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Scottish Trio Biffy Clyro Talk Rocking Arenas at Home, Playing Clubs in the U.S. + Digging Double Albums

Frank Maddocks

Following their spring jaunt opening Muse’s North American arena tour, Scottish trio Biffy Clyro return to the U.S. this fall to headline their biggest American venues yet. Still, these mid-size club dates follow a summer of playing to thousands in their native lands, where they even enjoyed top billing at sister festivals Reading and Leeds.

Released earlier this year, the band’s sixth album, ‘Opposites,’ debuted at the top of the British album charts, and in the U.S., it reached a healthy No. 5 on Billboard’s Heatseekers tally in March. In the U.K., Biffy Clyro are arena headliners big enough to play mighty Wembley, and now that they’ve made it on their home turf, it begs the question: Might America be next in their firing line?

Bands often talk openly about breaking America, but speaking with Diffuser.fm in a lively Scottish brogue, frontman Simon Neil says those conversations don’t enter into Biffy Clyro band meetings. He and his bandmates — childhood friends James (bass) and Ben Johnston (drums), who are twin brothers — don’t suffer from venue-size envy. Oh, and they don’t have any punk rock guilt, either.

Is it important for Biffy Clyro to break America and be as huge as, say, Muse?

I’ve never really bothered about that stuff. Maybe some bands think if they get big in one country they don’t have to work as hard in another and don’t have to sit in a van for eight hours anymore. Maybe they think they should be living this life of luxury. But for us, we’ve always been in a van, so it doesn’t impact. We’ve had some of the worst times in the big places we’ve played and some of the best times playing smaller ones. We want to play as many places we can in as many states as we can, and we’re willing to do what it takes.

It must be quite a contrast to go from huge arenas in the U.K. to clubs in the U.S., though. Do you have a preference?

Both are great to play. There’s something about the energy when it’s a small room. You see every subtle look between the members of the band that’s playing. In big places, a band has to get a bit over-the-top and bombastic. You lose that human element. The best place to get into it is in a club. You get to connect immediately.

It’s very competitive out there in rock ‘n’ roll land. How do you build your fan base and also keep current fan’s attention?

What bothers me is this sense of entitlement. Unless with your live shows every one is better than your last one, and every album is better than your last record, then fans will move onto the new hot band. People always jump onto what comes into fashion. We want every gig to be better than the last. Certainly, that’s not always possible, but if you don’t make that effort and try to achieve that, then you’ll lose fans.

Your headlining shows are two-hour marathons these days. Does that have anything to do with the fact that ‘Opposites’ is a double album?

It does, but on our sixth record, we’d be playing for two hours anyway. We’re playing new songs, different ones now. Sometimes you play the same set list for — well, you tour a record usually for two years.

‘Opposites’ is a double. Does that mean you’ll tour this one for four years?

[Laughs] Oh, don’t say that! God forbid!

Admittedly, ‘Opposites’ has short sides, and you released a compact single-album version. But what influenced you to present the album as this epic statement?

It was influenced by a lot of the classic double albums like ‘London Calling,’ ‘The Beatles (White Album),’ and ‘Exile on Main Street.’ The Clash’s ‘London Calling’ is a classic. Then they made ‘Sandinista’ a triple album, which is not very punk rock. The punk rock guilt must have been through the roof.  [Laughs]

Are there any recent double albums you think stand up?

There’s this band Baroness, who released the ‘Yellow and Green’ album. That’s phenomenal. They’re kind of a metal band, but they have a lot more to them than that. They’re a sophisticated band. And Hymns’ ‘Cardinal Sins/Contrary Virtues.’ It’s not really a double album; it’s two discs of seven songs. Hymns is a two-piece band, and I think it is really brave for a first record. There’s this level of sort of pain that travels through the record that’s really endearing. [Laughs]

Biffy Clyro hail from Ayr, a relatively small Scottish seaside town. How does it compare to all the exotic places you’ve traveled around the globe?

We love it. When you travel a lot, it’s really comforting to get back to a place that hasn’t really changed.  I’m still a Scottish boy at heart.

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