Bloc Party interview
As Bloc Party release their comeback album, 'Four', Jonny Ensall speaks to Kele Okereke
Bloc Party frontman Kele Okereke has been known to get creative with the truth. In 2011 he sold NME the line that he’d spotted the band’s three other members rehearsing while he was left out in the cold. He once got a story in the National Enquirer about Madonna being hauled out of his dressing room in a headlock, and new album, ‘Four’ features a recording of him convincing a label rep that African spiders hatched from eggs laid under a friend’s skin.
It’s easy to see why he doesn’t always like to be straightforward. Okereke’s life, lyrics and music have been pored over by the media since the release of Bloc Party’s noughties defining debut album, ‘Silent Alarm’ in 2005. On the phone he sounds cagey, and so polite you feel like he might be taking the piss. ‘There’s all sorts of drama going on in Bloc Party land right now,’ he states coolly from a hotel bedroom in LA. ‘But let me focus on the task at hand.’
The task at hand is explaining to the world why Bloc Party’s previously squabbling members have reconvened to make a fourth record – a roaring, animalistic one that takes a detour from the studio-crafted, indiedisco rhythms that made them famous. Its lyrics are angry, but at 11am in the morning Kele sounds only sleepy and mildly harassed.
‘Four’ is underpinned by a sense of unrest: were you trying to stir something?
‘I totally wasn’t trying to rabble rouse, or to make big statements. It was just about describing what I was going through, and what I was experiencing… I had literally no idea what I was going to be writing about until the day that I turned up in the studio and started doing the vocals. Now, looking back at the lyrics and looking back at the record, I can hear what it’s about.’
Which is what?
‘To me it sounds like someone losing their mind. There is a lot of anger, a lot of aggression, a lot of confusion and a lot of darkness – I think it’s probably the darkest set of lyrics that I’ve ever written. Which is quite surprising for me because at the time I was in a peaceful place. I was very isolated, living in New York, trying to finish a book I’d started writing… I think the aggression and the anger comes from the residual stuff I was picking up from the people I was meeting. ‘It can be quite a brutal place, New York. Because of the speed of the city, everyone is so obsessed with moving forward… I really felt while I was there that sometimes you have to walk around completely deadened on the inside and outside just to survive.’
How does London make you feel?
‘It’s different in London because I’ve lived there all my life. So I know where to go and where not to go. I know who to speak to and who not to speak to … I know whose hand not to shake.’
What was the initial reunion with the rest of the band like?
‘It was in two stages. We met at the end of 2010, after saying we needed to take a year out in 2009 –which wasn’t really a good year for our interpersonal relationships. We didn’t really have any contact in that year, so the first meeting was slightly nerve-wracking. I don’t think anyone really knew what was going to happen. After an initial hour of uncomfortableness we talked about our grievances, we talked about the past, we talked about how – if we were going to move forward –we needed to do it. ‘It felt very easy when we were [recording] together. Of all of our problems, making music has never been one of them.’
Your new song ‘Valis’ references sci-fi writer Philip K Dick. Do you share any aspects of his outlook?
‘From what I know of Philip K Dick he really believed that he was communing with other worlds and realities. But I’ve never had any of those sorts of experiences. What I will say is that doing what I do as a musician and a performer you definitely feel that you’re a conduit for unspoken and invisible energies – you’re a conductor of something that can’t be seen.’
Does it surprise you that indie clubs up and down the country are still playing some of your earliest singles – like ‘Banquet’ and ‘Helicopter’ – every weekend?
‘That’s to be expected, because there hasn’t been a new wave of guitar music that’s come around that’s excited people. I think there will be, but we just can’t imagine it now. I remember vividly how it felt in the late ’90s when every guitar band sounded like Travis and every other song on the radio was Puff Daddy sampling some ’80s hit. It felt like it was a dire time. But then who knew that The Strokes were going to be around the corner? And that changed everything. There are always going to be kids wanting to express themselves. So, I’m optimistic about the future of music in this country.
‘That was a good interview… I didn’t lie once!’