Biffy Clyro: The 13th Floor Interview

Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro are coming to Auckland for a one-off show at Spark Arena on Tuesday, April 24th.

As it turns out, this is a rare show for the trio, who only have a handful of dates planned for 2018.

Instead they plan to spend most of the year in the studio, working on their eighth album, along with writing and recording a movie soundtrack.

The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda spoke with drummer Ben Johnston about the band’s ambitious plans.

Click here to listen to the interview with Ben Johnston:

Or, read a transcription of the interview here:

MD: Let’s see. Through my amazing ability to use Google Search on the Internet, I’ve found that you guys just recently took part in a David Bowie tribute with Howard Stern. Is that correct?

BC: Yes, we did, we couldn’t believe we got asked to do it, because we’re really not making massive waves in America – and to be asked by such a famous DJ as Howard Stern to cover a song by the likes of David Bowie, that was incredible. We really weren’t sure which song to tackle first, we got a list of the songs that had been picked, and then I think, we were going to do another one, but someone else had taken that, so we ended up choosing Modern Love…and just being the band we are, we never do things straightforward, so we completely altered the song and made it almost unrecognizable.

MD: [Laughs] Yes, I was listening to it at the beginning and I was like, “Whoa wait a minute, what is this?” and then it finally clicked, yeah.

BC: (Laughs) Yeah, that was kind of what we do. We go through the part and kind of, we don’t just copy the original, because what’s the point? You can’t top Dave [David Bowie] so we just Biffy-fied it.

MD: And so Tony Visconti was part of this whole thing. Did you get involved with him? Did you work with him at all, or was he just kind of there in name only?

BC: No! Not at all – we were just really slow to hear that he was going to be producing the show, and going ahead with it. We’ve had absolutely zero contact with him, which was a bit sad but at least he knows who we are, he knows our name, right? So that’s quite a big deal for us.

MD: And did you interact at all with Howard Stern?

BC: Not at all, again, literally we went to the studio, we did this cover, we sent it off…and…we got told that Howard loves it, so that was good enough for us.

MD: [Laughs] So which Bowie song did you want to record? Was it your first choice?

BC:  Oh, let me think – this is difficult…we had so many we tried, that just weren’t going to work and, what was the one – um, my mind’s gone blind, I’d have to have the list in front of me, if I could just jump on iTunes and let me have a look…um…none of that either. Sorry, sorry, I’ve got the list right in front of me. We were going to do The Man Who Sold The World, but do that in a 6/8 version, so it was nothing like Nirvana’s version, but then that got shut down, and we were going to do Sound and Vision… we couldn’t put our own slant on it, and make it work. In the end, Modern Love was just one that kinda – we had our own writing already, throw in a Biffy song and a piece that kinda – we just took some of the melody from Modern Love and put it into our song, and that’s what we came up with.

MD: Looks like the band is concentrating on recording this year, rather than touring. So, you’re only doing like a handful of dates throughout the whole year, is that right?

BC: That’s true, we have a couple of European festivals booked this summer, first we’re coming over to see you guys, we’re doing Australia, we’re doing Dubai, but other than that, there’s no solo touring, just little trips like here and there. And apart from that, it’s just about writing and recording, really. So we’re going to the studio and put down – just some music…maybe like sixteen tracks of music, but we’re not going to focus on it yet. But we have two…two more things in the pipeline, we have a movie soundtrack where the script of the movie is going to be improvised after we produce the album, after we give them the album…it’s all backwards, you know. Usually the soundtracks comes afterwards, you write the soundtrack to the visual, and the visuals are going to be activated by the soundtrack….so it’s quite an interesting idea. So we’ve that to do, then we’re going to have to do album #8, which I think we’re going to record early next year, so…yeah, we’ve got a lot on our plates. We’ll have to be home for a bit to get that all done.

MD: So now with this movie soundtrack, and the fact that the movie is being based on whatever it is that you guys come up with in the studio, how does that affect your writing? The approach of making the album when you know that it’s gotta translate to film.

BC: It’s really strange, because it’s still going to be released as an album, I guess. It’ll be available as a soundtrack, and it’ll be an album, so we still want it to be – we still want it to flow like an album should flow, but we probably won’t have a motif we’ll keep, we’re cutting the touches that would have, I don’t think we’re going to do it like that, we’re pretty much just going to do an album. We’re just trying to be free with it, try to keep it kinda genreless to a degree, we don’t want it to be like an old Biffy album, we’re just going to try and throw as much paint on the wall, and see what sticks, and try and have some fun with that. Because we do have Biffy #8 to do and I realize that maybe that’s a little more serious, for us, because that’s an actual Biffy Clyro album so we’re going to see how we go, we’ve a lot of stuff to write, and basically keep sending songs to Jamie [Adams], the director, and he’s gonna pick the tunes he likes, basically. And we’re going to go from there. So it’s all kinda up in the air at the moment – but really, we’ll rise to the challenge.

MD: Well, it sounds like an interesting proposition. What differentiates the music genre of the film album from what’s going to be album #8? How can you tell the two apart?

BC: That’s a new trick, I mean – in my head I’m thinking, we’ll probably be trying to write a song for the movie for example, and it’ll be too good, and it has to go on the album! I think that sort of thing might happen along the way. There might be songs that we think are better than the album – or we might let Jamie write a song – and see if he likes it and then, it might end up in the movie. But we’re going to try to make them cohesive and try and still make a listenable album start to finish, but that’s the main thing. We’ll have time to see along the way.

MD: I think I read somewhere where Simon was quoted saying that Album #8, he’s looking at it as having an element of political anger involved in that. Is that accurate, and if so, what are you guys angry about?

BC: I think it would be almost impossible to not have some kind of anger towards politics about and let it…we’ve never been one to write politically, but I just think in this climate, it’s kind of impossible to not have that bleed into your lyrics in some way… just with all the turmoil in the world… it’s going to be on in some minor ways, someone’s going to be writing a bit in, it’s definitely going to bleed into the songs in some way, and I figure in some cases it’s a good thing, though, people are frightened and not into politics and you kinda have to… so it’s definitely going to have some of those elements, but we still write like – it’s mostly still, it’s mostly love songs, but it just so happens that life and politics play a big part.

MD: And do the three of you share the same political view? So there isn’t intra-band squabbling?

BC: I think we do! I think we all vote the same, when we talk about different politicians we seem to all kind of fall into the same kind of category, the same kind of world viewpoint I think, I think we all voted for [Scottish] Independence, we all voted against Brexit, those would’ve been the kind of two biggest sticking points, in Dublin and Scotland. Yeah, we were very disappointed in the outcome of both.

MD: The whole thing seems to be up in the air, they can’t seem to figure out how to work it out.

BC: Oh, it’s madness, it’s madness. And then we haven’t talked about flippin’ Trump, and we’re not going to go into that, but, it’s all a bit foozy at the moment. I keep expecting to wake up and find out it’s all been a dream, but no, we’re actually living in this fucking nightmare.

MD: Yes. It’s like a bad episode of Dallas.

BC: It really is! You got to laugh or you’ll cry, that’s how it is.

MD: Now you guys have been together doing this thing since what, 1995. It’s a long time. How has the working relationship between the three of you changed? Has it changed? Is it the same as it was when you guys got together? How do you relate to each other now?

BC: It’s….not exactly the same, because we were actually fourteen years old when we started, so we were just really excited little kids. We try and keep that vibe going, we really do, and we actually kinda tapped into that vibe again a little bit in Los Angeles, just that three hours in the house, and sit in at the end of, when we had days out, and we’d come back and watch trashy telly and sit and hang out and have a laugh, and it just felt like we were doing our first album. But of course things are a little more business-like now, they have to be, there’s a lot more pressure now, because the band, we’ve got a lot more success in the world… you have to think about what you’re doing a bit more, we all put in a lot more effort, and more time…really to try and start to be better musicians, just try and do the best that we can. When you’re starting out, it’s just a hobby, you’re just having fun …yeah, try and maintain that kind of mindset of having fun and it being a hobby, but, there’s a lot more pressure, definitely.

MD: I was curious – I was talking about this with somebody the other day – you never run into bands, find bands that kind of losing it on stage, show up drunk and disorderly or – screwing up a gig these days.

BC: No

MD: And I was wondering if that’s because of a) the Internet – as soon as you do something, everybody knows about it, but also the fact that with no revenue coming from record sales, live performance is your only source of income, and you can’t afford to take it lightly.

BC: Yeah, no, I think you’ve almost … you’ve obviously thought long and hard about that, cause that’s bang on to me. And it’s just not cool anymore, it’s not cool to turn up wasted, nobody wants to see that anymore. There was a time where rock gods like that existed, and that was pretty intimate, cause there was mystery. And when there’s mystery you can be a god, you can’t be a god with Instagram and your poached egg and avocado and everyone knows what’ve you’ve been doing … it’s impossible! It’s just not going to happen.

MD: But has it taken some of the fun out of being on the road?

BC: Eh…not for me, because I was never that guy anyway. I mean, I had my phase of trying too much, and I had to stop and all that stuff, and I didn’t stop for them, for the Internet, I stopped because of my own choice, and cause it had to happen, but no, it definitely has not taken the fun out of it. Playing sober is wonderful, because you play great, and you remember it all and you don’t fuck up as much. That’s definitely the way to go for me. And yeah also, the decline of that, it’s almost disappeared, the record sales, it does put a lot more onus on your live shows. That’s one of the reasons that we put so much effort in. We always try to put on a good production, we spend a shit-ton on fireworks and all that stuff, just so that people will have a really good memory of gigs and come back again, because that’s really where you’re making the money – at your live shows, and what people really pay for music now is minimal.

MD: The show, coming up in Auckland in April, is this going to be your first one of the year?

BC: Yep! It will be, wait sorry, I think we’re going to Dubai first, I’m sorry, I apologize. Dubai gets it first. 18th of April, then straight to you guys after that. So it’ll be the second show of the year. Pretty damn close.

MD: And will there be much difference between what we get, and say, what you were doing back in December?

BC: Yeah. I think so. Probably… just because it’s so far away from home, we’re trying to get our stage and production stuff out… obviously the venues are smaller. We’ll do our best, you know, we’ll bring our lighting guy, so the lights will look awesome, and we’ll shine the place, that’s all a given, but it’ll not have quite the production that you might see in the likes of, you know, creating the big things, that we can do.

MD: Very good. Alright! Well, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me, I appreciate it! I look forward to seeing you when you get down here in a couple of months.

BC: Absolute pleasure, Marty. Looking forward to seeing you turn up.

MD: Well, see ya. Bye-bye.