The British band Bloc Party has created rock music laced electronica and house elements since 1999. The band’s fifth and latest studio album, HYMNS, was released back in January and they have an upcoming tour stop in San Francisco at the Mezzanine on September 19.
After 16 years as a band and countless world tours, the fifth Bloc Party record is about faith and devotion. The band’s lineup currently consists of founders vocalist and guitarist Kele Okereke (who also plays keyboards and tinkers with a sampler) and lead guitarist and keyboardist Russell Lissack, along with new members Justin Harris (bass guitar, keyboards, saxophones, backing vocals) and drummer Louise Bartle. Two former members, Matt Tong and Gordon Moakes, left the band in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
To preview their upcoming show, we interviewed Kele who spoke candidly about his musical development, the recent closure of UK club Fabric, and where he routinely visits when he travels to San Francisco.
When did you realize that your guitar skills were good enough to pursue music professionally?
I don’t know if I actually ever realized that to be honest. I didn’t get into this thinking I’m an awesome guitar player. It was really just about being able to write songs that I wanted to write. I was self-taught. I didn’t really have a guitarist I looked up to. It’s only when I started playing with Russell that I started taking the guitar more seriously as an instrument. Mainly because he was such a skilled guitar player. You could say a song and he was able to play the riff. He was like a machine. Playing with him made me get into it so I didn’t look awful. When that started to happen, that’s when I started to think of myself as a guitar player. There’s a lot of fantasization in guitar world and that’s not something I’m into. I don’t really know anything about amps or that sort of thing. I can’t remember the last time I event changed a string on a guitar. I hate doing that so much. I know enough to be able to express myself, which is something I’m thankful for.
How did you develop your vocals?
Again, it was something I grew into. The more that we wrote and recorded, I started to hear my voice as more of an instrument. I wasn’t singing on street corners loving the sound of my own voice. I sang because nobody else in the band wanted to do it. I was able to construct songs. It wasn’t about being a singer. It wasn’t about going on X Factor or something. It was about being able to write songs. It was only in the process of that I was able to last 10-15 years, I started to see it more as an instrument. I’m excited about what my voice is going to be like in another 15 years. It feels like it has changed so much. How I hear it. If I listen to any music that we recorded at the start of our career, it sounds like a completely different person to me. It doesn’t sound like my voice anymore. But I realize that’s age as well. I hope that will be the same in the future, that my voice will change again.
What has been your highlight so far this year since the release of Hymns?
It’s been fun being able to travel the world and see all of our loving fans that we only get to see every two or three years. We’re connecting with them and playing our new lineup. It’s been nice hanging out with each other. For Luis, our drummer, it’s the first time she’s ever been in a touring band. It’s the first time she’s ever been in the States. It has been fun being able to share all that stuff with her.
How would you say your sound has evolved since the addition of the new members?
I think it’s kind of hard to say right now because we didn’t record with all the members. We recorded with Justin Harris on bass, but Luis didn’t play drums on the album. It’s only really now that we’re starting to write new material as a band. I’m starting to hear how the music has shifted, how the playing has shifted. With Justin and Luis, they are two of the most talented musicians I think I’ve ever worked with.
Even the original music, even the old music from our older records that are still in our set, feel different. It feels kind of more laid bad. There’s a lot more swagger there. I think Justin as a bass player has a good sense of grooves and a good sense of economy in how he plays. And Luis, she is just spot on. She’s a very technical drummer and I think the music we’re playing now just sounds cleaner. We’ve literally just started recording new material. Ir’s interesting. We’re right at the start the process and we’re going to see how it develops.
Do you have any thoughts on the recent closure of UK club Fabric?
It’s funny. My biggest thought is a sense of regret. I was asked to DJ there and I turned it down because I was busy. I was in the studio at the time and everyone was super annoyed with me. I could have done it. Now I hear they’re closing Fabric down and it’s kind frustrating because it means I’ll never be able to play one of London’s most iconic clubs. I feel a sense of regret–that’s my biggest feeling about the closure.
Obviously, it’s sad when any club closes because clubs are important spaces. Lots of people have lots of life-defining moments in clubs and its a loss for sure. There’s a weird feeling to the whole thing. It seems slightly like it’s just an excuse to close Fabric because it’s a prime real estate area. There are probably flats in that area that go for 3 million pounds. They probably don’t want people passing through. I feel like they’ve been trying to do this for a long time and they’re using the deaths of these kids as an excuse. It doesn’t leave me with a good feeling.
What are your plans for after this tour is over?
We’re taking some time off for personal reasons at the end of this tour. We’ll be off until the New Year. We have some shows again in February. We’re planning to have some downtime and reconnect with our families.
What are your favorite activities when you visit San Francisco?
My favorite activity is to always go to The Stinking Rose. I remember discovering that one of the first times I visited. I always try to get there when I have time off. We have a weird tradition of it now. I’m not a super big garlic fan to be honest, but there’s a part of me that likes that garlic has antioxidant properties. So I always feel like I’m doing something good to myself on the road when we eat there–but I’m not sure that’s actually true.