Mon the Biffy!!!!!!!!!
Hailing from a small town in Scotland Simon Neil and brothers James and Ben Johnston, collectively known as Biffy Clyro, have been making music together since they were teenagers. However, it is with the release of their latest album, Puzzle, that they have reached a whole new level of commercial success and have broken into the worldwide market.
Puzzle, produced by Garth Richardson (of Rage Against the Machine fame) pleases even the most devoted of Biffy Clyro fans while creating a new allegiance with music fans across the globe. It’s tough to please both critics AND fans but Biffy Clyro seems to do this with ease. The new album is being touted as everything from modern to expiremental, but simply put, the album just plain rocks. Although the band is only a three piece, that didn’t deter them from an amalgam of sounds with everything from strings to keys with each member contributing to the vocals and rich harmonies.
The album is capped off by amazing artwork by Storm Thorgerson who you may recall created the album cover for a little album titled Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd.
While on the Warped tour, Simon and James took some time out to chat with TWRY staffer Lexi about the new album, their writring process, touring the US, and all things Biffy!
Interviewed by: Lexi Shapiro | September 2007
One of the unique things about you guys is that you opted not to have a ‘lead singer’ but to all switch off on vocals. What, in particular, was your motivation for that decision?
Simon: Well, there are only three of us, but I think we always wanted to make as big a sound as possible. So we all play as much as we can and sing as much as we can. I think it just gives the impression of there being more people in our band. *laughs*
James: Yeah, I totally agree. It’s sometimes tough when there’s only three. Sometimes, you get bands where there’s six or seven people and there’s maybe someone just standing about hitting a cowbell. But, we definitely keep busy. It helps give it a big sound.
Do you find yourselves falling prey to any sibling rivalry during any parts of the process…whether it’s writing, recording, touring?
James: No, we don’t, no. We’ve all been doing this for such a long time together that I think we’ve kind of found out how it works best so far, and we just kind of stick to that. Ben and I don’t really fight at all. Or, if we do, it’s a blazing row and then it’s over real quick.
It’s known that you have an aversion to releasing singles, instead preferring the concept of releasing albums as one, whole work. So, how, with this in mind, do you choose the singles you’re going to release?
Simon: Basically, you’ve just got to pick what you think would be the best song, I guess. You know, you’ve got to talk to the record company, get their input. But, every time we put out a single, we’ve always put three B-sides with it, so it’s almost like an EP, with some unreleased stuff. I just think it’s important. You know, if someone’s got your record and you’re asking them to buy a single, I think you’ve got to give them something worth buying, because, otherwise, it’s just a bit of a waste of money. Singles help just basically promote your record. It just reminds people that your record is out. We try and ignore singles as much as possible. It’s hard.
James: It’s kind of a necessary evil. If we could not do singles at all, then we’d be quite happy. But, it’s just the way things are, I guess.
Simon: We probably have two albums out every year, because of all the B-sides we use up.
James: Yeah *both laugh*
Simon: So, then, we’d probably end up with two albums every year if we didn’t do singles.
You cite Fugazi as one of your main musical inspirations, but what other bands or artists have influenced you?
Simon: Weezer were always a big favorite.
James: Yeah, absolutely.
Simon: Let me think…Soundgarden, and the Afghan Whigs back in the day were amazing. Recently, there’s a Danish band and they are a weird, kind of psychedelic band. They’re really amazing. They’re doing some really crazy stuff.
(Editor’s Note: If anyone knows the name of this band, please help us out!)
You kind of get into rock music, and then you kind of delve a bit deeper and start discovering some underground killer bands, and it’s easier to do these days because of Myspace and everything. You can kind of check out a band right away. But, ten years ago, you had to read about a band and then go hunt for the record, and it would be luck whether you got it in a record store or not.
For you guys, what’s the one song that EVERYONE loves, but you absolutely can’t stand?
James: Our songs or somebody else’s?!
James: There’s really too many to mention.
Simon: Yeah, there are a couple of Beatles songs that really annoy me that some people love.
James: I can’t think of a really smash hit.
Simon: I totally just drew a blank on that one. That’s a good question. I can’t think. *laughs* We’ll come back to that later.
We’ll come back to that one?
Alright. How do you feel about the apparent transition that you’re making into commercial success with Puzzle?
Simon: I mean, we’ve kind of always done our thing. Obviously, we’re just starting things properly over here this year. But, the last four to five years in the UK, we’ve just kind of went and played shows and not changed anything for anyone and people slowly got on board. We’ve kind of started to understand what we’re trying to do as a band. You know, we’re quite weird, and in the UK we’re a wee bit more visible. So, you can have people that aren’t into rock music, necessarily. We’re kind of amongst some non-rock bands, which is weird. But, we just kind of took it with a pinch this year, didn’t we?
James: Yeah. I think that commercial success has never been a hugely important thing to us, but like Simon says, it means we get to reach a whole bunch of new people, and I think that any band wants to do that, because we want to play to people and have them make up their own mind. If people don’t like you, then, that’s fine by us, because we do.
So, have you noticed the Warped Tour audiences being receptive?
Simon: It’s been great. We’re very unknown over here. And we’re kind of happy; it’s nice to go out with a blank canvas, and no one have any idea, having never heard of our band, knowing nothing really about our music…
“Who the fuck is Biffy Clyro?” (quoting the stickers being passed out)
Simon: Whoever’s sticking those stickers up is doing a really good job, ‘cause they’re FUCKIN’ EVERYWHERE. *laughs* But, no, it’s nice to be an unknown band and just be able to do our thing and see if people judge it or not, you know, on a very basic level.
So, an explanation as to what two things mean…first, the name. Where’d the band name come from?
James: It’s beyond explanation, really. We really just wanted a name that didn’t mean anything and that might confuse a few people along the way, and it’s definitely done that. It’s something that we sometimes regret for half a second, but then you’re like, we’ve kind of grown affectionate towards it and it’s just a name. It doesn’t REALLY mean that much.
So there’s no meaning whatsoever?
Simon: No, we’re always just really awkward. And, we wanted a really annoying band name, and like James said, a few years later we were kind of like, shit, we’re stuck with the name *both laugh*, but now we dig it. It’s come back around.
So how did “Mon the Biffy” get started? When was the first time that was said?
James: Seven years ago or something, maybe.
Simon: Yeah, some guy from Ben and James’ hometown came to a show and chanted “C’mon the Biffy” and then it shortened to “Mon the Biffy” and now it’s just almost a catchphrase, following us around all the time. But, it’s amazing, because the guy shouted it himself for a few shows, and then everyone did, and now we play shows and people make their own t-shirts that say “Mon the Biffy” on them. And, there’s a TV show on MTV called “Mon the Biffy,” so, that guy’s getting some money.
Have you heard it yet in America?
James: No, I think that was just by… I guess people didn’t come over.
I did it today!
Simon: Oh did you?!
James: Oh shit! Missed it.
I was like, “I don’t know if I should do it, because I might be the absolute only one and look like an asshole, but what the hell.”
Simon: Well, we appreciate that you let yourself run away with it. *laughs*
So, how do you like the USA thus far, since it’s your first visit aside from the coasts, and what do you particularly like or dislike about it?
Simon: It’s been great; what we’ve seen and the people we’ve met have been lovely and everything. But, unfortunately, on this tour, you’re basically in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere. So, we really didn’t get a chance to wander into town. Beautiful places. But, they say you can judge a town on its people, and everyone so far has been really nice. So, we definitely enjoy that.
James: Yeah, absolutely.
What’s the last GOOD movie you saw?
James: The Bourne…
Simon: The Bourne Ultimatum!
James: The Bourne Ultimatum. We watched it the day before last and it was fucking amazing.
Simon: It was brilliant.
And, what song is currently stuck in your head?
James: The Matches. That would be The Matches’ “Papercut Skin.”
Simon: But, we’d never heard The Matches before and then we’re on the same stage as them, and they’re just an amazing live band, and their tunes are really good, really original. And, they don’t sound like the others; quite a lot of bands on the tour sound a bit or less the same, and they’ve definitely got their own vibe going.
James: It’s maybe summed up the way some people feel about us… a band that’s done a few albums, but you’ve never heard of them. We saw The Matches and we’re like, “Wow, these guys are awesome.” We really rock out to them.
You tour relentlessly and I’m sure that you have experienced quite a lot, but tell me about one of the craziest things to ever happen to you guys on tour.
James: I guess that would be the Glastonbury Festival. There was just mud up to your knees and people running about, and it was such a hard time just trying to keep clean. Then, we had a great show that night. We were going to play with Muse in Paris, but that was over three hours away, so in three hours’ time, we had to go and get a helicopter, and then go to an airstrip and get in a private jet, and fly to Paris, which is pretty ridiculous. And, then we took a police escort to the stadium to get there in time.
Simon: And then we just ran in and started playing. It was surreal.
James: It was pretty surreal. That was probably the craziest thing to ever happen to us.
*All photos used courtesy of Biffy Clyro’s MySpace Page