The band arrived in Finland the day before their gig in Helsinki on Friday morning, having a few local Salmiakki drinks at the local bar that night. Paul Quinn ended up being the only member able to walk on his own feet out of the bar, helping his buddies at their tasks. Paul and Nibbs Carter joined me for the interview, still tired from last night, but kept a cheerful spirit till the last question. Before we could start though, Nibbs grabbed me a cider, while Paul put his dinner aside for better snack time, carrying the fork and knife on his belt for that. Nibbs seemed more energetic than Paul, so he ended up answering most of the questions. The Saxon website earlier stated about Biff's tragic accident about his house burning down, so the guys enlightened us about that first.
Nibbs - His house burned down in the middle of the night in Normandy, France. Everybody got out safe, but it was close. Biff woke up in the middle of the night in the smoke and tried to get the children out, but couldn't find one of them, because it was so smoky, but they were lucky. We had to cancel like half a year of work for that. What a scary stuff. I was at his other house three months ago, sitting at dinner with my wife, Biff and his wife, and he had this wooden angel there, which was one of the things that he got back from the fire. They like to keep that in the window.
Paul - Biff said, that he woke up hearing someone calling his name. That is kinda ethereal, there was no one there. It was kinda like a dream or one of his ancestors, who knows.
Biff also released a book recently, "Never Surrender - Or Nearly Good Looking". Nibbs' first impression was, that the writing process went smoothly, but then again, he hasn't really talked about it with Biff.
Nibbs - I don't know when he decided to do it, but he's been talking about doing a book for quite a while. He got together with John Tucker to discuss things and compile it and things like that. I haven't really asked him if that was difficult, so I don't know. Maybe I could ask him...(jokes about hopping to the table next to us, where Biff is doing another interview).
Paul - Once when Biff starts telling anecdotes, it's self-perpetuating. So maybe he did find it easy, 'cos he knows lots of funny things. Not just his own funny things or ours, he's like a part-time comedian.
Nibbs stressed the book not being a child book, and it's easy to understand, imagine rock stars storytelling! Biff's book is not as dirty as the Mötley Crüe one though, but then again Mötley is as dirty as it can get in this biz.
NOT AS KITCH AS POISON
Rocking since 1979 Saxon has plenty of stories to tell, and they must've sensed a long career, judging by their various lyrical insinuations about keeping the ball rolling. "Cos I can't, I can't stop rockin", they sing in one of their songs, and their newest track shouts out "I've Got To Rock (To Stay Alive). What were Saxon's glory days then?
Nibbs - At the moment these are the glory days for me. I wasn't around in the band around "Denim And Leather" and "Wheels Of Steel" time, strong out times that looked like glory days at the time. I was buying those records. At the moment it's going really well. We're getting a lot of interest in the places that seem to matter, like tv, and the crowds are really enthusiastic, already singing the songs, that's always a good sign. So it seems like glory days to me.
Paul - It's amazing that metal's coming to another lease of life. We've done so much road work, that we're ready for another lease of life for ourselves. We are on the build.
Nibbs got more curious and asked Paul what it was really like back in the early days.
Paul - It was a mellay of faces, mostly smiling faces, lots of sweat and...alcohol and other juices, Paul says with an intriguing voice and a smile on his face.
The age gap between these guys is fifteen years, so there's bound to be some disagreements with such generation gap, as Nibbs said, but things work out fine between them. After all, he's been in Saxon now for eighteen years. Paul mentioned being once married to someone of Nibbs' age, and points out good music is good music and no matter what age people are they listen to it, even his daughter.
Nibbs - It's definately the right business to be in. If we played football, we'd probably be managers by now, which would work like twenty minutes, but in this game you can play extra time forever. Of course you know your limits, but we're not the kind of a band, that writes music that we can't play. That doesn't mean we start writing like country and western, or ballads and stuff like that, but you find your way around. If you listened to the last record, it's probably the most physical Nigel's ever done. "Unleash The Beast" was also a real killer drum track album, but he's also pulled it out again on this record. We didn't push him though.
The newest album is Paul's favourite, and Nibbs likes it too, but it doesn't mean it makes it his favourite.
Nibbs - When I listen to stuff like "Wheels Of Steel", I didn't have anything to do with that, so I appreciate it in a different way than Paul and the rest of the guys. But to pick one (favourite) out is difficult. I really like our latest record, but I have to go with "Wheels".
Shooting the videos in the 80's seemed to be cool for most bands, and anyone has an opinion about the style from that era.
Paul - Yeah, they always had to have a girl in them and there was always good looking girls. We weren't quite as kitch as say Poison was, those boys could strut, with a camera following them on the track. We were experimenting what some would say too much, but we were experimenting to amuse ourselves at fashions, musical styles and lots of things.
Nibbs - I don't think that stuff is to be taken too seriously. I mean, obviously it's serious if you make them so and you're trying to sell records, that's serious. But how I look at those things I think that looks like fun, more than anything else.
THE INNER SANCTUM TOUR, PART ONE
The ongoing tour is one of the biggest Saxon tours in Europe ever, including 51 gigs. Then the band heads over to festivals, Japan, America and Australia, where they haven't played so far. While the band keeps themselves quite busy, Nibbs' thoughts wandered already to the future album, and it wouldn't be a surprise if these guys managed to push another record out in short time, concidering how productive they are.
Nibbs - I expect to be pressured by ourselves to write another record very soon. Expect the unexpected. I could say I expect to be rich and famous by Christmas, but I don't think so.
You're not rich yet?!
Paul - He's infamous.
Nibbs - Get a next record out, that's what we should do. I mean, while we're hot, we should get on to it.
Saxon has been in Finland many times already, last visit was in Ruisrock last year and one of the oldest gigs here was in the 80's, but the band has gotten familiar with Finland otherwise too.
Paul - One show we did in Oulu in Summerfest, a year after Iron Maiden. That's when we found out how well the Finns drink. I personally don't drink that much (laughs).
The guys remembered their visits here better than many other bands, and even had their facts straight about Finland. Nibbs even checked out one of the tightest Finnish live bands Mokoma in Ruisrock last year, who collected some awards in this years Finnish Metal Expo. Saxon also played in Sweden Rock in 2005 and Wacken 2004, where they were accompanied by their old band member Jorg Michael (Stratovarius), who joined Saxon for more shows too. The Wacken show ended up on Saxon's new DVD. The shows with Michael went great.
Paul - He knows the complete history of us and he's a fan of Nigel's, so he knows how to drum for us, to suit the way we play. And having been in Scandinavian bands he can get us into party mood quite easily. He's a mean hot sandwich maker as well.
Nibbs - He did the whole Lionheart-tour with us and recorded the album with us. He knew he was getting back together with Tolkki and Kotipelto, so he said to us he's only got until September or something like that. That's when we got Nigel back together with the band, but in that time he did a few festivals and Sweden Rock was one of those.
Saxon has actually played in Wacken many times. Personally I saw them there in '99, but the band is going back there again this year, with many German fans waiting for them again.
Nibbs - I think we've played there four times. Five times, if you include one Wednesday night, we just did two songs. We've got a good fanbase in Germany. They never really lost their attention span, as far as we're concerned. It's gonna be good this year, it's probably gonna be one of Wacken's own biggest festivals. It seems to be growing every year, seems to be up to like 60 000 (sold tickets) this year.
Saxon's music still interests young fans as well. Nibbs took a guess, and thought the number might be around 38 percent.
Nibbs - It's growing and growing. That often happens, if you get great promotion, good coverage on the record and it gets to tv. That's where you get a lot of the younger audience or playing festivals.
Eventhough the music style has much changed since the 80's, Nibbs still likes nearly all the directions music's gone to ever since he got into listening to rock. Even nu-metal and grunge goes, but with black metal it's a different thing.
Nibbs - It depends. I really like Slayer and I think their new album is one of the best albums they've ever done. But when you have all these different styles, look where it's brought people, they're really enjoying our new album. If they hadn't had all that evolution, would they have liked this new record we've done. Would they think it's boring or wrong style? You gotta get from A to B somehow.
Saxon likes touring with Masterplan, they're all great guys, Paul says.
Paul - And very good players and songwriters. Everybody's going for it really, we get along great. And there are a lot more of the female varietys coming to see us and them as well, so it's nice to see people we can smile at, as well as just the males we always smile at.
Nibbs - It's inspiring though, having great musicians on tour with us. It gives you kick up. Jan (S. Eckert), who's playing bass with Masterplan, we've both jammed with him and he used to do a lot of top 40 group cover band stuff, he's been in like The Beatles cover band and stuff, so he's got a good load of songs he can jam to. It just keeps you on your toes. This is a great band and this is a great bass player, I should be playing as best as I can. It's good fun.
A little bit of competition?
Nibbs - Yeah, it is that way, but we're not ignoring each other or anything, we get along fine.
Saxon shouldn't worry too much though, being the main band.
Nibbs - You should always worry.
Paul - You could say Black Sabbath thought that way, until Van Halen supported them...anything's possible.
How true, but then again we're talking about two completely different bands, who both have their own fans. One of Saxon's most popular songs is "Denim And Leather", which the band very seldom leaves out of their setlist.
Nibbs - Most times we play that, but sometimes so many other songs get requested at the gig. At the moment we're playing it all the time, we're trying to keep it more structured, rather than a show where we just take requests and play any songs in any order. Kinda drives the crew crazy, 'cos they've got a song order for like programming lights for a specific song. If we don't play it and throw another one in there, we'll mess up their things. At the moment we're putting in (request songs) every night, but sometimes we do change the show around so much, that you're just (wondering) "I thought we were playing Denim And Leather?!".
Paul - Some songs become a statement of intent as well, and that one is the sentiment for all rock fans.
Not all bands take requests from fans though, and Paul wondered why is it so. How many times have you seen the same band live, and the band follows the same setlist night after night? It has it's good points and bad points.
Nibbs - When we did the "Night Out With The Boys" - tour, which was just songs from before 1985-1986, we had our setlist of maybe 25 songs, and that would get changed every night. We actually don't rehearse that much, but we know the songs very well. Someone might request something though, and how are we gonna remember that one?" (Nibbs demonstrates the frustration following from oblivion by banging the table loudly).
THE ACTUAL NEW ALBUM, "THE INNER SANCTUM"
Nibbs leaves for a while, just when I get into their new album, released this March. The Saxon songwriting process has changed to being experimental again, after their almost three decades in the business.
Paul - We use obvious songwriting tricks, like missing out the first chorus, which is very old one. A lot of songs have the solo after two verses and two choruses, but in some cases we use three verses and three choruses, or three verses and two choruses. We just like throwing it around a little. And because of the digital age you can still be editing right up to the point of mixing. The song "Atila The Hun", which is going great live, changed from the one that I learned into a version that is better really. It was a lot longer than this. I think it had maybe eight choruses when we rehearsed it. It's a lot of choruses for a song!
The band started building the new album by mostly throwing ideas around.
Paul - People can usually get off on someone else's part when it's played to them, and hopefully put something as good with it, and if it's not as good, it gets thrown away, or either changed or never used.
Nibbs makes a comeback here. Saxon also writes songs while on tour, although there's not always time for that while on the road.
Nibbs - If you're headlining, your time gets taken up by (various things), but if you're playing 45 minutes like Masterplan, there's not so much to do. I mean you gotta do the press, but you haven't got like soundcheck, things that we gotta do. It's good to at least get a few good ideas together while you're on the road, but most come together at our writing sessions. A lot of the spontanious stuff is usually started by something that we've written at home. We do get a quite a bit of random and spontanious stuff, but we're not the kind of band that would just jam around bluesy things, that would then turn into a song. There's already a song structure what we start with. Some of the stuff we did last we had some time between festivals last year and we went to Münich. It was really hot and we were in this old warehouse without airconditioning. We had some gear with us, amps, guitars and stuff like digital recording system. We spent like five days there and kept breaking like every twenty minutes for more pizza, beer and chicken, but we got some ideas out there. Those specific writing sessions put you under pressure. It's always good to take a pause.
And some best ideas are born at a pub...
Nibbs - Sometimes, and sometimes not.
The guys feel strong about their latest album, which is in fact a very strong release.
Paul - The album is so go-for-it. People are really surprised with it, because when you get to be a long established band, people don't expect this kind of album. It's amazing how people have taken to it, because we're touring later than we would normally tour after release. We can hear that they know the songs, because we can hear them singing back to us, things like "Can You Feel The Power".
It's always nicer, when the crowd already knows the songs, than to tour before the album comes out, and Saxon prefers to tour after album release.
Paul - People have a chance to get used to the songs, and not listen to them so hard, if they don't know them.
The new album sounds more modern and clean, but Saxon wanted something similar to the "Lionheart" sound, although a lot of it is determined by the song themselves.
Nibbs - You can say let's use this sound or check out the overall shape of the sound on this record and that record, but then you have another song that just won't fit that sound. But if you're talking about specific EQ and stuff like that on guitars, we fooled around quite a bit on the bass guitar on this one. It's something I've enjoyed, a sound I've enjoyed from bands like King's X. For years I've wanted to have that one on the record, but it's usually "come on, guitars take those frequencies, let us take care of that". Funny it came out on this record, I mean they just decided to use some of those high frequency stuff. But it doesn't mean you have to sacrifice some other things. I remember the producer was freaking out a little bit and Biff really had to push him to use the specific bass sound.
The guys still wanted to keep the Saxon sound and not change it too much. The band has managed to keep their albums quite balanced soundwise through the years.
Nibbs - It's funny, there's this one record I remember, it was called "Forever Free", it was 1993 I think. Quite a lot of it was recorded in the rehearsal studio that we use in England, and we then took it to Vienna to finish off there. I couldn't believe it when I heard the final mix on a disk, or cassette I think it was then. I was crying, I really couldn't believe it, I was like "I can't believe we're throwing this away". Most people agreed after what happened and some thought can we record "Forever Free" again. But that's the one since I've been in the band I couldn't believe it.
The band doesn't take much stress from studio work.
Nibbs - Depends on how much time you've got. If you're on time pressure then it's pointless really, you're just gambling with something that you've carefully prepared, all the ingredients fresh, "ok, serve it to me now!". I haven't even got the fucking cooker turned on, what the hell are you talking about, you know. If you're on time pressure, then it's a pain in the ass, but otherwise you're creating something. God made the world in three and half days and the rest of it was under pressure to do.
Paul - Some bands get a hard time. I can see why Metallica called their tour that, because of the black album. I like that album.
Nibbs - It's a bit too commercial.
TRACK BY TRACK
The guys shortly went through each ten tracks, covering the lyrical side, which is Biff's territory.
1. STATE OF GRACE
Paul - It's difficult to go into the lyrical side, because Biff does most of that. But it's about being the best you can be at a certain point. In this case it's about the freemasons, the builders of cathedrals and such.
2. NEED FOR SPEED
Nibbs - That's pretty simple, but we're not drugtakers in that respect.
Paul - It's more like racing and roadspeed.
Nibbs - Adrenalin. Eating chocolate (laughs). It's about racing, basically.
3. LET ME FEEL YOUR POWER
Nibbs - That's quite a lot to do with the audience participation, speaking to the crowd "let me feel your power, do you want to see the show, hard and fast it's the only way to go". It's the same kinda theme like in "Need For Speed", but with audience participation.
4. RED STAR FALLING
Paul - The Berlin wall coming down and generally the fact, that communism wasn't exactly the right route.
Nibbs - It's weird that the song is called that. "Where were you when the red star fell, did you hear the tolling of the bell, million people on the street they march as one, they march for peace". It's pretty self explanatory stuff, but I've seen stuff on our forum, where people wonder how can we call communism a beast, are you a communist or have you ever been. We're just doing it as a general historic observation thing.
Paul - It's a big generalization to lump them all into their like goolag kind of experience. It's just part of generalization of the history really.
Nibbs - We're only touching it, we're not saying this is where our heart is firmly rooted. It's just an observation and sometimes music's there first, and then you have a theme and think that's fairly slavic or something sounding more like guitar motif, and how that fits with you wanting to talk about communism. Sometimes it just works that way.
But Saxon doesn't want to be too political.
Nibbs - Who wants to be a politician?
5. I'VE GOT TO ROCK (TO STAY ALIVE)
Paul - That's the original meaning of rock'n'roll, it's got nothing to do with music.
Nibbs - It's very straightforward. It's so straightforward, that we got Lemmy (Kilmister, Motörhead) to sing it with us. That's not on the album though, but (will be) on a single version in the next few months.
Among Lemmy, Saxon has recruited more guests on the forthcoming single, the singers from Helloween (Andi Deris) and Rose Tattoo (Angry Anderson).
6. IF I WAS YOU
Nibbs - It's basically another observation of knife and gun crime that's been in America for a long time, but we're noticing it a lot more in our home country. It's like when kids kill each other for a mobile telephone or just for ten pounds worth of dope, families or generations wiped out for nothing. But it's basically about knife and gun crime.
7. GOING NOWHERE FAST
Paul - Traffic jams. You see a lot of them.
Nibbs - Sometime's just feeling you're not making any progress. Could be anything, you're stuck in your daily job, that you feel like you should be doing something else, you're going nowhere fast.
Nibbs leaves for a second again.
8. ASHES TO ASHES
Paul - It's the kind of three musketeers, depending on which film you watched. It's the kind of brothers in arms type of meaning there, all for one, one for all, which can apply to musicians a little bit, because we're very much like one big family.
Nibbs returns squeaking "mama!mama!" loudly, referring to Paul's family theme. So who's the mama then?
Nibbs - I'm certainly not a mother. I think Thomas (tourmanager) is our mother actually. You can milk anything...
9. EMPIRE RISING
Paul - It's the intro for the song after, and it's about empires rising...(we all laugh hysterically).. -sorry...it's a very short piece, Paul continues.
Obviously an instrumental doesn't need no lyrical explanation, and this intro is only 40 seconds in length, but the next piece runs in eight minutes.
10. ATILA THE HUN
The fearsome hun, also known by names Attila or the Scourge of God. The Khan of the Hun people, leader of the Hunnic Empire.
Paul - If you want someone aggressive to sing it, you can go no further or get no better than Atila.
Nibbs - It goes through influences like Judas Priest and Black Sabbath, back to the early 80's, middle 70's or even earlier. If you listen to "Iron Man", that kinda pops out in the track and it still cracks me up where the intro riff came from, and solo ends up being the main riff. That's very Judas Priest. It's great fun to play that last song.
Whether Saxon likes playing long songs live still stays a mystery.
Paul - We don't know.
Choosing favourite songs off the new album is hard.
Nibbs - Tough question.
Paul - They're all fun to play for different reasons.
The critics for the latest album have mostly been good, and Nibbs stated that the band likes it when the press says all the right things, with a grin on his face.
Nibbs - The truth is also good, I like that. We kinda rushed to get this record out and suddenly we're out on a big tour and everything seems to be going well. Obviously you can't say you guys are wrong, this can't be great, when people are saying this is the best thing you've ever done.
Saxon planned to play two hours and twenty minutes in Tavastia, and the schedule kept. Some liked the idea and some didn't, but for a usual Saxon show this was a short set. The guys think playing long shows is physically hard, and Paul warmed his hand by bending it back during the interview. Shortly put, Saxon shows are about entertainment.
Paul - And a damn good party, I hope.
Nibbs - Getting out of yourself for two and half hours.
Paul - Outer body experiences (laughs).
These guys have their feet firmly on the ground, and it shows from what they're planning on doing between the shows, which still continue till the end of this year. Paul is planning a holiday.
Paul - I used to go to France, good food and wine there and a nice girlfriend.
Nibbs - I'm getting a new bass guitar.
There's nothing wrong with his old bass guitar, but musicians are keen on collecting instruments they play with.
Nibbs - I was looking for a specific kind of bass a while ago, and I carried on looking, but then this company came to me in Hamburg and offered me to try theirs. I pay five hundred dollars plus tax for that, they don't really endorse, they just make good instruments and sell them, but I'm gonna keep on working on the price.
Finally, here are some odd hellos from the guys to our readers.
Nibbs - Get yourself in a band and play for two and half hours...
Paul - All I can say old music is great.
Alright. Take these advices from the nice Saxon lads and go see them live. The band, closing in on their third career decade, still rocks real hard and seems to be getting better through the years, like the fine wine Paul likes to sip in France.