Thursday, April 7, 2011

Biffy Clyro interview

A version of my interview with Biffy Clyro originally appeared in the North County Times and can be viewed at

The band performs at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach on April 14.

Since the mid-2000s, Biffy Clyro has notched more than a dozen U.K. top 40 hits, but never topped the charts. This past December, the Scottish trio finally did so – albeit indirectly.

Soaring power ballad “Many of Horror,” one of their most popular tunes, was covered by Matt Cardle, the latest winner of British TV music competition “The X Factor.” Retitled “When We Collide,” it was that territory’s second biggest selling single in 2010.  

“Going from three guys playing in the garage together 16 years ago to -- in a roundabout way -- having a ‘Christmas No. 1’ was funny and very surreal,” said bassist James Johnston, during a phone interview at home in Glasgow.

All the added publicity drew attention back to the original version on their current album “Only Revolutions” and sparked a minor controversy among enthusiasts. 

“It deserved a few raised eyebrows. Some fans took it in a different light and called for a boycott. They were [ticked] off at him for doing our song…I think it was flattering he liked the song enough to cover it.

“Ultimately, people ought not to take [‘X Factor’] too seriously. It’s there for entertainment.”

Named after a 2006 fiction novel American writer Mark Z. Danielewski, Biffy Clyro’s Mercury Music Prize-nominated fifth effort “Revolutions” went platinum in the U.K. (nearly 400,000 copies sold). A potent mix of melodic post-hardcore with a prog rock slant, it was co-produced by Garth Richardson and features guest guitar work by Queens of the Stone Age leader Josh Homme (the spacey jam “Bubbles”) as well as orchestral flourishes arranged by David Campbell throughout.

Pizzicato string parts on the dramatic “Know Your Quarry” are particularly memorable. Then there’s the heavy sounding “That Golden Rule” and “Shock Shock.” The latter even sports a theramin amidst the noisy barrage.  

Johnston said Biffy Clyro -- which also includes Johnston’s twin brother Ben on drums and Simon Neil on lead vocals/guitar --  has “always been fairly experimental” and that utilizing unusual time signatures comes naturally through “bands we listened to while we were younger,” like Nirvana and Soundgarden.

“With three people, you have to push yourself a little harder to try different things. It’s always really rewarding when you do. We love listening to music that suddenly takes a left turn and you’re like, ‘where the hell did that come from?’”

Just over a year ago, Biffy Clyro became the first rock group to do a gig before English government officials. The anniversary celebration for London’s national indie radio station Absolute (formerly Virgin Radio) found the musicians performing on a House of Commons terrace.

Johnston said it felt bizarre playing acoustically to the Speaker of the House and Parliament members with “posh” glasses of champagne. “If we played full on electric, it would’ve been too much for them to take. There was polite applause. We’ve haven’t been more nervous very often. That was definitely a nerve wracking experience.”

Last month, the trio headlined a charity show at the Royal Albert Hall for the Teenage Cancer Trust, curated by Roger Daltrey. “When he calls and asks, you can’t turn it down. [The venue] has such history and prestige. It’s a really magnificent room to play. Being in a band is a selfish pursuit in some ways, so it’s nice to do something for other people.”

Come July, the band tops the Day 2 bill at the massive Sonisphere Knebworth Festival and supports Foo Fighters at two sold out Milton Keynes Bowl concerts outside London.

Here in America, Biffy Clyro is on a club tour with Cage the Elephant and will break away for a low dough Belly Up show.

“We feel as home on a small stage as we do on a big stage,” notes Johnston. “Smaller rooms are better because you can see the whites of people’s eyes and you really get that connection."

Fans can expect a total high energy set in Solana Beach. “We have a lot of passion and absolutely love doing what we do,” Johnston said. “It’s just about three guys up there with their shirts off, giving it everything they’ve got and meaning every word.”

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Photo by Kevin Westenberg/courtesy Warner Bros./14th Floor Records

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