“THIS album feels like this little friend I haven’t got to know yet,” says Biffy Clyro frontman Simon Neil.
“My relationship with it is different than if we’d been on tour. Normally we are out playing the songs and it becomes something else. But it’s nice to finally be able to talk about it. Now it feels it has a place in the world.”
Simon is reflecting on how coronavirus has changed things for Biffy in the run-up to the release of their ninth studio album, A Celebration Of Endings, delayed from its scheduled May date.
It’s an album that for the first time sees Simon writing about the world around him rather than about personal experiences. And if I tell you the album closes with the cry “F* Everybody” on the song Cop Syrup, you’ll know it’s an album where Biffy take no prisoners.
Simon says the initial spark for the record came a couple of years ago when the band severed their professional relationship with someone they had worked with for 20 years.
He says: “I’m not going to name him out of respect but he was part of our main team for a long time and it felt like a really important part of us was removed. None of us wanted it to happen but sometimes you are forced to make a big change.
“It was important to keep it the essence of the band as the three of us. We were sad he had to go but it gave me a ton of confidence. It was at that point that I started to engage with what was happening in the world and our society, especially in the UK in the last few years.”
We meet at a rooftop bar in London. It’s Neil’s first trip out of Scotland since lockdown and he arrives wearing a mask.
“Some people are wanting to look inwards and some are wanting to look outwards. I very much wanted to look outwards with this album,” he says, sitting down.
“It’s been a strange few months for everyone and in Scotland we’ve been behind First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the way she has handled the pandemic. She’s a real contrast to Boris’s style of leadership. Boris is all bluster, he’s got the pull lines. But Nicola’s been upfront and honest.
“These songs were written before Covid but this album is for these times and there is nuance in a moment like this. The private consensus of being let down by a leader doesn’t mean that everyone is f***ed for ever.
“Maybe we’ve been forced into change with Brexit and we have to accept what we can to make the most of it. So that was what I’m singing about. We need to engage even when we don’t want to, and not be afraid of it.”
Being fearless is a theme throughout A Celebration Of Endings, a record that sees the trio mix rock, metal, pop and even dance on 11 brilliant tracks.
“The excitement of making a new Biffy album for me is finding new areas to move into while still keeping our characteristics as a band,” says Simon.
“We aren’t a heritage band and I don’t aspire to make records like those of 40 years ago. We have no rules in Biffy. And I am quite extreme with what I like and how I am.
“To paraphrase Brian Wilson, I feel like I AM made for these times. People don’t want an album of one colour or mood. I’ve been waiting for this moment creatively. It is really liberating.” I chat to bassist James Johnston and his twin, drummer Ben, the next day via video call from their homes in Scotland.
James says: “We are really made up with this record. It feels like we’ve made another step forward, progressing with our sound. It was the only album we could have made now — we really had something to say.
“Nobody needs another Biffy album just for the sake of it. We are so proud of it.”
The twins laugh at the risk they took releasing Instant History, a dance, arms-in-the-air anthem. “We were quite nervous when that was coming out,” admits James.
“It’s quite a departure for the band and the sound of the record. It’s a great example of having something good but you can’t unlock it. And we never played it together as a band until we finished it.”
Ben adds: “It’s a keyboard-driven song which sounds very un-Biffy. But we have a simple taste test which is, if the hairs on your neck stand up, that’s it. All three of us thought it was an absolute banger. This album is about trying new ground and pushing yourself forward.”
Album opener North Of No South is another standout, with Queen-like harmonies. “We knew we wanted to start the album with a bang — you know, slap people about the face a little bit,” says James.
It’s been so great to see the next generation say they’ve had enough and want a change.
“We’re not scared of guitars or Ben smashing it up on the drums just yet but we love big harmonies. Queen have always been part of our lives and the harmonies in that song are definitely inspired by Queen.”
Space is a stunning ballad being labelled this album’s (huge 2010 single) Many Of Horror and is the band’s next single.
“I call it the Disney tune,” laughs Simon. “It has a sentiment that everyone can understand — that longing for someone or something from your past.
“Everyone has someone in their life that makes them feel like that. It’s an honest expression of that feeling and that song just makes me melt.”
James adds: “We knew what we had on our hands. We knew this was the ballad and when it came to recording lush strings then there’s only one place to go — Abbey Road. We’ve been there before but this time I watched in awe as the orchestra played. It was really romantic and affected me a lot.”
The Champ is a track that Simon says was inspired after seeing the terrible story of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean in 2015 as his refugee family tried to reach safety in Europe.
“Like everyone, the photo of that young boy affected me hugely. David Cameron was Prime Minister then, saying immigrants were coming in and taking this and that, but seeing that young boy dead made people realise he couldn’t say that any more.
“It was a turning point for many. And seeing the youth take to the streets to protest about things including climate change inspired me too. It’s been so great to see the next generation say they’ve had enough and want a change. They’ve had to disrupt what we’ve given them for us to pay attention.”
Simon says he’s a huge fan of Billie Eilish and that she’s a great role model for the young.
“She’s so smart,” he says. “And there’s a whole generation younger than her who will be learning from her.”
Ben says Biffy feel like they have lost their identity a bit, not being able to tour and play festivals.
He says: “It’s been good to get back with the boys and start practising again and just get to play the new songs from the album. We’ve just announced The Fingers Crossed tour for April — fingers crossed as we hope it will go ahead then but no one really knows.”
These songs were written before Covid but this album is for these times and there is nuance in a moment like this.
For now the boys are looking forward to their special livestream being broadcast tomorrow night.
“It’s a unique one-off performance of the album from an iconic Glasgow venue,” says James. “We aren’t letting the venue’s name out yet as we don’t want people turning up at the venue, as it’s pre- recorded.
“Understandably, there is no audience but it’s meant we can use the whole of the venue and so Ben has four drum kits. We keep moving around the venue — we also have a string section and it’s a really special show.”
Ben adds: “We call it a theatrical live performance.” As they are missing the live scene so much, have the band watched their old headline shows to relive some of the experience?
“I can’t watch any show that we’ve ever done. I just can’t enjoy watching it again,” says Simon. “In the moment it is so intense that when I come off I feel a sense of relief.
“Obviously, I enjoy it. But if I try to relive it I just punish myself and see everything that is wrong. Ignorance is bliss for me.
“The first show we do when we come out of this pandemic is going to be one of the best experiences that we and fans will ever have, because there’s going to be an outpouring of emotion and joy.
“Nothing will kill the human spirit, no matter how long we have to go through this. I’ve had ups and downs in recent years. When I had my breakdown a couple of years ago I recovered but knew there were pitfalls that could take me back into that zone.
“But the reality is that I am not going to allow myself to get there. Making this album, I just can’t express how my self-esteem has grown. Now we are just desperate to get out there again and play these songs.”
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