When observing the long list of bands spanning various heavy genres on the 2014 Soundwave lineup, Scotland’s Biffy Clyro stand out as one who evade easy classification. The trio’s affable bass player James Johnston says that since emerging in 2002 the band has steadfastly upheld its individuality, which has seen the three-piece experiment widely with time signatures and textures over the course of six albums.
“We’ve just tried to stay doing our thing and not be too worried about what other people think we should be doing,” he says. “We know we’re a rock band with guitars, but we don’t really think about it too much thereafter. I think you should be allowed to do what you want and that’s certainly what we’ve always done.”
The band’s prevailing autonomy has generated significant dividends in 2013. Released in January, the double album Opposites garnered an especially fervent response (reaching number one in the UK and cracking the ARIA top 30), which subsequently propelled the band into packed arenas and onto festival main stages. One particularly notable gig was their recent headline slot at the UK’s legendary Reading Festival. “[We’ve] reached a spot that we could only have dreamed of and in some ways wouldn’t even have dared dream of when we were younger. You don’t think it’s going to happen to you. It showed us that we can do these gigs, we pulled it off and it feels really great.”
Johnston admits additional mental preparation was necessary to prevent the band being completely bewildered by tens of thousands screaming audience members at Reading. “We kept trying to tell ourselves, ‘It’s just another show, you know what you’re doing.’ But the other half of your brain’s just saying, ‘Fucking hell, this is the craziest thing you’ve ever done – don’t mess up!’”
Biffy Clyro’s lineup is completed by Johnston’s twin brother Ben on drums and vocalist/songwriter Simon Neil, who is a childhood friend. Johnston indicates the close bond between the trio has stopped them from adopting megalomaniacal attitudes that the increasing adulation showered on them could encourage. “These are the people that know you best in your life, and I think if you start acting out of character or getting too easily influenced by some of the hangers-on then you could get lost. We do help to keep each other’s feet on the ground, you definitely need your brothers by your side to look after you.”
While the group’s closeness serves to keep the individuals honest, Johnston explains that their intimate companionship also helps strengthen the band’s self-regard. “In some sense you’re always examining yourself through your music, and people examine you. I think it is important to have a certain amount of self-confidence, and believe in what you’re doing, because that will be questioned along the way. It’s a lot easier if you’re with a group of people that you believe in and that believe in you, because then you can take on the world and you feel strong with that kind of community around you.”
Biffy Clyro have expanded their global presence with each album they’ve released and this year’s enormous success certainly reaffirms the virtues of their vocation. Johnston believes there are plenty of bountiful experiences still to come. “As your band becomes more popular then maybe some bands end up becoming less satisfied or doing things they’re less happy with, but we feel re-energised and certainly our relationships are better than they’ve ever been. We feel really excited about the future and we’ve just done some of the most exciting gigs we’ve ever done, so it definitely feels like we’re on another bit of an upward turn.”
BY AUGUSTUS WELBY
Biffy Clyro plays Soundwave Festival 2014 with Green Day, Avenged Sevenfold, Placebo, Alice In Chains, Korn, DevilDriver, Newsted, AFI and more at Olympic Park on Sunday February 23. Opposites out now through Warner.