The bright young things are getting brighter and younger. Currently adorning the cover of Rolling Stone, New Zealand songstress Lorde, at 17, appears to have arrived fully formed. At home, SOAK, also 17 years young, continues to win admirers thanks to considered songwriting and careful delivery. Like Lorde, she also boasts a quick wit and an admirable no-bullshit approach to interviews. Unlike, say, the Strypes, the youth of the aforementioned makes for potentially surprising trivia rather than cold gimmickry. Still, it’s interesting to see any act make an early impact and doubly intriguing to see how they evolve.
Bombay Bicycle Club emerged, properly, as fresh-faced lo-fi indie merchants a mere one year after departing school, making a critical and commercial dent with debut offering I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose. Unafraid of experimentation, they tweak their sound just enough with each release that expecting the unexpected has now become, well, somewhat expected. Nonetheless, don’t look for them to go dubstep or tack on ‘shrewd’ guest spots in order to negotiate radio and the charts. As they prepare to drop their fourth album in four-and-a-half years, the prolific London outfit find themselves in the odd position of industry near-veterans in their mid-twenties. Is there a degree of kinship with new acts thrust onto the scene as adolescence takes a back seat?
“They seem to have just gone straight into it”, observes guitarist Jamie MacColl, relaxing in the Academy hours before a sold-out appointment with Dublin. “Whereas we – and our parents – consciously didn’t want to start making music properly until we’d left school. We recorded the album when we were 18, just after we’d left. I wasn’t ready to do anything then, really. When I see Lorde in interviews, I’m really impressed by how eloquent she is. She’s obviously really smart, whereas I could barely speak in public then. We weren’t that great back then. I would have preferred more time to work on things, maybe work on the first album for another six months and gain a bit more life experience. But then, at the same time, that’s why so many young people loved that first album.”
Trailered by the pulsating ‘Carry Me’, new album So Long, See You Tomorrow represents “one of the most personal albums” the band have put together, though MacColl is quick to point out that ‘Carry Me’ is something of an exception and not the rule where the record’s style is concerned. While Bombay Bicycle Club can’t be faulted for ambition, their flights of fancy sometimes yield rather polite results and a sense that they lack a signature identity continues to nag. It feels like there’s almost a need to reinvent with each new chapter.
“I don’t think that it’s a conscious thing, really”, shrugs Jamie. “We were quite hurt by some of the things that were said about the first album when it came out, like it being ‘generic indie rock’ and that kind of thing. I have sometimes wondered if doing things completely differently [from album to album] is a reaction to that. At the same time, I think we just get bored. We were very young when we started and we’re still quite young now, so it’s about going through the process and finding out what kind of music we want to make. I don’t think this album is too far off the last one, or at least some songs off the last one, but I kind of feel there’s been more progression from there to here than there has been on previous records.”
As various electronic bursts from the likes of ‘Shuffle’ and ‘Carry Me’ howl from the stage beneath us, drummer Suren de Saram, stoic to the point of near-constant silence over our allotted 15 minutes together, notes that “pretty much every song on the album is a balance between electronic and live drums”. He’s been getting to grips with an ever-expanding set-up, yet So Long, See You Tomorrow was mostly constructed on a laptop with requisite shiny new gear purchased later for live engagements. While the whole ‘death of guitar music’ argument continues to make hyperbolic waves, it’s fair to say that a lot of acts, Bombay Bicycle Club included, are less reliant on a once-ubiquitous instrument.
“Maybe people are just running out of original things to do with guitars?”, posits MacColl. “There’s a limited amount of things you can do with it, after all. I’m of the school of thought that things don’t have to be original, they just have to be good. If the songs are great, I don’t really think it matters if it sounds like something that has been done before. It’s going to reach a point, with the instruments we have, where it’s going to be very difficult to create something that nobody has ever heard before. That isn’t to say that our next album won’t be a really rocky, guitar album. In fact, there was one song written for this album which was very guitar-heavy, with a solo. I’m pretty gutted that it didn’t go on, actually. It’s been the first album where that’s happened, really, where songs were very, very good but didn’t make it.”
That last sentence might sound like your typical promotional blather, but MacColl seems quite genuine in his mix of surprise and excitement. So Long, See You Tomorrow represents the longest gap between albums, at a relatively slight two and a half years. Before this, a run of three albums over three consecutive years. It’s hardly Chinese Democracy territory but it could mark a phase two of sorts for Bombay Bicycle Club, one which places emphasis on patience. The guitarist isn’t so sure.
“In this day and age, it’s a constant battle to keep people listening and interested. I see people on Twitter saying, “Whatever happened to Bombay Bicycle Club?”. We only stopped touring last January and we’re releasing another album now! I think bands should be releasing an album every year or two. That’s what people used to do. As long as you use your time wisely and write when you’re not on the road. I think indie bands tend to complain quite a lot about having to work, but when you look at people like Lady Gaga or Rihanna or Taylor Swift, they’re constantly on tour and constantly recording. The album finishes, the tour finishes and then they release another album. Maybe we need to get more into that mindset? Although, we don’t have a team of songwriters at our disposal…”
So Long, See You Tomorrow is out on 31st January.