A little while before the release of the newest album “Ellipsis”, we met Biffy Clyro in their parisian hotel room, so they could tell us a bit more about the creative process behind it.
Your new album “Ellipsis” will be available very soon now. What’s your state of mind at the moment?
James Johnston (bass): Very positive, very excited. It’s amazing to be back in Paris and talk about our record. We can’t wait for people to hear it and play shows.
Simon Neil (vocals/guitar): We took last year off to make sure we’ll have a blowing record. It was a longer year than we anticipated. I think we thought we’d be able to fully relax and just… (not that we have pools but) to sit by the pool, and sadly that didn’t happen. (laughs) So it’s a release that the record is finally getting out.
You’ve already played a few shows with these new songs. How did the fans react so far?
Simon: Great! So far so good. It takes us a few times playing the songs live to really get to know them. It’s kind of like introducing a new friend to the family. You’re nervous but you want your friend to be taken in. It’s a lot of emotions but they’re all really positive and it felt really great, it was comfortable for us in context with the other songs so it’s great to finally bring them out.
Do you have a favorite to play live?
Simon: My favorite is probably “Re-Arrange”. I don’t have to do much in it. (laughs) It’s a different kind of vibe, of headspace in that song.
Ben Johnston (drums): Same for me, “Re-Arrange”. Oh no, “Medicine”, because there’s no drums. (laughs)
James: It’s a very varied album. I like “On A Bang”, it’s just an hightoned rock n’roll track with Ben and I making as much rock as we can and Simon screaming his head off.
Simon: I think with us playing a few of these songs live, people aren’t quite sure what kind of album this is gonna be (laughs) but that’s how we like it.
Do you feel like this is a very expected record, since the previous one was released three years ago?
Simon: Yeah, hopefully! If a band disappears for too long people can forget. And the reason we stayed away was just to make sure that this album was the best thing we’ve ever made. I don’t think anyone needs a seventh Biffy Clyro album so we wanted to make sure that we made an album that people would need to have. I think, I hope people are excited to get it. But it’s hard for us to tell I guess, because we’re probably the most excited ones.
How did the writing and recording sessions go exactly?
Simon: I normally start writing songs right after we’ve been touring the previous record, and this is the first time I didn’t really have a lot of ideas. I think the touring and all of the music in “Opposites” really emptied our tanks. So I needed a couple of months to write music. To be honest it was the first time I struggled writing songs.
That was probably until March or April that year. I headed to California for a couple of months. I just wanted to write music that wasn’t specifically for Biffy. Because I’ve been writing with Biffy seven albums, playing these big shows, and that isn’t necessarily inspiring. So I needed to disconnect from being the Biffy-Simon and then the songs came.
We spent a few months in the practice room last year and then started recording in October with Rich Costey (ed: producer) back in California.
Did you have any technique while recording?
Simon: Sometimes when you’re writing songs you just kinda have to wait for the universe to talk to you. I wrote a few songs on the piano this time, and I guess the main change this time was to embrace the studio almost as a fourth member of the band. Normally we view the studio as a way to document our band, to try to make things sound live, real, organic. And this is the first album we haven’t tried to do that at all. We wanted things to sound distorted, slightly wrong.
Ben: Also what we usually do is record the drums, then the bass, then the guitar and then vocals. But for a lot of songs on this album we did the guitar and vocals first, and that was a good way to kind of see what the songs needed and how it makes you feel, what does the song want to have on it. That’s also why we ended up with a couple songs with no drums at all, because we just got to that point when “does this song need drums?” and no, it doesn’t. (laughs)
Simon: It was a more surprising record for us I think, more spontaneous, more playful, because normally you know exactly where you want to be and what you’re going to record each day. This time each day we had no idea what we were going to do. No scheduling. And we liked that mystery, it was very exciting.
So it must have been very different than what you did before, especially on a double album like “Opposites”.
Simon: Yes, very different. This one is definitely a reaction to “Opposites”, which was very cinematic and epic. We weren’t afraid to try to make things sound different this time. We weren’t worried about making it sound right or pretty, like we put drums through guitar amplifiers etc. We wanted to make something that sounded like the same band, but not like this band had an entire evolution before. This is our shortest record. We recorded 15 tracks, and our aim was a 10-track album. But it was too hard for us to pick just 10 songs. (laughs)
How long did it actually take to make it, from the start?
Simon: OK we know it was long (laughs) but you know what, it really took fucking ages! (laughs) At week three we were like “we’ll have this album done in another week” and then it kept fucking going on! Ironically it took the exact same amount of time as the double album, but everyday was fulfilling this time. Like I said, we didn’t know each day what we’d be going to do. So sometimes we just kept trying, like if we thought the drums could sound better we’d re-record them. And if it was up to Rich Costey we’d still be making it right now, he’s a real explorer and adventurer. For him, unless you’ve tried everything out you have no idea if it works. (laughs)
Did you face any particular difficulties (aside from that)?
Simon: I guess the main difficulty was unlearning the habits we had. As you grow as a band you get good at certain things and that’s what you embrace for a couple of records. And the thought of abandoning that is quite scary. But we feel like it, and like we owe it to the fans, not making the same record again.
Ben: I’ve been asked to play different ways for certain songs. Like “play with less fuel” or “play like” well, not like me (laughs). “Play like a different drummer”, “play like a shit drummer” also. (laughs)
Simon: Yeah, just trying to give it a different vibe. We’ve been doing things a certain way for so long that there’s no point in doing that again, it’s very boring to do the same thing over and over. But it didn’t make it easier. (laughs)
The second single you’ve been releasing is “Animal Style”. Aren’t you a bit afraid of the censorship on the chorus?
Simon: Yeah, I’m really surprised they (ed : the record company) chose a song that has like eight “fuck”s in it and it’s actually in the chorus so. I don’t know, maybe they’ll just mute the chorus on the radio. (laughs) I wish they’d keep all the “fuck”s on the radio that’d be a lot cooler. I think we’ll call the next one “Fuck Fucking Fucker”. (laughs)
Simple question: why did you choose “Ellipsis” as the title?
Simon: The main thing was that three dots aspect of us, and most of people consider the three dots as the end of a sentence but I think it can be considered like the start of something. We spent 18 months working on this record, and having all of these thoughts and ideas. And there is no plan in this, people are just joining half-way through. Hearing the record is kind of like half-way through this whole thought process. So that’s what the ellipsis means.
Where did you seek inspiration for this, for the whole record?
Simon: Well I guess you’ve seen there’s a lot of animals in it. I wasn’t really expecting that, I probably watched too much David Attenborough in our year off and spent too much time on websites like cutekittens.com. (laughs) But musically our music education was rock music, but our inspirations can come from everywhere. We’ve been inspired by this whole modern pop and even hip hop scene, most of exciting sounds come from here.
It’s been a while since I’ve heard a rock band that made me go “wow, what the fuck is that?”. It feels like this album is the closest attempt to make an album from now, with the tools that are right at our fingertips.
About this whole animal theme, would you say it’s your bestial album?
Simon: Yeah, maybe feral or bestial (laughs) but if you google “bestial” you won’t find Biffy Clyro that’s for sure! You may find one of us (laughs)! You don’t wanna know which one. But yeah, looking back last year, a lot of this has to do with me trying to built my confidence with these songs. I was probably struggling with confidence more that I ever have. A lot people think I’m joking because I’ve been writing so many songs. But I’ve really been associating this with being a wolf or something, like trusting my instinct, protecting my friends and family and what I consider dear to me. And I think that why it manifests in me being… bestial. (laughs)
We guess you’ll be touring this album now?
Simon: Yeah, more of the same thing, playing new songs, taking them to people. We’ll be at Download Festival France and we’re hoping to come back in November, play a few shows in France. You’ll be seeing lots of us, we’ll be back!
Last question: our website is called “RockUrLife”, so what rocks your life?
James: Playing in a band called Biffy Clyro? (laughs)
Simon: These guys rock my life!
James and Ben: Oh!
Simon: And they actually physically do because I have to stand and play rock music with them.