“More of a Lamb Rogan Josh”: In conversation with Bombay Bicycle Club’s Jamie MacColl

I think many would agree that 2016 was a rough year. Trump won the presidency, the UK voted to leave the EU, and Bombay Bicycle Club announced they were going on hiatus

With 2020 fast approaching, Trump somehow hasn’t been impeached (yet!), the UK still hasn’t left the EU, but Bombay Bicycle Club have made their triumphant return, so all is well in the world. I was lucky enough to speak to the band’s guitarist, Jamie MacColl, about their latest single, ‘Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You)’, re-uniting as a band, and getting recognised in a university library.

Their new album, Everything Else Has Gone Wrong will be released on January 17, 2020, but their lead single, ‘Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You)’ came out back in September. I asked Jamie about the inspiration for the track, and what it was like filming the music video at a military facility in Ukraine;

First of all, congratulations on the new single. What can you tell us about the inspiration behind that track?

“Lyrically I don’t know. It’s a pretty straightforward love song, I guess. I don’t know if you’ve seen the video for it… The video is about us missing each other. So, I guess you can kind of read into the lyrics and the basis of that, but it’s definitely not a love song about each other like a lot of people seem to think.”

How was the video to make?

“We made it in Kiev which was pretty strange, because we were in this sort of post-apocalyptic aesthetic. There’s this old sort of armaments factory and shipbuilding yard on the little island just off of Kiev. It’s not like it was in the kind of heyday of the Soviet Union, but it’s still being used, and it’s owned by the recently ousted Ukrainian President Poroshenko.

So, it was quite strange and there’re all these signs up saying don’t take pictures, this is like a top-secret area. But at the same time, they were allowing us to film music. That was very strange and surreal.”

With each new Bombay Bicycle Club album comes a new sound. ‘Eat, Sleep, Wake’ is sonically a throwback to the band’s debut album, featuring more prominent rock vibes, and stripping things back instrumentally, more classically indie sound. Reverting to a more “retro” sound evokes a sense of trendy nostalgia and comforting familiarity;

The new single is quite guitar-oriented. Does that follow through on the rest of the album?

“I think we wanted to come back with what was consciously quite a guitar focused song. Because with our last couple of albums we kind of moved away from that to some extent. Maybe I’m sort of adding something retrospectively but I think we wanted to do a kind of back to basics comeback single.

“It’s certainly more guitar-oriented than the last album, which was very kind of loop-based and sample-based, and more electronic and there are elements of that on this album as well. But on the whole, I would say there are more guitars which is good for me. Not that I have any sort of ulterior motive, of course!”

Do you often feel the need to evolve your sound or does it come naturally?

“I mean, every album we’ve done is kind of relatively different to last we did. We’ve done a pretty conventional indie rock album. We’ve made sort of something that’s verging on hip hop at times. And I don’t think it’s ever we’ve never sort of sit down at the start of something, with the exception of the acoustic album and said “this is what this album is gonna sound like, here’s how it’s going to be different to what we’ve done before”. I think the process is quite natural. We’ve never kind of made a concept album or anything like that. I think it tends to just reflect what Jack is listening to at the time, or, like, production ideas that he’s interested in.”

On January 29, 2016, Bombay Bicycle Club announced their intentions to split up to work on solo projects, including solo music projects from Jack Steadman and Ed Nash, and a return to university for guitarist, Jamie MacColl, who studied at Cambridge, doing two degrees alongside working on documentaries for the BBC. I asked him about what it’s been like playing together after the hiatus and whether he got recognised at University;

You mentioned that the video addresses you guys being on hiatus. What’s it been like coming back from that?

“I think we are all really enjoying it. From the kind of first moment we started rehearsing together again, it felt very natural. I mean, for me, it’s been quite strange because the other three all stayed in music. And, you know, releasing solo albums or working with session musicians. But for me, it was kind of the first gigs I’d done in four years so I’d kind of really forgotten what it was like and how intense the whole experience is.”

I read during the hiatus, you went to university. Did you meet any fans there?

“Yeah, I did. It was pretty awkward a lot of the time. Particularly when I’d be like sitting in the library and the person sat with me would be like “Can I have a picture with you?”. How do you finish the rest of the day together like that? But it didn’t happen that often. But it was pretty weird.

With their return, and a brand album being released, Bombay Bicycle Club are also preparing to embark on a tour in 2020. The band will be playing twenty dates across January and February, including dates in the UK, Ireland, and Germany. They’ve already sold out the O2 Academy in Leeds! With the tour coming up so quickly after the album release, Jamie and I spoke about his approach to the tour, and old rituals that the band used to do;

So, you guys have got a tour coming up in the new year. Are you excited?

“Yeah. Very excited. It’s gonna be a funny one because the album will have only come out a couple of weeks before so it’s that kind of thing where you hope people are able to digest and enjoy it enough beforehand.

Yeah, exactly. Maybe we’ll put some our lyrics up on the screen somewhere something to go. Group karaoke night. But I think it’ll be really great as we haven’t done this or like this in the UK for at least five years. So hopefully they’ll be a lot of pent up enthusiasts from the guys on the stage and in the crowd.”

What’s your favourite thing about going on tour?

“I mean obviously it’s like the gigs themselves. The other aspects of touring after you’ve been doing it for a while, kind of lose their lustre pretty quickly, I think. Maybe I’m just very cynical, but you know, like the endless travelling and you know, like essentially just being on a bus for half your day seems very romantic when you’re 21. But as you get older, it kind of loses excitement. What I get the most out of is kind of just seeing how people react to the music and how they react differently every night.

And honestly, just saying that, like, you meet people in it, you know, like, it means a lot to them. And that’s the whole point. That’s the whole reason why you do it. So, you know, when people come up to you and say, you know, how important your music is to them after a gig or something like that. It’s the whole reason that you do it, I think.”

Do you have any habits or rituals you do on tour?

“We used to do this thing called ‘happy time’ where we would get together in the afternoon and sing a cover together and everyone would sort of talk about their feelings, but we don’t seem to do that since we’ve come back which probably means it will happier and happy time isn’t necessary. Yeah, that’s it really. To be honest, the whole thing is so mundane when you’re on the inside. I don’t want to, I hope I’m not selling it short, but there is a lot of like sitting around and waiting for something to happen. I don’t think I have any. If I did when I was younger, they probably like revolved around drinking in some way.”

Over a decade ago, in Crouch End, London, a group of teenage boys decided to name their band after an Indian restaurant. Bombay Bicycle Club was born, and the rest is history. There is just one question, of infinite importance, left to be asked…”

Finally, we need to know, if you guys were a curry, what kind of curry would you be?

“We’d probably be like a Dahl. I’m more of a Lamb Rogan Josh myself.”