By Andrew Bansal
Despite being much revered and respected for the long career they’ve had, British heavy metal legends Saxon are not a band that rests on their laurels and have gone from from strength to strength in recent years. Their juggernaut rolled strong in the year of 2013 in particular, with the release of a fantastic new album called ‘Sacrifice’, a world tour that unanimously received a positive reaction from fans everywhere, and the release of an interesting collection of tunes called ‘Unplugged And Strung Up’ via UDR Music to close out the year. The album consists of orchestrated, acoustic and re-recorded versions of older Saxon gems. Yesterday, February 5th 2014, I spoke to frontman Biff Byford to talk in detail about this particular release, among other things. Enjoy the conversation below.
Biff, it’s good to have you again on Metal Assault. The year of 2013 was excellent for Saxon, wasn’t it? How would you sum it up?
Oh, it was a great year! We had ‘Sacrifice’ out, it was well-received, and the tour was great. Then we followed it with ‘Unplugged And Strung Up’. So it was a good year, definitely.
Right, in this interview I am mainly going to talk to you about the Unplugged And Strung Up album, which was released a couple of months ago. How did the idea for that come about?
Well, we were doing an unplugged album, basically, but we got a bit bored with it so we sort of decided to do something a little bit different. We did a few orchestrated tracks, and a couple of re-recorded tracks. So yeah, we just put something together which was off the wall and different, really.
As you said, you did some re-recordings and rearrangements of these songs. So, more than anything, I think it was a way for you to rediscover your own songs.
Yeah, a little bit, for sure. Some of the music became much heavier with an orchestrated feel to it. Most of it is quite nice to listen to as well. We’re very pleased with the way it turned out!
What was the re-recording process like? How different was it from the usual recordings?
It wasn’t really much different because we didn’t play a lot of those old songs all the time anyway. It was pretty good fun, really. It’s definitely a lot easier to work on our older stuff than it is to work on new stuff (laughs). So it was quite a nice change for us. We didn’t have to write anything new.
Exactly. Well, the main thing I was wondering about this particular album is, how did you select this set of tracks to be featured in these new arrangements?
For the orchestrated versions I wanted the more mid-tempo, powerful tracks because they’ve got more space for the orchestra. We tried a few fast tracks but it didn’t work. I think if you’re going to orchestrate songs, it has to work really well. Some people have done it really great and others have failed miserably. As far as the acoustic tracks go, I just wanted them to be interesting lyrically. And for the re-recorded ones, I suppose we really went back to the first album.
You’ve been working with Andy Sneap for production and mixing. What was his contribution to this album?
Nothing much to this album, more to Sacrifice. But he mixed this album, so I suppose he brought the sound to the table, not really the production.
Does this give you more options in terms of playing live, with all these different versions of the songs?
Yeah, it can do. Come the summer festivals we might do a few orchestrated songs, either with a full orchestra or with a keyboard player.
In general, what do you think about metal songs being converted into acoustic versions? Do you think bands can succeed with it if it’s done well?
Yeah I think it can be alright. Our acoustic versions are purely acoustic, and there’s no drums in there. It’s just acoustic guitars a bit of bass (laughs), so it’s pretty difficult to get real heavy tracks just on acoustic guitars. It sometimes just doesn’t sound right.
I saw you last year in Los Angeles on the US tour, which was a big success for you I would say because you were playing bigger venues than your previous few US tours.
Yeah we were very happy with the American tour! I mean, 99 per cent of the venues were all great. The Los Angeles gig had a fantastic atmosphere, and it was so great, we couldn’t really ask for a better reaction across America than what we got on that tour. A lot of people came out to see us, including a lot of new fans who’d never seen us before. So yeah, we really enjoyed it!
Has that tour laid the foundation for regular American touring for you now?
I think so. We’ll definitely be back soon. We’re trying to get back this year but I don’t think it will be possible. We’ll have to see, but we’ll surely be back next year with a new album.
So there’s already a new album in the works?
Yes, we’re starting writing this week!
That’s awesome to hear. You’re staying busy and creative! So, what else does this year have in store for you?
Well, we’re playing some pretty big festivals. We’re doing Wacken again. I think we’ve got some shows with Megadeth coming up. It’s looking really good. We’re going out on a huge European tour in October-November-December for our 35th anniversary. Hopefully if we can get a few shows in America we can come and do some shows there as well.
That’s great, Biff. I think that’s all I have for this interview. If there’s anything else you want to mention that I didn’t cover, or any last words, please go ahead.
Have a great time, keep the faith, and we’ll see you all on tour!
‘Unplugged and Strung Up’ Track Listing:
01 Stallions Of The Highway (Remix)
02 Crusader (Orchestrated Version)
03 Battle Cry
04 The Eagle Has Landed (Orchestrated Version)
05 Red Star Falling (Orchestrated Version)
06 Broken Heroes (Orchestrated Version)
07 Call To Arms (Orchestrated Version)
08 Militia Guard
09 Forever Free (Re-recorded Version)
10 Just Let Me Rock (Re-recorded Version)
11 Frozen Rainbow (Acoustic Version)
12 Iron Wheels (Live Acoustic Version)
13 Requiem (Acoustic Version)
14 Coming Home (Acoustic Version)