Interview: Bombay Bicycle Club return to Leeds after six year hiatus

After a six year absence, Bombay Bicycle Club are back, and guitarist Jamie MacColl spoke to SAM WARD.

Thursday, 16th January 2020, 5:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 16th January 2020, 6:05 pm
Bombay Bicycle Club are back with a new album and a string of live dates, including Leeds 02 Academy. Picture: Josh Shinner

Fresh from two intimate album preview gigs at the Brudenell Social Club, the guitarist, while still in Leeds, caught up with the YEP to talk about the new album and how the band relish being ‘anti-cool’.

The making of the aforementioned album, however, certainly hasn’t been plain-sailing for Jamie.

Not only did he have to help create a comeback album with one of the UK’s finest indie bands of recent years, he also completed a degree at Cambridge University.

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“I think I managed to juggle it all - well, just about” he says.

“My Masters was quite difficult, actually, because we were already doing stuff with the band and I was also getting married, so I had a lot on my plate.”

Three out of the four members of Bombay Bicycle Club met at school in London and, when they were only 16, they played as the opening act at V Festival 2006.

Since then, they have released four albums to critical acclaim, with the latest of these, ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’ out tomorrow, January 17.

The guitarist tells me why he utilised the hiatus for academic achievement: “I did a BA and a Masters, and that was because we went straight into the band at school, and have done it since we were 14 or 15, so none of us had the time to go to university and that was something that I felt I had missed out on.

“Not the socialise side of it - being in a band is better than Freshers’ Week.

“But I did miss out on the intellectual side.”

His undergraduate degree from KCL was in War Studies, and the Masters in International Relations.

“It was very different to being in a band but that was kind of the point, really.

“It was to do something as different as possible.”

It is not only the guitarist in this indie four-piece, however, that has academic aspirations.

“Jack (Steadman, singer) is also doing an Open University degree at the moment; in Astronomy, I think.

“This is all very nerdy.”

“Not very Oasis, is it?” I ask him.

“No. We’ve never been cool really, well, in our own way, so we are fine doing this kind of thing and we have always embraced being ‘normal’ and it has kind of been our selling point, instead of being ‘rock stars’”.

Their last offering, 2014’s aptly-named, ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ reached number one in the UK chart, their first and only to date.

For the new album, the band recorded in LA with Grammy Award-winning producer John Congleton, who has worked with artists such as Blondie, St. Vincent, The Killers and Earl Sweatshirt.

On quizzing Jamie on what it was like to work with a producer of Congleton’s calibre, he says: “It was a very fulfilling experience for us.

“We had self-produced the last album, and although the results were very good, the actual process was quite stressful for us, particularly for Jack who took the brunt of it.

“It changes the dynamic of the band because Jack was not only both the lead singer, but also the producer, which meant he had to play two roles that were quite hard to reconcile.

“Working with John the process was easier because he works very quickly.

“We did it all in two and a half weeks, I think”.

Apart from recording in “more glamorous” Los Angeles, I ask Jamie what is aurally different about this album.

“It is less trying to be a pop album, probably.

“I think we were conscious of trying to make pop songs on the last record with songs like ‘Luna’ and ‘Feel’. “This is probably more stripped back and has more guitars. It is a lot more lyrically direct and personal.

“Broadly, it deals with getting older and change and finding your place in the world, which is kind of the general anxieties of people in their late 20s.”

The band came together last year for a handful of gigs celebrating the tenth anniversary of their first album, ‘I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose’.

The idea to reform after their break came about from these smattering of successful shows.

“Someone suggested do we want do some gigs to celebrate the anniversary and that quickly moved onto, ‘well, it feels a bit weird, a band in their late twenties doing a reunion tour’ when it feels like creatively we still have a lot to offer.

“When we stopped we were one of the biggest guitar bands in the country and I think we had continually pushed the boundaries of what guitar music could be and we wanted to carry on doing that.”

The band will return to Leeds again at the end of the month: “We sold out in about 10 minutes so there aren’t any tickets left.

For anyone that hasn’t been lucky enough to get a ticket, Jamie assures me: “We will have to come back and do an even bigger venue.”

Bombay Bicycle Club play the O2 Academy in Leeds on Saturday, January 25.