The explosive energy of Scottish rock trio Biffy Clyro tore up the stage at Rams Head Live in Baltimore, MD last night. With pummeling riffs and rhythmic hooks, their songs are dynamic bursts of creative energy packed with attitude as well as music that matters. Their current U.S. single “Howl,” off their seventh album Ellipsis, continues to gather momentum on the radio. Fans were singing along word for word. Before the show AXS had the chance to speak with bassist James Johnston backstage.
AXS: Haven’t toured in the U.S. in a while, how has the response been so far? Has “Clyromania” finally caught on?
James Johnston (JJ): That’s a good term, I am going to use that. It feels like we’re making steps forward. It feels like the audience is growing all the time and there are new people going to the shows. People are singing along more and more. Some people make a big deal about how we are a much bigger deal back home, and I get that, but we’ve not always been a big band back home. Every band starts somewhere. Everyone starts off playing small clubs in a van. It has only been about the last five years we’ve become comfortable with the bigger shows back home. Playing small clubs is not a different world for us, it is something that is quite familiar and now we get to do it all over again in a new country. You know we grew up listening to your music. It was the music of North America that really got us going when we were teenagers, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Rage Against The Machine at first. That moment in the U.K. was the time of Oasis and that whole Brit Pop thing. Nothing against that band, I just didn’t appreciate them at the time.
AXS: A lot of big bands say they enjoy going back to play small clubs because you experience the energy of the fans differently.
JJ: Absolutely. It is very immediate. You can see if someone is picking their nose or messing around on their phone or singing with every ounce of energy they’ve got.
AXS: What song do you find people sing to the most?
JJ: Right now I suppose “Howl” is the song they sing to the most because that is the one that is one the radio right now. We do encourage that, singing. I think it should be a communal thing.
AXS: Ellipsis is your seventh studio album, yet the energy encapsulated in it feels new. What took place during recording that reinvigorated everyone?
JJ: We wanted it to feel like we were making our first record. So before we even went into the studio we started to do things differently. Simon started writing differently, he began writing more on the piano. We didn’t play a lot of the songs before in the practice room. Usually, we would hammer them out for months and months and get every little detail. This time we left it a little more open until we got in the studio. When we went to the studio we started looking around at things. Before we were very much [like], these are how the songs go, these are how they are supposed to sound, let’s just start. This time it was more like, well why not try and put the drums through the Marshall amp instead of the guitar and let’s start with the vocal. We tried to rip up the rule book and start again. Hopefully, there is something fresh about it, we weren’t going through the motions. This is the start of the next trilogy of records. We like to think of the first three as a collection, the next three as a little set and now this one the first step in the next journey.
AXS: This album doesn’t really play it safe or really conform to a specific style of music. Influences of many genres are present. What turns you on musically?
JJ: Like I said, our history goes back to Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, those kinds of bands. I like Fugazi and The Red House Painters. Mostly the past couple of years we’ve become excited by the sounds of modern Hip-Hop records. There is an attitude in Hip-Hop that is sorely lacking for a lot of rock music these days. We like to surprise people and take some risks. Things like A$AP Rocky and Kanye West, he’s a real character. I’m not sold on him but his music, the sounds he is creating are really daring and out there.
AXS: Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the song “Living is a Problem Because Everything Dies,” a song you play at nearly every gig. Why is that song so special to you?
JJ: We do play it every gig. There is a lot in that song, musically and thematically. It is quite a complex song to play. It’s got a strange intro and middle section. It is really kind of math-rock, it makes you think and maybe feel a bit unease. We always play that song second in the set just because we want people to be like wait a minute, these guys didn’t mean that. That must be a mistake. It is a really grandiose song On the record there are choirs and string sections. We do our best to replicate that live. It is a song that has never been out of the set list once.
JJ: Soundgarden is playing and they are one band I never got to see back in the day but were really one of my first musical loves. That will be really special. Primus, that’s another band that I’d like to see. I’ve never seen them and I was a big fan for a bit. That is going to be really interesting, to see a really f***ing crazy band like that. They are really out there.
AXS: Tell me about how the band came up with the idea to use Spotify to identify your die-hard listeners for the limited edition vinyl giveaway. It was a brilliant concept.
JJ: I cannot claim that idea. It was quite interesting to do a vinyl thing with a company like Spotify because they are kind of opposite ends of the spectrum in a way. Personally, I still like to have something tangible in my hand and went back to vinyl, CDs as well. When you travel, life changes whether you want it to or not. I can’t bring vinyl with me. I think bands need to embrace the different mediums and the different ways people like to listen to music. It is still about the music. I mean the songs still have to be good and they have to mean something, but everyone has a different taste for how they like to consume music. It was nice to get to do something and sort of tip the hat for people who are big supporters of the band.