In the past few years, the story of Bloc Party has taken a tumultuous turn. After a short hiatus in 2009, they returned to form with ‘Four’, only to then say goodbye to half of the band. Now, however, life’s looking up. Having recruited two new members – bassist Justin Harris and drummer Louise Bartle – Kele Okereke and Russell Lissack are returning with fifth effort ‘Hymns’. It’s a whole new chapter.
“Despite all the recent turmoil with the band,” begins frontman Kele Okereke, “I was in a very calm headspace. I think the nature of the music that I wanted to make, it brought a sense of calmness; I wasn’t really stressed about anything. It felt like the music was coming from a different place, like there was a purpose with this record that I don’t think there has been with any of the others we’ve made.”
The departure of Gordon Moakes and Matt Tong seems to have opened up the group to explore a little. “This record was really an opportunity for the freedom to do what we wanted,” he says. “We had to make sure that we captured all the delicacy and have the opportunity to take it where we want to take it. I was conscious that it needed to feel serene, I guess. Given the nature of the title and where everything’s coming from, I realised it had to have a certain reverence. I don’t think we’ve ever been able to explore that fully in our previous incarnations. Now, we have a new chemistry and I was keen to explore that.”
"This idea of death was never far away; every day I was thinking of this idea of permanence and how nothing is gonna last."
— Kele Okereke
Explaining that he wanted their new songs to feel “like modern hymns”, the subject matter of the record isn’t such a surprise. “I’m not a religious person,” Kele offers, while conceding he did grow up with religion at the forefront of his life. “It was a challenge to me to make a record that explored what I believe faith to be. It forced me to ask questions of myself that I’ve never really asked before.
“I had a very religious upbringing, and although it was never something that I really subscribed to, I still think there are residues of those experiences that have influenced me as an artist. Looking back at our previous records, I see now there are lots of references to faith and religion in the music. That was part of the reason why, on ‘The Love Within’” - the first track taken from the record - “I took a lyric from ‘The Prayer’ from our second record. It just seemed to make sense really, that direct reference to where I’d been as a songwriter in the past.”
The idea of faith and permanence was something the band were also faced with on a day-to-day basis when it came to recording: they were holed up in Lynchmob Studio near Wormwood Scrubs prison, where they spent a month staring out at the graveyard that lay nearby. “Being in a confined space and seeing rows and rows of tombstones, it fed into the spiritual nature of the music. This idea of death was never far away; every day I was thinking of this idea of permanence and how nothing is gonna last.”
Despite delving into some of the bigger unknowns of life, Kele is now feeling calm and confident. Adding that this record was “the easiest recording experience” he’s ever had, it’s an album that will forever mark a change in the tide for Bloc Party, and in his eyes, it’s been “a real pleasure.”
“It definitely feels like an exciting time,” he confirms. “I think I would’ve maybe been stressed by the idea of working with new musicians if I hadn’t had the experiences I’d had making solo records and collaborating with people that I didn’t know as well, and realising it can be just as fulfilling as working with people you’ve known half of your life.
“To be honest, I was starting to feel like, with our previous line-up, that the way we were playing was, personally, feeling a bit stale to me. After making ‘Four’, we were relying on a default setting when it came to making music. It was a feeling that kept coming back to me when we were touring ‘Four’ that I wasn’t feeling perhaps as inspired as I should’ve been.
“I very much welcomed the experience of working with new musicians because it’s given me a new perspective. Justin’s a genius and I’ve always felt that; I was a fan of the band he was in, Menomena. It’s been a pleasure to work with him because it feels like anything is possible. It was a real pleasure to hear the songs coming to life, and that was what I was most excited about.”
Bloc Party's new album 'Hymns' is out 29th January via Infectious Music. Taken from the November 2015 issue of DIY, out now.