NWoBHM legends issue their 18th studio album The Inner Sanctum, in March, and in April are the subject of an hour long documentary by promoter Harvey Goldsmith (a series of six called 'Harvey Goldsmith Presents'), who it turns out is a fan.
The new album follows the tradition of being modern and heavy, as recent Saxon albums have been heading, but nods back to the 80s too.
Original guitarist Paul Quinn (PQ) and current (longest standing) bassist Nibbs Carter (NC) spared me some time to talk about the album, English tea and more.
What's your view on the new album?
NC I like the way it ends. I really like 'Atila The Hun'.
Whose idea was that?
NC You mean to have eight minutes that sounds like Priest, Saxon, Sabbath; we were just writing riffs, and think, let's change the riff. So that song changed during the writing into more of a Judas Priest style track. It was like 'Let's fucking try it'. It's edited down from more like 10 anyway. I didn't think it would be the last track on the album, I thought it would feature more towards the front of the album, putting the stronger tracks nearer the beginning. That's where I thought it would be but at the end of the album, it makes it even more powerful. I like the way it's turned the end of the album into a big, dramatic thing. It's got metal written all over it.
PQ I like the way it turns the album.
Your recent albums have been getting heavier and heavier. But the new one's got a nod back to the old 'classic' era Saxon. Was that intentional?
NC Yes it was intentional. We wanted to get there, the early Saxon.
PQ It's pretty close to the concept we used to have back then, just go for it, give 'em hell basically, it's the same on this album.
NC If you take songs like 'Let Me Feel Your Power', and compare it to 'I Just Want To Rock', Yeah? I think you're talking pretty much on the same wavelength. Take 'Atila The Hun', and compare it to 'The Eagle Has Landed', what's stronger? 'The Eagle Has Landed' is almost a ballad. If you take the single 'If I Was You', against 'Wheels Of Steel' or 'Never Surrender', they're different songs but you've got the 3 ˝ minutes of 'Fuck you I'm going with this' idea. If you don't want it then sorry you're out.
I like the idea of doing something like 'If I Was You' because it feels like going out and buying a single, when I was 13 or 14 I was going out and buying 'Never Surrender', '20,000 Ft' and 'Heavy Metal Thunder'. I think it stands up against all those tracks.
There's a big difference between then and these songs, you have to try to separate trends and fashions from now to 25 year ago.
Would you say that the current sound makes the production of 25 years ago sound thin?
NC I prefer the sound of 25 years ago, because there's no bullshit, just the fire and the drive. No nonsense, it's what everybody knows. It's what you get on stage, it's dry, raw. I actually prefer it. It's what everybody knows. Sometimes though it's cool to go modern, you get the separation of sound.
PQ We worked hard back then. And it's the way the amplifiers were made, you can make them distort at any volume now. Then we had to work harder, the amps weren't far off being on full. Most nights they were on 9, we didn't have '12s' back then (laughs).
What do you think of Harvey Goldsmith's involvement with the single?
PQ Well, it's a TV programme really, apart from him being seen as a not-so-closet fan it works out well. He's a very positive bloke. Even when he's saying some home truths, which we can relate to. He and Biff, it's funny to watch those two guys go at it. He doesn't beat around the bush.
NC It wasn't arranged, the track was already on the album, we had all the parts written, the lyrics and melody. I prefer the single, rather than our own version. We didn't just give the tracks to the guys and they remixed it, we went to their studios we rerecorded it there in a couple of days.
They took what we recorded and changed the arrangement a bit. We did a rehearsal up in their studio. We said what we thought the strongest part and they took that, we said let's hear more if it, they added their own idea.
Hopefully it'll work on national radio rather than just 'This is what a heavy rock song sounds like'. It's not just that, it's making it presentable on radio. Which is what Harvey made a point about, rather than just being a single or a project. I prefer it to the album version. The single just flows, keeps your attention all the way through. There's no room for, you know, there's no stop.
The Eagle Has Landed Pt III was a live compilation; and plans for a live set more representative of one concert?
NC A 1 gig concert? No, 'cause a lot of what we try to play every night, some of it goes wrong. There is a one bootleg, what's it called?
PQ I don't know, but it was on sale about 4 days after the concert, it was on that Heavy Metal Thunder tour we did in about 2001 in Germany. It was great. We didn't think about it but we did it. If you go on the website and ask people what was the great bootleg from 2001 you'll find it.
NC Maybe you think about it maybe you don't. We'd like to do it, that just happened.
How does it feel to be playing next to someone you grew up listening to?
NC Very weird, fucking mad, and magnificent.
PQ He knows so much about the band that we've forgotten, it helps us to continue in this vein, he injects so much. It's one of the best feelings ever when he comes out with what he does and with that energy. It reminds you how good you are (laughs). He's objective too, says when to do things again.
NC That's what I always try, to keep it at that level. And then I think 'I'm in it, fucking hell!'.
The deal with SPV is OK with the band right now?
PQ Yes they've been pushing us well for the last few albums.
NC This is a nice deal, as they say.
Are you still big tea drinkers?
NC Yes. I've nearly run out, I'm down to my last 150 bags. They like tea over there but you just can't get what you get here. Typhoo or PG Tips, or even your Tescos premium home brand. I take it over in it's own fuckin' ship! (both laugh)
PQ Yep it's pretty religious
NC It's one of the reasons we come over, I've got a suitcase to fill with loose tea.
How do you feel EMI are treating your catalogue?
PQ They're very malleable, they listen to what you say.
NC There's a 2 or 3 disc set just out, which is good, not just your old cheesy artwork. Biff was involved with that. Not just the run of the mill, considering our views.
Are you pleased the band name debate got sorted?
PQ I've got nothing against people earning a crust, just don't confuse who's in the band. That's the point. I think Son Of A Bitch is a better name anyway. So why didn't they stick with it?
NC They deserve something better than trying to recreate a band of 25 years ago.
PQ I think the Son Of A Bitch record, 'Victim You', was good. I enjoyed it. We put it on in the bus and we thought, we quite like it.
NC It's a shame. Why go and do it, we know you can fuckin' play, why fuck around with the name. People know you're not Saxon with Biff.
PQ Good luck to the guys.
Any last comment to your fans?
NC Yeah, we haven't changed anything
PQ Except our socks and underwear. But I think the new album is a nod in the direction of the 80s. It's not a step back in any way. I hope you all enjoy it. Just get out there rocking….
Interview © January 2007 Joe Geesin
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