Indie favourites Bloc Party are back with their first new album in four years and two new band members. Founding member and guitarist Russell Lissack talks to Brian Campbell
BACK in 2005, Bloc Party played second fiddle to The Killers on the NME Awards tour. Now the London-based indie greats are headlining the NME tour (which begins on Friday but, alas, no longer takes in Belfast or Dublin) across Britain as they mark the release of their fifth album Hymns â€“ their first in four years.
In 2005 Bloc Party exploded on to the scene with their brilliant debut Silent Alarm â€“ full of the bandâ€™s trademark jagged guitars and thundering drums â€“ and it went on to sell more than a million copies.
They recorded their follow-up Weekend in the City (2007) in Grouse Lodge Studios in Co Westmeath, before going on to put out Intimacy in 2008 and Four in 2012.
Now theyâ€™re back with a great new album (highlights include So Real, My True Name, The Love Within and Only He Can Heal Me) and two brand new members â€“ Louise Bartle has replaced Matt Tong on drums and American Justin Harris is in for Gordon Moakes on bass.
Congratulations with Hymns. Have you been playing many of the new songs live?
We can play them all but so far weâ€™ve played about six of the songs live. Itâ€™s been fun. Itâ€™ll be more rewarding once the album is out there and people actually know the songs. But people have been reacting really well to them, which is nice. Virtue is probably one of my favourites; it was difficult to bring to life but it definitely seems to be connecting with people, which is cool.
Speaking about the album, frontman Kele said: â€œWhat Russell is doing now is completely blowing my mind. Heâ€™s using the guitar as an instrument of white noise, as well as a melodic tool.â€ What did he mean by that?
I guess thereâ€™s a lot of stuff on the record that doesnâ€™t necessarily sound like itâ€™s coming from a guitar. People might think itâ€™s keyboards, but I didnâ€™t play any keyboards on the record. Itâ€™s all new sounds and atmospherics that we managed to make with the guitar pedal board. I think Kele was excited by all of that.
Where was it all recorded?
It was all done in a studio in north-west London, which was next to a gigantic graveyard. Thereâ€™s a balcony in the studio, so youâ€™d be sitting out on the balcony listening to the take youâ€™d just recorded while staring out over this enormous graveyard. It was quite ominous.
Are you going to be announcing live dates in Ireland this year?
I guess there will be something. We have the UK tour starting now and then we go to the US, so weâ€™re still figuring out what weâ€™re doing on the festival front but Iâ€™m sure weâ€™ll get there by the summer. My last time there was in 2014 when Tim Wheeler put his solo record out and played the Oh Yeah Centre in Belfast. I played guitar for him at that show; that was cool.
How did you end up becoming touring guitarist with Ash in 2010?
I was a massive Ash fan when I was a teenager. I met them a couple of times when Bloc Party started touring, so either I told them I was a big fan or they read it somewhere. Then when Bloc Party took a break after touring our third album, the guys got in touch and said ‘Do you want to come and play a few shows with us?â€™ and I said Iâ€™d love to. And then a few shows turned into nine months of touring. Iâ€™m still really good friends with those guys. It was fun while we did it and it was a great experience, but I always felt like weâ€™d make another Bloc Party record.
You have two new members in the band now â€“ has that been fun?
Itâ€™s been great. We did our first shows with the new line-up in the US in August or September. Itâ€™s been really fun so far and thereâ€™s a great energy between the four of us. People do actually say to us at the end of the shows, `You guys look like youâ€™re having so much fun on stageâ€™ â€“ and we are. Itâ€™s nice that thatâ€™s carrying across. Weâ€™d toured together in the US with Justin and his band Menomena, so we knew that he was a good bass player and a good musician.
Is it true that you discovered drummer Louise on YouTube?
Yeah, somebody sent us videos sheâ€™d put up of herself and we were just really impressed and we saw that she lived in London, so we thought `Letâ€™s get in touch with her and meet her and see if joining the band is something that sheâ€™d like to doâ€™. So she came down to our studio and she was lovely and we all got on and had a quick dram, so it went well and there was a chemistry straight away.
Are you excited about the NME tour and has it made you think back to that tour with The Killers, Futureheads and Kaiser Chiefs in 2005?
Iâ€™m looking forward to it. Yeah, itâ€™s funny because itâ€™s almost like coming full circle to how we started. I think I enjoyed that whole experience in 2005 but it was our first time recording and then releasing an album and playing in all these different countries, so we had nothing to compare it to. Justin has been doing this as long as us, if not longer, so he has his own stories and perspectives, whereas Louise is pretty much in that place where we were 10 years ago and is doing all this for the first time, so thatâ€™s exciting.