Backstage at Leeds…with Bombay Bicycle Club

Posted on August 27, 2012

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written by Robert Pollard for Leeds Festival

Three albums in and Bombay Bicycle Club have established themselves as one of the most innovative purveyors of UK indie music. Each album has seen them attempt new sounds, meaning they remain fresh and challenging for the listener. We caught up with Jamie MacColl and Ed Nash backstage at Leeds and got their thoughts about all things Bombay Bicycle Club.

What a year it’s been so far for you guys. The Ally Pally sell-out and supporting Blur at Hyde Park. How’s it all going?

Ed – It’s probably been my favourite year of the band’s career actually, by a long way. The last album is my favourite, it’s a great record, and we’ve been touring it in a way which we didn’t tour any of the other albums and, as you said, we’re finishing off the year with some huge shows.

Jamie – Alexandra Palace definitely felt like a great moment – selling it out 4 months in advance. It wasn’t just a home town gig for us, it’s the place closest to the area we grew up in, which is just down the road from there, and it felt like a culmination of everything that we’ve done so far.

From the experience you’ve had as a band, what advice would you give to be a successful musician just starting out?

Ed – Don’t try and be in a successful band. Do it because it’s fun and do it with your friends and if it works out then it’s for the love of doing it.

Jamie – I think some people just want to be successful at all cost and that isn’t necessarily the best way to have a long career.

How does it feel to be playing Reading and Leeds?

Ed – It’s my favourite festival. It’s a grubby festival but it’s our sixth year I think which says a lot about how we feel about it.

Jamie – I think it’s great that this year they’re supporting some great UK bands, like us, The Maccabees, The Vaccines. I think we need to move towards finding the next headliners for festivals. Like, The Cure and Kasabian are headlining so many festivals this summer. I just don’t think people will keep going to see the same people headlining all the time. There aren’t many of those now where it’s a one-off and a really special event and people will go just to see that.

A career in music isn’t a traditional choice. How did you family and friends react when things all started to kick off for Bombay?

Jamie – Well, my dad is a musician so I don’t think he was that surprised. I think my parents more wary really because my dad knows how hard this is.

Ed – Neither of my parents are involved in music but they were incredibly supportive. We initially took a year out of school to see how it went and we never ended up going to university.

What other art forms inspire you? Do you draw influence from film or art?

Ed – I used to paint a lot. That’s what I would have gone down that route had I not gone into this. I wouldn’t say it necessarily influences what I do in the band.

Jamie – Just reading….literature. I was going to study classics at university but like Ed I don’t think it informs what I do in the band too much, although we do have a classical allusion in one of our songs.

Who has influenced your sound the most?

Ed – It’s changed a lot since the first album.

Jamie – Yeah, when we make an album, we really do take forward what we’re listening to at the time.

Ed – I know Jack [Steadman, the band’s main songwriter] was listening to a lot of Tom Vek, and a lot of 90s indie music from America [at the time of the first album].

Jamie – A lot of it was just like shoegazy, 90s indie, and the newer stuff like Modest Mouse, My Bloody Valentine. That’s what we kind of started with. And then the second album was all folk. Jack’s a very big Joni Mitchell fan, and that then lead to Bert Jansch

Ed – Jack also picked up this technique called the claw hammer.

Jamie – Richard and Linda Thompson, too.

Ed – Elliott Smith. We also covered a song for a John Martyn tribute album and the cover ended up on our second album [Flaws].

Jamie – The latest album we were kind of listening to more electronic music, and more sample and loop based music. Not artists in particular, but just that way of making music, like in hip hop, where a song starts around a crucial sample.

Ed – The structure of the song as well – like, building stuff up bringing it back down.

Jamie – Yeah, like, a lot of the chord progressions stay the same throughout and having peaks and troughs.

You’ve got a big North America tour coming up, is that right?

Jamie – Yeah, we just actually did one and now we’re going back again, so it’s the third one we’ve done. It’s a bit of a slog out there because it’s so big and we have to play different places every time.

How are you being received there?

Jamie – Well. The nature of radio is very different there. There are 3 or 4 stations in every city and you have to go into every one. You have to work very hard there if you’re going to do anything, harder than anywhere else. I can see why people say it does make or break bands, kind of as a social unit as much as anything else but I think it’s actually brought us closer together if anything. Particularly February and March when we were going through avalanches in Canada and that sort of thing, it has been like a defining thing for us.

Do you like Canada?

Ed – Yeah, I prefer it actually, as a place to play and as a country [than America]. It’s much more relaxed and much more European. We play much bigger shows out there because there are fewer places to play but, yeah, the shows there are great.

A lot of people I talk to believe that the music coming out of America outstrips the UK. What’s your feeling on that one?

Jamie – Pop music is probably better in America, on the whole over the last 10 years. I’d also say that Indie music, for the most part, is better in America. I think when we talk about British indie music, it conjures up a lot of the guitar bands of the last decade like Kaiser Chiefs and Razorlight, who I’m not necessarily a big fan of. Whereas when I think of American indie music, I think of 90s guitar bands we grew up listening to. However, I actually think that British inside music and whatever that encompasses is actually in quite a healthy state. Not necessarily selling a lot of records but I think a lot of the bands are a lot more interesting now, and I think stuff like Wild Beasts, and us, and The Maccabees, and Foals, and even Alt J now is a lot more interesting than it was. In terms of sales, I think there was, like, 1 song in the top 100 singles but there is a lot of good music around it’s just not reaching a lot of people.

A lot is made about record sales dipping and the music industry struggling to keep up with technology. What’s you take on the future of the music industry? Does it concern you?

Jamie – Not massively. People aren’t going to stop going to gigs, people aren’t going to stop being interested in music, I just think people need to bare in mind that we do need to make a living out of it and as much as they may not want to pay anything they’re not gonna get good bands coming through in the same way if they don’t. I also think record labels were slow to kind of get on board with things like downloading. Like, when Napster came out they tried to stop it instead of embracing it and finding a way to make money out of it. A lot of the streaming services, like Spotify, aren’t very artist friendly even though they do make money for the labels I think we need to find a way of making it beneficial for the bands themselves.

Ed – Do you mean cutting out the middle man and getting the money more directly to the bands?

Jamie – I don’t know everything about it, but I think Universal, for example, have a deal with Spotify which means a lot of revenue from them which bypasses the bands.

So, you guys are comfortable playing acoustic or electric. Which one suits you better?

Jamie – I think, as a songwriter, for Jack, he’s equally good at both but as a band I prefer electric. It’s more what Bombay Bicycle Club is about as a band.

Ed – And the energy on stage is better. You don’t get the same energy acoustically.

Jamie – Yeah, I find it a bit weird just sat there with an acoustic guitar. Not that I don’t enjoy it, I do, but everyone is really quiet at those gigs to so you can hear when you fuck up!

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Posted in: Interviews, Music