A band has a lead singer and the lead singer is usually seen as the band's spokesperson. When I stepped on to Bloc Party’s tour bus, it was bassist Gordon Moakes who I was interested in getting a few words from.
When Bloc Party’s members, Kele Okereke, Russell Lissack, Gordon Moakes and Matt Tong, unanimously decided to go on a hiatus in October 2009, all eyes were on leadsinger Kele. Shame really, seeing as the other members of Bloc Party also pursued solo projects; Lissack went on tour with Brit rockers Ash, Matt Tong took the time to regroup and Gordon Moakes set upon a solo music project called Young Legionnaire with Paul Mullen, the vocalist and guitarist from The Automatic.
Since then Bloc Party got back together, releasing their new album 4, which has been hailed as a return to the sound which pushed them into the big leagues, back in the mid Noughties. It is this album that brought them through Milan and got me talking to Moakes.
‘Four’ marks the return of Bloc Party and is the first LP that we’ve seen from you guys in three years. After you got back together after the hiatus, how did you approach it?
Gordon: Fairly open mindedly with a keen sense consensus, really. We really wanted to do something was representative of what we wanted to do individually. One of the reasons that we’d taken time off was to go and pursue different projects and for all of us to be immersed in different worlds outside of Bloc Party, it meant that Bloc Party had to mean something to all of us and to represent all of us in order for it to move forward again. It had to be something that we all cared about and carry.
Kele mentioned that the he was concerned about the sense of organic growth for ‘Four’.
Gordon: We wanted it to be an honest reflection and in the past we’ve been very excited, throwing ideas in to the work we’ve done and the work we’ve been doing. A major part of what we do is going out on stage, and it’s four people every night and, so, the importance of it growing with us as four people was incredibly important in ensuring that we all had something invested in it, personally. The word organic is a reflection on the aim of the record for it to be fairly raw and about the four of us.
Bloc Party is referred to with the labels art-rock and alt-rock. When did this limited your creativity?
Gordon: I’ve never felt a pressure in that sense and it’s actually freeing to be able to do something that you love and something that you can constantly explore and for it to be ‘art’ in that sense.
‘Octopus’ was your ‘comeback’ single and it was commented on as a return to your early work.
Gordon: We debated about what the first track should be and arguably ‘Octopus’ is recognisable as a Bloc Party song. The beat is very simple, the structure too. It’s not contrived and it holds the signature sound of Bloc Party.
You worked with Alex Newport on ‘Four’ and he brought many experimental ways of recording and producing to the record. How was it working with him?
Gordon: Well, Alex is very much a rock producer and his expertise lies within rendering a band’s sound in the most honest way possible. The things he does with mics are not production rocket science but he is very skilled and he knows how to make things work. What was important about the experience with Alex is that he understood this need for something organic from us. These are his calling cards, in a sense, for his production. It was a different way of working for us and it was refreshing to have someone whose ear is very much tuned to the performances and the arrangement of the song and not trying to suggest radical things in terms of production. Ales would only suggest things that would add to our performance rather than suggesting ‘why not drop the bassline out here and add reversed violins in’.
So, Gordon, tell me about the hiatus that you guys embarked on in 2009. What did you busy yourself with?
Gordon: I was in another band called Young Legionnaire… a heavier rock band. At that point the last thing I had done was ‘Intimacy’ and, although there were some ‘rock’ moments on there, things had been pieced together in Pro Tools and didn’t really need a bass guitar. We were already to have a break anyway and when I started thinking about music again, I just wanted to plug it in and play really loud, noisy stuff. Working with other musicians takes you to different places and I can see myself working with the guys of Young Legionnaire again as a relief and change from doing this. The different narratives etc.
So Young Legionnaire was almost like a respite?
Gordon: It was like Year 0 in the sense of creativity as there was no baggage with it and no expectations on the kind of record it was to be. I could just sit down with my guitar, play around with some ideas and then expand on those without pressure. It’s just trying things and going on a journey on your own. It’s important and also quite scary… especially getting on stage with a band where you don’t know what the dynamic will be.
So, now that you’re back with Bloc Party and back on stage, what have you bought with you from the experiences that you each had during the hiatus?
Well, during the live show you’ll be seeing me playing a lot more bass. I used to play Aires with a drum machine and Signs which I played with glockenspiel, both of which I now play live with the bass. And that, for me, was what is important about this record.
Four is out now on Frenchkiss Records.