Damon Albarn, Holly Humberstone, Jay Som and Nilüfer Yanya – it’s quite the list. Enlisted by Bombay Bicycle Club, these four artists all appear across the band’s forthcoming sixth album ‘My Big Day’ (due October 20), easily their most collaborative record to date. Yet, there’s still one more surprise feature still to be announced – a guest vocalist on ‘Tekken 2’, a track named after the 1990s arcade game.
Giving precious little away about the big reveal, vocalist Jack Steadman and guitarist Jamie MacColl both have wry smiles on their faces, as they meet NME in a Brick Lane office space. They’ve both spent the scorching hot weekend on childcare duties, admitting there’s a newfound balance to be had as they gear up for the intense period that comes with releasing an album. “I think Kanye West said that love is the enemy of creativity!” MacColl jokes at one point.
Coming back from a five-year hiatus in 2020 with ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’, the band’s fire was re-ignited, playing two nights at London’s 10,000-capacity Alexandra Palace that very same February. Yet, the pandemic cut short this triumphant return, meaning there was unfinished business to attend to this summer. Between conquering Reading Festival with a secret performance and playing a series of fan-led karaoke shows across the UK, the north Londoners are as creatively stimulated as ever.
Pushing forward into uncharted waters on ‘My Big Day’, they experiment with hip-hop and pop in tandem with their traditional indie stylings. Whether it’s the jagged title track ‘My Big Day’ or the soulful ‘Diving’, their influences know no bounds – clearer than ever in the chaotic, experimental instrumental number ‘Rural Radio Predicts The Rapture’ which strays towards trap and garage.
MacColl and Steadman joined NME for the latest in our In Conversation series to discuss the vision and creative process behind ‘My Big Day.’
NME: How was your summer? That Reading Festival secret set must’ve been special…
Jack Steadman: “It was definitely poignant, ‘cause it was the exact slot we played when we were teenagers – except the gates were open this time. There wasn’t really anyone there the first time!
Jamie MacColl: “We did some cryptic things on Twitter and Instagram beforehand which were maybe more obvious than I thought, because there’s so many accounts that track potential secret slots at major festivals. They were immediately onto it, so I felt a bit stupid.”
‘My Big Day’ is out next month. How’s the mood in the camp?
Jack: “This is a very interesting period for bands and artists, and I think this little feeling now is the reason why you keep making music. You get very nervous and think, ‘was that the best I can do?’, and that inspires you to get back in the studio right now and start writing, and there’s this little flurry of inspiration.”
What was the vision for the album?
Jack: “It was self-produced, which we haven’t done in a couple of records. You can hear some of my solo project [Mr Jukes] on there; a lot of the tracks could be instrumentals to hip-hop tunes.”
Jamie: “I think we were definitely consciously trying to be a bit braver than we were on the previous record and saying that nothing was off limits. Particularly when you’ve been doing this for 18 years, there’s no point trying to play it safe at this point. There’s nothing to be gained from it personally or even commercially.”
What influenced the decision to self-produce the album?
Jack: “What we’ve realised is we’re never gonna meet someone that’s harder on us than we are. We whittle away at songs and really cut the fat off them. [It’s about] doing that enough times until the ten songs you’re left with are incredible.”
‘My Big Day’ is your most collaborative album to date. What made you want to expand your creative process?
Jack: “I think that might be another result of me doing my solo stuff where I did collaborate on almost every song. It was really fun to not be limited by your own voice or your own style and just have complete freedom. It’s certainly very eclectic…from Holly Humberstone to Damon Albarn, it’s a nice mix of people and obviously the surprise is gonna blow a lot of people’s minds.”
Why are you keeping that one particular feature a secret?
Jack: “It’s gonna shock a lot of people, so why not make it into something.”
Jamie: “I think we wanted to reveal it visually for the first time as well, rather than on a track listing.”
Holly Humberstone features on ‘Diving’. Where did your creative relationship originate from?
Jack: “She asked me to come and sing on a song at one of her shows, which I was surprised by but really honoured to do that. It was probably a song that was 80% done and there was something missing from it. It was just a great example of someone coming in and it suddenly all making sense.”
How did you tie down a man as busy as Damon Albarn?
Jamie: “With a lot of difficulty!”
Jack: “ I actually went and played him the album, ‘cause I value his opinion a lot. It was just one song, where instead of giving me a few notes or feedback, he just got his engineer to bring him a microphone and just started singing this melody. It was kind of a curse as well as a blessing. It’s so good but am I ever going to persuade him to actually finish it and write the lyrics?”
Jamie: “I think he finished it in a long journey between Coachella and somewhere else. Also, he doesn’t own a mobile phone, so it’s not like you can just WhatsApp him and be like, ‘how are the lyrics going?’”
‘Rural Radio Predicts The Rapture’ sounds like your most experimental track to date…
Jack: “I think that’s a good representation of our mindset for this record, not really worrying too much about whether it fits or not. Maybe a few albums back we’d have been a bit scared to put it out.”
Jamie: “It started as a trap beat and ended with, I don’t know, garage? I think it’s just a moment of silliness which is important, ‘cause we don’t take ourselves too seriously and that’s not normally reflected in the music, to be honest.”
You’ve been sharing lots of old footage on social media recently. Did nostalgia play a part in ‘My Big Day’?
Jamie: “I think nostalgia is the enemy of creativity and progress, to be honest. I think with the way streaming works, so much of the music ecosystem now services nostalgia so I think you have to constantly fight against that.
We were a teenage band that a lot of people grew up with as teenagers, which is a very important phase in people’s lives – and then we went on hiatus for five years. So we’re kind of stuck in time for some people, to some extent, which makes it even more important to emphasise there is something worthwhile now with the band.”
How are your plans for the live show coming together?
Jamie: “We just had our first production meeting and the first thing that was discussed was a giant bouncy castle!
Jack: “I’ve actually got an idea for a mashup that we might do, which I am going to test out on one of the Sunday [Instagram cover] slots.”
Jamie: “The most dreaded phrase in the English dictionary, ‘mashup’.”
How do you plan to celebrate the album?
Jamie: “We’re so busy that week, so I don’t think we’re gonna have time to celebrate. We’ll be toasting to a Rolling Stones Number One on October 27!”
Bombay Bicycle Club’s new album ‘My Big Day’ will be released on October 20