Bloc Party returns, strips down sound

By Sophia Coleman

For a couple of years, London rock-quartet Bloc Party disappeared off the post-punk radar. Rumors spread, a break ensued and the band broke off to pursue individual endeavors.

After two years apart, lead vocalist and guitarist Kele Okereke, lead guitarist Russell Lissack, bassist Gordon Moaks and drummer Matt Tong realized they had unfinished business. Four years had passed since the bands album, “Intimacy,” and though they didn’t leave on the best of terms, the band reunited to produce “Four,” which released Aug. 20. They debuted the album at Lollapalooza and are returning to Chicago Sept. 21 to excite fans at the Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine Ave.

The Chronicle talked with Lissack to tune into why he’s excited to perform in Chicago, what the bands goals were for their latest album and why a break was so important.

The Chronicle: You guys took about a two-year break after your Intimacy tour, and it was said you guys actually felt “quite distant from each other.” Why do you think that happened?

Russell Lissack: When you spend so much time together, it happens. We were on tour for 5 years non-stop—constantly on the road. We’re crammed together on the bus for a long time, and I think we weren’t really equipped to deal with that situation. It’s something now that we’ve learned to deal with a bit better. I think we’ve realized the importance of communicating with one another this time.

What did you do during that two-year hiatus? I heard you got to tour with your favorite band from your teenage years, Ash.

Yeah I did. It was amazing. It kind of came out of the blue. They asked me, when Bloc Party was having a bit of a break, if I wanted to play a few shows with them. I was really excited to do that and I ended up having such a fun time with them. I ended up touring with them [for] over a year. They’re such fun guys.

Okereke went and recorded a solo album, and it was rumored that the other three of you were looking to replace him, which wasn’t true. In fact, you all were in the process of recording “Four.” How did fans react to the false news?

I think our long-term fans understood that it was a joke because we tend to say lots of silly things in interviews. Sometimes they get taken a bit too literally. I think most people realized it was a joke that got a bit out of hand.

All rumors aside, you guys did put together your new album, which is a testament to the reinvigoration of the band. How did it feel getting back in the studio?

It was good. It all came together quite naturally. Once we decided that we wanted to start working together again we booked a small rehearsal room in New York for a couple of days to test the waters and try a few things out. We got in there and started playing together and it was like no time had passed. It’s been our easiest way of communicating—through our instruments, instead of talking to one another.

What plans did you all have for the album?

We talked about it when we first met up because a lot of our last record was electronic and that meant everyone wasn’t quite as involved in the process of making music. So this time we wanted to do something that was completely different and [had] the sounds of the four of us as a cohesive unit. I think that’s one of the things that got everyone excited about making music again—that it was going to be a much more stripped-down approach, just the four of us together in a room—no computers, no one else.

It sounds like there’s a lot less studio editing and more of a crisp tonality that screams fresh and new—and it’s also quite diverse. Do you think the break served you well?

Yeah, at the time everyone felt differently [about] how we wanted to proceed. Some of us were quite keen to go straight back into the studio to start working on new music, and some of us wanted to have a break. Obviously we ended up having a break for several years. Personally, at the time, I was quite keen to carry on because I really love doing what I do. Now that the time has passed, I see that having the break was really important for everyone. It was good to have some time apart to step away and look at what we do. It was good for everyone to try out different things. Everyone kind of made music on their own or with other people during that time and they got to have new experiences that they might not have had with Bloc Party. We were each able to take those experiences and bring them back to [the band].

The album hit No. 1 in the UK midweek charts—were you surprised?

It was pretty exciting. I was really happy about that. I think we’re quite fortunate in that we have dedicated and passionate fans who really appreciate what we do. Not everyone who makes music has the luxury of being able to take a few years off and come back to put out music and [still] have people interested in what you’re doing. I really appreciate that we do have that. It’s a great position to be in.

Would you say there is any sort of theme in “Four”?

It’s weird because when you make the record—the way you hear the songs—it changes as it goes by, because the record comes out, and it’s not your record anymore. It’s everyone’s record and people give you their opinions and perceptions of it. Then you start touring and playing it, and it changes again because the songs you weren’t into so much—you play them live—and people get really excited about them. So it kind of changes your perception of the record. We’ve been playing all of the record live and it’s been nice to see what songs connect with the people most.

What songs have been the fan favorites so far?

There’s one called “Kettling,” which we’ve been playing a lot recently. It’s one of my favorites, but I wasn’t sure how people would react to it because it’s quite different from what we’ve done before. It’s quite heavy and [has] a different tempo than a lot of [our other] songs. People seem really into it.

A few of the songs have a couple funny anecdotes at the end—something about “turkey breasts” and “spider bites”—what’s that all about?

Oh, yeah, it was our producer, Alex [Newport]. While we were recording in the studio, he would just leave the tape recording between takes. At the end of it he showed us all these little clips of us talking and stuff and we thought it was really nice. I remember some records [from] when I was growing up had snippets of sound from the studio, and I think it’s nice to incorporate that because it makes it sound more real when you can hear the people that are actually there making the record, as opposed so something that’s been artificially processed.

So now you’re touring in the U.S.—how has that been so far?

It’s good! We came like a month ago and did a few festivals—we battled a storm at Lollapalooza, which was pretty intense. We’ve never really seen weather like that. You never see storms like that in the U.K.

Yeah, weather is pretty crazy in Chicago.

Yeah! We got there and it was nice and sunny and an hour later it was like the apocalypse. It was crazy.

I read that you often have trouble finding vegetarian food while touring. Any luck in the U.S.?

It’s been OK so far. Touring the states is a lot easier for me than other places. Being a vegetarian isn’t so unusual in the States. In parts of Europe, it’s not frowned upon, but it’s sort of rare, so people don’t really accommodate as much. When you’re driving a long time, you go to service stations, and you end up eating a lot of rubbish food, which ends up making you a bit depressed.

Luckily Chicago has a pretty big vegetarian scene, so you should be fine. Do you enjoy performing here? What sort of vice do you get from Chicago crowds?

Yeah! The last show was at Lollapalooza, we weren’t even sure if we were going to play because of the weather, and then we got to, but we wondered what kind of mood the people would be in. The weather ended up firing everyone up and people got crazy—it was a nice kick-off to the [“Four”] tour. Hopefully people have that energy when we get to [the city].

What would you say the future is of Bloc Party?

Everyone is pretty happy at the moment, which is good. We’re really proud of the record we made and we are looking forward to playing it for as many people as we can. We’ve got lots of touring plans into next year, and we’ll see how everyone feels then. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep the positive energy and we’ll be keen to make another record.

For more information on Bloc Party, visit The band performs Sept. 21 at Ravinia at 8 p.m. Tickets are still available at