They’re freaks, are Biffy Clyro, they are weirdos. Certainly when compared JLS, Cheryl Cole, Justin Bieber and the other pop poppets that the they have just spent the weekend with at BBC Radio One’s annual free festival. Sandwiched between Ke$ha and Rihanna (as it were), they emerged triumphant – even if Rihanna’s -people’ insisted that they cut short their set. As with everything they do these days, the experience seems to be viewed in an overwhelmingly positive light, as Simon Neil (joined by bassist James Johnston while the latter’s drumming brother Ben handles phone interview duties) cheerfully explains.
‘There weren’t very many real bands as such, it was a bit strange for us to be in amongst all these pop acts. We felt a bit out of place. It’s funny, it was a great gig but we looked down at the front row and there were all these wee girls with pained faces going it’s too loud, it’s too ugly…’
We suppose it’s a world that you have to get more and more used to?
‘We always see ourselves as an underground band, even though we’ve become a mainstream act now for want of a better word. We still listen to underground music. It’s definitely bizarre and hopefully we never get too used to it because that would take away the spirit of what we’re about – trying to do weird things from the inside. It is quite exciting to be near all those kind of people though, to watch a pop band go onstage with a singer and six dancers. You wonder how they’ll pull it off. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t but we’re more about real music.’
It’s unusual for any band to be able to get so many new experiences after five albums isn’t it?
‘It really is. If we ever get bored of it that’s when the excitement ceases. We always want to feel like we’re 15 years old, making music for the first time. That’s what keeps you excited. Once it becomes like a job and you’re unaffected by it then you become an asshole. It has to feel weird and exciting.’
In hindsight, you seem to have achieved your success in the classic manner – developing as a band creatively at the same time as commercially.
‘You’d always love to be immediately huge when you’re first record comes out but for the health of our band and the longevity of what we do, any early success would have impacted on us in a bad way. It was brilliant to be able to evolve as we saw fit. Even to move to a major label on our fourth record never happens anymore. Labels don’t take a chance on bands who have already set out their stall, they prefer to go with artists who are still fresh and create something around them. We’d already created something ourselves.’
Did signing to a major feel like a risky decision?
James – ‘It was scary but we felt we’d rather go and see it go tits up than not do it at all. We had to have a shot at it. We’d established ourselves enough that we didn’t think we’d get misrepresented by a label but you never know. If the album hadn’t gone well then they could have shelved us straight away but we weren’t getting the opportunity to come to places like Ireland as much as we wanted to, or to go to Europe, and we needed that new challenge.’
Was it a move you had to make?
Simon – ‘Beggars were great but if we’d stayed there it would have sucked the life blood out of us. You do exactly the same thing every record, you get no new experiences and never see new places. That’s as inspiring as anything. No disrespect but once you’ve played places like Coventry six or seven times the appeal starts to wain. We were very aware of what making such a moved entailed but we were confident in our songs and the guy who signed us had been coming to see us since he was sixteen, he used to help load our gear into the venue. We wouldn’t have signed with just anyone. If we did have any awareness of being part of any sort of industry when we were making music it would ruin what we’re about. We would have been making the same records; the songs would have been the same.’
The results of the switch were pretty instant, on a commercial level at least. Did the success of Puzzle catch you unawares?
“That was a real surprise. Fair enough some of our older fans think we’ve turned into a pop band and it is a bit more straightforward but in the scheme of things we’re still a weird band. It’s still heavy, there’s still screaming and proggy bits. There are very few rock bands on major labels who can do that but we’ve always stood our ground and believed in ourselves. If the songs are good enough and the band are good enough then people will get it. It should never be a job, a song should just come to you.”
Did the Marmaduke Duke record (Simon’s side project) reflect that?
“That was so throwaway and spur of the moment. It helped us realise how much we loved Biffy and also that you can write a great song in 10 minutes, whereas we are liable to overcomplicate things. For every good song you write there maybe three bad ones but you still have to write them and enjoy yourself.”
Was the confidence evident in Only Revolutions a product of Puzzle‘s success?
It helped us believe that the confidence in ourselves was justified, not that selling records should do that but we always knew we were a good band and that if people got the chance then they would like us. We might not be like other rock bands out there but we can hopefully create our own rules.
Is it getting harder not be like other rock bands as you get bigger?
We always try and do it by pulling the wool over people’s eyes. Sometimes the weirdness doesn’t need to sound weird if it’s done musically. You can make odd music sound musical. To be fair we don’t set out to make radio records but it is nice when they get played. For a song like -Golden Rule’ to get played on daytime radio is just wrong. I got text from Matt, Bloc Party’s drummer, saying how did we manage to get a song like that on Radio 1? We don’t know, I wish we did. Hopefully we can show bands that you don’t have to always keep chasing what you think people like. Just do what you do and don’t put pressure on yourself.
There are going to be six singles off this album? Do you feel comfortable with that?
The way we try to embrace it is to make sure that there are three new songs each time we release a single, that’s the only way we can justify it. If it was just the singles we’d be really disappointed in ourselves. It’s great that the songs get played on the radio and that people discover the album, but it also means that existing fans who by them get three new tracks. We see them as EPs, that’s the only way we can agree to that approach.
Doesn’t the digital age render that approach a bit redundant?
It does, but when they get released digitally it’s an EP. You can buy the song on its own but the package is there, we try to make it obvious. Some people would say that we’re wasting our time but we think it does matter and it is worth it. It’s what people used to do, we love that but we’re probably the only band we know who still does that. With us nothing is throw away, the more you do it the more confident you get. We’re not arrogant but we have a huge belief in ourselves, otherwise we wouldn’t still be doing this.
Biffy Clyro play Oxegen in July and Belsonic in August.
Photos: Loreana Rushe
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