BOMBAY BICYCLE CLUB are back with an album that’s supremely confident, and they’re having the time of their lives.
Words: Neive McCarthy.
Photo: Tom Oxley.
If there is any band who have had a rollercoaster few years, it’s Bombay Bicycle Club. A hiatus broken by the emotional highs of celebrating anniversaries of their beloved initial albums, pouring their hearts and souls into album number five, ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’, only for the pandemic to put a pause to their post-hiatus plans. Putting it plainly, there have been more than a few spanners in the works for the four-piece.
Three years from their last release, however, Jack Steadman, Jamie MacColl, Suren de Saram and Ed Nash have returned with a sense of renewal. ‘My Big Day’, their sixth album, is nothing short of a celebration. Of all they have missed the last few years of experimentation and of life – it’s a musical bash, a room filled with your closest friends, all with matching grins and a need to dance until the sun has long since set. It’s pure joy, bottled.
“If you’re in a bad place, you end up writing music that is inherently sad and negative, and it’s quite cathartic to get that out,” says Ed Nash, the band’s bassist, from his home studio. “But I think everyone is in a good time in their lives. I don’t think we set out to make a joyous record, but I think everyone’s having a good time. We went through our hiatus and that part of your life where you’re trying to work yourself out, and I feel like everyone has emerged from that feeling pretty sure of themselves, loves being back in the band and is excited for the future. It does feel like a joyous record.”
From the opening beats of ‘Just A Little More Time’, the sheer delight found in making this album is made abundantly clear. Forming a one-two punch of classic Bombay Bicycle Club groove-heavy riffs alongside ‘I Want To Be Your Only Pet’, it’s a real mission statement of what is to come. A formidable return, it proved one of the easiest moments in the album’s creation.
“Without discussion, we all knew it was the first song on the record. That was that,” Ed recalls. “Normally, you have a big conversation, and it’s the most important track in some ways, but it turned up, and it was so easy to decide. It was signed, sealed and delivered from the beginning. It happened very quickly. Songs like ‘Sleepless’, or ‘Diving’, we were working on for two years in some capacity, but ‘Just A Little More Time’ came out in an afternoon.”
“I don’t think we set out to make a joyous record, but everyone’s having a good time”Ed nash
The sole mantra amongst the spiralling, hypnotic melody of “just a little, little, little more time” is a declaration of sorts for the album. Predominantly self-produced, ‘My Big Day’ was a product of having the time to experiment and watch what unfolded before them. With just a little more time, Bombay Bicycle Club were able to craft some of their most ambitious and thrilling stuff yet.
“With the last album, we worked with a producer, John Congleton, because we wanted someone at the helm to make those big decisions and to have someone else that was steering the ship,” Ed explains. “It felt like what we needed at the time. With this one, we knew we wanted to do something out there and weird. If you do it with a producer, you’re in the studio for a month. There’s a finite amount of time because you’re paying them, and you’re on the clock. That can be good because it hurries things along, and it can become more concise. But with this album, we recorded it over two years – I have a studio, Jack has a studio, we went to other studios. You collect bits as you go. Doing that means you get songs like ‘Rural Radio Predicts The Rapture’ and ‘Meditate’ where you can’t really plan for them, and they’re so weird that they have to be put together incrementally to get something so complex. Doing it ourselves does allow ultimate creative control.”
Though they called upon producer Paul Epworth for ‘Heaven’, the ethereal, inherently nostalgic Damon Albarn featuring moment, those responsibilities otherwise fell to Jack. Without the pressure of a clock ticking in each moment, the band had the luxury of stretching outwards, dipping their toes into new waters they usually would have avoided. Out of that freedom came an album full of risks and left turns that mesh into a delirious, crazy collection of songs that all emanate pure glee.
“We were very sure that we wanted to push the boat out and do something that would potentially divide people, or not everyone would like, but it would be a creative statement,” Ed affirms. “In terms of the sounds and genres, there are some very heavy rock songs, there’s UK garage, there’s a sound with an orchestra. It’s pretty bonkers. On another album, someone would be like, ‘Shall we get an orchestra?’ and we’d be like, ‘No, that’s crazy’. With this one, we were just like, ‘Okay, let’s do it’. We just thought it was cool.”
From the somewhat garish fried egg featuring artwork for the album, it’s immediately evident that the band have pursued that sense of fun and disregarded anyone’s opinions beyond their own. Nestled amongst the artistic, muted tones of previous artworks, it’s striking and outlandish – exactly the kind of thing they needed to display their most creative release yet.
“That album artwork has upset a lot of people because it doesn’t look nice,” laughs Ed. “It’s pretty in your face, colourful bold. It’s not aesthetically pleasing, but it represents the music. We knew that people weren’t going to like it, but some people were. Previously, that was always a worry. Now, we don’t really care so long as we like and stand by the vision we have made. Hopefully, people like it and get behind it, and if they don’t, what can we do? You might as well be bold.”
That boldness brings the tracks themselves to life. The titular track captures that energy; commanding your attention from the off, it is vibrant in its deft combination of raucous guitars and electronic beats. Another statement of intent, it becomes increasingly clearer that this is Bombay Bicycle Club’s big day, their shining hour, and they intend to bask in it.
“That album artwork has upset a lot of people because it doesn’t look nice”ed nash
That embrace of the more offbeat moments goes hand in hand with that, and they lean into it more than ever on ‘Rural Radio Predicts The Rapture’. Following the guitar-heavy, Nilüfer Yanya-featuring ‘Meditate’, ‘Rural Radio’ hums into spectral life before bounding headfirst into two minutes of sharp, exhilarating UK garage that almost ends too quickly. It’s unexpected, but the band arguably shine in those disbelief-heavy moments more than ever.
The boundaries of ‘My Big Day’ were expanded ever further by its rotating cast of collaborators – more than the band have ever called upon before. From Damon Albarn, to Jay Som, to Holly Humberstone, there’s a whole host of new voices who push against the walls of the album and continue to transform it into something larger than ever anticipated.
“It was definitely more collaborative with people outside of the band,” Ed reflects. “Most of the people singing on the record were also writing the song with us. Some people do a feature just for the sake of getting a name or another artist on there, so more people will find it, whereas with this one, for example, Damon Albarn wrote the part he sings. Jay Som wrote the part she sings. Then there are people like Holly Humberstone and Nilüfer Yanya. Jack worked with Holly Humberstone on her record, and we played a festival with Nilufer. It wasn’t cynical, trying to get the coolest people we could. It happened that these are artists we love and are all amazing, but they’re all people that we came across in day-to-day life. We were more open to writing with other people and having other people sing on it – it adds to this feeling of it being quite chaotic and something new.”
It helps, too, of course, that there’s such a wide variety amongst those features – ‘Sleepless’, featuring Jay Som, is a rush of lightly intertwining vocals and breezy percussion. Holly Humberstone brings a tenderness to one of the album’s brightest moments on ‘Diving’ – earnest and hopeful and euphoric. Each external voice adds a new layer to ‘My Big Day’ that allows that excitement to continue to reach through.
“They all push it in the extreme directions. You listen to a song like ‘Diving’, and it’s a pretty poppy song – you could put it on a pop playlist, and it wouldn’t stand out. Then the Damon Albarn one, by having his voice, almost becomes a classic old-school track. Without those people’s voices, they’d be very much centred in the Bombay Bicycle Club world, but having those people on there pushes them massively far out.”
After seventeen years as a band, that world had become incredibly comfortable. The need for reinvention whilst remaining true to their core was important beyond just the music they were releasing. Recently embarking on a karaoke tour, where they acted as a backing band to some performance-ready fans, the priority has quickly become fun – reimagining their back catalogue in different ways, developing new music, reconnecting with the fans who have followed their journey since 2009’s ‘I Had The Blues, But I Shook Them Loose’. Those listeners remain a constant reminder of why they do this. It’s something that was particularly clear to the band after their set at Mad Cool Festival this summer was met by a complete loss of power, a first for the band.
“That set was fucked up,” recalls Ed. “The tech side of the festival was insane – we lost power, stuff kept breaking. I think if the crowd wasn’t absolutely amazing, it would’ve been so disheartening. Everyone came out of that show in a really good mood because the crowd carried it along. That made everyone really excited to go. It shows you that this goodwill and comradery does mean a lot to us, and it can override stuff like the power getting cut – that’s never happened to us before, but it didn’t matter because it was such a fun, comfortable place to be in. Vice versa, it’s amazing to see a crowd where our music means so much to them that they will put up with a gig that’s falling apart. That show summed up the whole thing for me. It was so fucked up, we’ve never had more technical difficulties than that, but actually, it didn’t matter because of the excitement the crowd brought.”
Armed with a new legion of tracks primed and ready for a live audience and having just announced a UK tour, those magical moments are set to continue coming for the band. On ‘My Big Day’, Bombay Bicycle Club prove that after years of recording and touring, that spark and connection still remains. With their sixth album, they learn to capture the triumph and ecstasy found in the studio between the four of them and focus on that. Nobody else matters. “You realise you have to do your best and stick up for what you think – that’s the only person you can listen to,” decides Ed. “It’s easier to enjoy the good bits if you don’t pay so much attention to the difficult side of it. There are people enjoying it; let’s have a good time.”
Taken from the November 2023 edition of Dork. Bombay Bicycle Club’s album ‘My Big Day’ is out 20th October.
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