Interview: Bombay Bicycle Club

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Jack Steadman (lead vocals, guitar, piano) and Ed Nash (bass) of Bombay Bicycle Club

DANIEL MORTIMER, INTERVIEWER: So could you start off by saying your names and what you do in the band?

ED NASH: I am Ed and I play the bass in Bombay Bicycle Club.

JACK STEADMAN: I’m Jack and I sing and play guitar.

MORTIMER: So where does the name Bombay Bicycle Club come from?

NASH: It’s quite an unfortunate story really. The name Bombay Bicycle club comes from a restaurant in North London—it is as boring as that. We were 15 years old and didn’t quite realize how much of an impact it would have on the rest of our lives, so we just stole the name because we needed a name, and that’s it really.

STEADMAN: We were driving to our first show and we still didn’t have a name. And we literally just drove past this place and said ‘well that will do for now’ thinking that now meant for the next couple of weeks and then we’d go back to being school kids. But we’re still here talking about it.

NASH: They don’t exist as a curry restaurant in North London anymore; I think we beat them in the name game.

MORTIMER: Going off of that, when did you realize that you were making it and that this could potentially be a full time thing?

STEADMAN: It kind of just became a full time thing when we left school, because we’d already been playing for a few years and we pretty much signed a record deal as soon as we finished high school. It’s funny because me and Ed used to always talk about the band and what we were doing. We never mentioned the word ‘we made it.’ We were always just so content with what we were doing at the time, even if it was playing a really small show for ten people or the first time we played at Glastonbury Festival. In a way we weren’t the most ambitious band in the world, we were always just really satisfied with where we were at at that time.

NASH: At school when we started the band, we would go to school for the week and then the weekend we’d play a gig and they would be kind of two separate worlds. You’d go and play for, I don’t know, at the time probably 150 people and that would be the best thing ever. And then you’d go to school and lead a pretty normal life, and we did that for about three years until we left, as Jack said.

MORTIMER: So you guys started playing together in school?

NASH: Mhm.

MORTIMER: Why do you think the four of you work together well musically?

NASH: I think the band works together well…I think it’s more than musically. You have to have a good band dynamic, and I think that’s the reason Bombay Bicycle Club works. I think it extends past just playing music together. You spend so much time on tour together that you can’t just be good at that otherwise it would all fall apart. I reckon that’s the reason it’s lasted so long and the reason we’re still doing this. Everyone gets on, everyone’s still friends. We’ve got slightly different personalities but they work with one another. I won’t go into specifics, but it’s a good group dynamic.

STEADMAN: I just think the important thing is that you were friends before you started the band, and not just a band that put up an ad in a paper and met some stranger and got successful and so they kind of got stuck together. I feel like we all got close because of our taste in music and then formed a band afterwards, and that’s the perfect way to do it.

NASH: You see a lot of bands that can play music well together, but they hate each other. It must be the worst thing ever; going on tour for months and months on end…I don’t know how anyone could do it.

MORTIMER: So you guys have been doing this for a while now. How do you think your songwriting has evolved over the years?

STEADMAN: The songwriting has changed dramatically over the years. I think it’s just part of growing up, really. Your tastes change quite dramatically; you’re kind of restless in your creativity. When we started we were more of a normal guitar band, listened to a lot of American indie guitar music like Pavement and Sonic Youth, and then put out an acoustic record next which was more to do with British folk music. Now I feel like we’re making music that lends itself more to the electronic world. But yeah, I think it’s just when you’re young you’re very rarely settled with what you’re listening to.

NASH: Our four albums came out between when we were 19 and 23. You go through so much in that period of time, probably more change than you do in the rest of your life, and I think it’s reflected in the music.

MORTIMER: So how would you guys describe your own music?

NASH: I never know what to say when people ask us to describe our own music. I couldn’t describe anyone else’s music, let alone our own. And it’s changed so much as we’ve just said, it’s almost impossible. I normally just say indie-pop and pass it off. I don’t think that’s the case though [laughs].

MORTIMER: So what would you say your fans are like? Could you put them in one group or are they all over the place?

STEADMAN: Well I think our fans differ from place to place. Even in the U.S., you notice it inside the country. You play a show in San Diego and everyone sort of seems very outward and comfortable with their bodies and moving loads. And you play in Minneapolis, and everyone’s still getting into it but in their own sort of insular way. It’s something that you notice when you’re on stage. It’s kind of the thing that keeps it interesting, is looking at different crowds every night and how their situation could be affecting what they’re doing.

NASH: We played some gigs in Japan, and when you’re playing the songs you’re like ‘I think these people hate us. They really hate us,’ because everyone is so polite and reserved that they’re just appreciating the music. Then in between songs everyone goes absolutely crazy for like ten seconds or so and then stops and is completely reserved and appreciative again. That throws me every time.

MORTIMER: What makes a good show stand out from an average show?

STEADMAN: I think a good show for me is just when a crowd is on the same wavelength as you and stops you from being self-conscious. Because we’re moving around a lot on stage and smiling a lot and looking a bit goofy sometimes. And when a crowd is straight-faced that makes you feel a bit uncomfortable sometimes. But when a crowd is just letting themselves go as well and they give you that freedom to just enjoy yourself. That’s all that matters to me, really.

NASH: You know, you see pop performers and every night they go out and do exactly the same show and they put on the same act no matter what the crowd is like, and we’re not particularly good at doing that. If a crowd isn’t responding to us, we put on quite a bad show and it’s something we probably need to change but it’s just about that communication. We can’t do exactly the same thing every night.

MORTIMER: How do you guys like playing in Boston?

NASH: I love playing in Boston, personally. We’ve played the Royale about four times now; in fact I think this is the first time we haven’t played the Royale in like three years so I’m looking forward to tonight.

STEADMAN: The show has been one of the best selling of the tour, so we’ve been looking forward to it for a long time.

MORTIMER: Do you guys have any horror stories or funny stories from the early days of touring?

NASH: Oh, we’ve got tons of crazy, horrible stories.

STEADMAN: The last horror story I can think of is saying ‘Hello, Dublin’ in Belfast, which is probably the worst two cities to get confused given the history between them. I think it was so ridiculous they must have thought I was joking. So actually it wasn’t as bad in the end, because there’s no way they thought I could have been serious.

NASH: They were fine with it, surprisingly. We played a load of festivals over the summer; I think we played three or four every week for about four months. And we had Glastonbury Festival coming up, which is obviously one of the biggest festivals in the world, and incredibly important to us. And the day before we were playing in Luxembourg, driving overnight back to Glastonbury to play. And we were driving, and our bus broke down and we were like ‘shit…we have to make this show.’ So we got off the bus, called up some cabs, made these cabs drive us to the French coast, to Lille, then we all paid—and this is a 12-person crew—paid to go on the Eurostar to London. Also I had my bass, I was practicing my bass on the bus without a case, obviously not thinking that the bus would break down. So I was just on the Eurostar, holding a bass. And then we got to London and had to get cabs, we called cabs up and went to Glastonbury in cabs. Ludicrous thing to do, but we made the show. We had to do it.

MORTIMER: Got to do what you’ve got to do.

NASH: Thousands of pounds worth of cabs [laughs].

MORTIMER: So we’ll move on to song association. We’ll start with “Luna.”

STEADMAN: “Luna” is a song that, like a few other songs on the record, started off with a sample. I feel like I use sampling now as a way to kind of springboard inspiration. So when you’re stuck for ideas you go through your record collection and something grabs your attention and then you play along with it like you were playing with a band in a room or something. It’s kind of like you’re knocking ideas around with this other piece of music. It was a song that I think went through many changes.

NASH: Yeah, when we first heard “Luna” as a band, it was this absolutely crazy, dance hall, Bollywood kind of track. And we listened to it and were like ‘this is completely insane. I don’t think we can release this.’ But within the song was something that was a glimmer of an incredible song. So Jack took it back and worked on it some more, and then showed it to us again and it was a bit closer to what you hear on the record. And that happened a number of times until we had the finished product. It’d be incredibly interesting to release the songs as they were at the beginning because they’re almost unrecognizable from what you hear at the end. Especially “Luna.”

MORTIMER: Ok, how about “Carry Me.”

STEADMAN: “Carry Me” was one of the first songs written for the new record. And it was the first single that we put out, the reason being we wanted the first taste of the record to be the most dramatic and the one that probably confused people the most. I think it’s probably the most different-sounding track. It was written in a dressing room in Brussels, I remember that because the demo was called Brussels. Then we took it to this cottage in Holland, where me and Ed stayed for a bit doing some writing and again kind of fleshed it out. A lot of the songs start out very electronic and very far away from what Bombay Bicycle Club sound like, and it’s just a matter of translating them. And that’s a process that most of the songs on the new record went through.

NASH: It’s the song we play last in our set as well. It’s always good to go out on a bang and that’s the one for it. I think people are like ‘what the hell is going on,’ it’s just an assault on the senses.

MORTIMER: “Shuffle.”

STEADMAN: That’s a long time ago.

NASH: “Shuffle” was actually kind of the first song where we used the writing process that we’re talking about where Jack came to us with a beat and a sample with kind of a bit of a melody over it, and we worked on it and changed it and Jack went back and forth with it. That started off as a song about four years ago and it was just the piano loop and maybe the top line for the chorus, and that’s it. And I think it was Jaime, our guitar player, who was like ‘this is really cool’ because it wasn’t like anything we had done before. This was the start of the transition into the electronic, dance-y world. And we worked on it in the same way we talked about in the other songs.

STEADMAN: I tend to just write loops, basically, and like little scraps of songs rather than whole arrangements. So it takes the four of us together to really finish a song.

MORTIMER: Ok, a few more. We’ve got “Your Eyes.”

NASH: “Your Eyes” started off, it used to be called “Reverb Bass.” And I remember Jack had the demo and he didn’t want to show it to our manager, because he thought he would like too much.

STEADMAN: It was quite poppy.

NASH: It was a completely different song again. And he was like ‘Jason’s going to like this song too much and it’s not what we should be doing.’ And eventually Jason heard it of course, and basically made us do a version of it. Which worked out.

STEADMAN: We went and recorded it with a guy called Ben Allen in Atlanta. And he sprinkled some interesting electronic sounds to it to sort of give it a bit more character and we were all really pleased with the results.

NASH: That’s the thing that really makes the song, it’s kind of a weird-sounding pop song. And he produced Merriweather Post Pavilion, which is kind of a perfect example of that. It’s an incredibly strange sounding record, but when you get into it, all the melodies, they sound like The Beach Boys.

MORTIMER: “Lights Out, Words Gone.”

STEADMAN: Well “Lights Out, Words Gone” has probably one of my favorite videos that we have. We basically set up a competition where people could submit their own ideas and their own videos. Someone just sent in this three-minute clip of this…I suppose it’s like a weekend dance event that they have in a square in this rural Mexican town. I think it’s probably common all over the country but elderly folk get together and dance. And it’s just that for three minutes, but there’s something so beautiful about it, and it really fit the song well. Just pure happiness in these people just dancing and enjoying music.

NASH: It’d be interesting to listen to what they were really dancing to, because they’re not to our song. It was probably some fast-paced acoustic type of music.

STEADMAN: And shortly after we finished the video we were playing in Mexico City and actually stumbled across a very similar scene. And Lucy Rose, who sings on the song, went and had a dance with some old man. It went full circle.

MORTIMER: All right, last one. “Always Like This.”

STEADMAN: The story I always tell about “Always Like This” is I had just written it, it was like six years ago or something?

NASH: 2008, yes.

STEADMAN: And I had just finished it at my house and I went to the pub and brought my iPod. I was so excited about it I wanted to play it to all my friends who were there. And I play it for this one guy, who I think fancied himself as a bit of a music buff. And he said ‘you know what I love about this song, Jack? It’s just a really good B-side. It’s just one of those obscure tracks that’s going to be a really nice B-side to a song.’ And it actually turned out to be one of our most popular songs of all time I think. Every time he comes to a show I always rub it in his face a little bit, because he…I don’t know, he just obviously had a completely different idea of it.

NASH: He did redeem himself though. I believe he introduced you to the song that you sampled “Shuffle” off in the end.

STEADMAN: Yes, without him “Shuffle” wouldn’t exist. So it’s all perfectly balanced.

MORTIMER: It came full circle again. So you guys met each other at a funeral? How did that happen?

NASH: It’s quite a dark story, but I’m happy to talk about. So the other three guys started a band, as they all went to school together. I went to a different school just down the road in North London. And we knew each other vaguely from parties and just hanging out. And one of our mutual friends passed away and we were all at the funeral, and they needed someone to help out at a gig they were playing the next weekend. I had played in some other bands at the time and I just did it to help out and obviously things went from there. I guess it was meant to be a one-off thing at the time.