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Doug Scarratt (Saxon)

Interview with Doug Scarratt from Saxon
by Orpheus Spiliotopoulos at 24 February 2005, 5:23 PM

In late 2004 there was a period where I had tons of phone interviews, e-mail interviews and up close interviews. What's wrong with that? Nothing, apart from the fact that you can't really handle all this when you've got a million of other stuff to take care of at the same time. Oh well, there is a Greek saying that says better late than never, so without any further ado I bring you Mr. Doug Scarratt, one of Saxon's axemen. Saxon being a legendary N.W.O.B.H.M. band simply meant from the very start that this interview was surely gonna be an interesting one. Well, I'll let you be the judge of that.

Doug, since we’re an online Magazine, my first question would be what your relationship with the internet is, if any?

I use it a bit…well, not that much actually, not that much as most. Sometimes I look at Ebay, I look up films and CDs and stuff like that but I don’t use it that much.

Do you ever read critics, like album reviews etc?

Occasionally I do. Not that often. I tend to buy magazines more.

You’ve been in Saxon since 1995 when you joined in after Graham Oliver had left the band…

He was sacked actually.

Oh, after he was sacked then. How did it always feel, after joining the band, to be a part of one of the pioneers of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (N.W.O.B.H.M.) back in the early 80’s?

Really good but better in the last 5 years really. When I first joined the band it was a bit like replacing somebody. I didn’t really start to really get into it and feel part of it until I started making albums with Saxon. So, yeah, very good, I’ve really enjoyed making the last couple of albums; I like making albums anyway.

Had you ever imagined, before 1995, that you’d be in a band like Saxon? Not that I’m implying that you’re not worth playing with Saxon or anything like that, don’t get me wrong!

No, I didn’t, really. I was working as a session musician, you know, basically doing everything and anything; doing Pop sessions etc. I played in a local band with Nigel Glockler (ex-Saxon drummer), so we’re both from the same town…

Oh, so that’s where you knew him from!

Yeah. I was friends with Nigel for quite a long time before I actually played in Saxon. He just rung me up one day, out of the blue and said Graham and I want to know if you’d like to audition for the band.

Before I ask you anything about your latest album (Lionheart), I’d like to ask you how you feel about the Killing Ground album, three years after its release?

I’m pretty proud of the cover of In The Court Of The Crimson King because it’s a song from my past actually, a song that I really loved and I really like our version of it. To tell you the truth, I didn’t really expect to; I was quite dubious about covering it.

You were?

Yeah because I love the King Crimson version and I wasn’t sure whether we’d…

…make a good version out of it?

Yeah. I didn’t know whether it would suit the band but as soon as we started to play it, it became obvious that it was working. Killing Ground for me…well, it’s a very popular album but I was disappointed with the production.

You wanted a better production?

Yeah, I found the production to be too harsh…which sounds crazy for Metal music but I found it just a bit too…

Loud?

…I wanted it to sound bigger than it is. But I must be completely wrong because everybody really liked the album; it got great reviews so… you know, this is just my personal opinion. I am very happy people liked it and people did like it and I also think that the songs are good.

Lionheart, an album produced in England, for the first time actually in 15 years. Why do you think it took Saxon so long to produce an album in its own country?

It’s difficult to say really. I mean, the studio that we used in Hamburg (Germany) for the 10 years I’ve been in the band was because we liked it. It’s a very, very nice aerie studio with a lot of natural light, by the forest, a nice place to be, really. Especially when you have to be there for a long time. So there seemed no need to change.

So how did the change come up?

The availability of the studio in Hamburg was a bit difficult, when we wanted it and also the studio in which we recorded Lionheart was the same studio in which we used to rehearse so we thought why move everyone to Germany and not just bring one guy to England?. We were all sort of comfortable with that idea.

Being closer to the family and all…

Well, we still were away from the family, though not that far away of course. Still really too far away for me at least to drive back home in the evenings or anything, so I still had to be away for weeks and weeks. I enjoyed making this album, it was good.

The album’s title is about King Richard Lionheart, right?

Yes.

Some songs are about English soldiers, right?

Um, yeah…

I mean their attitude in war.

Oh, yes.

Do you agree that these things are definitely a Saxon trademark?

Yeah, they are. It’s really into history, not only English history. Biff \[Byford] is really into history a lot, he likes history, not only English history but…

…mostly English though, don’t you think?

Well, yeah, mostly English I guess.

I mean, if you take a deep look into Saxon’s history, you’ll see a lot of that there.

Yeah, I agree. I think it’s just that Biff reads a lot of English history and he writes most of the lyrics. He gets an idea for a song and sometimes I think oh not another history song but it actually works.

Did you compose any songs?

Yes.

Which ones on Lionheart?

Well, the way it works is we tend to all write riffs and put them in a kind of a pool. The Biff chooses riffs that he likes or ones that inspire him. I mean, if you take like a lot of the riffs were Paul \[Quinn] and me together. He writes some parts, I write some parts. I wrote the music to Lionheart for example.

That song’s going to become a hit! It’s really cool.

Thank you! And I also worked on the lyrics with Biff so I do write some of the lyrics as well. Jack Tars, which is kind of the prelude to English Man ’o’ War…

Yeah?

…that’s just something I’ve been fiddling around with the guitar for ages. And I didn’t think it would be suitable for Saxon. And I was playing it and Biff liked it so we decided it should be included. And I had already written some melody and the lyrics for that (apart from the riff).

Who wrote Searching For Atlantis?

That was me and Paul Quinn actually. Before we started making the album, me and Paul got together and started writing guitar riffs. It’s like Paul will come up with an idea and then I’ll elaborate on it or vice versa. So that one was definitely a joint effort. I think the verse was mostly Paul and the chorus was me and the two bits fitted together, you know.

And what about the lyrics?

That was me and Biff.

Someone must have done a little research on Atlantis though, in order to have his imagination triggered by the whole story…

I watched a documentary on Atlantis basically but the thing is that the song although it makes quotes from Atlantis it’s more of a metaphor. People use searching for Atlantis as a metaphor for searching for something in your life that can never be found. So, it’s not so much of an Atlantis history song, it’s more of a metaphor about life really.

What’s Flying On The Edge all about?

Last summer we played two shows on the same day. We were playing the Gods Of Metal in Italy and we were also headlining the Rock Hard festival in Germany the same day, late in the evening.

How did that happen?

Oh, we got the deal for both shows and we were let’s see if we can do it!. \[Laughs]

So we chartered a plain, a small plain that was supposed to take us virtually from the gig in Italy to Germany and there were really bad thunderstorms and everything. The plain couldn’t take off, so we then had to take a domestic flight which was something like 74 kilometers to the airport and then wait for the flight etc…We just drived like crazy to the airport to make this flight from Italy and we just made it, we just got on the plain and on the other end cars waiting for us…We literally drove to the side of the stage and walked on…we made it with 2 minutes to spare. It was quite funny!

And quite risky too! \[Laughs]

Yeah, it would have worked out better if the weather hadn’t been so bad. Had the other plane taken off, we would have done it quite easily but it turned into an adventure….so Biff wrote some lyrics about it.

Doug, what’s the best moment you’ve ever experienced with Saxon, in your opinion?

There’s so many things that happen on tour and sometimes on stage. When you do so many shows back to back, they’re all fun but they do tend to blur together into one. So, there’s only a few shows that really burn into your memory and there are a couple really. I think my first Saxon tour where we played a gig in San Antonio which was…

…awesome?

Yeah, I think I had been in the band for only two months and I think that there were 40.000 people there.

That’s a lot of people…

Yeah and it was like, you know, like in the movies. Texas was neon lights, bright red sky and it was an outdoor gig and I was this is fantastic. That was cool. And I also really, really enjoyed the Bang Your Head festival (Germany). I think it was a couple of years ago when they made the castle set on stage again, like the Crusader concerts and for some reason I just had some magic moments on that gig. There were so many places on the stage to run about. I think I was playing the Wheels Of Steel solo where I was standing on this huge hand with all these fireworks going off and I thought whoa, this is pretty cool!. \[Laughs]

And of course Greece I presume since you seem to be coming back here pretty often for gigs.

Yeah, definitely. The Greek audience seems to be pretty mad for it. All of the shows always sell out. A really appreciative audience.

They love to sing along and stuff like that.

Loud sing alongs. Greece is surely good fun.

OK, now back to Lionheart. How to you feel about it, overall?

I’m very happy with Lionheart. I felt slightly unhappy with the production of Killing Ground - I didn’t feel that good about Killing Ground when it finally came out and yet it got fantastic reviews. So when I felt really good about the Lionheart record I thought I’m probably fucked up as in I really liked this record so maybe no one else will. \[Laughs]

But I think the songs are strong, the riffs are strong. I think Biff’s in fantastic shape, his voice I mean…

This guy never ages. \[Laughs]

Yeah! When we started listening to the playbacks of the tracks I thought, you know, we’re not a young band but there’s an energy here which does not sound like an old band. It doesn’t sound old in its power and energy but I also don’t think it sounds old in its creativity either. That’s how I feel about it, I hope everybody else does….

Are there any video clips shot for the album?

We’ve already shot a video for Beyond The Grave because the record company (SPV) obviously thinks that’s a very commercial song I guess. \[Laughs]

Don’t record companies always have their own feelings about a band’s songs? \[Laughs]

Yeah, they always seem to do. On the sampler CDs they usually choose the safest tracks to put out. But we forced them to put Witchfinder General on the sampler CDs. I think that was quite a radical track.

So, Doug, are you ready for your next Tour?

I’m never ready. \[Laughs]

Never? \[Laughs]

No, you just walk out the door with your guitar and if you start thinking about it too much, you might not go. If you like your life at home – and I do – and you have a family…if you start thinking about it real hard you go like oh, why do I have to leave…NOT that I don’t like playing the shows, it’s just that it gets harder and harder to leave.

It must be a bit tough on the family, every time when you leave for months and months…

It’s not easy, definitely.

What’s your opinion on new age bands? You know, Nu-Metal, Hardcore etc.

Some stuff I really like but some stuff, there’s some stuff, there’s something there I can’t get passed. I like anything that’s real. So if I hear aggressive music, that is genuinely aggressive, I can feel the energy and power of it even if I don’t really like it much. I can tell when it’s real….and I don’t like fake. I do like System Of A Down and Rammstein too. My taste in music is so varied, to be honest. I don’t listen to that much Metal when I’m at home.

So what do you listen to at home?

I like quite a lot of Jazz, to be honest. Plus what people would call Ambient music. I really like Brian Eno’s music. I’m a really big fan of his. I like really quite minimalist music that creates atmosphere.

I think you like to calm down a lot! \[Laughs]

Yeah, I do. Well, sometimes when I’m at home I wanna listen to Rock music but I do tend to listen to a lot of…

…Oldies?

I guess so. I still like Journey and Toto. You know, Pop-y Rock. Music is about what mood you’re in really, isn’t it?

It is, absolutely. It always depends on how you feel.

For example, I wouldn’t wanna be listening to System of A Down while I’m having dinner with my wife. \[Laughs]

And I’m really, really into music. I buy a lot of music. At the moment I’m into a guitarist called John Scofield. He’s a Jazz player; he used to play with Miles Davis. He’s a kind of not ordinary, not straightforward Jazz; he’s a bit off center, slightly weird. You know, not a vanguard. I’m really into that…at the moment.

Though it’s a bit early to be asking this but are there any finished songs, on the side, for the next album?

Not finished songs. We did kick out quite a lot of songs when we made this album. We probably wrote twice as many songs as that.

So, lots of songs in the closet…\[Laughs]

Yeah! You see though, the thing with us is that Paul for example, he likes things like Stevie Wonder and Soul music and I like that as well so if we don’t really focus me and Paul could end up writing a Blues ’N Funk album \[I’m not quite sure what Doug said right here], so we have to tailor what we do. We get up and write some things that we think are Metal sometimes but they end up being not suitable…

…and then Biff comes in and cuts them out! \[Laughs]

Yeah. \[Laughs] It’s a funny chemistry because our songs, they’re Metal but they’re also quite melodic. I think it works like that because we all actually like Pop music, we don’t wanna write music that people can’t sing, that can’t remember the chorus of. So it kind of works. Paul and I, we grew up listening to Rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple etc, so yeah our roots are into Metal but if you don’t move out and listen to other stuff as well you become…boring!

Last but not least I’d like to ask you Doug to send out a message to all our readers and of course your fans.

Just hi to everybody and thanks for staying with the band this long. I hope that the new album (Lionheart) doesn’t disappoint but we feel good about it and all the feedback so far has been great, so go out and buy it.

Thanks Doug. It was a pleasure talking to you.

And you! Thanks and take care.



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