Biffy Clyro Interview Storm Thorgerson

Ayr rockers talk with design guru
Biffy Clyro Interview Storm Thorgerson
Biffy’s very own Simon Neil and James Johnston met up with Storm to discuss impending projects, Westerns, and giant flags...

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‘Many Of Horror’ - Biffy Clyro
Biffy Clyro are a hairy trio of Scots who have been making music under this moniker since their mid-teens. Running rings around the underground gig circuit for years, they finally secured their place on the musical map with the critically acclaimed fourth album ‘Puzzle’. Making loud, stadium worthy rock with universal appeal, the band have emerged as one of today’s biggest selling acts, with their artistic integrity still thankfully in tact.

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‘StormStudios’ - Storm Thorgerson
When it comes to graphic design, Storm Thorgerson is most definitely in a league of his own. Having worked with some of the most influential artists of the past forty years, including Ian Dury, Muse and Yes, there’s still plenty of life in this old dog yet. Storm made his mark with Pink Floyd’s epic ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ sleeve, and has continued to wow critics ever since with his surrealist designs.

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Simon: So, what are you working on at the moment Storm?
Storm: You, actually. Didn’t you know?
Simon: It was mentioned some time ago but nothing was confirmed.
Storm: We just happened to think of an idea today, which we’ll have to discuss later.

Simon: Tell us about your first ever job working on a record sleeve. What made you get into this area of expertise?
Storm: It was all down to chance and circumstance. Pink Floyd were looking for a cover for ‘Saucerful Of Secrets’ and they asked my flatmate to do it, but he didn’t want to, so I said I would. I had never designed one before so I just think they didn’t know any better. So I did ‘Saucerful of Secrets’ for them.

Simon: Were you at art school?
Storm: Yes, I was at the Royal College Of Art doing Film Studies. A lot of the first album had been orchestrated by the record label and I think the band realised that they didn’t want that anymore.
Simon: Do you think that having an eye for film helped?
Storm: Yes, I think so. To some extent in the stuff we do for you too there’s possibly a story to tell. I just like that the fact that there might be a potential story there. We used to work with punk and therefore hated anything that was meaningful. But we quite like meaning actually. In ‘Puzzle’, there is clearly a story but you’ve no idea what it is. In ‘Only Revolutions’ there is a story there to me but I don’t know if it’s that obvious to anyone else. I think it’s the same way a lot of musicians feel about their songs, it’s all about open-ended interpretation. You make the song and you put all your feelings and thoughts into it and if someone in Worcester or Nuneaton, for example, thinks it’s about something else, that’s fine. The listener or viewer can come to their own conclusion. So, to go back to your original question, I definitely think that my background in film has made a difference to the way I make stills/images: there’s a lot of movement to them all. Also, I always think that everything I’m doing is very important and very big. Look at the flags I made for you, they were enormous.

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This is an excerpt from an article that appears in the March issue of Clash Magazine. Pick it up in stores from February 4th. You can read the full issue online HERE and subscribe to Clash Magazine HERE.

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James: Do you ever think with any of your artwork, because of it having meaning and some sort of story to tell, that you would worry about it being too transparent?
Storm:Yes. I think it’s a problem because if we make the story too obvious then the viewer may work it out quickly and then throw it aside and not look at it again. One of the hardest things to do with pictures and design is to get somebody to look twice. The world is saturated with images, there are so many visuals everywhere that it’s easy to pass them by. Here we are sitting in a restaurant with pictures all over the walls that we will probably forget about as soon as we leave.
James: At which point does it perhaps become too complicated to tell the story?
Storm: Well, a lot of the bands we work with tend to have a mind of their own, which is of course very annoying. But if I did something that was too complicated then they would of course tell me. There’s no great virtue in being too complex.

James: The collaborative side of the experience is obviously a big part of what you’ve done. Has it ever been a source of great displeasure?
Storm: I don’t really think so, but obviously sometimes - you can’t expect every relationship to work well. But even though I like to do my own thing, the music obviously comes first, not necessarily more importantly, but chronologically, the music is the well spring at the start. So we’ll get down a few ideas, maybe six or seven or...thirty, it depends on how creative we feel.
Simon: You see, that’s what really blew us away so much the first time we worked with you because I think you had thirty or so drawings done for ‘Puzzle’.
Storm: It’s not so much our creative thoughts, but more so paranoia.
Simon: Covering your back I guess?
Storm: Sort of, because we’d always rather do something rather than nothing. But we’re not in great favour of crap things.

Simon: You didn’t just do anything for the sake of it. Every time you talked us through something, every detail has always had a reason.
Storm: Yes, there’s always a connection. But it definitely always starts with the music. Even if we think ‘Only Revolutions’ is wonderfully fitting for the music, somebody else might come along and question it. I’m not saying it would be you, but maybe your aunt or somebody else. But it means something to us and we hope that it means something to you. And that is all that you can do. You can’t cater for all the possibilities that it may be relevant to somebody else.

Simon: Can the mood of the music have as much impact as the lyric, because the lyrics are obviously the easier thing to get a grasp of?
Storm: I think the general mood of the music or the sound definitely has some significance.
Simon: Because if we had actually the same lyrics but it was played in a different manner then it could potentially have been something completely different.
Storm: If you think about Biffy - which is easy for you to think about - we felt that it was big and that the music was big. You get a general sense of the music and then the lyrics give you something more specific. Maybe because they’re words themselves. We’ve been wrestling with an old rock and roller called Steve Miller and have been trying to work out what he’s on about because some of his lyrics are completely meaningless and don’t follow on from each other. But he’s a wonderful singer and guitarist and we were trying to work out what his thing is from that. And one of the things he really likes to be is down in the groove. I’ve often heard musicians use that phrase and I kind of know that it means - meshed in the rhythm - and in a sense that is what this guy does. I think what’s also really important again is that we talk first. No disrespect to [record] labels. I think that the sort of communication with musicians, i.e. what you say not what the music is, but the extra bit. So, you ask them, ‘What were you thinking about when you wrote that bit of the song?’ for example. These are bits that are not so easily found in the music or the lyrics and they’re not known to any punters.

Simon: We sat down with you and talked you through two of our albums and that was quite tough to be honest. It was the worst interview ever.
Storm: I’m going to pay you a compliment now, as one of the things we decided about you guys - we were talking about you yesterday - is that I think you’re really good at being prepared to admit your vulnerabilities and embracing gentleness. Meanwhile, you could be as hard as nails underneath. In a more high voluted way there’s a poetic side to you, along with the strong rock side. And I think that’s a particular virtue. And I wouldn’t have known that, we wouldn’t have been able to say that unless we quizzed you and asked you what you’re on about. I’m not sure how many designers out there do this though. We’re trying to dig a bit underneath. Not a lot, because we’re not therapists, but we are trying to dig a bit.
Simon: But as a band I think it’s such a good thing to know that you can base yourself so much in it. Basically these days, artwork for albums is becoming so unimportant to a lot of new bands and it’s a crying shame.
Storm: Unimportant? Excuse me?
James: Because everything is digital.
Storm: I don’t know about that... But did you get the box?
Simon: Yes, we did thanks, it’s brilliant.

Storm: You know how long it took to get the flag in, do you know the story?
Simon: We should say for the interview that we made two thousand box sets and we cut out the flags that are on the front covers.
Storm: I suggested to the record company that we tear up the flag into little bits the size of a hanky, because you can’t send that down the fucking Internet, can you? So, when the punter buys it he gets something completely unique. The record label weren’t keen and so I threatened not to do it. You know they had to do those little prints twice? They had to dump two thousand because I refused to sign them because they had printed them badly. I knew you would approve so that’s why I didn’t even ring you up to tell you. But I think the box is great and I thought the flag idea was a great idea because it wouldn’t cost us anything because we had the flags anyway. And I knew that if I was a punter it would be great to get something that was really close to Biffy. I didn’t think you’d mind if I was to reject two thousand prints.

Simon: So, can we clarify how you got into all of it at the beginning? Did you have any brothers that were maybe into art or something?
Storm: We were students, coming up with plots and plans to while away the hours whilst avoiding going to college. We started out making book covers for Westerns in Richmond Park. And then I did a cover for a band for The Nice, which was a line of red footballs across a desert and it was completely preposterous. We did a little drawing on a napkin, with all the red ink sunk into it. But it actually worked in the end.
Simon: And it was the start of something great.
Storm: Indeed, but it’s not over yet...

Biffy Clyro’s ‘Only Revolutions’ is out now and they tour the UK this Spring.

Interview by April Welsh

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