It’s Bombay Bicycle Club’s Big Day

Frontman Jack Steadman talks fatherhood, the crucial element of surprise and his band’s first feature-heavy album.

Music Features Bombay Bicycle Club
It’s Bombay Bicycle Club’s Big Day

When you’ve been making music for 14 years, it can be hard to keep surprising yourself. Especially as an early 2010s guitar band, as Bombay Bicycle Club’s Jack Steadman puts it, it can become easier and easier to phone it in for your sixth studio album. Whether you rehash the ideas of your glory days or realize you need to head back into the recording booth to fulfill a contract, a sign of artistic maturity is to keep moving forward and either refine, or expand, your artistic tool belt.

For Bombay Bicycle Club, it’s a case of the latter. My Big Day, the Londoners’ second post-hiatus record, revels in electro-pop jubilance while eschewing the reverb-laden haze of previous work like 2011’s A Different Kind of Fix or 2014’s So Long, See You Tomorrow. The instruments are more concrete and tactile, sitting at the forefront of the stereoscopic field, dispersed like idyllic buildings amidst the countryside.

Although the group’s last album, Everything Else Has Gone Wrong, came out in 2020, the indie rockers took a long break beforehand. The novelty and freshness of it all hasn’t lost its luster for Steadman, the band’s frontman. “It feels like we’ve just come back still and there’s this newfound vitality to the whole thing,” he says. “The big difference between this one compared to the last record is that we self-produced it. More than ever, it’s like our little baby because we’ve done everything ourselves.”

More than any other Bombay Bicycle Club album, My Big Day abounds with synthesizers, samples and drum machines. Steadman also makes music under the name Mr. Jukes, which focuses on sample-driven, jazz-influenced compositions that have sharpened his chops (get it?) as a producer. He may have a couple of albums out as Mr. Jukes now, but he admits that Bombay will always be his biggest musical priority. Whether he uses a song for one project or the other, he has a fairly simple decision-making process: “Honestly, it just depends on if Bombay is active and around. If so, then I’ll probably just use it for Bombay. The only reason I’d want to go and do another Mr. Jukes record is probably more for the live element of it, like playing in a more jazz-focused band where I get to play bass and improvise a bit. But in terms of recording, I really enjoy funneling everything into the band’s sound.”

Still, the band had mixing assistance from the legendary Dave Fridmann, who’s known for his work with artists such as the Flaming Lips, MGMT and Mogwai, to name a few examples. Consequently, My Big Day contains a slightly psychedelic edge to it. Take a song like “I Want to Be Your Only Pet,” which features excellent drumming from Suren de Saram, and the way Steadman’s flanged vocals weave in and out. It even takes direct inspiration from the Beatles’ Abbey Road cut “You Never Give Me Your Money.” Landing work with Fridmann has been in the talks since Steadman, now in his 30s, was 18. He and Fridmann Skyped back then about working together, but inopportune timing prevented them from doing so until now.

It’s both a blessing and a curse, Steadman says. “It’s tough because I don’t see how we could ever get anyone else to mix a record now. I love his mixes so much.” Fridmann isn’t the only person newly inducted into Bombay Bicycle Club’s orbit, though. Just as their sound has steadily grown, so has their circle of collaborators. Whereas previous albums included regulars like vocalists Lucy Rose and Rae Morris, they reached out to some others this time around. For a band that’s been relatively insular since their 2009 debut, I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose, they’ve landed some high-profile names: Britpop pioneer Damon Albarn and soul icon Chaka Khan both appear. Younger talents like Jay Som, Nilüfer Yanya and Holly Humberstone make cameos, as well.

“This is the first time we went for the big shots,” Steadman says. “In every case, we probably got 70% of it done and needed something extra. A lot of the time, the person singing on it doesn’t actually write anything. Sometimes they do, like Jay Som did a bit of songwriting on ‘Sleepless.’ But even if they don’t do some writing, just hearing the song in a new way with a new voice can trigger us to have a fresh bit of inspiration. Then we get to finish the track.” What he most enjoyed about this process, though, were songwriters like Jay Som and Holly Humberstone telling him how much of an influence Bombay Bicycle Club has been on their work. “That means so much more than the amount of record sales or anything like that,” he adds. “When a younger musician tells you that you’ve had an impact on them is really special. It was beautiful that we got to collaborate.”

Another major change has happened in Steadman’s life since the last Bombay Bicycle Club album: He’s now a father. “Turn The World On” is an endearing tribute to his son, featuring lines that find Steadman reflecting on the halcyon days of his own youth before transferring that wistfulness to his child: “You take the page and fold the corner / Try to skip right to the end / You’ll dream of moving on / To all the things you thought you would have done,” he intones toward the song’s denouement. “That [track] is special for me because I’ve been writing music for a long time, but I’ve only been a dad for two years,” he says. “I never knew whether that experience was going to spill over into the music. Now, it seems inevitable. But I always wondered what kind of art would come out of that, and I’m really proud of that song.”

From the self-referential, syncopated keys that open “Just a Little More Time” to the final notes of the closing track, “Onward,” Bombay Bicycle Club have never sounded so optimistic or content as they do on My Big Day. Steadman reinforces that sentiment: “The band and I are just in a good place,” he says. “I’ve never been happier, and I’m finding this balance between being in the studio and being at home and having a family. All of that combined with working on it as it was springtime and releasing it toward the end of summer, there’s a lot of positivity in there.”

Through it all, he just wants fans to recognize that Bombay Bicycle Club aren’t complacent; they’re taking risks and pushing their sound forward all these years later. “Hopefully, we’ve succeeded in showing people that we’re not resting on our laurels,” he says. “Hopefully, we’ve succeeded and continue to try new things and surprise people because that’s what we’ve always wanted to do: come out with surprises.” If they can achieve that, then, well, it’s their big day.

Grant Sharples is a writer, journalist and critic in Kansas City. His work has appeared in Pitchfork, Stereogum, The Ringer, Los Angeles Review of Books, UPROXX and other publications.

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