Stateside audiences may not be intimately acquainted with Biffy Clyro yet, but over the course of 15 years and five albums the Scottish trio have established themselves as one of Europe’s most inventive rock acts. “Our first three records didn’t actually get released in America, so it was weird to have released our fourth album and be treated like a brand-new band here,” the group’s frontman, Simon Neil, says hours before the band opens for Manchester Orchestra at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. “Ultimately I think it helps motivate us. Our mission statement is that you’re only as good as your last gig, so we just want to play as well as we can, and if you work hard enough people will follow.”
Although the band—which also includes the fraternal duo of bassist-vocalist James Johnston and drummer-vocalist Ben Johnston—have already performed alongside rock icons like the Rolling Stones and U2 back home, their latest full-length, Only Revolutions, is the album that could bring this group of childhood friends worldwide success.
“If you’re a rock band there are no rules that say you can’t use a synth or a violin, and we’re definitely not afraid of doing either of those things because we love Lightning Bolt as much as we love the Dixie Chicks,” Neil says with a laugh. “That’s a horrible twosome, but we’ve always loved classic songwriting as well as weird math rock, and we want to share all of that through every record.”
Neil’s patchwork collection of tattoos is as diverse as his band’s musical inspirations, ranging from band-related art (his first tattoo was the cover of A Perfect Circle’s Mer de Noms, which he got on his 21st birthday) to sketches by artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Salvador Dalí, courtesy of Kev Younger at Tribe Tattoo in Glasgow. “I love the fact that someone like da Vinci would spend time sketching out his ideas, because people assume his ideas came out fully formed,” Neil explains. “I really like the unfinished aspect of it; I guess it just reminds me that even da Vinci wasn’t as confident as you might anticipate.”
One of Neil’s most meaningful tattoos is a portrait of his parents that he got to commemorate his mother’s passing five years ago. “It’s cool that more kids have tattoos these days—I just hope they’re doing it for the right reasons,” Neil says, explaining that he spent five years scouring the U.K. to find an artist who specialized in portraits before getting the aforementioned ink. “It shouldn’t be to look cool or to fit in. It should be stuff that matters to you.”