The CD arrived today, and to demonstrate my gratitude I’ll hold off listening to the second Biffy LP to give it a proper listen or two. After all, it isn’t that long a drive back down the A77 from Kilmarnock down to Ayr. How far did you typically travel to play shows? Have any good stories?
“That’s brilliant that you held of listening to the new Biffy record for ours! We are actually still based in Ayr but we play most gigs in Glasgow and other places usually an hour or a couple of hours away. Before Stuart joined the band we had to use public transport to travel to places and I remember once a couple of years ago we had a showcase sort of gig and all ticket sales went to a charity for kids, also Jim Gellatly was hosting it so it was quite an important gig for us. We had to get the train but we got stuck for about 2 hours because somebody committed suicide on the rail tracks. I remember that everyone on the train was moaning about being late & the amount of suicides that happen on the rail tracks between Irvine and Kilwinning, nobody seemed to care about the poor guy that just died.”
I had noticed Rose Parade previously and, intrigued, made a mental note to explore further. While I was deciding on whether to include you on our ‘roster’ you ended up contacting me first. By this point, the video for Grace had come out and any reluctance I might have had evaporated rather quickly. Where was the video filmed? Have you decided which song to use for the next one?
“The Grace video was filmed down a dirty old basement in a clothes shop in Glasgow by Bella Rebel Media. They asked us what kind of video we wanted and I told them to make it look distressed. They were really good and found two locations to film in, so we chose one, went to it, rearranged some stuff and put up some lights. The basement was cold and massive. We kept investigating it and it just went on and on, which made for lots of different shots. It was a lot of fun filming as the team was made up of guys around our age. At one point they asked us to lie on a bunch of bin bags, which we thought was a bit weird but went along with it. However, it turned out great, the guys work ethic were superb and the video surpassed our high expectations. The next video will be for Sea Of Lights by our friend Martin Graham. We have other video plans too but we’ve got to keep people in suspense.”
I was just playing around with Google maps. Touring around Scotland, virtually, it is pretty evident how west coast bands would gravitate toward Glasgow and east coast bands to Edinburgh at the beginning of their careers. Does this account for any pronounced musical differences or is it purely a matter of distance?
“I don’t think it’s to do with musical tastes rather than the musicians looking for opportunities. We love Ayr but you can’t keep asking the same people to go to the same venues all the time. So we’ve moved to playing different parts of Ayrshire and Glasgow just because it’s close and that’s where the majority of our fans are. Now the album is out, it’s time to spread further out, get heard in places we haven’t touched.”
Relatively speaking, the 13th Note is not too far away then. It is one of the first venues romanticized in song for me. Ever since I heard Kid Canaveral’s ‘Smash Hits’ I feel like I need to go there. For now, I’ll just have to imagine I’m at the launch. Since you’ll get these questions after the show, please let us know how it went. We want details.
“The album launch was absolutely immense, the whole thing seems like a dream now. The 13th Note came about as a friend of ours wanted to start gigs there so we were the first of many hopefully. It was very intimate and kind of looked like the Grace video. It sold out 3 weeks prior to the gig, before some of our close friends had even got a ticket. There were people travelling from Liverpool, London and Greece who came to see us. The support acts were fantastic and the crowd were absolutely buzzing and full of energy all night. I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. Still a bit lost for words to give you finer details right now, sorry.”
If someone had not heard your music how would you describe it?
“You often hear artists saying they hate to be labelled and categorized. It’s not that we do – but even we struggle to pinpoint it ourselves. Someone said we were like Mumford and Sons on Prozac. Other descriptions have been country-tinged indie. I think the best way to describe it would be to take it apart. Pop vocals and glockenspiel, maybe dance bass and kick drum, folk acoustic instruments, rock-blues electric guitar. We all have different influences ranging from the Pixies, Fugazi, Slint to Bright eyes, Yo La Tengo, My Bloody Valentine, the Sound, Jawbreaker, Afghan Whigs , the Brian Jonestown Massacre etc etc. I could go on for ages listing all our influences, but I guess the important thing for us was to create something new and not pinpoint ourselves to a certain genre.”
I did come across a description of “whimsical pop”. I wouldn’t describe the album as pop and the whimsy seems almost entirely due to the unique, and rather inspired, pairing of the glockenspiel and banjo. How did that come about? Were there any less successful experiments?
“Haha, not really any other experiments to be honest. The banjo came about because I like the sound so I bought a cheap one. Ed and I lived in a five-bedroom bedsit where people moved in and out of constantly, one of them left their glockenspiel. We also bought a cheap drumkit which turned out to be useless except the kick drum. The sound came from drunken jams of these instruments really. We had experimented in recording studios before we did many gigs adding things like full drumkits, cellos and pianos as you can hear from our first EP, but the more we gigged, the more we knew our sound and wanted to capture that live sound as close as we could in the album. By the way, we have upgraded all of our instruments.”
I’m going to list three songs. Could you try to describe and capture the heart of each one in exactly 3 words.
The Sea of Lights: summer, drifting, overcome
Closer: envy, tension, intoxication
Slide: despair, rebound, freedom
The thing I liked the most and didn’t expect was how much the banjo was used throughout the album. This was satisfyingly effective. While it does not dominate the record, the abundant banjo gave it a cohesion and a freshness that might not have been there otherwise if it was used more sparingly. Was that something conscious?
“It came from the practices. Ed had the banjo around his neck and a glockenspiel stick in his hand, if that’s what they’re called, to play the first few songs I had written. So when he was shown the new songs, he just stuck to playing those two instruments. We do like folk music so it’s important that the folk influence is still there in every song, without the banjo we would sound more like a straight up pop rock band without a drumkit.”
I just read about the Kitchen Sessions. Is that something you will continue? Any thoughts on who you would like to have come over in the future?
“The kitchen sessions was a lot of fun and we do want to do it again. Our main focus for the last while was to get the album right. Schedules between artists, the director and ourselves often clashed so it became very difficult to organize routinely. We had a great time doing it. My girlfriend would make lovely spreads of food depending on the artist or the date and we got free entertainment in our very own kitchen. When we start it up again, we might rebrand it as a new thing as it will be a new kitchen and take it more seriously and professional. This time we plan on getting different genres other than acoustic acts like dance or rap. Some of the people that have shown an interest in playing in a new Kitchen Sessions are Trusty and the Foe and Anna Sweeney but there’s nothing confirmed or being done about this just yet.”
I’m intrigued by Ari’s coming to Scotland from abroad. Did that bring anything different or unique to musical table? What sorts of music did you listen to growing up back in Greece?
“Yeah there’s not many Greek people about in Ayr – loads of them in Glasgow though – students.. They all seem to come here and study and the fuck off back to the sun, as they can’t stand the freezing cold and rain. I love it though! I always used to come to Scotland on holiday. My mother is Irish and I’ve got a lot of family here. In my case, I came over to study for a couple of years but ended up staying for good! Athens was great for music actually and still is..I grew up listening to Brit pop and then punk and then indie & alternative. My friends use to run an indie record store in Athens so they introduced me to loads of music that I fell in love with including: Jawbreaker, Slint, Afghan Whigs, Fugazi, Dinosaur Jr, Madrugada, My Bloody Valentine, and Bjm. I was also listening to loads of Swedish underground indie bands like Last Days of April.”
Are there any local bands you’d like to champion?
‘Little Fire, Trusty and the Foe, Anna Sweeney, Brave Young Red, The Imagineers, Matt Scott, Julia and the Doogans, Brown Bear & The Bandits & the one and only Paul McGranaghan.”
I noticed that one of your face book pictures had an envelope with Vic Galloway’s address on it. I like to think that our address was about to be penned next. How many did you actually send out? Who would you say a new band might covet a positive reception from the most?
“We made 100 promos and sent them to magazines, papers, blogs, radio stations… We’re just improvising on how to do this, they were unsolicited so I couldn’t tell bands if it’s a good idea or not. However, we did get through to you. We like online blogs like yours – so thank you very much for having us. We made this album on our own time and finances, no label behind us, no big approval from a man with an non-musical degree in a suit, just like you do your blog yourself, we did it with love and passion and not because we’re paid to do it. Obviously though, we were over-joyed to be played on BBC Radio 1 a year ago. We would love to get a feature in NME or Rolling Stone but those are very difficult to do without a man in a suit to solicit it.”
I happen to have a woefully underused banjo sitting in the corner. Would you care to share the banjo chords for Grace?
Tune it like the last four strings on a guitar and play the high open chord F, Am, G, F with a few twiddly bits. Is that helpful?
Do think you could come up with something dark and melancholic using the banjo and glockenspiel? I’d actually like to hear that.
“We do like darkness. It sounds like a plan. Our last track which is quite different to the rest of the album is quite dark and playing it live we use the glockenspiel. We’ve also started writing a new one with a slightly sinister banjo riff. It’s not that difficult to make something sweet become something sinister, how many horror movies have a child as a demon or a ghost?”
The second Biffy record is just going to have to wait until tomorrow and if there is any banjo on it, I will laugh at how ‘derivative’ of Rose Parade that is. When will the record be released? Where can people pick up a copy?
That would be quite funny actually. I’m pretty sure Simon Neil lives very locally to us, seen him plenty of times, who knows he might have heard us jamming late one night and decided to stick some banjo in the new record. I doubt it though. The record will be officially available on the 18th of February 2013. Hard copies will be available via our site and digital files via itunes, play, amazon and it will be up on Spotify as well.