Billboard Music Awards
Bloc Party Shakes Off Breakup Rumors, Comes Back Strong on 'Four'
''Come on, New York City, we didn't come back from the dead for this!" Bloc Party frontman Kele Okereke chided the stock-still crowd two songs into the U.K. band's set at Terminal 5 on Aug. 7. The taut, hit-strewn performance was the first of three nights headlining the venue in support of new album "Four" (Aug. 21, Frenchkiss Records), and marked the self-proclaimed resurrection of a group that was rumored to be breaking up less than a year ago.
In an interview with British publication NME last September, the group suggested that Okereke was continuing his explorations as a solo artist after the release of his 2010 debut, "The Boxer," and that the three other members were looking for a replacement. Okereke, who was recording "Four" with bandmates Russell Lissack, Gordon Moakes and Matt Tong in New York when the rumors took root, now says the whole thing was a practical joke somehow taken as a serious matter. "They printed it without any ironic slant, so it kind of became this big story," Okereke says.
As ridiculous as the breakup whispers were, the singer/guitarist admits that Bloc Party wasn't quite right following the release of its dance-oriented third album, 2008's "Intimacy" (85,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan), and its accompanying tour. The quartet had released three albums in four years, all on London-based indie Wichita Recordings, including 2005 debut "Silent Alarm," which earned critical raves and sold 379,000 U.S. copies, with domestic distribution by Vice/Dim Mak/Atlantic. The studio productivity mixed with relentless touring left the band in need of distance and, in 2009, Bloc Party effectively shut down as Okereke started work on an electronica-focused solo set.
"If I hadn't recorded 'The Boxer,' there's no way we would've been able to have made this record. We might not have been able to make another record," Okereke says. "The Boxer" (also on Wichita and distributed by Glassnote), which has sold 9,000 U.S. copies since its June 2010 release, gave Okereke an outlet for his interest in dance music, so that when the band reconvened last year with producer Alex Newport, they were ready to make an album with the guitar-heavy sound of "Silent Alarm" but also a dirtier, garage-rock feel.
"I don't think we would've gone into 'Four' wanting to make a completely stripped-down rock record if I hadn't had the choice to explore ideas opposite to that in 'The Boxer,'" Okereke says. "To me, these records are all very connected."
After signing to Frenchkiss in March, the band announced the new full-length in May and immediately began a marketing assault. Label GM Paul Hanly says the band was "very involved with every part of the campaign," from the promotion of first single "Octopus" to the global album stream on its official site the week before street date to the Bloc Party iTunes app that features photos, live updates and the band members providing weather "Fourcasts" in custom videos.
"When we started having those initial meetings with them, we saw the excitement they had about this music, and about being a part of [the Bloc Party] family again," Hanly says.
The act returned to the stage in the weeks before Four's release with high-profile performances at HARD Fest in Los Angeles, Lollapalooza in Chicago and Outside Lands in San Francisco, among other dates. A fall U.S. trek begins Sept. 14 in Boston, and Hanly says the group will hit the road throughout 2013. "They're prepared to tour relentlessly on this [album]," he says.
Meanwhile, Okereke says the equilibrium he's found by making rock records with Bloc Party and more experimental fare as a solo artist will continue as well. "The one thing I learned from making 'The Boxer' is that I can do anything I want," he says. "That's not to say that I'll make another electronic record. If I want to make a country record or a soul record, I can, because I'm only limited by my imagination."