Biffy Clyro’s debut album, Blackened Sky, was released 16 years ago. Nonetheless, Australia is still mid-handshake with the trio, working them out. There is a loyal Australian following, and the crowd’s war cry of “Mon the Biff!” will resonate with as much gusto during their forthcoming Australian tour for their 2016 release Ellipsis, as it would in Glasgow.
How is it then, that the UK has had Biffy tearing shreds off Wembley while we Aussies are yet to fully allow ourselves the unpredictable majesty that is a large-scale Biffy show? Perhaps cutting their teeth in the UK for 20 years has something to do with it? Plus, for lack of a better phrase, size isn’t everything.
“Those nights were so important to us and it does come up in conversation all the time. I guess now it’s about trying to make new memories and that might be on a bigger scale, but that doesn’t really matter,” James Johnston, the band’s affable bassist explains.
With the dispelling of size myths comes the question of motivation and drive for a band who could easily be labelled as ‘having it all’ in the UK. Countless festival headline sets, hundreds of thousands of adoring fans, as well as sold-out stadium tours. But the world is a big place and, explains Johnston, Biffy Clyro are far from done.
“There’s definitely not a feeling of us being done or us treading water,” he continues. “I think it’s got to be about making the best songs we can and the best record we can. I think that’s still got to be the focus, it’s not ‘what big show can we do this year?’, it’s about ‘can we make a great record this year?’
“The shows we played in America, we did four tours of the states, I guess it’s similar size venues [to Australia] and a similar approach. Maybe it’s right, maybe we are still earning our stripes. But like I say, it still feels like we’re earning that back home. It feels like we’re cheating sometimes when we’re headlining festivals.”
The evolution of the band’s sound is still throughout their 16 years of releases. The stamp of the Ayrshire boys is in everything they do, but to pin-the-genre-on-the-donkey is near impossible and, TBH, pointless. ‘Scottish Rock Band’ tends to be the overseas journalists’ sluggish go-to marque.
“I’d never really thought about being described as a Scottish-Rock band as being a novelty but it’s just another way of trying to nail down a band you find difficult to describe. It’s just as easy to say we’re a three-piece rock band with ginger twins – there are things you can write about us that are undeniable. It’s hard to say we’re just a rock band without including ‘weird’. I remember we first had to write our own bio and pretend someone else was doing it. You know, ‘these guys are fucking awesome’.
“How do you describe Nick Cave? How do you go about describing that kind of darkness without just saying ‘darkness’? You’ve definitely got to see a band, there’s no question about that. Especially if one record is quite different from another. I think when we play ‘Many Of Horror’ live it’s quite different from the album version and I think that’s the same for a lot of bands y’know?”
Instead of looking at upscaling and chasing the 80K crowds, or striving for so-called domination, all three members seek out opportunities which may, in their minds, seem conventional, but are still somewhat left of field.
“We’re doing a soundtrack for a movie at the moment and I think that’s something we’ve always been really keen to do. Interestingly enough, the movie is going to be made after we’ve made the music. It’ll be set to the music and the lyrics so it’s going to be really deeply collaborative so that’s definitely something that’s been on our bucket list.”
Jamie Adams will direct the film, which will somewhat be based on Simon Neil’s lyrics as well as using the album as a soundtrack. As if that wasn’t enough, the band will be back in the studio this year to release another standalone album, which will see the trio’s future booked somewhat uncomfortably far into their future.
“Our managers have to book shows quite far in advance sometimes and that can always be quite alarming so you can be like ‘woah woah!’ it’s like panic. I think it’s quite natural and quite free that we know we have to deliver something at the end of the day but it’s quite nice to be in a bit of free form at the moment. Some structure is quite important, you can’t be completely free form, but I think there’s a lot of discipline within the band without a doubt after having done this for such a long time, I think we are quite hard working so no one really has to crack the whip. It tends to be us keeping things going.”
After two decades of blood, sweat and tears, the issue of longevity and self-preservation seems to be the focus and source of contentment for Biffy.
“In terms of the longevity and brotherhood of the band, that is what it’s all about for us. I think if Ben and I had not been brothers, had we not had our history with Simon then undoubtedly, we might probably not be together now. We’ve seen so many great bands come and go because they couldn’t keep it together, but for us it is all about that brotherhood and [it] makes us fight for each other. Even when you get pissed off at each other, it’s like ‘ohh well you’re brothers so no one’s going anywhere’.”
Along the way, the lads have dealt with various difficulties, including Ben Johnston’s alcohol problem. But now, with the pitter-patter of wee-biffs on the way, the band may find they have to realise a new work-life balance in their lives.
“That is something that doesn’t get easier but you do learn as you go. I actually have kids coming at the moment so when that comes along, if I’m lucky enough, that’s going to be a whole shit show. What I know is people have done it before, so it must be possible to do it. I think being a brotherhood, and genuinely caring for each other’s family, that gives us a really good head start.”