“Ja, you sound like Foo Fighters” Biffy Clyro interview Pt.1

When Heather Parry met James Johnston, Biffy's bass player and backing vocalist, they must have really hit it off as the interview went on for the whole day. It was miracle he was able to make it to the show. So we've decided to run this in two parts. Here's the first part; the part where Heather meets James.

GW: Hi James, so how’s the tour going so far?

Its been a couple of months since we were in the UK, we’ve been away in America a lot of the time, and its nice to come home and do the first proper tour since the album’s come out. It’s been fantastic.

GW: So you’re looking forward to tonight’s show?

Manchester’s always great, we’ve played here an awful lot of times and its always good fun, the crowd are always great.

GW: What have you been getting up to between shows?

To be honest we’ve not had that many days off in the last couple of months, we’ve been pretty busy – it’s been almost a gig every day. If we’ve got a day off we tend to just sleep, so as a result you don’t leave the hotel room, you just watch movies. We watch box sets, things like 24 and Heroes and things like that to kill some time. But generally just we’re just taking it easy on our days off. Occasionally we’ll go nuts and meet up with friends for a night out but generally we just catch up on some sleep.

GW: Who’ve been the biggest party animals on the tour if you guys have been sleeping?

I think our production manager at the moment holds that mantle. I think he’s starting to lose his voice because he’s been up late every night. Everyone in the crew works hard, they’re in at 9 o’clock and they don’t finish till 2 in the morning so they deserve a bit of party time when it comes. But we can’t really afford to lose our voices so I guess that’s why we have to try and sleep.

GW: You picked tonight’s supports yourselves, why?

Firstly because they’re great bands, and the second thing is we like to try and change things. I think The Matches are doing the full tour, but the main support band is changing after every couple of show. We had Nine Black Alps the last few nights, we’ve got Forward Russia, and then we’ve got Blood Red Shoes. We’re hoping to get somebody different for London as well.

GW: What in particular appealed to you about The Matches?

We met them on the Vans Warped Tour this summer and they just stood out a mile from all the bands there, really really great band, really interesting songs, and super nice guys. We just got hanging out, we said we’re doing a tour, they’d just finished recording an album, blah blah blah, they were excited about coming, we were excited about having them. They’ve been going down really well, they get a great reaction every night, and that’s sometimes hard for the first band on, if people are just getting in and there’s not much of a vibe in the room. They look like they own the place every single night!

GW: Who have you most enjoyed supporting, having been touring with the bigger bands since the album was released?

They’ve all been great but I’d say the Muse show was probably our favourite because it was the first show of that size that we’d done. It was a special occasion, one of the first shows at Wembley and Muse are such a great band. For us they’re a band you really aspire to be like – they’ve very much done their own thing, made the music they want to make, and its really quite kind of weird music, and they’ve just done really well so it was great to be a part of that.

GW: They’re a bit like you as well in that there are only three of them but they have this massive sound.

Yeah they do, they’re so good. I think its hard, with only three people you’ve got to work that bit harder just to combat the fact that there’s only three of you and I guess that’s why we all sing and things like that and we try to be dynamic. But yeah, so its nice that we share that with Muse.

GW: You’ve always been known as a phenomenal live act – was that a goal for you when you started out?

Certainly in years gone past that’s what we relied on – was just going out and just touring and communicating with people and its all very well making a great record but people have got to see you live for it just to fit right into place. That’s how we got all our fans really in the UK, just by going out and touring hard and if we’re not going to play a good show then they’re not going to come back. You’ve only got one chance at a gig, its over like that, every instant and you’ve got to make the most of it. We’ve always made a real effort to put on a good show. Both playing live and recording are so important; if you don’t make a good record you’ve got nothing and if you can’t play it live you’ve got nothing. Ultimately the record’s hopefully going to be around in twenty years time and if people still enjoy it then I think we’ve made a good job of it.

GW: Do you think you might be still touring in twenty years time?

We’ve done 150 shows this year, I don’t think we can do that every year! But as long as we’re still enjoying our music, enjoying touring, making music we feel is relevant then we’ll do it as long as we can.

GW: Your songs have a huge sound – do you enjoy making it difficult for yourselves to recreate live?

You’ve got to set yourself challenges. If you don’t try and move forward then you end up just being stagnant and just doing the same things over again and maybe relying on old tricks. We do have quite a high level of expectation for ourselves and now we’ve got to make sure we get it right. We supported the Chilli Peppers at Hampden in Scotland which was an amazing show because it was in our national stadium, it was a real moment. But with the greatest respect – because they are a great band – they just jammed their way through it and didn’t seem that bothered, and it shows because the audience then become bored, they’re not really interested, which is a shame really because they do have a great legacy as a band but maybe they’re just finding it a bit tough at the moment. They’re still great, but if you rest on your past glories perhaps you cease to be a great band.

GW: It’s fairly unusual for vocalists to sing in strong accents – did you consciously do this to have an identity or is it just natural?

I think it’s something that’s happened naturally. I think when people start singing they just naturally try and emulate their favourite singers, so perhaps when we started out we were singing with a bit more of an American drawl, then slowly we started to find our voice and realise that it made more sense to sing in our own accents. It’s not a calculated thing to try to have more of an identity, it’s just the way it comes out I suppose.

GW: Does it annoy you then when people claim that you try to sound American and make comparisons to American bands?

It does, yeah, but its something you just learn to deal with. It’s like water off a duck’s back, you have to say ‘you know what, we’re happy with what we’re doing, we’ve worked really hard to get where we’re at, we give all our effort with the music’. If people don’t like it you have to be able to say well that’s your choice, that’s fair enough, but you’ve got to stand by what you believe in and we very much do that. The comparisons with the Foo Fighters are a huge compliment, I think we’re trying to do things a bit different to them and I think they’d agree that we’re not the same band, but to be compared to a band like the Foo Fighters or even Nirvana, which we get now and again, is a great accolade. We got it a lot in Germany, every interview they were like ‘Ja, you sound like the Foo Fighters?’! Somebody must have written it in a press statement somewhere cos everyone’s latched onto it but they’re a great band, you can’t really argue with that but I’d like to think we’re a little bit different.

Check back next week as James tells us what he thinks of the current state of the UK music scene and who his favourite UK bands are.

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