Biffy Clyro formed seven years ago when twins James and Ben Johnston, and Simon Neil met at school near Glasgow: ‘we all listened to the same sort of music and just wanted to make a racket together and have basically been playing ever since’. Like many teenagers at the time, they were mostly listening to American bands such as Guns ‘n’ Roses, Pearl Jam and Nirvana and weren’t really influenced by Scottish acts.
Right from the start it was obvious that Biffy wanted to do things on their own terms: ‘we just played in our garage. We didn’t even think too much about playing a gig at the beginning. We just recorded a demo and it was probably six months before our first gig. We weren’t bothered about being a massive band so we weren’t worried about getting help from anyone at first. A few years later we met our manager, and then he started to help us out’. Biffy admit that coming from somewhere so isolated has hindered them slightly. Sometimes they see other bands who having been playing for as long as them, getting a lot further: ‘it took us two years to break out of Kilmarnock into Glasgow, and then another two years to get from there to London’.
The band signed to Beggars Banquet in 2001, their debut release being ‘27’, which was a ‘Single of the Week’ in Kerrang! Do they regret not signing to a Scottish imprint though? ‘Not particularly. If you go too hard trying to keep things Scottish, you might lose your appeal to English people, for instance. We’d like to be big, not necessarily just in Scotland, but elsewhere’. The Scottish industry must differ in some ways from the rest of the country though… ‘Yes, but to be honest the rest of the country is different from London. London’s got a certain vibe to it. And again in Glasgow because it’s that much further out of the way, it does seem more isolated and contained. That’s a good thing - the only downside is that people in London tend to disregard it a little bit but I don’t think many people in Glasgow care what they think’. While many bands find it necessary to relocate to London, Biffy Clyro all still live in Scotland: ‘Where we come from there’s absolutely no music scene whatsoever and it’s great, because at the end of a tour you don’t want to be stuck in the scene when you’re not actually playing. That’s when you become a scenester. It’s good to get a bit of time off and go home, and just…play golf!’
According to the press, particularly the NME, there is a blossoming Glasgow ‘scene’ at the moment, with bands like Franz Ferdinand and Dogs Die in Hot Cars being flavour of the month. But Biffy Clyro don't want to be associated with such fads: ‘we’ve always done our best to avoid any kind of scene that comes up, because once you’re part of that scene and it loses popularity, so do you. We don’t go out in Glasgow and hang out with other bands all the time’. Is it possible to define a Scottish sound though? ‘We don’t know why anyone would want to. There’s a lot of indie-schmindie pop bands from Glasgow – Teenage Fanclub etc. but we don’t really spend too much time thinking about other bands to be honest. We don’t want to get caught up in what other people are doing’.
Bands like Arab Strap and Mull Historical Society appear to be proud of their nationality and this comes across through their music, whether it’s by exaggerating their accents or in the case of Idlewild, having the Scottish poet laureate appearing on one of their tracks. But would a new listener be able to tell that Biffy Clyro are Scottish by listening to ‘The Ideal Height’, for example? ‘Absolutely. We’re not the Manic Street Preachers who are like ‘we’re so Welsh', but we are proud to be Scottish. I think our music is getting progressively more Scottish as we go on. In the latest album certainly, it’s more obvious than on the first one.’
Perhaps Biffy Clyro are not the best band to talk to in order to get a fair impression of what’s happening musically in Scotland at the moment. It’s not that they are denying their roots, it’s more that they are so independent that what other bands are doing is of no importance to them. But looking at Biffy you can see how long it takes for a Scottish band to break out south of the border.
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