SW: A couple of years later, you came back to L.A. for the Power & the Glory tour, supporting Iron Maiden. Fastway opened, you guys were in the middle. You SMOKED everyone that night, even Maiden! And that was during the Number of the Beast era, a tough act to open for. In my opinion, this was Saxon at their very best!
Biff: It was at the Long Beach Arena, and yes, it was a great time for us until we got kicked off the tour! (laughs).
SW: Kicked off the tour? (Say it ain't so, Biff...)
Biff: We used to get kicked off tours all the time. It was a regular occurrence for Saxon in those days. The headliner generally didn't like having us open for them, because many times we were too good for them to play after.
SW: One of my favorite things about Saxon is the way you have always incorporated melody and hooks into your songs. Today's music seems so anti-musical, with all this sampled noise and spoken word gibberish, that the musicality seems to be gone in rock and roll...
Biff: I've tried to keep hooks in the songs. A couple of my favorites from the new CD are "Circle of Light" and "Cut Out The Disease." I like those songs in particular because they are atmospheric and quite dark. I write a lot of the lyrics with Nigel, the drummer, but no matter what the song is, or what the lyrics say, I can't sing them any way but melodically...I can't bark them out.
SW: I love "Cut Out The Disease" because it is so damn heavy!
Biff: Bands these days are afraid to write things that heavy. They think its uncool to roll out walls of guitars with killer riffs like on "Cut Out The Disease."
SW: While we're on the subject of lyrics, can you tell me about the words on "Absent Friends" from your new CD?
Biff: We had a good friend and tour manager from long, long ago, way before Saxon even. His name was J.J. He worked and helped us for years. When we were preparing to leave for Switzerland to do a festival, he had a brain hemorrhage and died at his house. So we basically wrote him a song called "Absent Friends." It was never intended to be a radio song or anything, just a simple lyric that we raise our glasses and toast to J.J. He was a good man and we think of him probably every day.
SW: On a more positive note, can we look forward to a new Saxon CD next year?
Biff: Yeah...this one is doing so well across the planet that we will have toured Brazil, Sweden, and Greece before coming to the US. We should be doing another album soon after we're done touring.
SW: That's awesome, Biff. So can I rest assured that the direction of the band won't radically change in the future?
Biff: If you listen to our prior CD, Dogs of War, you can tell that we were headed in the same direction as this one. All the guitar riffs on both albums are extremely heavy. You should get a hold of Dogs of War (Biff's unintentional sales pitch), it's a great album.
SW: The reason I brought this up was because a slew of other heavy acts tried to either go alternative or mainstream, and the result was so shitty. I would just hate to have to experience that with Saxon...
Biff: The reason no bands are playing our kind of music anymore, the heavier stuff, is because the young kids weren't brought up listening to it. They almost consider heavy metal an old person's type of music. And what metal needs right now is for the new bands to stop playing glam rock again, and get down to some good, basic, heavy metal. That would bring the genre back to life. People give bands labels...I like to view a band as individual, and not blanket them all together under one label. We play our brand of music and Iron Maiden plays their brand of music, it just so happens that people have labeled our music heavy metal. We are an English rock band playing our style of music - call it, or label it, what you will. If, let's say, Saxon and the new Bruce Dickinson and the new Judas Priest albums, all sold millions of copies - you can bet there would be a ton of new bands all playing heavy metal. So, basically, the future for our type of music lies in the younger players that are coming up in today's music scene. If they really play from the gut and write some heavy music that counts, then the future is bright. But if they just do it to jump on a bandwagon, it's doomed.
SW: Let's go way back to the early club days of Saxon...you came up in the ranks with a lot of other NWOBHM bands. Can you recall some of the bands you played shows in England with during that time?
Biff: People tend to think that the bands of that era were a lot closer than they really were. Actually, the bands had very little to do with the shows and the supporting acts, the promoters did all that. We did do quite a few university shows with Iron Maiden, but our closest buddies to play with were Motorhead, who were absolutely massive in England at the time. They took us out as the opening act on our first tour of England, and that was a great time for us. Later on, as we grew, we had seen the Tygers of Pan Tang in clubs, and we eventually took them out with us on tour, and that was nice as well. Things in England really didn't start happening until Iron Maiden and Def Leppard and Saxon started to get national attention. It was then that bands like Samson, Praying Mantis and such started appearing on the scene.
SW: Keeping with the SHOCKWAVES theme, Biff, tell us a funny road story that happened with Saxon.
Biff: Well, I can only tell you one funny story that happened to us with this lineup. I would need a couple of drinks in me to start telling the stories from long ago, so this one will have to suffice. I can remember a time in America when Nibbs, the bass player, was smoking a joint in the tour bus when a bat flew in through the open window and it totally freaked him out! He was a bit paranoid from the smoke, and he was convinced that someone had planted the bat there as a practical joke. So, when he finally caught it, he had it stuffed to remember the occasion (laughs).
SW: That is brilliantly absurd. Well, my last question is by far the most important one of the interview. When you barbecue, do you use charcoal or do you use a gas grill?
Biff: (Laughing) We use charcoal, actually.
SW: Good man, Biff! Now, that is a real barbecuing stud!
And with that I concluded what seemed to be one of the shortest interviews I have ever done. But when I listened to it over again, I realized that it was the speed of the time passing as I talked to a man that I have admired for nearly 15 years. I truly hope Biff and the men of Saxon keep pounding out their relentless brand of rock n roll for many years to come!
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