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Bloc Party: ‘Hoping to Shake Off Cobwebs and Play Some New and Old Material’

The UK dance rock band’s frontman Kele Okereke on performing with his bandmates after a long time, at SulaFest this week


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Bloc Party - (from left) Justin Harris, Louise Bartle, Kele Okereke and Russell Lissack. Photo: Rachael Wright

Bloc Party – (from left) Justin Harris, Louise Bartle, Kele Okereke and Russell Lissack. Photo: Rachael Wright

It’s a time of immense change in Kele Okereke’s life. The vocalist-guitarist of UK indie rockers Bloc Party has only recently become a father. He prefers to keep all the other details about his persona life under wraps, but it’s safe to assume it’s going to change the way he works with Bloc Party and his own solo project. He says over the phone from London, between bites of his breakfast, “I haven’t really let myself start thinking about it properly.”

For a band that is widely credited for picking the Brit-indie rock scene out of a looming slump (alongside the likes of Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Chiefs) in the mid-2000s, Bloc Party – then comprising Okereke, guitarist Russell Lissack, drummer Matt Tong and Gordon Moakes – brought jumpy dance rock to the front. Songs like “Banquet,” “Helicopter” (both off 2005’s Silent Alarm), “Flux” (2007’s A Weekend in the City) and “Mercury” (2008’s intimacy) took them to the biggest festivals and tours. While Four (2012) portrayed an aggro side that everyone seemed to more or less love, when Moakes and Tong both left the band, a break was inevitable. Released exactly a year ago in January 2016, their latest album Hymns ran in the opposite direction, channeling Okereke’s soft vocals about nature and spirituality with two new members – drummer Louise Bartle and bassist Justin Harris – adding an ethereal rhythmic glow.

While the band undertook another short break ahead of Okereke’s impending daddy duties, they return to the stage in February, starting off with their India debut at wine and music festival SulaFest in Nashik on February 4th, followed by a handful of shows in the UK. In an exclusive interview with ROLLING STONE India, Okereke talks about the prep that awaits them, putting the hectic days of touring and releasing albums behind them and his solo record.

How are things going? I’m told it’s quite busy times with fatherhood taking main priority?

Yeah. It’s quite a busy time. It’s been an exciting time as well. Nothing really prepares you for it, but luckily we’re doing okay.

But you still gotta go out and play shows–is that, at this point, a welcome change of scene or something that you see as taking time away from this new role?

I haven’t really let myself start thinking about it properly. We start rehearsing next week and when we start rehearsing, it’ll start feeling a lot more real, but right now, I’m very much in a domestic mode, so I kind of enjoy being at home. It’s going to be a challenge because it’s going to be the first time I’ll be away since the baby has been born. I’m not really letting myself think about it too much and get anxious or anything. It’s going to happen, so sometimes life is better when you just don’t worry about these things.

It’s been a year since Hymns came out and (the non-album single) “Stunt Queen” also came out recently. Was that single a statement of intent, as to the band’s direction?

I don’t know about statement of intent. I don’t think we as a band have ever operated on those principles. I think it was just about making a song, we were all excited by it. Is it the shape of things to come? I’m not really sure, but it definitely made sense in the year we were writing it and felt it was the best thing to put forward. When you work on music, you really want to be in the present as much as possible. I’ve got no idea what future Bloc Party music is going to sound like, but that’s part of the fun, trying to work out what it’s going to sound like.  

How did you feel after writing a record like Hymns, because it seemed to have spiritual themes about nature. Was it enriching?

Yeah. It was incredibly enriching, making Hymns. From a purely personal perspective, it was a real joy to sing and write about the world in a way that inspired me. It was a joy to sing about a lot of things, like being connected to nature and to the universe in a way that I’ve never really done before. To me, Hymns is definitely my favorite from the records we’ve done. It feels a lot more personal.

I’m aware that those sort of matters may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it was important to me to get those ideas out there. I feel that this record will resonate in people’s minds for years to come. That’s quite a nice feeling, to imbue a record of a different spiritual and emotional perspective – it’s nice to get that out there and for it to reach people in whatever way that it does.

If it will, how would fatherhood influence you as a songwriter? Because I did read that your next solo album is actually for your dad?

Yeah, in part. Obviously, I made this new [solo] record in 2016, in between a lot of touring, in short little bursts–just recording in Portland, Oregon in my friend’s studio. I guess the whole time, in the house that I was recording, I was kind of aware that I was thinking a lot about my impending fatherhood and my relationship with my father. It kind of bled into that, really. I felt that those thoughts and ideas are definitely prevalent on this record I’ve finished making.

It’s kind of how it always works. When I’m making a record, essentially it’s a document of where I am as a human being and where my thoughts are. If I look back at all the records I’ve made – Bloc Party records and solo records – they represent a space and time for me of where I was as a human being. I feel that this record is no different. The question is that now that this record is done, what’s going to be the next step? How is the next music going to manifest? I think that’s all up in the air right now, but watch this space, because it’s going to come soon.

What is your solo album going to sound like?

It’s definitely not in that electronic music or house space. I thought that as proud as I am of my previous solo records and making electronic music and releasing outside of that – I felt I wanted to try something different with this record, something that explored a different kind of area. It’s not anything I’ve done before, that’s a new challenge.

What is your setlist in India going to include?

I mean it’s weird, because we haven’t started rehearsing yet. I don’t feel qualified to say; we literally haven’t played music with each other for a few months. I’m hoping we can shake off the cobwebs and play some new material and old material. That’d be exciting, to mix up setlists a little bit.

Is the SulaFest show just the one you’re playing here in India?

I think it is just one show, sadly. But I think everyone is going to be there. It’s three days (in India), so I think I’ll actually be able to take some time to explore the area we’re staying in. I’m looking forward to that, really.

After the rush and nonstop shows and album cycle of your early years, I can tell Bloc Party is now more or less relaxed, or at least not comparatively hectic. You wouldn’t want to go back to that again, right?

I feel that we definitely worked very hard as a band, we took every opportunity and it feels like, you’re right – Silent Alarm, A Weekend in the City, Intimacy – we didn’t have any time off in between making those records, touring and promoting them. That was the reason we had a break after Intimacy, just to be able to breathe and get some space in our lives again.

Now that we have space in our lives, I don’t think it’s something we want to give up. It’s obviously a real blessing to travel the world and perform music to people, but I think that at this stage in our lives, with our families, I feel that family and our connection to our loved ones is more important than being away the whole time.

It’s a balance, really – doing what we do, but you need to be a human being at the same time. Or else it’s not really worth it, you know?

What’s coming up during the rest of 2017? You have your solo album due this year right?

I’m not really sure. I think we’re going to be doing a handful of shows and I’m going to focus on releasing this solo record. Also working on new musical stuff. It’s going to be quite busy, and I’m juggling being a dad as well, but hopefully not too busy.

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