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Bloc Party: So Here We Are

Bloc Party

Who Would Believe That These World Famous Indie Rockers Are All Shy Guys?

By Scott Wood

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The door closes. The record label rep leaves me in one of the swank backrooms at the Commodore. She has gone to find me a member of Bloc Party to talk to. I don’t know how much time I will have before I meet one of the band, so I quickly scan the room for anything strange or unusual. Typical band stuff litters the room. Nothing all that shocking, although I do find a stack of video games and I didn’t think Bloc Party would be a video game band. Strange.

On ong distance calls to his wife and baby while on tour: I can't really ring her up and say, "Oh, I had a rough night last night. I stayed up 'til 5 to cross the Canadian border, while listening to a lot of emo music." I don't think she'd be quite so sympathetic to the reasons why I'd be awake during the night.

Bloc Party exploded on to the indie scene back in 2000and have rocked their indie kid audience with three solid albums, Silent Alarm, Weekend In The City and their last or latest, Intimacy. This UK band have always managed to stay just ahead of the game, remaining both cool and popular, missing any backlash. 

I was lucky enough to get a chance to chat with these guys the last time they rolled thru Vancouver. The band is officially “on hiatus” as of October 2009. Since then, lead singer Kele Okereke has put out a solo record. The other founding member, Russell Lissack also has his own side project band, Pin Me Down, and he plays for Ash. Since most of the members do have other things going on, this might be the last chance I have to chat with them ever. Too many times in this biz, “on hiatus” becomes disbanded.

Here’s hoping that Bloc Party come back together soon and continue making interesting indie rock. Until then, I present you with my chat with Bloc Party member Gordon Moakes.

All the guys in Bloc Party have a reputation for being painfully shy in interviews. And this interview is no exception. Moakes looks down at the floor for most of this interview.

Bloc Party
Bloc Party: Gordon, Russell, Kele, Matt

Scott Wood: You guys are typically quite shy in interviews, which I find amazing since you guys are now world class rock stars. Why is this?

Gordon: Right. Good Question... [He takes a moment to think.] I am not gonna raise the order of a “rock star,” but I think most musicians or people in bands or even famous people are essentially quite introverted and artistic, etc. When you go onstage, it’s a different thing. You‘re expressing in a different way than just kind of one-to-one and that can be a bit intimidating, strangely enough. I guess that the irony of playing on front of hundreds of people is that often we can be quite timid when it comes to one-on-one stuff.

Scott Wood: We are backstage at the Commodore and while I was waiting to speak to you, I went thru all your video games. [Gordon chuckles.] I found some that I was expecting, Guitar Hero, Gears of War—but I was hoping you could explain to me Leogland Indiana Jones?!

Gordon: I can happily say that this has nothing to do with me—or even us, in this case. We don’t travel with our own video games. These were just here; they’ve been left. We’re as baffled as anyone. 

Gordon [picks up the stack and peruses them]: Oh I might have a quick go on the ol’ Madden. Guitar Hero I can do. Yeah, I don’t know about that Lego Indiana Jones. I guess that’s the legacy of some other band that has gone thru here.

What makes a good Bloc Party remix: "To me, it's like a vindication of everything we've tried to do that somebody like, for instance Burial, who is one of the most interesting sort of urban, sort of R&B, kind of DJs in the UK, would take one of our songs and make it sound like one of his songs - without changing it that much. "

Scott Wood: Thanks for clearing that up. Back in the day, you joined the band by answering an ad in the back of NME [a prestigious British Music magazine.]

Gordon: Yeah.

Scott Wood: I was hoping you could introduce the rest of the band with your first impression of them from those days.

Gordon: Oh boy, this is going back a bit... This was Christmas of 2000 [He repeats the date several times, fluxuating between 2000 and 2001.] Like you say, I just remember these two really shy guys Kele and Russell. Kele was quite a tall guy, still is. Uhm... A little timid, yeah. Russell didn’t say anything. He was like the silent partner, we’ll say. They were just kind of earnest indie kids who wanted to make music. You could tell that they had been trying for a while to find someone that sort of fit into their mindset and I was that person.

Scott Wood: Now that you know them well and are well past first impressions, what do you think they saw in you?

Gordon [laughs]: A blank canvas. I dunno. I think it was down to how I played, really. You know, we’d also have chats about bands, but you can never really get a sense of a musician until they start playing. They had a sort of interesting interplay with guitars—it wasn’t like they had a rhythm player and a lead player. They were both into quite melodic interesting parts and I just sort of tried to slot in and do what bass parts should do, which is hold the low parts together and intertwine when it makes sense to. And I guess they appreciated my take on their music.

Scott Wood: Now you and your wife recently had a child—congrats! You took some time off from the band and you had to find and train your replacement. What was that like?

Gordon: It was sort of funny for me, initially, to sit down with someone and try to pick apart all my parts, really. Because when you write, you don’t really think about explaining what you do so much or sort of showing it—it kind of is what it is. But when you come down to it, I found there were some bits that were sort of fiddly, which were hard to explain or even just play.

Bloc Party: photo Nikki McGowan.

This guy Daniel; he came in to my house with his own little ProTools set up and had me play the basslines straight into his computer so he had a reference, but even then, it wasn’t totally obvious what was going on. So it was kind of interesting sort of unpicking all my parts. I suppose that hardest bit was rehearsing with everyone because I didn’t really feel like I wanted to sit in there and sort of baby him through the entire process. It was kind of like, “Here are my parts; here is the band. I’ll see you later.” [We both laugh a bit.] He was sort of very much in the deep end.

But in terms of how I felt about their tour, you know, I wasn’t there. We were quite busy with expecting the baby and so on, so I didn’t really think about it too much, while I was at home and they were on tour. It just felt like normal “time off” for me.

Scott Wood: I read an interview with you where you compared being sleep-deprived with a newborn with being jetlagged on tour. So now that you are on tour without your wife and baby, can you call her up and bond over the sleep loss?

Gordon: Well actually, the baby slept pretty well, certainly in the last six months, apart from when she teething. I think we can relate on having broken nights, but I can’t really ring her up and say, “Oh, I had a broken night last night. I stayed up ‘til 5 to cross the Canadian border, while listening to a lot of emo music.” I don’t think she’d be quite so sympathetic to the reasons why I’d be awake during the night. 

Scott Wood: Yes of course, but when I’m sleep deprived, I forget stupid things or lose things, you know? I am sure stuff that that must happen on tour all the time.

Gordon: I lose things even if I’ve had a lot of sleep—so that doesn’t help at all. I left two things on the way back from Mexico, which luckily were retrieved and sent back to me. My big thing is when I don’t sleep, I just get really, really ratty with people and short tempered. People just know when I haven’t slept because I just start complaining.

Scott Wood: Paul Epworth aka Phones produced part of your current album, Intimacy. And I love all the remixes he has done under the Phones name. I heard he is retiring from remixing. Can you make a call and convince him not to?

Gordon: I guess it was Paul’s call. I never really sat down with him and asked him why he did that. I think Phones was very much a side project part of his career. While he was still producing, it was this kind of anonymous kind of thing that became less anonymous when people found out that he was Phones. I am sort of sympathetic to that because I’ve done a couple of remixes and you’re all gung ho to start with, but it can get quite tiresome. I think every remix is sort of a musical joke, slightly. You’re taking a song and trying to see what you can do with it that somebody else didn’t think of doing—and it’s creative in a very particular way. I can understand why you would get fed up with having that mentality of what do I do with this song, you know? How do I change it? Do I really care that much?

On writing a Zine: "I just used to write about these bands I loved and one of those bands was called Compulsion, a[n] Irish-British punk band and one of the guys in that band is Jacknife Lee who went on to produce one of our records. When it came to it, I was able to show him this piece that I had written about his band, and I think he was quite impressed in a quiet sort of way.

I am sure he wants to concentrate on other areas, so it’s sort of a fun idea for him to say that “This is the last ever remix!” because it makes people say, “Ok, right. Maybe I should find out what all the other ones were about.

Scott Wood: I love the idea of a remix as a “musical joke” coming from you, considering that you guys are one of the only indie bands to fully capitalize on remixes. [There were so many remixes off their first record, Silent Alarm, that a remix album was released. Since this first record, Bloc Party have made it a habit to hit up the hottest remixers to work on their latest singles.]

Gordon: It’s such a lazy thing. It’s so easy. I mean we don’t have to do anything. And we’ve been lucky that there are lots of artists who are up for playing around with our stuff. Some really interesting artists, some really cutting edge artists—it’s great.

To me, it’s like a vindication of everything we’ve tried to do that somebody like, for instance Burial, who is one of the most interesting sort of urban, sort of R&B, kind of DJs in the UK, would take one of our songs and make it sound like one of his songs—without changing it that much. You can’t read off a list of British bands where that would be the case, where either those artists would want to get involved with remixing—let alone sort of be able to make something a great hybrid of us and their sort of work. We’re quite privileged as a band that people do want to get involved. But from our point of view, it is very easy. Because bottom line, if we don’t like it, we don’t have to put it out, but we get a lot of good quality remixes. That makes it a lot easier for us.

Scott Wood: Who would you love to remix the next Bloc Party single? Obviously, pick someone you haven’t used before!

Gordon: I would like Fuck Buttons to do something with our stuff actually. Because we had No Age do something, which I think is just incredible that they would want to do something, you know? They had a really interesting remix. Yeah that’s the artist I’m looking forward to at the moment, Fuck Buttons.

Scott Wood: Last question: I read that you started a fanzine back in the day called “Conform or Die.”

Gordon: I just used to write about these bands I loved and one of those bands was called Compulsion, a British punk band, [He corrects himself.] Irish-British punk band and one of the guys in that band is Jacknife Lee who went on to produce one of our records. When it came to it, I was able to show him this piece that I had written about his band, and I think he was quite impressed in a quiet sort of way.

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