Summer Festivals 2012: Biffy Clyro - interview
The band's James Johnston discusses their headline slot at RockNess
Despite the unusual time signatures, the uncompromising riffs, the bizarro lyrics and the beards, somehow Biffy Clyro have become one of the biggest rock bands in the UK. Even their hits – ‘That Golden Rule’, ‘Mountains’ and ‘Many of Horror’ (rechristened ‘When We Collide’ and repainted in beige by Matt Cardle as his X-Factor-winner’s single) – are surreal journeys taken through forests of serrated guitars and syncopated rhythms.
Formed in Ayr as teenagers, the band’s Simon Neil (guitar/vocals) and twin brothers James and Ben Johnston (bass and drums respectively) brought an outsider’s mentality to their love of Nirvana, setting piercing guitars against distinctly Scottish vocals and mixing up crooning and screaming styles. Melodic, but still complicated, it is these seemingly incongruous elements that make their music so arresting.
2009’s Only Revolutions, their fifth album, yielded no fewer than six top 40 singles. Even with this success Biffy never compromised. Tattooed and stripped to the waist, the band became a vital force on the live scene, supporting everyone from The Who and The Rolling Stones to Muse and Foo Fighters on top of their own arena tours and festival headline shows. With an album planned for later this year, the rise and rise of Biffy Clyro seems unstoppable. The List catches up with bassist James Johnston as they prepare for RockNess – their first ever headline show at a Scottish festival.
What’s unique about your music?
We’re a combination of strings and skins. Simply, we say that ‘we’re a rock band’ and let the listeners make up their own mind.
Rock music always felt exotic to us and seemed to come from a different place. I guess when you’re young you’re looking for a sense of identity that is separate from the landscape around you and you want to carve out your own little space. The excitement that comes from hearing a great riff or a powerful song just makes us feel alive. All types of music have a place in the world and we do listen to a real mixture, but rock music is our first love and will never leave us.
Are you surprised to have been accepted by the mainstream?
We have never had any expectations, especially not for things that we couldn’t control. We’ve always believed in what we’ve done and you always hope that others are going to enjoy it, but it’s a dangerous thing to expect people to. Having said all that, we do count ourselves very lucky that so many people feel like part of our little gang and that they’re part of our story.
How does it feel now the ‘Mon the Biff’ chant has been taken up outside Scotland?
Well that whole thing started out as a little joke very early on in our life as a band. It’s funny how it has spread, and it makes us feel incredibly welcome when you hear somebody on the other side of the planet shout it at you. It feels like a call to arms and it always sends a bit of a shiver down your spine.
How do you see the new double album, The Land at the End of our Toes and The Sand at the Core of Our Bones, progressing from 2009’s Only Revolutions?
It’s a bit of a personal dislike of mine when I hear people talk so much about music that isn’t yet available, so I don’t want to give too much away. We’ve always tried to explore different avenues and allow ourselves to do anything musically so I do think we’re constantly progressing and moving forward. The idea of doing a double album is a new one for us and it’s really exciting to have time on an album to experiment and try out some new ideas.
Looking forward to headlining RockNess?
Yes! We played at the festival once before and have some great memories from that time. There’s always something special that happens at a festival when the sun goes down and it’s a real honour to be the last band of the weekend. When the festival comes round we’ll have been in the studio for a couple of months and it’ll be great to get out and try out some new songs.
Is playing Scotland still special?
Really this is quite an easy one. We’ve been really lucky to play far and wide and some of those shows have been amazing experiences and have their own merits, but nothing can really compare to playing to a home crowd. The feeling of being with people like you and (hopefully) having them on your side is immense and it’s extra special if you pull off a good show.
What can we expect from your RockNess set?
That would be telling! Expect the unexpected, and naked men, and sweat and lots of passion.
Biffy Clyro headline the Main Stage at RockNess on Sun 10 Jun.