Simon Neil is a busy man! Having dropped their surprise album ‘The Myth of Happily Ever After‘ to their unsuspecting fans last week, his press schedule is…as you can imagine, a tad hectic, to say the least.
In light of this, I was surprised at how laid back Simon is today. Our coversation drifts from the making of the album, to his own personal experience in the way it was released, to plans for anniversary shows marking the release of their first album and his thoughts on the how guitar-based music is mistreated by mainstream media and misunderstood by major record labels.
OD – This being the bands’ first ‘surprise’ release, were you excited more than you would with a traditional release, and did you find it amusing to see the online reactions?
SIMON – Yes. Things were actually very simple. We wanted to find pockets of joy with things with this album and by keeping it a surprise we hoped that “joy” would translate over to our audience.
It was a very liberating experience to not tell anyone that we were creating new music and to be honest, is as close to the reason why we started this band in the first place. If we were smiling in the studio and getting a good feeling from what we are doing…well that’s when Biffy Clyro is running on all cylinders.
I’m sure most of your readers are not aware of the “behind the scenes” stuff when making a record but there is usually a big machine behind the making of an album and that machine has a lot of people from different departments that are checking in on things and making sure that everything is going to plan. Everything is considered from artwork to singles, release dates, promo stuff, etc.
For us, this experience was our way of dealing with a very tough time in our lives and I definitely felt more creatively free and inspired than I’ve felt in a very long time. The reason for that is because we were left to our own devices and were totally emersed in the music and the very intimate process of creating.
OD – In what way did you approach this album, as I’m sure you were coming from a very different mindset?
SIMON – Well…the best way to explain it is that in light of all the things that were happening in the world and the fallout of the pandemic… well it made me feel like music was not the most important thing in my life. This is the first time I’ve felt that in a very, very long time. The ironic thing is that by default, we stepped out of our normal pattern of creativity and began to feel like three teenagers making music again.
OD – Under the circumstances of how the album was recorded [in a converted farmhouse in Scotland] compared to your normal approach of writing at home, then mixing/mastering in either London or LA…can you see this becoming a regular thing, or do you enjoy the contrast of writing at home then recording elsewhere?
SIMON – If you’d ask me that before we made this album, I’d have to say that we needed to go somewhere glamorous and away from home but I really think I’ve overcome that hurdle. I used to think that we HAD to be somewhere else to create that big bombastic-sounding record and actually, that’s not true.
I suppose that when we’re travelling around the world we’re left to our own devices but we managed to achieve that in our own rehearsal space. We actually did everything locally for this album, the videos, the promo shots, recording, writing…everything. It all happened in a very small geographical space.
I’m actually very excited about the prospect of this going forward. I felt no inhibitions at all recording at home and considering the implications of travelling around the world these days, we’re gonna be considering the way we do things with a little more scope going forward.
OD – I understand that ‘The Myth of the Happily Ever After’ is a sequel to A Celebration of Endings’ and from what I can gather was a combination of emotions that…let’s face it…all of us were feeling.
I’ve read that the intention was to work on a few ideas from the ‘Celebration…’ sessions but then turned into ‘Myth…’. With regards to the overall ambiance of those songs, was there much of a contrast to what has become the finished album?
SIMON – Definitely. Initially, we were going to be tinkering with a few ideas that were milling around that we didn’t know what to do with, but then I started writing and it all just came from nowhere [laughing].
OD – If you had to give an idea of how much of the album’s structure you had prior to entering the studio, what would you say?
SIMON – I’d honestly say we had about 15% of ideas and the rest came from the writing/recording sessions. After going through a few months of feeling very uninspired, it was about August/September of 2020 that I was sitting down and writing a new song every other day. And it very much became a new album, not an extension of ‘A Celebration of Endings‘. It was something new and different.
We were now living in a very different kind of world with new problems and issues that were having a tremendous effect on everybody. It’s more of a new album than what we set out do to and I hope that people understand that and enjoy the music. This album was created by pure feelings and pure emotions.
OD – One of the more unusual tracks on the album ‘Separate Missions’ reminds me of a post-New Wave arrangement, and actually reminded me of The Ninth Wave a little, can you see more of this kind of influence going forward?
SIMON – Yeah, I know The Ninth Wave… they look and sound fantastic. I love the fact that they bring in a kind of industrial feel to their music and that’s something that really appeals to me. Sometimes I’ll pick up my guitar and feel that I’ve played every combination of chords and riffs that exist [Laughing].
I just need to shake that feeling off and really…that’s why this new album sounds so liberated because I just stepped away from those feelings. I didn’t worry about the lack of guitars in some songs, or a more piano-influenced song, etc. I think the freedom came in not worrying about whether it can affect the outline of what a Biffy Clyro song SHOULD be.
As soon as I started playing ‘Separate Missions‘ and ‘Dum Dum‘…that’s when I really felt that we were working from a new kind of pallet, and that was a really exciting moment. There is no way that those songs would have been included in ‘A Celebration of Endings‘, because it was of a different time…a different mindset. I’m a big fan of The Cure‘s big intros before Robert Smith comes in with his vocals and that’s what I was trying to do with that track.
OD – It seems like each year there are big milestones with albums [to remind us all how old we are]. Next year will be the 20th anniversary of ‘Blackened Sky’ are there any plans to do anything to mark that?
SIMON – I think moments like that deserve to be marked and I really love revisiting our older stuff and depending on what we’re doing at the time, I would really like to do something to celebrate ‘Blackened Sky‘. Honestly… I’m more concerned that it’s been 20-years Where the fuck did all that time go? [Laughing]
For me, those first three albums are very much in their own separate worlds and I would love to do something that involves all three of them. We’ve not had that conversation just yet but I’m sure it will come up soon.
OD – From all the blood, sweat, and tears of this industry, what would you like to see change for struggling bands who are hoping to follow in your footsteps?
SIMON – When we started out, we were able to go on stage and not be judged by people recording the show on their phones, etc. We were about to evolve in a very natural way. These days bands’ have to be savvy a lot quicker.
I would add the issues with streaming which needs to be sorted out as soon as possible. There are so many fantastic talented bands’ out there that are not being heard because they don’t have huge streaming numbers and that’s just wrong.
Unfotutnitly, the way the industry is set up at the moment, it’s impossible for a young band to monetise and that’s just so wrong. We had to pay to get some gigs’ in the past and that’s just part of the business but there needs to be a huge shake-up in this industry as we’re losing so many incredible young artists that are not being nurtured and essentially are walking away from their dreams. Which is very sad indeed.
The major labels need to figure out how to filter money into nurturing up and coming artists rather than stockpiling their capital because that’s exactly what they are doing.
The major labels have never had so much money before, and that includes the ’90s when they were charging up to £18/£20 for a fucking CD!!! So, there’s a huge disconnect there when the fans were paying far too much for their product.
We try our very best to take out as many up and coming new bands on tour because at the end of the day, these bands’ just need to get in front of people… get the exposure and prove themselves. The way things are now, they are not being given that chance. Their wings are clipped before they can learn to fly.
OD – Being a band that appeals to a multitude of genres, do you feel that guitar-based music is unfairly treated by the mainstream today, and if you had the opportunity to address that issue with a statement to the powers that be, what would you say?
SIMON – I do think guitar-based music is unfairly treated and that comes from a misinterpretation of what “guitar-based” music is today. The powers that be like to think of it as being more of a heritage product, out of date, and unappealing to younger demographics, and the simple truth is…they are wrong!
There’s a level of expression that Rock, Underground, [guitar-based] music has that doesn’t exist in other genres and that has been criminally overlooked for a while now. Seeing musicians who actually play their instruments… hit the drums, blast their guitars, etc. That to me is the most primal form of pure expression in music. For some reason when people talk about genres and include ‘Rock‘ music, they treat it as almost an ugly sister or a hideous beast that should have no place in the mainstream.
I actually think that Rock music has never had so many flavours right now and is bursting with exciting creativity. The problem is the mainstream just doesn’t know what it fucking wants. The mainstream would still be listening to Mr Blobby had they not been told otherwise. The same song being number one for three months?? That’s just not healthy.
People that listen to Underground, Rock, Metal, guitar-based music tend to be a lot more passionate about their music. They want to dig deep and find out more, they are interested in the artwork, the gear the musician is using, the merchandise, the mix and production of the music, etc. They don’t want to listen to just one song a thousand times over. There are people out there that are happy to listen to the same Drake song over and over again because it just sinks into the background. Rock music takes focus and demands attention and that’s why I think the genre has such unlimited value.
At the end of the day, we just need people to support their bands. Support their local bands, clubs, promoters…all the people that work together to create something that essentially the mainstream doesn’t care about. If any of your readers are fans of a particular band, please go out and buy a t-shirt, a vinyl, etc. That’s the stuff that really supports the bands’ especially since touring has become a huge issue.
‘The Myth of Happily Ever After‘ is out now from all good records stores, online stores and all streaming platforms.
For your chance to win a limited red pressing of the album, simply follow the instructions listed on the graphic below before Friday and you’ll be in with a chance of winning.
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