Ben Johnston (drummer Biffy Clyro)
`It’s a fucked up world, right now!’
Biffy ‘fucking” Clyro was founded in Scotland in 1995 and up till now the band consisting of: Simon Neil [vocals, guitar], James Johnston [bass guitar, vocals] and Ben Johnston [drums, vocals] have released seven studio albums. Biffy Clyro has an excellent live reputation and at the notorious Pinkpop Festival [NL] I have a chance to talk to drummer Ben about the career of the band, their spectacular gigs and some more, so here we go… did I tell you that these guys are from Scotland, so insanity and weird humour guaranteed….
So, Ben, this is your third time at Pinkpop, right? Can you remember the first two gigs here in Landgraaf?
,,Well, actually I cannot, [laughing] .. I am still thinking that this is the second show here at Pinkpop, but you are the expert, so yeah, third time around, I love this festival, especially the back stage area, talking to other musicians, drinking, laughing, talking to you, [laughing] … When we played Pinkpop the first time I remember it was a great line up with Green Day and Rancid as well and you know these guys were my heroes and it was incredible to be on the same line up with my heroes, so yeah, I love it here.’’
Today, you are up at 18.30 at the 3 FM Stage, what are your expectations for today?
,,Well, things are finally starting to pick up for us as we are getting better and better. The new songs from our last album `Ellipsis’ are really doing well live and that album had some excellent response and reviews. Now we are doing festivals and that is our best moment, our live shows are always something special, so the audience are in for some surprises later on.”
The band has been around now for more than 20 years, could you enlighten us with some of the highlights in the career of Biffy Clyro?
,,Oh, my God, really, so many, man, where can I start? Well, getting to play with our musical heroes was always a treat, an honour and a highlight. Let’s see, for example playing with Dave Grohl, Metallica, Pearl Jam, The Rolling Stones, The Who, we played with them all, isn’t that amazing; those were massive highlights, yeah [laughing]. But there is another highlight in the very near future, as we are going to play with Guns N’ Roses in Europe later on this year. That really blows the door off, as Guns was the band that brought us together in the first place. I remember hearing `Appetite…’ for the first time and I was blown away, and now we are supporting them, that is so incredible and cool. I heard that Guns are playing well and even Axel is behaving himself, being on time and singing well [laughing], so yeah, really looking forward to that. Another highlight was our record deal of course and playing the main stage at Reading, or playing the Glastonbury festival, there were so many…”
,,Not so many, my friend, no… [laughing] only a few, it is difficult to mention one particular one…Maybe the silly name of the band, [laughing]. They wanted us the change the name of the band for our record deal, but we said NO! It is about the music we play and about the name of the band. No one understands our name really [laughing], it still is confusing, we want to keep it that way.”
Describe the sound of Biffy Clyro to an alien from outer space?
,,Ha, ha, good one, God, I mean, it is just, uh, fuck, uh, melodic heavy rock with left and right turns, if you know what I mean; that is the best I can do. We touch on very different styles, heavy, tender, melodic, so….”
(Photo taken from Biffy Clyro Facebook Page)
How important are lyrics for the band?
,,Very important, my friend. On the first three albums the melodies of the songs were the most important things for us, but now we concentrate more on the lyrics, especially Simon of course as he has to sing the stuff most of the time. Actually I never paid attention to lyrics from other bands, I know the melodies, but not the lyrics [laughing].”
Women listen to the lyrics…..
,,Yes, yes, you are right, they do, men only listen to melody, beat and guitars, right?”
How about political lyrics?
,,We do not want to be in that world actually, we do have political views of course and the political situation in the UK is shite right now, but we do not want to alienate from that country and the fans just because of our political views, right? It is a fucked up world right now, we have the wrong people leading great countries and fear seems to rule the world. We are talking about it right now and that is all right, why not, but we do not want to use lyrics that actually deal with that. At the moment we are in a kind of vicious circle and the people are scared and something really has to be done.”
Did you never think about bringing in a fourth guy in the band to play guitar?
,,On stage, we do of course. But not on the record, no, we started as a three piece band and we want to stay a three piece band for the rest of our career as musical rock trios are the best.”
Yeah, think of Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience or Rush, my personal favourite….
,,Yeah, man you nailed it, I LOVE Rush…”
I hear influences from Rush in your music, am I right or completely off track?
,,No, you are absolutely right, when I was at college I got a tape from a friend and on that tape were bands like Van Halen and Rush and after listening to that, man, holy shit, Rush sounded like us [laughing]. I did not know how to call that sort of music that Rush was playing, prog or something like that, but it was awesome, incredible. Then I also started listening to great prog bands like Yes, Gentle Giant and Genesis and that really influenced us, especially on the first three albums.”
Are you already working on new material?
,,Yes, as a matter of fact we are. We also recorded 16 tracks which did not fit on `Ellipsis’ and we release that soon as an album with the name … (dot dot dot) and we are working on a new album as well.”
What about today’s set list, do you make special festival set lists? Who makes the set list?
,,That mostly depends on how long we actually play, the fans want to hear old songs but we also want to play new tracks from `Ellipsis’, so that is a balancing act…. Simon makes the set list and he is very good at that.”
When can we expect a live DVD?
,,Good point, good idea, man. Maybe we could make one today, Biffy Fucking Clyro live at Pinkpop 2017, that would be great [laughing]…..”
I am not going to ask you about the name of the band, what it means….
,,[Laughing], no one knows what it means….”
I think it is the name of a football player….
,,Wow, that sounds really plausible, or not [laughing]…. We thought about another name in the first place but that was even more weird….”
What was it?
,,Screw Fish [laughing]….’’