Music video for the title track of Saxon’s new album, Carpe Diem.
Biff Byford is an icon of Heavy Metal. There are no two ways about it. The vocalist, chief songwriter and leader of British Metal titans Saxon since their inception in the mid-70s, Mr. Byford has been delivering phenomenal albums time after time and one can argue that they have been on a run of extreme consistency since the early 2000s, with their latest album, 2022’s Carpe Diem, being yet again another great entry to their ever-increasing catalog.
I had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Byford for half an hour three days ago to discuss the new album, the possible plans for touring, a bit about his other projects, production and a lot more. It was a really interesting discussion and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did making it.
Well, first of all, thank you so much for this opportunity, Mr. Byford.
How are you?
I’m doing good, I’m doing good.
I’m actually curious: When you’re doing these promotional interviews for new albums, what are the parts of the process that you hate the most?
Ah, I don’t hate any of it, really. It’s very time-consuming. I mean, today I started at five o’clock and I don’t finish ‘til nine o’clock. Thing is I think it’s all part of the job, really. If you want to be successful and you want people to know about the album, I think you have to do interviews, so I don’t mind. I don’t really have a problem with it.
And focusing now on the new record, Carpe Diem. Now that you’re about to release it, being so close to the album, what are the things that you like about it the most so far?
I like the feel of the album. A very positive, very high energy album. I like the energy and the positivity we have created in the album. I think we had a bit of an experiment by starting the songs with a guitar riff before I started writing the songs and I think it worked really well for this album.
Because sometimes I would write things around chord progressions or a lot of choruses or melodies or the other guys will have a keyboard part, but on this album, the songs started with a guitar riff and we’re all very talented and we all play guitar, so we all put in our ideas and I pick out the ideas that excited me and to take forward. Obviously that’s how I did it.
Music video for Saxon’s Remember the Fallen from their latest album, Carpe Diem.
Yeah, and I was listening to the singles, the title track and Remember the Fallen, and I couldn’t help but notice that it was a bit more reminiscent of 80s Saxon than the recent albums. I know you have been working on this album since 2020. Did that process influence the approach of sounding like that era of Saxon?
I don’t think so because we sort of did it before COVID. No, the idea that I had was before COVID. Actually, it was from my heart attack (the idea) that I had two and a half years ago. But I think it gave me a lot more time to think about melodies, lyrics, some things about the arrangements and I think a lot of it (the album) was done against all of that adversity. It was a bit of a struggle to do the album, to give the album a lot of energy, because we weren’t really together very much (due to the pandemic) in the last two years.
We have done other albums ever since: we have done Inspirations (their covers album, which came out in 2021), I did an album with my son, which is called Heavy Water, but I think there’s a lot of passion in the album and I think that’s sort of why you get that 80s flavor because of the guitar riffs and because there was a lot of passion in the album.
And I think I can speak for everybody in the Metal community that we’re very happy that you’re healthy and well and that you’re making music after your health problems.
Yeah, it’s pretty good. It took me a while to train my voice and to sing again after the operation. It’s quite difficult when they cut you open and sow you back together, so yeah, the whole thing was a struggle, I think. And I just focus on staying positive and work hard to get back to a point before… you know, this album is special for us because, in England, it’s the end of the pandemic now, or well, that pandemic. Hopefully another one doesn’t come, but there’s a little bit of freedom and which is why I called it Seize The Day (Carpe Diem) because I think that’s a positive message.
Yeah, and I think all that adversity, in a way, made this album a bit more special to you, am I wrong?
I think so, yeah. I think the album is special. If you listen to the album, you get this thing of “Wow, this is pretty unique, this album”, so that’s what we want to create, really. It came together in a sort of magic way from the early days of the pandemic, so we’re really happy that we actually got finished and released it and that people like it.
Unleash the Beast by Saxon.
Actually, I have this interesting story to tell you: I have a good friend from Mexico and his favorite band is Saxon. He has been listening to you guys for over thirty years now and when we arranged this interview, obviously I have to tell him. And he wanted to ask you a question: You have been playing with (guitarists) Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt since 1995 and I know it’s been a long time and you have done a lot of albums, but leaving this one aside, which one is your favorite working with this guitar duo?
Apart from the new one (laughs), I think my favorite would be Doug’s first album, Unleash the Beast. That was a great album and that was first time Doug wrote songs with Saxon and I think Unleash the Beast, Metalhead, are great albums if you listen to the guitar riffs, so yeah, I would go with that one.
Now that we’re talking about Metalhead, my first language is Spanish and it’s funny how the pronunciation in the song Conquistador, and I don’t want to offend you, obviously, but it always makes me laugh a bit how the title of the song is pronounced.
Oh, yeah (laughs). I’m English, so I’m gonna “Conquuistador”, not “Conquistador”, like you say it. If I sung that way, everybody else would have done the same, really. So I do understand that it’s not right (laughs).
That’s okay. Learning another language is always a struggle. I’m learning German right now and… eh, eh (laughs).
It must be really hard for you to learn German.
I’m getting there.
Conquistador by Saxon.
But going back to the album, you actually have your son, Sebastian, doing backup vocals on this one and I think on previous records. And I think he has done engineering on this record, correct?
He has, yeah. He did the vocal engineering. And he did on Inspirations as well. He’s pretty good in the studio, actually.
Yeah, and I know that he is a musician as well, so I wanted to ask you: How was the experience of working with your son on Saxon albums?
I think it’s good. He knows what he’s doing. With me it’s just a matter of turning a switch on. We work together and we pass what we like. When I’m singing in an album, I’m singing all the time, so you have to make sure that it sounds good in the recording, that the level is great, and then we discuss about that take and if it was good or not. If he thinks it wasn’t good, we do it again.
So I put him in charge. He’s like a young Andy Sneap, I suppose.
When you’re recording your vocals, do you like to do several takes or you’re the type that does one or two takes and you’re done? Do you prefer that feeling?
I do that a lot. Sometimes it’s the first one. It depends on how confident I am with the song. But I will usually sing three or four take of the song and then we’ll pick the best one. And then we’ll listen to it for a couple of days and if I don’t like it, then I will sing it again.
That’s how it works. I like it to be as complete as possible without doing too many edits in there, but yeah, it’s all down to the day. On a Monday I might sing great, on a Tuesday you’re not singing so great, on a Wednesday you’re singing fantastic, on a Thursday you’re absolutely crap, so that’s how it goes. When you’re making an album it’s not like when you’re live. It’s not instant. You can go back and have a listen, if you know what I mean.
Music video for The Pilgrimage of Saxon’s new album, Carpe Diem.
Well, I was listening to the singles and I was reading the comments from people and they were very complementary of your vocals on this album. I wanted to ask you: What do you usually do to keep your vocals in shape? Because, if I may say so, you better now than maybe twenty or thirty years ago.
I don’t really do anything. I sing a lot, so I think that keeps my voice in good condition. If I may get any sort of illness or something in my throat, I rest. But I just do the usual stuff, you know? Paracetamol, occasionally, or ibuprofen, if you’re singing live, because it stops the swelling. But generally, nothing, really. I don’t do anything. I just sing a lot and not try to overstrain it. But yeah, I’m very lucky because I don’t have to do anything to keep my voice in good shape, to tell you the truth.
Cool. Of course, this time around you were working with Andy Sneap as a producer again. With the whole COVID situation, how was the process this time around with Andy?
It was good this time around. This album was sort of written by both of us. I was doing stuff in my studio and he was doing stuff in his studio, so Seb did the vocals and we did a few guitar solos in my studio. But I think Andy was overall in control of the album as far as sounds, engineering and mixing went.
It was a bit of a team effort, this. But it’s great to work with Andy because he makes Saxon sound like Saxon and all that sounds a bit silly, I guess, but I can only explain that way, really.
No, that was actually what I was going to ask: Why do you think you guys have such a good chemistry? Because I have liked quite a lot of what he has done with you guys, so I wanted to know what makes you work together so well.
The thing with Andy is that he’s a bit of a child of the 80s. He loves 80s British Metal. So I think he sees himself as someone that wants to make it great, you know? He doesn’t want to change it. He doesn’t want to change Saxon. He doesn’t want to change Judas Priest. He doesn’t want to change Amon Amarth. He doesn’t want to change Accept. So I think that’s a great thing because we concentrate on what we do. If we have some ideas, I’ll send them to Andy and 99.9% times he likes what we do, so that’s how the chemistry works.
Actually, I remember one interview where Wolf Hoffmann of Accept stated, when talking about Andy, that he told him specific parts of classic Accept songs and said “This part right here, this part right there, are things that make you sound like you, like Accept”. Did he ever had a moment like that with you where he went “This thing or that is what makes Saxon sound like Saxon”?
No, he hasn’t because I know what sounds like Saxon (laughs). But I do know what you mean with Accept. I think Accept steered a little bit away from their core sound and I think Andy brought them back to that.
Supernova by Saxon from their newest album, Carpe Diem.
And I think my point with that is that he respects a lot of the band’s legacy and he wants to make a great-sounding album within your legacy and your style.
That’s what I just said. He is a big fan of the 80s Rock music and he doesn’t want to change it. He was a fan, so he knows what makes it great. That’s how we work.
Focusing on the album. Of course, we haven’t heard all the songs, but is there one in particular beyond the singles that you’re very fond of?
I like them all, I don’t have a favorite track yet. They’re all great songs, I think, and it’s a great collection of songs. We spent a long time putting together the running order, the artwork, so it’s all special. I just think I don’t have a favorite at the moment. We’ll wait and see.
What are the plans for touring right now? I know it’s very complicated at the moment.
It’s pretty complicated. We’re releasing the tickets for the UK tour, which is November, tomorrow (yesterday). It’s very difficult for the rest of the world because everybody is different. So, I think we’re going to do Europe in October, before the UK, and the plans to go across the Atlantic are up in the air at the moment. We do have a tour plan of America and we always have plans to go to South America, Central America, so we’re just trying to do as good as we can, really. It’s a bit crazy right now, if you know what I’m saying.
Yeah, it’s very difficult for musicians to tour right now because there are so many variables, so many things that can happen and all the time we hear musicians having to postpone their shows, so it’s complicated.
Yeah, it’s crazy, you only need one guy in the band or in the crew to get COVID and that’s it. It’s over. So you can’t go anywhere and you have to isolate. So we’ll have to wait and see what happens, really.
But I also heard in another interview of yours that you’re having time to make another album. That you have ideas floating around and stuff.
I do, yeah. I do have some ideas. If we don’t do any work before June, then we’ll probably start writing some songs for the next album. Because we can, really.
Biff Byford on stage with Saxon.
Yeah, it’s one of the things that always surprise me about Saxon: you’re constantly churning out albums and they are never repetitive or boring. They are really good. And I think everybody would like to know the secret of your consistency.
Hard work, mate. That’s the secret (laughs). To be focused and to work hard on what you do. It’s not easy to write really good, special albums when you have 23 of them and we have been together for 42 years. It’s not easy to write groundbreaking albums that people relate to. We work really hard, you know? It seems, though, that we put them out like “Hey, here’s the next album”, but there’s a lot of hard work put into those albums, believe me.
Yeah, I know. And it’s funny because you do the tours to promote the albums and such, but now you have 24 albums (counting Inspirations), so is it difficult to pick up songs for your shows? Sure, you have your classic tracks, but you have so many good songs to pick from. Is it complicated at times to make a set list?
Well, in the Seize the Day World Tour, when we do it, it’s obviously going to be a lot of songs from Carpe Diem. Because that’s the album we’d be promoting. But, you know, we play like an hour, forty five minutes, so, the thing about Saxon, is that we have plenty of time to put songs in our set list for everybody, really.
We’re not the type of band that plays sixty minutes, does a ten minutes encore and we’re done. That’s not the sort of band we are.
Lionheart by Saxon.
And trust me, we have a lot of respect for that. Hopefully you play some from Lionheart because that’s my favorite Saxon album (laughs).
It’s your favorite Saxon album up to Carpe Diem, right? (laughs)
Of course, of course, of course (laughs).
Lionheart is a great album. And the title track is a great track. Really, really great. So maybe we would do some Lionheart stuff, yeah.
And it’s funny because everybody, I think, has that one Saxon album they knew the band with. For example, with me it was Lionheart and maybe that’s why I have a lot of attachment to the newest albums because that’s the sound of the band that I got familiar with at first.
And that’s pretty cool. We’re looking for albums that people can listen to and become a fan of and relate to our career. That’s really difficult. We really respect that with people because we have people that got into the band due to Thunderbolt, which is the last album, so that’s cool. That we’re still making records that people can go “Wow, that’s a great album” and then they become a fan, you know? I think that’s what makes the Metal genre, the community, so special, really.
And that takes me to the covers album you did last year, Inspirations. It’s interesting because it obviously shows a lot of your favorite bands and stuff that you liked when you were growing up. I’m actually curious: Looking back to when you started to where the band is now, what do you think of your career? I’m sure that, due to your health issues, you had a lot of time to reflect on that.
I think it’s pretty good, you know? I think our legacy of music is a great legacy. I think we have written and released some fantastic music and I think that’s important because a lot of bands release fantastic music back in the day, but they have released pure shit since then. So, I think it’s important that our legacy is a great collection of music.
Saxon’s cover of Deep Purple’s Speed King.
Exactly. It was a really fun album to listen to, all these different covers. Especially, because I’m a huge Deep Purple fan, that cover of Speed King, which was really good.
We didn’t want to cover the songs that people would expect us to cover. People would think that we would do Highway Star, for instance, or something like that, but I like Speed King. That’s one of my favorite songs from that time, so I wanted to do that.
It’s quite hard to sing, Speed King. It’s like Little Richard meets Ian Gillan, you know? There’s lots of screams in there. So yeah, we had good fun doing it and I don’t think we took anything away from the original. The original is still fantastic.
Of course, you just added your own spin to it. And speaking of the album, what do you think Carpe Diem compares to the recent records you have done? Like Thunderbolt, for example. What do you think are the main differences?
Well, I’ve already been through a bit, with the writing situation, the guitar riffs and things. I don’t think there’s any difference from the writing of these two albums. We just did what we always do. We’re trying to write songs and albums that push the envelope. Make us work a bit harder and make us think a bit different.
I think our philosophy of writing since maybe 1994 is that we just want to write great Rock songs. Great lyrics, great melodies, great guitars, great drums, great bass. And it all comes together and hopefully we write something that is a little bit special.
After all these years, especially after the issues you guys had to go through, such as COVID, all these different obstacles, what can we expect from Saxon in the coming years.
Well, we’re going to release another Inspirations album, Inspirations II. That’s written. I’m working on another Heavy Water album with my son at the moment. I think we’re going to start writing some new Saxon songs because we don’t really need to take a break. Because I’m currently doing interviews every day, but we’re not really doing anything live or something like that.
We have a lot of free time in our hands. We are fundamentally songwriters. That’s what we are and that’s what we like to do. And that’s what we’ll be doing. If we’re not touring, if we’re not having a social life, we’ll be writing.
I cannot wait to listen to it. Thank you, Mr. Byford, for taking the time to do this. It was amazing. I think you covered even more questions than I originally had, so thank you so much for that.
That’s no problem. All good. Thank you very much!