GENRE IS DEAD! Interview With Biffy Clyro’s Ben Johnston

GID: You guys are no stranger to doing things out of left field, but was there a moment when making the album that took you by surprise? Was there a song that Simon brought in that caught you off guard?

BJ: A little bit. When I first heard “Instant History” I was a bit taken aback. In equal measure, I love that Simon’s willing to adventure into new worlds and as a band, we’re not scared to try different styles of music because it’s always gonna be Biffy. I don’t think we’re any one kind of music anyway, so we’re willing to try anything. The taste test is when the hairs on our neck and arms stand up when we hear it and if we like it. There’re no other boxes to tick, we just like it.

Yeah, for “Instant History” I was like “whoa! this is a dancefloor banger,” but in the best possible way. I like dance music and I think that song has the best hook, it just so happened to be on a keyboard, so a lot of people freak out, but I love it. I trust Simon and I trust our band and I think we can [trust ourselves] to make the music we want to.

GID: When I first heard “Instant History,” I could hear how this wasn’t a typical Biffy song. It’s quite different, but it’s a banger!

BJ: Yeah! Good stuff! It’s the one song that I was like “Are we gonna do this, guys? Are we sure we gonna do this?” We always have a couple of songs every album like that. It’s kind of treading new ground but that’s what our band’s about. We’re not gonna sit here and churn out the same album over and over again and count our money. That’s not a thing we’re gonna do. We put our neck on the line and that’s very important to our band.

GID: It’s great to have that willingness to try new things, to keep things fresh, especially when a band’s been around as long as you guys. When I heard some of the songs, I was so ready to hear the album because I wanted to see where you guys went next. It’s just a great way to keep that excitement and passion going.

BJ: Yeah! We think so. As long as you still hear the core of our identity in the songs, which I think you do. You hear Simon’s voice or us singing or these little bits that we have and you know it’s Biffy.

GID: To celebrate the album’s release, you guys are putting on a special livestream show from a legendary Glasgow venue. How did this idea come up?

BJ: When you’re releasing an album during the peak of lockdown, you can’t tour, so the closest thing we can get to that is to get into people’s living rooms ‘cause they’re in lockdown too. That’s the only way we can do it. It’s a one-off time we’re playing the album from start to finish in a legendary Glasgow venue and there’s no crowd there as you can imagine because everyone’s at home. There’s only cameras but the fact that there’s no crowd means you can utilize the building so, we are moving around the venue. We use every nook and cranny in the place. We’ve got so many setups – I play four different drumkits. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s gonna sound amazing, it looks amazing. It’s gonna be super special. I can’t wait for folks to hear this. It’s so great to play the album live as well because we haven’t gotten to do that at all. When you’re sitting on an album that you think is the best you’ve ever done, and you can’t even play it to anyone is so frustrating. This is the easiest way for us to get to do this and I can’t overstate how special it is.

GID: It sounds like it’s gonna be a really special event. Seeing more bands doing these creative livestreams is one positive thing to come from lockdown. Everybody’s missing live shows, but you’re starting to see more bands fill the void with these creative livestreams and events to connect with the fans during lockdown.

BJ: Yeah, you gotta do something when there’s this much of a lack of what you’re used to. Live music is the beating heart of our band and now that’s taken away from us. You couldn’t ever imagine a future where we wouldn’t have live music. You have to think about what you can do. You can’t just be stopped by this. You use that creativity to the best of your ability, and you come up with what you can. For our event, Simon has a concept for each song. He blew me away with these suggestions. He’s such a creative guy and this is going to be visually stunning. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

GID: A few weeks ago, you did Tim Burgess’ Listening Party with Only Revolutions. What was it like looking back on that record and thinking about where you guys are now with A Celebration of Endings?

BJ: It was all a blast from the past to hear because we really don’t re-listen to our records very often since we play them live, so listening back to our albums is always a bit of a freak out for us. But that was a lot of fun! Just doing that whole listening party and watching other people’s tweets come in and getting engaged with the fans again and just hearing the album and thinking of where we’ve come since then. It’s a lovely journey. We’ve progressed a bunch in the band, we’ve evolved. I think we were as good back then! It was a beautiful time listening to that and not thinking I would change that, I would change that. I probably wouldn’t change a damn thing about that album. It’s fantastic. I’m really excited because at that age and at this age, we’re making music that is still as vital if not more so. It was a wonderful experience.

GID: If you guys could do it again, which Biffy album would you like to revisit?

BJ: I would do it with any of them. I love all our albums. I’d do it with Blackened Sky – haven’t heard that in a long time. It would be interesting to hear us singing in American accents because that’s what we used to do. I’d do them all. If we do one a week, I’m all for it.

GID: It’s crazy to think you guys have been together for 25 years. It’s clear you guys still love playing live and making music with your best friends. You don’t always get that with other bands who have been together as long. It’s either strictly business or they implode. What keeps you on this path for so long?

BJ: It may sound simple, but we only started this in the first place to make music. Others may pursue this to get chicks or make money or whatever the hell it is, but for us, it was always about the music and it’s been about friends making music. That’s a really big part of it. A lot of bands start with adverts for drummer wanted or bassist wanted and you end up with five guys who don’t know each other and you kind of like the same music. The band kind of works for a couple of years and then you realize you don’t really like each other but you have to stick with it anyway. I can’t imagine that! That sounds like the worst thing in the world. We’re a group of best mates who started making music when we were 14 years old in my parent’s garage for a hobby. So, we just keep doing it. That what it is. It may be a slightly different approach to the music industry than other people take but we never had an idea of a five-year plan or a ten-year plan or any lofty ambitions. We just wanted to have fun.

GID: That’s what should be about and that seems to be the glue that keeps bands together for so long. Look at a band like Green Day. They’ve been around for over 30 years and they always talk about how they just wanted to make music with their best friends. And they’re still together making awesome music that connects with their fans.

BJ: Yeah! We didn’t want a real job. We wanted to be with friends and make our own rules and hopefully just play music. We never thought that we would even get signed to make an album. It wasn’t even a thing!

GID: Biffy Clyro isn’t shy about changing things up whether it’s going in a different musical direction or trying new concepts for live shows. Where would you like to see Biffy Clyro go next?

BJ: It’s a tough one because I can’t think of a venue that we haven’t played yet or something like that. We’ve been all around the world, we’ve gotten to support all our favorite bands. I guess my answer to that is just embrace technology and hopefully going forward being one of the first bands to try certain things out. I don’t know yet what it’ll be, but I know there will be technology and ways to record music or ways to broadcast music, maybe other ways to consume music and I would like to be at the forefront of that. Just push ourselves to do something we’ve never done before ‘cause that’s what it’s all about. It’s like this thing we’re doing in Glasgow. It’s not something we’ve ever done before, maybe it’s something we’ll never do again, but we’re all about experiences. For me, it’s about this band taking in as many experiences as we can, keep riding this wave of success that we’ve been lucky to have and keep having fun. That’s all it is.

GID: Maybe there’s a holographic Biffy performance in the future then!

BJ: That’s what I’m talking about! We do one tour in one night. We play one gig in one place and our holograms can beam around the world. And then we go home to our beds at night having done a world tour. It would be bonkers! You know what, it’s coming!

GID: How many hologram performances have we’ve seen already? It’s crazy to think this is a reality. It sounds like something from Back to the Future or The Jetsons, yet you read stories about a Michael Jackson hologram going on tour.

BJ: I’d buy a ticket for that! I remember seeing the Tupac thing at Coachella years ago. I was blown away by that. I thought it was really cool. Maybe not something exactly like that, but there will be some kind of technology in which you do one tour in one night and everyone’s happy. That’d be great.

A Celebration of Endings is out on Friday. Get tickets for Biffy Clyro’s record release livestream here. Make sure to join the band next Wednesday, August 19th for A Celebration of Endings and Infinity Land Twitter listening party.

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Ashley Perez Hollingsworth

Ashley Perez is a freelance music journalist based in Chicago. Her work has appeared on AXS, The Crypt 1331, Chicago Innerview, New City, The Millions, and Reality-Comics. She also runs her own music blog at Radio Not Found. Some of her favorite bands include Nirvana, The Cure, Muse, Marilyn Manson, and Green Day.

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