Biffy Clyro Meet North America

After years of anticipating their arrival in North America, the time seems to finally be right for Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro, says bassist James Johnston. "It was kind of frustrating for us, not getting a chance to tour somewhere that was such a source of inspiration for us when we were younger. Growing up and listening to music, it was always American indie rock bands that we were listening to."

- Dara Hakimzadeh
Photos by Sheila Busteed

posted October 22, 2007

Biffy Clyro Meet North America

     For the three members of Biffy Clyro, playing in North America is something they have been anticipating for years, says bassist James Johnston. The band’s first performance in Toronto was at the Virgin Festival, a couple of weeks before the release of its fourth album, Puzzle, which was recorded in Vancouver and Gibsons, British Columbia.

     This was new territory for the Scottish band, which had released its first three albums with Beggars Banquet and had focused on touring in Europe.

     “It was kind of frustrating for us, not getting a chance to tour somewhere that was such a source of inspiration for us when we were younger. Growing up and listening to music, it was always American indie rock bands that we were listening to,” says Johnston.

     Although he says he’s been a bit annoyed by the amount of time they’ve had to wait to cross the pond, he admits it has allowed the band to grow.

     “We’ve never felt like we were wasting our time as a band. It’s nice to be here and I think, now that we’ve done four albums and we’ve been touring for a great number of years, we’ve found what we want to do as a band,” he says.

Biffy Clyro Feature

     As a band, Biffy is known for its orchestral arrangements and cryptic lyrics. Puzzle was a particularly personal album for the band, says Johnston, because the underlying theme dealt with the death of lead singer Simon Neal’s mother.

     “We obviously went through a really hard time and a lot of it was about him and us as a band coming to terms with how it left us as people and as a band. It was a really tough time but, you know what, everyone has tough times in their life and everyone goes through it at some point. We certainly don’t feel like we’re any different to anybody else walking down the street, and I think that’s why the album is something that some people have been able to connect with,” he says.

     “It is quite a heavy subject and really quite sad, but also, in a way, it’s quite hopeful,” he continues. “When you realize that, when you’re left with your life spilled out on the floor in front of you, you have to just find a way to pick up the pieces and build it back together...figure out what the puzzle of life is all about.”

     Johnston describes his kinship with Neil as being very strong, since he and his twin brother, the band’s drummer, Ben, have known the singer since they were eight years old.

Biffy Clyro Feature

     Puzzle was mixed in New York by Andy Wallace and debuted in the United Kingdom in the number two slot. It features artwork by Storm Thorgerson, who is probably best known for creating the artwork for Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon with British art group Hipgnosis. Thorgerson also created covers for the singles "Saturday Superhouse," "Living is a Problem Because Everything Dies," "Folding Stars," and, most recently, "Machines" for Biffy’s album.

     In Europe, some reviewers have been comparing the band’s sound to the Foo Fighters. While the band is honored by this reference, Johnston maintains that Biffy has its own sound.

     “‘Yah, you sound like the Foo Fighters,’” he jokes, imitating the European press. “Thanks a lot. Great band. I would love to go tour with the Foo Fighters. I love their album The Colour And The Shape. I think some of their albums have changed in a way that has made me less inclined to rush out and buy them, but they’re a great band. A guy like Dave Grohl is a great inspiration to us because he’s worked hard for a long time and has done what he believes in.”

     Johnston says Grohl’s strong vision for his band is the only real comparative point he can see between the Foos and Biffy.

     “Fads are going to come and go, and bands are going to come and go, and a band can go from nothing straight to number one with one record. But if you keep doing what you do and make music you believe in, hopefully that will rub off on people and they’ll get to feel your passion and share it as well,” he says. “That’s certainly what we have found out back home.”

     The band is currently supporting Queens of The Stone Age on its fall tour in the States before heading back to the UK for an almost sold-out 14-day tour.

     “Hopefully America will get sick of us before we get sick of America, because we’re planning on spending a lot of time here in the near future,” Johnston concludes.