Gear Talks: Bombay Bicycle Club

Subscribe to Mixdown Magazine


Gear Talks: Bombay Bicycle Club

Bombay Bicycle Club
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

Bombay Bicycle Club are indie-rock royalty. Having formed in the mid-2000s in London, they skyrocketed to international acclaim, shaping the sound of a generation before going on a short hiatus in 2016.

They reformed in 2019, Bombay Bicycle Club released 2020’s Everything Else Has Gone Wrong, and following that is their new record, out today.

My Big Day is a crescendo of sorts for the band, combining years of demos and the experience they’ve gained both as a band and on hiatus, pursuing their own music, ultimately culminating is a fresh-sounding record that still borrows from the genre that Bombay Bicycle Club helped pioneer. Ahead of the release, we spoke to drummer Suren de Saram about the songwriting process, ending up with Paul Epworth [Adele, London Grammar, Florence and the Machine, Rihanna] and The Church Studios, as well as how they’ll perform it live.

Congrats on the release My Big Day! How and where did writing for this record begin?

The first demo for this album came about in summer 2020, although there are a couple of ideas throughout the album that have been around for much longer than that – for example the riff at the end of “Onward”, which we’d been waiting to work into a song for years! Jack [Steadman, singer] will quite often demo a song on his Teenage Engineering OP-1 or on his laptop using Maschine.

He’ll often sample other records/sounds and chop them up as a springboard for other ideas. He’ll finish the song off with guitars/bass/drums, but he’ll mostly use drum break samples and Guitar Rig rather than amps in order to work quickly. Then he’ll email it to the rest of us and we can listen to it totally objectively and give pretty honest feedback. Only the songs that get a really good response get worked on further. The rest of us will come in and we’ll edit/finesse everything together.

Read all the latest features, columns and more here.

We understand Jack produced on this album, is that a common workflow for the band?

This is the second album of ours that Jack has produced. He produced our fourth album, So Long, See You Tomorrow, but after our hiatus we decided to work with another producer for our last album. We were thinking a lot about how we made those two albums when we were considering how to make My Big Day. With So Long, although at times it was a difficult album to make – it was largely made in our own studio and I think being unconstrained in terms of time and also producer and studio fees is not always that helpful – we look back on it as the album that probably captures “Bombay’s sound” best.

After our hiatus, we decided we wanted to make the next album with another producer, as we were all feeling our way into it again and we figured adding another personality and someone to oversee everything would be beneficial. We went to LA to record it and had the best time, but looking back I think we feel maybe we didn’t push ourselves as hard as we could for that album, and we relied too much on the producer. We realised we were our own best critics, so we decided to go back to producing ourselves for this album.

How was the album recorded? Was it a live band in the room kind of session or was it isolated instruments one at a time?

There are a couple of moments on the album where we were all in the live room together, like the ending of “Onward”, but for the most part it was one or two instruments at a time. We’d usually start off with drums and bass playing together along with bits of the demo that we were keeping. We’d prioritise getting a drum take we were happy with, and if we got a good bass take at the same time – great! Otherwise Ed [Nash, bass] might go and do a couple of bass repairs afterwards. Then it would be Jack and Jamie [MacColl, guitar] finding their guitar sounds. After that it would be any extras like synths, percussion, piano etc. Vocals would usually be the last thing – in fact Jack did most of his vocals back at his own studio after we’d done the tracking at The Church.

There were a couple of songs where I asked us all to set up and play together even if we were only actually recording drums, just for my own enjoyment and vibes. However I usually have my eyes closed when I’m playing so I wasn’t even looking at the other guys. They quickly decided it was a waste of their time playing with me.

How was working other producers and what did you hope they’d bring to table?

There are two tracks on the album that we knew we wanted to work with another producer on, for different reasons. We had big ambitions for “Heaven”, in terms of the instrumental arrangement, as soon as Jack sent over the first demo of the song. So when it came to recording it properly we wanted someone to help steer the ship because it was going to be a big undertaking. Paul was the first name on our list because we’d just been tracking the majority of the album at his studio, and he’s obviously one of the most experienced producers there is.

He made what would have otherwise been a very chaotic process very smooth. We had a couple of days rearranging and tracking the song with just the four of us and Paul. He’d also put us in touch with an arranger, so the third day was Paul and the arranger overseeing a small orchestra, which was a lot of fun.

“Turn The World On” was a song that came very late in the day, just before the album was due to get mixed. With that one it was simply a case of us all being a bit burnt out by that point, and the thought of working with another producer was an appealing one. We’d wanted to work with Ben Allen again ever since doing some of our third album with him, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. It was a mad few days – we got in touch with Ben and the next day he was on a flight from Atlanta to London to join us in the studio. We sat down with him at the start and it was clear he completely got the tone of the song despite only having heard it for the first time a few hours earlier, so we knew we were in safe hands.

How do the songs differ now that you’re touring them live?

We’re in rehearsals at the moment, working out how we’re going to play all the songs. We always have two extra live members with us who are both multi-instrumentalists. Nathan mostly plays keys and guitar and does a fair amount of backing vocals. He also does bits of percussion, sampler, and triggers tracks off Ableton. Liv does a lot of BVs (background vocals), along with percussion and bits of keys and sampler too. We also sometimes play with a 3 piece brass section (two saxophones and a trumpet) although it’s difficult to take them with us outside of the UK unfortunately.

Some songs are staying pretty true to the record, while others are taking on a life of their own with the live setup. We’ve added an extended War On Drugs-style outro to one of them, for example, while on some others we have the brass backing up what is just a sample on the record, which makes the whole thing a lot more epic and full.

Has any gear used to record the album made its way onto your live rig?

We used a plugin called SketchCassette on a lot of the acoustic and electric guitar sounds to give it some wobble and saturation. For live we’ve bought the Generation Loss pedals by Chase Bliss which does a similar thing. Also baritone guitar plays quite an important role on a couple of tracks, so Jamie has added one to his live guitar arsenal.

Percussion wise, the LinnDrum and rototoms feature heavily on one track. I’m recreating those sounds live with a Roland SPD-SX Pro.

Thanks for your time! As a closer, have you got any funny stories you can share about making My Big Day?

One of my favourite memories from the making of the album is Paul Epworth being really into using cups as a percussive instrument. Quite often I’d look over at him and he’d be tapping out rhythms with paper cups, really keen to somehow get them onto the song! I think they made their way onto it somewhere.

Also, as with all of our albums, if you isolate the drum tracks you’ll hear me humming along really clearly. I have this weird habit of humming while playing drums, but I’m often not even humming the melody of the song… I’m just doing my own thing.

Keep up with the band here.