Concert preview: Biffy Clyro making a name for itself — despite Trent Reznor’s professed ignorance

  • Photo credit: Frank Maddox
By Columbus Alive
From the October 3, 2013 edition

At this summer’s Reading Festival, Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro attracted the attention of none other than Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, albeit not for reasons the band might have hoped.

“Should be an unusual show tonight at Reading…,” wrote Reznor on his Twitter feed. “…the lying promoter and the band following us (whoever the f--- they are) f----- us on our production.”

While Reznor took to social media to profess his ignorance, plenty of people do know who the f--- Biffy Clyro is, and the band has amassed a large UK following in the decade-plus since it released its 2002 studio debut, Blackened Sky.

“We didn’ know what was going on, and we were trying to accommodate them as best we could,” bassist James Johnston said in a recent phone interview. “But even though there was a situation going on, I still couldn’t believe he went to Twitter. I thought that seemed beneath [him].”

Of course, the group’s most recent successes — including heading up the Reading bill over NIN and its clearly perturbed singer — almost didn’t happen. Prior to starting Los Angeles recording sessions for its sixth album, Opposites, the band almost broke up due in part to drummer Ben Johnston’s ongoing struggles with alcohol. Things came to a head one night before entering the studio when the drummer disappeared only to return covered in blood from a cut ear and no memory of what happened.

“It was a very difficult time, perhaps one of the lowest times for the band,” said James Johnston, Ben’s twin brother. “I found it very difficult to help him, and it’s still a difficult thing to talk about, actually. But that difficult time has created something much more positive, and that message is embedded in the album.”

Though Opposites is rooted in a troubled stretch in the band’s long history — the three musicians met as school kids and have played in various bands together since they were 14 years old — its songs espouse a Three Musketeers all-for-one-and-one-for-all philosophy, frontman Simon Neil singing: “We built this stone by stone”; “Take care of the ones you love”; “We’ve gotta stick together.”

“It was very emotional in the studio singing those lines,” Johnston said. “We were singing about sticking together, which was amazing coming out of this graphically tough time. It was sort of cathartic, but it also it gave us strength.”