Biffy Clyro: Good Clean Fun
Loveable Scottish power trio Biffy Clyro are returning to Australia. Ahead of their tour, frontman Simon Neil tells BLUNT about restraint in partying and in songwriting, and of the joys of Irn Bru.
Photo by Kane Hibberd.
If you see someone struggle with aspects of their life because of what they’re doing, I think that’s when you really need to make changes,” explains Simon Neil, singer/guitarist for Scottish stadium-filling rockers Biffy Clyro. After drummer Ben Johnston’s much-publicised difficulties with drink and his success in staying sober – which Neil says has been inspirational – the band has worked to remove the “poisonous” elements of life on the road. “We’re as close as we’ve ever been,” says the gregarious Neil.
Neil wants to continue the band he and the Johnston brothers (Ben and bassist/vocalist James) formed nearly two decades ago well into the future and, in the interest of this, they have agreed to rules and cut out what nearly brought Biffy to an end. He points out that they have not become neurotic health freaks, though. Moderation is key.
“To the extent of being in a rock band we’re living clean,” Neil says. “I meditate every day now. Before I drink tequila,” he adds with a laugh.
Biffy Clyro were last out here for Soundwave 2014 and will grace us again in September. They have been writing material with which to follow-up their first UK #1 album, the double-record Opposites, which was also the final point on their “big rock trilogy” arc. Each album was most definitely a “big rock” effort, with a big-name producer (Garth Richardson), gorgeous album art (courtesy of the late Storm Thorgerson) and huge, anthemic tracks aplenty (“The Captain” and “Stingin’ Belle”). The next time around, though, there will be rules.
“There was no such thing as a stupid idea… If we wanted bagpipes, great, if we wanted tap dancing, great, if we wanted an orchestra, great,” says Neil. “I think that’s going to be the main difference. We just won’t allow ourselves to use an orchestra. And we may only use certain electronic aspects and I think the restriction is going to give the next album its character.”
When BLUNT speaks to Neil, there have been 19 songs written, though there are likely several more now: these guys work fast, but are famously picky with what completed songs make studio albums. Describing new material as including “black beats and really funky, poppy chords” and one song as “like The Police meets Queens Of The Stone Age”, the bandleader’s orchestral ideas are unlikely to feature in the next Biffy record. However, a solo classical project, ZZC, is in the works.
“They’re not things you could play live, they’re full of violins – and a few electronic touches – but it’s all violins and oboes and I’m just going to build them on the computer,” he explains, adding that composing in his main band will likely be influenced by the project. “You won’t hear classical stuff on the next Biffy album, but you might hear some of the actual songwriting happening.”
Before we leave Mr. Neil be, we have to ask him about his passion for Irn Bru. It’s a nice enough drink, sure, and maybe it’s something only a Scot can feel so keenly about, but he once said his love was such that it’s the only product Biffy would break its “no commercials” policy for.
“It’s like a drug to the nation of Scotland,” he explains of the sugary, bright orange fizzy drink, which outsells Coca Cola in his home country. “Everyone in Scotland from the age of, well, even before you have teeth drinks it, which is why Scottish people have such terrible teeth.”
Irn Bru commercials are sometimes controversial, usually fairly cheeky, and almost always a good larf. And if Biffy was to spruik “Scotland’s other national drink” in an ad, what would such an ad look like?
“If we were to do an advert we would have to take advantage of having a pair of gingers, a pair of rangas in our band,” he says. “I think I would like to dress James up as a can of Coke and then I would maybe sing a lovely song to my bass-playing can of Coke, and then make sweet love to him. Why not?” he laughs.
Biffy Clyro Tour Dates
Thu Sep 4th – The Tivoli, Brisbane (18+)
Fri Sep 5th – Enmore Theatre, Sydney (18+)
Sun Sep 7th – Palais Theatre, Melbourne (18+)
Tue Sep 9th – HQ, Adelaide (18+)
Fri Sep 12th – Metro City, Perth (18+)