Over the past 18 months, a quite remarkable amount of records have been released that, while written before the world changed in March of 2020, seemed to speak to our collective situation. Biffy Clyro’s eighth album, ‘A Celebration Of Endings’, was completed before the pandemic and released last August, but its themes of triumph in hard times felt almost eerily prophetic.
“We are at the end of something in society, and humanity, at the moment,” frontman Simon Neil told DIY in an interview just weeks before lockdown hit the UK. “We’re convinced he’s some kind of clairvoyant!” drummer Ben Johnston laughs now of his bandmate, reflecting on the subjects of finality and renewal that flowed through the band’s last album.
When the promotional cycle for ‘A Celebration Of Endings’ kicked into gear in early 2020, last year looked set to be like many others for Biffy: a triumphant eighth album followed by festival headline slots and relentless touring. When silence fell instead, the band had to sit still with a finished album in their pocket, the longest they’d been stationary since they formed in 1995.
“I wasn’t ready to sit at home,” bassist and Ben’s twin James Johnston remembers of the early months of lockdown, before settling into a more reflective state, musing on the history and legacy of his band and of a life that has never stopped moving.
Eventually enjoying “the shift of pace,” James says he gained a new appreciation for his life both in and out of the band during lockdown - something he’s taken back into work with his bandmates now he can. “I didn’t always outwardly display some things that I probably should have,” he says of his life before. “I probably looked frustrated a lot of the time, and I’m sure my wife would attest to that. I wasn’t always the greatest of company over the last couple of years, and there’s been a lot of frustration, looking at the world and how selfish people are. It’s probably been a good thing to have had a chance to raise my head up and take a bit of a breath.”
“We’re the biggest Biffy fans in the world.”
— Ben Johnston
For bands of Biffy’s size, the next few years are always mapped out in front of you, with very little wiggle room for spontaneity or swerving off script (“We have to have a fucking meeting before a gig if we want to change a song in the setlist so the lighting people know,” James winces). After the initial itch to tour had subsided and ‘A Celebration Of Endings’ was released into the world, the band got to work on tidying up some leftovers from the album’s sessions, looking to make a companion or ‘sister’ album, as they had done in the past with ‘Lonely Revolutions’ in 2010 (following the studio album ‘Only Revolutions’) and 2014’s ‘Similarities’ (offcuts from double album ‘Opposites’).
Shaken (and, it turns out, stirred) by the disorientating, terrifying time, however, a compulsion to keep creating hit the trio. New songs started flowing that felt vital and urgent, informed by the pandemic and desperately trying to learn lessons from it. With their label not expecting another record for years, the band were driven by fury and passion, not deadlines. It all led to the whirlwind creation of ‘The Myth Of The Happily Ever After’, the band’s fiery, messy, glorious ninth album.
For the last 15 years, Biffy Clyro have rented a rehearsal space in a working dairy farm in Ayrshire, where they’d convene to get into shape before heading across the planet on tour. When lockdown hit and the chance to go and record in Los Angeles, as the band have tended to do for recent albums, was proving impossible, they turned the farm space into a full-on Biffy HQ, building a studio from the ground up and getting their hands dirty themselves. James describes the finished product as “East London coffee shop chic”.
“Ben and James, they’re a couple of DIY experts, so they went to town on the place!” Simon remembers. “We were allowed access to lots of stuff from the farm, and so we sealed the windows, made sure the doors closed. We finally got a couple of seats! It made it feel like it did back in the day, with the three of us trying to make a studio and do anything so we could make music together. It was so basic and black-and-white, and really quite an exhilarating feeling.”
Though making music together has always been a vital compulsion for the Johnston twins and their childhood friend, in lockdown it also became a lifeline and a privilege. Securing paperwork that allowed them to meet up in a bubble at the farm to write and record while almost everyone else was locked down at home, their time spent together felt even more urgent and necessary.
“I was driving there every day thinking, ‘I’m gonna get arrested!’” Simon laughs. “It gave the whole process a kind of vitality.” This feeling bursts from every sinew of ‘The Myth Of The Happily Ever After’, a record that sees Biffy Clyro the most fired-up they’ve been for a decade.
In the album’s opening lines, Simon takes the shape of a character wilfully ignoring the mounting crises right in front of our eyes, reflecting the indifference and gallows humour of a lockdown-weary mind. “Everything’s great, it’s all been a pleasure,” he sings. “Nothing has changed, life couldn’t be better.”
“I will ignore all of the bodies piled up at my door,” he then warns, before the triumphant rebuttal: “This is how we fuck it from the start!”
A few minutes later on the blistering ‘A Hunger In Your Haunt’, he says his mind is “crying out for stimulation”: “Reason has gone, purpose has gone / All that’s guaranteed’s the fucking state we’re in.” “Can you find any hunger in your haunt?” he roars on the track’s chorus, slapping himself – and everyone else – across the face, and begging for action over apathy.
As the two albums’ polarising titles suggest, ‘The Myth Of The Happily Ever After’ is a fierce reaction to ‘A Celebration Of Endings’. “Some people are living with the idea that things will just go back to the way they were. Keep calm and carry on! That time is just gone,” Simon says. “We don’t live in that world anymore.”
“This record is a bit of a ‘prodder’. It’s tapping people on the shoulder and saying, ‘Eh!’”
— Simon Neil
On The Road Again
Ahead of the release of ‘The Myth Of Happily Ever After’, the band played a handful of huge outdoor gigs to mark their return to the stage. How were they, chaps?
Simon: Did James tell you that he fell over during a video shoot and absolutely fucked his hip? He’s been hobbling like an old man for the last week! After sitting at home for a year, suddenly our bodies are being flung around all over the place again!
James: It was just such good fun. The last 18 months, we’ve been trying to get used to a more ‘normal’ life - staying at home, sleeping in the same bed - but now we’re going back to this weird thing, going on stage standing in front of thousands of people. That was our normal before, and it felt beautifully familiar to do it again. It just felt right.
Ben: I woke up the day of our Cardiff show and had an awful chest infection, which I still have now. For the entire show though, I felt great and could sing fine and play fine, and I actually had a really good show. Adrenaline is an amazing thing!
Musically, this chaos and anger is transmitted ferociously. While the album has its pretty moments (‘Separate Missions’ is a synth-led triumph, while ‘Witch’s Cup’ is one of their catchiest songs to date), its greatest power comes from its feral, brutal moments, most notably ‘A Hunger In Your Haunt’ and crazed closer ‘Slurpy Slurpy Sleep Sleep’, which sees Simon roaring “I fear the world!” in a bloodcurdling scream.
“It was our defence mechanism,” Simon says of the time creating the record. “We needed something to help us feel like our feet were on the ground and we were connected to something. It’s what we’ve always returned to, whenever we’ve had any trauma in our personal lives. It’s always been music, and being together.”
He adds: “When you’ve been doing this for 20 years, not every day is the most exciting day in the world, but to have everything ripped away and to know that the three of us still loved being together and making music, it reminded me why we started the band.”
“We’re all the biggest Biffy fans in the world,” Ben says. “There aren’t many people who love their own band that much, but we genuinely do. We got such a genuine warmth out of making this record, and it’s a testament to our love for this band.”
Before they became an arena band following the release of fourth album ‘Puzzle’, Biffy Clyro were a gem of the cult underground UK rock scene, making deliciously weird and incongruous rock music that gave them a handful of devotees, if not the attention of arenas or the radio.
Making ‘The Myth…’ with no outside pressure or major label waiting on the phone took the band back to this mindset: making music with your friends because you love it, and indulging your eccentricities. It’s the weirdest and most feral Biffy album since 2004’s ‘Infinity Land’, the last album in their ‘early years’ trilogy before their big break arrived. Fittingly, they’ve named their farm HQ Infinity Land Studios.
“This album was as close to making a record as ‘Infinity Land’ was,” Simon reflects. “That was probably the last record we did where, in the nicest possible way, no one cared about it until it was finished, and no-one was asking to hear it.
“This record is a bit of a ‘prodder’. It’s tapping people on the shoulder and saying, ‘Eh!’” he cheekily adds, with a wink that delights in subverting expectations. “‘Infinity Land’ was a prodder too, a little bit arrogant and precocious, and this album feels the same. It’s not an apologetic record.”
Apologetic it certainly isn’t, but what ‘The Myth…’ is is a reconnection with what matters, both to the band themselves and everyone else in the storm outside the doors of Infinity Land.
“Life is a sad song, we only hear once,” Simon sings at the end of ‘Slurpy Slurpy Sleep Sleep’ to close the album. “Please give it all that you’ve got, before the rhythm stops.”
‘A Celebration Of Endings’ closed with the mammoth track ‘Cop Syrup’ and its immortal final line: “Fuck everybody, woo!” On ‘The Myth Of The Happily Ever After’, the script is flipped as Biffy Clyro realise there’s no going back, only a better path forwards. To close the album, Simon sings: “Don’t you waste your time, love everybody.”
‘The Myth Of The Happily Ever After’ is out now via Warner.
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