Bombay Bicycle Club – Interview

Bombay Bicycle Club

One of the most welcome comebacks of recent times has to be the return of London four-piece Bombay Bicycle Club. During a whirlwind opening phase of their musical lives they released four albums, the last one, So Long, See You Tomorrow, reaching number one in the album charts, in 2014. But soon after the wheels started to come off, and by January 2016 they had made the decision to call a halt. “Well, I think you have to look at why we stopped doing it,” says Ed, backstage at Concorde 2, before their ‘outstore’ show in celebration of their new album Everything Else Has Gone Wrong. “At the end of 2014 everyone was tired out and we really didn’t want to do it, and everyone wanted to do different things, and do the things that they had always wanted to do. Like, Jamie went to university, and me and Jack made our own albums. And I think in doing that, during those three or four year years we realised that what we had was incredibly special and perhaps we had taken it for granted before.”

Perhaps not surprising really. Music was mostly what the members of Bombay Bicycle Club had known throughout their teenager and adult years, Singer, guitarist Jack Steadman, drummer Suren De Saram and guitarist Jamie MacColl, had all met at school in London, formed a band when they were just 15, and before they had even left school, had released well well-received two independent Eps, and had performed at the V festival, after having won a Channel Four competition, The Road to V. And along with bassist Ed Nash, the band (named after a now defunct chain of Indian restaurants in North London), became a full time proposition once they left school, releasing their debut album in 2009, followed quickly by Flaws in 2010 and A Different Kind of Fix the following year, garnering bucket loads of acclaim, awards, and a rapidly expanding global fanbase in the process.

“We all took stock, and it was the 10th anniversary of our first album,” says Ed, “which was why we started talking about it again, and everyone realised it was an amazing thing we had.”

“We had just had a number one album,” says Jamie. Some people might have thought you were crazy, I say. “Yeah! But, I think if we had carried on, we would have stopped, but just on more acrimonious terms probably. So, I think it was good that we did.”

“It’s a miracle we’re all still talking to each other,” says Ed. “When bands are doing it for the wrong reasons… for most people it would be a no-brainer if you’ve just had a number one album and you’re selling out shows. It’s quite lucrative, and a really cool thing to do.. But, I was tired, and I didn’t want to do it.”

It was in January of 2016 that the band finally put out a simple message on Facebook, citing that “after ten years of doing this we thought it was time for all of us to try something else”. Whilst they didn’t say they had broken up, it felt like, for many fans, and for at least some of the band members, that they had, and that was that. “From my perspective, I thought that was it,” says Jamie.

“We sold all our gear,” says Ed. “If you do that it kinda points out that you don’t have any plans to do anything. Funnily enough, six months after we sold it, we started talking about doing the band again.”

“I think we called it a hiatus because partly we did end on good terms,” say Jamie, “but we also didn’t want to do what some other bands have done recently, which is make a really big deal of splitting up, and then come back a few years later… people have that big emotional outpouring when the band stops. There is this catharsis, and then you move on. And then a band turns around and says, ‘Surprise!’ We didn’t want to do that if there was a small chance we would do it again. I mean even the way we stopped was relatively low key. We just did a post on social media, saying we don’t have any plans to make any new music in the future. And that was it. There was no ‘So long. Farewell,’ tour or anything.”

“Motley Crew broke up recently, and they signed agreements to say they would never do it again,” says Ed. “And about six months later they all ripped up the agreements! I think I’d feel a little short changed if I was a Motley Crew fan. I’m not a Motley Crew fan, by the way…”

“For a variety of reasons,” laughs Jamie

Certainly, Bombay Bicylce Club are not overtly about sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Well, maybe they are about rock’n’roll. After all, in Jack Steadman, they have one of the most creative songwriters of recent years, a man dedicated to music in all its manifestations, as can also be heard on his love letter to soul, funk and r’n’b via his recent solo vehicle, Mr. Jukes. And the band as whole are all tremendous musicians and writers in their own right. Watching them play live, straight after our interview, I was struck by the tightness, the clarity, the energy of a band, no doubt helped by the fact they are all genuine music lovers, have been performing with each other since they were at school, and know how to write a good tune. Moreover, they have grown up together, physically and mentally. There is a rare chemistry here. They are a proper band. A brilliant rock’n’roll band, in fact, and one who have never seemingly been afraid to experiment, and grow, along the way, incorporating a lot of electronica within their sound,as well as plenty of unexpected left turns in their music. At its hearty, it’s pop, but with a much deeper sophistication than can be found in your average indie landfill, as their music was once described.

Take ‘Is It Real’ from the new album. It’s a song about taking a trip down memory lane, reminiscing about the old times and cherished memories, and wondering, when sat next to the responsibilities and struggles of adult life, how any of those fondly remembered days were real. Musically, it;s underpinned by a faint motorik groove, pop licks, and leftfield electronica flourishes. And then there’s the title track ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’ the last song to be written for the album. “It seems to encapsulate everything the album is about,” says Jack. “Like the album, the song is about hope and renewal, about finding safety in what brings you comfort, in what you love the most, while all around is crumbling. “Keep the stereo on, everything else has gone wrong,” the chorus declares. “For my whole life, I haven’t been very good at expressing myself with words,” he says. “The irony is that the song is about not wanting to write lyrics, but it has lyrics I’m really proud of. And after that, we realised a lot of the other songs had that theme, of music as a cathartic refuge.”

“It is about catharsis,” agrees Ed. “There’s a lot of worrying about your place in the world, and talking about finding that within music, and using that as a place to escape.”

“It’s interesting being in a band now compared to then,” says Jamie. “There’s a lot more people making political music, and journalists are more willing to ask questions about politics. In 2014, when we were doing the promo for the last album, that just never came up in interviews. We’ve just done loads in the last two weeks, in Europe, and everyone there wanted to know about Brexit, and asked us to explain Brexit, as if we would have any insight into it,” he says (perhaps not telling the whole truth here, as Jamie, post band, went to university to study politics, and also set up the high profile campaign group Undivided, which aimed to give the under-30s the chance to have their say in the process of Britain leaving the European Union). “It feels more of an anxious political and social landscape than before,” he says, “and I’m sure it has seeped into our music a little bit. Or, in the sense that we feel that we are responding to that sense of anxiety and change, with positivity and the idea that music can be a remedy for those feelings. The album title ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’ does sound like it’s a commentary on contemporary politics. It’s not, but you can construe it that way if you want, in the sense we’re saying music can be an escape from feelings of anxiety or dislocation, whether it’s about politics or Brexit or your own personal life. Even making the choice of making a hopeful and positive record in a period when that is not the prevalent feeling, can be a political act of itself.”

Recorded out in the US alongside Grammy Award winning producer John Congleton, it was Ed and Jack who were heavily involved in the initial writing of the album. “Jack and I went away to Cornwall, we had a friend’s house out there, in a place call Portwrinkle, where there is no one around, and the pub quite literally burnt down.”

Damn! I say, quietly thinking about what one would do otherwise, in an isolated part of the world… “Otherwise, there would be no album, I don’t think!” Say Ed. “I burnt it down,” laughs Jamie.

“I had a set up downstairs, and he had a set up upstairs, and we just wrote music throughout the day and watched a film at night. Having no distractions meant there was a huge amount of music written and thrown around. If there was a song that was felt to be ready it would be sent to Jamie and Suren. And then they’d start sending back feedback, and we would work on that in Cornwall. And when we got home, we started playing the songs together in a room, which is always how it has happened, working the songs as a band.

“The band still works the same, and has the same processes, but within that everyone has grown up a bit, which sounds cheesy to say, but beforehand all we had in our lives was the band, but now everyone is a bit more rounded and confident. We can have more adult discussions. It has felt a lot easier, and everyone is better at articulating themselves too, having found their own way themselves. Coming back to it was a lot easier.”

“We actively discussed the lyrics a lot more than we have done in the past,” says Jamie. I think I cajoled Jack into thinking about them more, than in the past, which he hated. I definitely think they are his most interesting lyrics, and his most personal ones since the first couple of albums. There’s a lot to do with getting older, and change, and finding your place in the world, which is what we’ve been trying to do for the past four or five years, successfully and unsuccessfully. We’re all 30 or approaching 30 and, I see this with friends: if you’re wondering if you’re doing the right thing, and are you with the right person… I know those feelings are present throughout people’s lives, but it does feel at the moment like a real period of change.”

After they had recorded the album, the band moved on to the initial reason for getting back together, celebrating ten years since their first album, with a short tour last November. “We moved on pretty quick,” says Ed, “from some of those songs when we did the first album. We toured it for about six months, and then because we were so young, got bored of that, and released another album pretty quickly. Some of those songs we hadn’t played for eight or nine years. It was very nostalgic playing those songs. When that album came out, some people liked it, but it wasn’t a big album.”

“It wasn’t even a top 40 album,” says Jamie, “but it sold 100,000 over six months, because we kept bubbling away under the surface, and we kept doing more gigs. It is a record, and particularly those who are our age and were teenagers at the time, that I have a strong emotional connection with. It was about being young, and the various things that you do when you are young, which in retrospect aren’t particularly interesting, but which at the time seemed like the most important thing in the world. Like falling in love for the first time. Obviously, that is important! It’s funny, but even then there were songs about being anxious about getting older, and we were only 17!

“One of the best things about doing those gigs was that it was clear that another group of younger people had connected with the album, as teenagers. It was great to see that it resonated. At the time it was pigeon-holed as indie landfill by some members of the music press. At the time I thought that was unfair, and listening now I think that’s unfair.

“I guess you see four middle class from North London with guitars,” say Ed

“Well, it’s even less fashionable now than it was then,” says Jamie

Nonsense I say, the forthcoming tour is practically sold out, and you might have another number one album under your belt. I dunno, yeah the last album went to number one,” says Jamie, “and because we’ve already done that, I don’t really care about doing that again. It was amazing thing to do, but I don’t really feel the need to try and do it again.

This album isn’t as accessible as the last one,” says Ed. “That was an intentional thing.

“We were trying to make pop music last time, and making more radio friendly music,” says Jamie, “which was a conscious decision, and which we have consciously chosen not to do this time.

And as Jack sings on ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’, “I guess I’ve found my peace again, and yes, I’ve found my second wind.”

Jeff Hemmings