Bombay Bicycle Club interview: Saddled with success

The band’s latest album takes them way beyond the jangly indie-pop for which the quartet are still known

When Bombay Bicycle Club formed at the age of 15, they wouldn’t have expected to be discussing their fourth album, from their own studio, nine years later. “We would have picked a better name if we knew that it was going to last for longer than a couple of years,” smiles bassist Ed Nash, reflecting on naming themselves after an Indian restaurant chain.

 Despite their lack of a master plan, ever since their 2009-released shimmering indie-rock debut album, they have been creeping further up the chart; their No 6 third album A Different Kind of Fix led them to play the 10,000 capacity Alexandra Palace last year. And they’re still all only 24 years of age.

It was a momentous homecoming gig for the band’s singer and songwriter Jack Steadman, guitarist Jamie MacColl, and drummer Suren de Saram, who all grew up in north London’s Crouch End, and met at University College School in Hampstead (Nash went to a nearby school).

They still live nearby – in fact Nash and MacColl are about to move even closer to Alexandra Palace. “We’re very much north London boys, still,” MacColl, the most loquacious of the group,  says. Steadman, in a woolly jumper and felt cap more befitting a middle-aged golfer than pop star in his early 20s, adds: “That’s what keeps us grounded. It’s been so important that when we come off tour we go home and are just with our friends. There’s no ego.”

For a young male band, the lack of ego is refreshing. It comes up later in conversation, when MacColl, whose grandparents are Peggy Seeger and the late Ewan MacColl and whose aunt was Kirsty MacColl, says: “I don’t think we’re perceived to be as popular as we actually are. And that’s probably reflective of our personalities. We’re quite quiet. I’m not sure we’re able to separate our persona in the band from our normal personalities in the way that real pop stars have that public persona.”

It all began with a competition they won at 16 to play the V Festival as the band at the forefront of an “underage” scene alongside Cajun Dance Party. And it’s that from which they’ve found it hard to disassociate themselves. “We have an issue breaking past an image as a jangly indie band that sounds like The Strokes,” says Steadman.

“I think in a lot of people’s minds, that’s still who we are. And you try and present this album which we think is interesting and experimental and very far removed from that and they just say, ‘no, I don’t like Bombay Bicycle Club, I know what they’re like’.”

He’s right about their new album, So Long, See You Tomorrow; it is interesting and more experimental than anything this talented band have done yet, synthesiser-driven with loops sampled from music from around the world amassed on the travelling adventures Steadman embarked on to rejuvenate his inspiration for songwriting. “Feel”, for example, takes its hypnotic hook from the soundtrack of a 1950s Bollywood film. And the whole album is unified by a loop; the melody of the final song picks up that of the opener – part of the album’s overarching theme of continuity.

Could their enduring ambition and quest to push the band into new sonic directions be a response to the preconceptions they feel hinder the band? “It could play a part in that constant drive to want to prove yourself,” muses Steadman. “Without that, maybe we wouldn’t have all this, so you can look at it positively.”

Their Edgware Road studio, where we meet today and which has become Steadman’s home, is full of items acquired on his travels. Alongside an ornate keyboard, guitars and recording equipment are pictures from India and a huge collection of jazz records from Japan. “It’s my favourite country,” he says, eyes lit up. “I go to Tokyo every year.” Songs, he says, often begin with a sample, while lyrics might begin with a line from an existing work of prose. When Steadman was holed away in a rented shepherd’s hut in Derbyshire writing lyrics for the album, MacColl, the “most bookish of us all,” sent books and poetry for inspiration.

It’s rare that bands on major labels are afforded the luxury of progressing and taking directions of their choosing. They agree wholeheartedly. “The only person that’s been involved with it is Darcus [Beese], the president of Island,” says MacColl. “He came into the studio twice and sat there and said he liked it – and that was all.”

“It’s a luxury to be left alone,” adds Steadman. “Hopefully we’ve just earned their trust, because in the past when we’ve done things ourselves they’ve worked.”

It worked when they turned their back on the jangly indie-rock of their debut, releasing the all-acoustic album Flaws in 2010 to huge success. It had an Ivor Novello nomination and provided their first song to make the Radio 1 playlist. “It just proved that sometimes you have to think outside the box. Labels have such formulas, you know,” states Steadman.

With three albums released in three consecutive years, by comparison So Long, See You Tomorrow has been a long time in the making. They put the time lag down to trying out two producers, Ben Allen (Animal Collective) and David Kosten (Bat for Lashes), before settling on Steadman taking on production duties. “A friend of mine said talking about music is like dancing about architecture,” he explains. “It’s not what it was designed to be. In the studio, you have to talk so much about what you want. When I have an idea, the only way I can really express it is by going ahead and doing it. Having the space and the freedom to do it ourselves was liberating.”

He points out that his tendency for experimentation was there long before even the birth of Bombay Bicycle Club. The music Steadman created at 13 on a recorder bought by his father was “10 times more experimental than anything I do now with the band”.

“The funny thing is that everyone now says, ‘you’re producing a new album, it’s such a brave step’. I’ve been doing this for 11 years.”

‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ is out on 3 February

Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower