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Last year Bloc Party released their fourth studio album, appropriately titled Four. It was a record that, at least to those on the outside, seemed a possibility never to happen after the band went on hiatus towards the close of 2009.
During the break the English quartet pursued separate side projects. For Bloc Party bassist Gordon Moakes that meant co-founding post-hardcore band Young Legionnaire. The experience helped Moakes raise his ability of musicianship and explore his creativity outside of the familiar.
As Moakes tells it, a new-found level of collaboration existed between the four bandmates when Bloc Party came back together to make Four. Writing and recording as a live band, the record’s title represents more than just the album’s numerical value.
With Bloc Party soon to return to Australia for Future Music 2013 and a few headlining sideshows, Moakes discussed the origins of Four, the renewed balance within Bloc Party, and a future that now seems more certain.
Bloc Party were recently here for Splendour in the Grass and will be back this year for Future Music. One festival is geared towards rock music while the other is slightly more electro-dance. Are you proud that Bloc Party’s music fits in at both festivals?
Gordon Moakes: I hope it does. I think with Future Music, that day and that stage, there are obviously a few guitar bands, so I think we’ll fit in with that. We’ve played festivals where it’s very, very heavy with dance music, and then gone on, and it sometimes doesn’t always entirely fit just because of like the volume you can get out of an organic sound with drum kit, which is different to a wav [file] coming through ya…
But you know, obviously we’ve always had that crossover thing, and I think also the fact that the Stone Roses are playing. For us it’s kind of like a benchmark of the fact that there can be a blending of the two.
Was making Bloc Party’s music so adaptable always one of the band’s goals?
GM: I don’t think that was necessarily the goal from the beginning. I think just as we went along there was a feeling that we could explore more avenue, and the music that we listened to wasn’t just the kind that we, I suppose, started out making.
So we kind of wanted to explore those avenues, I suppose. You know, it wasn’t done with the listeners in mind so much. It’s more about our own kind of sensibilities.
One of the joys of Bloc Party is that the music can be instantly accessible, but also grow on you after multiple listens. You’ve been living with the new album for about 5 months now; are the songs you initially enjoyed on Four still your current favourites to perform live?
GM: I don’t know. Actually, in a way I’ve been living with these songs longer than that. We were playing some of these like a year ago when we started writing. In fact it was about a year ago that we were right in the thick of the writing and had kind of just come to the end of some of the writing.
So yeah … as we went on Bloc’s tour, we’d had those songs for a while. So it’s not quite like the last record we did [Intimacy, 2008] where everything is [a] slightly different presence onstage.
You know … every day that we’re still playing, I think we’re just getting better at the songs, and that can improve how the songs sound.
During the two-and-half-year gap from Bloc Party, how did you evolve as a musician and what new approach or techniques were you able to bring to the band when Bloc Party wrote and recorded Four?
GM: I think it was really interesting for me to sort of play with guys that were maybe a little ahead of me in terms of skill and I had to sort of catch up a little bit. But I think just playing and working with other musicians can raise your game.
If it’s working with people you’ve never worked with before, it just introduces you to becoming more adaptable to listen to what’s going on around you, and that was interesting.
And I think coming back it was just subconsciously where I was as a musician, and I think mostly we all picked up our games technically, so we were able to show our chops a bit more on this record [Four].
By all accounts the break helped revitalise the relationships within Bloc Party. Has the collaborative manner in which Four was written also helped build a new comradery as you continue to tour behind the album?
GM: Yeah… I think the songs were all written with cohesion and consensus in mind. And that hasn’t changed as we’ve toured the record. Yeah, I think we needed that as a band, to look at the common ground and work on the common ground instead of all coming back with the ego of, ‘What, can I contribute’.
Touring’s more about how the collective of the band goes about their day, and I think we’re as tight as ever in that sense.
Four was written with the entire band banging it out in a room together. Did that method of writing give a greater shared ownership of music, and in turn lift the level of attentiveness?
GM: For me it’s the ideal scenario, because you’re the closest to hearing things as they happen and responding to what’s happening. You’re able to hear how things sit together in the moment rather than piecing it together later.
So for me it’s the most easy way to work, really, and the most creative, because I rely on hearing other people’s ideas to gel and inspire me.
After touring 2008 album Intimacy, Bloc Party was burned out from the writing, recording, touring routine. Have you guys taken measure to ensure touring behind Four is less gruelling?
GM: Well, I don’t know if the schedule is less gruelling. In a way it’s more gruelling. But it’s just about a shared vision, really, the idea of having a goal that’s the band’s goal, and it’s a collective goal, rather than like somebody else is making the decisions and you’re just turning up.
It’s a subtle difference in actually how the shows go and how you approach it, because effectively you’re just doing the same thing: you’re playing and touring and going to different cities. But I think the major thing is just to check in with each other and check how everyone’s feeling about what’s happening, just checking that everyone’s got their opinion in and has been heard.
Four was recorded in rawer fashion than previous Bloc Party albums and lends itself more easily to a live translation. Has it changed your approach to how you play some of the older material onstage?
GM: We’ve re-looked at a few songs [and] sort of done it a bit more like that, a bit more sort of traditional instrumentation. So we have, through that record, been able to revisit things and let go of a particular way of playing things, and that’s obviously where we are now.
Not so long ago, the future of Bloc Party looked uncertain. How do things appear now moving forward?
GM: What we’ve done has kind of solidified the band and made it so that we can do anything we want with it in the future. I think that we’ve been able to appreciate that it’s not what we want to do all the time, but that when we actually put our minds to doing it, nobody else can do what we do.
So I think effectively we’ve just left the door open and we can come back to it at anytime and work on it when it feels right.
Future Music 2013 Dates + Ticket Links
Saturday, 2nd March
Doomben Racecourse, Brisbane
Sunday, 3rd March
Arena Joondalup, Perth – Labour Day Long Weekend
Saturday, 9th March
Randwick Racecourse, Sydney
Sunday, 10th March
Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne – Labour Day Long Weekend
Monday, 11th March
Bonython Park, Adelaide – NEW VENUE – Adelaide Cup Day