By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
Party All the Time
Shockingly, Kele Okereke enjoys being in a wildly successful rock band
Talking to Bloc Party front man Kele Okereke, you can tell he’s from the U.K., and not just from his voice. There’s a wry sense of humor at work, like when he’s asked about his band mate Gordon Moakes’ recent fatherhood. Okereke’s voice turns serious, discussing the tough times that have transpired, that the subject really shouldn’t be brought up—and then he cuts loose with a laugh and a “Nah, only joking!”
The man clearly knows how to handle overly earnest interviewers, at least.
But more important, he knows how to handle music, a band and a crowd—all things on the agenda for Bloc Party’s headlining show this Monday at the Grove. Ever since their spectacular splash in the middle of the decade with their debut album, Silent Alarm (featuring the brawling, instant classic “Banquet”), Bloc Party have lived something of a charmed life. An equally strong second album, A Weekend In the City, and this year’s Intimacy proved the group have staying power. The quartet’s hot-wiring of stark, crisp rock & roll inspired by—but not limited to—classic early-1980s U.K. post-punk bands earned them favorable comparisons to the similarly inclined Interpol early on, but with Okereke’s passionate vocals leading the way, they’ve become much more distinct.
Of their third record, Intimacy, Okereke notes that the experience was far from the “difficult” stereotype. “It was a piece of piss! Every album starts off in your head one way, and you want to get that sound right when you record it,” he says. “But this album was the easiest of them all. We know how to record, how to work together and be around one another—and how not to be around one another!”
With excellent singles such as “Talons,” at once immediately recognizable as a Bloc Party song and a striking variation on the band’s familiar approach, that album feels, appropriately enough, like the band are truly comfortable in the studio—something Okereke notes also resulted from a change in how they worked up songs in the past. “With the previous two albums, we’d played nearly everything live first—really worked them out,” he says. “But for Intimacy, half the songs were recorded in the studio, so there was no way to do that.
“Earlier this summer, we did a 10-date Canadian tour, and it was a bit scary trying to work out how to play some of them! I’ve been surprised at how well ‘Aries’ has been received live: It’s just one guitar loop and my singing and a whole lot of space, but people really seem to get off on the emotional energy.”
He’s not kidding when he says that, based on his generally cheery demeanor throughout the discussion. Okereke practically bubbles with surprise and delight at how well both the album and touring have gone, all the more striking in a time when all anyone can seem to talk about is economic doom and gloom—especially in the music industry.
“Everyone else is freaking out at how well we’ve been doing,” he says. “I actually just bought a yacht today! At the end of the day, it’s a laugh—we don’t think too much about the music business, really. We’re doing all right.”
Not everything is sunshine for the band, though. Okereke dismissively talks about the travails of making videos as “not worth bitching about. Take off your top, roll around in something, film it”—but clearly things are on a high for Bloc Party otherwise. As for this part of the tour itself—a quick American, five-date stint, including a radio-festival appearance for Indie 103.1’s Wreck the Halls show with the Pretenders—expectations will no doubt be even higher, especially since the band played a reputedly legendary show at the Grove a couple of years back. But Okereke and company are more than ready for it, if only because of some of the stranger sights they’ve already seen this year.
“We were playing a show in Australia, in Brisbane, and at one point, we realized that there were a bunch of guys down front completely getting smash-your-face-in violent,” he says. “It wasn’t moshing; it was complete chaos!”
One presumes the holiday spirit will result in a more forgiving atmosphere on Monday, but one never knows.