Feature Interview

From Bollywood Samples To Clavioline Keys

I clearly remember hearing Bombay Bicycle Club for the first time. I had just moved to “the big city” after high school and had met a group of people who introduced me to music I had never heard or dreamed of before. My small town ears had only ever known the jazz my dad played, which I grew to love, and the kak sokkie treffers I had always loathed. This was something entirely new to me and I was like a kid in a candy store, gorging on the foreign sounds my new friends fed me. The first time I listened to “Always Like This” and was sold for life. Now, six years later Bombay Bicycle Club’s sound has progressed into something completely different and I am still in love.

Their new album “So Long, See You Tomorrow” is a long way from that teenage-indie-rock they stepped onto the scene with when they released “I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose”. The album has the same depth and richness that BBC has always possessed, excellent songwriting skills and interesting lyrical content to delve into, but this time it is electronically charged with world music undertones and hip hop bass lines and the combination is brilliant.

Jessica Kramer: As first time performers in South Africa, how do you deal with performing for an entirely new audience in a new country?
Bombay Bicycle Club: We don’t really change things up drastically when going to a new country. We’ll sometimes tweak the setlist a bit – so for example if a particular album is big in the country we’re going to then we’ll try to play some more songs from that album, but in general we try to keep it as a nice cross section of all our albums. Sometimes we’ve gone to new countries with a bit of apprehension because we’ve been booked to do a gig but have never actually heard of us having any fans in that country, but quite a few people have been asking us to come to South Africa for a while now so we’re excited about this one!

JK: You’ve played all over the world at countless festivals, but do you have a favourite city or festivals to perform at?
BBC: Reading and Leeds festivals in the UK have always been a highlight for us. We first played there when we were 17, opening one of the tents and not expecting many people to turn up, but it ended up being rammed and the most amazing thing we’d experienced at that time. Each time we’ve played since has basically been the same. I realise it’s a bit vague but I really enjoy touring in Asia as well. We did a little tour there earlier this year in the Philippines, Singapore and Japan. Some of the fans there are absolutely crazy but also very sweet – my suitcase came home quite a bit heavier than when I left as it was full of presents that we’d been given.

JK: With four albums to your name how do you pick a set list that incorporates the fan favourites, but remains fresh and interesting for you?
BBC: Well the good thing about having four albums is that there is a lot to choose from, so when things do start getting stale for us it’s easy to substitute a few songs and switch things around a bit. The downside is that it’s hard to pack every fan’s favourite song into a set of an hour or an hour and a half. Like I said, we try to make sure we play a few songs from each album to keep everyone happy.

JK: How do you keep yourselves entertained (sane) on tour?
BBC: We’ve started doing a thing called ‘band happy hour’ where we’ll sit down altogether for an hour each day before soundcheck and all talk about how we’re feeling. If anyone’s feeling low we’ll try to pick them up. We’ll usually sing a song altogether as well – we’ve done covers of ‘The Weight’ by The Band, ‘White Winter Hymnal’ by Fleet Foxes and ‘California Dreamin’ recently. We’ll sometimes do laughing yoga as well… look it up on Youtube if you’re unfamiliar. All in all, it keeps us both entertained and sane.

JK: Laughing Yoga sounds insane, definitely going to Google that! Your latest album “So Long, See You Tomorrow” was written while Jack was touring through India, Turkey and Japan. Can you recall a particular event, moment or scene that sparked your desire to write?
BBC: It’s difficult to pinpoint a particular moment, but in general as the touring for our previous album started to wind down and there were breaks between tours, Jack would often stay out in the country that we finished the tour in to do some writing. He needed to get out of the day to day routine of London life and found it easier to be inspired whilst away – I think this was particularly the case in India where the pace of life in the major cities is insane. While travelling, Jack would be buying records and then taking them back to his studio and sampling them, and in many cases these samples were the initial spark and the songs on our album grew from them.

JK: Every album you have released has a distinct sound as you progress as a band, with your latest one being arguably the most experimental. Were you apprehensive about releasing something so different?
BBC: Not really, because like you say all our previous albums have been quite different from one another and so I think people don’t really have expectations of what our albums are going to sound like any more! In fact, if anything, the progression from our previous album to this latest one probably makes the most sense out of any of the “jumps” we’ve made. It was on “A Different Kind Of Fix” that we started introducing electronics and sampling, and the songs started to become more loop and groove based. From our point of view we just took these ideas further with “So Long, See You Tomorrow”.

JK: You used a lot of sampled sounds and looping techniques on this album. Can you tell us a bit more about some of the unconventional instruments or sounds you used?
BBC: To be honest I don’t recall recording any particularly unconventional instruments in the studio, so the more surprising sounds you’re hearing are most likely samples. Like I mentioned, it was from Jack and Ed’s time in India that a lot of these sounds came from. Our song “Feel” heavily features a sample of “Man Dole Mera Tan Dole” by Lata Mangeshkar which is from a 1950s Hindi film called “Nagin” about a snake charmer. The theme we sampled is played on a clavioline.

JK: You covered two songs on your “Flaws” album: ‘Swansea’ by Joanna Newsom and ‘Fairy Tale Lullaby’ by John Martyn. Is that something you would ever look into doing on an album again?
BBC: Potentially, yeah. That whole album actually came about because our record label asked us to contribute the John Martyn cover to a tribute album they were putting together (he was on the same label). Jack then started writing some more acoustic songs in that vein and we thought they were too good to go to waste so asked our label to release it as our second album. They were hesitant at first because of how different it was to our first album but I think it paid off in the long term – it became something much bigger than we anticipated. Although our music now is obviously more electronic influenced, Jack will still occasionally come out with a fantastic stripped back acoustic song which he’ll send to us, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we do another album like “Flaws” at some point.

JK: Jack, Jamie and Suren, you all met when you were 15 – what were you listening to back then?
BBC: Mostly American and Canadian guitar bands like Broken Social Scene, The Strokes, Pavement, Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo. Those bands influenced our first album a lot, but thinking back we were also listening to electronic artists like Aphex Twin, Four Tet, Bibio and Board of Canada even then and they would go on to influence our music further down the line.

JK: When you look back on your lives when you’re 80 one day, what is the one thing you would be most proud of accomplishing?
BBC: Getting to travel the world and making (most) people happy with our music in the process.

Bombay Bicycle Club will be playing at Synergy Live in Cape Town and Sounds Wild in Johannesburg this month.

Bombay Bicycle Club