It feels like a lifetime ago that Bombay Bicycle Club were at the forefront of the UK indie scene. A band that shook things up on every record, writing almost anything from huge pop anthems to mellow acoustic head boppers. They were a band that weren't afraid of spicing things up musically and thrived on confounding expectations. Two and a half years on, it’s a feat that frontman Jack Steadman has once again mastered with his new solo project under the name of Mr Jukes.
In 2017, Steadman now dons a shaved head and circular specs - almost unrecognisable from the man who performed the last ever show at Earl’s Court in 2014. His debut album under the new name is a reccord rich in the tapestry of the music he loves, with soul, funk, hip hop and jazz all present and unlike anything Jack Steadman has previously recorded.
His desire to get on to new things musically was part of the reason that the band split. "It’s [Bombay] all we’ve known since we were 16. Imagine doing something like that since you were doing your GCSE’s and you don’t know anything else, you’ve never had any other kind of experience. That’s the only reason we stopped, because it was always gnawing at us, ‘what’s out there?’"
It’s a bold move for a frontman to go it alone and start afresh, rather than pandering to the die hard fans and writing a record that could have easily fit with what went before. But Steadman isn’t the kind of person who lacks confidence and even surprised his closest of friends with his newest release. "They didn't believe it was me, but to be honest, I’ve been making this kind of music for a long time.’’ And he has. It began with learning jazz bass at school and having a hunger to inject his brain with the wonders of jazz, funk and soul. "I remember buying a Funkadelic record a long time ago with my mum, I must have been 13/14, then getting into people like James Brown and Herbie Hancock."
Steadman had previously quietly released solo tracks during the Bombay days. "Before it was always the antidote to Bombay, it was like a psychological thing for me. I wanted something that wouldn’t have gotten all that attention. I think it’s quite healthy for you because you’re so scrutinised when you’re in that album cycle with the band. I just wanted to sometimes very quietly put something out that could be a bit more daring or experimental and it was just for my wellbeing really." Original ideas for a new project were unconsciously forming even when Bombay Bicycle Club were at the top of their game. "I’d always bring an MPC on the tour bus and I’d be record shopping wherever we went and sampling stuff. I was keeping it as a hobby. It got to the point with Mr Jukes where it was time to give it both the time and resources that it deserves and actually see what happens if I put everything into it".
When he began writing the record, Steadman was aboard a cargo ship bound for Japan. A solo journey that, in the air, would have taken a fair few hours, but instead he decided to take to the seas and embark on a two week voyage, all because he wanted to "see what it was like". Being in a hugely successful band could quite easily go to your head, but Steadman enjoys living a relatively quiet life and keeping himself to himself. The name Mr Jukes came from a book he was reading called Typhoon, in which the character of Jukes is number two. "I liked the sound of the name first and foremost, but he’s the second in command on this ship that’s heading into this perilous typhoon. I like the idea of deciding to do a solo record which so many people will associate with an inflated ego and a sense of wanting to be the dictator, but here was this guy that was the assistant to the captain, so I thought that would level my head a bit."
Japan proved to be instrumental in making the debut solo record. Steadman often frequents jazz bars on his visits, something the Western world sincerely lacks. "I just kind of fell in love with these places and they became like libraries for me for discovering new music. I’d just sit there with a note book." It’s clear that he has a true passion for this kind of thing, though he’s not too sure that the idea of jazz cafe’s would work in London. "I picture one here in Dalston, where it’d probably end up, and it would be that really cool thing, like super trendy and everyone would go to just party. The music would have to be cranked so loud to hear it. There’s nothing trendy about it in Japan, it’s full of old people. There’s no young people that go to them, it’s all 70 and 80 years olds."
Featuring the likes of the late Charles Bradley, Lianne La Havas and De La Soul on the album, with the latter getting involved not because they know of Bombay Bicycle Club, but because they simply "just loved the beat" are great coups, and show that Steadman has what it takes to successfully go it alone. Steadman's broken the mould in terms of what people expect of ‘indie’ musicians and it’s exceptionally refreshing to see someone write in a style that they’re so passionate about, rather than taking the pay cheques to write what a label wants. Following the record will be a tough ask, but he already has his sights set on album number two - and I for one cannot wait.
Mr. Jukes plays Ronnie Scott's on 23 November