Kele Okereke is exhausted. In fact, he’s already yawned several times since we sat down to dinner a mere ten minutes ago at Ballato’s, a quant, home-style Italian restaurant. But you can’t blame the lead singer of Bloc Party for being this tired. After all, he and his band mates, Matt Tong (drums), Russell Lissack (guitar), and Gordon Maokes (bass) are in the process of reacquainting themselves with that voracious beast also known as promotion. “I did an interview with Cosmo in my sleep last night,” Tong jokes. “They put these headphones on my head and we just did the interview in my dreams.”
Inarguably, Bloc Party is one of the hardest working rock bands today. One particular award-winning magazine cover story even focused solely on the support efforts of the band, rather than on the Partiers themselves. Two years ago, when they premiered their live act for American audiences at Austin, Texas’ SXSW festival, I caught the then buzz-worthy act five times - by accident. Quite frankly, the 24-hour Bloc Party people were unavoidable, even performing in the girls’ department of an Urban Outfitters. “Oh, that weekend was a disaster,” says Okereke. “That week was the lowest point in our respective careers. Afterwards, we were all like, this is awful. Is this what touring is like?”
Despite the fatigue and the demanding schedule, it takes pretty drastic measures to keep the four members of Bloc Party inactive (or apart). Had it not been for the unfortunate circumstances of Tong’s sudden collapsed lung late last year, the London foursome would even be “unofficially” touring right now with the unlikely headliners Panic! At The Disco (tonight, in San Jose, California, Cobra Starship takes the honor of opening for the emo band instead). But what else would you expect from a band that starts their new record off with the line “I am trying to be heroic, in an age of modernity?”
Listening to the polished, sophomore record A Weekend In The City you’ll hear an articulated expression of these mixed feelings: exhaustion and elation. The stomping-yet-sparse first single “The Prayer” asks, “Lord, give me grace and dancing feet, and the power to impress, let me outshine them all,” while in the opening “Song For Clay (Disappear Here)” Kele’s earnest, if imperfect, voice laments, “So I enjoy and devour flesh and wine and luxury, but in my heart I am lukewarm, nothing ever really touches me.” Now whether you see the latter line as characterization or not, you would be hard-pressed not to read it as allegory. “There’s much more at stake here with this record,” Tong says. “Sonically and lyrically. It’s a real departure from Silent Alarm and I hope that people are accepting of that.”
Throughout our interview, the drummer is accommodating and attentive. Despite Kele’s propensity to answer questions first (the singer even teasingly prompts Tong every so often by asking, “How about you, Matt?”), Tong still pays close attention to his frontman’s comments. Unlike our dinner, though, the cohesive and lucid Weekend is inherently a collaborative effort. Every instrument, every note is forthright and distinguishable. The once-post punk band now prefers to be past punk, focusing on their pop-centric tendencies. Matt and Kele attribute this new sonic depth to Jacknife Lee, the producer responsible for a string of recent rock hits (Snow Patrol, U2, Editors). “Actually we collaborated with Jacknife because of his rich history in dance music,” Tong clarifies, which comes through most in the albums’ drum sounds, with sharp precise treatments that almost recall a drum machine at times.
Thematically, the record is influenced, as Kele says, "by the living noise of a metropolis.” “These are songs desperate to understand the meaning that pulses under the moments of our everyday: there are bursting with tension, paranoia, sadness, love and an intense need for reason as to how city life has become so displacing,” he states on the Bloc Party website. Coupled with this interview, it also sounds like a hyped band going through a midlife crisis. “I really believe that as a band, we have yet to really fulfill our potential,” Okereke says. “In the coming years, we’ll hopefully reinvent ourselves many times.” And if A Weekend In The City is a product of that inner-conflict, the band’s insatiable need to be unpredictable, then Bloc Party’s career will assuredly prevent the yawning on our end.
Bloc Party - "I Still Remember"