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Bloc Party - Running On Bravado

Author: Andrew Weaver
Monday, October 20, 2008

London indie quartet Bloc Party are one the best damn bands of this decade, hands down, so a new release is anticipated by fans with the same ferocity as Star Wars geeks awaiting an original sequel or Harry Potter devotees anticipating a new work. 3D’s Andrew Weaver spoke to sticksman Matt Tong to discuss their third opus, Intimacy.

“Listen to me, I sound like a fucking marketing guy!”

So exclaims Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong as he explains the decision behind their release of the third Bloc party album, Intimacy, which was originally sprung on the band’s fanbase by stealth – they announced that it was coming out and then, a mere three days later, there it was, available to download for anyone who should wish to do so for a small price.

It’s a release model that seems to be becoming the norm – Radiohead did it with In Rainbows, nominating a ‘pay what you want’ price point, and Nine Inch Nails’ latest opus, The Slip, was given away completely for free. It seems to be the way of the future, and how bands will exist and speak directly to their fanbase, circumventing the need for traditional release structures, marketing plans, and – eventually – record labels themselves.

“I definitely think that the doors have been kicked open for people just to release music on the internet,” Matt agrees. “There’ll always be artists who want to go down a more traditional route – and I applaud those that do that – and there’ll always be people who want a physical copy of the record, but I think we have to accept that there’s a whole generation of music fans out there who don’t buy records; they just download them. It’s a lot more convenient than carrying a bag of CDs around.”

Now three albums into their musical career, Bloc Party appear to be doing things backwards: most artists debut with something that’s personal and that speaks directly about their experiences, then comes the concept album, before on their third album they go political. Bloc Party have gone in reverse order – debut Silent Alarm was their political release, A Weekend in the City was the concept release, while Intimacy is an apt title for their third release, detailing and chronicling frontman Kele Okereke’s relationship breakdown.

“I think if anything it’s that Kele is quite impressive as a songwriter and if something is pulling him in a certain direction then he has to go and trust his instinct and not question it,” he wagers. “A lot of the subject matter represents changes in what he’s talking about compared to our last records, but I think there’s things that have made him question the way he sees the world, and he really went for it on this record.”

As a much more personal release, Matt explains that Kele told the band last northern summer that the album was going to be called Intimacy. That was their first inkling that Kele would be prepared to lay out his soul for the listening audience as, for the most part, the lyrics are the last aspect added to any Bloc Party recording.

“We don’t question what Kele does,” Matt says. “He works on his lyrics quite a lot to the point where they’re often not ready until after we’ve finished recording the music, so it’s a case of finishing the recording and then he’s in the studio for a couple of weeks laying down the vocals. For me personally my first experience with the lyrics is when I hear the record. It’s good – it’s like being a fan in a lot of ways.

“I think we involved ourselves by not being so involved,” he continues. “There was definitely a very strong stylistic idea as to how the record should sound this time around, and I think everyone felt we didn’t want to be invasive in terms of that. We knew that Kele had this itch that he wanted to scratch, and I think it would had a detrimental effect if we had stood in the way of that. It’s really an examination of his idea.”

The album begins with two tracks that immediately jar – both Ares and Mercury are unlike anything Bloc Party have done in the past. It’s a strange way to begin the album; they stand out so dramatically, and the initial reaction to them can be quite divisive, particular with Mercury not containing any guitar sound at all.

“I think the intention with this record was to [set it apart],” Matt says. “We picked Mercury as the first single because it indicated that we’ve changed quite a lot in some ways. Every time we create a new piece of music we want it to come from a good place – an honest, sincere place. I think the proof is in the pudding – if you love what you do then it’s going to be reflected, and you don’t need to pressurise people but hopefully just get them to understand that.”

For the creation of Intimacy, Bloc Party teamed with familiar producers – Paul Epworth, who helped them master the studio for the first time with Silent Alarm, and Jacknife Lee, who helmed the boards during the creation of A Weekend in the City.

“I don’t think it was a matter of wanting to combine elements of our first two records, because we’ve moved on,” Matt explains. “But there was a sense of unfinished business with Paul, and we hadn’t worked with him for about four years so we really wanted to get him on board again. He has a very particular way of shaping our sound. With Garret [Jacknife] Lee we really explored depths [on A Weekend in the City] and that way of working with him in the studio was getting together ideas and bringing them together.”

It’s lead to an album that sounds abrasive at times (as on Mercury or Trojan Horse), and disturbingly beautiful at others (cf. Signs). Intimacy definitely showcases Bloc Party’s most diverse range of tracks, and the influence behind a song like Signs is surprising indeed.

“With something like Signs we wanted to create something that sounded like something that Steven Reich, the classical composer, would have written,” Matt explains. “So that along with the chord sequence ended up with quite a rich sounding sad song.”

Other influences abound – the closing song Ion Square quotes from e e cummings’ poem I Carry Your Heart With Me, while Biko (unintentionally) references Nirvana’s Heart-Shaped Box with a line about eating cancer.

“I think the one thing we do do pretty well is mix up high art and popular culture and differentiate them,” Matt claims. “It’s not a bad idea because it all goes in there.”

WHO: Bloc Party
WHAT: Intimacy through Wichita / V2 / Shock / Play Hordern Pavilion
WHEN: Saturday 25 October (digitally available now) / Tuesday 25 November, Wednesday 26