Bloc Party: 'A break has given us a renewed sense of vigour'

Last year indie-rockers Bloc Party appeared to be splitting, now they're back with a No 1 album. Lead singer Kele Okereke explains why he didn't tell the whole truth…

Considering that a year ago there was some confusion about whether Bloc Party still existed, or would ever exist again, it was some turnaround to find them last week with an album at No 1 in the midweek charts and announcing their biggest UK gig to date.

The band had decided to take time out in 2009 after touring Intimacy, their third album. After Intimacy they found they had, paradoxically, become quite distant from one another. If they had gone on to try to make another album in that climate, the band members admit, it would most likely have been their last. Instead they decided to take a year's break, though in reality they didn't know if it would be a year or longer. Or, in singer Kele Okereke's case, whether they would ever get back together.

Okereke went off and made a solo electronic album, 2010's critically acclaimed The Boxer, then spent the following year touring it, and also moved to New York to finish his first book, a collection of short stories which should be published next year. Guitarist Russell Lissack toured with his teenage favourite band Ash, formed electronic rock duo Pin Me Down and produced the Japanese band Heavenstamp's album. Bass player Gordon Moakes formed post-hardcore outfit Young Legionnaire with Paul Mullen of the Automatic. Drummer Matt Tong took a break and moved to New York.

Communication, it seems, has never been a strong point within the band, a situation not helped by their propensity to drop red herrings into interviews. Last September this reached something of a nadir when the NME reported that the three other members of Bloc Party were recording without Okereke and seeking to replace him, fuelled by a picture Okereke posted on his website of the three of them heading into a studio in New York. The truth is that all four of them were already working on their new album there.

"I gave an interview to a British music magazine and they asked about the picture on my website of the other three rehearsing without me," says Okereke. "It was just that we didn't want anyone to know that we were making another record because we didn't know how it was going to turn out.

"I've always made up stuff in interviews but I didn't expect the reaction that story got. Part of me thought: if people want to believe this story of me skulking around, that's fine, I don't care. I've long since reconciled myself to the fact that what you read about yourself in magazines might not have truth in your life. I was in New York at the time, so I didn't think much of it until my manager said: 'I think this has got a bit out of hand', at which point we had to make a statement."

In reality the break seems to have been good for everyone. The resulting album, Four, sounds like a band reinvigorated. In contrast to their previous three albums, they've ditched studio trickery for a leaner, more stripped down approach, resulting in a record that has the energy of a hungry debut rather than the lethargy of a band mid-career.

"I think having had a break and a chance to do other things we all came back with a renewed sense of vigour, and I think that did affect the recording," says Okereke. "I was constantly surprised when we were writing in the studio. I hadn't played with the band for three years and hadn't jammed with musicians in that time. It's a magical feeling, watching an idea being plucked out of the air, and I was constantly being reminded of that. It was inspirational watching Russell at work. He's a very gifted guitar player, very instinctive, and he makes me think differently about playing guitar."

From poppy, melodic tracks such as Day 4, which is as close as Bloc Party have come to a ballad, to the more upbeat, anthemic agit-punk of Team A, Four is a refreshingly diverse record. "It's our fourth record," says Okereke, "but we also wanted to highlight that this is the sound of the four of us. Four musicians with no tricks and embellishments."

When the album went to No 1 last week the band celebrated by playing an intimate, free gig at Birthdays in east London, capacity 250. (Their biggest gig yet will be at the 19,000-capacity Earls Court in February.)

As for the future of Bloc Party, Okereke is relaxed. It seems the band have reached a place where they are less anxious about the future. They decided against signing a new record deal, instead making the album themselves and licensing it to boutique distributor Frenchkiss, so there's no pressure from above.

"It's a lot more liberating this time," says Okereke. "I think we did get stuck in that trap of make a record, go and tour the world, come back, make another record, go and tour the world… After a while, things become a little, er, toxic."

It became detrimental not only creatively but personally?

"For sure, and we're trying to safeguard against that happening again."


Luke Bainbridge

The GuardianTramp

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