Though four albums along, the members of British alt-quartet Bombay Bicycle Club haven’t even visited Las Vegas, much less played here before. “It’s obviously a place where everyone thinks they know what it’s about,” says bassist Ed Nash by phone. “My idea is completely based on TV and films. It’ll be nice to meet people that live in the area.” I can assure you: Not many bands say they want to meet actual Las Vegans. So go introduce yourself to Ed and his bandmates, who play some of the most imaginative modern rock coming out of the U.K.
Did this two-month American tour get built around your Coachella appearances? Yeah, very much so. This is going to be the longest tour we’ve ever done; the second longest tour was only a month and also in the States. And the start is based around Coachella. We’re paying side shows in between the two weekends.
Most British bands don’t commit to such a long U.S. tour. Do you think that’s because it’s daunting and requires ambition, or is it just cost-prohibitive? I think we probably fit somewhere in between those two things. We have big ambition, but we’re not trying to be the biggest band in the world or break America. We just want to play as many shows as we want and have everyone who wants to see us. It’s daunting, actually, to be away from home for so long and play so many shows in such a small amount of time. The longest [drive] you’ll ever do in England is maybe five hours, which is a fair distance here. We’ll do that every day in the States, and some [drives] will be 21 hours long, and you can do longer ones if you wanted. It’s unlike anywhere in Europe or probably anywhere in the world.
Did the construction of the songs for your new album, So Long, See You Tomorrow—a progression from your previous record, A Different Kind of Fix—involve any modifications of your live setup? Very much so. As you say, this record is quite a progression from the last one in terms of the instrumentation and sound. It’s far more electronic than what we were doing before. As a result, when we first tried to play the record live, it didn’t sound very good and wouldn’t made for a good show at all. We were playing electronic instruments, and it was static show, and very alien from what we were doing before, which was with guitars, bass, drums and keyboards. So we had to change it up and adapt it for the live setup. Otherwise, it would have been an incredibly boring show for people to watch, and for us to play. At the moment, it’s somewhere between, where we play the instruments we played before along with a few extra bits and bobs—like, I play keyboard on a couple of songs. And actually, it’s not too far away from the [new] album, which it makes it not too dissimilar to what we were trying to do before.
How do you manage four albums in five years, especially as a young band expected to make all sorts of promo appearances and such? Are you a disciplined band, or has inspiration just been kind to you? I think it’s more restlessness and being dissatisfied, or wanting to improve on what we’ve done before, especially with the earlier albums. The first three were made in the space of three years. In the time, the sound changed quite dramatically. We were working out what we wanted to do. And we didn’t tour very much for the first and second album—we toured just the U.K.—which is far less than most bands would do for their debut album. At the time we were more focused on recording and writing music and [figuring out] what we wanted to do with it rather than playing songs.
When we recorded our third album, A Different Kind of Fix, we thought we kind of hit the nail on the head and made the best album we could at the time, and we were happy and in the right place to tour it. We toured that one for about a year. And then we took a year off afterwards and made [So Long…] in the space of a year, which I guess is relatively quick for most bands. … We’re more settled in the music we’re making and we’ll probably space the albums out more and more, and try and make the best ones we can.
Did frontman Jack Steadman make a conscious decision to travel to write So Long..., or at least travel so he could potentially find inspiration? The first one. He took the time off to travel and write the songs. But when people think of people him doing that, of going to India and Turkey, they think he went there to be inspired musically, especially when you hear the samples on the record … But the truth is, he was getting out of his headspace in London for a fresh start to spark creativity. It didn’t matter where he went. By chance, and it wasn’t planned, it became what the album was about. But it was only ever a chance to clear his head and get away from the routine of being in London. When you’re in your hometown, you get stuck in your routine and you see the same people everyday, and it can get stagnant and uncreative if you’re doing the same thing. So it was breaking that cycle.
Does he deliver all the skeletons of the songs, and you guys come in and compose instrumentals from those and flesh out the arrangements from there? That’s pretty much it. Obviously it’s a very good story that talk about Jack going away and writing a record in different countries, but the majority of it was put together in London. Jack would go out and record initial demos, and I guess they range from being a complete song to being a snippet of music or a sound bite. He would bring them back to us, and then we’d go through them, make suggestions, arrangements, and then work on them until they were finished songs. Also, we produced this record ourselves, and Jack was the main producer. That gave us time to work on all these different bits and bobs and come up with some cohesive piece of work. If you listen to some the original songs, especially “Overdone,” the first song on the album, it started as a hip-hop song with a Bollywood sample, which sounds pretty different on how it does on the record.
Were there things you specifically were influenced by in the making of this record, that you yourself contributed into the final product? Yeah, my contribution was really arrangement—putting the songs into the best order they could be in so they could be, what’s the word, accessible to other people. I don’t think there were specific influences, but I was listening to a lot of pop music, and the arrangements [came from] listening to dance music, [where there’s a] building up and letting go of tension.
I did the intro to the song “Come To” with Jack; I picked out the samples from Bollywood records he was listening to. The song itself started as three different songs and three ideas, piled into one, by all of us in London. But the outro of that was done by me and him in Mumbai. It becomes more collective; it’s a bigger conversation.
How do you explain the album’s theme of continuity? We wanted it to flow and make it work as a cohesive piece, as opposed to 10 separate tracks. I think you listen to this as a whole, it makes more sense. Another thing: There are very vague general underlying themes that happen within on the record that are loop-based and keep going around, which I guess suggest continuity, in a way. The album starts with a melody and finishes with the same melody. The album goes back into itself, repeats and goes around. The songs are loop-based, especially with the samples. They’re structured more like dance music as opposed to most pop songs. Lyrically, there’s a vague theme throughout the album of making mistake or trying to end something, but it doesn’t end, it continues repeating and going around. It’s summed up with the album title, which is [also] like a loop.
Which is ironic, given Jack left London to break a routine! What, in your estimation, makes this record a big evolutionary jump in the band’s artistry? I think the thing that makes it stands out is how diverse it is. There’s quite a lot going on; hopefully, it doesn’t sound too messy and we’ve got it under control and it’s still a concise piece of work, while it sounds like its from around the world, with different genres from around the world—sounds that really shouldn’t work next to one another. And also it’s a jump from what we’ve done previously ... that’s what I would say defines this record.
Bombay Bicycle Club with Royal Canoe. April 13, 8 p.m., $20. Vinyl, 693-5000.