SOLO ON THE SIDE In 2010, Bloc Party front-man Kele Okereke released The Boxer, his solo and largely electronic debut, during a hiatus from the band. In many ways, he notes, the Kele album and subsequent EP recharged his figurative batteries, resulting in a refueled and resurgent Party. The new Bloc Party song “Truth,” on which you sing in an R&B style, could have been on your solo album with a different arrangement. Did making those albums change how you approach songwriting?
After spending six months in NYC to finish a book, Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke spent six more living as a Bohemian among the anxiety-ridden locals. Because his written stories were informed by conversations and observations, the lyrics to Four became much more spontaneous.
problems we have as a band, songwriting has always been something we’ve done quite easily, quite instinctively. We knew that within seconds of playing together in a room that we had to make a record now. The way we were playing had to find some kind of expression, had to come out. That sort of stuff, writing music, has always been pretty easy. Is getting back to basics part of the story of what you are doing on Four?
I don’t know if it was getting back to basics. I think we wanted to try a lean, stripped-back approach. In all of our history as a band, we’ve never done anything like that. All of our records, Silent Alarm and Weekend in the City and Intimacy, were all records that were quite studio-based records that we had to learn and take out on the road. We’ve never made a stripped-back record, and that was part of the appeal of this—doing something we’ve never done before. Originally, you were reacting to the sub-Coldplay trend in Britpop. Are you still reacting against that or commenting on what you’ve done before? To be honest, I think you are right. When we started, the focus was on the energy, and our songs needed to sound like they were alive. When we were writing Silent Alarm, every British guitar band sounded like some guy with an acoustic guitar, and it was kind of boring. I think this record is definitely a reaction to the sounds of our previous records and the sounds of the solo record that I made in 2010. If we make another record, I’ve got no idea what it would sound like, but I know it won’t sound anything like Four. It can’t; it would be pointless to repeat ourselves. One of the new songs, “Coliseum,” has a bluesy feel and metallic vibe. Are genres one of the new frontiers for the band?
Yeah, I think the way I’ve changed as a musician, songwriter, and singer, having done a solo project, [is] not so much in the recording but in the touring—not playing the guitar and just being a singer and focusing on my voice as a solo instrument. It definitely changed how I view the act of singing. I definitely feel more competent as a singer, [and] that has led into Four. It’s funny that you say R&B styling; I didn’t think anyone was going to notice that, but that’s what I was going for. I was trying to croon.
Yes—all the musicians in the band enjoying pushing themselves and exploring other styles. One of the few bands that we all collectively like is that British guitar band called Blur, which had a schizophrenic approach to songwriting. It was sort of like they were pushing themselves to explore aspects of punk or classic ’60s songwriting— even elements of classical music in some later songs. They seemed to be unafraid to try new things, and that takes a certain amount of skill as a musician, to play a competent blues break or jazz fill. It’s something that the inner quote-unquote musician in us likes to explore. It’s something that we’ve got to do more of, for sure.
How did that time making The Boxer affect where you are now?
I’ve just been doing promo weeks in Berlin, Paris, and Brussels, [and] I haven’t really lied at all because the journalists have seemed really engaged with the music. They are asking questions that make me think differently about what we have created. The job of the interviewer is important because it helps you frame and contextualize what you are doing. I’ve always valued the interview process. So when you speak to journalists and they’re not ready and they’ve just got questions from looking at your Wikipedia page, yeah, it’s a little dispiriting, and I have a tendency to make stuff up. It makes it more interesting because you feel like you haven’t been answering the same question for seven years in a row.
I think it was absolutely the best thing I could have done as a musician. It completely woke me up again. Being able to travel the world by myself and do my own thing, yeah, it completely woke me up. I would definitely like to make my own music again. PortraiT by Sarah Piantadosi
A BOHEMIAN IN RAT-RACE, USA
You are known for dropping fictional nuggets in your interviews. Are you still doing that?