Biffy Clyro: "It's really special when you can go through a tough moment and come out on the other side with more confidence"

Biffy Clyro
(Image credit: Supplied)

It was a ballsy move when, in an era marked predominantly by its crippling (if well-earned) negativity, Biffy Clyro set out to make the happiest album of the year. Their eighth proper LP of genre‑bending glory (not counting last year’s full‑length soundtrack to the Balance, Not Symmetry film), A Celebration Of Endings is an overwhelmingly optimistic offering from the Scottish rockers, who spend 45 minutes searching earnestly for diamonds in a mountain of shit. And beyond all odds, they unearth some – eleven of them, to be exact, their haul shiny and succinct. 

A Celebration Of Endings launched to some of the most intense critical acclaim that Biffy Clyro had ever seen, and for good reason: we could all use a smile right now, and the trio elicit more than plenty of them with riff after riff of loveably crunchy guitars and the kind of wonderfully accented wails only Simon Neil can belt with such aplomb.

We caught up with Biffy’s bassist James Johnson to find out how LP8 made it over the line and why it’s such a special release for the band, the unexpected catalyst for why it’s so damn loud and caked in colour, and how he and his bandmates managed to come up with the most the outright most insane Biffy Clyro tune to date.

The conspiracy theorist in me is worried about that title: is this foretelling the end of Biffy Clyro? 
You can rest easy, Matt, we’re not going anywhere! The album is really about change. It was partially about changing the personal circumstances within the band, because we had a couple of long-term relationships that came to a bit of an acrimonious end before we started making the record. And it’s about dealing with the changes that society has been going through, and the changes it needs to go through. It’s about celebrating and embracing all of that change. Because change can be a difficult thing in life – but society is going to change for the better, and I think it’s time to celebrate that.

Even with the COVID delay, this marks the shortest gap there’s been between Biffy Clyro records. What made you guys want to jump right back into the studio and bash this one out so quickly? 
The Balance, Not Symmetry album was a really exciting project for us – it was such an amazing experience, because it had always been a dream of ours to go out and make a movie soundtrack. But I think the way that came around, the way we kind of wrote for it and how it all came together… I don’t want to rubbish it, but it doesn’t feel like a proper album – we don’t consider that to be a part of our actual discography. But again, that’s not to rubbish it, or to imply that we didn’t put all of our effort into it – it was just something different for us to do.

Ellipsis was definitely our last real album, and that was three or four years ago now. But we like to stay busy as a band, y’know? We love being a band and we love making music – it’s not a job to us at all, it’s our life – so it just felt obvious for us to just keep pushing ahead with the next thing as soon as we finished the Balance, Not Symmetry album.

Listening to this record front to back, it’s a bit of a rollercoaster ride – one moment, you have these huge wallops of attack and distortion, and then the next you’ve got these really tight, cruisy pop melodies. How did you go about striking that balance between the light and the dark? 
I think we’ll always have one foot firmly in the door as a guitar rock band – y’know, that’s our history and that’s our makeup, that’s who we are. But we’re a band that likes to push ourselves as well, and we don’t want to keep making the same record over and over again. We want to feel that we’ve got something new to say, musically and lyrically, and we always want to be pushing ourselves in new directions.

We always take influences from a lot of different places – maybe less so on this record, actually. I know that seems strange, but mostly, what brought us to this point is what we’d been doing musically over the last couple of albums, the Balance, Not Symmetry soundtrack and the MTV Unplugged show – those things really informed what we were trying to do this time around. Every album we do is a a reaction to what came before – whether that was Ellipsis as our last album, or the Balance, Not Symmetry soundtrack, or doing Unplugged.

MTV Unplugged was especially eye-opening for us, actually. Sitting down and playing in these really posh venues, really exploring the songs in a different way and sharing that with the audience – it was such an amazing experience, and it took us right out of our comfort zone. But that being said, it did also remind us that we wanted to rock the f*** out on whatever we did next.

Would you say that’s a testament to the chemistry you have as a band? 
I think so. We have a connection as people that goes way back to when we were kids – y’know, we all grew up together, so I think there’s a reasonable amount of telepathy going on when we’re making music as a band. We’ve made so much music together, and spent so much time in each other’s company, that we have our own language when it comes to being creative. And I think that’s really important – it allows the band to take these massive right-hand turns at moments. 

That’s the key to how we’re able to change up our sound without changing the core elements of our band. It’s really important for us to take you on a journey with each album. And y’know, [A Celebration Of Endings] isn’t a long album – it’s 40 minutes or something – but when you get to the end of “Cop Syrup”, you really feel that you’ve listened to a huge body of work. And that’s kind of what we wanted: we want to take you on a journey. We want the record to be a companion piece to your life – we don’t want it to be a little bit of noise in the background. 

I’m glad you mentioned “Cop Syrup”, because that is easily one of the most batshit crazy tracks in Biffy Clyro’s entire catalogue. How did that song come to be? 
I think a lot of ambition went into that song, to be honest. Adam and Simon had the idea for that middle section of the song – that big kind of orchestral, psychedelic section. Simon was playing around with that chord pattern, and we all felt that it was really strong and really dreamlike – it just moved us to a beautiful place in our minds. And then one day, we had the idea to make it collide with this punk rock song that we had. I think it sort of shows the two sides of Simon’s brain – y’know, nobody is a straight line, and “Cop Syrup” is a great example of the ambition that Simon has for the band and for the music. 

Y’know, we’ve been a band for a long time, and there’s influences all round – but ultimately, it’s just about the feel of a song for us. And I think when you go through a tough moment and you come out on the other side with more confidence, it’s a really special thing. That’s where I think we’ve found ourselves as a band, and that’s where those lyrics comes from: “It’s self preservation / Baby, I’m scorched earth / You’re hearts and minds / F*** everybody!”

Simon came up with those lyrics – he was like, “I only need Ben and James to make music!” And it’s slightly tongue-in-cheek: he’s not that cruel a man [laughs]. But it does come from that feeling that we’ve got a real strength as a band, with the connection that we have. 

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Ellie Robinson
Editor-at-Large, Australian Guitar Magazine

Ellie Robinson is an Australian writer, editor and dog enthusiast with a keen ear for pop-rock and a keen tongue for actual Pop Rocks. Her bylines include music rag staples like NME, BLUNT, Mixdown and, of course, Australian Guitar (where she also serves as Editor-at-Large), but also less expected fare like TV Soap and Snowboarding Australia. Her go-to guitar is a Fender Player Tele, which, controversially, she only picked up after she'd joined the team at Australian Guitar. Before then, Ellie was a keyboardist – thankfully, the AG crew helped her see the light…