Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil: Finding Positivity At The End Of The World
Biffy Clyro should be releasing their new album next month. Announced earlier this year, the Scottish trio’s ninth studio album A Celebration Of Endings was pushed back from May 15 to August 14 due to the ongoing circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 – namely in manufacturing, but all cogs in the machine are working differently these days.
Rather than sit and wallow, frontman Simon Neil has been livestreaming special acoustic performances from his home.
“It’s meaning the world to me. And I hope it is meaning a lot to other people too,” he tells Kerrang! today, from the relative comfort of self-isolation. “The fact that songs I’ve written can bring people together is fantastic. The act of me doing it, in my house, with no production and that, I feel quite naked doing it, and I feel there’s proper community and connection going on around it. It’s the highlight of my week at the moment.”
“I can’t stress how much it’s helping me get through this, and I hope it’s doing that for Biffy fans in some way or another. It’s giving me the opportunity to play a bunch of songs that no one wants to hear, too!”
Taking a break from annoying his neighbours, the Biffy frontman joins Kerrang! to discuss the original (and new) meaning for the new album title, his perception surrounding the apocalypse that may or may not have already happened, and how it feels for an artist to effectively put their creativity on pause.
When Kerrang! last spoke to you, in February, around the new album’s announce, its title was still under wraps. What did A Celebration Of Endings mean to you then?
“Initially, the title A Celebration Of Endings was working on two levels for me. There were a couple of really long-term professional relationships we had that came to a really horrible end. A Celebration Of Endings in that regard applies to trying to make the most out of a bad situation, and really just going, ‘Fuck it, these relationships have come to an end, but onwards and upwards.’ The same kind of thing applies to society. I feel like with Brexit and everything – and don’t get me wrong, the album isn’t about Brexit! – there has been a lot of things that have really been deteriorating in our society: empathy, community, and not living a life that’s purely for the individual. I feel like everything is going the way of, ‘Fuck you, you’re not important and I am.’ I want to feel like we’ve hit the lowest point of our consciousness as human beings.
“I truly believe the Mayans were right about 2012 when they said the world was going to end. I don’t think the world ended in the way they were anticipating, but I think there was an end of some level of consciousness and we entered this dark period of really just caring about the individual. And I find that really troubling. So for me the album was also about reaching a point as a grown man and saying, ‘Fuck this, I don’t want this to be my reality, for me, my family, so I’m going to put an end to these things in my life and do everything I can to fight against that.’
Has the album title’s meaning changed for you since, as the world has changed around you?
“Because of what we’re going through now, there’s no way that we can come out the other side of this without some kind of enlightenment. I feel like even the darkest, dumbest souls will come out of this with some kind of realisation about what you value, and I hope that Celebration Of Endings will be about no longer valuing things that bring nothing of virtue to the world.
“The title A Celebration Of Endings has become more prescient that I ever could have imagined. There’s no doubt that this is the end of something and the beginning of something else, and I hope that we get rid of people like Boris Johnson, Trump, all these fucking liars that are still gaslighting the people of their countries, still lying even when it’s coming down to people’s lives. Look, I want our economy and our country to do well, but when it comes down to you weighing up whether to open shops being more important than people dying, I think we’ve got a real problem.
“But I feel the one good thing to have come from all this is that, even though we’re isolated, I do feel like we feel more together than we have been in a long while. That’s a strange situation to be in. Every Thursday when I stick my head outside the door to applaud the NHS and see my whole street doing the same, it gives you the little bit of fortitude and belief in society that most people are decent.”
The lack of physical communication seems to have oddly strengthened people’s bonds in other ways…
“Yeah, and not in a flippant, vapid way that we have been communicating for the past 10 years or however long. Now we’re using social media to communicate well; now we’re using it as the tool it was intended to be, and it’s not so much about ego. There’s something in the air and people are missing something, and that’s a good position to be in, when something is taken away from you that you didn’t even realise you cherished so much. I’m quite an antisocial person anyway – I quite like sitting by myself, just writing music most of the time. But I have to say, as soon as the choice is taken away from me, I miss it, and I want to see all my friends all the time! It’s a good reset, amongst everything,”
The last time we spoke to you, you’d said that A Celebration Of Endings was a reaction to having spent a long time touring the MTV Unplugged set, and that you were looking forward to getting back to making some noise…
“I know (laughs). And now I’m fucking stuck in my house! It wasn’t lost on me either. I spent the first months of this year saying to everyone, ‘You know, I can’t wait to get away from that acoustic nonsense…’ I think I also told Kerrang! the classic, ‘Things can’t get any worse than this,’ right? The great soothsayer Simon Neil: whatever he says, believe the opposite (laughs)!”
READ THIS: 13 essential Biffy Clyro B-sides
You used one recent acoustic livestreams to play a new song, Holy Water, which didn’t make the cut for the new album…
“The reason it didn’t make the record was because musically, it didn’t really feel outlandish enough for this album. This record, I wanted it to be eccentric and off the wall, and have moments of complete dislocation. Holy Water just felt a bit too ‘traditional’ a song. When I wrote the song, it was more about reaching the end of our tether with the climate [crisis], and how society just can’t keep going on the way that it is. It was my way of saying, ‘When are we reaching the end of this? When is enough going to be enough?’ And I felt like that sentiment changed the more we’ve been going through this [coronavirus].
“The opening line, ‘The sinner’s in the hospital room / The saint is in the bed’, I wrote that last year and it just kept coming back to me, and I thought, ‘I have to share this now.’ I know it’s a bit weird ‘cause it’s not on the record, but it felt so apt. With the new album being delayed, too, I just wanted to get some new music out now, for me as much as anything else, and to bring something fresh to the Biffy fans. I also think it’s quite cool for people to see the hard decisions we make about records’ tracklisting, too! It’s nice for people to say, ‘I love that song, why isn’t it on the record?’ because it is really hard to choose. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong, but we have to follow our instincts. It’s nice to get to reveal that process to people a little bit.”
There’s obviously all manner of factors that go into the decision to delay a record’s release, but how frustrating as an artist is it to have to push back sharing your art with the world?
“I’m really devastated the album isn’t coming out as planned, but we just didn’t have anything manufactured: we didn’t have any of the vinyl, or the special editions, and that made the choice to postpone it easier. But for me personally, it entirely stops the forward-motion in my mind. After every album we do, I like to completely clear the decks of all musical ideas. We have 15 songs that we wrote that didn’t make the album, and we’ll record those before we begin work on any other music just to clear them out. These songs, I wrote them over the course of the last couple of years; the album alone will feel a year old by the time it comes out. When we get out there playing it live, it becomes fresh again, as it’s a different beast. But the recorded version, it’s torture for me – and I’m aware it’s a first world problem for a guy who gets to play music for a living, but it is.
“I don’t have kids but I imagine it feels like getting ready to give birth, and then someone tells you they’re putting the birth off for four months. We’ve been lucky with this album that it’s ended up more prescient than we ever anticipated. If the songs were about love or pure joy, I don’t know whether I’d feel like we even could release it now. Depending on what piece of art we’d made, after this, it might not feel appropriate. But my god, it’s tough to have something you’ve waited for for so long ripped away from you. And as a songwriter, it’s really stifled my creativity. I had a couple of other plans – I’m doing a drone project with a couple of my other friends called Tippy Toes, and I’m doing a grindcore fucking doom project with [Biffy live guitarist] Mike Vennart called Empire State Bastard, and I was desperate to get straight into them, but I’ve just hit a dead-end and have no motivation. My creative juices aren’t flowing right now. I’m sure it’ll come back, but right now I need some patience – which I don’t fucking have (laughs).”
A Celebration Of Endings is released August 14.
Watch Biffy Clyro cover WAP in the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge (yes, really).
This Thursday we’ll be streaming Touché Amoré’s raucous K! Pit set from Brooklyn – back in a pre-pandemic age…