- 08 Nov 23
Ahead of their headline shows at the 3Olympia in January, Ed Nash and Jamie MacColl of Bombay Bicycle Club discuss fatherhood, touring rural Ireland and their new album My Big Day.
In the lobby of the Marlin hotel - a swanky crossover between a WeWork and upmarket student accommodation - I find myself an uneasy custodian of time. I’m awaiting the arrival of Bombay Bicycle Club, an indie outfit whose credentials are as impressive and extensive as any other band in the genre over the last two decades.
After trading admiration for CMAT with frontman Jack Steadman and drummer Suren de Saram, I find a booth with bassist and Ed Nash and guitar player Jamie MacColl to get into the meat of things.
The lads are due a sit down. Reaching the end of a whirlwind stint of promotional work for their latest record My Big Day, their friendliness and candour comes with an underlying air of fatigue.
“We've had quite a full on three weeks, we were doing two gigs a day in the UK,” reveals Jamie. “It's been a lot of fun, it’s good to be back in smaller rooms. You can see and smell the crowd properly, sometimes at big festivals you get can feel quite detached from the audience.”
Reconnecting with the past is something that Ireland in particular brings out in the band. I'm told that some of their fondest memories have been from playing shows around the island - they reference a short two week week tour right before their 2014 LP So Long, See You Tomorrow, was released.
"We did it to learn how to play the songs live, it was all relatively small venues,” admits Jamie.
We were the guinea pigs then. Fair enough.
Despite being a relatively lowkey affair, touring the corners of the isle, in their eyes, forced the band up-their-game.
“You often get people in smaller towns where it's like ‘oh there’s an event on’ so they go along,” Jamie explains. “You have to work the crowd a bit more to prove your worth, so it's quite a good environment to play new songs.
“It was a funny tour, in Killarney we were playing an event space and in the larger room next to us there were a lot of teenage girls doing some sort of Riverdance-y Irish dancing competition. It felt like we were playing a wedding.”
“It was like being on a cruise ship,” chimes Ed. “There's loads of different rooms and entertainment going on, and we were just part of the package.”
At the time of our conversation, the band’s sixth studio album My Big Day has just been released. A fantastic, genre-bending work of art, stitched with trippy sounds and A-list names, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable – and eclectic - project to say the least.
Where exactly in the musical pluriverse did the London indie rockers dip their ears into during the making of such a unique sounding record?
“The theme that kept coming up was 60s psychedelia and the Beatles,” says Jamie. “Particularly in songs like ‘I Want To Be Your Only Pet’ and ‘Heaven’, we were explicitly referencing that era of music which is not really something that we've done before.”
“A lot of the album is a collection of what we've been listening to for the last 10 to 15 years really,” supplements Ed. “How the band has been influenced and changed since our inception to now, it feels like we've kind of shoved everything we've learned into it. Then you have this overriding Beatles psychedelia - which allowed us to include all these weird things and be quite disparate.”
Releasing an album, and a good one at that, is always a mammoth achievement. Nonetheless, Ed informs me that one of the hardest parts about making records is dealing with the universe’s critical gaze.
“It's a difficult thing reading a review of something when it's yours. You give it to the world, and everyone has their opinions which are predominantly good, but sometimes they’re bad,” he says.
“There's always going to be that mix between the two and it's hard to kind of just focus on the good ones and leave the bad ones. I haven't read any press or reviews of this album and as a result I've enjoyed the process a lot more.”
“I'm the only one in the band that reads all of them,” laughs Jamie. “It gets easier as you get older, as long as it's not personal, the criticism is fine.
“Some of them do get fairly personal” he continues, namedropping a popular British broadsheet.
“I mean on one of the reviews for this album a guy called us nerds. I was like ‘fair enough we are nerds’ but it's a slightly weird framing.”
A disdainful music journalist? I’ve never heard the likes of it…
Another stand-out aspect of My Big Day is its guest appearances. Somewhat of a step away from the band’s previous outputs - the project inlcudes a diverse range of artists, including the likes of Holly Humberstone, and iconic grammy-winning vocalist Chaka Khan.
“It wasn't something that we'd planned I think when we started making the record, we didn't set out to have a lot of features on it,” says Jamie.
“In the past we have worked with other artists, normally female singers that we've been friends with, so it's been a bit more of a like a low-key informal thing.
“Most of it emerged naturally. For ‘Tekken 2’ the song with Chaka Khan, it was big disco track that required a big voice to do it, so we naturally went in that direction.”
Out of all the names to appear on the album, the most striking is perhaps the king of modern pop collaborations himself - Damon Albarn. How did this dream partnership come about?
“Jack's known Damon for a while. He played him some of the demos to hear what he thought. He heard 'Heaven' and said ‘I've got an idea for it’ and came up with a new part - I don't think you can really say no to Damon Albarn,” smiles Jamie.
“We didn't meet him,” continues Ed. “He was on tour with Gorillaz while he was writing and recording his parts. I don't know where he finds the time. Apparently, he does a show then he'll go to the studio, and he works on all these other projects. It's unbelievably generous that he gave us his time to do this.”
“I mean his career is quite something,” says Jamie. “I can't really think of anyone that's had two projects as successful as he has.”
Speaking of the Britpop legend, I poke the pair and ask them to weigh in on one of music’s greatest raging debates.
“I'm definitely Blur,” says Jamie.
“I hate Oasis,” cracks a slightly less democratic Ed. “Arguably they have more catchy songs, but as a concept I just really don’t like their attitude, I love what Blur are about, Damon Albarn and Graham Coxton in particular.”
On a more present and personal note, two members of Bombay Bicycle Club have become fathers. Is there difficulty in balancing the lives of a touring rockstar and responsible parent?
“It's definitely hard,” says Jamie. “Going on tour is difficult, I feel quite sad going away. But it also gives you some focus, there’s one song on the record which Jack wrote explicitly about being a father, 'Turn the World On.’
“In a way it gives you something to write about. When we were in our early twenties it was easy to write songs about having your heart broken by a girl. You need to find real experiences to write about as you get older and becoming a parent is quite a universal experience, so I think it's an interesting scene to tap into creatively.”
I’m hastily warned of a Dublin taxi driver on Bow Lane kicking up a fuss over being kept waiting. Generous with their time, the two stick around for one final question before jetting home.
My Big Day’s cover art - a depiction of an enigmatic gentleman with egg, quite literally, on his face – what the hell is that all about?
“It's definitely the most divisive cover that we've had,” says Jamie. “Some people absolutely hate it. Some people really love it.”
“Like the music, it was a reaction to what we'd done before, which was very tasteful and illustrative,” meditates Ed.
“We know it's not the most aesthetically pleasing thing. But I think it does what the album does. It does something new, it pushes boundaries, we're putting something out that we know a lot of people won't like.”
“I saw a review of the album yesterday that said it is objectively the worst album of the year,” says Jamie, harking back to his aforementioned habit of scanning the internet’s negative opinions.
A harsh criticism which - Bombay Bicycle Club’s bass wizard at least - doesn’t agree with.
“I actually think it's the best,” Ed brims.
Bombay Bicycle Club play Dublin's 3Olympia on 30 & 31 Janruary 2024. To be in with a chance of winning tickets, simply follow this link.
Listen to My Big Day below.