Four years after the release of Intimacy, British indie rockers Bloc Party boisterously came out of the woodwork last August with their fourth release, the aptly titled Four. Since then, they’ve embarked on a whirlwind intercontinental tour with a planned stop at The Hollywood Palladium tonight (tickets are still available) and London’s historic Earl’s Court in February.
Prior to kicking off the US leg of their tour, the band’s drummer, Matt Tong, sat down to chat with me.
There was a four year gap between your latest release, Four, and its predecessor, Intimacy, during which you all took some time apart to focus on solo endeavors. How did that affect the sound of the album and the band dynamic in general?
The break we took meant we started missing each other and the things that we made when we played together. The enthusiasm we had for Bloc Party had very much waned by the end of 2009, and it felt like the band was in charge of us instead of the other way around. We simply needed to stop for a while and find some peace in our lives before we could continue.
Upon reconvening, we slowly began to disentangle ourselves from the various resentments that had built up over the previous six or seven years, and as we began to trust each other as human beings again, we also began to trust ourselves as musicians. Our sound became a little more organic, not just because of the aesthetic principle that over-arched Four, but because we jointly became far more invested in the overall sound of the band playing together and what each of us did individually and collectively to affect that sound. It feels like the break enabled us to become a little more musical.
Critics have been calling Four a “return to your indie roots.” What are your thoughts on that assessment?
I sort of think that the term “indie” is pretty much meaningless at this point, but if you’re referring to an ethos that inspires bands and performers to move outside of the traditional structure of the music industry, well, we went about as far with that as we could on this record. We paid to make Four ourselves, demo-ed the whole thing ourselves, recorded with very minimal contact with our “handlers.” I mean, we’ve been blessed with a pretty steady career so we could afford to do this, but it felt good to make a record at a time when no one was really expecting us to. It felt like we were largely left to our own devices.
You guys will be performing your biggest show to date at Earl’s Court in London (capacity 19,000). How is that sinking in?
We haven’t discussed it much. We’ve played in front of far greater numbers at festivals, but obviously this will be an audience that is primarily coming to see us. I’m sure there will be a few observers who feel we’ll be punching above our weight doing this show and secretly hoping we’ll screw it up, but I think we’re all very proud in the band that this is going to happen. The show, I mean — not the screwing it up. We’ve had little-to-no mainstream radio support in the UK for this record, so it’s a huge privilege to have the kind of fan base that doesn’t necessarily look to radio to show them the way. It’s quite extraordinary, really.
How much involvement did you have in your remix projects (Silent Alarm Remixed, Intimacy Remixed)? Did you approach the artists or did they approach you?
Silent Alarm Remixed evolved quite naturally. We already had a number of existing remixes that we had commissioned for B-Sides, notably Paul Epworth’s remix of “Banquet.” We asked a few other people we admired to remix the rest of the album. I can’t really remember Intimacy Remixed; that wasn’t a particularly happy time in my life.
What two artists/bands, one dead and one living, would you have liked to/would like to collaborate with that you haven’t yet?
I would have loved to have met Keith Moon and have him sit in on a few of our songs instead of me to see what he’d do with some of the more dance-orientated songs in the back catalog. It would also be a wonderful treat going into the studio to write some music in conjunction with a classic songwriter like Carole King.
England has a storied legacy when it comes to music from the latter half of the last century. What’s it like being a part of that legacy?
That’s a hard question to answer. I think anyone who’s spent any time around us would agree that our humor is somewhat meta, so we won’t deny that we have a tendency to be self-referential, albeit in a dry, flippant way, but to seriously consider ourselves a part of a legacy…I kind of think to consider oneself a part of something, anything important, to self-canonize in real-time is creative death. You can’t make something in that headspace and have it be an honest expression of something. We just make things and, if so inclined, consider the implications of that long after the fact. I mean, it’s only pop music, innit?
I was reading an article the other day about cyborgs, technology, the Internet, and whatnot and concluded that the inherent danger of the Internet is not that the slew of information piling up on top of us is fundamentally changing the way our brains work, but that the way the Internet is ordered, as in the onus continually being placed on the newest link, the newest piece of information, the newest “news,” means that we barely have time to parse this information, breathe and reflect on it. My point being that although we’ve been playing together for almost ten years, it only seems like yesterday when we first stepped into a rehearsal room together and the rest of the band laughed at me as I struggled to keep up and resorted to smoking roll ups grumpily in the corner.
I can’t comment on other artforms, but in terms of the way we regard the rock pantheon, it feels like a huge schism opened up during the years following Kurt Cobain’s death. The historical vanguard found itself forever cemented in history, whilst with newer bands like ourselves that emerged in tandem with blogs and often because of them, there is a huge question over how our generation will be regarded in 20-30 years. Who knows? Because there are so many of us: Who will sink? Who will swim?
But, y’know, ultimately we get paid a living to play music, which is totally awesome, so it’s not like we lose too much sleep over the legacy we leave. We’ve tried to be the best we can given our set of circumstances, and this is how we judge ourselves.
Are there any particular habits or rituals you have pertaining to writing and performing music?
Not really. Personally, I try and keep my head clear and open when we’re writing and performing. On stage if I concentrate too much, I start making mistakes. In the rehearsal room, I’m there to help give rhythm to Kele’s ideas, so I try and be as open and helpful as I can. Not always easy when hungover or hangry.
If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?
Probably making tea in a recording studio. That was where I was heading, I think.
What’s next for Bloc Party?
Well, we’ll tour until we hate each other again, and then take another three years off, I suppose! Seriously, it’s hard to tell. We have touring commitments all the way up until the end of next summer, but we’ve already begun writing some new jams, so perhaps we’ll attempt to return to the studio before then.
Finally, your impressions on Los Angeles?
I absolutely detested it until I made friends with someone who had a car. I’m always the last to bed, so I’ll never get with the clubs closing at 2 AM, but over the years I’ve grown to be rather fond of LA. People there have such a nuanced sense of music because of all the driving they have to do, and I love tacos and sunshine as much as the next person. I think LA is a very unique place, and there is nowhere else on Earth quite like it. I’m always happy to be there.
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