From awkward teenage beginnings to lesser floundering twenties, Suren de Saram and Jamie MacColl of Bombay Bicycle Club sit down with Rebekah Rennick to discuss the Road to V competition, allowing personality into their records and their journey thus far
Looking at early snapshots of London based band Bombay Bicycle Club, what was most striking about the quartet at that time was the coy, candid youth that permeated through their clumsy poses and bashful smiles.
Back in 2006, following their triumph on Channel 4’s Road To V competition, these four school friends looked as though they stumbled straight from festival tent to stage. And at just sixteen, this may very well have been the case. “Going back to school after [performing at V Festival] was a funny one,” remembers resident drummer, Suren de Saram.
“There’s loads of young musicians out there now, like Lorde who seems really articulate and knows what she’s talking about, but at that age we didn’t have a clue and we were so bad at doing interviews and so awkward,” adds guitarist Jamie MacColl, with a slightly pained expression.
“It’s gotten a bit better now. Just. The music wasn’t that good either so I think we definitely needed some time to grow and evolve.”
Seven years on it’s difficult to imagine what those group of bumbling teenagers would have thought had you said that in 2014 they would be four albums deep in their prolific, ever-growing career.
Bombay Bicycle Club’s first full installment, I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose, is a bubblying cooking pot of pubescent angst and suppressed frustration with tracks such as ‘What If’ and ‘Autumn’ pained with indecision; while ‘The Hill’ paces with a racing teenage heart.
“When we were growing up, around fifteen or sixteen,” explains MacColl, “That was when indie music was very big again so we were very influenced by a lot of stuff around.”
During the interval years, Bombay Bicycle Club have meandered from such early beginnings, dipped into acoustic territories and continued to morph musically at such a rate that would make any acclaimed artist break into a cold sweat. “Well, I don’t think we have a particularly good work ethic so I don’t really know how it has happened,” chuckles MacColl when confronted about their creative output.
“I think the fact that we were kind of changing sounds for each album made it easier as well. It wasn’t like we were trying to rehash old ideas or trying to do the same thing over and over again, which is a trap that is quite easy to fall into because you soon realise you don’t have that much to write about.”
As MacColl explains, “It’s impossible to recreate that first album you do, as you’ve had your whole life to make it and also, particularly for us because it was an album about being young and it was very much about a specific time in our lives, we can’t try and recreate being a teenager. Well, unless you want to be like Blink 182, but they do quite a good job of that.”
Yet, attempting to break the music scene at the age they did didn’t come without it’s disadvantages. While their audience continues to swell each year and the efficacious nature of their creativity has proven to be far more robust than many bands that have come and gone before, alongside and after them, dismissive perceptions by dusty critics hit home at the time.
“You’ll see even if you read reviews of our first album, there were those slightly snide comments about the fact that we were quite young,” remembers MacColl, who it seems, couldn’t resist but indulge in some reviews.
“It really upset me at the time actually, but I realise subsequently that it doesn’t really matter that much in the grand scheme of things. It’s only one person’s opinion.”
Bespectacled lead vocalist, Jack Steadman is the navigator in this musical journey. Outwardly composed, Steadman’s warbling, falsetto enfused vocals and penchant for experimentation is what seperated Bombay Bicycle Club from the saturable wave of indie bands that crashed into our music world circa 2008.
With new album So Long, See You Tomorrow, elements of each member’s personality will be felt. “Jack does pretty much all the writing, but in other senses we’ve had to be more involved because in the past we’ve been making it ourselves, it’s probably been far more democratic then before,” says MacColl.
The intricacy and depth of thought instilled in each album is palpable the moment you switch on any one of Bombay’s records. A Different Kind Of Fix, swoops and swirls from one track to the next, allowing the listener to feel as though they’re on the same rushing journey as these four London boys.
A Different Kind of Fix also saw Warwickshire native Lucy Rose and her tinkling vocals step on board. The infusing, hypnotic coupling of Steadman and Rose was the product that followed after Lucy approached the band individually at one of their gigs. “She came along to an acoustic gig we did a while ago in London and gave Jack her demo CD at the end,” explains de Saram. “She said for him to listen to it, and he did, and thought their voices would blend really nicely together.”
The inclusion of not only outside vocals but song samples plucked from what seems like obscurity has become a trademark Bombay Bicycle Club characteristic. Between records, Steadman has plunged into the culture of numerous countries, notably the Netherlands, Turkey and India.
Globetrotting certainly suits the internal landscape of Jack’s creativity as the product of which, So Long, See You Tomorrow contains both nuances of the last record and new, fresh sprinkles of oriental melodics and rhythmic beats.
“It’s a bit of a continuation from the last album, states MacColl. “Songs like ‘Light Out…’ and ‘Shuffle’ where it’s electonic and light instrument and more dancey are still there. ‘Carry Me’ is probably one of the exceptions of the album really because it’s quite aggressive and in your face, while the rest is more light-hearted and upbeat.”
Yet, their drive for perfection is evident as de Saram confirms, “I think we were much tougher this time round on ourselves then we have been in the past. We didn’t want there to be any weak songs on the album.
“We wanted to have a bigger pool of songs to choose from because in the past we have kind of just had eleven or twelve songs and they’ve all just gone on the record. I think it’s the most consistent album we’ve made. I don’t think, personally, there’s any filler on it. So, we’ve reached the goals we have set I guess.”
With past singles transforming into encapsulating moments of euphoria and summer sentiments, perfectly moulded for festival performances; the three tracks thus released contain another layer of intimacy.
Steadman’s vocals shiver-inducingly whisper in your ear on ‘It’s Alright Now’, while ‘Luna’ sees the cacophony of thrashing instruments carry you to a new high. “People have been asking about influences on our latest album and it’s kind of just an amalgamation of everything we’ve been listening to,” says MacColl.
“I think the way of making music is more important, like with hip hop and dance music and how that’s just repetitive loops and dance samples, that’s had some influence.”
In today’s musical hemisphere, it seems as though as one band comes another gets pushed aside in the media machine. Bombay Bicycle Club have very much remained individually poised in the madness, both cool and collected, which has allowed them to now ride precariously on the cusp of extreme success.
The real beauty that surrounds this foursome is that each fan feels as though they know them personally, only an invite away from joining the group in the pub. This is evident in their decision to embark on a small Irish tour that encompassed towns including Limerick, Kilkenny and Dublin, “There was one gig in Killarney,” says de Saran. “Which was an unusual environment because everyone was seated, around tables like in a jazz club.”
“It was like a sort of Las Vegas show,” continues MacColl. “The sitting down gig was my favourite actually, I like a challenge. Everyone was standing up by the end.” This open outlook and amusement at such events keeps their feet firmly on the ground and it’s difficult to see how you couldn’t imagine them as your best mates.
If you’re lucky enough to have followed Bombay Bicycle Club from the very beginning, you’ll understand the soundtrack they’ve created for many listeners, from teenage regrets to more mature thought processes.
Yet, is there any bit of wisdom MacColl could disclose to his coy 16-year-old self? “Just be less awkward and better at interviews,” chuckles MacColl. The innocence of those times is something best untouched and what made us fall in love with Bombay in the first place. “It’s always been fun though and I think that’s the most important thing for us. I don’t think we would want to have done it any other way.”
Bombay Bicycle Club’s new album So Long, See You Tomorrow is out on February 3rd.