Despite trying to make out a very thick Glasgow accent, our interview with Biffy Clyro drummer, Ben Johnston (pictured right), was actually a lot of fun. Only briefly touching on their new album, ‘Ellipsis’, we dive head first into the bands past and how the band isn’t scared to jump off the stage and get into a fight, and how they definitely won’t be throwing things at Subway workers while they make a sandwich (read on for the context on that last one). One thing I can say with certainty is the new album ‘Ellipsis’ is out now, and you should definitely go check it out. It’s an absolute cracker!
Hey Ben, Jack from Killyourstereo here, how are you?
I’m very good Jack, How are you?
I’m really good, I’m pretty cold this morning as it’s only 8am.
What are you guys complaining about being cold? You’re in Australia, for Christ sakes!
Well, it’s raining, it’s cold, and I’m at the bottom part of Australia so it gets pretty cold.
Oh, no way? When you say cold, what do you mean like 10 degrees Celsius?
No, it would only be about 3 or 4 right now.
For real?! That it cold? I’ll let you off. The last guy I spoke to wasn’t really that cold. Sorry brother.
All good! So it’s been 21 years since Biffy Clyro began, are you hoping that there are 21 more years to come?
[Laughs] Yeah I think we’re kind of heading that way. It really does feel like we’re starting to have a lot to say and a lot of music to make and a lot of gigs to play. This album feels really fresh to us and we felt like teenage boys making it. So why not, man? 21 more years, let’s do it!
One thing I’ve always really loved about your band is how well you combine different genres and put your own impression on it. Is this intentional or do you just go for it and your influences subliminally rub off on you?
I guess it’s a mix of both. It’s maybe subconscious at some points and at other points it’s definitely deliberate. But we’ve never shied away from the fact that we like a lot of different kinds of music. And we’ve never really been that career band or think we’re going to be a great this band or that band. We just make music for ourselves in a really selfish way and it comes our very eclectic and diverse. So maybe it’s a happy accident, I guess that’s the best way to put it.
It’s a pretty good happy accident if you ask me. You guys have toured Australia a number of times now, but prior to coming what was did you think it would be like? Some think we have a bit of a Bogan culture, while others think we’re just like Canadian cousin.
[Laughs] Na, I mean, I’ve always loved coming to Australia, I’ve had close friends that have come and lived in Oz for a year or two. I’ve got my best friend that was actually married there and then brought back to Scotland. I have a really strong love for Australia. I know this has been said before, and I actually thought I had made it up until a few days before, but I feel that Australia has taken the best parts of the US and the best parts of the UK, and rolled them up.
Well, I’m glad that’s the type of impression that we give you! I’m curious, when was the last time you got into a fight, maybe a fist fight, or a big verbal argument with the other two guys in the band?
We haven’t had any huge arguments for a while, it’s been a good few years thankfully. The last one I can think of was when we were playing a gig in Germany. During God and Satan, Simon was playing the song acoustically, and a guy threw a pint at his face, like a big plastic cup. And as Simon finished the last line of the song he said, “I’m going for him”. Took his guitar off, and managed to run over the first five rows of heads and just got the guy and cooled him down. I thought he was going to really hurt him but thankfully he just ejected him from the building.
Damn. When those sorts of moments happen, does the band get in much trouble from management?
No way! Not for that shit. If someone is fucking with your show you’ve got the right to do what you want to him. If they don’t like it they can leave. There’s no point heckling or stealing shit from the band. Say this guy worked at Subway, I wouldn’t go and throw shit at his face while he is making a sandwich. It’s horrible man! The crew will always stand behind you if someone does that. I think everyone was waiting for security to throw them out, and that’s why Simon did something. And before this happened, Simon was gesturing to these meatheads to deal with this guy, and they wouldn’t. So, therefore, everyone in the band must be themselves, so he ran off the stage, bent this guy over, and made him leave.
Do you remember the point when you realized you could play music and make a living out of it?
Truthfully, I didn’t leave my parents’ house until I was 27 because there was no need to. The band kicked off from an early age so guess I was always feeling like it was going to work. I didn’t need that much money, I was so grateful my parents let me hang around for that long. It wasn’t a home, it was a room at my parents’ house if you will. I think even after school, Simon went to uni and James and I went to college, and we got signed towards the end of our course and I don’t think any of us finished our courses or got our degrees. We just instantly went head first in“Even if this just pays enough to survival”. I don’t think at any point any of us have felt super comfortable or super rich, I don’t think musician make that much money these days. To be able to not have “do” a real job, it’s just a fucking blessing. There’s not a day gone by that I’m not thankful and grateful for that. We get to out hobby, that’s not only exhilarating, but also cathartic and it’s like therapy, and we get paid for it, we are the luckiest men in the world.
From your back catalogue, what would be your favorite song on CD, and if it’s different, what’s your favorite track to play live?
Jesus Christ, I haven’t had to talk about any other album other than Ellipsis for ages. Christ almighty, this has absolutely put me on the spot. I’m going to go for…. Now the Action is on Fire [laughs]. I don’t know why I picked that, but you put me on the spot and I just had to think of a song and it’s a really fucking interesting song. It would be my favourite song to play live, it’s an absolute brain melter. I think it’s a very smart song, it’s maybe a little bit of us showing off, but I guess that was our youthful exuberance we had at that point and time. It was probably our most “proggiest” and our most confusing. I’m very proud of those days, and nothing is saying we won’t get more confusing in the future, but at this point, we have a more direct album and I’m also very proud of that.
Cool! With having so much music to your name now, have you ever written a song and immediately thought “Ahh, this is B-side song”?
[Laughs] Never immediately! We always kind of force it. You always got to believe that there’s some magic in there and that song is just one little change away from brilliance, so you always try and force it. Some songs maybe, yeah, they’ll last a couple of weeks before they’re definitely B-sides. Some songs they could almost be the most important song on the album until Simon writes five more absolute bangers and then that becomes the B-side. We’ve already recorded the B-side record as well, we recorded that over three days. We just thought, ‘Fuck it, we will get it done because otherwise, we will have to do it at a later date’, and we had all the songs already. The B-side album is more of a continuation of Opposites. They’re really good songs, but they just weren’t a big enough change compared to our previous music.
Well said, man! Thank you so much for your time today Ben, and have a great day!
No, thank you, Jack! Also, it has been an absolute pleasure and be proud of that second name, Fowler.
‘Ellipsis‘ is out now!