Interviews

Biffy Clyro are just honest rock stars trying to make an honest living

By Anjali RaguramanEvents - 12 September 2014 5:15 PM | Updated 14 September 2014

Biffy Clyro are just honest rock stars trying to make an honest living

With music deemed too hard for mainstream radio, some might not have heard of Scottish trio Biffy Clyro, made up of vocalist Simon Neil, bassist James Johnston and his twin, drummer Ben Johnston - even though they’ve been making music for close to 20 years.

But for those privy to these rock music gems, their heart-on-sleeve honesty has won them an almost cult-like following of fans.  

Hailing from the small town of Kilmarnock in Scotland, the band has put out six albums to date, including the most recent, a concept double-album that explores themes of dark vs light named 'Opposites' and 'Similarities'.

Legendary for their frantic, shirtless, on-stage energy and grand, anthemic rock songs, they’ve gone on to play to sold out crowds numbering 50,000 at Wembley Arena and headlined the Reading and Leeds Festival in 2013.

But for every chugging riff, they display a versatility exploring quieter, orchestral moments in their music.

For all their success though, the band are surprisingly down to earth.

As inSing discovered during an interview with the band who are currently touring Australia, they’re just lads who are happy to still be playing shows, and who are pleasantly surprised and grateful to know that they have fans in Singapore.

So before you head to the Hard Rock Hotel Coliseum Monday 15 September to watch the band “leave it all on the stage”, we chatted with one-third of Biffy Clyro, drummer Ben Johnston.

From the sounds of it, it’s one of those concerts where you’ll be glad to say “I was there”.

What took you guys so long to come to this part of the world?

It costs a lot of money, and you’re not really sure if you have fans in certain countries. It’s kind of hard to gauge if anybody has your records, or if anybody would come to your show. We decided to make this year about trying to go to places we’d never been before and just put our foot in the water and see what happens. It’s been great fun so far and hopefully it’s going to continue.

Were you surprised to know you have fans in Singapore?

I still don’t know if we do! But if you’re telling we have fans then I’m very happy! I guess we’re used to never really having fans without working very hard for it first - like going to a place and then returning and slowly growing fans. That’s the way we’ve done it all around the world, so we never expected to have anybody at our shows when we go to a country for the first time. To have anybody at all at the first show will be great.

The band is probably more used to playing arenas like Wembley with 50,000 people nowadays. How do you handle smaller, more intimate gigs like the one you’re going to play in Singapore?

We absolutely love them! This band’s been going for more than half our lives, so we’ve done a lot more small club shows than big shows. Big shows have only just started happening over the past couple of years but we’re very much at home at a smaller gig. We like to see the whites of people’s eyes and for them to get covered in our sweat – that’s quite an important part of the bonding process.

We’ve been doing a couple of shows on the Australian run, and it reminds us of how much we love playing smaller shows. They’re very different but both very enjoyable.

Your last release was the double album ‘Opposites’ and ‘Similarities’ - was that something you felt like you had to do as bonafide rock stars, since every great rock band has done that too?

Kind of. Every rock band harbours dreams of releasing a double album at some point in their career. We had enough songs, and we had the idea to do it and the songs fell nicely into two categories thematically. We’re so glad we managed to pull it off. We don’t feel like it’s a double album that’s full of filler, it’s quite succinct and to the point. Hopefully it’s one of the better double albums that has been released over the years.

The heartrending 'Opposite' off Biffy Clyro's 2013 double album release 'Opposites'

Can we expect another double album for the next release?

No (laughs), I don’t think so. This one took quite a while. We rather foolishly thought- won’t it be quicker to do two albums? But it takes exactly as long as doing two albums.

The next album is going to be a shorter one. We want to give the fans a slightly quicker experience this time around. The songs won’t be as laid in with instrumentation, we’ll probably just stick to more guitar-based and drum songs. I’m saying this now but it might be entirely different. We never really know until we do an album. But we’re going to try and move away from the orchestral, kind of filmic thing, and do something a little more stripped back.

Is there a producer you’ve always wanted to work with or do you prefer to keep it within the three of you?

We always talked about trying to get Fiona Apple or Annie Lennox to sing one of our records. There are many artistes we would like to work with. (Lead singer) Simon has always talked about writing with Rivers Cuomo from Weezer.

There’s lots of folk but it’s not at the forefront of our minds. Producer-wise, we’re really thrilled to work with Garth (Richardson) and we managed to do three albums with him. I think it’s time to move on and work with someone else. But unfortunately I can’t tell you who. Hopefully they’ll give our band a slightly different sound for this record, and we can really start to move forward.

What’s it like touring and performing with your brother?

I don’t really know anything else! It’s always been this way, and he’s my twin brother as well. He’s always been by my side, my entire life. He’s my best friend. I can’t imagine being on tour without him - I think it’d be horrible.

The band has that core family vibe, with Simon being our mutual best friend since we were about 10 years old. This band goes back almost 25 years. So yeah, it’s good to have your twin brother and best friend - that’s one of the reasons that this band has lasted so long, and one of the reasons that so many bands don’t. I think it’s important that you play music with your friends.

As you said, you’ve been doing this for 25 years. How does that feel?

Again, I don’t know any different. All I know is that I’m extremely thankful for having the best job in the world. We get to tour the entire globe and play to different people every night and it truly is our dream. You can’t ask for anything more than that.

Obviously you miss home, but there’s always something about every job that’s going to annoy you. That’s something that is upsetting. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I don’t think I would be good at anything else. We’re all really grateful and we don’t really want it to end.

So have you been to Singapore before?

For want of a better expression, we got stuck in Singapore. It was a very bad winter, it was the year there was very bad snow in England, flights were disrupted. We had to wait an entire day before there was a flight available, so my brother and I went to play golf - it was absolutely fabulous.

 I’ve been reading up on Singapore as well, and I’m very much looking forward to coming. We’ve got a day off this time as well, so we’re going to go to a theme park, catch some rollercoasters and scream our heads off.

This will be your first show in Singapore. What can we expect?

You can expect a lot of passion. We’re going to leave everything on the stage as we always do. We play our hearts out and we play till we’re absolutely spent and we can’t move anymore. You’ll see a really honest rock band, hopefully. That’s what we’ve been doing for years. Hopefully you guys will be impressed and all we can do is do our best.

Also, can you please convey to the Singapore fans that we appreciate their patience and we’re sorry that we haven’t made it over yet. We’ll more than make up for it this time with an extra-long set.

A taster of Biffy Clyro's intense live sets

The Gathering with Biffy Clyro- Live in Singapore! | Date: 15 September 2014| Time: 8pm, doors open at 7pm | Venue: The Coliseum, Hard Rock Hotel, 8 Sentosa Gateway | Tickets: $88 (standard), $78 (group package, with four or more standard tickets purchased), $100 at the door via www.eventclique.com