Few UK rock bands have been as successful as Biffy Clyro. After more than 15 years of sweating it out on stage and releasing six albums, they exploded in 2013 with the awesome double-album Opposites before closing out Reading and Leeds in style.
They’ve since become truly global, but this hasn’t stopped them from working their arses off. The boys have been touring hard and popped Down Under earlier this year for Soundwave plus a few headline shows, between visits to the US, Russia, South Africa and Israel, where they’ve been “getting closer to the fans”.
The three childhood friends from Ayrshire in Scotland were brilliant at Soundwave, but many fans felt slightly ripped off that they were only afforded a short set at the beginning of the day. Leading vocalist/guitarist Simon Neil proclaimed on stage that the band would be back to give fans a bit more of a show. And true to their word, they are. Only days after they left the country, Biffy announced they would return in September, on their biggest run of Australian shows to date.
We caught up with bassist James Johnston while he was “taking some downtime” at home ahead of the band’s headline gig at the Isle of Wight Festival in the UK and what is a hectic schedule of European gigs in the coming months. While he was looking forward to “rocking out”, he seemed particularly excited about coming back to Australia to “finish some business”.
“We like to try to surprise people” says James. And it’s a welcome one too – the crowds will be bigger for sure. “Well, we never really expect anything; we’re just excited to come down and play a show and, of course, if a lot of people turn up, that’s going to be awesome! We’re not expectant; we’re always with the ‘take what we get’ sort of thing.”
Togetherness is a central theme with James and the guys, who have been in a band since they were 14 and 15 years old (James and Ben, who plays the drums, are twins, you may have noticed). The band formed in 1995 and they have been heavily influenced by the likes of Metallica, Nirvana, Foo Fighters and other heavy and prog rock acts.
They’ve released six albums since 2002, but it was their fourth, 2007’s Puzzle, that brought them into the mainstream in the UK, while Opposites has established them internationally (they’re working on new album at the moment which “will be fresh”. Exciting).
TNT chatted to James to find out more…
So where are you right now?
At home in Scotland, wondering what it’s like for you in Oz, looking forward to some massive gigs over the next few months. And, of course, our trip back to your neck of the woods in September.
Glad you brought that up; Simon announced on stage at Soundwave Festival that you’d be returning to do some headline shows…
Let me just say Soundwave was great, playing with all those fantastic bands, but yeah we’re looking forward to coming back and playing our biggest run in Australia yet and doing our own shows on bigger sets. We’re looking forward to being on stage a bit longer and to taking people on a bit of a journey. We always put everything we have into a show – always lots of energy, sing-a-longs and that sort of thing – and try to create a connection with the audience: You’re breathing the same air you know and totally in it together, you know?
You’re no stranger to these shores, although you don’t come as regularly as we’d like. Do you like playing here?
The audience in any country reflects the general mood of a place I think, a kind of vibe. Australia is such an amazing country and it’s got such a vibe all of its own.
So you’ll have fun?
Yeah (laughs). Australia is fucking great fun. Even watching the news is fun – they talk to you like you’re all sitting together in the pub (laughs); nothing like we get at home with the BBC!
Biffy Clyro have truly become a global band in the last few years, having headlined main stages at festivals through the UK and Europe and with Opposites. How has the band changed since the Screwfish days (the band’s original name)?
We have grown up together and been through every experience and emotion you can – the joys of growing up and becoming men, having your first pint together, and some of the really sad and difficult moments that you have in life [like the death of Simon’s mum in 2004]. I think it has made us really strong. I always think we were strong; we were lucky we started off as friends. You have to be in a band with somebody you like and care about and we are always lucky to have that on our side. It’s almost been 20 years since we started. It really doesn’t feel that long in some ways but in others it feels like two lifetimes. I think we have grown together; the dynamic has stayed pretty similar to be honest. It is simple having only three people. It isn’t like everything has to go to a committee and it takes ages to make a decision – we are all quite like-minded when it comes to how we want to sound, how to perform and that sort of thing. We share the same passions and interests when it comes to how this band should be. You guys in the press might say we are going from strength to strength (laughs) but that’s what’s happening. We still seem to have our best years. We are slightly puzzled by that but also very excited.
Your performance headlining at Reading and Leeds in the UK in 2013 was epic and you all looked really relaxed on stage. Is it more fun to let loose and can we expect that when you tour here?
We do still stress and want to get it right; we have that hunger and burning desire to make sure we go out there and fucking represent ourselves. You know, it only takes one chance to fuck it up and so we are always trying hard. With Reading and Leeds, we were up there at the biggest show we’ve done, the most pressure – and it had to be right – but we were able not just to get it right and play well but also really enjoy ourselves and the moment. Sometimes you come off a huge show and you know you played well and that the audience enjoyed it, but it is almost like you were living some sort of dream, or it just flashed past – you were concentrating so hard you barely came up for air. But I think we allow ourselves that moment now to take it in, soak it up and enjoy it.
James, like you, I’m a twin. I’d probably kill mine if we worked together – we always finish each other’s sentences. You’re in a band with yours…
It’s great (laughs). We don’t know anything different, do we? You know what it’s like with people asking you what it’s like being a twin – we just don’t know fucking know; we’ve never not been twins! You know? (laughs). Ben and I have a bond but I think we have that with Simon too. Anybody you spend time with, you love and care about, you begin to know how their brain works and what makes them tick and you understand each other. Being twins in a band has definitely been a factor in creating the dynamic between the three of us. I think it has gone a long way of creating this atmosphere where we look after and out for each other. We’re on the road a lot so you have to fucking stick together.
Biffy Clyro return to Australia for a national headline tour from September 4-12. biffyclyro.com
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