WLUW Chats with Bombay Bicycle Club

By Allison Lapinski

Bombay Bicycle Club has reunited after a three-year hiatus. In a recent music video for their single “Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You),” the band, with full tongue-in-cheek attitude, declared that without their music, “British society crumbled.”

British and American fans alike were excited to find out about the band releasing new music, especially as Bombay Bicycle Club celebrates the tenth anniversary of their celebrated album, I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose.” In support of both their new and old music, the band embarked on their US tour this fall, stopping in Chicago on October 1.

Before the show, WLUW staffers Allison Lapinski and Morgan Ciocca spoke to bassist Ed Nash and guitarist Jamie MacColl. Topics of interest included their feelings about evolving as a band and returning to the spotlight together.

Photo by Morgan Ciocca

Allison Lapinski: Congratulations on getting back together! How’s it feel being back on tour since the break – has it been good being back?

Ed Nash: Yeah, it’s fantastic, actually. I know it sounds … it’s what anyone would say, but it  really is so much better. Towards the end of 2014, which is when we stopped touring, I can only speak for myself but I was tired out, you know? We were on tour a lot and I think we needed a break, and coming back to it with that much time off has really kind of refreshed us all. I–I love it and I’ve enjoyed a lot more than I have in the past. I think we’re better at doing it as well, you know? We know what to do in the day, you know, not staying up too late, getting up early. All boring stuff … 

Jamie MacColl: It makes us sound very old!

EN: We’re incredibly old now! Now, I mean, I’m really enjoying it a lot more than we did – and I even enjoyed it then, but this is particularly good.

AL: Is it different touring in the United States versus back home, or would you say it’s kind of the same?

JM: I mean, culturally it’s a very different country and it’s interesting – there’s a lot in the kind of political debates in the U.K. at the moment around Brexit, a lot of people are kind of advocating Brexit … [there’s] talk about kind of becoming closer to the U.S. politically, and because of, I suppose, comptrolling. It is a very different country to where we’re from, and there’s no one culture in the U.S. Everywhere feels quite different, as most countries. But certainly the audiences here are different to home. Actually … hopefully no one in the UK will hear this, [laughs] but I enjoy playing here more because the crowds are a lot nicer and passionate in a different way … they kind of dance more rather than moshing, and it’s just always a much nicer energy in the room, and every night on this tour … the crowds have been really amazing and everyone just seems genuinely happy to be there.

EN: Aside from the shows, just the geography of the country is completely different. Like, to drive our stuff took 36 hours, and, you know, you could do loops of the UK in that amount of time … so just the way you travel, the amount of time you spend on tour is completely different. It’s really cool.

AL: You guys just came from the west coast, right?

EN: Yeah, yeah, we played in San Fran two days ago.

AL: It’s a lot different – even just being in Chicago from San Francisco.

EN: Yeah, totally. You’ve got, … it’s almost like different countries within the country. And landscapes as well – you’ve got mountains, desert, cities, everything. It’s really a cool place to tour.

Morgan Ciocca: I feel like the United States is so big, you don’t even think about how different the different parts of it are.

JM: Even just being … we’ve been in California for … we were there for nearly a month recording the album. And even there, the geography of it and the cultures of it are so different depending on which part of the state you’re in. And then it’s like that times 100 if you go across the country as a whole. But I feel like – because we have consumed so much American culture growing up in another English-speaking country – before you come here you assume you know everything about America because I’ve, I don’t know, whatever, I’ve seen, like, West Wing and  Beverly Hills 90210 or something. Not that I’ve watched that! But as an example. [laughs] But then you get here and it’s always so different to what your expectations are. 

AL: I imagine that Britain is a lot different than Downton Abbey portrays it to be? Or The Crown?

EN: I don’t know … 

AL: The Crown’s realistic!

JM: [laughing] The Crown is historically accurate! It’s definitely one side of life.

AL: With this new album coming out, were there any different sources of inspiration for you guys, or do you kind of draw from the same pool from your earlier work?

EN: I think something that was very different with this record from the last one is we had a producer involved in making it, so we had a completely different person in the studio from before … and the way we worked, because of him, the way he worked, the sounds, you know, the process was entirely different. So, yeah, it was a very different experience making the record. In terms of, you know, what you draw from … Jack [Steadman]’s written about his life and what’s going on with him at the time, so that’s changed, obviously, from the age of 23 to, you know, being in your late twenties now. So, while the inspiration is the same, it’s just what’s going on around in relationships, life … it’s quite different 

AL: That’s refreshing.

JM: I think when we did the last album, the previous few years have been very much defined by being in a band and that being all you do in life. Except for kind of six or seven years after we left school, that was, like, all we did, whereas now there’s having taken some time away from it there’s a bit more of … life experience to draw on outside of the band.

EN: Yeah.

AL: I mean, you’ve kind of just addressed this, but do you think that you’ve seen the band evolve over the years?

JM: Well, obviously, over the course of every album we’ve done there has been a musical progression, as we started as a kind of indie rock band, then did an acoustic album, and then … did sort of something in-between, and then made quite a[n] electronic, more kind of dance record – or, well, not dance but drawing on more eclectic influences. Now, it seems like we’re kind of doing a mixture of all of those different things at once. I think the more interesting progression for me has just been – which is probably less interesting for other people – progression as people. Going from starting doing this when we were, like, 15 … and I just sort of enjoy thinking about how we’ve evolved since then. I feel like everyone is a lot more rounded and grounded than we were five years ago, or four years ago, when we stopped doing it. I think that’s probably been the most important progression. Which is also probably why we’re enjoying it more than we did when we stopped as well.

EN: Absolutely, yeah. Agreed.

AL: Just touching on the solo projects that a couple of you guys did – did that contribute to this new work, or did you kind of manage to keep that separate?

EN: Yeah, I mean, it’s had a massive effect on … the music and all the stuff Jamie was talking about as well. When we finished touring, me and Jack both made solo albums  – him under Mister Jukes and me under Toothless – and doing it, you know, I learned a lot more about writing music and writing lyrics and pursuing that myself, which has come into the band a bit more. And I think Jack learned a lot about production and working in music, and working outside of the group of four of us. And whilst learning those skills, away from everyone, the main thing that I took from it, that I brought back to Bombay Bicycle Club, wasn’t skills or music – it was the appreciation for what we were doing … that, because we had been doing it for so long, and it was all really really new, I didn’t quite realize how good I had it, or we had it, or what was going on. So kind of taking that time away, coming back to it, I’m really really appreciative of what we’ve managed to do. You know, just sitting in Chicago – being here, playing to people, I think that’s kind of the main thing I’ve taken from it.

AL: Returning back to it?

EN: Yeah! Just, you know, having some perspective.

AL: So, being that we’re a college station, do you guys have any wise words for young bands?

EN: Stay in school. [laughs] This also sounds quite cheesy, but I’d do music to have fun. If you’re playing in a band, just do it because you like the people you’re with – it’s fun. Not because you want to be a successful band, because it probably won’t happen. And when it does happen, like it happened to us, the best bit is having fun, you know? And, if it stops being fun, there’s no point in doing it. And I think a lot of people get into it for the wrong reasons, like they want to be successful, they want to, I don’t know, whatever, be famous. Whereas it should just be a fun thing. And the music will be better for that as well.

AL: Right.

JM: I think it’s important to reconcile yourself that there’s an element of luck involved in it as well. There are a lot of talented people that never, in inverted commas, “make it.” And there are a myriad of reasons for that. I just think being in the right place at the right time is important. But that can be something that’s quite … that’s something that’s kind of out of your control, in a way. And, to a certain extent, you can make your own luck. But, accepting that is a quite important part of, if you’re not successful, dealing with that.

EN: Yeah.

MC: You can be the best band in the world but it might not work out sometimes.

JM: Sometimes it doesn’t work out. As in lots of aspects of life – whether it’s a relationship, or a job, or music, or whatever. But, yeah, I would also stay in school. [laughs]

AL: Good advice for everyone in a band! [laughs] This is kind of more of a fun question: a lot of iconic bands are coming back with albums – I just listened to the new Iggy Pop album, new Pixies album. What’s an artist that you’d really want to hear a new album from that maybe haven’t released music in years together?

EN: That’s a good question.

AL: They could be dead or alive!

EN: Dead or alive!

JM: It’s very rare that someone old comes back with a new album and I’m like, “That’s a great album.” So often I’d like them to not make an album and just enjoy all they did in the past!

EN: Could we get Bob Dylan to stop making new music? [laughs]

JM: You need to have something new to say about a new era of your life … or you’ve gone through, you know, like a period of failure or lack of success. And I think one of the reasons why that Johnny Cash comeback with those Rick Rubin albums was so powerful is that he’d had 20 or 30 years, essentially, being on the outside looking in … you could kind of feel that in the music that he was making. But it’s hard, as you get old … if you’re, like, a multi-millionaire rockstar in your sixties, what do you have to sing about?

AL: Madonna … 

JM: [laughing] Yeah …

AL: No offense, Madonna. 

JM: I’d like to hear a new At the Drive-In album, just because I really liked them when I was younger, and they’re touring. If you’re going to do a comeback … I guess it’s good to, like, make a token out of it to make some new music.

AL: Right.

JM: It seems like less of a, like, cynical ploy to … 

MC: Just make more money?

JM: Make money, yeah.

EN: Yeah.

AL: I think I heard a new album from one of the members of The Ramones and I was like, “Well that was a … decision that you made …” It wasn’t bad, but so many artists are coming back with albums that maybe … could’ve been avoided.

JM: It’s very difficult as well because, I don’t know, as a songwriter, whether you have a relatively limited time period of really great creativity and an output … and once you get beyond that point, it just seems to decline. Which is kind of depressing, but … there’s not many people I can think of that have had, like, 40 or 50 years of consistently good songwriting.

EN: Yeah.

AL: Fair enough.

EN: I guess that’s the expectation as well, once there’s one thing people like, they want that thing again. And it’s really hard to kind of move away from there.

JM: It often tends to be people that are able to keep up with the kind of cultural moment, or someone like David Bowie, who was able to both lead change and follow it when necessary … whereas, like, The Rolling Stones are The Rolling Stones, and that’s what they do – which is great, what they do is obviously amazing.

EN: Radiohead are the only band of the last 30 years that consistently, I would say consistently, like doing exciting things. They’re still dangerous now, and I think they will forever be. Dangerous as in you don’t know what they’re gonna do.

AL: Yeah, okay. Thank you for your responses.

JM: You’re welcome.

EN: We’ve done a very long answer for quite a fun question! [laughs]

JM: You can edit that down! [laughs]

MC: It’s a hard question!

AL: It really is, yeah.

JM: Who would you – what would you like to hear?

MC: I feel like you [Allison] might say this, but Patti Smith.

AL: Yes!

MC: I want her to make more stuff! She was just at Riot Fest, which is a music festival here. We both saw her and she was incredible. She’s in her seventies, and is incredible, like, so cool.

EN: She’s great live, as well.

AL: She’s writing books now; she just came out with her third book.

EN: What, M Train … is it M Train?

AL: That was her first book. This new one is called The Year of the Monkey, and then her second book was Just Kids.

EN: Yeah, that’s a great book.

MC: She’s so cool.

AL: I love her.

EN: Very cool.

MC: [to Allison] Is that who you would say, too?

AL: Yeah, probably, now that you said that. I don’t know who else would be. Oh! I don’t know, I liked The White Stripes a lot, but that’s just because I’m from Detroit and I like Jack White.

JM: I would be up for hearing a new White Stripes album.

AL: He’s gone back to The Raconteurs and …  

JM: It seems like that’s put to death … like, that’s put to bed now.

EN: What, The White Stripes? That’s – I think that’s ‘cause she won’t do it. She doesn’t want to do it. I think she just has terrible anxiety touring and doing it, from what I understand. Yeah … 

AL: Maybe they’ll … maybe they’ll come back.

MC: Maybe. One day.

Photo by Morgan Ciocca

AL: I really liked your kind of conceptual music videos that you’ve done over the years. This new music video for the single that came out, did you guys have any part in that, or was that more –

JM: The director.

EN: We were in it. Other than that we didn’t have that much of a part in it.

AL: I’m always curious … 

JM: Well we kind of said broadly what we wanted the tone of it to be … I mean, it’s a very good friend of ours who was our live keyboard player for about 10 years … so, yeah, we just said broadly how we wanted it to make people feel and he went away and did it.

AL: Who came up with the first few seconds with the, like –

MC: The little cynical lines … 

JM: Oh, the text? That was him as well. 

EN: That was him [laughs] it was his video, honestly.

AL: It was clever.

MC: I thought it was funny! I laughed.

EN: I think it’s a funny video.

JM: Yeah, it was funny. So basically, for anyone who hasn’t seen it, it’s set in a[n] apocalyptic future where society has collapsed, and the joke is that it’s ‘cause we went on hiatus. And the year we went on hiatus was also the year that Brexit happened, and the British politics seemed to have collapsed as well. So now that we’re back hopefully it will, uh … it will fix itself! [laughs]

MC: Is it a coincidence? Who’s to say? [laughs]

AL: It reminded me of an episode of Black Mirror or something. I liked it. 

MC: What do you guys like [to] do in your free time? When you’re not touring – you had [almost] a five year break! – and aside from professional things and stuff like that.

JM: You mean when we’re not on tour now? Or just in general.

MC: When you’re not on tour, mostly.

EN: That’s a big one; I spent the past five years trying to work it out, and now I’m back on tour again so I have to think about it. I mean, in the last five years what I spent most of my time doing was making music. Recording, and playing guitar, and kind of learning how to do that … you know, just leading lives, really. The amount of time that takes – just having relationships, having friends, family … and then, yeah, music mainly. Jamie did quite a lot.

JM: [laughing] I went to university for four years and got a couple of degrees, and – well, it’s not very interesting – worked in cybersecurity and private intelligence in the Private Sector for about two years as well, and did some internships here and there. I spent a couple of months in D.C. last summer, working at Think Tank. So, it’s quite varied! Quite different to what everyone else has been doing. I was the only one that didn’t stay in music for the last few years.

EN: I worked in a coffee shop as well. [laughter]

AL: Did anyone, like, pick up yoga?

JM: I like doing a bit of yoga.

AL: Okay, good, good.

JM: But I mean a lot of people I know in their late twenties who seem to be going through, like, career crises are becoming yoga instructors so … it could be me next! I’m not very flexible, so … [laughs].

MC: “I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose” is one of my favorite albums of all time; how do you guys feel about it being 10 years old this year?

EN: I don’t know, it’s weird.

MC: Yeah?

EN: It’s – I don’t know, it feels like a very long time ago.

JM: [laughing] I feel 10 years older!

EN: We were very young when we made it … we were 18 when we made that record. It’s weird, looking back now, ‘cause – I don’t know, it’s like looking at a diary or something. It just reminds you of that time of your life … and that’s quite an important time in your life – everything’s changing. We were starting this career, you know?

JM: Aside from it being the 10-year anniversary, I kind of feel conflicted about it. ‘Cause I, personally, don’t think it’s aged very well in some ways – the sound of it hasn’t. But I also have, like, a real emotional connection to it, and as do all of our fans. I don’t know how I feel, basically. I feel old, even though we’re not very old! But we’re doing some gigs in the U.K. for the 10-year anniversary in a couple of months, and playing it kind of back to front. Back to front? From start to finish. Which I think will be a fun thing to do. And we’re playing a few more songs from it on this tour than we normally would as well. So you’ll be pleased!

MC: Good, I’m excited. It’s a great album. It must be weird to look back on it, though – it’s like a time capsule of different feelings and memories that you had at the time you were writing it, I’m sure.

JM: Yeah, it’s very much about being a teenager as well. Which is why … back then, a lot of teenagers at the time … connected with it then, or discovered it now because [it] … evokes, like, a specific kind of period in your life quite well. Whereas now people in their late twenties, like, I know what they’re feeling! [laughs] And, hopefully, the younger people as well. And older!

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