|Bloc Party frontman Kele Okereke.
Kele Okereke saw it coming.
“For the next record,” the Bloc Party frontman told me in 2009, “I’d like to get back in a room with the others and just sit with licks for weeks and months with no pressure and see how they evolve naturally. Because I think we're a good band. And we can play our instruments. And I think we can do something great.”
Three years later — as the recently reconvened British post-punk quartet releases Four, their fourth disc and first album in four years — Okereke marvels at his foresight.
“Wow,” says the 30-year-old singer-guitarist. “That’s actually quite eerie. That’s exactly what happened. So three years in advance, I was able to predict that quite succinctly … Maybe I’m psychic. Or maybe I just have tunnel vision; I know what I want when I want it and I know exactly how I’m going to get it.”
Well, not exactly. Not even Okereke predicted the circuitous route that led to Four. After touring 2008’s Intimacy, the band — rounded out by guitarist Russell Lissack, bassist Gordon Moakes, and drummer Matt Tong — took a year off, sparking breakup rumours. Okereke’s solo album The Boxer didn’t help in that regard. Ultimately, though, absence made the Bloc grow stronger. Raw, wiry and aggressive, Four dials back the electronics of Intimacy and cranks up the spiky riffs and angular beats that drove 2005’s Silent Alarm and 2007’s A Weekend in the City.
With Four in stores and a Canadian tour looming, the 30-year-old Okereke called up from Holland to discuss rebuilding the Bloc, his favourite Four and more. The highlights:
What did you learn from the hiatus and the solo album?
Having a project where I was completely the sole creative force — I was behind all the artwork, the videos, the music, everything — was incredibly fulfilling. It made me think, ‘If I’m going to go back into the band, it needs to feel like it’s a band; it needs to be a combination of egos and personalities rather than just one vision.’ I realized there was no point in making another record unless we made it together. We hadn’t really done that since our first record; Intimacy and A Weekend in the City were made whilst we were on the road. I wanted us to be in one place and just see how things evolved naturally without any pressure. But I don’t think we would have been able to do that if we hadn’t had time off. We needed to go away and do other things and come back revitalized. I’m glad we did that, because I think it’s very apparent in the music. Sometimes you need to go the long way around to get somewhere.
Do you feel like you got back in touch with something that you had lost?
I don’t feel the essence of Bloc Party ever truly got away from us. Intimacy was an important record for us to make. I don’t think we would have been able to make Four had we not done Intimacy. It has some of the best music we’ve ever made. It pushed us out of the confines of the four-piece rock ’n’ roll band, which is what I wanted. At that time, I was adamant and super-excited about exploring the possibilities of the studio. But now, I realize that at times making Intimacy, we weren’t really a band. It was a studio project. And it was time to be a band again. But it wasn’t just making the record; it was also making time for each other. I’ve been in a band with these people for 10 years almost. We’ve travelled the world and had some very significant life experiences. It was also important to acknowledge that we were friends again, irrespective of what happens with the music we make.
The guitars on this album are very heavy. Where is that coming from?
The music that was resonating with me in 2010 and 2011 was raw, extreme guitar-rock. I was listening to Bleach by Nirvana, a record I never paid any attention to at the time. I was putting it on every week and discovering something about it. I’m not really excited by indie music these days; it doesn’t seem to have any bite or anger. I’ve been gravitating toward harder music. I’ve been listening to Deftones a lot, especially White Pony — again, a record I had for years and never started listening to until 2011. It just seems to resonate with me. That said, I’ve also been listening to lots of soul music from the ’60s — Sam Cooke and Al Green and Jackie Wilson. So while it’s definitely a harder record in places I also feel it’s a lot more soulful.
You have a lot to live up to with that title. There are so many classic albums titled Four.
I know. My favourite is Beyonce’s Four. That’s her best, most cohesive record. The fourth record as an idea, it’s quite symbolic. It’s the start of a career, you know? It’s when you show people what you’re really about. Four records in, there are no excuses. You know what you’re doing. It’s time to stake a claim. Which is not to say our future output is going to sound like Four. In fact, it would be depressing if it did — if we make another record. I don’t know if we will. The future of Bloc Party depends on how we feel after touring for a year. Because the other thing I realized from the time off was that having a life and seeing my friends and family is important. So I’m a bit wary about signing up to do this ad infinitum again. Up until 2009, our lives were scheduled out forever. It was a very crushing feeling. There is a part of me that thinks if this is the end, we should accept that and move on. But I don’t know what the future is going to be.
Sure, you do. You did last time.
Well, OK, I do know what the future will be. But I’m not going to tell you now. This isn’t a confessional.
Bloc Party’s Canadian tour dates:
Sept. 10 | Toronto | Danforth Music Hall
Sept. 23 | Winnipeg | Burton Cummings Theatre
Sept. 25 | Edmonton | Event Centre
Sept. 26 | Calgary | MacEwan Student Centre
Sept. 29 | Vancouver | Vogue Theatre