Interviewed February 2011.
Biffy Clyro are one of the UK's top pop-rock bands. They formed the group 16 years ago and have released five critically acclaimed albums. Biffy Clyro is a three member group made up of Simon Neil and twin brothers Ben and James Johnston. The band's most recent album Only Revolutions reached #3 in the UK and was certified platinum. It also generated four top 20 pop singles. Now Biffy Clyro is aiming for success in the US. I caught up with drummer Ben Johnston by phone as the group was setting out on a headlining tour in the US. They will return in late March of 2011.
Bill: Welcome back to America!
Ben: Thank you very much.
Bill: What are you looking forward to most about being back in America?
Ben: Just the shows again. It's always fun on the road getting to see America. It's always an experience playing in front of an audience where we know most of the people have never seen us before.
Bill: The album Only Revolutions has done amazingly well for you at home. Are there any plans for an official release here in the US? Or do we need to wait for the next album?
Ben: No, it should be coming out here. That's why were playing things off the album especially here in America where not many people have heard it. It should be coming out in coming weeks in America.
Bill: Can you tell me what a typical day on tour is like for you?
Ben: A lot of driving since it's America. It's basically a lot of driving trying to get to the gigs as early as possible and trying to make sure we can put on a good show with a good sound check and all that stuff.
Bill: A lot of my readers are not going to know who Biffy Clyro are. How would you give them a brief introduction to the band?
Ben: Oh, I'm really really rubbish at this. I'm not a journalist, but we've been a band for 16 years with five albums out. Everyone has always said when we come to America that American audiences would warm to us. So I keep expecting that things will go over here, and hopefully that's the case.
But you know we're just a melodic rock group that try and make nice songs. We try to play with lots of energy. We're known for our live shows. Honestly, though, I hate selling my band.
Bill: For someone completely new to the band, would you be able to pick three songs that should be listened to first?
Ben: I guess if I was absolutely forced to I guess I would mention "Many Of Horror." It was the big single off of Only Revolutions back home. I guess "Whorses" is a good song from the last album. It's the last track. There are a lot of elements that are involved in it. A lot of the things we do. Then I guess "Living Is a Problem Because Everything Dies" from our album Puzzle which was the album previous. Again it has lots of different flavors in it for one song. I guess it would show a lot of what we do.
Bill: What do you think would stick in my mind about seeing the band live?
Ben: Probably our naked chests. We always play shirtless. We were going through too many t-shirts. We play shirtless so that may be a shock, because generally a band comes on with shirts on and takes their shirts off after. That was quite an image, because we're not proud of our bodies. We just want to breathe, but that's usually kind of a shock for people. Hopefully, the music and songs will stand out beyond that. (laughs)
Bill: When did you first start playing the drums?
Ben: About 16 or 17 years ago. I wasn't playing drums for long before the band started. I got a drum kit and started jammin' with Simon and got tunes involved and cut demos. That all happened really quite fast.
Bill: Do you have any particular drum heros?
Ben: Absolutely. I have to mention Dave Grohl. Nirvana were the band that made me want to be in a band. He's a drummer. He's the man. I think almost every drummer these days is influenced by Dave Grohl in some way. A bit later is was Rush and a big influence was Neil Peart and a lot of that prog music. He is one of the best drummers I know. Then a bunch of unknown drummers like Peter Moffett who played for Burning Airlines, a big influence. William Goldsmith who played for Foo Fighters for awhile. Darren Jessee from Ben Folds Five.
Bill: It is a bit unusual that all three of you in Biffy Clyro share vocals. How did that come about?
Ben: I guess when we started we were just playing covers and stuff. I just happened to have a voice that could go fairly high. If we covered a song with a high vocal I'd take over. We were covering Weezer songs and stuff like that so had lots of harmonies then. We just got Jim singing his way, and then before we knew it we were all singing. We were writing songs with all of these parts.
Bill: What's the biggest advantage to being in a band with your twin brother?
Ben: Hopefully we have some kind of psychic connection. Also he's one of my best friends. We have a good time gettin' along.
Bill: Do you have a favorite one of your songs to play live?
Ben: I love "Bubbles." Live, that's a great fun song.
Bill: That is the set of questions I had for today. Anything that you would want to add?
Ben: We're not the kind of band to demand that people come and see us. If you like a good band that write good songs, passionate songs, you'll probably like us.