Interview with BIFFY CLYRO bassist James Johnston

Interview by Tony Mouritz
biffy clyro pressBiffy Clyro are heading back to Australia for a national headlining tour this September (2014) and after their jaw-dropping live performances at Soundwave Festival earlier this year, we were more than excited to chat with bass guitarist James Johnston about touring, the success of their current album ‘Opposites’ and all things Biffy Clyro!

LMM: Good evening James
James: Hello, how are you Tony, are you well?

Oh geeze I’ve got some problems, how much time have you got… but I think we’ve got fifteen minutes to talk about you though?

James: *laughs*

Where are you calling from James?
I’m at home in Glasgow in Scotland enjoying a little bit of time before the summer festivals really start properly where it gets to be very busy times… it’s nice to kinda wake up in your own bed and enjoy some of the home comforts while you can.

So you’re actually getting some time off?
Actual time off, sort of, we’ll be doing some rehearsing this afternoon but that’s not so much a lot of work, that’s always kind of fun. It’s nice to keep busy though, but it’s also nice to wake up in your own bed in a peaceful start to the day.

Of course yeah, cause your on the road a fair bit aren’t you.. you’ve just come back from South Africa and Russia?
Yeah, originally we didn’t think it would be too busy a year but we started off some pretty exciting trips. Obviously we came to see you guys and then we went to South Africa, we’ve just been to Russia and we went to Israel as well, to all the hotspots so it’s been an exciting time

What was Israel like?
Israel was great! People were real friendly, really nice. When you get in front of a bunch of people who want to hear your music you know the world can seem like quite a small place all of a sudden. You realise that people all the world over want the same thing, they just want to have fun. *laughs*

James, was it a festival in Israel or your own headlining act?
We were supporting an artist called Aviv Geffen. He’s like a national hero out there, a national treasure. He’s been playing music there for a long time and comes from a famous family.

Tell me about Russia and South Africa, was that good? What were the crowds like?
The crowds in South Africa, that’s like being in Dublin, Ireland on a Saturday night, it just has that really, you know, wild atmosphere where people were really having fun, really f**king letting there hair down… it’s always nice when you go to a place and they’re really trying hard to let you know how much they appreciate you being there, that’s always fun. Russia was incredible, that audience were so happy, they were smiling. We kept looking behind us to see if somebody was doing a face or whatever. The were really nice, it’s like I was saying, you go to these places that are so different from where you live and different from each other but then sort of realise that people there, all people, are quite similar.

Tell me, when you’re on tour, do you get a chance to look around? Do you get some days off to tour and be a tourist?
As we’ve gotten older we don’t spend so much time sitting around the hotel rooms any more. We try to get up and go out and go for a meal and eat some of the local foods if we can, perhaps try some of the local wine, we might partake in that. We try to go see the place a little bit but all the time trying to conserve our energy for the shows. But we still get out and about and try some of the country where we’re going.

Our Brisbane listeners and correspondence will hate it but I mean if you saw half a night of Brisbane you’ve probably saw enough… I’m from Sydney!

James: Oooohh *laughs cringingly*
Well, we’ve been out in Sydney. we’ve be to Taronga Zoo, I know that’s a fairly famous tourist attraction, what a great experience, sitting staring back at the city, What a beautiful city you live in, you’re very lucky.

Tell me, have you seen anything like Ayers Rock (Uluru) or the Great Barrier Reef?
We haven’t done that unfortunately, we haven’t had enough time. I’d love to go out to the center, to see a bit of the country. I’d love to go up north to the Great Barrier Reef. There’s actually a show on TV at the moment called “Coast” where they’re navigating the whole of the Australian coast and they’ve been going over the Barrier Reef and I was watching some pictures of it last night and it is just breathtaking, breathtaking thing… the only living thing you can see from space and it would be great to go for dive there at some point.

Yeah, and you do dive?
I don’t dive, no. But there’s only one way to find out if you can do it I suppose. *laughs*

Yeah, if they throw you out there, you’ll have to won’t you? Either sink or swim.
That’s it, yep definitely!

I’m sorry, I’m going to ask you a question you’ll probably hate, you must be sick and tired of it… tell me about the origins of the name (Biffy Clyro).. sorry?
Argh yes, sorry indeed. We were young, we were stupid, we had fertile imaginations and we were just to come up with a name that didn’t mean anything, that you couldn’t pigeon hole the band. There were a lot of indie bands coming out with one word names like slade and punk and things like that and we just wanted a name that confused people which I think we succeeded with that one. and really it’s just a product of some young crazy boys and we’ve never changed the name. I think after we got like fifty fans we thought well we can’t change the name now you know, we can’t let these people down. At times you regret it but at the same time what’s a name, it’s not really that important.

It’s very memorable, it’s not one of those name you forget…

It’s a nightmare at the airport when somebody says “are you guys in a band” and then you have to write it down for them and then go through a whole story… yeah it’s at least fairly unique.

You were over for Soundwave, one of our touring festivals over here, early on in the year, Do all the festivals run together or was there something interesting about Soundwave or are all festivals all the same after awhile and how was it playing at Soundwave?
I think Soundwave’s a bit different I think there’s not many festivals that tour around the whole country.
You know we have some festivals in the UK that have a couple of different sites but it really felt like there’s a great amount of comradery between the bands and a really good vibe on the road. it was like a little gang travelling around raising hell in your country and touring with some of our musical heroes from growing up so it was a great experience. I think the way it’s spaced out you know we got to play some of our own shows in between and got to spend that time in the country so it was perfect. If we could make festivals like that all around the world then I’d be a happy boy.

I was going to avoid that question but you’ve left yourself open for it… so who are your musical heroes?
I’d say Phil and the band Down, that was just incredible. He has such an amazing presence, such a great performer. And to see someone like Chino Moreno from Deftones going out with his band Crosses and you know to been sort of making music for such a long time and still have the same passion and same hunger it’s, it’s really inspirational. It makes you take note, that’s for sure.

Your last album “Opposites”, it’s an absolute beauty.
Thank you.

You’ve had phenomenal success with it. it was you’re first #1 in the UK wasn’t it?
It was yeah, we feel that we had the songs and the ideal of what we wanted to create and to me, to make it to number one was just a really surreal moment, a really welcome moment but definitely one you could never have expected.

You’ve been doing it for a while now and your other albums have been successful but just not as high as that. Were you out celebrating or was it pretty much taken on the chin with a bit of a high five?
I think we were actually on a flight to Los Angeles and we got invited into a big kitchen area they have on the plane and one of the hostess had a little bottle of Champagne so we had a little glass of bubbly at 45,000 feet just on the approach to Los Angeles. It was really fun but we didn’t maybe have the chance to celebrate it with all our family and friends as you might have kind of pictured but at least we were together. That was a nice thing. It would have been a shame if we were all in separate towns or something like that. It was nice to be together at that moment.

Tell us a little bit about working with producer Garth Richardson?
You know Garth was a bit of a hero for us growing up. He produced the first Rage Against The Machine album and that was a really big for us and he also worked with another band from Ireland called Kerbdog, again another huge influence on us so to finally work with him was incredible. We’ve done three albums (with him) and he’s become part of the family, he’s part of the gang. He comes from a very old school way of watching you, he learnt a lot from his father back in the day and he likes to do things properly which really suits us. When I say properly I mean taking the long and laborious approach *laughs* but we’ve learnt a lot from Garth and it’s been definitely fun time while working with him.

Tell me about your song writing process as a band, how do you get your songs together?
Simon’s really the song writer in the band. He’ll sit at home with the guitar and work out some ideas. Sometimes they are very full ideas, you know, he’s got a great idea for a song and sometimes we’ll get ideas in the practice room but really the ideas come from Simon, then as a band we just kind of put them together and make them loud. I think we all have similar tastes of in terms of how we would like to sound and what our general vision for the band is so there’s not too many arguments. I think we have a fairly harmonious group and I think that’s one of the nice things about only having three people and having worked together for such a long time, so we have a good understanding musically and as people we’ve grown up together so that makes a really strong unit.

Also on “Opposites” you worked with graphic designer Storm Thorgerson again….. Did you work closely with Storm?
We worked very closely with Storm. God rest his soul… we lost him last year, a really really sad moment. We lost an incredibly creative person, I think the last of a generation who actually, in view of making album art, its a real art in itself. You know it’s a really difficult thing to create something that mimics the music and goes hand-in-hand with it and that’s something we worked really closely with Storm on and he always wanted to know what the songs were about and what the meaning is and he’s definitely not a guy that’s just there to create a pretty picture, he’s trying to create something that’s going to last a long time. I think undoubtedly his work will still be around as it is today

Definitely. So, you’re having a break in Glasgow at the moment then kicking off another European tour and also playing Pinkpop, Isle Of Wight, T In The Park and Fuji Rock Festivals. Is that right, when does all this kick off?
That start’s pretty much on Sunday (1st June). It’s a really exciting summer of festival shows and I think we’re closing the show Isle Of Wright and T In The Park. You know these are the festivals that we grow up with so its a huge honour and a really exciting time in the bands career and we’re having as much fun as ever. We’re maybe having a slightly more light hearted approach to the shows and able to enjoy it more than we ever have and I think that’s a really really exciting thing after fifteen (15) odd years of being a band.

Just quickly, do you want to send a message to the Australian audiences ahead of your September shows?
Yeah, we want to say thanks for having us over and we can’t wait to come back. You definitely showed us a good time when we came over for Soundwave and we’re hoping for a bit more of the same so make sure you’re all warmed up and ready for a good time.

Lovely, thank you very much for you time, I appreciate it.
Pleasure to talk to you Tony

Don’t miss your chance to see Biffy Clyro live in concert this September!

Thursday 4th September The Tivoli, Brisbane
Friday 5th September Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Sunday 7th September Palais Theatre, Melbourne
Tuesday 9th September HQ, Adelaide
Friday 12th September Metro City, Perth

Tour Details Here!

Click Here for our Live Review | Soundwave Festival 2014 – Brisbane

James Johnston - Biffy Clyro - photo by Stuart Blythe
Simon Neil - Biffy Clyro - photo by Stuart Blythe