoot’em up film. About someone messing around with the DNA between aliens and humans, it goes wrong. Anyways we wrote two songs for the film. “When Doomsday Comes” is a bit Zeppelinish, really. It’s a dark, dark song you know, we like it ,really, we like doing that kind of stuff.

AAM: Well the title track, ‘Call To Arms’, first off, is an instant classic in a sense that it has that melodic power in the beginning then it breaks into the riffs, but it’s basically a soldier’s song for any generation.

BIFF: Yea it’s a soldier’s song, it’s a sad song, you know, about soldiers going off to war. I read a book of letters they found, they put all the letters together from the first World War, American, British and French soldiers they compiled the letters in a book. Some of them are funny, some of them are sad. It inspired me to write the lyric really, but I suppose it’s the same for Afghanistan or any of these wars soldiers go off to fight these days. It’s a powerful song.

AAM: Now there’s an alternative version on the album which features an orchestra. Are you still working with the Symphony?

BIFF: Yea we’re working with different things, we might do a Symphonic show next year maybe in Warsaw, I mean it’s been talked about. It’s like all these really big shows they have to get sponsorship and things that’s what they’re looking for, a beer company or something, Monster drink or something. Rockstar, Red Bull, somebody will do it.

AAM: Biff, what’s the recipe for Saxon’s success as far as longevity, as so many bands have come and gone and Saxon has made it through the ages. What’s the secret to your success?

BIFF: I think one of the secrets is the songs. We try really hard to always write great songs that rock fans can listen to and get off on. But I think the quality of songs is very important. Once the quality of the songs goes that’s when the bands stop, I think. You have to have a high standard. You have a legacy of songs from the past, I think you have to at least try and play something as good, if not better. Our fan base is very loyal.

AAM: The set list you guys put together for the show last night was great and thank you, by the way, for doing “Rock-n-Roll Gypsies”. Will this set list change from city to city?

BIFF: We may tweak it just a little bit. We’re thinking of putting in “Dogs Of War” maybe, which is a great live track. We’re pretty happy with the set actually. It’s about two hours, it’s a long set. There’s like four bands on before us.

AAM: With the Saxon catalog there are so many songs you could have played, we’re glad you did a song from Into The Labyrinth, but with the old songs you could tell the diehard fans knew word for word because they sang along with you.

BIFF: Yea, it definitely was a great crowd last night and it was a great atmosphere. You know we had just flown in from Europe so we were pretty jetlagged and the audience raised our game, it was a great gig.

AAM: How many gigs are you playing in California? You played last night, are you playing another one again tonight?

BIFF: No we’re not, we’re in Venice Beach tonight, we’re just hanging out. We’re in Santa Rosa tomorrow or Santa Clara then Santa Ana, so we’re doing a lot of Santas. Then we go off to Las Vegas. Yea, we’ve done about 4 or 5 shows on the west coast so far. Obviously the venues must be into Saxon out here.

AAM: When was the last time you played Los Angeles, you mentioned The Whisky last night.

BIFF: Yea, I think we played The Whisky when we did the tour with UDO. I can’t remember when it was it must have been 2001-2 or 3 or something. I think this tour is a bit stronger I think it’s definitely coming back, we’re really in a good place at the moment.

AAM: How has the Internet and Social Media which wasn’t available to you guys 20 years ago, how has that changed you guys?

BIFF: Tremendously, it really works in your favor now. People in China can watch you, India, we get a lot of fan mail from different places. It’s great, some of the songs have took on a new meaning, “Crusaders” has a million hits on YouTube, “747” is the same. Some of the songs have gone a bit ballistic now. It’s a great thing for bands, a great thing for young bands, as well. It’s a good outlet. You can make a cheap video and stick it on YouTube.

AAM: Are there any bands out there right now that you guys would like to tour with?

Biff: Well Anvil are coming out in Europe with us as a special guest. We love them guys, they’ve been out with us before. A couple of bands, a band called Crimes Of Passion are pretty happening, Vanderbuyst another band and in England we got Hammerfall supporting us. There’s a lot of good bands around, they just need to try and get their profile higher.

AAM: What’s next for you guys?

Biff: Well, we finish the tour on December 20 and then we’re having a break for Christmas and the New Year. I think we’re gonna go out and do some big festivals. We may try and get back to the States and South America again. See how the album goes, and see how the profile rises. There’s a lot of hardcore fans here that really love us and there are a lot of fans out there who WERE our fans that just need to be re-activated, and let them know we are still around making great music. You know there’s a lot of work to do, I think, and like you said a lot of new fans getting into us so I think we need to spend some time on America definitely.

AAM: Biff, we can’t express enough how appreciative we are that you’d talk to us, being longtime fans and all. The show was amazing and we wish you all the luck this year, we have no doubt that this record will do well for you guys.

BIFF: Why, thank you very much and it won’t be from the lack of trying put it that way. We’re touring heavy on this album this year. Good to talk to you guys and thank you very much.

Since 1979 Saxon has brought us some great memories with their music, live shows and videos. Call To Arms is a reflection of this, with their songs, stage presence and still more videos. After so many years Saxon is still around doing what they do best and that’s giving the fans what they want.

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