“We still didn’t have a name for ourselves and we drove past this restaurant that was called “Bombay Bicycle Club.” It was so last minute that we just thought, okay we’ll just use that for now, just for this evening. We never expected to still be talking about it ten years later.” After that fateful day in 2005, the UK-based folk rock quartet is still indeed together and going strong. Bombay Bicycle Club recently released their fourth full length, So Long, See You Tomorrow, which reached #1 on the UK charts and received widespread critical acclaim. On December 14, the band announced on Facebook that they would be taking a break for a while, but they assured fans that they will be back. They couldn’t stay away for long, however, announcing that they would come out of hibernation to headline one of the nights at Somersault Festival, which takes place from July 23rd-27th. We most likely we will be hearing about more summer festival dates as the weather heats up. In the midst of their last whirlwind world tour, band members Jack Steadman and Jamie MacColl took a moment to sit down and chat with Indira Cesarine from The Untitled Magazine about their humble beginnings all those years ago, life on the road, and how their travels inspire their sound.
Indira Cesarine: You guys have been playing for so long – since you were 16, right?
Jack Steadman: Jamie and I met at school. We were 15 years old. I’d been making music alone for a while, and we bonded over our shared musical tastes. Jamie played the guitar, and we got together, along with Suren, who’s our drummer, initially for a school performance. I think we were playing marimbas.
Jamie MacColl: Yeah, it was like a percussive orchestra. And then we wanted to do it again, but this time covering songs, which wasn’t great. I remember we were playing in front of the whole school, and a lot of people were laughing at us. Actually, our current keyboard player, Louis: I have a very vivid image of him sitting in front of me, pointing and laughing. It just kind of went from there, really. Jack already had a collection of songs for us to work with, and then we started writing more. We did that until we left school, around when we made our first album. It’s just been growing from there.
IC: You did loads of competitions as well, correct?
JM: We did what was essentially a reality TV show when we were about 16, which was to play at V festival—it’s this big festival in the UK, which we won, and kind of got saddled with that tag for a while; we were a young band that had won a reality TV show. We still get asked about it now, so…
IC: That’s pretty funny. And how did you come up with Bombay Bicycle Club? I hear it’s some old Indian take-out in London?
JS: It was on our way to our first ever show, outside of school. We still didn’t have a name for ourselves and we drove past this restaurant that was called “Bombay Bicycle Club.” It was so last minute that we just thought, okay we’ll just use that for now, just for this evening. We never expected to still be talking about it ten years later. We thought, ‘We’ll do a couple of shows and then probably disband and never think of it again.’
IC: So you didn’t think it was going to stick or resonate, or become an ongoing project?
JM: We just never thought that we’d have an opportunity to explain ourselves.
IC: You have had quite a varied sound over different albums. You’ve gone from more acoustic, to more up-beat music with each record that you’ve put out. Can you tell me how you would describe your sound?
JM: Well, kind of as you said, it’s changed across each album. I’d like to think there’s some sort of unifying element. But I’m not quite sure what that is yet. I’d like to think that there’s this inherent, indescribable, Bombay Bicycle Club tone that defines it all, but…
JS: I think melody is what links it all together. We can write songs in a lot of different styles, but we like to think that they all have melodies that you’ll continue singing after you’ve finished listening to the song.
JM: We’ve always wanted it to be accessible. I think the goal is to make music that is universal, and is not in any way…
JM: Elitist. So in that sense, and particularly more recently, our sound does look more towards pop music. I guess we’re trying to make pop music that is still interesting, and still challenges people to an extent.
IC: Do you feel like you’ve evolved and grown a lot as artists since you started? You’re still only 24, right? Which is kind of incredible.
JS: I’d say we’ve just gotten more confident and more sure of what we want – more outspoken in the studio and other writing environments. Whereas when we were young I think different producers and different people would have a big influence on us. We weren’t really sure of what we were doing.
IC: You mentioned how you like your sound having a universal appeal. You don’t like it to be elitist. Where are you getting this sort of democratic approach to your music making?
JS: Ah, I don’t know. You just don’t want people to have to think too hard about it. Music should be something you should be able to immediately start enjoying. That’s the kind of music that I like. I don’t want to make a song that you could write a whole essay about, that in reality doesn’t sound at all pleasant in any way.
JM: Yeah, you can hear it once, and it will stay in your head for a long time. But I guess in some ways that’s what everyone is aiming for with their music. They want it to be widely heard. We’re just trying harder, maybe!
IC: So can you tell me about the inspiration behind your latest album, So Long, See You Tomorrow? Are you still pushing this one or do you have a new one in the works?
JM: Yeah, we’re still pushing this.. We recently did a video for the next single, actually. The life cycle of an album is as long as it needs to be. This is our fourth album and it was probably the longest in the making apart from our first. I think the thing that people picked up on most is that it’s by far the most electronic album that we’ve made. The use of sampling, and particularly some Bollywood samples. That seemed to kind of define it for a lot of people. Just because it was very different, not only from what we’d done before, but just different to what anyone else was really doing.
IC: It was highly inspired by travel from what I understand. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
JS: I just wanted to take a bit of time when we finished touring the last record, and not just jump straight into it. What would happen was, we’d be playing somewhere far flung in the world, and I would just stay when everyone else would go home, and travel around. So I spent about a month in Mumbai, renting a studio, spent a lot of time in the Turkish country side, went to Japan for a bit, and just… I wanted that kind of environment to write in, where you just felt excited to be somewhere, rather than just at home or in a familiar scenario. Probably the most prolific session that I had was in Mumbai. Just falling in love with the music over there, and taking a lot of samples from records that I found. The city is so fast-paced, so I was up and about every second of the day doing things.
IC: What was the inspiration behind the song “Luna?”
JM: That started off in Mumbai. Initially it was very electronic, more of a dancehall track. It wasn’t until we started playing it as a band and putting drums and guitars on it that it became a Bombay Bicycle Club song. And that’s quite common with our songwriting. A lot of the songs will start off sounding completely foreign to Bombay, and we have to kind of translate it.
IC: How do you combine your English culture with these sort of tonalities that you’re bringing in from abroad?
JS: I’m not sure how much English culture’s in our music, to be honest. I guess that’s another thing about the aiming for the universality of it. I grew up with a lot of English indie bands that were really defined by where they were from in England. They sang about where they were from, and everything we do is kind of a reaction to that – to not do that, to not sing about…a night out in London for example, because it doesn’t translate well.
JS: It’s just not very interesting. I don’t find it interesting to write about that kind of stuff either.
IC: Where do you draw your inspiration for your songwriting? You mentioned your travels. Does each album come from a different place?
JS: I don’t think so. I think the only difference is that now I get most of my inspiration from digesting loads of other music. When I started it was pretty much just me and a guitar. It also comes very quickly and naturally, and easily. Now I go record shopping and try to discover a lot of new music and listen to it. I sort of use things that stick out as a springboard for songwriting. Our last three albums have had guest vocalists. The last album pretty much had a singer on every song. The aim for us is not to collaborate with big artists though. We want to find people that are new. Not just because they fit with the music, but also to kind of introduce them to a wider audience as well, if it’s someone that we really believe in.
IC: Can you tell me a little bit about some of your tours or performances that really stood out?
JM: There’s been loads. Tours always just seem to merge into one entity now. I think the first time we went to Brazil, we played in quite a small club. Then this 30-piece samba band came in for the encore and played with us, and they were just out in the audience. It was quite mad.
JS: We weren’t expecting them to come. Yeah, they just kind of arrived, we were like, ‘okay, just play along.’ It was amazing.
IC: That’s brilliant. You weren’t expecting them.
IC: What about any disastrous performances? Have you ever had a situation where all hell broke loose, and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, how are we ever going to get through this?’
JM: When we were younger we would definitely get too drunk before gigs.
JS: Jamie played a whole gig without his amplifier.
JM: When we were 18 – and it was Valentine’s Day – I got very drunk and played the first three songs with my amp off. Then when I played the last two songs, I just got in the audience, and just danced around by myself, so that wasn’t great. We don’t do that anymore.
JM: I was also thinking of when we played in Seattle a few years ago. This very fat man got on stage to dance around, and then decided to try to stage dive. It was like that scene in School of Rock, at the start, when Jack Black tries to stage dive, and just lands flat on his face.
IC: Does that happen often at your shows?
JM: Yeah, gigs are far rowdier than people expect. I mean, the band is a bit heavier live than on recordings. Obviously in the UK, we have more of a history of rowdy gigs and that kind of thing. People go to the gig expecting it, and it’s sort of self-fulfilled. So yeah, it happens quite a lot actually.
IC: With the album that you had just come out, are there any particular songs on it that really resonate with you?
JS: The last track on the album is my favorite. It’s the one I’m most proud of and it’s the one that I think is the nicest to play live. It’s a type of song that we’ve never really done before that takes quite a while to grow and evolve.
JM: Yeah, it’s one of the few songs on the album that isn’t very immediate. It is one of those ones that you have to sort of unpick, and it gets better the more times you listen to it. A grower.
IC: A grower. That’s rather cute.
JM: Yeah, that poison term.
IC: You mention that you have a new music video out?
JM: Yes, “Home by Now,” which is the fifth single. Our keyboard player, Louis, actually directed it. It’s his directorial debut. It’s quite a strange concept. If you’ve seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Stanley Kubrick film, it would probably make more sense. It’s essentially a young school children’s production of that, so it’s sort of Wes Anderson-esque, but it is good. You’re looking at me like I’m insane.
IC: Yeah, no! Your videos are often highly descriptive and narrative in feel. How do you come up with their concepts?
JM: We normally just bomb them out. I’ve always found that the more involvement we have with videos, the worse they are. So we tend to just let people get on with them. There’s a friend of ours that has done a couple of them — Anna Ginsburg. She did a very interesting claymation video for one of the songs off of the last album, which she spent six months on, kind of pain-stakingly putting it together. I think that’s probably my favorite video.
IC: So what can we look out for coming up this year? You must have a new album in the works, I’m assuming. No?
JS: We’re not very good at planning ahead.
IC: How do you mix it up, between performing and writing new work, do you guys have time for anything else?
JM: This year we haven’t really had time for anything else, to be honest. We’ve been away for pretty much the whole year, which is good. You want to know that people want to hear the music. That there are these people all over the world in countries that you never even imagined, and that you could go there and play. I’m happy to be busy all the time.
JS: We might not have this opportunity again, so.
IC: Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
JS: You’re going to be a fitness instructor, and I’m going to have a big beer belly. He’s going to be trying to get me in shape.
IC: If this hadn’t panned out into Bombay Bicycle Club, what do you think you guys would have ended up doing? When you were in high school, were you thinking about other career options, before you decided to make a serious go at this?
JM: I don’t think so. I thought I could be a writer, and that could still happen. You can do anything now, and we all do stuff alongside the band as well, but just not this year, because it’s been so busy!