‘We asked for it by choosing such a stupid name’: An interview with Suren of Bombay Bicycle Club

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I managed to grab a few moments from Bombay Bicycle Club’s hectic pre-tour schedule to ask drummer Suren de Saram some questions about the new album, it’s influences and what we can expect from their live shows.

Your new album, So Long See You Tomorrow, has just been released. Already labelled by NME to be ‘one of 2014’s most exhilarating returns’, how would you describe the sound of this latest album? Are you pleased with the final result?

I think you’re always going to be most proud of your latest piece of work as it represents you best at that current moment. This definitely feels like the album that’s captured our sound best, and that’s probably largely down to the fact that it was self-produced.

We’ve been more cut-throat with this album than any of our previous albums in terms of quality. We ended up leaving some very strong songs off the record – songs that we would have put on previous albums in an instant. We started introducing electronics and sampling on our previous album, and this record develops those further. There are a couple of very blatant Bollywood samples, for example. It’s our most dance-influenced album yet but there are also some very intimate moments.  

How do you think your sound has developed from previous albums, such as from a more acoustic sounding Flaws to your latest work?

We’ve taken quite an unconventional path in terms of the sound of our albums I suppose. We started out as a guitar-driven indie band really, but then made an acoustic album for our second record, as you say. For our third album we went back to electric guitars but overall it was more groove-based and less frantic than our first album, and we started experimenting with electronics and sampling. So Long See You Tomorrow takes both the electronics and sampling to the next level. Electronic music is something that Jack has been making on his own for quite a while now, and that influence has obviously started to gradually creep into Bombay’s music over time.

What kind of process do you follow in order to write the lyrics for your songs?

The lyric-writing process for this album was actually a lot more open than with previous albums. In the past Jack would just write lyrics on his own and it would be his personal thing. With this album – while it was still Jack writing the lyrics – he would be sharing them with us throughout the whole process and asking for suggestions. We were conscious of the fact that the lyrics on A Different Kind Of Fix, our previous album, were maybe not the most personal and also sometimes were hard to make out because of the amount of reverb on them, so we placed a bigger emphasis than ever on the lyrics with this album.

Any major influences for your new album?

Travelling has been a big influence on the sound of this particular record. Towards the end of touring the last album, Jack would often stay on in a country after we’d played there to write new material if we had a break before the next show. He spent time in the Netherlands, Turkey, Japan and India and many of the songs were born in these places. The Indian influence is the most blatant. There are various Bollywood samples on the record, the most obvious being a clip of the song ‘Man Dole Mera Tan Dole’ from the 1950s film Nagin which features on our song ‘Feel’. ‘Luna’, ‘Come To’ and ‘Overdone’ were also born in India which you can definitely tell, although in some cases the Indian influence was watered down a bit as the songwriting process went on.

How has the reception to your new singles [‘Carry Me’, ‘It’s Alright Now’, and ‘Luna’] been so far?

Very positive for the most part. We were expecting a mixed reception to ‘Carry Me’ because it was quite a drastic departure from anything we’d released before and it’s quite a confusing song rhythmically in places, but people have largely connected with it. The reception to ‘Luna’ in particular has been great. In some ways it’s not that surprising because I’d say it’s possibly our most direct pop song to date.

Are you looking forward to being back out on the road?

Yeah, can’t wait. Touring is what we all enjoy the most – getting to go to new places and seeing how people react to your music first hand.

How does it feel to have had to expand your UK dates?

Great. Obviously we’ve been away for a little while so it’s fantastic to come back and have people eager to hear the new material.

It’s been almost three years since the release of A Different Kind Of Fix, what can both fans and newcomers alike now expect from your live shows?

It’s quite tricky making setlists now that we’re on our fourth album. Everyone will have their favourite album and obviously we’d like to try and keep everyone happy but we also believe it’s better to keep sets short and sharp – no one really wants to see a band play for hours and hours, it’s just self-indulgent. The plan is to play all the songs off the new album and then ‘the hits’ from previous albums.

From the production side of things we’re really keen to make these shows a step up visually. We’ve got some exciting plans. Throughout the making of the artwork for the album, Eadweard Muybridge was a huge influence. He was a pioneer in creating the effect of movement in still photography, and that influence is also going to carry on into the live show. I don’t want to say much more than that though!

You’ve gone through various stages musically, but what’s your favourite album to play live?

It’s early days, but right now it’s our new one. We did a tour of Ireland at the end of last year and that was the first time we played the majority of the new album. We’re enjoying the injection of energy that a bunch of new songs brings – towards the end of an album touring cycle it’s difficult to stop things getting slightly stale since you’ve been playing a similar set for a year or so. There are some pretty big ‘euphoric’ dance moments from the new album that are very exciting to play live.

You played a couple of festivals this summer, including Bestival. How were they, considering that you haven’t done a major tour in a reasonably long time?

Yeah we played at Bestival and Rockness. They were a welcome break from working on the album and it was good to be able to play a couple of new songs, but it can be a bit funny doing one-off gigs like that. It’s usually not till a few gigs into a tour that you feel like you’re in the swing of things, and you obviously don’t have that luxury with one-off gigs. 

There has been recent debate about Spotify and its effect on the music industry. Do you find it helpful or harmful to your music career?

It’s a difficult one. I can’t condemn people who use it because I use it myself. Without Spotify and other streaming services, it just means there would be more illegal downloading. With our fan base being relatively young, we’re the kind of band that is affected quite a bit by piracy so Spotify helps us a little in that respect. However, as is well publicised, the royalty rates from Spotify that go to the artists are ridiculously minuscule. Obviously paying slightly higher rates would help bands more, particularly bands that are not yet established and are trying to make a living.

As we are a student magazine, any advice to young student bands?

Just try and get yourself heard as much as possible. Take any opportunity to play in front of people, it could always lead to something. Don’t make getting a record deal your primary goal – that’s not going to lead to anything good. If you’re doing it for your own enjoyment, have good songs and are focused then things should fall into place. Just give it some time and don’t rush things.

You must be interviewed on a very regular basis, what’s the most common question you get asked at interviews?

We seem to get it less now but ‘where does your band name come from’ is a very common one, usually followed by ‘have you even been to Bombay and do you ride bikes?’. They can get a bit irritating but I suppose we asked for it by choosing such a stupid name…

Bombay Bicycle Club’s new album is out now. You can purchase tickets to their newly expanded UK tour here.

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Head of Events for The Edge magazine. Keen concert goer and angry feminist. Shared recycled oxygen on a 12 hour flight with Foals.

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