'The Thought of Playing on Stage Can Intimidate Me...
Total Guitar|February 2022
When Biffy Clyro made a triumphant return to the stage, frontman Simon Neil felt that he had rediscovered the meaning of life. Now, as part of TG’s 2022 Guitar Workout, he presents his guide to the art of rock guitar. How to make a Strat sound heavy. How to write in odd time signatures. How to prepare for playing live. And why there is still one pedal he can’t live without...
By Jonny Scaramanga. Photographs by Glen Bollard and Euan Robertson

'The Thought of Playing on Stage Can Intimidate Me, but As Soon As I Put The Guitar Over My Chest I'm Like, 'Right, This Is Me!'

Dropping an a surprise album is the kind of thing you expect more from Taylor Swift than hard-working Scottish rock trios, but that’s what happened when Biffy Clyro’s The Myth Of The Happily Ever After arrived at the end of October 2021. As guitarist/vocalist Simon Neil says, “There’s part of you feels like it’s total baller - ‘Hey man here’s our new album!’ Like Beyoncé or something. But it’s also extremely terrifying.”

He needn’t have worried, as Biffy fans made it the bands sixth consecutive Top 5 album. The Myth... has big hooks and huge sonics that belie its rapid creation. And in contrast to the band’s embrace of pop that peaked with 2016’s Ellipsis, this album also features complex riffs in odd time signatures. “Moving back to stranger, more esoteric ideas”, as Simon describes it.

Making music in times of crisis made the band consider their relevance. “When you’re seeing people going through proper heartbreak every day, you start to wonder ‘Am I contributing to the world? Is this something that needs to exist?’” Simon reflects. But, he concluded, “It’s about trying to bring a sense of joy and togetherness to me and my friends. Just to find that focus and joy was remarkable at this stage of being in a band.”

As well as finding joy in creating music, Biffy Clyro made a life-affirming return to the stage last summer with enormo-shows including headline slots at the Reading and Leeds festivals. They also completed the aptly named ‘Fingers Crossed’ tour at the end of the year.

After this hectic period, Simon is in upbeat mood as he talks about the album, the tour and his new signature pedal, and explains his singular approach to playing, performing, songwriting and gear...

Let’s start with The Myth Of The Happily Ever After. What was different about the process of making this album?

Normally when I’m writing there’s 18 months of working on the songs. This one felt so spontaneous. I didn’t anticipate writing a bunch of songs but it ended up being the way I was processing. Every week all our realities were changing so I was able to focus my energy and my anxieties into the songs. It was going in to make an album without necessarily knowing how the songs should sound, and that was strange. We did no pre-production. We would normally record ourselves in the practice room. This was like, ‘Here’s a song, let’s record it.’ The growth period to the record was probably about six to eight weeks and then recording it was about eight weeks, and then suddenly it was done. Normally it takes us that long to rehearse. Because of the pandemic, the purpose of the music felt more pure, knowing that we weren’t going to go out on a promotional tour.

Booooom and Blast!

Get Biffy in a Box with Simon’s new pedal, built in limited runs by his tech!

“Me and my guitar tech Chard [Richard Pratt] took about two years of prototyping to get it where we wanted. We wanted two channels, an overdrive and a fuzz, and the most options without being overblown. My main aim for Biffy is just the best distortion sound I can possibly have. [For the ‘Blast’ fuzz] the main aim was volume and just being able to get that square wave. I love that Jack White fuzz tone, real 60s, everything totally blown out. The Biffy tone is the Boooom. All my guitar sounds have been based on my very first Peavey Bandit and Boss Metal Zone. Ever since then I’ve just been trying to sophisticate that sound, add detail and depth to it. That’s what this pedal does. You can put it straight into any amp and it really gives you a level of power. You can have clarity if you want, or you can have the real fuzz and real overblown sound. It was important that if you plugged your guitar in, you were getting a taste of my guitar sound. It’s hard to do that in one box, but Chard did a fantastic job.

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