Exclusive chat with Bombay Bicycle Club ahead of UEA gig tonight
11:08 09 March 2014
Jack Steadman hit the road to work on songs for Bombay Bicycle Club’s fourth album, and found inspiration aplenty. But as he tells Andy Welch, he couldn’t have done it without his bandmates.
Musically adventurous, Bombay Bicycle Club’s fourth album, So Long, See You Tomorrow, is a considerable leap from their previous, 2011’s A Different Kind Of Fix, featuring Indian-esque sounds and electronic instruments where once there would simply have been more conventional guitars.
As one might expect from such experimentation, there’s a story to go with it.
“I wanted to travel,” says frontman Jack Steadman, ahead of the band’s sold-out gig at the UEA next week. “To do it, I went to wherever we had gigs to play, but either went there a few weeks beforehand, or stayed on afterwards.”
The Netherlands was his first port of call. After the school friends had performed in Amsterdam, he rented a room for a few weeks in a town called Nijkerkerveen, where he got to work while being looked after by the family that owned the property.
“I wrote Carry Me and It’s Alright Now there,” he says, “plus a couple of other bits and bobs, but I consider those two big songs on the album.”
After returning from there, the band – who’d produced an album a year following their 2009 debut, I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose, before deciding to take a short break so they could “experience life” - were booked to play a festival in India.
Steadman stayed in Mumbai for month, absorbing as much music and culture as he could. The results are for all to hear on Overdone, the album’s opening track, current single Feel, and penultimate track Come To.
“Overdone has a sample from a Bollywood song called Apne Pyar Ke Sapne, which was actually something I put on my iPod before I went away and worked on while I was in India,” he says. “All the time I was travelling, I’d send things I’d recorded back to the rest of the band, who’d listen and send back ideas and improvements I could make.”
He says he’d be lost without bandmates Jamie MacColl, Ed Nash and Suren de Saram, all in their early twenties: “They edit me a lot, and will tell me what they like and what I need to spend more time on.”
MacColl would also send Steadman pieces of poetry and novels he was reading, to inspire his lyric-writing, something the band feel hasn’t been their strongest suit in the past.
It’s extremely evocative listening to Steadman describe his time in Mumbai, travelling to and from the studio he was using each day on a packed commuter train, sticking his head out of the window for fresh air, basking in the sun while listening to what he’d recorded the previous day.
Understandably, each song he wrote while on his gap-year-of-sorts brings back memories now, none more so than the tracks he demoed while living in the Turkish town of Sapanca, a two-hour drive east of Istanbul.
“I stayed with a family in Turkey and they sort of adopted me,” he says. “I like travelling on my own, but when I stay with a family, it means I don’t have to eat alone in the evening. The family were very confused about why I was there and what I was doing, but they’d come in each day to hear what I’d done.
“Turkey was especially prolific, and when I listen to the songs I wrote there, I think of the woman who’d bring her four-year-old son in and they’d both dance around. Each morning, I’d go to this cafe carved out of the cliff for breakfast, then go off into the countryside with my guitar. It was brilliant.”
There was another excursion, to Japan, but the lure of Tokyo’s record shops proved too much for Steadman, a keen jazz fan, and he spent all his time digging through crates of vinyl, hunting obscure treasures.
“I went there to work, but I didn’t write anything - I don’t care, I had a brilliant time,” he says, smiling.
Later, back in London, the real work began - only unlike the previous three albums, Bombay decided they didn’t want to work with a producer and that they’d record the album themselves.
“We had to convince quite a few people this was the right thing to do,” says MacColl.
“Normally it’s the sign of a band’s ego exploding, but for us, it just seemed a natural thing to do,” he continues. “And it’s worked, we’re happier with this album than anything we’ve done before. It’s the first album of ours that I can honestly say has no filler on it, and it’s exactly as we want it to be.”
He has a point. There’s always been a great deal of potential on Bombay’s albums, which brim with ideas, even if they’re not always realised. So Long, See You Tomorrow, however, is seamless from start to finish, each song seemingly rising up out of the previous one. They’ve often used singer Lucy Rose, too, who’s added some much-needed lightness and a change in tone to a number of songs.
The new album sees her employed more effectively than ever, while newcomer Rae Morris has also been drafted in for further contrast. “Writing for female voices is like writing for a new instrument, it’s really liberating,” says Steadman. “Rae has such a different voice to Lucy, so that was like having yet another tool to use. I’d try to sing something I’d written and it wouldn’t sound good, so I’d realise it was meant for Rae, she’d turn up and it’d be brilliant.”
From here, the future looks more exciting than ever. Bombay capped off their last UK tour in 2012 with two nights at London’s Alexandra Palace, a giant building looming high on a hill in North London where bands occasionally play to around 11,000 people, often seen as a marker of their success - and, as it happens, the boys’ home turf, more or less.
“More people are doing it now [playing at Alexandra Palace],” says MacColl, “but two years ago there weren’t many. I grew up down the road and would see it all the time, never ever thinking I’d one day play there.
“The two gigs we played there were amazing. It was really quite emotional.”
But it’s not all going to be about chasing huge venues.
“Moving forward, we want to raise our game even higher,” continues Steadman. “But we have to ask ourselves if we actually prefer playing smaller shows. We could maybe play arenas, but we wouldn’t be able to see the front row. We want to play smaller places and we can keep that intimacy.
“It means the audience are really with us, and we want to keep on to that.”
• So Long, See You Tomorrow is out now
• Further listening: www.bombaybicycleclubmusic.com