Simon Neil on Biffy Clyro's new album, genre and his brilliant idea to make streaming better

Simon Neil on Biffy Clyro's new album, genre and his brilliant idea to make streaming better

This week Biffy Clyro are destined for the top of the charts with their incredible new album A Celebration Of Endings via Warner.

The record has shifted 23,538 units so far according to the Official Charts Company's latest midweek charts flash to move well clear at the summit ahead of today's coronation.

Last month, we welcomed the group to our cover for the very first time to talk about its creation, their journey so far and why – despite now reaching their eighth record – they are more determined than ever before to keep building and evolving as a band.

“Every other record’s been about loss, love or how I feel about things,” Simon Neil told Music Week. “This is the first time I’ve written lyrics from a macro perspective, rather than just my micro position. I feel I’ve been forced to write these new songs. I’ve felt depressed for the last four or five years. And it’s not just me, it’s getting everyone down; I just feel we’re at the point where that generation, not to sound horrible, just need to fucking shuffle off this mortal coil. I’m like, ‘Fuck it, we can take the stuff we learned from the past and build upon it – not everything needs to be fucking kept the way it was, not everything that happened in the past is valuable.”

In the feature, Simon Neil, drummer and bassist Ben and James Johnston – plus Warner president Phil Christie and Nostromo Management’s Paul Craig – talk about the new record, as well as Biffy’s incredible ascension from independent alt.rock band to major label-signed festival headliners. Biffy’s last two records, 2013’s double album Opposites and 2016’s Ellipsis both entered the charts at No.1, while 2009’s Only Revolutions is now double platinum, having sold 797,844 copies according to Official Charts Company data.

The record industry is a bottom line industry, the same as any other: it's about money

Simon Neil, Biffy Clyro

Alongside discussing their creative process and the importance of grassroots venues, the group also spoke about mental health in the music industry.

“The record industry is a bottom line industry, the same as any other: it’s about money,” offered Simon Neil. “You, hopefully, are lucky to have good relationships in it. When bands get dropped by their label, no one’s phoning them two weeks later saying, ‘How are you doing?’ That could be addressed because that’s a form of grieving. I’ve known people that have been dropped and it’s horrific: it’s your entire livelihood and sense of being. It can go from people telling you ‘This is amazing!’ to two weeks later, ‘Turns out it wasn’t amazing at all’.

"There’s kids being brought into the music industry at 19/20 years old in this day and age, lots of young singers that are getting flung into the deep end and six months later, everyone hates them. How do you address that? I don’t have a solution for the record companies, but they need a support network. You’ve got to be tough in this world and it’s not fair because sensitive souls just don’t get looked after, and they need to be taken care of. There’s no escape for some of these people, they just feel so caught up in it, and there’s no separation of real life and work now. I don’t have a personal Twitter or Facebook to protect myself from that. I know that I couldn’t draw a line to separate it. It would get me down.”

Here, in an unread extract of our cover feature interview, Simon Neil takes us further inside Biffy Clyro’s epic return and his brilliant idea to improve streaming…

Did you get any fresh perspective on your life or career during lockdown and finally unplugging from the studio/touring schedule?

Simon Neil: “I always thought I would be fine with not touring, like my ego doesn’t need touring. Actually, I realised how much sharing music is the biggest part of making any kind of music: it’s to share with people and bring them together. That’s why music, for me, is the best art form at this moment in time because even when you listen to a song by yourself you feel you’re part of something, part of a community – you’re sharing in a feeling or emotion. I always said, ‘Hey, I can take or leave it – I’m Mr. Creative, it’s all about the creativity, I don’t care if
anyone hears my music!’ Now I want to share; and to be a part of society.”

Let’s talk Cop Syrup: a furious punk song with an orchestral detour in the middle… Sounds like a No.1 single in waiting to us!

“I wanted to put that song first on the album! And everyone was like, ‘Are you sure?’ Cop Syrup for me is just pushing everything to its extreme. Initially, it was a two and a half minute punk song… I had this weird psychedelic section that just didn’t really have a home anywhere, and because Cop Syrup is such a statement song I didn't want it to just be a minute 45-second throwaway punk rock statement, like, ‘Oh, isn't that fun?’ Because there's more to that song. It's a biographical song, which is horrible thing to say, but that song sums up the sentiment of the whole record, which is: ‘I know what I believe in as a person and as a musician, and I don’t actually give a fuck anymore what other people think’. I want to support people that do good things; I don't want negative influence. And I don’t mean that in a naive way, like everything has to be pretty and I don't want people saying bad things. I just mean: let’s aspire to something bigger than what we are. I feel there are so many songs on this record that only our band would do. Instant History and Cop Syrup – we’re not scared of either end of the scale.”

On that topic then… are there any misconceptions about Biffy Clyro that frustrate you?

“It always cracks me up when people say, ‘Biffy are a bit heavier or weirder than I thought!’ We’re a little bit of everything. A single doesn’t encapsulate everything we do, and we’ve always liked that. When you’re slightly misunderstood it’s intriguing. I don’t want us to be an easy fit where you see a picture and you hear one song and you’re like, ‘I know what the album’s like’. And some bands excel at that and it's amazing. Glasvegas are a perfect example: they made a wonderful fucking album, they looked the part, sounded the part, the videos were perfect… [But it was] tough for them to have anywhere to go. With us, I like that we’ll release a fucking acoustic song now and then go metal. I like being misunderstood. There’s a comfort in that. I think the name has always put people in a weird balance. Sometimes I curse our name, like, ‘Fuck, people would maybe take us more seriously…’”

You’ve always seemed proud of it…

“It’s when you’re sitting an American boardroom going ‘B-I-F-F-Y’ when people ask and don’t get the accent.”

Finally, we have heard you’ve had the rather great idea that streaming needs to develop ‘a resume album’ function. Please discuss…

“And why not? Why doesn’t it just remember? Because that was how I ended up loving Coma from the Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion, because it’s track fucking 15, but on cassette it might be the first one you hear that day. If I was listening to those albums as a streaming thing, I’d never make it to the end. And so I do think there are ways, especially for rock music – and not even just necessarily rock music – and people that make albums as an art form, that’s still such a valid thing to do. I think there needs to be almost a differentiation between people that are just putting out, ‘Hey! Here’s my new tune!’ and ‘Here’s another remix!’ and people that are like, ‘Here’s a work of art!’ Even Netflix has a resume episode. It’s the nature of streaming, and if we want our art still to have value and people to still cherish it, then we have to give them that. And it can be an option. It could even be an option where you want it to remember and you just fucking click the thing on top, so if some people don’t want to do that it’s fine.”

Subscribers can read the full Biffy Clyro cover feature here

Photo: Paul Harries

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