Double Albums usually contain some filler, but Biffy Clyro promise their new double record ‘Opposites‘ won’t. If you can believe one band when they say this, it’s Biffy Clyro. The group have made a career out of off kilter rock music that will surprise you at every turn and Killyourstereo.com sat down with drummer/vocalist Ben Johnston to discuss how they plan to uphold their quirky reputation on the new record.
So let’s chat about the new record, we haven’t heard it yet….
Oh you haven’t?
Well it could be a good thing, now you can show us how you would describe the record to someone who hasn’t heard it yet!
*laughs* The thing is if I describe it to you you’re just gonna think that I’m crazy and I’m lying to you.
Well I’ll put a little bit of trust in you, give it a shot.
Well it has to be heard to be believed. I’ll start off by telling you some of the crazy instruments that are on there, we’ve got bagpipes, kazoos, tap dancers, Mariachi bands, orchestras and choirs, brass, just everything you could ever imagine musically is on this double album.
Sounds crazy, what is the reason for branching out like that?
We’ve just always loved trying to get as many textures on an album as we can. I think after a while we were settled with the fact that and album is an album and live is live and they don’t have to be the same thing, when you make an album a lot of people get bogged down with "can we repeat this live?" I don’t think that’s very important, an album is there for life so it’s perfect and it’s a sonic escape and a life companion for people hopefully where as a gig happens and then it’s over so they are very different things and we totally embrace the studio these days, we love experimenting when we get there and putting loads of things on, don’t get me wrong, the songs are always very much written and set in stone before we start recording but some of the instrumentation we just try it when we get there. Being in LA we had access to Mariachi bands and we worked with David Campbell again on all the orchestral stuff and the bagpipes so yeah we just really went to town on this, we threw everything and the kitchen sink at it.
Did you set out to make a double album or did you find that you had so much material that you had to?
It was more the latter, we’ve always harboured dreams of doing a double album, every rock band does at some point, we got off the end of the last touring cycle which lasted about two years and we were all pretty burnt out so we took a couple of weeks off and I think Simon thought he had writer’s block and then within two months he’d written forty-five songs. And they were all good. We demoed them all at home or at a little farm house and you just wait and see which ones stick out and I guess about twenty-four, I mean they were all great, but twenty-four were just super strong songs and then it revealed itself that lyrically and dramatically ten of them were going down a certain path and another ten were going down a different path and that is when the concept arrived of it being a double album and the idea of opposites and the two titles.
So the record is titled ‘Opposites’ because the two discs are significantly different in their musical styles?
Not so much in the musical styles because we didn’t want the concept to dictate too heavily what songs would make the cut. It’s got to be a listenable album, we’re trying to achieve something here that isn’t really common with double albums in that every moment is essential and there is literally no filler in there and it’s not a super long album, it’s two really short albums but there’s not any massive self indulgent parts, yes it is ambitious, you can tell that by the instrumentation alone, but it’s not meandering, it’s quite concise and succinct so we’re trying to break the mould with that a little bit.
Can you describe the theme of the two discs, what it is that has grouped those particular songs together?
The first disc, which is entitled ‘The Sand At The Core Of Our Bones,’ is, lyrically, an inward, isolated, lonely record and the second disc is more of a positive, hopeful record which has a feeling of solidarity in it. So basically the second album finishes on a more positive note than the first one, which is always good.
When you are demoing these songs, at what point do you decide something like, "This needs a Mariachi band"?
We had this awesome keyboard with amazing voices on it we just didn’t let any songs sit until we had tried everything, this is even way back when we were doing demos, before we got to Los Angeles. There were some great trumpet sounds on this amazing Nord keyboard so we just messed around to see what fitted, and that song, it’s so shit that you haven’t heard it but, the song is in 5/4 time and it’s Biffy Clyro so it’s quirky and weird and when you put it on paper, that should not work with a Mariachi band, it should be a total fucking car crash but we pulled it off somehow. It’s a case of trial and error I guess. A lot of trial, and a little bit of error at home, but by the time we got to Los Angeles ninety-nine per cent of things had worked, the only thing that didn’t work was the gospel choir which we tried and it turned out a little bit R. Kelly.
You don’t want that.
Nah, we were walking a fine line and it was like, nah we crossed that fucking line, let’s get rid of the gospel choir.
I know I may be leading you into a generic answer here but now that the record is done are you happy with it or are there some things you would change? And be honest…
At this point absolutely not, one hundred per cent happy with it. I have listened to it a lot and every album I would say after a few years there’s a wee thing you would change but at this point I can’t even think of a niggle at all. We spent five months on this, we were there for the mixing and really got involved with every bit of it so we are immensely proud *laughs* obviously you are expecting a stock answer of "It’s the best work to date….."
That’s why I hate asking that question, no one ever says "Well it’s not as good as the last album…."
Yeah but no bullshit, it’s the best thing we’ve ever done and I truly mean that, I’m not just saying that, when you listen to it you’ll call me back and go "You’re right." *laughs*
Do you think that is because the band is at a point where you can do things like pull in a gospel choir if you want to?
Yeah, we always had the ambition and we always wanted to do these things on our albums but i guess back in the years when we were on an independent label we would maybe hire one violin player and get them to play the same thing twenty times and record it so it sounded like an orchestra but these days we actually have the funds and the time to do it properly and we are taking full advantage of that, we really want to make sonic masterpieces and make things that are hopefully life companions.
So if you guys had the means you have now back when you first started, would the first Biffy record have been as extravagant as the latest?
No, definitely not, we weren’t as epic a band back then, we were more abrasive and angular, we would try and show off to a certain extent with sixteen ideas in one song and we’d make it really difficult for anybody to like us because the hook that was in the song would happen like, once, we were just young and not naive, but angry and didn’t want to make anything easy for anyone, hence the name Biffy Clyro, we wanted to take all of the non-music fans out so that we only got real music fans to listen to our music and it is just the really strange attitude that you have when you’re young and you want to try to be difficult for the sake of it and that’s what we did. You get a bit older and you kind of drop that act and say right, let’s just write some fucking great songs.
In saying that though, you have pretty much set up an audience where people can’t really get angry at you because they never really know what to expect anyway.
*laughs* I’m so glad you said that because I do feel like that. We’ve always been expect the unexpected so we’re never painted ourselves into a corner and we have absolute liberation to do whatever the fuck we want and people always expect to be surprised, which is a challenge in itself because you have to surprise them even more. I think when you hear this you will be surprised. There’s a lot on there man, two of the songs a purely electronic, some of the stuff is really heavy, there is tender moments, epic moments, there’s lots on there and the album title reflects that as well as there is opposite styles of music on there from either end of the spectrum.
I’m excited to hear it.
I’m bummed you haven’t heard it because then you would know what I was talking about. *laughs*
Because of the expectation from fans to be surprised, do you ever write a song and think "That is way too straight down the line for us"?
Yeah, I don’t think we would let a song get entirely finished without letting it get a little bit weird, there are points where Simon will have songs that are almost there but then burst some….Biffy, I don’t know how else to say it, just inject some quirk into it somehow and that is just in our make-up, we’re never ever gonna be entirely straight forward, it’s just impossible for us to do. A great example of that is one of the most straight forward songs we have ever had called Folding Stars from the ‘Puzzle’ album, that’s the first song we tried to record for that album and we really struggled to record it because it was so simple, it became a real issue and we couldn’t play it because it wasn’t difficult enough. *laughs*
I guess though now if you were to play a down the line people wouldn’t be expecting that so you are still covering your bases.
Exactly, we can literally do whatever we want. It’s a lovely feeling.
So what are the touring plans for the new album?
We’re gonna tour the world with it, that’s always the idea, you make the music then you take it to as far away as you can. We’re in Germany at the moment, then we go to London and do some cool stuff, then to the States, then a tour of Europe and then a UK arena tour, then back to the States, then we’re hopefully gonna fit you guys in near the end of the year.
I was gonna ask where we were in the list….
Well you guys are high up on my priority list but we have a diary that’s full of stuff but you’re definitely on the list of things to get booked, we will definitely see you guys before the end of the year.
You have to make sure that this time you do more than just Sydney/Brisbane/Melbourne.
You’re right we need to do everywhere, when you come Australia you could easily do an eight to ten show tour, we would definitely do that, it’s just about finding the time, we’re busy fuckers.
Of course, and you must be happy with that, is this where you want to be as a band?
Absolutely, this is the shit you dream of. You don’t realise how gruelling it’s gonna be and how much work is involved but then you stop and realise you’re not gonna moan about your dream job. We’re still doing the best job in the world, we get to go out and do what is ultimately our hobby and get paid for it. Plus we get to be rockstars, who the hell doesn’t want to do that, it’s amazing. But there is a lot of work involved, we won’t see our loved ones for the next two years probably but it just comes with the territory, if you set out to be a big band then that is gonna happen.