Kele Okereke has an appetite for sticksmen.
"We ate them," he says about the eight drummers Bloc Party munched through before settling on lightly-seasoned beatmaker Matt Tong. "We killed them and then we ate them, so I'm not allowed to talk about it."
Five seconds go by. Silence. I begin to laugh awkwardly. See, quoting Kele out of context can be very misleading. Reading his responses, it can seem as though he's making a light-hearted joke, even if it is about an octuple-homicide cookup. The reality, though, is that Kele's disdain for interviews is well documented, especially if you work behind a desk at Billboard.
Yet even with that fact in mind, on this particular occasion he seemed even less enthused than usual, as if the mere prospect of talking over the phone seemed to him akin to several hours of listening to Oasis. To be fair, I had sympathy for his mood — I would get sick of answering the same question for a straight 12 months. "So, Mr Okereke, tell us... did Bloc Party kind of, almost, nearly break up?” Every response must begin with a long sigh... so naturally it was the first thing I asked, too.
"I don't know where that rumour came from. Obviously we take time out to pursue our separate interests. You know, I wrote an album by myself. We all just did various things. Then in 2011 when Bloc Party reconvened to start making the record we were being asked questions about what was going on but we were being evasive, and I think maybe some of that spiralled out of control. So, you know, maybe there was room for rumours but obviously they weren't true."
You can't help but feel that Kele is still being evasive in his answers. It may be that Bloc Party was closer to breaking up than he is letting on, given guitarist Russell Lissack's hint that the band may be continuing on without Kele's presence. Then again, it's also very plausible that the whole thing was a massive hoax, and that the band's 'evasiveness' was actually a clever ploy to spin the writers at NME around enough times to make them vomit. Preferably over their own laptops. Either way, none of it matters now.
A lot has changed for Bloc Party in the last three years. In 2009, this was a band finishing up a world tour following the release of its critically-acclaimed LP 'Intimacy'. The album was, in a way, a hat-trick. For the third time Bloc Party had been showered with the unexpurgated praise of every music writer with an internet connection. Well, except for the folks at Pitchfork, who still only show love for D'Angelo. However, fast-forward to the present day and a 12-month hiatus around the rumour mill has left a cloud over the band. Even with the recent release of 'Four' that cloud of doubt is only now dispersing.
"When I made the solo record we didn't have any plans to make another record. We said we'd take a break for a year. In that time, that's probably the closest I've felt to asking 'Will it work?'. Only because I was doing my own thing and I was immersed in that, and I knew at the end of that year we'd have to have the conversation about what it was we were doing. That was the only time the future looked uncertain.
“It's hard to look into possible eventualities because I only know what did happen. I feel that we wouldn't have made a record like 'Four' if I hadn't done something that was the opposite of that beforehand. Once I do something I feel like I need to do the opposite thing next. You get bored, you want to discover something new. 'The Boxer' was a kind of layered, electronic record, and I don't think I would have found loud guitars as exciting if I hadn't done that beforehand."
Ironically Bloc Party's hiatus has, in the mind of Kele Okereke, only served to strengthen the cohesive bind holding this four-piece together. It's no secret bands will use periods of hibernation to determine for themselves whether ties between members would be best left severed. Yet each Bloc Party member seems to know for himself that it is only with the other three that they’re able to succeed. The band is a formula, and each component has been carefully selected to ensure against future internal combustion. As Kele did eventually explain, drummer Matt Tong is the perfect example.
"We knew what we wanted from a drummer and we tried lots of them, but finding a drummer in London isn't so easy. Everybody plays guitar and bass and whatnot, but to be a drummer you have to have a space to practice... and that's not really a premium in London. So there weren't that many drummers and the drummers that we did find didn't really gel.
“It's funny, actually. The drummer we had before Matt left because he was a session drummer or something. And in the year after 'Silent Alarm' came out we did an in-store at an HMV in Brighton, and that guy was working in that HMV. It was a strange moment for him, I think, because he could have been in it. He could have been in the band. But I'm very grateful he wasn't because when we started playing with Matt we realised he was the right member. There's no hard feelings or anything, I'm glad things turned out the way they did. Matt definitely has a presence."
It's a presence Kele has recently acquainted himself with.
"We just played a gig in Tokyo that was filmed, but it was just one static shot of the stage. So I watched this DVD and for the first time ever in the ten years we've been a band I saw the concert as if I was just in the crowd watching the stage. And I was very much drawn to the way Matt plays, which I never see 'cause I have my back to him. But all the members of the band add something."
So what of 'Four', Bloc Party's fourth album released after a four-year wait by the original four members? Hey, maybe the album title is a reference to one of those things. Slightly more mysterious are the reasons behind Pitchfork's decision to give the album 4.9 out of 10 - a little harsh, perhaps.
"In terms of critical opinion, I've never been concerned about that sort of thing. I've never personally paid any attention to it. I don't care if people like our records or don't like our records. When we put out 'Silent Alarm' in 2005 it was somewhat strange seeing the reaction that people had to that record. I was reading all this stuff about what a great record it was, but for all this stuff that I read nobody seemed to pick up on why it was a good record for the reasons that I thought it was. It was a weird situation to be in."
Bloc Party Play Future Music Festival At Doomben Racecourse March 2; They Have A Side Show At Riverstage March 5.