It’s 31st December 2015. After a year in hiding, Biffy Clyro emerge triumphant to a euphoric Hogmanay crowd, and bring with them a teaser of 2016, launching their new album, aptly, with a bang. That show in the cold Edinburgh streets was, as frontman Simon Neil explains, “like a pressure cooker. We finally let the pressure off. We needed that show; this is when music becomes a living, breathing thing, when you share it with people.”
Fast forward to the present and their year’s work ‘Ellipsis’ is out and their new trilogy is officially, by their own terms, alive. “I think this is our grimy, anything goes trilogy,” he says. “I feel like the first three albums, we couldn’t top that kind of aggressive prog post-hardcore sound. We peaked out on that. I felt the same after ‘Opposites’. I’ve no interest in retreading ground as a band. I would much rather make a huge mistake and make a terrible record than just play it safe.
“These three records will probably be, in inverted commas, ‘studio albums’, where we’ll fully explore what the studio brings, very much be like a rock band but for the 21st century. This will be three studio records, I guess, the least organic trilogy. The non-organic trilogy!”
The ‘non-organic trilogy’ faced some creative hurdles in its early days, with Simon finding it difficult to pin down songs. “When I started writing, I wrote with the stage and really big shows in mind, and I’ve never written music like that. Or rather, any of the music that I’ve written that’s any good is never with ambition in mind. I needed to basically sit my guitar down and not think about Biffy.
“As soon as I did that, I started writing songs for me that were just kind of electronic songs and I fell in love with the innocence of writing music, and also enjoying writing shit music as much as writing good music. I know that sounds like a weird thing to say but if you imagine every song you’ve ever written to be the best thing ever, it can be an awful lot of pressure.”
Location helped. He headed to Los Angeles where he has a lot of friends who are musicians. They’re not necessarily in bands, touring and making albums, and it was liberating to write with people who write for different reasons, for the love of it, he says. “I ended up writing about 15 or 20 songs, recorded at some of my friends’ studios, wrote some songs with my pals. I just wanted the music to flow and as soon as I did that I got back on track with Biffy. I remembered the joy of writing, and that pressure and ego is the enemy of good music.
“Ambition is important once you’re recording a record, or bringing an idea to life, but when you’re actually coming up with an idea it needs to be naive and innocent – unspoiled. That was basically why it took me a wee while. It took a synthesiser to get the fucking Biffy album on the go.”
When it started going, little could stop it. Their lead single ‘Wolves of Winter’ spiralled from a defiance and protectiveness of what they’ve created. “It’s the first song that’s come out defending our band and our lives, saying ‘The only people that know our band is the three of us, myself, Ben and James’,” Simon explains. “It means everything to us. The one tough thing about any band getting slightly more successful and playing bigger shows is more and more people stick their nose in, and that’s something that I’ve always struggled to deal with.
“I reached a breaking point this time and thought, you know what? I make music for myself. I make songs because that’s what I have to do. It’s not to make fucking money, it’s not to reach deadlines. It’s because we’re fortunate to have fans that care about what we do and we love what we do, and that’s what I wanted to take ownership of again.”
The love of what they do is no more evident than when they’re on stage, and their upcoming tours are where Biffy really look to embrace themselves as a band. “This is the first album where we’ve already visited every part of the world, so it feels like everywhere knows our band now and that’s what’s quite exciting. I’m more excited at this point than potentially I’ve ever been.
“I think I’ve accepted our position as a BAND. I’m finally happy to pretend to be a rock star. This album’s about us embracing every opportunity and we want every show to be the best show we’ve ever played. If it’s not, then we need to fucking fix it.”
There is one weekend in particular that they have their sights on for raising the live show stakes: Reading & Leeds. It’s a festival they’ve headlined before, and the fact they’re about to do it again is something they’re struggling to get their heads around. But what is it about those festivals that makes them such a bucket list moment for bands?
“Every band worth their salt has played Reading & Leeds multiple times,” he says. “You look at the bands who’ve headlined and it’s insanely impressive. What impresses me is when you look down all the other stages, it’s like every band is a must see. I love Glastonbury loads, that’s a really eclectic one, but it doesn’t really have heavy rock music – for me Reading & Leeds was my education.
“When I grew up, every band that I really loved played, and sometimes I have to pinch myself about us headlining it again and having already headlined it because it’s everyone’s education. It’s a rite of passage, isn’t it? You don’t feel like you’ve lived unless you’ve done a Reading & Leeds – it’s an important time for anyone that goes, never mind the bands. We’ve played every stage, done unspeakable things in every corner. It’s very much a part of who you are.”
You’ll see three guys who are back with a drive and knowledge of where their band can go, and nothing will stand in their way. “We’ve missed all our fans so much and I really hope that everyone thinks the album’s good enough to have had patience,” says Simon. “I truly believe it to be our best record. I don’t want to sound like a dick but I wouldn’t have devoted so much time to this, of my life to this band, if I didn’t truly believe we were one of the best bands in the world. I just appreciate everyone caring.
“We have not forgotten anyone, so I hope they haven’t forgotten us and we will be back with a vengeance with kisses and cuddles.”