Big wheels keep on turning for Bombay Bicycle Club

JAMIE MacColl doesn’t care what critics think. “Our band has a slightly silly name, we’re middle-class boys from north London,” says the Bombay Bicycle Club guitarist. “It’s ripe for attack really.”

His logic is hard to fault. Bombay Bicycle Club are highly successful, with a string of top ten hits and an international fanbase. They’d rather be loved by the public than by an insignificant coterie of music writers. Kudos can’t compete with bums on seats.

“I don’t want to be in one of those really cool groups that loads of journalists love but don’t sell any records or attract tiny crowds. We would rather reach a lot of people.”

Starting out, it seemed unlikely Bombay Bicycle Club would come close to mainstream popularity. As MacColl says, they had a slightly ridiculous name (from their favourite Indian restaurant), and their jangly sound seemed utterly generic. However, the group has always been ambitious and, concert by concert, album by album, they have spread their wings.

“In the UK we had to deal with this prejudice of being perceived as an indie band,” says MacColl. “Overseas that was never an issue. People were willing to take us at face value. They appreciated what we were trying to accomplish.”

Bombay Bicycle Club’s breakthrough came with their 2011 album A Different Kind Of Fix. Epic, and stacked with anthemic choruses, it went top ten here and in the UK and saw the quartet graduating to arena-scale audiences. Now, they are about to release a follow-up, So Long, See You Tomorrow.

“We see the record as a progression rather than a revolution,” says MacColl. “We are building on some of the sounds we featured on our last album. We are not reinventing the wheel.”

It would be nice to say success was not on their minds as they recorded the LP. It would be a lie. Of course they were thinking about their fans, the responsibility they felt towards them.

“It would be impossible to claim it wasn’t something we were contemplating. We wanted to sustain what we have accomplished. However, I would not say that was our only goal — above all, we set out to make our most direct, our ‘biggest’ sounding album. Hopefully we have achieved that.”

Such was their ambition they took the potentially risky decision not to work with a producer. Instead, they would oversee the recording process themselves. They were advised this might not be the wisest course. However, they pushed on and were proved right — So Long is arguably the best thing they’ve ever done.

“We met with several producers, including Ben Allen, who did our last album. However, it wasn’t really going to plan. As a band, we had a clear idea what we wanted. Most producers bring quite a distinct sound, which can be great. I’m sure we’ll work with Ben again. For this one, however, we knew where we needed to go.”

‘Precocious’ is an adjective that is bandied about a lot in the context of Bombay Bicycle Club. They were still at school when they put together their 2009 debut, I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose. For the follow-up they travelled in a different direction entirely, exploring the then ascendant genre of nu-folk on the home-recorded Flaws. From there they travelled to Athens, Georgia to work with Allen — producer of Animal Collective and Gnarls Barkley — on A Different Kind Of Fix. For the new record, meanwhile, singer Jack Steadman temporarily relocated to Turkey, the Netherlands and India to write, emailing snippets to his bandmates in London.

“He went off at the end of a few tours and would send us ideas from out there,” says MacColl. “We knew from the start we were taking the right approach.”

We’ve caught MacColl at a slightly awkward moment. Earlier in the week, Bombay Bicycle Club bassist Ed Nash controversially said the success of Arctic Monkeys had unleashed a deluge of sub-par indie rock.

“The amount of bad indie bands was unbelievable,” he said. “It was just saturated. There was a kind of backlash to that, and I think that’s why you don’t have so many bands on the radio or headlining festivals.”

Predictably, this has kicked up a huge online kerfuffle and Nash’s message is in danger of being obscured.

“What he said has become distorted,” says MacColl. “People seem to think he was claiming Arctic Monkeys are shit. We all really love Arctic Monkeys, their new LP is fantastic. One of the great things about them, on their first few albums especially, was that they could write about real life in a very relatable way. The reason for that is that their singer Alex Turner is a genius. It is hard to ape that — you have to be realistic, that sort of indie rock is difficult to do well. We don’t try to do that. I would like to think our music provides a form of escapism — we want to take you out of the real world, to bring you somewhere slightly different. We’re not trying to emulate all those indie bands. That’s what makes us different.”

* So Long, See You Tomorrow is released on Friday.


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