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29 October 2014

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Bloc Party
Bloc Party: Kele, Russell, Matt & Gordon

Bloc Party interview

By Zoe Applegate
Bloc Party are about to release their second album, A Weekend In The City, which promises to be an arresting memoir of front man Kele Okereke's experiences of life in London. We caught up with bassist Gordon Moakes on the eve of their massive tour.

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Bloc Party have been in the city to showcase their latest magnum opus, A Weekend In The City, which comes out on Monday, 5 February, 2007.

Front man Kele Okereke has punched biting lyrics into the new tracks to capture a reflection of life in a big city - for an album which aims to be harder hitting than the band's 2005 debut, Silent Alarm.

Bassist Gordon Moakes chatted to Zoe Applegate while the quartet were preparing for a warm-up gig in drummer Matt Tong's Bournemouth home city.

With their global road-trip set to run for much of the year, Gordon told us why they're both daunted and excited about what lies ahead, how their sellout Norwich date would be like a home-coming for UEA graduate Matt and why their album had to have a theme.

First of all, I should start by asking how Matt is?

He's fine, absolutely 100 per cent fine. He's disappeared for the day because he's from Bournemouth and the reason we're doing this show is at Matt's suggestion.

Bloc Party's Kele Okereke
Kele in Norwich in 2005. Credit: Anthony Reed.

He wanted to do a home town show, but he's actually gone home for the day to hang out with his parents, but he's in very good health.

So what actually happened?

His lung collapsed and when he got to the hospital the diagnosis was a spontaneous lung collapse.

It could have happened at any time so they just re-inflated it and he was in hospital for a week and wasn't allowed to do anything for a month and then he was fine from that point.

Didn't it happen when you were having a game of American football?

It started off as a possible trigger but the doctors said he could have just woken up with it. It was a possibility it could have just happened anyway.

So you've got nothing to feel guilty about.

No, well I hope not!

You're warming up today for your new tour - how have the rehearsals gone?

Really good. There's only so much we do in rehearsal - you just have to go out onto the stage and play and we've been doing some TV performances in France, so that's really helped to actually put us on the spot and have good versions of the songs so by the time we start the tour proper we should be well on our way.

It's a massive tour and takes in a few countries - does it fill you with excitement or dread?

A bit of both. It's a part of the job that's one of the most rewarding - getting in front of people... making contact I suppose, but the travel can be a bit daunting.

We've got some long-haul flights to look forward to and some quite arduous journeys, but it goes with the territory.

You're off to America again and you've been well-received there when so many British bands haven't - why do you think that is?

I can really only just put it down to the fact that we've never been very British sounding - loaded with British pop references.

As music fans we were always into all kinds of different music from all kinds of parts of the world. We were as much into American noise rock and bands like Sonic Youth as we were any of the Britpop things, if not more.

I think we just sound like an English band in inverted commas. I think it doesn't sound too parochial - it could have come from anywhere in a way.

This  tour sold out almost as soon as it was announced - despite the fact that for the last couple of years you haven't really stopped touring - so what's it like when you have that kind of response?

Ideal. It feels like the work you're putting in is paying off. And it's nice to have this expectation of being greeted warmly wherever we go.

Certainly live do you feel like a band who are at the top of your game?

I think we're not far off it. Obviously this thing with Matt came at a time when we hadn't been playing for a while and we were looking forward to a long five-week tour and we felt like by the end of it we'd be flying, but with that it meant that we've not had a real long tour for two or three months.

Bloc Party's Russell in Norwich by Anthony Reed.
Russell: Keeping one eye on the action

That's quite a long time for a band like us. Once we've been playing for a week I think we'll be flying.  

One of your first dates is in Norwich and you've been here a number of times before - what's the response been like here for you?

It's been good. I think we've played that room at the UEA twice before and it's an interesting kind of room because it's all graded out at the sides so it's like a sea of faces going up and around, so you can see everyone in the audience at the same time - that's always a nice interaction.

It's a nice little spot as well and, of course, again we have a link with Norwich with Matt that he studied at UEA for three years so it's a different kind of home-coming for him.

Has he ever taken you to any of his old haunts after the gigs?

I'm not sure if I've ever seen any of the Norwich club scene or anything like that, but he's great for describing different parts of the town where he may have lived or seen - he a good tour guide. He always enjoys that show.

Last year you played some exclusive shows for your fans - why did you choose to do that and have you got any more planned?

Certainly when we went out and did a week of fan club shows, that was as much for us as it was for them. We wanted an opportunity to play new songs in front of the audience and give them a test drive.

When you've got a fan club you can always call on them to turn up whatever you're planning! It's like rent-an-audience almost.

There are always going to be days when we'll do fan club shows and special shows like that - it makes a change for us and it's like a treat really. A little gift.

In the past we've published reviews of your show and there have been comments sent in afterwards about how much care you take to bond with your fans - do you think that will get harder the more high profile you become?

[He laughs] You have to walk the line with that stuff anyway.

If you want to take the time to get round to everyone and chat with fans outside a gig you can't do everyone and do everything.

You just have to hope that there's a hardcore and you'll be able to sign a few autographs and have a little chat.

I guess doing these size shows helps in that there's a limit to the hoards of fans waiting around for you all day. We just try to be us - we don't try to be extra humble or extra haughty - we just try and be ourselves if we bump into people.

For a band of your stature and the fact that your gigs sold out so quickly you could have chosen to take a step up from this level of venues.

Certainly for the first set of shows we were keen to contain it more.

It's a new set so it helps to break it in in that environment. It's a tough one because you want people to see you play.

Later on in the year we may do some bigger shows but I think for us the idea of being an arena band is not particularly attractive.

We'd rather do more dates in the smaller venues - you end up playing to roughly the same amount of people.

It's been fairly well-documented that Silent Alarm exceeded your expectations - was there any one defining moment where you realised the extent of its success?

It's not like we were keeping tabs on sales figures every week but when we played Reading in 2005 headlining the second stage, that was a slot I remembered going to see bands as a fan.

The reception that we got on that show... it kinda really did sink home that we outstripped every ambition we had for the band and we'd reached far more people than we ever thought.

It must be one of the greatest moments when you can remember going to see a band as a fan and then you end up on that stage - it's every musician's dream.

Absolutely, and it's difficult sometimes to connect the two because the view of a venue you get from the stage is so different to the one you get in the audience.

To connect the two is hard sometimes but it's usually something that will trigger the memory of being there as a fan that compounds it.

You're about to release your second album - how does the sound of that compare with that of the last one?

I'd say it's bigger - that's the simple way of putting it. I think you listen to the first one and it's four musicians in a band.

I think with this one we've really tried to go beyond that and there's more of us - we've multiplied ourselves!

Is it slightly more electronic?

Yeah, that's part of the kind of stuff which we've been trying to incorporate more without being too cheesy and actually trying to be more brave with writing.

The title of your new album, A Weekend In The City, seems to be the theme of it too - how did that concept come about?

As I understand it, we started writing songs and trying to piece together some ideas.

If you trace the few songs we did release off the record - there were only three: Two More Years, the B-side called Hero and then we had this song called The Present which ended up on the Help album for Warchild - there wasn't much in the way of lyrical cohesion to it.

I think Kele decided that a way to approach this would be to come to a decision about having a theme for the lyrics and actually try and bind it together in one piece for the record. It became a way of focusing all of that and the music as well.

Do you know why that theme resonated with Kele more than anything else?

The thing about it was that whatever was going through your mind you could almost refer it back to that.

Certainly Kele and Russell grew up in London and they’re very much Londoners and Kele, in particular, you can tell doesn't like to be away from London for too long.

I think that idea of being on tour plays on you when you're thinking about your home and what it really means, like the things that are happening in the news and media, and also just experiences with our friends and people we know when we're off tour.

I think he just started to join the dots and realised actually the city was a common thread to all these things that were going through his head. 

At first glance that album title almost sounds like a party album, but there are certain song titles on there that suggest they weren't the easiest of things to write.

My one doubt about having that as the title was that it would narrow the vision of the record.

I think the point is that in the time and the space so much can happen and stem from that and yeah, you're right, there are good things and there are bad things but I think he's tried to be very honest about the way he's tackling all of that.

Kele has been quoted as saying he was disappointed with hiding behind abstraction with the last album - lyrically do you think it's a lot more forthright?

I think, if not the most important thing, one of the most important things about this record for us was for it to be like that. I think it's quite brave to admit that and say, 'Maybe I didn't know what I was talking about with the first record'.

As a band I think we were very much spurred on by our first record in that there were lots of things that we wanted to do differently and I think that for him it was one of the most important things to have.

Is there any one song that you're most proud of?

Good question - I think in terms of the song-writing I love Where Is Home? I think we've thrown in some very non-musical ideas in lots of ways and for it to hang together is an achievement.

What is that song about?

As I understand it, it's a reflection on what it's like to be a second generation black citizen in this country and feeling a bit disjointed and disconnected from your roots and what is supposed to be your nationhood [sic].

That's something that's a lot more personal to Kele than it is to me as a white Anglo-Saxon. I suppose anyone who is an outsider or thinks of themselves as an outsider can relate to that experience.

It's a long tour so have you already got your holidays planned for afterwards where you all jet off in different directions?

We kind of take each country one at a time so we're thinking about the UK tour first, then the American tour, but I know we've got an Australian tour in August.

We've got two weeks off ahead of that, so I think half of the band is going to go out and have a holiday there for the two weeks ahead of that tour.

I don’t know what the end of the year will involve but I'm sure we'll be pretty busy for the rest of '07.

On one of the new tracks, Sunday, you swapped your bass for drums - does Matt need to be worried?

No, not at all. He's the daddy drummer in the band. Famously John Lennon said that Ringo Starr wasn't even the best drummer in The Beatles and I would reverse that with Matt.

He's not only the best drummer in Bloc Party, he's probably the best drummer in the country so he's got nothing to worry about with me!

Bloc Party performed a sellout date at UEA, Norwich, on Sunday, 28 January, 2007.

last updated: 29/01/07
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