"The album really deals with society seeming to cast aside so many of the values that we were brought up to cherish" - hmv.com talks to Biffy Clyro
After the last few years has seen them working on their first soundtrack album Balance, Not Symmetry and touring with unplugged versions of their biggest hits, Biffy Clyro headed back into the studio last year to get to work on a follow-upto their last studio album proper, 2016's Elipsis.
Like its predecessor, the band's ninth studio album A Celebration of Endings has again been recorded with producer Rich Costey and was originally scheduled to arrive in March this year, but after some pandemic-related delays their new album makes its arrival in stores today and we caught up with bassist/vocalist James Johnston to find out how it all came together...
You first mentioned working on a new album back in 2019, and we know there have been delays because of the pandemic, but how long have you had everything finished? You must be itching to get it out there by now?
"We got the record finished at the end of last year, then moved on to artwork and videos and everything that comes with a record release, so we were fully ready to go just as lockdown came along. It was a tough decision to delay the release by a few months but I think it was the correct decision - now that we’re over the initial shock of the pandemic, people are ready for a distraction and maybe even a little joy in their lives."
Your last project was something a bit different, being a soundtrack as well as an album in its own right – how did that process differ from the way you'd usually make a record? Did that have an effect on the way you approached making this new one?
"It was a dream come true to be involved in a project like that… we had so much freedom with the songs and where we could take them in the studio. Not being a standard studio album it meant we didn’t have to consider if there would be single from the album, there’s less pressure to play the songs live and we really pushed the songs as far as we could - often we would take the song on a really unexpected journey and it really reminded us of the excitement of making some of the early Biffy records.
"That definitely informed the recording process for A Celebration of Endings. We really tried to have fun in the studio, we always take things seriously, but somewhere in there you have to have fun and I think you can hear that in some of the more playful elements of the album."
Where did the album title come from?
"The album is really dealing with change - both on a personal level and with the changes that society is and has to go through. Change can be a little scary, but ultimately it’s something we have to embrace and through that you start to see how positive change can be, indeed something to be celebrated."
You've described the new album as being 'a lot more rocking' than Ellipsis - was that a conscious choice from the outset, or did it just end up that way organically?
"I think every record we’ve made has been massively influenced by what has come before for the band. Having recorded and toured the Unplugged album and creating a more cinematic feel with Balance Not Symmetry we just knew we wanted some big riffs and some punishing drums…I would say that moving on to our second album with Rich Costey has helped with the dialogue between us and allowed us to push things a little further in terms of the sound and the attack of the band."
Was there any particular song that set the direction for the rest of the album?
"I would say ‘The Champ’ was a really important song in the development of the album.There’s a point where you have a collection of songs and maybe they haven’t fully revealed themselves to you yet, and you have one song that just clicks and kind of sets out a road map for the rest of the album.
"When Simon brought 'The Champ' into the practise room, Ben and I just knew immediately that it was going to be a really important song on the record. Musically it’s lush and beautiful with the strings, but it was the lyrics and amazing imagery that Simon conjured up that really set the tone for the album."
What kind of album is this from a lyrical point of view? Any preoccupations / recurring themes in what you're writing about?
"The album really deals with society seeming to cast aside so many of the values that we were brought up to cherish - tolerance of other people’s views, compassion, understanding and loyalty - the erosion of these values is also something that has affected us personally as a band, and if anything have brought even closer together - my hope is that if society can deal with some of these issues, we’ll have a better chance of living in harmony."
You've worked with Rich Costey again on this album – he's obviously worked on loads of great records, but what makes him a good fit for you guys as a producer? What does he bring to the table?
"Rich is like Ernest Shackleton in the studio ! He really is always trying to make a new discovery and cover unchartered territory. We perhaps have a slightly more old school approach to working and Rich is like an unsatisfied teenager, wandering off to see ‘ what that button does ‘ Rich really has become part of the family and we learned so much from him - I’m already looking forward to working with him again."
So obviously the pandemic is affecting everyone's touring plans, how are you planning to get around that with this new album?
"Well, we’ve booked a tour of smaller indoor shows for April next year - we’re calling it the ‘fingers crossed’ tour for obvious reasons, and we’ve announced some larger festival shows for the summer.
"In the meantime, we are doing a filmed performance of the new album from Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom, one of the most famous rooms in the country… We’re taking the positives where they appear and using the space usually occupied by the audience to set up a string section and really trying to use the whole venue to our advantage. It’s obviously not quite the same without a live audience, but as we get used to the ever changing world, we have to find ways of reaching people and we have found a way of doing something completely unlike anything we have done before."
Which of the new songs are you most excited for fans to hear?
"I think ‘Cop Syrup’ is going to confuse and delight in equal measure ! we really wanted to take people on a journey to the extent that they forget how it started, and I really think we’ve managed to achieve that. It’s going to be a real challenge to play that song live, but we relish the challenge!"
What's it like putting a setlist together these days? Your back catalogue is getting pretty extensive at this point, do you change things up every night on tour?
"It does get harder and harder every record we release - we’re always so excited to play the newer songs, but also love playing the older and less well known songs as well… it’s a bit of a conundrum really! We have learned the hard way when it comes to playing the more obscure songs, so we always make sure there are some songs that people want to hear!"
A Celebration of Endings is available in stores now - you can also find it here in our online store.