Interview: Biffy Clyro Reveal What They Learned From Kurt Cobain

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Biffy Clyro may not be household names in the US, but they are undoubtedly one of the biggest bands in the UK and Europe at the moment. Last year they headlined the Reading festival, one of the UK’s premier music festivals  and this year will be headlining the Download festival along with System of a Down and Aerosmith. In a few weeks the band are set to embark on an American tour to promote their most recent album, Ellipsis, that topped the charts both in the UK and around Europe. It’s a chance for US fans to see the band up close and personal and witness the sheer power and energy of one the most exciting bands to come out of the UK for themselves.

Alternative Nation chatted with lead singer Simon Neil about his love for the States, what lessons he took from Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, and what it’s like being a huge band on a much smaller tour, playing smaller shows than the band has for years.

When are you off to the States?

I’m actually going out on Monday. I have a few friends in LA so I’m going to see them and it gives me a couple of days to acclimatize myself. It’s nice to have that flexibility. You notice over the years that it’s more important to look after your body. I know it’s very un rock n roll but sometimes the jet lag can really fuck you over and just run you down. So we now try and go over a little bit earlier if we are travelling far away from home so we can hit the ground running.

With you guys being together for so long and having done so many foreign tours, you must know exactly how you as a band work best when you tour?

Exactly. It takes time. When we started we didn’t even really want a day off. If our agent gave us a day off we would just look at each other wondering what to do. We just wanted to play shows. We probably toured like that for 6 or 7 years. Just non-stop, no days off. We kept wondering why we kept getting ill or why we would never feel right. I would love to play shows every night but the reality is the body needs time to recover and I think we slowly realized that over the years that you can try and do too much. There’s just not enough time in the year. It’s important that when we are playing, we feel good and therefore the shows are better. If you are running on empty sometimes you can resent the fact you even have to get on stage. We try to strike a nice balance. ‘What would Lemmy do?’ Take some speed and another bottle of Jack. Maybe that’s what we’ll do instead ha ha ha.

How does this tour different from the bigger tours you’re used to in the UK?

We’re lucky that when we are off stage we are touring very luxuriously compared to how we used to tour. I’m really looking forward to touring this as it’s a bit more like how we used to tour back in the day. We’re lucky that we’ve got a tour bus but we are all on it together and we’ll be loading the gear together and it’s been a good few years since we’ve done that. It’s little things like that will make us feel younger. Ironically, doing a tour like this really makes us feel like we are starting out again. It gives us renewed energy, like when you’re first starting.

What does touring in the US mean to you as a band?

Again, because we haven’t toured the states a lot, there’s still that real glamour to America for us. The history of American music was fascinating when I was growing up and I feel a bit like a teenager again. Turning up in Cincinnati and knowing that’s where the Afghan Whigs were from. Whether it’s Seattle and Nirvana and DC and Fugazi and the Dischord scene, I feel like a teenager and that gives us the extra stamina to try and be superhuman. I don’t feel we deserve the luxury over there so we’re more than willing to get stuck in.

You seem like the kind of band who enjoys being the underdog?

Sometimes I actually feel more confident when I feel like someone hates what we’re doing or we have to try and convince an audience. I guess there’s that nothing to lose aspect. I love stepping on the stage. I love the fact we can walk on stage without our shirts on and people who haven’t seen our videos and you get the feeling that people are wondering what these weirdos are doing. Even getting back to that feels so fucking exciting. It’s something that I savor and don’t get me wrong I love playing big shows and there’s nothing better than having lots of people singing along to our songs but I’m looking forward to getting back to the core. The nitty gritty of being in a band. You’re not hiding behind the lights. You’re not hiding behind a big show. It’s literally “Are you a good band?” “Can you stand on stage and be hopefully brilliant?”. I mean every night do something amazing and reach a level that transcends the moment. That’s the aim. I like how that will be stripped back in these small rooms. People are going to be covered in my sweat for the first time.

You mentioned Nirvana and Fugazi, how do you relate to bands like Fugazi & Nirvana and that idea of the “punk rock ethos”?

When we were growing up and starting out, it was important that you meant what you were saying. That you believed in it. That’s is still the mentality and the way we live our lives as a band. We’re not doing this to make money or get followers on social media. We’re doing this because we’ve committed our lives to this music.That’s what I felt from Fugazi and Nirvana. It wasn’t a career choice, it was a lifestyle choice. It was about sacrificing for something you care about and that’s something you’re never going to lose. You have to keep sacrificing stuff to make the music matter. It can’t grow into ‘this is what I do’ or ‘this is just a job’.That’s unacceptable to me and that’s what I take from guys like Ian Mackaye and Kurt Cobain. It’s not where you go, it’s about the journey. It’s why we are still going strong and why we’re looking forward to playing more shows.

Were Nirvana a big influence on you guys?

I loved Guns N’ Roses when I was growing up but I realized I couldn’t play guitar like Slash and I can’t walk down the street with white hot pants on and a bandanna! Then Nirvana came along and they looked like friends and played 4 chords and I thought ‘that’s what we can do’. There you go, that’s our reality.

Like Nirvana, did you experience any kind of conflict when you found success?

I guess we only got our success when we moved to a major label. I mean Nirvana were on Geffen so they knew what they were doing. There was a punk rock guilt because if you sold out a third night in a row you couldn’t be punk rock. I think that’s why Nirvana and Kurt struggled with that because all of his heroes didn’t sell any records. You do ask yourself ‘Does that mean my songs don’t mean as much?’ and I don’t honestly think that’s the case with us. It’s something I battled with early on and then, when Puzzle came out, I lost my Mum. That’s the biggest change in my life. Especially with my music. I was writing songs whilst missing my Mum and that’s what mattered. I wasn’t worried about how anyone else would hear the music.

How do you feel about returning to your most recent album, Ellipsis, after some time away from it?

I think it still feels fresh enough. It’s almost be a year since the album came out and to be honest it doesn’t feel like a long time at all. We took a lot of time off before making Ellipsis and we only actually played one song before the album came out so everything still feels pretty sharp and fresh and I still feel like I’m getting to know the songs.

It must be a different experience to go on tour and play mostly newer material?

We are a forward looking and forward thinking band. It’s always about moving forward. I don’t want to feel like I have to play stuff from our third record because that’s the one that people like. If we’ve got a 2 hour or 90 minute set that’s going to be dominated by the new songs because that’s where we’re at at that moment in time. The songs now like an extension of us and so the American tour is coming at a great time for us. We’re doing it because we want to go to America and play shows that we haven’t played since we last toured the states. It’s wonderful to be there and feel like a new band.

Biffy Clyro will be playing:

03/24 Las Vegas, NV Vinyl @ Hard Rock Hotel & Casino

03/25 Phoenix, AZ Crescent Ballroom

03/26 Los Angeles, CA Belasco Theater

03/28 San Francisco, CA The Fillmore

03/30 Seattle, WA Neptune Theatre

03/31 Vancouver, BC Vogue Theatre

04/01 Portland, OR Hawthorne Theatre

04/04 St. Paul, MN Turf Club

04/05 Chicago, IL House of Blues

04/07 Detroit, MI St. Andrews Hall

04/08 Toronto, ON Phoenix Concert Theatre

04/09 Montreal, QC Café Campus

04/11 Boston, MA Paradise Rock Club

04/13 New York, NY Irving Plaza

04/14 Philadelphia, PA Theatre of Living Arts

04/15 Washington, DC 9:30 Club