Bombay Bicycle Club: “We sold all our instruments. To all intents and purposes, we had broken up”

As the band announce their new album and 2020 UK tour, we chat to guitarist Jamie MacColl about fifth album ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’, his work launching a Brexit campaign group and more

The start of Bombay Bicycle Club’s video for comeback single ‘Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You)’ comes with a message. “In 2016, the UK was rocked by a seismic event,” it reads. “Bombay Bicycle Club went on indefinite hiatus. Without their music, British society crumbled.”

All evident jokes aside, the last part of the statement stands pretty true, and it just happened to coincide with the band’s departure from the spotlight. In the intervening period, frontman Jack Steadman dove headfirst into his love of jazz and crate-digging on new project Mr Jukes. Bassist Ed Nash, meanwhile, founded breathy alt-pop project Toothless, which drummer Suren de Saram played drums on.

Guitarist Jamie MacColl meanwhile, took a degree in War Studies at King’s College, before making a documentary for the BBC on protest music. Following those projects, he launched a campaign group to help under-30s get involved with Brexit negotiations, helping to get a wide range of voices heard. If that wasn’t enough, he then went to Cambridge to study a masters in Philosophy.

All of this feeds into new album ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’, that Jamie didn’t really think would happen, but now stands as a nice surprise for both band and fans. As the band announce their new record and lengthy 2020 tour, we catch up with the guitarist to talk over all that’s gone on since their disappearance, and what comes next. 

Your new album is out in January – is it all wrapped up?

“Actually no! We’ve done about four or five songs and are about to go out to LA to finish the other seven or eight. We’re in a very compressed timeframe at the moment, which doesn’t leave that much room for things to go wrong, so basically we just need to nail it. On the last album, because we self-produced it, it’s very easy to continuously fiddle with things, particularly if you have a long gap between recording something and releasing it, and it’s very frustrating to record something and then have to wait six months or more to release it. It’s better to just get it out there as soon as possible.”

What have you learned from your extensive time away from the band?

“It’s really healthy to be away from the boom and bust cycle of album-tour-album-tour. Apart from anything, it gives you very little to write about. Especially if you write from a personal perspective, and all you’re ever doing is going on tour, it’s not a particularly interesting topic, and is very difficult to relate to. Having some time away gives you perspective and a bit more life experience. We did [the band] pretty solidly for 10 years, and all we knew from the age of 16 was Bombay Bicycle Club. We’ve now got a bit more to think and write about.”

“All we knew from the age of 16 was Bombay Bicycle Club. We’ve now got a bit more to think and write about”

You were the only member of the band that went fully away from music during the hiatus, diving into studies and political campaigning. Did you always think you would return to Bombay Bicycle Club?

“My time away was very different to being the guitarist in an indie band, that’s for sure. I wanted to [be in the band] again, but I thought it was pretty unrealistic. A few months before we started talking about doing it again, we sold all our equipment. To all intents and purposes, we had broken up. There weren’t plans to do any more music, or do any touring, until we actually had the conversation about 18 months ago.”

And how did that conversation begin?

“The initial prompt was the 10 year anniversary of [debut album] ‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose’, and we thought we could do that tour as a one-off, because that album meant a lot to a lot of people, and it’d be a fun thing to do. But then we realised that we’re still in our late ’20s, and it feels a bit weird to come back to do a one-off anniversary gig, like a heritage act would do. We still felt like we had a lot of ideas and a lot to give, so the conversation pretty quickly turned to the idea of releasing new music and do something more exciting. We are still doing the anniversary tour, but it’s now more of a side thing…”

Bombay Bicycle Club

Bombay Bicycle Club, 2019

Did revisiting that debut album affect how you were writing for the upcoming record? Do you see similarities between ‘I Had The Blues…’ and ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’?

“What we’ve been doing at the moment is definitely more guitar-heavy than the last album, and I’d say that’s particularly the case on ‘Eat, Sleep, Wake’. Also with Jack having done Mr Jukes, he’s maybe been able to separate the two strands of his writing and production, because the last album had loads of layers and samples on every song, whereas I think what we’re doing now is a bit simpler. I was thinking about it in regards to ‘Eat, Sleep, Wake’, and there is a nostalgic element to both the song and the lyrics, and reading what people are saying on social media – which I know I’m not supposed to do – people do seem to be tapping into that, and thinking about being a teenager. Maybe we are conscious of the 10 year anniversary, and also being a bit reflective and looking back on our younger selves with some perspective.”

“What we’ve been doing at the moment is definitely more guitar-heavy than the last album”

Was there a lot of self-reflection when you stopped the band?

“The joy and scale of what we did can only really be apparent when you stop doing it. When you’re in the middle of it, you probably take it for granted quite a lot, and then when you don’t have it anymore; you start to think that we were incredibly lucky to be able to do it. Regardless of what we do after this album, having taken that time to appreciate what we’ve done before and not take it for granted has been really important. We were all really jaded by the end of the last album. We’d done four albums in five years and it’d pretty much been non-stop. You do start to lose the love of it.

Did you have the itch to come back before the conversations started, or was it a surprise for you?

“I definitely thought about doing it a lot, but eventually made peace with the fact that it wasn’t going to happen. I’d just moved on really, so was very surprised when Jack in particular decided that he did want to be in the band again.”

And does that bring a certain freedom, knowing that you wanted to do it again, not feeling like you had to?

“Being young, there are more things open to you, and if you stop a band in your ’40s and think ‘I’ve never done anything else, what am I going to do?’ then you’re very dependent financially, and might have a family. You’d need to go back and tour again. For us, being a bit younger, it didn’t come from a place of having to do it financially, which was very liberating, and it’s much better to start from the place of getting back together because we want to play together again and we will still create music that will bring us and other people joy.”

“We were all really jaded by the end of the last album. We’d done four albums in five years and it’d pretty much been non-stop. You do start to lose the love of it.”

Are you hoping to carry on your political campaigning with the band being back, or are you firmly in Bombay Bicycle Club mode again?

“I need to think about it. Personally, I’m currently feeling very disconnected from politics at the moment, and party politics in general. Which I think is a feeling a lot of people have. I think it comes from a combination of helplessness and anger, which paralyses you into feeling like you can’t do anything. I’m also conscious of the fact that with the band going again, I don’t want my political beliefs to be automatically perceived to be [the rest of the band’s] political beliefs. I made a documentary about protest music for Radio 1 about three years ago, and what I’ve started to think is that I’m not sure why we should listen to musicians or celebrities about politics more than anyone else.”

“Personally, I’m currently feeling very disconnected from politics at the moment, and party politics in general. I think it comes from a combination of helplessness and anger”

How do you feel about celebrities using their platforms for their political beliefs?

“To be honest, I don’t really care what some A-lister thinks about party politics, and whether they care about Jeremy Corbyn or hate the Tories. I don’t think that because someone is famous, they’re more qualified to talk about something, especially politics. People should feel free to express their beliefs, and no-one should feel constrained, but I don’t think we should raise people up on a platform as having some kind of foresight or insight into the politics of the country. I’m conscious of wondering why anyone should give a shit what I think. Of course that probably won’t stop me from talking about it, but…”

Bombay Bicycle Club’s new album ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’

The band release ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’ on January 17.

Bombay Bicycle Club’s upcoming tour dates are:

Tickets for the new 2020 dates are on sale from 10am on Friday September 13. Buy tickets here.

‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose’ 10 Year Celebration 2019 Shows

4 November – Eventim Apollo, Liverpool
5 November – Caird Hall, Dundee
6 November – Rock City, Nottingham
7 November – Pavilion, Bath
8 November – O2 Academy Brixton, London

Everything Else Has Gone Wrong Tour 2020

20 January – Corn Exchange, Cambridge
21 January – Academy, Bournemouth
23 January – De Montfort Hall, Leicester
24 January – University SU Great Hall, Cardiff
25 January – Academy, Leeds
27 January – Academy, Newcastle
28 January – Barrowlands, Glasgow
31 January – Academy, Birmingham
1 February – The Centre, Brighton
3 February – Victoria Warehouse, Manchester
7 February – Alexandra Palace, London
10 February – Vicar Street, Dublin
12 February – Ulster Hall, Belfast