Saxon’s Biff Byford Discusses ‘Sacrifice’ Album + Revival of ’80s Twin Guitar Sound
Saxon have been rocking metal fans since the mid-’70s and the band is continuing to crank out quality records with their ‘Sacrifice’ album being the latest. The album arrives in stores in the U.S. on March 26 and it’s already available in the U.K. and Europe.
Frontman Biff Byford recently spoke with Loudwire about the disc, their 20th studio album overall, and his desire to bring back some of the ’80s twin-guitar attack sound to this effort. He also shared some background on his powerhouse vocals, how his love of auto racing factored into one of the songs on the album, and what the rest of 2013 holds for the band.
Congratulations Biff on the band’s 20th album. That’s quite an accomplishment having a career that’s spanned long enough to reach that milestone. Can you talk about what it means to you to come this far?
Twenty albums is great. It’s pretty cool, 30 odd years making albums, that’s a good achievement actually and I think we’ve written some great songs over the years and that’s really what sets some bands apart really.
Listening to this ‘Sacrifice’ record, Biff, your voice sounds great after all these years, and ‘Sacrifice,’ the title track, we really get to see your range with some of the clean power vocals and also some gruffer stuff. Can you talk about your vocal approach and being able to pull off so much.
The thing is with the vocals, I’ve just been singing for so long and full on most of the time really and I try to keep the power on you know so it sounds like I’m standing next to you singing. That’s really the approach on this album. But yeah, I like to pull it back a bit as well, but generally, it’s full-on really. For me the melody is the first thing I have to have and then after that obviously comes the storyline. But as far as vocals are concerned, I like to sing with the sweet tones and I like to sing with the rough tones as well. It’s a good mixture.
And ‘Sacrifice’ the song, can you share where that came from?
Well I went to Mexico and we did a cruise actually a couple of years ago — 700 Tons of Metal, I think, from Miami to Mexico. And we had a guide take us around to the temple grounds down there and he told us some of the stories about human sacrifice, and I thought that would be a fantastic title for a song, you know. And that’s really where the song comes from, walking around in the temples down there.
You’re not only on this record with your playing and voice, but also you took on production for ‘Sacrifice.’ Did you have an idea of what you wanted to accomplish going in to work on it?
Well, yeah I wanted to bring a little bit of the ’80s back into the band, so we introduced a few twin guitar parts into the songs. In some of the songs, there’s a twin guitar theme that comes into the song and then we used it again. I wanted to do that because we hadn’t done that for a while and I wanted Douglas [Scarratt] and Paul [Quinn] to go back, especially Paul, to go back to the ’80s and write some of that very fast sort of more punk metal really. I suppose you could call it thrash metal. But some of the songs on there — ‘Warriors of the Road’ and ‘Stand Up and Fight’ — are pretty ’80s oriented.
You mentioned wanting to get some of that twin guitar attack in there. How fun is that as a producer to sit back and watch these guys bring it and then hear it coming back through the speakers for the first time?
It’s great actually because there’s several two part harmonies on the guitars and it works really well. Overall I guess it kind of comes from some of the bands of the ’70s like Wishbone Ash and some of the twin guitar guys that played that great stuff in Thin Lizzy. So I suppose you kind of have to narrow it down to those bands really.
You mentioned ‘Warriors of the Road’ earlier and it seems like a natural for the concert stage. Can you tell me how that track came together and your thoughts on how it will translate?
Well me and the drummer Nigel [Glockler] are big fans of F1, Indy car it would be here. So I really wanted to do a song about it. I’d done songs about motorcycles and I just wanted to write about a fast racing car really. I sort of wanted to use that synth style of ‘Motorcycle Man’ on ‘Wheels of Steel’ with the cars instead of the bikes driving the song. So it all came together really well actually and I was a big fan of Ayrton Senna and so I put a piece in the middle about him really.
Being a race fan, I’m curious, have you ever taken part in an of the celebrity races or hung out with some of your driving heroes?
I’ve been in the pits a couple of times. I know people who work and do PR there so I’ve been in the pit and it was great. It was pretty cool. [As for drivers], I was a big fan of Senna and I like Michael Schumacher. Some of them got their careers up there. They’re rock stars really. And they get better looking girls than we do these days.
I saw on the bonus content that there’s an orchestrated version of ‘Crusader.’ It’s got to be a thrill hearing orchestral backing on your music.
The guy that does it for us is a classical musician and he just works on it and sends me an idea and I’ll say, ‘Yeah, go there.’ And he’s really great. He’s got a really great flare for that type of logistic song you know. And then we’re gonna do a couple more. I think maybe later in the year there’s gonna be a release of some more unplugged stuff and it may come through. But yeah, it’s really good, really good doing that stuff.
I have to ask then, is there any thought of taking that to the stage?
Yeah we have talked about maybe a few warm-up shows with an orchestra. We have talked about it, but whether it will happen or not, I don’t know.
The band’s current lineup has been together over a decade and there has to be a comfort level there. Can you talk about how things have evolved for the band musically over the past decade together?
Well the creative process really … we’ll just start working on little ideas and that’s where they come from. We’ll go into a studio and we’ll see what each of us has and we’ll work on that as a group really. At that point, our big challenge becomes the arrangements and if we’ve got any ideas for melodies and lyrics. But yeah, we just bash it around and see where the music takes us really.
Probably my favorite track on this album would be ‘Stand Up and Fight.’ It feels like a two-fold message, serving as advice for the younger generation of rockers and a motivator to yourself not to lose sight of what matters. What inspired you to write that track?
I actually wrote that song with my son. I wrote those words for my son actually. He plays guitar, so yeah, it was a two-pronged thing really. It’s a song about us and it’s a song about future generations as well.
Getting out to play this record live, any songs you’re really interested to see how they translate?
We’ll see. We’re gonna try some this week and we might try a few more in South America so we’ll just see how it goes. We’ve rehearsed four or five of the songs and we might rehearse a few more in soundchecks. We’ll see how it goes.
In closing, beyond the album release, what’s on the horizon for Saxon?
There’s South America and then we start in the U.K. after that. We’re gonna be touring all year actually and we’re gonna be trying to get some dates in the States after summer maybe.
Our thanks to Saxon’s Biff Byford for chatting with us. Fans can order the new Saxon album, ‘Sacrifice,’ online via iTunes here.