Is It Real? Bombay Bicycle Club's Complex Return
If you were lucky enough to have been skulking around the North London scene in the late 2000’s, a trusty Budweiser in hand and glad-ragged to the nines in a boho headband and an unnecessarily small waistcoat, the one band forming slinky-esque queues outside were barely allowed to be in the venue at all.
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At the tender age of sixteen, Bombay Bicycle Club were schoolboys who had cracked the unyielding nut that is stardom with an album that graced upon every turbulent twist and turn of the rollercoaster ride that is adolescence. Only halfway through the expedition themselves, they encompassed everything it meant to be young and restless, when misery made itself at home in the form of unrequited classroom love notes and making a tit of yourself at Sunday League.
Squished together by a teacher who knew of their musical prowess for an assembly, their cover of the 1969 funk instrumental ‘Cissy Strut’ by The Meters was the moment that they realised their talent could take them far further than the four walls of their secondary school.
“From the shitness of the name, I think you can tell we thought it wasn’t going to be around for over ten years!” laughs bassist Ed Nash of the band, who christened themselves after a chain of Indian takeaways.
Bombay Bicycle Club unexpectedly pedalled themselves into eardrums all over the country, scoring the opening slot of V Festival in 2006 amongst the likes of Reading and Leeds, which saw them share portaloos with the most illustrious of the industry. “We were watching Red Hot Chilli Peppers and I was pretty drunk” recites guitarist Jamie Macoll, “and I turned to Jack and was like ‘that’s gonna be us some day’ and they were like ‘...shut up”.
Their youthfulness came as both a blessing and a curse for the four piece, as their success became more impressive to fans, yet was overshadowed by the fact they weren’t legally allowed to have a sliver of booze on the rider. Drummer Suren de Saram explains: “It was the first thing anybody spoke about; how young we were. It got pretty annoying. Everyone judges you on that first and your music second.”
Agreeing, frontman Jack Steadman recalls “I think we were very lucky to meet our manager when we were quite young and he’s still our manager now, so that probably sheltered us quite a lot from the industry which meant we got to keep to ourselves whilst someone else handled all the uglier side of the industry. It made things interesting. There were times when we were getting ID’d to come into our own show when we’d go out for a cigarette and the bouncer wouldn’t let us back in and you’d never want to be that guy that would go ‘I’m in the band!’ I can remember that happening all of the time”.
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Flash forward to present day; Bombay Bicycle Club are all in their late twenties, fresh from a hiatus that took the world by surprise after their last album ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ scored the number one spot in 2014 and the band seemed to disappear amidst a cloud of celebratory champers. Whilst Jack dabbled in the jazz-infused world of alter ego Mr Jukes and Ed toured with his new project Toothless, Suren spent time as a session drummer and Jamie attended university and made a documentary on protest music.
Even the band itself were convinced that their alternate avenues would never again intertwine and it truly was the end of a decade long run for the best friends, which is touched upon in the beginning of the music video for new single ‘Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You)’, which depicts a post-apocalyptic British society that has crumbled due to their demise. But did it ever feel like the world that they had known since they were teenagers was coming to an end?
Suren ponders: “I mean, there was some very strange things that have went on in the world since we broke up….” followed by a ‘Who can say!” from a conspiratorial Jack.
Ed takes a far more serious approach, explaining “It was a huge struggle when it ended. You do something for ten years from the age of sixteen and it becomes your identity, and that was a huge part of going on hiatus, everybody wanted to do something else and find that other part of them.”
Jamie adds: “It brought up the question, do you have any value outside of the band and how we perceive ourselves. In that sense its a good thing that we stopped doing it because its not a healthy way to exist and you do need to find your own sense of worth outside of the music. Hopefully everyone was able to discover that. Everyone’s more complete, which sounds cheesy, but before that was all we had”.
Bombay Bicycle Club’s announcement of tenth anniversary shows for their debut album ‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose’ sent fans into a frenzy, with the possibility of new material from the assumed ceased quartet the lingering question on everybody’s lips, including the band themselves. After rehearsals began for the five day mini-tour, they rapidly realised that the spark was still there to continue.
“All the memories came back,” smiles Jack, “Especially when we were rehearsing the first time, it was in Ed’s home studio in the back of his garden and it felt a bit like when were in Jamie’s parents basement, so not a big fancy studio, just the four of us in a small dingy room. It felt very nostalgic but different, like we had a new perspective on things, not necessarily weird or strange but in a positive way, it felt different in that there was just this renewed excitement and everyone’s feeling super refreshed and things that you used to take for granted, you wouldn’t anymore”.
Jamie agrees. “You don’t just want to be a vehicle for people’s nostalgia either because there’s a limit to what you can do. We all felt like we still had something to offer musically and hopefully the album proves that!” whilst Ed notes “We did sell all our gear though that looked like we weren’t gonna do it…”
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The long-awaited fifth album from Bombay Bicycle Club ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’ is out now, an infusion of their experimental genius paired with their beautifully introspective lyricism. As each of their records progresses both musically and thematically, their new offering feels like a coalescence of them all whilst still managing to expand into something brand new, a talent that makes their style so dynamic.
“I think this album is a testament to our growth. It’s still very much about personal experiences and life, but the subject matters have changed, and it’s not so much about going out and partying, it’s more existential questions and songs about worrying about your place in the world and about getting older,” explains Ed. “You definitely don’t wanna be like Blink-182 and sing about farting into your forties because it’s just not real, “ Jamie acknowledges, “you want to see a band grow up and evolve”.
With the last album self-produced by Jack, Suren points out that ‘there was a lot of time to be self indulgent as there was no time constraints’, however ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’ was taken under the reigns by Grammy award-winning producer John Congleton, who ensured that even the minor details that would’ve been alarmingly noticeable to the band were all vital to completing the album as a whole.
“It’s probably very subtle on the record but I think we’re all a lot more comfortable in our own bodies and in our own shells, a bit more laid back and not so anxious all the time about making music,” Jack analyses, “when you’re younger it feels like the world’s gonna end if you don’t get it right, but right isn’t a word you can use to describe music because it’s so subjective. You need to stop worrying and it's the little things on records that nobody else notices that you’d spend weeks worrying about, little tiny sounds, we’d always try to fix these mistakes on the computer that we’d done and John would slap our hands away like ‘No! Those are great!”
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The creation of the album came from Jack and Ed’s coastal trips to Cornwall for a week each month, with Ed noting the importance of inhibiting themselves to discover the direction they wanted to go in. “We took down various little instruments with us, whatever we could fit into a car, and that was the starting place. If you restrict your palette, you’ll inevitably come up with something more interesting instead of being in a studio and having millions of unlimited options. With the song ‘Racing Stripes’, Jack was in the studio with a harmonium and came up with a very unique melody purely on the limitations of that.”
The finished record bore a recurring yet simplistic subject matter, to which Jack elaborates on. “The feeling of music as a healing power and the kind of relief that it gives you of the stresses and anxieties that can sometimes pile down on you. When your friends aren’t talking to you and everything else is breaking down, the one constant will always be music, and I think lots of people share that feeling. It was a nice thing to celebrate in a record”.
With a UK tour beginning just three days after the album’s release, to which Suren chimes in that he hopes everybody crams in their lyrical revision and Ed prays that it receives praise from the Twittersphere, the band all touch upon their excitement to be back together again.
Suren enthuses: “Without sounding cheesy, it’s nice to just play music again with three other people that you have a huge amount of history with and over the past few years, you can’t quite replicate that. The four of us have this thing that you can never take away.” Jamie nods, “The sense of brotherhood and family. I’ll never do anything else in my life where I have that sense of togetherness and belonging; although I don’t have kids and that might change!”
But can we expect more from the London lads once they take a bow on their closing night?
“I think we’re so aware of what happened with the lead up of us having to take time off that we want to avoid that and basically we just burnt out from touring for too long”, Jack explains, “I can’t see us doing that again but we have already been making tentative plans to go back and do more writing and put out new music so it isn’t going to be a one off thing!”. It looks like we are in for quite the (bicycle) ride.
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'Everything Else Has Gone Wrong' is out now.
Words: Becca Fergus
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