Matt Tong on Bloc Party, Algiers’ success and working with Massive Attack

By August 16, 2020 Listen, News

This week, Brett spoke (virtually) to well-renowned drummer Matt Tong, a veteran of indie darlings Bloc Party and now with the critically acclaimed group Algiers. We talked about lockdown, the influences on the band’s last album, Massive Attack, favourite memories and what success means to him.

I ask Tong how his lockdown has been, “I’m in New York right now, I’ve been here for ten years, and you know it was definitely quite a haunting experience, somewhat compounded by the fact that I got the virus.” Despite this he has managed to recover and has kept himself busy by making music himself, “It actually has been good to use this as an opportunity to broaden my skillset, and learn other aspects of music-making that maybe I haven’t been able to devote time to in recent years.”

Tong began his road to drumming stardom by joining band Bloc Party, after years of trying to break into the industry they finally got their shot by giving a copy of ‘She’s Hearing Voices’ to the legendary Steve Lamacq, which he subsequently played on Radio 1. After many years of success with Bloc Party, he decided it was time to move on, and in 2015 he joined the band Algiers; an inventive group that blends post-punk, soul, industrial and gospel to create political yet beautiful music.

We ask Tong about his mission statement with Algiers, and where they were creatively behind their latest album ‘There is No Year’. In all fairness for a second question that is quite heavy, and despite my accidental Paxman-style curveball question, he answers it very well. “Having taken on board some of the lessons we learned from the way the second record became a huge mission drift, I think the overarching aim was to be a lot more rigid in how we structured the recording, and we felt like maybe that would be reflected in the music, and in a record that was probably a little bit more monolithic in terms of its sound and its mood.”

The collaboration with Massive Attack this year was a surprise as well, but how did the collaboration come about? “Rob just reached out to them and heard some of the music and was just really interested in doing a collaboration,” says Tong. The band hadn’t heard anything until recently when they were contacted by Massive Attack who asked for their blessing to put Frank’s vocals on one of their tracks for their recent audio- visual EP titled ‘Eutopia’. I also asked who else would Tong and the band have on a bucket list of artists they want to collaborate with. “I wouldn’t mind meeting Brian Eno and just observing what makes him tick in the studio, I think there’s a certain amount of chaos contained within Algiers that I think he might be able to martial in a certain way which would be interesting,” he enthuses.

With over 20 years in the business there are plenty of memories for Tong to choose from, he mentions how Bloc Party got discovered by Steve Lamacq. “We spotted him at a Franz Ferdinand gig, and we were too nervous to approach him ourselves. We had a friend pass him on a demo that we just recorded in our practice room, and the fact that he played that demo on his show, that just seemed like something crazy that happens in a film or something.” In terms of memories with Algiers, it is more of a respect for creative discussion, “I think I learned to experience a more of a purity and the art of collaboration.”

This leads to our next question nicely as we ask him how he has developed as a person since the start of his career. “I’m a lot more realistic about what to expect from the world and how to go about obtaining what I want.” He mentions that when he was younger, he got easily disappointed if things didn’t go his way, but since then, he has evolved as a person and learned to manage expectations. “I think my level of expectation is a lot more realistic based and on what experiences I’ve had.”

Like a lot of other bands, Algiers has announced that they will hopefully tour in 2021. When asked about this, Tong comments:  “We did announce a tour for February, but I think we had to because everyone else was announcing tours for next year in this sort of hit and hope kinda fashion.”

If you haven’t listened to Algiers yet, then we highly recommend it, you won’t be disappointed.

Words and interview: Brett Herlingshaw