Upon the release of their twenty-second album, Thunderbolt, British metal legends Saxon have not only dropped their mightiest album in over a decade, but have also hit the road with metal gods Judas Priest. Whether Saxon is kicking ass on-stage or slaying it in the studio, there is a lot to be learned from a band that got their start blowing minds and melting faces with the likes of Motorhead and other UK legends. We had the incredible opportunity to catch up with the lead singer Biffy Byford to chat about one of the group’s strongest albums to date, bringing the ironclad spirit of heavy metal around the world for over thirty years, and the power of having your own voice!
The first question I had was after the rough last couple of years metal has had with Black Sabbath packing it up, the final Slayer tour this year, the final Ozzy tour this year… How do you guys manage to craft your own signature sound and remain true to yourselves as a group after twenty-two albums? Biff Byford: Our main object in life is to write songs. That’s what we do, that’s what we are. We tour on those songs so it’s just our lifecycle for us. I know some older bands just play the hits and don’t write any more albums, which is fair enough. But for us, particularly for me, I’m not that type of guy. We’re always trying to write great songs and push the envelope a bit. Trying to twist our style a bit so younger fans like us. This album, the new album Thunderbolt, is one of those albums. It’s an album that’s seeped in the 80’s but with a modern twist.
Yeah, for sure. How do you guys continue maintain that level of drive and momentum and make it seem so effortless? Byford: I don’t know really. A lot of the drive comes from individual persons in the band, I push it quite hard. The thing is the rules in Saxon are simple, if you wanna write songs, if you wanna go on tour, go on tour. If you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to. That’s the thing, it’s not the military.
Exactly. Byford: But everybody wants to do this, which is pretty cool.
Yeah, you can’t really argue with that. Are there any kind of particular techniques that you guys like to, not maintain like the same sound, but actually quite the opposite, invigorate your own chemistry within the band dynamic? Byford: Well, I think using the right producer works, like Andy Sneap (Megadeth, Slayer, Judas Priest). He produced the last three, he produced this one, he co-produced the last one with me, and the other one he mixed the album. He has a good feeling for the 80’s and for modern stuff you know? Like Killswitch [Engage] or Amon Amarth’s new stuff. He knows what works. I think this album just came at the right time as well, same as the new [Judas] Priest album [entitled Firepower] he did that one as well. It’s great timing again, it’s the ‘80s really.
Saxon @ Budweiser Gardens (London, ON) on March 27, 2018.
The synchronicity on it is amazing. Byford: This tour definitely has an ‘80s flavor.
I saw that, I wasn’t sure if it was right before or right after this, but you guys were playing a bunch of gigs with Diamond Head as well. Byford: Yeah! We did some shows with them and Rock Goddess. Yeah, it was pretty good, yeah, they all sold out so it was pretty good.
Yeah, well, I managed to catch Diamond Head at Heavy T.O about like six or seven years ago. I know they’ve got a younger guy on vocals again [Rasmus Born Andersen, has been singing for the band since 2014] but hey, time moves on. But the band themselves and Brian Tattler [lead guitarist and songwriter] sounded fantastic! Byford: Yeah, they sounded good.
So I thought that was a perfect kind of pairing. Byford: Well, the gigs sold out, it was a good package. Right on after the album came out, like three or four weeks after the album came out.
On top of that too, what’s it like going on the road with [Judas] Priest again? Byford: Oh it’s great! Priest was one of the first bands we toured with, and Motorhead back in 1980, so there’s a big history there really. We toured together before, we’ve done festivals together, we used to do TV shows together back in the day, you know, so there’s been quite a big history there with Priest.
On top of that too, it was a great year for metal where you see a lot of these bands calling it a day and retiring or unfortunately some members passing away… and then to see both of you guys [Saxon and Judas Priest] come out guns blazing with some of the best albums you guys have done in like, decades! Byford: It’s whacky really. It’s people’s perception as well. It’s a timing thing.
Oh yeah, it’s not like you’re gonna mark it on the calendar. Byford: But this tour, it’s kind of all the planets aligning, come together. We’ve been talking about it with Priest and their management for quite a few years now, doing a British package. So yeah, people are really buying into it too.
Yeah, well, it’s gotta be super-endearing too for the fans, to see some of their kind of like, favorites, you know, ride off into the sunset. Then to see you guys live when they weren’t sure if everyone else was just going to call it a day as well. Byford: Yeah, I mean, we’re going to be around for a while hopefully so, yeah, it’s a good tour. Two great albums, Black Star Riders have got an album, it’s not recent, it’s a bit older, but it’s a good album as well. It’s a good package, you know?
How have you found the interaction and response from the fans been so far? Byford: Great! Really great. I think Thunderbolt sold quite a few copies around these parts anyway. I ask people [on stage], “Who have got the album?”, and usually two or three thousand people cheer so you know, it’s good. We’re here to sell the album. We’re here to convince people that haven’t seen us before that have just heard of us, that we’re worth buying into and you know, joining the family.
Yeah, totally. Oh for sure. Even with not just metal has changed, but the whole world in and around music has changed in the last fifteen years. Byford: And Judas Priest are great, there’s no restrictions. We can do what we want. Sometimes you go out with a band, there are restrictions, but with Judas Priest, you can do what you want. It’s great.
Get electrified with the band’s video for the single “Thunderbolt”.
Well, I was gonna say, they’ve earned the right to kind of write their own ticket at this point. The last thing I was going to ask right now was how you guys have managed to maintain your own voice in this ever-changing world that is music now? It moves so much more quickly than it used to and maintaining your integrity intact. Byford: I think the internet’s really important, has been to us ever since it was invented. So we’ve always used the internet as soon as it came along. We’ve always every kind of technology, sometimes first. We were the first to do samplers back in the day, although they only did like, four seconds.
Yeah. (laughs) Byford: A dog barking, woof woof. Yeah, I mean we’ve always been looking to broaden our rights but keeping the music the same. Not going too far away from the anthemic metal that we write. For me, songs have to have choruses. It’s not all about attitude. There is some attitude in there, but it’s not all about jumping up and down and just being like…
A party band or something. Byford: Well, like you know, hardcore bands. There are some great bands out there, but for me it’s all about the melody. I really like the newer bands where they mix the two. Where they have a really melodic part and a really [growls] part. That, for me, is a really great sound. I like Killswitch Engage and bands like that because they mix it up a bit. You know what I mean?
It’s kind of the best of both worlds. Byford: Yeah, it’s good. Those bands are big fans of Priest, Saxon and all that ancient music.
Well, they probably wouldn’t even have a gig if it wasn’t for you guys. Byford: Yeah, who knows? They might be doing country music. You keep on going. Never surrender. That’s our motto.