Wheels of invention turn for Bombay Bicycle Club
The Crouch End band’s bassist Ed Nash puts their success down to a willingness to evolve - evident on their last album, discovers Alex Bellotti
Pop music rarely produces good role models. In the past year, we’ve seen Robin Thicke spit in the face of gender equality, Miley Cyrus twerk her way past the horizon of good taste and, quite frankly, the less said about Justin Bieber, the better.
All in all then, the parents of north London should be dancing in the streets for the return of Bombay Bicycle Club. Not only are Jack Steadman, Jamie MacColl, Suren de Saram and Ed Nash hyper-local heroes; they’re an earnest blueprint for the teenage dreams of schoolkids nationwide.
Start a band with a stupid name (in this case indebted to a chain of Indian restaurants), play a few toilet venues, win a nationwide competition and become the darlings of NME before you’ve even finished your A-levels. Nearly eight years down the line and it’s still hard to think of a band who made the School of Rock progression so seamlessly.
“We’re closer than we’ve ever been before, it’s going incredibly well,” says bassist Nash, with the sort of unforced nonchalance that most bands only find in middle age. On the eve of their fourth album launch, Bombay Bicycle Club – now all the grand age of 24 – seem to have bypassed the seven-year itch without so much as a scratch.
Nash explains: “I think the reason the band’s lasted so long is that we all share a very similar ethos towards making music; evolving, moving forward and creating something new has always been at the centre.
“It can get stale and boring – not just for us, but for the people listening to it otherwise. I mean I don’t like it when I listen to variations of the same album three or four times from the same band – I don’t think many people do.”
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It’s the sort of spiel half the indie population might declare, but Bombay Bicycle Club back it up with action more than most. After their rise to fame as 16-year-olds at the V Festival, their debut record placed them in the succession of jangly-stringed hopefuls following The Strokes and The Libertines.
While groups like The Pigeon Detectives and The Fratellis continued to plough the same soundscapes until they were barren, their younger contemporaries conversely turned the tables with the release of their completely acoustic follow-up, Flaws.
“It was definitely a challenge looking back at that second album,” Nash admits. “It came out really quick – a year to the day after our debut – and it was completely different. A lot of people thought we were mad, but it ended up selling more and being even more successful than the first, which proved to us that evolution could work.”
Another quick turnaround, 2011’s A Different Kind Of Fix continued to flaunt Bombay as the biggest purveyors of evolution since Pokémon. With its layered cushions of reverb, harmony and delicate, colourful melodies, the record’s most remarkable feat was not signalling the band’s new direction as thoughtful instrumentalists, but confirming them as an act of rare, consistent quality.
The latest chapter in their blossoming back catalogue, So Long, See You Tomorrow, is out on Monday and has already caused quite a stir online with two striking videos. While the music will always come first, this record has seen them develop a more holistic approach to their art.
“When we started doing this album, we certainly wanted there to be a step up with the music, but also a step up with everything else. The artwork, videos, website; there was an underlying theme that became apparent in the music of repetition and from that we developed this idea of looking at the works of Eadweard Muybridge.”
The English photographer, renowned for his work with motion and mirrored image, has also had an effect on the band musically, with many melodies and lyrics acting as refrains throughout the record.
One word that keeps repeating itself recently too is ‘truthful’.
“I suppose there are two ways of looking at that. Musically, this is the album we’ve wanted to do all along, it’s all come from within ourselves – Jack producing it, for instance – and we enlisted very little outside help.
“Lyrically we looked at it, I suppose you can say, in a more honest, open way. On the last album, the words were all buried beneath a layer of reverb intentionally, but this time we wanted them to be a lot more up front. Jack’s literally been all over the world finding them.”
Wherever they travel, however, the gravitational pull of north London always proves too strong. It’s no surprise – every member of the band was brought up in Crouch End, with three of them attending University College School in Hampstead, while Nash studied at Camden School for Girls’ mixed sixth form.
As if to legitimise his local claims further, the latter answers my phone call from his mother’s house in the heart of Highgate while extolling the virtues of his latest purchase.
“I’ve just moved into the new flat – I wasn’t even looking in Hornsey specifically, but it just turned out to be the perfect one. It’s funny really, I grew up in north London and can never seem to get away from it. It’s the place the band grew up, it’s where we met.”
Steadman, MacColl and de Saram had already formed the foetal structure of Bombay before Nash joined, but it wasn’t until they saw the bassist performing at the slightly macabre setting of a funeral that they found completion.
Rather than finding success so young a handicap, Nash believes it actually worked to their advantage.
“Musically, it’s definitely one of the reasons that things changed so rapidly for us. When you’re young, you’ve everything to gain, you’re reckless and want to prove yourself, so I’d attribute a lot of our choices to the fact that we were young.”
Even for their records, this area has proved fertile ground. The band’s first album was produced in Ray Davies’ Konk studios in Hornsey – as was half of So Long, See You Tomorrow – and Flaws was similarly put together in Crouch End’s Church Studios.
What shines through every release, no matter how different, is the clarity of Bombay’s vision and a sense of balance. Nash attributes it partly to their local grounding, partly to their seemingly infallible friendship and democratic song writing process. Regardless of reason, they’ve certainly found their identity.
“Going back to your question about the group ethos, one thing we’ve always tried to do – no matter how we dress it up – is keep the heart of a pop song with strong melodies and good lyrics. If you took those elements alone, hopefully what you’ll always be left with is recognisable as Bombay Bicycle Club.”
So Long, See You Tomorrow is out Monday on Island Records.