Interview by Robert Cavuoto
Saxon will unleash their 23rd studio album, Carpe Diem, to the world on February 4th, 2022, via Silver Lining Music.
Carpe Diem is a fiery collection of 10 brand new songs from the metal masters; it’s everything their legions of fans have come to expect from Saxon while pushing their signature sound forward. Carpe Diem explodes with the crushing guitar work from the opening title track and doesn’t let up until the closing riff of “Living on the Limit.” The band adds new albums to their legacy rather than coast on it and remains a potent force among the modern hard rock and heavy metal landscape.
Hard rocking songs like “Remember the Fallen,” “All for One,” and “The Pilgrimage” are all riff-inspired songs with infectious melodies and vocals. Carpe Diem is every bit as voluminous as the band’s legendary releases from the eighties when Saxon was at the forefront of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal! This new album is an essential British metal statement of the last few years that can only be the extraordinary work of Biff Byford [vocals], Doug Scarratt [guitar], Paul Quinn [guitar], Nibbs Carter [bass], Nigel Glockler [drums]. Saxon continues to carry on with new anthems in their legendary tradition.
Carpe Diem will be available in a variety of formats, and pre-orders can be placed at this location www.saxon747.com/merch
Audio from interview (transcript is below)
Robert Cavuoto: You used your time wisely during the pandemic with performance videos, a Stage it Show, Saxon’s best of CD, a solo CD with your son, and now this new Saxon studio CD. Would you consider these last two years your most productive ever?
Biff Byford: I suppose it is, actually! I think it’s right up there with 1980 when Saxon did two albums in one year. I’m not really into relaxing [laughing]. My solo album came out in 2020 while I was already writing with the band for this album. So, we started recording this album almost two years ago. This Saxon album should have come out at the end of 2019. That was the plan. We started writing shortly after I came out of the hospital with my heart thing, I think, March 2019. We recorded the drums in Germany and had them around for a little while. We didn’t do much again until the middle of COVID. We did the guitars at Andy Sneaps place, and then I did some guitar here at my place along with the vocals. So, it was spread out over two years. Then I wanted to do this Inspiration album as the record company asked us to do an album in-between, so we would have something to release.
Robert Cavuoto: In 2020, you mentioned that you had 11 songs written for this album. With members scattered through the UK and Germany, how did writing and recording finally come together?
Biff Byford: Nigel recorded the drums before COVID with the basic tracks as only the music was arranged. Nibbs did the bass as well. We had to put that on the shelf to work on Inspirations in the middle of that. Then I did the album with son as which was my last release. I have been pretty busy, actually. Probably busier than the band. It seems like we have released a lot of stuff over the last years, and I suppose we have. We rehearsed the songs on Inspirations then recorded them together. I think the band should be together playing. I don’t think we should go away and not see each other for two years.
Robert Cavuoto: When most bands are slowing down releasing a new album every three to four years, Saxon have ramped up by putting out music quite regularly. Tell me about the importance of doing that for your fans.
Biff Byford: I think it is important to keep the flow rolling along and do interesting things for people to listen to and read about. That is the key to keeping people on board and focused on what you are doing. I do like to have surprises; I don’t like people to think they know everything we are doing. I don’t like being too predictable. Releasing a cover album, the way we did it with songs that have inspired the band was a unique idea. I like how we did it in the big house, like the original bands did it in the 70s. The aspect as a whole was unique. We had great fun making that. It was a pretty intense as we made in about 14 days. The Heavy Water album that I made with my son Seb came out. I had some songs, and Seb had some songs, so we put them together. He was in charge of that album like I am with Saxon. He was playing guitar on all the tracks. I was playing bass and singing. He was the driving force behind that album which is not like a Saxon album. People go, “It’s really great, but it doesn’t sound like Saxon!” I have to tell them that was the whole point. Why rewrite “Battering Ram” when we are recording Heavy Water.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about the importance of seizing the day and how that mantra coincides with Saxon’s longevity?
Biff Byford: With that song, “Carpe Diem,” I put the lyrics and the melody quite later on. Most of it was Nibbs’ idea with a few of my changes on it. I simply thought that seizing the day/Carpe Diem was a great song title, especially for these days when everyone is going up the wall. I think people have to get through this new strain and seize the day. It’s a good mantra, and I think it worked really well as the title track. The song is inspired by me visiting the old Roman wall in the north of England that stretches from coast to coast; built 2,000 years ago. I grabbed on to that idea and used it for the basis of the song. The basis of the song and the metaphor of “seize the day” is very strong.
Robert Cavuoto: There are some really strong riffs on Carpe Diem reminiscent of the albums you put out in the 80s, particularly “Remember the Fallen” with its “Power & the Glory” vibe. Can you tell me about its creation?
Biff Byford: Generally, I want the riffs and the guitar to be important again on this album. A lot of music is just rhythm-based these days. I just wanted to bring the riffs back. My brief suggestion to the guitar boys and Nibbs was to come at me with some great guitar riffs. The faster, the better. I think that works on this album as there are some great guitar riffs. A lot of the ideas that I had started with their riffs. In the 80s, the guitar riff was supreme, with the vocals and guitar being the main aspects of the sound. Not there are no guitar riffs on Thunderbolt, because there are, but on this album, we put more emphasis on the riff and the way that they are played. It is quite aggressive and on the edge. “Remember the Fallen” does have a 1984 or 1985 vibe. It’s an easy song to play and sing. It’s one of those songs that lends itself to a lot of melody. The subject matter is not so light. I like that style of Saxon playing in the rhythm and riff. It’s not a single-string riff but a rhythm riff. Originally, I wasn’t sure if I liked the song as it was on our B list for a long time. I wrote the lyrics to it and wanted it to go on the album.
Robert Cavuoto: That’s why I was so attracted to Saxon when I was learning to play guitar and eventually playing your songs in a cover band. Today I feel that music is getting too progressive where every note and measure is filled with some form of instrumentation, yet your songs manage to live with the guitar riff. It’s a very powerful approach.
Biff Byford: I’m a big prog fan. I think a couple of our more recent albums were more “proggy.” Just because we could. I think a lot of people go “proggy” because it’s in! [Laughing]. Prog has come back really strong. A lot of bands are “proggy” because it was the popular thing to do. We went away from the prog aspect on this album. We went more to the heavier and aggressive side with this album. There are some quite nice bits in the middle with “Lady in Gray” and “Super Nova,” but I would not call them prog. They are rests between the next powerful song [laughing]. We are just giving your ears a rest before the next song hits. The last two albums we went a bit “proggy.” This one, no! Our prog era is over! [laughing]. We are going back to a more aggressive way of the boys playing guitar; it’s straight to the point and in your face! There are no orchestra parts or long and different sequences of changes. It’s pretty much an aggressive metal album.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about your fascination with history and religion, as it has been your mainstay in Saxon’s lyrics for as long as I can remember?
Biff Byford: History and religion are really the same things, let’s face it. Anything that happened in history is usually connected to religion in some way. Those two things go hand in hand. I’m not saying that in any bad sense. If you like history and are a bit of a history buff, you are reading about something somewhere that is connected with religion and happened in the last 2,000 years. I like history and find it really fucking interesting. That’s what really grabs me. There is always something new that I’m learning or reading about. Something that changed the world forever or something that was discovered which nobody knew about. We could do a prog concept about history, but we haven’t. I think a lot of rock fans are into it as well with history. I love working and pulling from that medium, as I think it is great.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you have a favorite period from which you like to pull ideas?
Biff Byford: Not really. I like all history, whether it be Egyptian or Roman or medieval or from the second World War. Let’s face it, something that happened three days ago is history now. There are a lot of things you can write about. It’s better than writing about your typical Rock & Roll lyrics. Maiden tended to write songs like that as well. I don’t think it is unique to Saxon. A few bands do this, but I suppose that Maiden are the most prolific at it.
Robert Cavuoto: They’re a band called Sabaton, which I recently came across that does that as well.
Biff Byford: They probably ripped Maiden off [laughing]. They are a good band; I know the lads. They are a newer version of Saxon and Maiden in what they write about. Most of their songs are about war. I have written about wars like “Age of Steam” and “Carpe Diem.”
Robert Cavuoto: Does Saxon have a vault of unused demos and ideas from the 80s, and if so, would you ever consider tapping into them?
Biff Byford: No, unfortunately, we don’t have any. What we had would have been released by ex-members who had cassettes and tapes stuffed in their pockets. Everything is out there. Don’t forget, back in the day, we were writing songs so quickly. It was writing a song that will do and putting it on the album [laughing]. Luckily the songs were great. They could have been awful because we didn’t have time to listen to them and sort them out. As soon as we got to ten songs, that was it, and we had an album! [Laughing]. It was like a production line on how management and the record company wanted us to work. I guess it was raw talent, and we still have it. Don’t forget Saxon still have Paul and me. We were the essence of the writing back then. There is still the spirit of where we came from, and we still have that connection. I don’t even think I have any song titles from back then, although I’m always writing things down in my book; now in my iPhone.
Robert Cavuoto: At what point did Saxon start to reap the finical benefits of the band’s success?
Biff Byford: I don’t think we ever did. I don’t think I can ever remember cashing a big fat check. [Laughing] You have to remember in 1983 around Power & the Glory is when we started to break in America. I think something happened with the record company at that point. We were on a pretty big tour with Maiden, and about halfway through, we just sort of stopped. I really don’t know what happened, just that we were taken off the bill. Fastway was moved up and someone on before that as well. Perhaps there was some talking going on behind the band; who knows. There were people who said that we got kicked off because Bruce Dickinson didn’t like us [laughing]. He may not have liked the way we were going down; I’m not sure if that is true or not. At that point, we could have broken America quite big and should have. We should have broken America for Wheels of Steel, but the record company was French and didn’t know what the fuck they were doing. Crusader was the first headline tour we did in America with Accept. It was very successful. I just think Wheels of Steel didn’t have enough momentum in America as Maidens albums did. I think it comes down to management and the record company. I think Denim and Leather and Strong Arm of the Law are just as good as Number of the Beast.
Robert Cavuoto: Power & the Glory is my personal favorite Saxon album.
Biff Byford: That’s the favorite of a lot of people because it was the first time we got airplay and with MTV. We were on the Billboard charts with Power & the Glory at some point, and the tour for it was massively successful. Whether it was our manager, who thought we could be on our own, or something else that happened, which didn’t quite take us far enough. In some states, we were massive, and in others, we couldn’t pull fans. That was the problem; I don’t think we had the record sales in America. So, we didn’t have that big of a kick. Power & the Glory didn’t sell a million albums in America when we were there. If we had, that would have given us the power to go on a get a lot of money. I think the power seems to go out that tour. The point is that we could have broken American. Power & the Glory could have been a platinum album.
Robert Cavuoto: Is there a tour planned to support this new album despite the COVID variants that the media is hyping up?
Biff Byford: We tour together with Uriah Heep in America. That is being planned for April or May of 2022. It’s like anything with planning around COVID [laughing]. We have to see what happens with it. The British are the most vaccinated people in the Rock & Roll world. We have to see how that goes in other countries for the Carpe Diem Seize the Day World Tour, which will start in America then roll back in Europe in the Autumn. We have been growing in popularity in America over the last 20 years, and we love coming there as there are great places to play Rock & Roll.
Robert Cavuoto: Any plans to create a comprehensive book on Saxoxn’s career as well as update your autobiography from 2007?
Biff Byford: I thought of rewriting the book and adding things to it, and we are talking about doing a Saxon autobiography. I could have done it, but I have been more interested in doing music than doing books. My book should be out there as it’s quite rare. You can buy it on Amazon, but you have to wait a while to get it. I think the publisher must get 100 orders and then print 100 books to send out. I don’t think there are a great deal of books out there on the shelf. I have been trying to get them to put it out on different platforms like Kindle or an audiobook. Someone asked me to do an audiobook, but it never came to fruition.