An Interview with Kele Okereke from Bloc Party: Fourth Time’s The Charm

*This post was originally published as the cover story of The Aquarian Weekly, Jan. 9, 2013.

Bloc Party doesn’t really need to bother with petty self-improvement New Year’s resolutions like the rest of us—they actually rocked 2012. Last year the British indie quartet released their fourth album, aptly titled Four. They also had the opportunity to perform their single “Octopus” on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, played a plethora of shows including Lollapalooza, Outside Lands and the HARD Music Festival, and sold out three nights at New York City’s Terminal 5, a favorite intimate venue. The band toured with Dum Dum Girls last December, and will embark on a multi-city U.S. tour to kick off the New Year.4933cd16001e4704cd1094f8f6b01bd5

Bloc Party consists of vocalist/guitarist Kele Okereke, guitarist Russell Lissack, bassist/multi-instrumentalist Gordon Moakes, and drummer/vocalist Matt Tong.

You don’t have to be a Bloc Party “fan” to appreciate the musical impact of Four and the outfit’s previous three recordsThe latest release draws on nearly every element of cultural music, including metal, rock, punk, country and, of course, electronic. The most celebratory aspect of Bloc Party’s repertoire is that they aren’t just another band with an unhealthy electronic drum obsession. They are musicians who understand—down to a chemical science—how to cross-reference sounds and melodies. They make eccentric music work.

The band’s latest single, “Octopus” chronicles seemingly nothing about an eight-legged sea creature. The song endears with videogame-like sounds—an electronic “pew” “pew” of sorts. Okereke’s vocal tone, though consistent, is demanding and assertive. The guitar and bass complement each other exceptionally well, almost like there’s a race to the finish line of the song. The eccentric lyrics of Bloc Party songs are mostly difficult to decode. For example, Okereke croons, “You done lost your mind/Mary Anna said it’s a no go/She don’t feel right/She don’t think so/But I don’t know why/I feel like crying/Well come on/Come on.”

The album takes sharp music turns and there are no “track-by-track” directions. “Kettling” is all about the guitars, as it sounds like an homage to ‘90s alternative and post-millennial progressive punk wrapped up in vintage guitar chords. The following track, “Day Four” is a gentle ballad in which Okereke delivers his eccentric message from the vocal heart. He pours out, “I’ve felt death/Rising from me/From my fingers/And out my mouth.”

In this short and sweet interview, true to Kele Okereke’s character, the frontman shares where the band draws musical inspiration, touring, and Four. The transcription is below:

Bloc Party established a strong presence in the UK prior to becoming so popular in the States. Can you describe the experience of conquering America? What are your favorite cities to play?

It’s been great. It’s been one of my wildest dreams. America is a very big place so I’m just glad that we get to play to people that like what we do.

American audiences tend to be quite responsive. That’s a tough question because every place you go to has different nuances. The American audiences are always receptive. I like playing in San Francisco, Seattle, New York and L.A. That’s one of my favorite things about coming to the States—everyone’s really receptive. It’s fun playing here.

Bloc Party’s recently released album is aptly title Four. Can you explain the significance of the number four to the band?

We wanted to capture the sound of the four of us. It’s our fourth record. It seems apt really, and made sense.

Interestingly, Bloc Party also took a four-year hiatus. During that time, what were you up to? Did you think about the band coming back together?

I made a record [The Boxer] and was touring the record. I was consumed with that and didn’t think about Bloc Party so much. It wasn’t until we met up in the end of 2010 to discuss it that I said, “Yeah, cool, let’s do it.” Up until then I hadn’t really thought of it.

Musically, the band really does push the envelope by fusing together many different sounds and musical elements that defer from traditional music. You’re positioned as an indie band, but how do you classify yourselves? What’s your take on how you’re positioned?

It’s a rock and roll show, you know? It’s an incredibly powerful medium, watching musicians play together on stage. Bloc Party is always going to be about that—musicianship and coming together from different places. Do I see us as an indie band? I guess it’s all about what you define as an indie band. Is it a band that produces music on an independent label? A band that looks indie? If I think of indie music, I don’t think of guitar these days.

Who are your inspirations? Favorite acts?

I can tell you who I’m into this week. It fluctuates. I try to devour a lot of music and listen to music that I know nothing about. I have to absorb myself in it. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of neo-soul. I can tell you what I’m into right now. I can’t talk about what I was like a year ago. Does this make sense?

One of the things most impressive about Bloc Party’s composition process is that, despite any changes in lyrics, sounds or instrumental use, there is an overarching sound that simply reads Bloc Party. But you never stick to one note, either. Can you tell me about your repertoire?

We’re all big fans of different sorts of music and that’s constantly changing so when you’re going to be creative, your voice as an artist stays the same. It’s the words and the colors and everything around that that changes as you change. There’s a complicated relationship. We only do what we can do. Luckily what we can do changes. Oh my god, I sound like such a hippy.

The messages in Bloc Party songs are genuinely interesting and unique. From where do you draw your inspirations?

The conversations I’m having—with my loved ones and family, the band, from the things I see: sunsets and films, and books that I’m reading at the time. The inspiration comes from everywhere, from things overheard. It’s an ongoing thing. It’s just about an idea of expression. Expressing yourself is truly possible the whole time.

Since you mentioned expression, is the first song on Four, “So He Begins To Lie,” specifically about you?

That’s an interesting question to ask me in an interview. I guess a part of it is. What that song’s about is the idea that you’re reconciling. When you’re standing up in front of people and you’re selling an aspect of your personality, if you’re performing, if you’re an artist, if you’re in the public eye, if you’re dealing with public perception of yourself, then that starts to occur a slight discrepancy between what you feel and what you express sometimes.

Who are your favorite vocalists and lyricists?

I’ve always been impressed with Björk. As a lyricist and especially as a vocalist, what she can do, and the way she expresses herself is so “her own voice.” The images that she promotes in her lyrics and what she describes in detail are so specific. She’s someone I love to hear sing.

Who else is a raw, pure voice? Brandy, actually. I was listening to the new Brandy single a few months back and I was reminded about how awesome her tone was. That kind of voice I’ve missed for a long time—it’s got that smokiness.

What’s next for Bloc Party in 2013?

We’ll be playing some shows. We just started writing again. I don’t know what’s going to happen with that but it feels good to be writing together. In the New Year, I’m looking forward to getting back to playing music. It’s the good life.

Bloc Party will play at The Wellmont Theatre, in Montclair, on Jan. 11. Their new album, Four, is available now through Frenchkiss. For more information, go to blocparty.net.

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