Saxon are a band that require no introduction. They are OGs of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and have been melting faces and kicking ass across continents when today's metalheads were nothing more than an idea – or mistake – in the minds of mom's and dad's across the globe.
Living legend frontman Biff Byford caught up with Metal Injection for a deep dive into Saxon's cover's album aptly titled Inspirations, the bands' DIY recording process at the hallowed Brockfield Hall, their takes on classic cuts from Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Deep Purple and others, and upcoming 23rd Saxon record and very special family collaboration.
On Origins of Inspirations
We haven't played together really for such a long time now. I wanted something fun for the band to do. And I always wanted to record an album away from the studio in a big house or a big building, you know? And we had the opportunity in this lockdown to do that. And it's just something fun, something different for the fans. There aren't any tours so there's quite a few albums coming out. But, you know, most of them just come out. There's no real force behind them. So I just thought doing an album about what inspired us as teenagers would be interesting.
On a Throwback Recording Process
It was all live. We lived in the house. We ate in the house. It was a complete lockdown in England, so we couldn't go anywhere, only you could go and get a takeaway, which is pretty awful anyway. So my wife was making us food and I was taking it and serving it on the big table. And it was great, actually. It was really good fun. And it was really like the old days, you know? We weren't really making albums in the 70s in that period. The first album we made was like early 79. So we didn't have a chance to do that. We didn't have the freedom to do it, to get all the old sounds. We use a lot of vintage guitars. Instead of having a mobile studio outside like we used to back in the day, we made a studio in the library.
On Tackling Classic Songs
It was important to keep the songs as pure as possible. What we did is we took the song pieces and we based it all around the guitar. We tried different ways of playing, trying to get the songs heavier in a more Saxon style, particularly in things like "Paperback Writer" and "Hold the Line". We wanted to play them heavier than the originals, and the same with Rolling Stones, and Hendrix, actually. So we just basically concentrated on the guitar riffs and took away all the keyboards and all the extra frills that you get. And then we came at it from a more basic level, and I think it worked really well.
My vocals, I didn't want to try and sound like anybody else, so I kept it sort of quite neutral to me, you know what I mean? So my voice is singing the songs, but it's quite difficult because these guys were like young guys, 19, 20, 25. So to try and go in and infuse that enthusiasm and passion into the song, we have to really work hard on that. We did it by recording very quickly and rehearsing well and then recording very quickly, that's what we did. And that's what we used to do back in the 70s.
On Eras of Change in Music
It was a great time, and the 60s was a fantastic time. I was only 13 or 12 years old when I first saw The Beatles on TV and heard their first single. So that was my starting point I think, being born in the 50s. You know, that was the first time I really saw a band playing together with electrical instruments and having a good time, basically. As it moved further and things got heavier with Hendrix and Queen and a few American bands as well, we started to like the long haired musical people, like they used to call it back then (laughs). We weren't really into the flower power thing so much in England. So it was a bit heavier, what we went for.
I think from 70, right up to 77, 78, there were a lot of bands sort of making their mark, playing completely unique styles of music. We sort of wanted to be those bands basically. And that's why we did what we do. And that's why the album is called Inspirations, because some songs on there are by bands that inspired us. Some songs on there actually influenced the way we write music. It's like a two pronged thing, the album.
On Four Decades of Saxon
I don't think bands really have any plans for the future. I think bands write music and make albums and it just goes on from there. I don't think people have a super plan. I think what people try to do and what bands try to do is make sure the next album is better than the one before. Sometimes they fail miserably. That process through the years, each album is a benchmark of how the band's growing and sometimes it's a benchmark about how the band gets it wrong, if you know what I mean. You're able to look through a bands career musically and see the highs and lows. But again, it's down to people's opinion.
You know, some guys will like some albums. Some guys won't like that album. So you can't really win. I mean, at the end of the day, it's the public at the end of the line that buys the album. The fans of the band, they decide which are the best albums, which aren't the best albums. You can get played on radio and you can be in magazines and if the fans don't dig the songs for me, it's not really a hit, if you know what I'm saying.
On New Material & Future Plans
I had my solo album last year that came out. Before the lockdown actually the album had just come out and I was about to tour and we had to cancel the tour. And the album did OK, but it sort of made a big dent in the promotion. But you know, we've been writing and we've been making the next Saxon album. That's more or less finished now. I just have to finish the vocals on it.
At the moment we're recording an album with my son, so that's coming out this year as well. So I've just finished vocals on that and we're now doing some guitar parts and guitar solos. So yeah, we're having great fun with that. We've changed from being a live band into being a recording band again, which is how it was in the early years. But we're all ready to go for the live stuff again. We're not really too concerned about it, but it is a bit difficult when you're not playing live because you've got no outlet for your energy.
On Saxon's 23rd Record
I don't think we're going to change too much. We sort of experimented a little bit at the end of the 80s and it didn't really twang with the audience. We sort of more kept it heavy over the last 15 years. So it'll be different than Thunderbolt. Obviously we're not playing by numbers, you know? Each song we hope is going to be better than the song we've written before, but like I've said it's down to the fans. I've just been listening to it last week, the album, and there's some great riffs on there, some great subjects. I just got to get my head around the melodies and start singing it. That'll be coming out in February I think.
On Continued Passion to Perform
I think we're all pretty passionate about what we do and we really love playing live. And we love touring. I think our music, our genre of music, is very live. When we make albums we try to make them as live as possible, so live is very important. I think some bands just go on tour every two or three years. But we like to go out on every album and sometimes we go out every year on long tours. It's just where promoters will pay us to go.
Once the COVID thing settles down, hopefully then the gigs will come back on again and that'll be great for people for the first time we play again. People will go crazy.