“A Way Of Summing Up” Bombay Bicycle Club Interviewed

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Whilst the days of waking up soaked wet-through in a stinking field seem like a distant memory for most, Bombay Bicycle Club slipped on their trusty wellington boots for the ultimate trug back down memory lane this August with a surprise opening set at Reading Festival. An incredulous crowd erupted into the catchy chorus of 2020’s ‘Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You)’ with the bravado of an intentionally off-pitch choir, much to the delight of the North London stalwarts. “We all went to Reading and Leeds when we were a lot younger,” smiles drummer Suren de Saram. “It was a really special set and a nice homecoming”.

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At sixteen, with bow-tied hoodie strings and a name swiped from an Indian takeaway chain, the Bombay Bicycle Club boys were never focused on making it big, just wanted to lark about with their best mates and have something cool to boast about over underage pints down the local. Fast forward all these years later, and we’re in the midst of their sixth studio album ‘My Big Day’ landing on our laps. “It’s surprising that we got the first one out!” laughs bassist Ed Nash. “Six is so many, I don’t think many bands make it to six. I think the hiatus delayed things somewhat, but if we hadn’t taken a break, we might not have carried on – everyone was getting pretty tired. We’d done four albums in about five years, but I think everyone’s came back to it and is genuinely enjoying themselves a lot more. Hopefully we’ll get to seven and just keep going like The Rolling Stones”.

The band’s shock hiatus following the extraordinary success of their 2014 release ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ sent fans spiralling. After experimenting with a variety of solo endeavours, they emerged revived and ready, with ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’ dutifully filling the noticeable Bombay shaped drought in the indie scene’s atmosphere. ‘My Big Day’ stirs things up a notch, with genre-bending experimentation the beating heart of the album’s eleven veins. “We didn’t set out intending to make an eclectic album necessarily; to me, it encapsulates our previous albums to some extent, almost like a way of summing up. We wanted to be brave and confident and throw it all in there,” Ed shares.

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‘My Big Day’ cites an impressive variety of feature artists on its tracklist, from LA songwriter Jay Som to UK pop icon Holly Humberstone, to the hotly tipped Nilufer Yanya and Britpop founding father Damon Albarn. “We’ve always been quite collaborative,” Ed points out. “We’ve had the likes of Lucy Rose and Rae Morris featuring on a lot of our past material, but this album is definitely the highest number we’ve done. With Holly, we had the song ‘Diving’ for about two years; same song, same arrangement and had tried loads of different endings and lyrics but nothing was finishing it. Once someone had the idea of putting Holly on it, it became a completely new song and a very upbeat track which we hadn’t planned on. The same goes for Jay Som, she kept sending all these incredible ideas and it was quite terrifying, she’s going to be a cool person to work with as a producer someday. That was the great aspect to working with these new artists – they just brought this amazing energy and vibe”. 

With a penchant to prove that they can do it all and more, the quartet conquered the tumultuous terror that many a musician would scarper from – self producing. Having dabbled with the lengthy process a decade ago, the intricate endeavour was something of a no brainer for the new release. “There’s definitely good and bad sides to it,” Ed explains. “With the last album, we wanted someone else to be at the reins and in control, and with ‘My Big Day’, we had the complete opposite feeling having given away all that control. We felt sure that we wanted to retain it”. 

Constructed over the course of a year in their East London studio, ‘My Big Day’ became somewhat of a tedious feat. “It’s easy to get lost in things and deliberate over really small decisions and nitpick. We chose to do it so we could dive in headfirst – if we hadn’t chosen to do it ourselves, we wouldn’t have been able to do anything quite so bizarre. With such a mix of genres and tracks flowing into one another, it takes a lot of thinking about!” muses Suren. 

The titular track teases at the total opposite of the blood, sweat and tears spent pulling it together. Poking fun at the faux extrovertism that the digital age is drowning in, ‘My Big Day’ is an anthem for the couch potato connoisseurs, a tune to rival Bruno Mars’ ‘Lazy Song’, that celebrates getting stoned, raiding the contents of the fridge and staring at the telly until your eyes turn square. “It’s quite ironic as we’ve been having some pretty big days lately. Like skydiving? We all got the train to Peterborough and camped in an airfield and were so keen that we were all the first ones in the queue. It was great, but then we had to drive all the way down to Leeds for a gig afterwards. A very strange big day!” laughs Suren. 

A far cry from their album artwork gone past, ‘My Big Day’s egg-masked man was met with several question marks. “We really upset some people with that one!” says Ed. “From the outset, we knew we wanted to do something quite different to what we’d done before. A lot of our previous album covers have been illustrations based on lovely colours, like tasteful…”.

“So with this one, we wanted to go as far as possible. We came across this image of a guy with fried eggs on his face just having the best day of his life. It really resonated with us. We had to recreate the photo so we didn’t get in trouble, and the guy who got hired to do it, it turns out he went to the same school as all of our friends and grew up round the corner – just so North London. We thought this guy had the bestest, biggest smile! Everyone focuses on the eggs and like it has a meaning, but we just chose the photo because of the feeling of joy and the silliness it provokes, which is what we’re trying to get across with the album – a mishmash of genres and being over the top, as opposed to being a metaphor. It’s bright and in-your-face, just like the music.”

Suren adds: “We often feel like we may be perceived as a slightly more serious band or more serious people than we actually are, but we’re just four silly lads in reality. We wanted to make sure that came across in this album”.

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The blood, sweat and tears all became worth it one fateful evening when Damon Albarn, as casually as ever, suggested a special guest to liven up their funk-laden offering ‘Tekken 2’. The Bombay boys spilled the beans on social media earlier this week, announcing Seventies sensation Chaka Khan as the mystery guest on the track. Ed delves into the dream feature, enthusing: “We thought it was just completely bonkers! She’s an absolute legend. We went to LA, recorded it, then made a music video that includes some rather bad Vogue dancing. The sheer fact of getting her on it at all is just amazing, unbelievable.”

From the soft easing in of ‘Just A Little More Time’ to the old-school Bombay infused ‘Meditate’ and sweet, swirling synths of Albarn allianced ‘Heaven’, the album comes to a triumphant close with the ambitious, cacophonic ‘Onward’. “We’ve been working on ‘Onward’ for about thirteen years or so,” affirms Ed. “For every album, we’ve tried to get it right and it’s never been good enough, but it’s the longest we’ve ever worked on something and I’m so proud of it”.

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‘My Big Day’ is out now.

Words: Becca Fergus
Photo Credit: Tom Oxley