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“These songs aren’t written to be your friend, they’re written to protect you”: supergroup Empire State Bastard want you to join their riot

Members of Biffy Clyro, Slayer, Oceansize and Bitch Falcon
have combined to form rock’s most exciting new supergroup

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Anyone who arrived late to the Biffy Clyro party and knows only their recent, most radio-friendly singles are in for a shock when they hear Empire State Bastard. Formed by Biffy frontman Simon Neil and touring guitarist/former Oceansize frontman Mike Vennart, and completed by ex-Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo and Bitch Falcon’s Naomi Macleod on bass, they’re a super-heavy, riff-led, unholy-scream-driven grindcore beast, designed to make ears ring and heart rates race. 

“If you only know Biffy from the big rock songs, you will get fright,” says Neil. “It’s definitely for the fearless listener. These songs aren’t written to be your friend, they’re written to protect you, they’re like bodyguard songs. Whereas with Biffy, we want to put an arm round you and make you feel a part of something, with ESB we want you to join the riot rather than the cuddle.”

Everyone should count themselves lucky,” adds Vennart. “The next record is going to sound like a heavy metal [1969 Captain Beefheart album] Trout Mask Replica. This is us playing it safe. It’s not so much Biffy Clyro, more Biff Byford.”

The seeds were sown 10 years ago, the result of idle chat on the Biffy tour bus, where Neil and Vennart would invent band names and try to work out how it would sound. ESB, it was decreed, would be “heavy and vital”. But it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that Vennart had time to work on the demos at home. 

“Ever since I saw Biffy Clyro playing the Night And Day Café in Manchester in February 2002, I’ve been enamoured with how Simon screams,” he says. “It’s not a macho, angry scream, it’s a real pained, bodily thing. It’s more of a howl, it’s fucking terrifying. So, when we decided we were going to have this band, it was like, okay, how am I going to frame that? And it coincided with a change in my cognitive behaviour, where I was mortally fucking raging about… well, everything. I was able to channel it into the perfect riffs.” 

The next step was to find a drummer who “could play like Lombardo”. It took a while to alight on the idea that they could – and indeed should – just invite Lombardo on board. “He immediately got back and said: ‘This music is really speaking to me,” says Neil. “We’ve got one of the best drummers of all time in our band.”

A recent tour of tiny UK venues, hot on the heels of Biffy’s arena shows, saw the four members of ESB taking it back to basics, piling into a van and going eyeball to eyeball with an expectant audience. 

“This project needs intensity,” says Neil. “You need to feel this up close. But was definitely a bit of a shock to the system. My ears were ringing for three weeks afterwards.” 

With Lombardo in it for the long haul having bonded with the Brits on tour, there’s plenty of action coming up. ESB’s debut album is imminent, as are festival shows. There’s another tour in the pipeline for the autumn, and Vennart says he is already teeming with ideas, ready to be harvested for the next record – both he and Neil are palpably buzzing at the potential of what they can do next with the project. 

“I’m so aware of how people that make music for a long time can start to switch off and go on cruise control,” says Neil. “And Mike and I never, ever want to do that. You need to be as excited about the next thing you’re doing as you were about the last thing, and for different reasons these shows are so exciting. We’re gonna fucking bring it.” 

Empire State Bastard play ArcTangent Festival this week, with dates to follow in The US and Europe. Rivers Of Heresy is released on September 1.

Source: loudersound.com