“We felt that we had it in us to make more music that would hold up to what we'd done in the past..” - hmv.com talks to Bombay Bicycle Club
When Bombay Bicycle Club announced in 2016 that they were going on “indefinite hiatus”, many of the band's fans – and even some of the band's members – began to wonder whether So Long, See You Tomorrow, the band's fourth album, might be their last.
For a while, it looked as though those fears might be justified. Frontman Jack Steadman, who also produced their fourth LP, released a solo album under the name Mr Jukes, while bassist Ed Nash and drummer created and released their own album under the name Toothless. Guitarist Jamie MacColl, meanwhile, took a very different path, completing an undergraduate degree and then a master’s, as well as spending some time working for a think tank in Washington DC and founding a Brexit campaign group aimed at engaging people under the age of 30 in politics.
The band's hiatus seemed to morph into something more permanent when they sold most of their equipment and, to all intents and purposes, it looked as if that was that. But just a couple of months later a conversation about the 10th anniversary of their debut album turned into a desire to make new music, and before long the band were halfway through a new album.
The fruit of their labours arrives in stores this Friday (January 17th) in the form of their fifth full-length offering, Everything Else has Gone Wrong. Ahead of its release we caught up with Jamie MacColl for a chat about how Bombay Bicycle Club was resurrected...
So, by all accounts, you're as surprised as anyone that there's a new Bombay Bicycle Club album coming? We heard you'd even sold all your equipment?
“Yeah, I was very surprised when we started doing it again, to be honest, because I think it was only maybe two or three months before we started doing it again that we had cleared out our lockup and sold most of our equipment, and when we did that it seemed like a sort of final act. I personally had very much made my peace with not doing it again. It was a pleasant surprise.”
Most of the other guys have gone off and done various musical projects during that downtime. You took a slightly different approach to your hiatus though. What appealed about a degree in War Studies?
“I kind of wanted something that was as different as possible to being the guitarist in a band, and that seemed like a good alternative. I'd always regretted not being able to go to university because we'd essentially become professional musicians the day we left school. I enjoy learning and was kind of interested in understanding the phenomenon of war and conflict, how it happens and how you can prevent it. I did that for three years, and then I just finished a master's at Cambridge in international relations, which is kind of like war studies.”
We understand the spark for the reunion was talking about doing an anniversary tour, how did it go from that to making a new album?
“That was the spark for the initial conversation, but I don't think any of us were overly excited by the idea of just doing that, because it would seem like we'd broken up, but we were going to come back and do this kind of nostalgic thing and probably make a bit of money from it, which is just not really what we're about.”
“I think we felt that we had it in us to make more music that would hold up to what we'd done in the past, and I think Jack kind of saw it creatively as an exciting challenge, because he'd done Mr Jukes and also produced our fourth album So Long, See You Tomorrow. They're two very electronic, sample-heavy records, and I think the prospect of making something simpler, more organic and guitar-focussed was an exciting challenge for him.”
It sounds a little like a halfway point between your last record and some of your earlier ones...
“Yeah, I think that's true. It's definitely a lot more direct than our third and fourth albums, which were very sort of reverb-drenched, and almost not wanting to commit yourself to saying something, in some ways, whereas I think this is a lot more emotionally direct than the previous couple of records.”
What was the first new song that you finished?
“The first song was actually something that Jack had written when we were touring So Long, See You Tomorrow, 'I Can Hardly Speak', the latest song we released, which coincidentally does sound like the most like the songs on that record! That basically sat in an iTunes library for five years and I think it was when we went into the studio that someone said “I quite like this, shall we have a go at it?”
“Then another song was quite old, the opener on the album 'Get Up', which Jack had actually written while he was making the Mr Jukes album. When he was doing that I would go to the studio a couple of times a week just to see what he was doing and kind of play a similar role that I would play in Bombay, which is essentially just being a bit of a critic.”
Like a second pair of ears to bounce ideas off?
“Yeah, and he played me that song and I said: 'To be honest, it sounds more like a Bombay Bicycle Club song”, which I probably did in the hope that it would kind of plant a seed in his brain!”
Did those songs set the direction for the rest of the album?
“No, not really, I think the first song that really set the direction for this album was probably 'Eat, Sleep, Wake', which was one of the newer songs that he wrote. I think he started writing it on a synth that he bought, and that song is very synth-heavy, but also has a lot of guitars on it, and I think that really set the tone for everything else.”
You mentioned your last album being very sample-heavy, did you make a conscious attempt to avoid that this time?
“I don't know if it was a conscious approach, I think certainly while we were in the studio we were focussed on taking things away rather than adding more layers. I think on the last record – and I should say that I think it's a very good album, and definitely our most pop and accessible record – but I think in that period we were very consciously trying to make a pop record. Every hook or new melody or interesting sound we came up with, we would want to add to it. Because we were producing it ourselves, we were kind of excited by that.”
“Whereas this time I think we've sort of taken a step back and were much more focussed on just having the parts in there that really make the song work, which is a difficult thing to do because if you come up with an idea, and you're excited by it, it can be hard to let go. But it was easier because we were working with an outside producer this time.”
You've brought in John Congleton to co-produce alongside Jack – how did he get involved?
“We initially approached him because Ed, our bass player, is friends with Tom from Wild Beasts, and I think Ed was talking to him about producers that they'd worked with, and their last album they did with John. They'd really enjoyed the process, and we were also really big fans of the records he'd made with St. Vincent, Sharon van Etten, Angel Olson. He's done a lot of very good American female artists, which I guess we don't really fit within!”
What does he bring to the table?
“The end product of the record aside, what really changed for us working with him was the process of making an album, in that he takes a very relaxed approach. He works very quickly and he doesn't mind so much about people making mistakes or not playing something exactly as we thought it should be played. We'd record songs in two or three takes, whereas on the last couple of records we might spend days on a song. I think we recorded the whole album in two and a half weeks this time. And so I think we all felt a lot more relaxed during the process of making the record itself, which was a lot healthier for all of us.”
Where did the album title come from? Was it a song title first?
“That song came before the album title. Everyone assumes that it's a commentary on our political situation, but it's not really. Jack wrote that song because he wanted to convey that feeling of finding solace in music when everything else in your life seems to be going wrong. And then we thought that would be an interesting title for the album, although there was quite a lot of debate over it, because I think we didn't really want to spend a year and a half answering questions...”
...Like the one I've just asked you?!
“Yeah! But I mean I'm personally comfortable talking about it because I love talking about politics. The other thing was that it might be perceived as us saying that everything else in our lives had gone wrong, other than being in Bombay Bicycle Club, which is also not the case! I mean, I've been thinking a lot about the politics question, because I guess you can read it as saying to some people that it's about finding comfort in music from the general anxieties of living through the political, social and environmental changes we've been going through over the past few years, but it's not a protest record or anything like that.”
What are your touring plans looking like? Are you still planning on doing the anniversary tour?
“We did do a show at Brixton Academy in November for that, but it's very much forward-looking now. We have a big UK tour starting next week, which culminates in two nights at the Ally Pally in London, which is sort of our local venue, in a way. It's literally the closest to where I live, so it feels like a bit of a homecoming really. Then we'll be in Europe, North America, Mexico, Asia, Australia, everywhere.”
What does the future hold for the band? Do you see this album as a one-off or are there plans to do more together?
“I don't know yet. I mean, I don't think we'll go back into those 18 month to two-year album cycles, it's a very punishing schedule and there's a constant pressure to create new music. If we did that, I just don't think the band would be able to carry on. We're all older and have lives outside the band, and if anything I think this experience has taught me that you can spend time away from it. But I certainly don't think we would take another five year break before making another album. So I don't necessarily see it as a one-off, but at the same time I think it's very much a 'we'll just take it as it goes' vibe.”
The other guys have been involved in various other musical projects, do you think that will continue?
“Almost certainly I think it will, and I think that's a good thing for the band.”
Because it gives Jack another outlet for some of his ideas?
“Yeah, and it gives me time to write my bad essays!”
Everything Else Has Gone Wrong is hmv's Album of the Month and is available in store from Friday January 17th – you can find it here in our online store.