Biffy Clyro have had one hell of a year. After coming somewhere near the top of many album of the year polls in
late 2007, the three-piece (consisting of Simon Neil; vocals and
guitar, James Johnston; bass and vocals and Ben Johnston; drums and
vocals) embarked on a series of festival and concert appearances that
would have seemed unlikely after spending several years knocking around
the Scottish gig circuit in relative anonymity.
Their breakthrough record, the bitter-sweet Puzzles, proved to be a
revelation to the rest of the world. Combining a melodramatic sound
that hovers between a satisfying sub-metal blast and touching acoustic
numbers, the band instantly appealed to a broad demographic and hit the
number two slot on the UK album list. Comparisons to Nirvana and Weezer
followed and Puzzles didn’t even need the artistic talents of Storm
Thorgerson (he designed a certain Pink Floyd record cover featuring a
prism and a rainbow…) to attract adulation around the world, although
his surreal style is instantly recognisable on the album artwork.
Now winding down after a packed summer touring schedule before opening
Iceland Airwaves and touring the UK, lead guitarist Simon Neil took
time away from a well-earned holiday to tell the Grapevine about how
they’re looking forward to sampling the local cuisine and reclaiming
some long-lost Celtic X chromosomes in-between playing NASA at the
opening night of Iceland Airwaves 10th anniversary.
So are you looking forward to it…have you been to Iceland before?
We’ve not been before, we only know a couple of people who’ve been to
Iceland at all and all I hear is great things so we’re really, really
looking forward to it.
You’ve been told a bit about the place, what are you expecting?
People partying all the way through the night, I guess. Some places
effect people less than some of the other places you go to and it’s so
shut off that I think it’ll just go off and be a lot of fun.
I know a lot of people are looking forward to seeing you play; do you have any special plans or surprises in store?
We’re just going to turn up and play hard, we’re really not a band with
gimmicks, if you like. We just try to let the music do the talking.
We’ll definitely turn up with a lot of energy – it should be great.
Did you know that 80% of the female gene pool in Iceland is Celtic?
Wow, that gives us a good head start.
The Vikings are meant to have come over to Scotland and stolen all the good looking women to take home to Iceland…
Right, wow. I like that.
You should reclaim some of the good ones…
I think we should. We could have some Celtic loving going on…
Any tactics for getting them on the plane?
Some shots are usually a good way.
Maybe one of the ballads from Puzzles would be a good start?
Oh yeah, get all the girls crying.
Absolutely. You could slip them on the plane and they’d never know… Anyway, your new single is called Mountains – why?
It’s about going through challenges in life and some of the things you
can face. That’s roughly where it comes from, how people in your life
can help you get through things and you do it together. It’s really a
symbol for a struggle, but also the challenge.I think with challenges,
when you conquer them, the results are that much better because things
have been difficult. That’s what it’s about, how you get stronger
through the difficult times.
Does that idea reflect Biffy Clyro’s last year or two?
I think Simon always writes lyrics from a fairly personal point of
view, it’s more than likely that it’s about that. It also applies to
life in general even though it’s quite specific about what we’ve been
Scotland also has quite a ‘diverse’ (i.e. odd) cuisine, as does
Iceland. Will you be trying raw whale, puffin or anything similar?
Well we’ve had a few weird things. We were out in Japan and they had some really crazy food but I’ve never had whale before.
There’s a lot of pissed-on shark about. That’s a delicacy too.
Definitely. We’re not shy, we’ll eat anything.
Surely haggis (traditional offal-based Scottish dish) contains most of those ingredients anyway?
I think what goes in haggis is a closely-guarded secret. It’s a bunch
of really not good tasting stuff with a load of spice so you can’t
actually taste it.
I gather you’re playing a series of really big gigs later this year around the UK?
Yeah, that’s right. Should be good.
So what’s your favourite type of gig to play in terms of venue?
Actually, it kind of varies. Over the summer we did a lot of big shows
at festivals. That’s always fun because you’re not playing to the same
crowd and you’re not sure how people are going to react. You’re
probably playing to ten or twenty thousand people, maybe even more. We
really like the big stage and that aspect but when you play a small
club, there’s something about the intensity. You can see the whites of
people’s eyes. We wouldn’t like to give up one gig and totally do the
other; I think it’s really important to have a good mix. That’s what
keeps it really exciting for us.
Iceland is quite far away but have you had any fan mail from other far-flung places?
We had quite a lot of people from Brazil writing to us on message
boards but I don’t know if they sent us any fan mail. Around Japan we
got some really crazy stuff given to us. People drew pictures of us,
gave us silk scarves and told us all these strange stories. I think in
Japan they are particularly crazy but really nice. Quite fanatical, I
Biffy Clyro play NASA on Wednesday 15th at the Kerrang / Iceland
Airwaves night. Their new single ‘Mountains’ is out now.