An Interview With Biffy Clyro

TPAWB: A few weeks ago, you headlined Reading and Leeds Festival in front of a massive crowd. How does it feel to play such a small venue tonight, especially under the umbrella term ‘new pop’?

Ben: It’s an honour to be here. It’s an honour to play anywhere and we still feel that way. Every single gig is special. Variety is a spice of life so that’s quite different from the Reading and Leeds Festivals definitely, going from a muddy field to a very, very beautiful town with lots of rich people (laughs). It’s amazing to be here and I think the gig will be very special and it will be an experience that I will remember forever.

TPAWB: I saw Bastille’s performance last night. They are very big in England and their British crowd tends to go mental whereas the audience reaction over here was much more reserved. How do you deal with this sort of response? Is it something that disappoints you as a band?

Ben: We just do what we do. We don’t have any kinds of gimmicks and we’re not really a band that talks that much to the audience or tells stories, jokes or does great participation. We just go up and play our songs and if that’s not good enough too bad.

James: It’s always nice to have a bit of audience participation. It’s a kind of combined thing. You’re trying to have a shared experience, but it’s like Ben says, we’re not the kind of guys that tell jokes to make that happen. It’s just about playing our music and trying to make that connection through the music really. If people are a lot quieter then that’s up to them. We’re gonna do our thing and we always enjoy shows, even shows where maybe the audience is quieter. You have to remember that everybody’s different and like you say, perhaps with a little older audience, more mature audience I should say, that’s just the way they are perhaps.

TPAWB: Biffy Clyro got signed to independent label Beggars Banquet around 2000 and you stayed with them for your first three records. How important was it for you as a band to be given the time to further develop at an indie label?

James: I think it was very important. You look at a lot of bands, 18 or 19 years old, who get signed up to a bad label and make the first album and maybe if they achieve success very quickly, it can be very difficult to then go and learn how to play in bigger rooms and to learn how to write better songs. That sort of thing, or to deal with the travelling, to deal with the pressure. We got the chance to do all those things very much under the radar. Nobody was really paying attention, getting better at being a band. You’ll miss being away from home, all these sorts of things. It couldn’t have been more important to us. We could not place more importance on it at all. You know, every band is different. Some bands, like Artic Monkeys perhaps, blew up very quickly and they seem to be doing really well. I think they got their fifth album out now and that probably got to #1 in UK as well. You know, five albums at #1. The way we’ve done things has been a bit of a slower built and it has been great for us. We’ve enjoyed every step of the way.

TPAWB: Do you think it would have turned out the same way if you had started at a major label?

Ben: No, I don’t think it would have. Like James was saying, if we had been at a major there would have been a lot more exposure. I think the label would have tried to alter our music slightly, I imagine, and we wouldn’t have had the chance to express ourselves the way we had to. We’ve released some really awkward albums, some quite angular, discordant music that a major label probably wouldn’t have released. Therefore, we wouldn’t have been allowed to record and play the music that we love. It was very important that we got to do that. We got to find our feet as musicians and Simon got to prove himself as a songwriter. And we signed to a major label when the time was right for that.

TPAWB: You mentioned that signing to a major label initially might have had an influence on your sound. How did it turn out when signing to Warner Music after your third album?

Ben: It was fine because we had already released the albums, we had a good following in Britain. Once we got signed we had established enough that the people at the label knew better than to try and mess with our music. If there ever were suggestions, we were just saying ‘no, we don’t want any input from anybody else’. It has remained that way. It has always been how the three of us feel about the music and that’s the bottom line, with nobody else getting a say.

TPAWB: What were the first things you did after finding out that Opposites went to #1 in the UK?

Ben: We were on a plane (both laugh).

James: (Still laughing) We were actually on a plane to the United States to start a little tour. So I think our manager had met us at the airport and we had a glass of champagne, stood outside the airport which is a little bit weird, and then we flew to the States. I think on the plane somebody, not one of the three bands, had mentioned or spoken to one of the stewardesses and then the stewardess brought us a bottle of champagne. We stood in the kind of kitchen area on the plane on the final approach to Los Angeles, having a glass of champagne. Of course it was a great feeling, but not that far removed from the young men that were making those albums at Beggars Banquet on an indie label. You know things haven’t changed that much. It had never been expected to get a #1 or anything like that, so it was a really pleasant surprise. It feels like to be making the type of music we make on our terms and then to be able to sort of infiltrate the mainstream if you like. Pop music is really just what is popular at the time. So for us to become that popular, to get a #1 made us feel very proud.

TPAWB: With you headlining Reading and Leeds Festival, it was really confirmed it, wasn´t it?

James: I think so. I think we’ve been building up to this. We’ve played the festival nine times now. In 2002, we opened the festival on a smaller stage. We’ve built our way up. It was an opportunity for us and I think we grabbed it with both hands and probably had one of the finest gigs we’ve ever had. We really enjoyed it and to have that connection with the audience, like we were talking about earlier, is what it is all about. However, it felt like we´d worked for that opportunity and we took it when it came.

TPAWB: I read that releasing Opposites as a double album was also a means to sort of put up some resistance to the public’s one song consumption patterns and the general throw away mentality. What are the issues with individual song downloads and how could this affect Biffy Clyro?

James: I think individual song downloads have their place. We’ve done it before and I’m sure we’ll do it again. We’ve used it as a tool if you like to remind people that we’re still a band. When we’ve been in the studio working, we want to let people hear our music as soon as we can. So sometimes a standalone single is a good thing. We’ve always grown up listening to albums and getting into it, so when you hear one song you know exactly what is coming next and it becomes a part of your life. I think with a double album that can happen more so. It takes longer; it is more of an investment for the listener. I think you’ll get more out of it if you put more in. We just thought in these times where the commercial side of the music industry is dying – as it were that’s not why we started a band; we started it to make music. So fuck that. We don’t care if that is a rescue maneuver on the commercial side. We thought in a musical sense it was quite a brave thing to do.

TPAWB: It is also an investment on the part of the label, isn’t it?

James: Yeah, I think so. I think the label kind of find it a little bit difficult at times, but they were very supportive when we got to release the double album and that’s the important part.

TPAWB: Did you release Opposites everywhere as a double album?

Ben: We definitely pushed to have the double album everywhere; that’s what we wanted; that’s what we originally intended. It was a double album that was written and that’s how we felt it made sense. I am not entirely sure in which countries a double wasn’t available, maybe Australia and America. I think most of Europe got it.

James: You can still get it, we are right on the 20th anniversary of In Utero. Krist Novoselić and Dave Grohl were talking about that when they released the record certain stores wouldn’t stock it because of the ‘rape me’ title. They changed that title to get it in those stores. The argument was that when they grew up the only place where they could buy music was in the local Wal-Mart or wherever it was and you have to remember that some people don’t have an opportunity to go to an indie store. They can only buy it in a big supermarket and when it comes down to that, sadly there’s no music stores, there’s no record stores anymore, so you’ll have to find a different way of getting your music out there. If it’s a choice between a fourteen track or nothing, then you’ll definitely got to take that. It’s a difficult one, but there’s compromise in every stage of your life I guess (laughs).

TPAWB: In what way does your Scottish background impact on the sound, lyrics and image of Biffy Clyro?

Ben: In every way, I think. Where you come from definitely influences your music. If you’re from Southern California then you tend to dress in a certain way, you have a certain outlook on life. I just think Scottish people are quite serious and intense and doer. To me that’s pretty obvious. I think everybody is very much influenced and we’re the grown-up version.

James: We’re slightly pessimistic people, aren’t we?

Ben: Yeah, pessimistic and hard-working. Scottish people have been hastily known for being hard-working and for being an inventive and industrious nation and I think that we are an industrious band.

TPAWB: Does this pessimism come from the industrial background? I mean the English aren’t that pessimistic.

James: People talk a bit Calvinism in Scotland. Calvin was part of the religious, Presbyterian Scotts who were quite religious. Their way of living was just to work hard. It’s quite a hard, harsh environment in Scotland; the weather, the landscape, so much of the land is inhabitable because of the mountains. Like Ben said, it makes people industrious to hard-working. You only get things if you work hard. That’s what Scots believe in all different levels, but I don’t want to go into the history of Scotland too much (laughs). People talk about the French having a certain attitude, or the Germans are really organised. You know it doesn’t apply to everybody, of course it doesn’t, but there’s always some truth in it. We just did some interviews with the Australians and they were all like ‘Oh fuck it eeeeeeeh everything’s too easy mate’. I think there’s some truth in that that people of a certain age are definitely influenced by their surroundings, their forefathers and people who have come before.

Ben: I think being above England always makes Scottish people feel like underdogs. We are always just this little nation that is attached to England and the British Empires. I reckon it actually helps us because we never feel any sense of entitlement. We feel like we have to work for anything that we get.

TPAWB: Speaking of hard-working, you seem to have been touring for years, headlining and also supporting other bands. Doesn’t life on the road take its toll on the relations with your families and friends?

James: It is difficult. We mentioned earlier about those early years with Beggars and we were kind of learning those things then very early on. The way I would sort of put it is it never gets easier to leave home, in fact, it gets more difficult every time you do it. But you just get used to that feeling. It’s like going on stage. You still get very nervous, but you get more used to the nervousness so it maybe doesn’t have such a big impact on you. You know, we’ve got families at home, we’ve got responsibilities, but we’re trying to bounce those things as best as we can. We’ve given everything we can to the band and we will continue to do so. We absolutely love it. We’re very fortunate to do this. I was thinking earlier that there’s probably nobody in our home town that’s ever been to Baden-Baden and I can’t think why they would. They probably couldn’t afford to. So we’re very fortunate and we’d certainly never want to complain about the fact that we are away from home because we get to travel, we get to have great opportunities and I suppose we’re still young or youngish, we should enjoy that.

TPAWB: However, Simon also said that when returning home after a tour it felt like you had just been existing, not living. Have you done anything to improve this situation when being on tour? I mean there is this 27 date European tour coming up.

James: We have, but there are more and more countries in Europe that we want to go to and the best way we could find was to take a break in the middle. So usually we would start in Paris and we would work our way around and then we would go back home. If that took six weeks or seven weeks then this is how long it would take. We started implement a rule that after three or four weeks we go home for a few days. It may only be a few days, but you get the chance to go in and reset and not see each other for a while. I’m sure Ben gets fed up listening to my shit. You need to allow each other some space. I think that’s one of the things that we’ve learned, isn’t it?

Ben: That sort of thing and maybe not flying home for one day off because then there is just the stress of travel and then you’ll have to leave your loved ones again. We’re just learning to try and make everything as comfortable as possible and that is something you just have to say to your management and your tour manager, just say ‘try and make our lives a bit easier please.’ We are about to hopefully have an hour and a half off where we can go and relax.

James: We know that there’s no point in rushing to the venue to set up, just little things like that. It’s not gonna be the most rock’n’roll, exciting chapter in the band’s history. The rock’n’roll, that’s on stage, that’s without doubt where all the exciting stuff happens. The rest of it can be a little bit mundane.

Ben: These little things are important. I think a lot of bands that don’t implement these things end up breaking up. It’s really sad because they don’t see it coming; they don’t see the burn-out coming. It’s important to be aware of that and nip it in the bud if you can and make sure everybody is happy. You know, talk to each other. We are bit older as well. At this stage, we couldn’t just sleep on floors and be in vans for hours. When you’re in your early twenties, this sort of stuff is doable and you’re still excited and you don’t get backaches so much (James laughs). When you get a bit older you need your luxuries.

James: When you’re young you have to go and do that shit. You have to go and do four months in America in a van. You have to do that. I’m not trying to say that every band should follow what we’re doing, it’s just that after ten years on the roads it’s time for a little change.

TPAWB: The second part of Opposites is called ‘The Land at the End of Our Toes’ which is more optimistic and embraces both hopes and fears of the future. What are your future aspirations for the band? Is there anything that scares you?

James: Not immediately scared. I think we always keep our ambitions quite close to our chest in a way. In Scotland, it’s not really that attractive to be a very ambitious person. I don’t know why that is. Not so much in the States where being ambitious is something celebrated and championed. So we find it a little bit difficult to think about these things, never mind talk about them. But as long as we’ll make music we believe in, go touring and we’ll have the sorts of experiences we’ve had up until now, we’re happy. We are happy where we are just now. So I think it would be a really good idea to not want to really change things too much.

Ben: We’ve always said at every point that ‘we are happy where we are right now’ and luckily it’s got bigger. But at every point, if it stays where it is now, this is amazing because it’s incredible that a weird little band like ours has got this far. We are very lucky boys.

TPAWB: And you will stay in Scotland?

Ben: No plans of moving to London?Ben: Noooo, we want to stay in Scotland where people treat you normally and they always pull you back down. It’s a great place to live. Nobody ever blows any smoke up your ass. If you went to London I think you would very quickly lose your mind. We’d like to stay where we are, in Glasgow and the surrounding areas.

Ines Punessen

End of Interview

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