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A Lifetime Of Sacrifice: An Exclusive Interview With Biff Byford of SAXON

By Larry Petro, News Monkey
Sunday, July 14, 2013 @ 1:47 PM

"We've always thought of ourselves as a unique, groundbreaking band and I thought we lost that spirit a little bit in the 90's but we certainly got it back again."

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Few bands can say that they have withstood the test of time like British heavyweights SAXON. The band was part of the NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) in the late 70's and early 80's and now have a career that has lasted well over 35 years. With the release of Sacrifice, the bands 20th studio record, they once again have proven that they are a metal force to be reckoned with. I had a chance to chat with the legendary frontman, Biff Byford about the band's longevity, the recording process and what advice he would give to upstart young bands. Enjoy!

KNAC.COM: Congrats on the release of Sacrifice, the band's 20th studio album. Were you aware of that milestone when you first started recording it?

BYFORD: No, someone, I don't remember who, but they told us, this is your 20th album, and we're like, oh, okay. We weren't really aware of it, we were just trying to write a really great album.

KNAC.COM: Now, the title, Sacrifice, seems to be reflective of your life and career in the band.

BYFORD: (Chuckle) Yeah, a little bit. I guess you have to sacrifice a little bit of normal living to be in a band and all that.

KNAC.COM: But that wasn't the reason you came up with that title.

BYFORD: No, it's actually about human sacrifice in South America, but yeah, it has other connotations I suppose.

KNAC.COM: What was different about your approach to Sacrifice as opposed to other SAXON material that you've released recently?

BYFORD: Pretty much the same approach really. Just trying to write great songs and I produced it myself so I wanted it to be heavy in a sort of way that's, you know, the riffs are very raw. Just to be more from the heart, not from the head, you know? Just let it go and not be too paranoid about your technique. Leave in the imperfections and see how it goes.

KNAC.COM: It does have a very raw, kind of thrashy feel to it and it's a terrific album, start to finish.

BYFORD: It's a good album, it makes you feel good. If you like rock music it just gives you this glow about it. We used our live engineer to record it, so it gave it that live edge to the sound and I thought that worked pretty well.

KNAC.COM: Do you find that the recording process has gotten easier over the years or more difficult?

BYFORD: The recording is definitely easier now. With the digital thing you've got much more scope and leeway. You don't have to decide on Friday which tape to keep, you can leave it until Saturday. It gives you a little bit more time to think about things. It's pretty cool really.

KNAC.COM: What's the biggest challenge for you personally when working on a new album?

BYFORD: Getting the balance right between the songs. It's all important really, but if you're going to be writing songs like "Sacrifice" then you have to have something to balance that. We don't want to be a totally modern metal band, we want to have that spirit of the 80's about us as well, and that's very important.

KNAC.COM: One thing that always amazes me with bands such as SAXON that have the longevity that you have had, over 35 years now, is that you can continually come up with things to write songs about.

BYFORD: (laughs) Well, I suppose that's me really, you know? Just trying to think of different, interesting things. I can write cliche rock lyrics until the cows come home but for me, I want something a bit better, something with a bit more meat on the bones. Some sort of story about some mythical something or other. And then there's songs like "Standing In A Queue", that are total tongue-in-cheek, you know?

KNAC.COM: And that song I found interesting because it sounded like you were speaking from personal experience.

BYFORD: Hey, we stand in a lot of queues. I stood in one yesterday at Kennedy (airport). It's just one of those things.

KNAC.COM: It's almost like that's the way our lives are now, standing in lines, in the queues.

BYFORD: Exactly. A lot of people on one end of the queue and a lot of people in the queue.

KNAC.COM: SAXON has been on numerous record labels through he years. Do you attirbute that to perserverance and changing with the times or just business decisions?

BYFORD: Ehhh, we're changing with the times really. We've gone with some great companies over the years. We went from Carrere Records to Warner Brothers to Virgin to EMI, so we've had some great companies. Some of the companies were better than others but mostly we've been distributed pretty well around the world over the last 30 years.

KNAC.COM: Speaking of changing with the times, how has the band managed to avoid the temptation to conform your musical sound to fit the current musical trends of the day?

BYFORD: We've always thought of ourselves as a unique, groundbreaking band and I thought we lost that spirit a little bit in he 90's but we certainly got it back again. That's the way we look on ourselves. We try to write songs and create music that is unique.

KNAC.COM: That reminds me of the last time the band played here in Houston. About 4 or 5 songs into the set you basically crumbled up the setlist and went impromptu the rest of the night and that's pretty much a microcosm of the band really, refusing to follow the rules.

BYFORD: Well yeah, you can do that in theater and club shows, it's pretty cool. Obviously, when you're in a big festival in front of 100,000 people you have to stick to the setlist because of the production. It's a little bit more theatrical. But I like to do that, you know, let the audience choose the songs.

KNAC.COM: So which do you prefer, playing in front of thousands of people or playing for hundreds in a club setting?

BYFORD: Oh, they're both great as long as the audience is cool and are really into it. They're both great but that's why bands like to play the smaller venues, because it's more intimate and the sound's usually better. You're not restricted by other band's performances and you have time to play more songs.

KNAC.COM: Do you listen to any of the new bands that are out there today?

BYFORD: Liiiike who?

KNAC.COM: Any newer bands, you know, the ones who haven't been around for 20, 25 or 30 years.

BYFORD: Oh, you know, there's all sorts of different rock now, isn't there? There's our rock, like Maiden, Priest, MOTORHEAD that are more classic rock based, more melodic. There's the sort of newer metal like MACHINE HEAD. I suppose these days you have bands like FOO FIGHTERS, MUSE and 30 SECONDS TO MARS that seem to be getting all the airplay and the big video budgets but it's all pretty much the same 7 chords, you know? It's just the way you play it.

KNAC.COM: What advice would you give to an up and coming band that's dreaming of achieving the longevity that SAXON has had?

BYFORD: They have to listen to our song "Stand Up And Fight", which was written for bands like that, but I think the key to it, and this is the hardest thing that one can possibly do, but the newer bands have to come up with that one song that a generation will latch onto. And it's just really, really, really in the lap of the gods as to whether you can do that or not. But that's what bands are writing for really, whether it be SAXON with "Denim And Leather" or Maiden with "Run to The Hills" or MOTORHEAD with "Ace Of Spades" or JUDAS PRIEST's "Breaking The Law". It's endless, isn't it? It goes on and on. Bands are looking to write some epic tracks to go on and on beyond the band. That's what young bands just have to try and get really, a song that moves a generation.

KNAC.COM: SAXON's managed to attain the longevity really without getting much airplay.

BYFORD: That's right, we don't get a lot of airplay, we virtually get no airplay, so whatever audience we have these days is done through the internet and playing live. The internet's a powerful tool and we use it every day.

KNAC.COM: In that regard, for the new technology that's out there, the internet social media, is SAXON taking advantage of that or are you kind of trying to stay old school?

BYFORD: Oh no, we've come right up through the digital revolution. We use all the technical stuff and some analog as well. Our new video is up on YouTube and doing very well, getting lots of hits, but I think it's got more to do with the girl that's in it than the band (laughs), but that's how it is, you know, we're on a crusade to bring more girls back into heavy metal videos. We love working on the internet, it's great.

KNAC.COM: With the dawn of all the technology that's out there you have the opportunity to reach far more people than you did in he past.

BYFORD: And that's great thing about new bands as well as us. A new band can have a song that's a hit on YouTube before they even have a record deal! People have to learn to use it.

KNAC.COM: Do you appreciate the fact that younger fans continue to come out and see SAXON play?

BYFORD: Oh yeah, it's great. It's one of the reasons we've survived. You know, our hardcore fans have stayed loyal and we've picked up a lot of new fans along the way. I think the same goes for other bands like Maiden, MOTORHEAD, we're picking up new fans all the time.

KNAC.COM: You also recently released the Heavy Metal Thunder movie and at the end of the movie is this massive list of thanks to the fans that contributed and donated to he project. How long was that in the making?

BYFORD: About a year actually. The people that made it took it steady. The thing is, a lot of people who make documentaries do it in like 2 or 3 weeks and that one was done over a period so it has a bit of a proper documentary feel about it, rather than something that someone just hashed together, and I think it makes a difference.

KNAC.COM: It's been duly noted that SAXON has never really achieved the American success level of say, your counterparts in IRON MAIDEN and JUDAS PRIEST. Does that ever bother you or do you just use that as motivation to put out better records?

BYFORD: I think that's what motivates us really. We're still able to write great songs so we're still able to, you know, it's never too late. We have this cult following in America and there's something pretty cool about being a cult band. It's never too late to have a hit.

KNAC.COM: After putting out some great heavy metal records for over 35 years, how much gas is left in the SAXON tank?

BYFORD: We're pretty full actually. We're running on diesel so it lasts longer (laughs).

KNAC.COM: You don't have plans anytime soon of giving that up?

BYFORD: Not really, no, we're already talking about new projects and things to do so no, we're pretty happening at the moment.

KNAC.COM: And doing everything as a band and not thinking about any kind of solo stuff?

BYFORD: Yeah, I might do a bit of a solo thing on the next album, you know. We've got a lot of work to do this year on the album, working it through Christmas probably, so it's heads down, backs to the wall and just go for it.

KNAC.COM: Do you write material, say for the next album, when you're out on the road?

BYFORD: Not usually, no, we're too busy partying (laughs).

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