Interview: Why Biffy Clyro’s Cultural Sons Of Scotland film will make you want to be in a band

For 2021’s The Myth Of The Happily Ever After, Biffy Clyro returned home to Ayrshire and embraced their most DIY, hands-on approach in years. Now, in superb new documentary Cultural Sons Of Scotland, the band reveal why doing so was so special after all this time…

Interview: Why Biffy Clyro’s Cultural Sons Of Scotland film will make you want to be in a band
Emily Carter

“Finally, after 20 years, we’ve made a record in Ayrshire,” says Simon Neil proudly at the beginning of Biffy Clyro’s new documentary. “It’s our first top-to-bottom Scottish record.”

Such a surprising milestone for the band – completed by bassist James Johnston and drummer Ben Johnston – is unveiled spectacularly in Biffy’s brilliant new film, Cultural Sons Of Scotland, due out on Amazon Music Unlimited and Prime Video on February 25. With the help of director Jack Lowe, it’s a gloriously fun and fascinating deep dive into one of the UK’s most beloved (and often most private) groups, detailing the making of last year’s The Myth Of The Happily Ever After album at a working farm in their home county.

Having already made eight incredible records at various studios around the world – from London to Los Angeles – the pandemic forced Biffy to keep things local for album number nine.

“We’re not far from home, so there’s no performative aspect,” Simon tells Kerrang! of the impact the location had on how they collectively made it through. “To see us stripped bare, as three buddies, is very surreal. To see a visual documentation of the past couple of years is important for us, and especially moving forwards and being able to look back on that and go, ‘What a fucking spectacularly unique, upsetting and enlightening time we all had.’”

Here, Biffy open up about their first-ever proper documentary, their endless appreciation for each other, and why you should never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something…

You say in the film that you tend to record far from home – typically in LA – to put yourselves in the mindset that anything is possible. Did this whole experience give you a feeling that maybe you’ve not really had before, that anything is actually possible from home?
Ben Johnston (drums): “Yeah, it kinda did! But we don’t want to over-egg that too much because then we’ll never get to go away again (laughs). But it was really easy and doable to do it all at home, and we were blessed with the weather as well, so it was a really fun experience. But we definitely want to go away again to record if we can!”
Simon Neil (vocals / guitar):
“There is something that you do feel when you’re stepping into a different city in a different part of the world – it has that performative thing, and you take your ego with you a bit more because you’re like, ‘This is where such-and-such recorded.’ [Going away] does alter your perspective and your outlook, but I don’t think it’s necessarily better than what we’ve just done – and that’s what’s been an interesting discovery. Our defences were down in a different way making the album in Scotland. The way we were able to explore the songs without any outside awareness – no-one even knew we were making the record – was really liberating. I think we probably will embrace that part in the future – we might not make the whole record in one place.”
James Johnston (bass):
“Bass in the Bahamas (laughs). I think with the next record there will also be a different build-up to it, because this was much more off our own backs. I think it’d be different if we were having meetings in advance, and discussions, and it was more of a committee. Then suddenly you’re involved in what feels like a bigger project, and that gets in your head.”

Did you struggle with figuring out what to include in the documentary, and whittling down all of the footage you had?
Simon: “Yeah, it was tough. For us, it was tough to know what was important, because Jack would leave in stuff like us cooking, and we were like, ‘Should it not be more artistic?’ And he pointed out that it wasn’t so much about making the album, but it was about us being together and overcoming a challenge. So the stuff showing how we were all hands on deck was really important, and it took us an edit or two to really understand that. We’d be like, ‘Why’s that there? Why do you want to film me doing my vocal warm-ups? Why do you want to watch Ben cooking salmon?’ (Laughs) We’re quite protective about the things we put out, but Jack made us see why we should.”
“It really struck me at one point watching it and realising that two or three years ago, we never had anyone in the studio with us. And then we invited the world into that place! We all went into this [documentary] full-on, so there weren’t too many nerves about people seeing into our world, but it did suddenly strike me that we’ve really opened the door now and let people in on who we are.”

Is there anything you really loved that didn’t make the cut?
“The first couple of edits we were swearing like troopers (laughs).”
“Yeah, we had to cut the swearing down! But we really submitted ourselves to Jack and the movie, and had to get away from our instincts of being more private. At one point Jack went, ‘You’ve just given me an email with 92 notes.’ (Laughs) If I had it my way, it would have been a 12-minute film!”
“We were being natural, but sharing that with the world is not something we’re used to. But I’m really glad that we did – even though it’s strange!”

At what point did you decide to also make the film a big trip down memory lane, rather than just your standard making-of? Was it just because you were at home and feeling nostalgic and appreciative of where you’ve come from?
“It was exactly that – it was us trying to explain why there’s a story in us recording at home. Because if you don’t know the band, then [you might think] what’s so exciting about us recording at home? People do that all the time. So I think part of it was just to explain that.”
“Yeah, initially it was just going to be a making-of, and because it ended up being 20 years since our first record, we also contemplated making it more expansive – but it wasn’t about that either. It felt romantic that we were making this music so close to where we played our very first shows – back when we had no idea what the fuck we were doing! It felt important to contextualise that, because geographically we started in Ayrshire, and we’ve gone around the world and been everywhere else, and then we ended up back there inadvertently. That’s a beautiful thing, to feel that glow now about the early stages of our life as a band.”

You will have seen first-hand over the years what great musicians you all are, but did you get a new appreciation for each other when watching it on the big screen, like, ‘Damn, my bandmates are really good’?!
“I definitely did that! There was a point where Ben goes to sit down at the drums, he takes his phone out his pocket and then just goes straight into it so casually. And then when Simon is singing Denier, and I’m like, ‘Are you fucking hearing that vocal? Listen to that!’”
“I have to say, it takes me to see it through Jack’s eyes to appreciate it – and I think you’ve hit on something there, because when you’re all playing together, you’re not reflective; you’re just in the fucking moment. The boys say it a couple of times in the movie that we feel really lucky – we feel like a special band, and I’m not saying that in an arrogant way. We’re special because of how we play, and what we do, and who we are. I’ve definitely been appreciating us as musicians – and even more so watching it back while knowing what the end result was, and seeing how we all brought it together. So yeah, the admiration is rife… but we’re Scottish, so we can’t talk about it (laughs).”
“There’s this bit where Simon is playing a lovely acoustic part, and it doesn’t even look like he’s concentrating that hard – he’s just quite serene, and then he makes a mistake and goes, ‘You little motherfucker!’ (Laughs) And I just love that fucking switch where he just calls himself every name under the sun. It shows what musicians go through when they record.”

You’ve clearly been incredibly productive in the pandemic and released two albums in two years, but while you were watching yourselves back and seeing how much fun it was in the studio, has it inspired any new creativity and made you think, ‘We’d love to do some more recording’?
“I wish we could have just kept making that record. Inspiration is yet to strike on a personal level since we finished that record, and because we haven’t been on the road either, there’s even a practical side where we’ve got two albums’ worth of songs to squeeze into an already quite tight set! I’ve deliberately not picked up my guitar, and it’s the first time in my life I haven’t done that, and it’s been quite liberating. I’m waiting for the right moment to feel inspired for the right reason. [2020’s A Celebration Of Endings] was pre-pandemic and then The Myth… has been such a reflection of the last two years that I don’t quite know where I’m gonna be, or where we’re gonna be mentally in a few months, and that’s why it was so important to get out that record when we did. I’m waiting for the muse to strike again right now.”

One of the biggest takeaways from the documentary is just how much fun you all have together. Is that the main message – that being in a band is the best thing anyone can do?
“It most definitely can be the most fun thing in the world, and our band is that way – and that’s not the case for every band, so we’re very lucky with that. And hopefully through the movie you see that it’s because we’re just the closest of friends. You can’t force these things, and you would see it in the movie if there was any forced fun. I don’t think there was really any point that we were even super aware that the cameras were there. Jack just kind of went into the background, and we were just being ourselves – that’s genuinely how much we laugh all the time!”
“And I think that’s the key thing about being in a band: it’s not about technical proficiency or shared ambitions, it’s about being in the moment and enjoying what you do, because everything else is kind of out of your control. I think some bands might form who are great players, but inevitably the chemistry disintegrates. The key thing about being in a band is that it should be a group of friends, and we’re lucky that we were friends from seven, eight years old. We get to share things with our best friends, and go around the world and have these new experiences together. It’s incredible what people can do at home from their bedroom, and there are a lot of acts coming out now that are more singular, but there’s still a lot of romance in just playing with your friends – and it’s about never forgetting that. The longer a band goes on it can sometimes be a bit clouded with other people’s opinions, or you clash over unimportant things, and really it’s just about remembering that essence.”

Your fans will love this film, but are you equally as excited for casual viewers to stumble across this documentary and enjoy how joyful the world of Biffy is, too?
“Basically, what you said is what I’d love to happen: if a kid inadvertently sees the documentary and thinks, ‘I want to start a band because this looks like great fun.’ That’s what I want. I remember watching Fugazi’s Instrument documentary, and we were already a band at that point, but that confirmed for me that I needed to go on the road and make music – that’s what it’s all about. And of course that was a different thing, but that’s what I want: for people to remember the joy of being in a band, being a collective and doing things together, and the power that it brings. And specifically in a year where we’re all isolated, music more than ever before is being made in a solitary way. And that can produce some absolutely outstanding things, but for me the joy and the magic of people sharing in it is what I want people to take out of it. I want someone to see it and go, ‘I want to make a fucking racket like that!’ And not to sound like a luddite, but seeing people make an actual noise organically is spectacular – not a suggestion from a machine, but a suggestion from your own fucking mind. It’s just glorious, and we’re still deeply in love with it all.”
“For anyone who is doing anything that people tell them is rubbish, that’s who I’d quite like to enjoy this movie. Because people were telling us we were rubbish and we didn’t really care because we valued what we were doing. So anyone who’s out there and is feeling disenfranchised and doesn’t know what to do with themselves, the message is: you can do fucking anything!”

Watch Biffy Clyro: Cultural Sons Of Scotland exclusively on Amazon Music Unlimited and Prime Video from February 25.

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