Bloc Party’s Gordon Moakes: "Leave your ego at the door"
Image via Bloc Party.
Anyone who as a teenager in the mid-naughties and claims no sense of affiliation to British genre-bending post-punk legends, Bloc Party, is lying.
The sometimes-dance, sometimes-rock and sometimes-metal award-winning group, thanks to their seminal 2005 Silent Alarm inception, spawned three of the most classic house party tracks of our time – Banquet, Flux and So Here We Are (if we must name names). Though the aforementioned singles have since become something of a musical cliché, it is undeniable that since launching, the group have left relative market competitors in vestige, still, four albums and almost a decade in, able to pique press interest, conjure atmosphere and aptly take every rookie music journalist back to a place where they first fell in love with something beyond the aural realm of rage’s top 50 countdown. (Present no exception).
Of course, a legacy so celebrated has – as all rock scores go – become inextricably linked with the band’s purportedly dramatic legend. Following the release of A Weekend In The City (2007) and 2009’s successive Intimacy, the party of four, lead by iconic front man Kele Okereke, went on a three-year hiatus speculatively caused by interpersonal and creative toxicity. Comments made in 2009 regarding the group’s uncertain future – “We definitely need to have a break and gain a bit of perspective on life outside of the band” – combined with (falsified) reports “that Okereke supposedly stumbled across his band in New York city secretly reconvened in a studio without him” became gleaning moments in the band’s narrative, pre 2012’s fourth (appropriately tiled, Four) feature length album.
Asynchronous to Bloc Party’s most recent (and twice platinum) record, Okereke released his much-hyped alternative dance solo album, The Boxer; guitarist Russell Lissack was invited to tour with Ash; drummer Matt Tong chilled; and bassist Gordon Moakes returned to his punk roots, collaborating with The Automatic’s lead vocalist and guitarist, Paul Mullen, in a project called Young Legionnaire. (But of course, advent fans already knew that.)
Fast forward to the present, the band is gearing up for a quick Australian visit (among other things, we’re sure) after a celebrated return to 2012’s Splendour in the Grass. Come March, Bloc Party will show Future Music Festival punters (and a selection of lucky sideshow attendees) that no longer are they in a collective state of flux, but are just a band, like any other, that have had their ups and downs and are grateful to emerge with a renewed sense of unity - complete with their signature “nothing to prove” coolness, as bassist Gordon Moakes discussed with us exclusively.
Hi Gordon, how are you?
Hello, hello. I’m OK, I’m alright.
Thanks for chatting with us. Kele and Matt are famous for making things up in interviews, so today are you going to drop anything sneaky in?
Uhhh, well [laughs] I don’t know! I guess you’ll have to go back and fact check everything. I’ll try not to make up anything cheeky though.
It must be exhausting doing interview after interview, four – Bloc Party – albums in...
I mean, when the press [junkets] start, there are times when you’re doing days of press and that’s always quite intense, but once you start touring you kind of get into a rhythm of playing and you’re not doing quite so much of that so [it’s good to] mix it up a little bit every now and again.
Can you tell me a bit about recording the band’s most recent album, Four?
Just song by song we were trying things out. For me, it was quite exciting to just stretch ourselves a bit with playing.
Was there anything that, as a band and personally, you wanted to achieve from the record? Were there things you really wanted or things you just weren’t willing to compromise on?
It was a record of compromise, but the good kind of compromise, which is where you work together to create something that is an improvement on what you can do on your own. I think the whole point of this record is that we would all – you know – it would show us all in a good light but it would also be a Bloc Party record [and] it would be a collective effort. From my point of view, I didn’t have anything to prove. I just wanted to make it an enjoyable experience for everyone, and make it an honest portrayal of a band that’s been through a lot and can still make a record.
You guys all have solo projects – which can be quite a healthy thing –
– but do you ever worry, personally, or maybe the others hold back on pitching things to Bloc Party and think “Nah, I’ll save that for my own thing”?
[Laughs] Umm... I mean, I think that would be more of an issue if they [the solo and the band projects] were concurrent. It was all kind of blank page when we started making this record, so the ideas that we had were just like a year zero kind of principle, where we were all like “what’ve you got”/ “do you have anything right now?” And then we all sort of pitched things in. I know what you mean [though], but I think with most ideas you can hear whether it’s something that works as a Bloc Party idea. You can kind of hear straight away if something’s going to fit or not.
Do things get toxic – creatively and personally – if you guys are on the road together for too long?
It’s a natural part of creative collaboration, really. There are times where it feels really... It’s like any relationship. There are times where it feels like there’s a real harmony to it – literally – and there are times where you’re kind of at odds, slightly. Often with music you’re just not hearing what the other person’s hearing.
How do you keep things fresh?
I don’t know... I think just kind of leave your ego at the door. For me, picking up bass guitar has always been a very natural thing to do, so just kind of – and this is a bit soppy – play from the gut and play what feels right in the moment. Things are sometimes right, sometimes they’re really, really right and that’s where the magic happens – you create something out of thin air and that’s something we’re all looking for, really.
Cool. So you’re heading here soon again for Future Music Festival and a few side shows. What sort of venues do you prefer playing at? Festivals and massive concerts or smaller, more intimate settings?
Probably somewhere in the middle. Like in the States we were playing to [rooms with]1000 or 2000 [people] and it’s, in a way – and this might just be because it was a good tour and it felt good – [the best case scenario]. You know, just sort of being comfortable in a room, with the people and at the venue, not building it up into a great sort of sense of occasion.
It’s great to do these sorts of festival shows and big arena shows every now and again, but I like it just when it’s kind of low key, but obviously it’s got its own spirit…and it’s not too crazy. Cause we’ve done tiny club shows and that can get a little bit hectic as well.
People get a bit too excited.
What are your plans for the future as a band, and also personally? Do you think you’ll ever go back to graphic design or design in general?
Maybe, I mean, I don’t know, it depends what I’m doing to pay the bills in ten years’ time. I kind of feel like there’s a natural lifespan to the kind of [thing] we’re doing but on the other hand, when you haven’t been doing it for a couple of years, you miss it, so… I like to keep my hand in on the graphic stuff. I’m kind of open to anything really. But right now we’re pretty busy, we’re touring right through till August-September and by then I’ll be ready for a break.
When you have a break do you think you’re going to do more with Young Legionnaire or are you just going to chill?
Well yeah, my wife wants me to chill for a bit, and I will…[but] I want to make more music with that, and tour a bit more as well. In an ideal world I’d love to take [Young Legionnaire] further, because I know there’s an audience for it.
Cool. And for my last question, I have to ask – what’s the real story behind the lack of ‘K’ in Bloc Party?
Right, well it sort of came from when I was a student and I was fascinated by political iconography; you know, like the idea of the Stars and Stripes and the Hammer and Sickle, and how East and West are kind of denoted by different kinds of things. So we liked the idea of the Bloc, the Eastern Bloc, and from that we got the idea of a Bloc Party, kind of like a Soviet image and a classic American image combined. So that’s kind of the true story. We often make up answers but that’s the true story. And words that denote that kind of thing…I grew up fascinated with Joy Division and New Order and the way they could conjure up ideas just with the name of the band, where it’s kind of ambiguous and it inspires interest in imagery, and I was inspired by that.
Bloc Party Future Music Festival sideshows:
TUESDAY 05.03 - The Riverstage, BRISBANE
WEDNESDAY 13.03 - Hordern Pavilion, SYDNEY
THURSDAY 14.03 - Festival Hall, MELBOURNE