Bassist Gordon Moakes on the new Bloc Party, the old Bloc Party, and that shy kid who answered a call for musicians in the newspaper one day.
Bloc Party didn’t expect to become the infamous prodigal sons of the UK when they went on a three-year hiatus and came back for their fourth, less-produced-sounding album Four. Lucky for them, ridiculous rumors went around that infighting was afoot and that frontman Kele Okereke might be replaced. It was BS, but interest piqued as high as their Weekend in the City days, which was probably a blessing for the band’s side projects (like Kele’s electropop album The Boxer, and bassist Gordon Moakes’ hardcore group Young Legionnaire), and certainly a blessing for their triumphant reunion.
Now that Four has been released — under the production of Alex Newport (Mars Volta, Male Bonding) — the band is on tour and pretty chummy. We spoke with Gordon, who reflected on the real changes that have taken place over the years for this internationally renowned, 13-year-ish old rock band — from the advent of the internet to their latest arguments.
How is the tour coming?
I’m in Toronto. It’s kind of our first proper headline show really, since being away, so it’s like a new phase. It feels good.
When you first returned I imagine some things have lost, some have been gained? Curious to know how the dynamic is this time around.
I think it took a little while to settle in, but in many ways we just picked up where we left off. We probably argue a little bit louder. I’d say we’ve gained that. But I think,the nice thing about being in a band like this where the personalities are distinctive and the playing is distinctive, you know straight away who you’re playing with, and there’s a kind of lineage that that will never go away as long as it’s the four of us. It’s funny how familiar it felt considering that we didn’t play together for three years, to be back onstage and it not feel strange…
It’s been said that you guys wanted to make this album sound like the four of you, in a room. Is there a personal reason why you decided to do that? To lock out the bullshit?
[laughs] I think there’s a bit of that. When you listen to our first record it sounds very much produced in the studio, and there’s lots of things going on and lots of oohs and aahs and piano. We hadn’t done this kind of raw sounding record — between us some of our favorite records sound like that — it was something that, as a mission that we had to try a record like that, and also just to connect together as people. It was very helpful to create a level playing field and allow us to come back. It was like making a record that was very much a mirror, an honest representation.
You working at all with Young Legionnaire on the side?
We haven’t done anything in a little while. That will be my other thing when we wind down on this record.
Would you say you bring a lot of the post-hardcore influences to the band?
[laughs] I had a few interviews with that band where I was a bit [taken aback] by that whole terminology. To me it’s just heavy rock music, and I will hold my hands up and say that’s my favorite kind of music. In many ways this is a version of what we were doing from the beginning. When we came out, there was a lot of very sort of light indie rock bands — the Travises and bands like that — and that’s what we didn’t wanna sound like. There were lots of influences that went into that, some of it were things like Bjork and some of it was heavy rock, we all like that palette. Some of us like it more than others, but it was something we shared anyway.
So, what did you think of The Boxer?
That’s an extreme variation on all the elements that were pop in our band. We’re four different personalities, and if any one of us were to make a record it would sound very different.
What was fondest memory of recording the album?
I think probably, just having this feeling where we could do anything, and having made a few records over the years in Bloc Party and outside of Bloc Party, to get to the point where we can use the guitar to get the sounds that we like and feel like we’re in the studio for months, making exactly the kind of record to make, and enjoying that whole experience. And working with Alex, as well. I think he’s a very calming influence on our band. I’d love to work with Alex again, it was very simple.
Watch Bloc Party’s video for the single “Octopus” off the new album ‘Four’
Did you feel like the pressure was off?
Yeah. Whether or not we get mythologized — how there’s this story about us being away and coming back — I haven’t really felt pressure making a record since our very first record. It’s a privilege for me to be back in the studio again, and just to be making music. It’s my life and I love it, so I haven’t really felt pressure. And this record was very much just the four of us. Certainly there were people involved on the fringes, but there were no meeting about how it would work. We just took control of it between the four of us and it felt very relaxed.
Speaking of mythologies, I’ve certainly read Kele’s response to the supposed “strife” that was happening between he and the band — when he was rumored to be “replaced”. What was the band’s experience
There was never an issue between us. We barely talked about it. I knew that anything that was floating around about the band and what was going on inside the band was really just supposition and rumor, because like I say, we hadn’t even talked about it between the four of us, so I just ignored it. I knew that nobody had the inside line. I would talk to friends and people who weren’t with the band and they’d say ‘what’s going on with the band are you coming back or not?’ We needed a break and so we went our separate ways for awhile.
It must be pretty surreal to be at a level in your career that people are making up stories about you.
Yeah! I remember when we were trending on Twitter for instance, and we had barely just started writing. I thought, ‘how can this band be trending when the band wasn’t really operational?’ So I think that we felt that, that when we finally did something it would probably be a big deal [laughs].
Blessing in disguise. You have mentioned that when you initially met the band they were pretty shy and meek guys — is there a shift in confidence?
Well, essentially all four of us are pretty shy people. We’re not the kind of people to walk into a room and be really dynamic. We’re all kinda low key people. That’s just the essence of who we are. We have gotten more confident in our ideas, and what we’re good at. But, as people, we are always gonna be kind of low key.
All told, are you glad you answered that ad?
Um, yeah. It’s been so long now, maybe 11 or 12 years since that happened, it’s like a lifetime away. i remember that guy, he was this really shy graphic designer who had never been in a band, and I actually, my hit rate in terms of being in bands, was pretty good on that reckoning, cause I’d never been in a band. but it just feels like such a long time ago where i was a guy looking in the back of a newspaper and found an ad for a band.
Not even on the Internet.
Yeah! I think that sums it up. This band formed just before the internet was making an impact on how bands worked! I’ve been in a band for so long to think of that person who isn’t is crazy.