Ben Johnston talks Biffy Clyro's Opposites
Ben Johnston admitted he was a bit miffed earlier this week, saying that Biffy Clyro’s Opposites record should have received a Mercury Prize nomination.
He told Gigwise that he believes recording a double album was a brave move from the band and deserved to be recognised. James Blake’s Overgrown won the prize at the London ceremony on 30 October.
When we spoke to Ben back in our February 2013 issue he was quite rightly incredibly proud about the making of Opposites. In showing our support for Ben and Biffy, we’ve gone back and dug out some choice words from that very interview from Ben on this mega record.
End of an era?
“We like to do things in threes. Our first album we did with Chris Sheldon on an independent label and [the songs] had this vibe to them, and back then we were really trying our best to mix extremely weird stuff with pop elements.
"And then starting with Puzzle up to opposites we’ve really tried to go for that grandiose, over the top, tons of musicality and instrumentation and just trying to make some f**k-off rock records that are as big sounding as we can.
“I think we’ve achieved that. I think this will be our last effort at that. I don’t think we can do much better than we have on this one and I don’t think we can get any bigger, we certainly can’t add any more instruments. We’ll have a think and probably make a trio of a different style, it’s nice to mix it up.”
“In a perfect world you’d play every drum in the world and on this album we took that further than before.
"I had a really good drum tech called Jerry Johnson who works with Dave Matthews Band and he had so many drums it was unbelievable. Also, as it was a double record we got to experiment more – I used 10 snares and four or five kits, a ridiculous amount of cymbals, different mike set-ups, we went to town on getting an eclectic mix of sonics from song to song.
“There’s nothing to say that when I’m playing a Pearl kick and toms there’s a Pearl snare on there. You have to use the drums that fit the song. If a guy’s there with a Ludwig Black Beauty in his hands that sounds exactly as the sound in your head, you have to use it. We were lucky to have a guy that knows so much about tuning and I could explain to him what I think I’m after and he would pull out the perfect sound. That was good fun for me.
“It was like a mini-heaven just sitting there pointing and saying, ‘Let’s hear that one.’ as opposed to the first few albums which was the same set-up for every single song. We’d always make sure it sounded great, one of the easiest things to do is to get a great drum sound and use it on every single song. I guess that happened in the past, certainly on Only Revolutions. On this one we wanted to stick to our guns, it was about diversity, it was a double album and for that reason alone it’s important that the sonics of the drums are correct and it helpskeep it moving.”
“I’m very careful not to overplay because I was guilty of that on the earlier albums. I do like flair playing but I think for a song to really sing and be as powerful as it can be the drummer has to pick his fills carefully and the moments.
"I hate when a drummer plays over a vocal or overlays in general. I’m mindful of that so when we get to the studio and these elements are coming in I’ve left space for it or if there’s a piece of instrumentation that is clashing with the drums we would have the instrumentation. the songs are how they are, the things we add on in the studio are add-ons to a three-piece rock band and not the other way around.
“There’s certainly no drum solos, no expansive fills that go on for lots of bars, but I’m proud of the time signatures we play in and the flitting between them. If you can do that without people noticing, that is a victory. If there was one bit I was super proud of that would be an overplaying bit. I’m happy with all the songs and hopefully I haven’t s**t on anything, just added little bits of fairy dust.”
“When I’ve been asked about the album the word ‘epic’ springs to mind in every single sense. Even the slower songs are massively epic and the big rock ones are even more epic.
"There’s some very emotionally charged songs. I don’t think we could get any bigger than we have on this album, we’d be shooting ourselves in the foot to try and go bigger than we have. We’ve got strings, choirs, mariachi, kazoos, electronics, five drum kits on one song, millions of guitars, keyboards, everything you could think of, we’ve tried it. It was five months of recording and I don’t think we’d want to repeat ourselves in that respect. We’ve definitely achieved what we set out to do on this album.”