The members of London quartet Bombay Bicycle Club were only 15 years old when they won a contest that landed them the opening slot at the massive V Festival in 2006. That set was the first for a big crowd in what has already become a charmed career, one that's included major headlining gigs around the world.
As the teenagers have become young adults in the spotlight, their sound has been in constant flux. They've passed through teenage post-punk jitters and soft freak-folk fare to land on the brash, beat-driven pop of their latest, best album, So Long, See You Tomorrow. The self-produced effort debuted at No. 1 one on the British charts.
In writing the record, frontman Jack Steadman travelled the world, opening himself up to new sounds and ideas. Bollywood samples are now as likely to pop up in Bombay Bicycle Club's songs as a guitar riff.An "inferiority complex" keeps Steadman's band striving for improvement, he says, even in the face of such massive success.
I did quite a lot of traveling. Spending a month in Mumbai in a studio was probably the most productive time I've ever had writing music. I'd catch the train every day to the studio. The trains are all open-plan, and you just get to hang out the door and just go through the heart of the city. It stimulates all the senses—just waking up every day and feeling so energized, the city being so fast-paced.
After that was Turkey, because we were playing in Istanbul. I rented a room in this house that belonged to a family, out in the countryside, in the middle of nowhere. I stayed with them for about three weeks. They kind of adopted me as their son. I led a traditional rural kind of lifestyle. I'd go to the mosque with them. The guy taught me how to drive. I'd never driven before in my life.
I've always had two projects—Bombay Bicycle Club and my solo stuff. My solo stuff has been purely electronic. It's all sampling on a PC. Over the last couple of years, they are slowly morphing into one, and there's no distinction anymore. On top of that, it's the nature of trying to pack light when you are traveling. I wouldn't have a drum kit or a bass guitar. I'd just have my laptop, and I'd be writing on there. It was natural that [the music] would be a little more electronic sounding, less organic.
I've been going to India for a fair bit before that trip. It's almost a shame that Bollywood has a connection to our name, because I don't want people to think that has anything to do with it. I've always been a fan of Indian pop, especially that classic era of the '50s and '60s. Without thinking about it too much, I just started sampling those records. I wasn't even sure if "Feel" [the band's new Bollywood sample-driven single] was going to be a Bombay Bicycle Club song. We'd had the idea to do a Bollywood music video for a long time, ever since we'd started watching them. We thought, "Why hasn't a band done this?" We managed to get someone who was a big name in Mumbai, and everything about it was 100 percent authentic—all the actors and actresses, all the choreographers. Everything was filmed in Mumbai, in the heart of Bollywood.
We had high expectations, of course. We were confident in ourselves, but we thought maybe we would be No. 5 or No. 4. The main emotion we felt when we found out was just relief, because we'd been talking about it all week. It was the week of the release, so we were talking to so many people in the press. Everyone kept asking us, and they kept saying, "Oh, so it's going to be No. 1." We thought that they would completely jinx it—for everyone to be so confident that we were going to do it, it's definitely not going to happen anymore. We are a little bit superstitious.
The kind of music that we make—and the attitude we have toward music—is perfectly suited to this country. We go on stage, and we don't care if we look stupid as long as we're smiling and having a good time. It can be incredibly corny, but if it sounds and feels right, we'll do it.
In the UK, I feel like the crowds are very self-conscious, very hesitant to move around for fear of looking uncool. We come and play over here, and people are very comfortable in their own shells. They don't really mind if they look a bit silly if they start jumping up and down, or, you know, do some pretty avant-garde dance moves. I love it.