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Biffy Clyro On New Album ‘Opposites’ and the Scottish Mariachi Scene

Frank Maddocks

Four years is the longest time Biffy Clyro have taken between albums, but then ‘Opposites’ is the Scottish band’s most ambitious project yet, and such things don’t happen overnight. The trio’s latest is a 20-song double album, split between moody songs reflecting on things that are out of our hands and more uplifting tunes looking toward the future.

“Life is kind of full of ups and downs, there’s always two ways of looking at things,” bassist James Johnston tells Diffuser.fm.

Biffy Clyro toured extensively behind their 2009 album ‘Only Revolution,’ and when the group finally came off the road, frontman Simon Neil had a burst of creativity, resulting in dozens of songs for the musicians to chose from — including collaborations with old friends and new. Here, Johnston talks about working with Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell and film composer Clint Mansell and reveals the shortcomings of the Scottish mariachi scene.

‘Puzzle’ in 2007 was an album borne of grief, and ‘Only Revolution’ had a more defiant, celebratory tone. What’s this one about?

It continues to be about real life. Simon’s always written about his life from a very personal point of view. We’re not a band that sings about politics or social change or anything like that. It’s always a lot more personal that that. Being a double album, we split it into two sides. The first side, ‘The Sand at the Core of Our Bones,’ is about moments in your life that have brought you to this place. You don’t control them; you can’t really change them — I guess you’re kind of resigned to these things you can’t do anything about. And ‘The Land at the End of our Toes’ is all about your projections for the future and how you would like to change things and how you’d like to move forward. It’s not like a very heavy concept record, but there’s definitely a lyrical theme running through each side of the album. The first record is maybe a little darker, a little more negative, but the second side is much more positive.

It was reported that ‘Opposites’ was initially going to be two separate albums. At what point did they become one?

I think, to be honest, we might have been misquoted or something along the way, because a few people have asked that question. We came off the road with the last record, and Simon doesn’t really write on the road, so we didn’t have many new songs, and then he had a bit of a creative burst, and we had 45 songs to choose from. It wasn’t like we wrote 20 songs and then said, “Let’s make a double album.” We were trying to count which songs we wanted to put on the record, and we really struggled to get it down below 20 songs. So it was always a double record in our mind. It sounds a little cheesy, but the songs kind of take over and dictate how the album should go together.

Some rat has misrepresented you.

[Laughs] It was probably one of those things where someone misunderstood what we were saying. Though we were a little pissed off to hear that Green Day were making three records. That slightly overshadows us. [Laughs] It’s ambitious for them, at this stage in their careers, but making a double record was something we’ve always wanted to do since we were young kids, so we think it’s a quite ambitious thing to do. We’ve definitely worked hard, and we’re very proud of the record.

You’ve featured guests like Josh Homme and string arranger David Campbell on previous albums. Did you have collaborators in mind for ‘Opposites?’

We worked with Josh before. We had the section of the song ‘Bubbles’ that we thought would lend itself very well to his style of his guitar playing. This time around, we had two songs, ‘Opposite’ and ‘Accident Without Emergency,’ that we thought could really use another voice, another harmony, and we’ve long been fans of Band of Horses and Benjamin Bridwell. He’s the kind of guy who just sounds like he was born singing. He’s got that Southern drawl, and harmony is a big part of that style of music that he’s so great at. We were lucky enough to get him on a couple of songs. We worked again with David Campbell. We’ve worked up a really nice relationship with him, and he seems to enjoy working with us as much as we enjoy working with him, and he’s always got some really interesting ideas.

You worked with the film composer Clint Mansell, too.

He’s done all the Darren Aronofsky movies. He does some very interesting stuff. It’s really kind of minimalist, very stripped back and quite eerie sounding. There are a couple songs on the record that were, dare I say it, a bit more keyboard-based. I know that’s sometimes a little bit worrying, but I think on a double record we’ve allowed ourselves a bit more space to try some different things. Clint really helped on a couple of songs to strip back things, strip things out a little bit. As a band with just three people, we always try to color the picture in as best we can, and he kind of taught us that sometimes you should take away a few things. We also had a mariachi band come and play on the song ‘Spanish Radio,’ and that was one of the highlights of our life as a band so far, to hear the trumpets and to get that vibe. I don’t think you get very many mariachi bands in Scotland.

Yeah, seems like there wouldn’t be a big mariachi scene in Scotland.

There’s not. Part of the reason we went to Los Angeles is that you can get these things. I think if we were in Scotland and going home from the studio at night to do the dishes or pay your bills or any of those mundane everyday things, I think the idea of getting a mariachi band or a tap dancer or bagpipes, suddenly that seems a bit farfetched. But in an environment like Los Angeles, nothing is out of bounds.

Watch Biffy Clyro’s Video for ‘Black Chandelier’

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