Music

Interview: Bombay Bicycle Club

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bbcBombay Bicycle Club frontman Jack Steadman sits down with Jade Atwood and a cuppa to discuss ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ and the band’s immediate future.

With a highly successful UK tour, a number one album and positions on some of the biggest festival line-ups under their belts, Bombay Bicycle Club have arguably reached the highest peak in their career thus far. It seems everything has finally fallen into place for the band, yet they remain remarkably humble. “I just live a very traditional English lifestyle; Radio four, keeping warm, get the fire on, cup of tea” says frontman Jack Steadman of his current priorities in life. Far from the rock star lifestyle you’d expect of a seminal part of one of the most successful British bands of the moment, man of the moment (steaming cup of a strong PG Tips in hand), Jack exudes a sense of relaxed modesty.

Finishing 2013 with the release of ‘Carry Me’ – the first single from new album ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ – it set a high benchmark for material to follow in 2014. With ‘Carry Me’ being reminiscent of their earlier thrashing style of ‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose’ with an electronic twist, their next release, ‘Luna’, hinted toward the capricious style of the album. It teased the ears of those in wait for ‘So Long…’, leaving us all questioning what the album had in store. February 3rd came and much to the bands attribute, the album delivered on all levels, defiantly pushing Bombay into the limelight. “We were definitely confident about the record, but when we heard it was number one we couldn’t believe it”. The success of the record has markedly correlated with their stylistic progression away from their folk roots of their first EPs, presenting fans and critics alike with a brand new sound to delight at. Much of this development manifested from Steadman’s worldly adventures during the two-year gap between this and their previous record ‘A Different Kind Of Fix’. “In terms of song writing, I just needed to go away and first take some time off and not think about it, and get that hunger again to start writing. I didn’t want to do it all in London and I wanted to go and be excited by new places”, says Steadman of the writing process. That hunger and excitement certainly seems to be illustrated in the developed and eclectic sound of the record as a whole, taking listeners on a journey of intricately interweaving distinct global music instrumental elements. The final ten tracks chosen for album balance between the band’s fresh influences and diverse sound. “There was about 15 songs to choose from, and we chose 10. That was a real luxury to have, because we were really, really hard on ourselves”. Being uncharacteristically hard on themselves is reflected in the overall quality of the whole composition, with Steadman admitting, “Some of the songs that didn’t make it on the album probably would’ve made it onto the last album. Because ‘Carry Me’ was one of the first songs that was written that was the benchmark and it’s really important to have that early on to set that goal to match.”

Never ones to rely on just their music as a form of artistic expression, the band also wanted to evolve the representation of their new sound into visual perception. Throughout their career Bombay have always accompanied their music with unusual album covers and alternative videos; it was a wonder what the band could do next to step up their game. “Ed the bassist, he’s the most talented in terms of the visual side of things, he does love painting. He’s always done our artwork, and because the artwork for this album was based on animation and loops we thought it was natural that we should incorporate that into the live shows.” Taking the band all around the country, the tour finished in Manchester, a departure from their usual natural closing of tours in their hometown, London. The scheduling, however, was a conscious choice; “We always end tours in London, and this one we did it right in the middle so there was no pressure. There wasn’t everything leading up to that moment and it was just like another gig.”  In compliment to their album, the tour took a move away from the band’s usual simplistic approach to playing live. “We’ve got an extensive light show and projections behind us. We’ve never put so much into a show like this, outside of the music.” The UK tour married both the visual and musical elements to conceive a beautifully produced performance “baby”, which Steadman admitted the band wants to present in the best way possible; “We take our gigs so seriously and I really like that. We’re not that young band that are just incredibly excited about getting fucked up all the time on tour”. Without a doubt this maturity however is seldom seen in a lack of motivation on stage. Instead of feeding off young naivety and substance-induced excitement, it seems they take their dues from the crowd and atmosphere of the gig, which isn’t always the easiest of tasks. “We’re always feeding off the crowd and I can’t pretend to be having a good time. I’m still learning how to combat that”.

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This candid honesty of performance is something that the band has admirably maintained, despite their recent success. But with a busy summer ahead of festivals – including T In The Park and Latitude – the biggest challenges are yet to come. Never ignorant of the relaxed festival atmosphere, it’s always a challenge to get the right crowd. “At festivals you do just get people who want to come casually check you out.” However one such gig which most certainly will combat this usual challenge posed by festival crowds, is their NME stage headline spot at this year’s Reading and Leeds. “I’m still really excited [about Reading], it’s always been a really special festival for us and it’s the first one I ever went to when I was a kid”. Attending the festival for years and performing over the August Bank Holiday on six separate occasions, the band progressively moved up the stages at the respective festivals, finally achieving main stage status in 2012. But with that as their peaked stage placement you’ve got to question why they’ve regressed back to the smaller stage of NME. “This year we really wanted to be in a tent, because I feel like we’re a band that likes intimacy. Especially with the light show, we didn’t want to be second or third, when there’d still be a bit of daylight, because the projections wouldn’t work. I always prefer seeing bands in tents at festivals”. Again showing the amount of care and pride in their new creations, their headline set will most certainly be one that cannot be missed.

So where does a band with this much success go from here? In terms of future material, the band and fans alike are left in an ambiguous state. “We haven’t really talked about another album yet, and it terrifies me to think about it to be honest. Just because it was such an emotional ordeal to write this album, produce it and spend so much time with it on my own in my studio.” With an album most certainly off the cards in the immediate future, it begs to ponder whether their positive commercial reception will affect any new material? For many bands it’s tempting to rest on the winning formula which proves to impress fans and the masses. “I think, with us, success is the reason you try and do something different, because trying to repeat yourself is always very difficult for me anyway.” In terms of repetitiveness however, all of their material harks back to a degree to their indie/folk roots; the foundational steadfast sounds which first established the band as one not to ignore. Steadman commented on their future material; “I want to release an EP called ‘Warm Up Songs’ – just all the stuff we do before we go on stage. We’re always sitting in the dressing room, and I have an acoustic guitar, and everyone’s just singing to warm up their voice but it’s quite a beautiful thing.” Therefore it looks like we have a possible EP, combining both the new and well-loved elements of the bands sound, rather than a fully developed album.

But for now Bombay Bicycle Club arguably don’t need to think about anything but their immediate worldwide escapades, and soaking up the glory of all their graft. “I’m just enjoying the touring now and not having to think about song writing, so we’re just hoping we can be on the road as much as possible and travel as much as we can”. Finally gaining the recognition they deserve, creating an outstanding record and being one of the most sought after bands of venues and festivals alike, Jack deserves to ride his success, ending each night with slippers on and Radio 4 streaming in the background.

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Tom Connick

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