Before the first of their two sold out shows at Glasgow’s Barrowlands, Esmé Haddrill Selman and Maisie Wills got the opportunity to chat with Jamie MacColl and Ed Nash of Bombay Bicycle Club about their recent hiatus, the new record and the current state of music in 2020.
You’ve had quite a big break between releasing music and playing together?
Yeah, about four years.
How did the time apart shape you as individuals and feed into the music of Bombay Bicycle Club now?
Ed: How did it shape what we see now? I mean, we all went off and did these things we weren’t able to do when we were in the band, just because of time commitments and it’s all we’d done our whole lives. We were 15/ 16 and it had been our whole time in school as well as the time immediately after that.
Jamie went to university, which he couldn’t do before hand and me and Jack made our own solo records. Suren started playing drums for others such as Jessie Ware and other artists. All of this massively influenced the band now and how we operate as a group. You know? I spent all my time writing and recording music and now I have a better understanding I can help with that aspect of the band. I think doing that as well as all of our other individual projects gave us another side to ourselves, whereas beforehand it was only the band and it could be quite one dimensional. I mean, Jamie’s course [Philosophy] really helped that too.
Jamie: Yeah, our identities were very tied up with being in the band; both in how we perceived ourselves and how others would then perceive us. I think it was just, I know it’s a cliché, but finding out who you are.
Yeah and, from the perspective of both of us studying art degrees the idea of a creative process is something familiar to us. The idea of stepping away from projects and returning after a while can be really beneficial to what you create, do you feel this with Bombay?
Ed: Yeah totally, I think we started taking it for granted after touring the last album. You know? We’d be in all these really exciting cities doing what we loved but we’d be so tired and just take the whole opportunity for granted, we felt like we didn’t want to be there. I think it’s good to take a break just so you can really take stock of what you have and appreciate it and yeah, that what we did and its massively shaped the way the band is now.
And now you’ve all come back and formed this band after doing things non-music related. Jamie, you went and studied philosophy, and do you feel as though this has shaped the music in any way?
Jamie: Hahahaha, no but I think it benefitted the way I which we thought about the album as a whole and presented ourselves as a band. I’d spent four years thinking conceptually so I was interested in finding broader themes to talk about with the album. Sometimes that was slightly extrapolating things as you’re taught to do in a humanities degree, things which perhaps aren’t there but it helps create a more interesting narrative.
Yeah, do you think then that influenced your input into the album, conceptually speaking?
Jamie: Not particularly in that I don’t write the music, but I suppose I feel as though I kind of critique it from an outside perspective, in a way.
Reflecting on it?
Jamie: Yeah exactly, which can be useful in the process of getting from the stage of writing the music to producing it and creating a finished product. But I can safely say that nothing I’ve studied over the last four years has made its way into Bombay Bicycle Club.
Yeah, we were both saying after listening through to the new album that it does feel more reflective and maybe optimistic in a way? And that optimism is so interesting as I feel like it’s harder to make optimistic records in the current time, but this makes it more important. Do you feel like the album is more optimistic?
Jamie: Yeah definitely. It’s meant to be joyful and positive, which I think is similar to the Big Moon’s new album, who are supporting us on this tour. It’s about finding hope. And how music itself can be a hope, and even just instrumental music can be uplifting. So yeah that’s one element of it and then also there’s the lyrics which I feel are more optimistic. Love and heartbreak kind of dominated our first four albums whereas this is more about finding your place in the world and finding a place to be happy and navigate all the stuff that you have to do as an adult rather than an eighteen-year-old.
Yeah, I guess those are really big ideas?
Jamie: Yeah and then in some ways they’re not because that’s how life feels sometimes. And it’s more about us adjusting to normality. Our lives were very much not normal, seven or eight years after we left school, we were just doing the band. And then for a while it was good to get back to normality.
Ed: hahahah but now we’ve been thrown back into abnormality.
Yeah, and forming the band in school you were obviously all close friends and still are, but how is it actually creating things with friends? Because sometimes its hard to find that necessary distance when working with friends but I think a lot of creative people are drawn towards it, how’s it been for you?
Ed: You think the same as your friends and I think that’s how a lot of us formed our friendship initially. Jamie and Jack formed their friendship on going to see the same gigs and talking about bands they both likes. You know? You have those things in common and that’s why creative projects work with people you like. I don’t think it would be that easy to work with people who you fundamentally disagree with. That’s definitely where all this started but I think if you look at most bands they’re friends as well… or rather were at some point.
And coming back to what you were saying about the importance of having some normality, and now stepping back into that almost abnormal space in 2020, a completely different era compared to 2009 when the first album was released. How does it feel to be making music in these much more turbulent times as compared to back then?
Jamie: I mean, I say it was a lot more care-free then but actually we’d just had a massive global recession which affected music, less people going to gigs and buying records. But people weren’t politically engaged in the way they are now. I think it still feels as though politics is something which happens to you as opposed to something you can shape. I think that even when we stopped in early 2015 was before the first wave of elections which made everything feel a lot more troubled but there really wasn’t that much political music. As a band, you would never get asked about politics in interviews and you know, we aren’t a particularly political band. We don’t make protest music. But I mean now, everyone in the arts is asked to talk about politics. That’s very different to 2009 and even 2015.
Now, we go for a week of promo in Germany and people will be asking us to explain Brexit. I don’t think we have any authority to say that, I mean there are people far more qualified than us. I don’t know though; I haven’t really decided how I feel about whether artists are duty bound to have an opinion on politics. I’m from a family of very politically active folk musicians and they’re position would be that ‘all art is political’ and there is a necessity for it to be political, but we definitely don’t approach making music in that way.
Yeah, coming back to what you were saying about creating a much more optimistic album, which is so joyful to listen to when everything seems bleaker.
Jamie: yeah, and you could argue that being optimistic is a political statement but maybe that’s a bit of a reach? Still though, being optimistic about the future is a choice you make and to be optimistic about the future is to be optimistic about the society we live in and hope that the socio-political landscape will get better than it is now. Although, I don’t think our music is actually going to help that but you know?
Even if it is removed from politics, I still feel there’s important stuff to be said in it in that if people enjoy it, it can provide a sense of relief?
Jamie: Yeah, I think art goes through these periods of realism and then into escapism and I think that’s certainly a tension in music at the moment. Certainly in the press at the moment there is a lot of interest in political realist music and I think that’s very reflective of political debates at the moment but again, we don’t really do that as such but I’m interested in talking about it!
Do you think then that art has had an influence in your music?
Jamie: In terms of visual art? Yeah! Well, Ed is a painter.
Ed: Yeah, I’m interested in visual art and think it’s important to stay switched on to it. In the years we had a way from the band all of us paid attention to other music, film, painting, art, radio and the rest of it even if sometimes there doesn’t feel like there’s a strong connection between it and our music.
Jamie: I think art has had a big impact on the way we present ourselves as a band outside of the music. I do genuinely think our artwork is better than 99 percent of other artists releasing music hahaha. Over the last few years our production and lights at the live shows has been influenced by visual arts. Our last album, because the music was very loop-based and electronic we started talking about Edward Muybridge, the photographer, who’s art reflected this idea about looping and repetitions. So, we started incorporating that visually into the artwork and the lightshows as well as the video content. So often it can be the music, I guess, which dictates how we then represent ourselves visually rather than the other way around.
Staying on the art tangent, what kind of albums really have been formative for you throughout your musical careers but then also just in life?
Ed: I think the sound of Bombay Bicycle Club changed a huge amount over the last four albums and that probably related pretty closely to the kind of music we were listening to.
Jamie: yeah, I think it’s quite easy to chart what we were listening to at the time of each album.
Ed: yeah, apart from this most recent one which is perhaps far more eclectic and draws on lots of other influences. But for the first album we were listening to a lot of guitar music then for the second we started listening to a lot more folk and acoustic. The on to electronic, hip-hop and sample based music.
Jamie: I think it was stuff like Joy Division, My Bloody Valentine and Pavement for guitar and chord progressions. And The Strokes! We were listening to quite a lot of heavy guitar movement when we made I Had the Blues but I’m not sure if that heaviness is reflected in the album.
Ed: A lot of mid to late music from the 2010’s is sort of lumped together, like us and The Maccabees but if you talk to them they were listening to bands like Talk Talk you know? Bands which didn’t sound like other British Indie bands and I think it kind of all unfairly gets lumped together without acknowledging the variety of different influences outside of British guitar movement.
Jamie: And then on the second album stuff like John Martyn, Bert Jansch, Joanna Newsom, Joni Mitchell, you know just a lot of classic folk artists. And then the third and fourth albums I can’t think of anything specific…
Ed: I think that’s when Jack started listening to a lot of hip-hop and he then started making beats in his own time. The experimental tracks jack had been making then wormed their way in to Bombay Bicycle Club. We never lost those old influences though and you carry them with you. With the newest album I think you can see the guitar influence of Pavement and then also elements of Joanna Newsom and then J Dilla and MF Doom.
Yeah, and you can hear that in the album! I noticed the jazz influences a lot in the new album, which I really loved.
Jamie: Yeah, definitely and in the opening song ‘Get Up’, there’s definitely jazz influences with the brass section and the drumming is a lot more free-form. And then also ‘I Worry Bout You’ has a lot of jazzier influences in.
To kind of wrap things up, are there any artists now, musical or visual, that you’re excited about or interested in collaborating with?
Ed: I don’t want to work with him, I think he’s an appalling person, but Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon. I’m really taken with his music. I mean, he’s an awful person but I’m trying to separate the artist from the art and he is just increasingly making this really meta music. Each album is just becoming more of a stream-of-consciousness which I can’t get over and I really like it. I don’t know of anyone else who is making music quite like that, however I don’t want to work with him.
Jamie: I’m trying to think of visual artists, but I don’t know, I feel very disconnected from contemporary visual art and poetry which I think is quite easy to feel unless you’re part of a scene. But there are some musical artists I really like who are doing some really interesting stuff like Soccer Mommy, just because I haven’t heard guitar music I’ve really liked in a while. Her music is so of a time, influenced by 90s new wave, bit Pavement, which I really like but then it also has such a pop sensibility to it. There’s not a huge amount I’m excited about in the world we are currently in but I do really like The Big Moon’s new album. I think it’s quite a brave record to make. I think, it’s a cliché to say it, but there is arguably music more exciting pop music than indie music happening right now.
Would you still define Bombay as “indie”? I know that’s a label which can be annoying due do how it’s kind of become an umbrella term for a huge variety of music.
Jamie: Yeah, I mean you search “indie” on Spotify and it just becomes a catchall for anything with a guitar in it… or even music which doesn’t.
Ed: At the beginning it annoyed me. I go back and listen to the more recent records and I just don’t know how it can be described as “indie”, it’s much more of a pop record.
Jamie: I think it [“indie”] is a particularly loaded term in this country because the concept of “landfill indie” doesn’t carry nearly as much currency elsewhere. But it’s definitely a word to swat away something you don’t like essentially. I think we have found that difficult over the years but maybe it’s quite useful to have a chip on your shoulder to push you through. In a way, I’d rather be doing it now than in the early 2000s when it was so ubiquitous and harder to stand out.
Bombay Bicycle Club are currently on tour in the UK with their new album ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’.