Saxon just released their new album Inspirations, a cover album featuring the artists and songs that influenced and inspired them, last month via Silver Lining Music. Metal Contraband’s Chelsea had the chance to speak with frontman Biff Byford about the story behind the new album, his solo work, music production, social media, and more. Check it out below.
You have the new Saxon Inspirations record which was just released, and of course Saxon has been unstoppable for years, releasing studio album after album, so I’m curious what made you want to go into a covers direction this time around?
Well, the main reason was as something fun to do, really. We didn’t want to release the new Saxon album just yet with the lockdowns everywhere, so we decided to release the new Saxon album in February, and I released my solo album over the last year. So yeah, we just thought we’d do something fun, get the band playing together again, and we thought doing an album of songs that influenced and inspired us from teenage years onward would be a good idea.
And it absolutely was a great idea, some great results. Did you have to accommodate for the pandemic to record this, or did you have it already somewhat done before it happened?
Oh, no, it was right in the pandemic. It was done very quickly, we had the idea one week, and the next, we did it. So we created a bubble, we had already got tested a couple times, and pretty much everybody was in their own little place anyway, nobody lives in a big city. So it was easy to get together, create a bubble, stay in that bubble, and record the album, really. Yeah, it was pretty cool.
That’s good, definitely, and a good way to keep yourselves busy when you weren’t able to go out on tour.
Yeah, there’s no touring obviously, so the next best thing is recording. And it was good fun because there’s no pressure of writing songs or writing melodies for things, all that.
So when you decided what songs you wanted to cover for the album, did you all get together and talk about your influences, inspirations, and just kind of pick out some songs from that?
Well yeah, we all had ideas, it was put together very quickly. I don’t think, really, that it took us longer than a week to decide which songs to play. I didn’t go for the number one tracks of all the bands, we went for the tracks a little bit down the hit list, really. I think it worked out really well.
Absolutely, and that is a good choice, you can show your influences and inspirations without going for the obvious choices, the biggest hits.
Yeah, we could have done “Highway To Hell” or “Back In Black”, but I wanted to do an AC/DC song that I liked. And I saw them in the 70’s on their first tour of the UK, in Sheffield, a small venue, and they played that song [“Problem Child”] and I really liked it.
Out of all the tracks that you put onto Inspirations, if you had to pick one, which song or artist would you say inspired you the most out of all of them?
I would say they pretty much all did. The thing is, the album’s a mixture of inspirations and influences, if you know what I mean. Some of the bands on their inspired us, and some of the songs on there influenced our style of writing. So there’s a difference, but every song has a story connected to it, specifically to Saxon or to the member that picked the song. “Paint It Black” was chosen by Douglas, the guitarist, and that was one of the first songs I ever learned how to play on guitar, so I liked that choice as well. Things like that, really. And Nigel Glockler picked…he’s a big Sabbath fan, he liked Bill Ward’s drumming, we didn’t want to do “Paranoid” or a big hit, so we wanted to do something a little bit more off the earlier albums, and it’s not even a Sabbath song, but the band inspired us, so it’s not always about the song, sometimes it’s a band.
That’s really cool to know that there’s a personal connection for each of you in a different way, and a story related to it, that makes it a lot more meaningful than just, “Hey, let’s cover some songs for fun”, so I love that.
Yeah, it just makes it a little bit different from your average cover album. We wanted to be honest, and put songs on there that actually influenced or inspired us.
And I love that Inspirations, the release pretty much was in every format, CD, Vinyl, digital, and even a cassette format – what’s your favorite format for music would you say?
I’m not really bothered. I like vinyls because the artwork just looks better. But I don’t mind CDs, and cassette’s cool. I haven’t really got a cassette player, I might have to buy an old car or something with a cassette player in it. But I’ve got a cassette player in my studio, it sounds pretty cool on cassette. I like it for a change, it’s more analog-based. But I’m not really bothered, I don’t really have a preference. I’m not really a hi-fi buff, I’m more of a studio buff. I like to get the album sounding great – after that, everybody has a different opinion anyway, some people love vinyl, some people love CDs, some people love to stream, some people love the cassette. But a lot of people buy these limited edition things to collect.
Especially when it comes to the artwork, like you said, with vinyl, sometimes that can be a big component of it as well. Having the whole experience of the physical format, you’ve got the artwork, you take out the vinyl and it also sounds high quality. But I see what you mean, you want the original product to be as high quality as possible and everyone else can decide their own formats after that.
That’s right, you know, we do a different sort of master mix for the vinyls than we do for the CDs, so it may sound slightly different. On the cassette, there’s a little bit more level put on the tape so it sounds more authentic to back in the day. The people that work with us are very experienced in that now.
So you mentioned that you have a studio of your own, how involved do you usually get with the production in terms of the recording, mixing, mastering, etc of the Saxon records?
Well, I produced this one, and my solo album, so I’m used to working in studio, learning things and making choices. So yeah, you get involved it in altogether, people are sending me mixes and different things all the time. I have to be on it, I have to have multiple listening systems where I can check the sound on different systems. One in the car, one in studio, and one in one of the rooms in my house, so you have to check it just to make sure it’s good for the fans.
You also mentioned, of course, your solo album, School of Hard Knocks, released last year. What prompted this solo venture for you?
Well, I had a lot of songs that I wanted to put out that were personal to me, and I got the chance to work with different musicians which was really good. So yeah, we just launched the project really, it was at the beginning just before the pandemic, before March. So we were touring, but that’s been on a bit of a hold. So it was pretty good doing it, this Inspirations album is a lockdown album. And of course we can’t play live, we have to do something, otherwise I think you just waste away. And I just finished an album with my son, called Heavy Water, so that’ll be coming out soon in the next few months. So we’ve been busy really, or I have, at least.
That’s awesome! So tell me more about the album you just recorded, then, with your son.
It’s coming out in July, I think. The album’s called Red Brick City, and the songs are very…geared more towards the lockdown, especially my son, who was going to live in a big city for the musical scene and to get working, which all stopped, so he’s been trapped in a room for months. So I think this album is a great release for that, we’ve written some great lyrics together, and we share the vocals on everything, so it sounds pretty good.
Well, I can’t wait to hear it! That’s really sweet that it’s a father/son lockdown collaboration there *laughs*.
And I see that you’re really active on social media, and I think it’s really cool that you still keep fans posted on what’s going on in your life, especially while they can’t come and see you play live and in person. But I see you sharing things about your family, your dogs, taking trips in the woods and countryside, so I guess that’s a good summary of your lockdown experience besides making music?
Well, people are interested. Not everybody lives in the countryside, not everybody lives in the UK, so I suppose somebody that lives in, say, Florida, looking at me walking through the English countryside, up here in Yorkshire, is different. People are interested – I don’t think any of the other guys in the band do it, but I do it. It’s pretty cool actually. We don’t get too personal, but I think it’s good fun.
I agree, I don’t think it’s oversharing at all, I think you show some cool scenery, your adorable dogs, so it’s a nice little look into your life beyond the music for the fans.
Yeah, definitely. People want to know what you’re doing, keep in touch. They go on there and have a look, they share it. And I get more followers all the time – I went from, the last time I looked, I was like two thousand people, and now I think I’ve got like, 11 or 12 thousand? It’s amazing how many people find you.
Well, you’ve got a lot of fans out there, Biff! You’re an absolute legend in the music industry and the metal world, so people are happy to see anything you share.
And we’re surprised at how successful the Inspirations album’s been, actually. It went quite high in the charts across Europe, so we were surprised. We just thought people would not be quite so excited about it, but I mean, people have really gotten into it. We’ve had some fantastic reviews and now I’m doing interviews with America now, so we’ll wait and see how that goes. It’s a good fun album though, you can put it on in the car or in the kitchen, and just listen to the songs roll by. I think it’s a really interesting album, because all of the songs are great tracks, aren’t they?
Absolutely! I mean, you have great original songs to work with, and then you put your own spin on it, which is great. It’s funny to me that you sound surprised that people are enjoying the album, and having such a good time with it, but from an outside perspective and from a fan perspective, Saxon is Saxon! So whether it’s an original album or not, people are going to be excited to see new albums and new content coming from you guys.
Yeah! I mean, the whole story behind the album, and recording it in the old style, and there’s a making of video on YouTube that people can watch, so the whole story’s very interesting so it’s not just about the songs. The whole story of us making it, I think people really enjoy it.
Last year, you did have a few shows scheduled just before the whole lockdown situation, there was one with Girlschool and a couple of other shows that you had lined up. I’m in the US, where some shows are starting to pop up here and there, but how are things looking in the UK, are the prospects looking good for you guys possible getting on the road later this year, or are they still on hold for now?
Well, there’s been a few shows and they’re doing some more. They just did a big one in Spain a couple of days ago with five thousand people actually inside a venue going crazy. So that one worked out really well, and only two weeks after the show, they found that four people had gotten the virus. So obviously they didn’t get it at the show, they must have got it somewhere else. So that’s looking good, they’ve done some shows in Liverpool, they’ve done a couple football matches. They’re slowly trying to get the data on how transmittable it is, everyone is asking for a negative COVID test before they can get in. I think maybe you’re going to have to have a vaccine sheet as well. But yeah, they’re moving toward gigs so hopefully in July, August, we’ll be doing some festivals.
Ah, that’d be amazing, it’s been a long time coming, everybody’s been waiting to get back out there and see shows. I’m sure you’re eager to get back out on stage as well.
We are, we are. It’s crazy that we’ve gone from a live band to a recording band *laughs*.
Yeah, in the course of a year, right? Amazing how that happened. But I’m glad to hear that the prospects are pretty good, but you’re definitely keeping busy between the Saxon and solo album, and now your album with your son, which is going to be cool to hear how that sounds when it comes out. It’s been absolutely delightful talking with you, Biff…
…so I’ll just wrap it up with a summary of what’s next on the plate for Biff Byford?
Well, like I said, we’ve got this album coming out with my son, the project’s called Heavy Water and the album’s called Red Brick City, so that’ll be coming out soon. The next Saxon album will be out in February, I think it’s February the 14th, and I think the Heavy Water album will probably be out in July. So not long to go before that comes out. So yeah, things are looking pretty good, we’re all trying to keep fit and active which is really hard in lockdown *laughs*. But hopefully we’ll be able to come to America and do some shows.
Everybody would love to see you out here for sure. Good luck with everything, and we’re looking forward to hearing these new albums coming from you. Stay healthy and give your dogs some extra pats from me!
We will, we’ll give them a treat.
Excellent, thank you, Biff!
Have a great day, thank you.