In an ever-fickle music business, taking a couple years off can be a gamble. But time away from each other hasnt hurt Londons Bloc Party, which released its fourth album Four in August and plays the Fillmore Charlotte Tuesday.
It was good for the relationships in the band, says guitarist Russell Lissack, calling from the U.K. When you spend your whole life in the company of the same people constantly working and traveling, you tend to go a bit crazy. A lot of tension can build up. To have some time apart and have the opportunity to do different things was very beneficial.
Bloc Party stormed the British music charts almost immediately out of the gate with its 2005 debut Silent Alarm, and continued to gain notoriety in the States with 2007s Weekend in the City and 2008s Intimacy.
Then the band went on hiatus in 2009, as the music industry was going through drastic change.
I dont want to say it like its a dying industry, but I was talking to a friend today about how in the U.K. there arent record shops anymore, Lissack says. I get the impression theres a little more of a culture still of going to the record shops in the States. I cant remember the last time I bought an actual CD.
That trend is evident on the charts: Four spent only a week at No. 36 on Billboards 200 last summer, whereas Weekend stuck around for 14 weeks and Silent Alarm for 16. It ascended higher overseas and in Canada, but those chart stays were also short.
During Bloc Partys two-year hiatus, vocalist Kele Okereke released a solo album and EP, while Lissack produced a group from Japan called Heavenstamp and signed on as touring guitarist with veteran Irish pop-rock band Ash (which enjoyed a run in the States in the 90s and celebrated its 20th year in 2012).
It was inspirational, he says of playing with a band he listened to as a teenager. It was light-hearted. There was nothing else going on behind it. It was just playing these songs with these guys and really enjoying playing guitar again. The guitar sound was a lot simpler than the Bloc Party guitar sound, which has lots of effects and is intense to play. With Ash, I got to enjoy the simplicity of playing.
The experience influenced Fours melodies and solos.
Ive always been a bit hesitant on putting guitar solos on songs, because it can feel superfluous. (I wanted) to do them in an interesting and creative way that adds something to the song, he says.
Although he acknowledges a pool of new influences on the gritty yet still danceable tracks on Four, his renewed excitement about guitar had Lissack digging out old albums.
I went back and listened to bands I hadnt listened to in maybe 10 years, like Smashing Pumpkins, because I was excited about playing the guitar again, says Lissack, who also got reacquainted with Blur and Weezer.
They were bands I loved when I was 14, 15, 16. When you listen to something 10 years later, theres a good chance you might be quite a different person and the music can mean something different to you and take you back as well. Maybe you pick up things you didnt notice before.