Interview with Saxon — “It took us a long time to make it so it’s always great when people buy the album.”

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British heavy metal legends SAXON have recently released their new album, “Carpe Diem.” We talked with singer Biff Byford about the record. Read the complete interview here…

Hi Biff! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me about your new record, “Carpe Diem.” How are you doing?

I’m doing fine, thank you. Doing pretty good. I’ve been busy during the COVID lockdown pandemic. We made a new SAXON album and a couple more albums. I’ve been quite busy.

“Carpe Diem” was released last Friday; how have the reactions been so far?

So far, fantastic. We just keep our fingers crossed, as they say here in England, fantastic. There are some quite high chart entries going to be here this week, we keep our fingers crossed really. People are buying the album, which is always great. It took us a long time to make it, so it’s always great when people buy the album.

Is that something that makes you still excited, when an album of yours shows up in the charts?

It’s nice, yeah. It’s good for everybody though. It’s good for the band, it’s good for the fans, it’s good for the record companies, and it’s good for the magazines. You have to have things to write about. I think it’s good with this album, we sell a lot of physical products, so we actually sell a lot of CDs and vinyls and things, so I think it’s good that people buy the album and not just stream it. People are streaming it but they’re also buying it. We get excited about new albums coming out.

Now, first off, in comparison to your latest album, I felt that “Carpe Diem” sounded a lot heavier. I was wondering if you maybe wrote off any frustrations you had because of your personal life, having the heart issues, or the pandemic?

A little bit, not the music, because I wrote the music before the pandemic… I had a heart problem back then and then the pandemic hit, we made the album through a lot of struggles. I think the album is a very positive album. I don’t think it’s any heavier than the last two albums, but if that’s your opinion, that’s fine, but you know, we started writing this record differently. We wanted to start writing it with guitar riffs first, so maybe that’s why it sounds a bit heavier. A lot of people say it sounds a lot like albums like “Denim and Leather,” you know. So I don’t know really, it doesn’t sound heavier to me. It is a high-energy album though, there’s a lot of energy in there, I listened to it yesterday actually and it’s the first time I’ve actually listened to it for maybe 4-5 months. I think it’s fucking great. [laughs] I was quite surprised how good it is. I can understand why people like it because every track powers in and I’ve spent quite a lot of time doing the track-listing as well, so you flow through the album, you go on the journey through the album.

Regarding the dynamics, I thought it was interesting there’s a bit of a slower song in the middle of the record and then you end the record with a high-energy song. Was that something deliberate you did to keep the energy going?

Back in the day, people used to always end the albums with a slow song. I thought I’m not going to do that anymore, so I usually end up the album with a fast song… finish on a big, fast song. You are talking about “The Pilgrimage” in the middle, which is quite a slow tempo song. I think we go out with a bang, definitely.

Considering “The Pilgrimage,” you posted a text on Facebook dealing about what a pilgrimage can be. That it’s more than a historic or religious term, but that it can also mean a place that’s special in your life. Do you have a place like that or is for you going on tour a pilgrimage of some kind?

Well, I think it is. I think when you go onto these big festivals like Wacken Open Air or some of the big ones, that’s like a pilgrimage, isn’t it? A lot of people go there camping and meet each other, talking about music, and everything. I think that could pass as a pilgrimage, definitely. I think it’s a great word, pilgrimage, that’s what attracted me to it, it’s a good word, I love the word.

One thing I read in the press release is that you mentioned that you’re always trying to do something a little bit new and a little bit daring. You mentioned that you’re also struggling with the record because of the situation. What were some of the choices you made that felt like new or experimental for SAXON?

Well, I think writing a song about COVID on this album, “Remember the Fallen.” I didn’t know whether I should do it or not. I didn’t actually tell anybody I was going to do that. We had the music, but I didn’t have any lyrics and I was writing another song around it, it just came to my mind that somebody should do a song about the people that died, to remember the people that have died of COVID. Especially in the early years, when nobody understood what was happening. I wouldn’t call it brave, but I took a chance, putting that song on the album really.

To me, it seemed like people really liked that song.

They do really like that song. I agree with you.

What was a surprise to me is that other COVID songs are a little bit more melancholic and slow, yet this song was high on energy and heavy. Was that a conscious choice for you to maybe remember the people in a different way?

It’s an old school riff that we wrote for that song. For me it’s all about the melody, especially the chorus, remember their lives, remember the heroes. In some aspects, it’s a very melodic song, which needs to be for a subject like that. The song asks a question, you know what I mean? It’s why, and where did it come from, and let’s remember everybody that died from it… whether that be doctors, nurses, or just normal regular guys or people that died. But I haven’t really heard any other songs about COVID, to tell you the truth. I don’t know many other bands that have done one so far. I suppose some people will sit down on a piano and write quite a sad song, I would imagine.

That’s exactly it. Alice Cooper released a song named “Don’t Give Up” that’s a bit slower, and there are some other smaller bands. It’s great to see the differences between these songs.

Alice is more of a metal format so, you know, classic rock/metal format. But the words in the chorus are quite emotional, of course. It’s a serious song.

It is a very powerful song. One of my personal favorite tracks on this record was “Super Nova.” I was wondering if there’s anything you can tell us about that song, either musically or lyrically?

Well again, it’s quite a fast riff. Me and Nibbs wrote that song, our bass player. It’s quite a good riff. I wanted a piece in the middle that sort of brought you down to this standing, looking at the stars, looking at the heavens, so the song goes into this dreamy bit in the middle that’s the sort of bit you’re contemplating the universe. I just wanted to write a song about a supernova, the sort of… the song is based on physics really and the physics of the universe. I’m not really a scholar on it, but I did read about it and that’s where the song comes from… our sun will turn into a supernova eventually.

The title track, “Carpe Diem,” is about Hadrian’s Wall. I noticed you also filmed a music video at that location. I was wondering how the experience was for you, because it really seems like an impressive piece of history.

The part where we filmed is quite stunning because it’s right upon the top of the hills there and the wall goes up and down, cranks and cliffs, so it’s quite spectacular where that bit is. There are at least ten museums up there, all with different things they’ve found and different parts of the wall, the forts and the older… the towns, so it’s a pretty amazing place, and carved on the wall there is carpe diem, the term, which obviously means seize the day… what a fantastic title for a song. I wrote the song from that visit really, from when I first went there. Then, we went back and shot the video at exactly the same place that I had visited, so it worked out really well.

It’s a very great song and it has a very catchy chorus, because carpe diem is also obviously a hooky title as well.

I think it’s a good title for the album, carpe diem, seize the day.

Even though the song is about the wall, considering that it means to seize the day, was part of the reason you decided to go for it as the title track that it had gotten a different meaning due to the pandemic?

Yeah, definitely. I was going to call the album “The Pilgrimage” originally, but I just felt that seize the day summed up my feelings of coming out of this pandemic really, make every day the best day, seize the day. I think it’s a good motto and a very positive thing, that’s why I went with it.

You mentioned before that the album was written before the pandemic…

The bulk of the music was written before the pandemic, but music doesn’t make the song. You have to have all the melodies and the lyrics and everything else on there. Everything else was done in the pandemic. Actually the guitar riffs and the main structure we already had, so there was quite a lot done in the pandemic: all the guitar work, all my vocals, guitar solos were done. We did quite a lot of work but we had the ideas before the pandemic.

Considering that you know you created so many albums before this, was it a little bit of a different process with the situation considering?

A bit different yes, it was quite a struggle to get people together, we had to plan it. You couldn’t do it jumping in your car and drive to the studio, we had to plan it. So we had a bubble. People had to test for COVID before they went. It was quite a struggle but we did manage it, the boys went to Andy Sneap‘s studio, they came to my studio here at home, we put it together quite nicely, but it was different to the album before that.

I’m guessing that you probably miss the old way as well, so hopefully, things go back to normal again soon.

Soon, yes let’s hope so.

I guess it’s still a little bit tricky to ask about tours. In the beginning, you mentioned you already had written some music. So what else does SAXON have in the works for the coming year or so?

We’ve announced a UK tour in November. We are going to be touring Europe before that, but we can’t announce it yet because we haven’t finished guaranteeing the venues. It’s very hard to get the venues because a lot of bands hold the venues all the time. So, we have to challenge the venues so we can get them. It’s coming together quite well. Maybe in the next few days, we can announce a European tour. We are doing festivals though. You’re in Helsinki, aren’t you? We are doing festivals, we’re doing a few there actually. So yeah, people have to keep their eyes open. I don’t think… they might be 40th-anniversary shows, I don’t know if they are going to be “Carpe Diem” shows, in the summer. But anyway, it should be good. I’m sure we’re coming over there in October, definitely.

Yeah, looking forward to seeing that. Anyway, I think that’s it for my questions. Do you have any last thoughts you want to share?

Yeah, we’re coming up there into the land of midnight sun [laughs] or it can also be black as the night. We’re always coming up there and it should be good… I think we’re definitely doing Finland, I think I saw it on the sheets, but we’ll see you at the festivals anyway, definitely.

Written by Laureline Tilkin