Jamie Adams on Biffy Clyro and Balance, Not Symmetry

Glasgow-set Balance, Not Symmetry sees indie director Jamie Adams collaborate with Scottish rock band Biffy Clyro for a film about a young woman working through grief; we speak to Adams ahead of its People's Gala screening at Edinburgh Film Festival

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 30 May 2019
  • Balance, Not Symmetry

We're speaking to Jamie Adams blind. The powers that be have not made his new film, Balance, Not Symmetry, available to us ahead of our interview, but the Welsh director is making a good fist of explaining the concept. It's a film that's been swirling in his brain for nearly two decades. It's concerned with grief and threaded with music, and sprung from the darkest period in his life. "The one project that I've had in mind since my mum passed away when I was 19 was to do a film in conjunction with an album, a kind of Quadrophenia situation," he tells us down the phone from his home in Porthcawl, South Wales. Adams is, of course, referring to Franc Roddam's great 1979 teen film, which was loosely based on The Who's 1973 rock opera of the same name.

Adams is no stranger to music-led movies. His 2014 rom-com Benny & Jolene concerns the on-off romance of a hipster-folk duo and last year's Alright Now (originally titled Songbird) centres on a singer who was once in a hot Britpop band. In Balance, Not Symmetry, the music becomes a way of Adams dealing with his grief. "My whole world just turned upside down when mum passed," he explains. "I kind of started to come up with all these ideas or ways of expressing how I was feeling because I wasn't able to talk through them with anyone around me."

The film centres on an American-born art student (Laura Harrier) whose father has recently passed away. We follow her as she juggles her grief, her graduation project at Glasgow School of Art, a turbulent friendship with her housemate and a burgeoning romance with a new boyfriend. Adams calls the film "a Romeo and Juliet story, but from Juliet's perspective." Like his chief inspiration, Balance, Not Symmetry will also act as a time capsule for this time and place. "I want this film to feel like [Quadrophenia], in the sense that if you watch it in ten years' time, you'll see an element of what the world is like right now for young people."

If he'd made the film back when he was 19, he tells us, he'd have loved to have worked with Oasis or Stereophonics. It was while listening to Puzzle, Biffy Clyro's breakthrough album, that Adams realised he'd found his collaborators. "The thing about Biffy Clyro's music is it's incredibly cinematic," he says. "Their records are so full of colours and atmospheres." When Adams eventually got in touch with Simon Neil, the band's frontman, he discovered the Scottish rock trio could bring more than just music to the film. "As soon as Simon and I started talking, I realised that we both lost our mothers at relatively young ages – I think he was in his mid-20s – and we talked about the impact that had on both of our worldviews."

One thing Adams is keen to make clear is that this isn't a musical. But the album Biffy Clyro have created in conjunction with Adams' images aren't simply acting as soundtrack either. "It's hard to explain it, but the songs are the film, the film is the songs; they're so intertwined." Adams says he thinks of the songs as being like narration. "Simon's voice is actually a character in the film. If you listen to his voice and what he's saying, it really helps you understand the journey of our lead character."

Another character in the film is Glasgow itself. Adams fell in love with the city while working as assistant editor on another music-centric Glasgow production: Stuart Murdoch's God Help the Girl. "There's just something about Glasgow," he tells us, "I guess it reminds me of Cardiff in lots of ways. There's a Celtic atmosphere, one of trying to seize the day and everyone's just trying to get on with their lives in an upbeat fashion, and I felt it a city very much about communities and about telling stories."

Balance, Not Symmetry screens as EIFF's People's Gala on Sun 23 Jun, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh; Biffy Clyro's album Balance, Not Symmetry is available now