Interview: Kele Okereke

Bloc Party front man Kele Okereke’s not a man who minces his words. On temporary sojourn from his highly acclaimed band and venturing out on an extensive solo tour (his first ever on-stage performances of his new solo material will be in Ireland), Kele is as boisterous in interview as ever. Answering our questions in quick-fire Cockney without taking a second to think, his dislike of self-promotion is in evidence from the off through his quickfire answers and abrupt tone. Kele lives up to his reputation as a man who – as much as he clearly loves his fans – is less than comfortably revealing too much of himself.

We tiptoe around Kele’s well-documented interview killers (‘don’t mention sexuality or ethnicity’, which we’re assured he’s almost offensively bored of), before allowing the singer to escape into his local doctors and attempt to shake what sounds like a forceful cough. There’s no doubting Kele is one of the most intense interviewees we’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to, as well as one of the least artificial. Here’s what Mr. Okereke had to say for himself before heading over to Ireland:

You originally planned to give up the music for a year. What changed your mind?
Well I always knew I was going to make an album for myself, I just didn’t think I’d do it so quickly. After six years on the road you feel like you need a bit of time to yourself, but once I was by myself, it came out faster than I ever thought it was going to. It made sense to dive straight into it.

Has working alone changed the way you produce music, or the way you write songs?
Interviews’¦ it’s difficult to describe in an interview. I don’t really know how to describe it, but I enjoyed it a lot. It gives me complete control, and while I never really wanted to control Bloc Party, it’s nice to be able to put something out there that’s all my own.

What direction will The Boxer be going in, are you taking a slightly dancier approach?
Yeah, I think Bloc Party have been going in a certain direction for the last two records. It’s tending to be a bit more organic. I think it’s been an experimental process for me. I don’t think it’s produced music that you’d describe as experimental, though. I’ve always been a fan of pop music. I’d like to make things clearer, but I can’t’¦

Are you still expecting to be back together with Bloc Party in a year?
I think so, but we’ll all doing different things. We’ll have to see, won’t we.

The Tiesto collaboration is certainly not one we saw coming. What bought that on?
I just wanted to challenge myself. I think you’re right in a way, it’s not something I’d typically do, but I see no reason not to try and do something different, and Tiesto was the opportunity to do that.

There’s a rumor going around that you moved to Berlin – we heard that one’s not quite true’¦
Yeah, I keep hearing that, I don’t know where it comes from. I’ve lived in London all my life, but to be honest I am looking at other options. I think when you’ve been somewhere forever there’s a need for change. It’s not really a musical decision, though it could well have an effect. I don’t know when it will be, but I think I’ll have to move at some point.

You often come across as a guy who’s a little bit uncomfortable with fame. Is it something that you never really intended to have?
Well I recognise that it’s part of my job. I think when I was younger I found it harder, you know. Fame’s not something that I particularly want in my life, but it’s a byproduct of how successful the singing’s been, and that’s obviously a major thing in my life. It’s not like I can’t walk down the street without being approached. It’s something I’ve come to terms with at this stage; it’s one of those things.

When you’re out on tour, do you like to party or do you tend to take it easy?
Well being the singer, I have to protect my voice. I used to do a lot of things, stuff that I used to like, but it definitely affects your ability to perform, and that’s obviously a key part of my job.

When Bloc Party appeared on the scene, you broke through quickly and in a big way. Was that something you saw coming with the hype building?
Well, when you write music, obviously you want people to hear it. As many people as possible. It didn’t really come as a surprise because we didn’t think there was anything else out there that was quite the same.

Is there ever a conscious effort to be different, or is just how your mind works?
It’s not conscious, it’s just how we feel. It’s not that we’re trying, that would be far too contrived, I think it’s just that the things that appeal to me aren’t the same as the things that appeal to everyone else. It’s not a conscious decision to bring in different things.

You’ve known the guitarist from Bloc Party since you were both in school’¦ was there ever any tension? Has it been a contributing factor in your “taking a break”?
Well we’ve known each other and played together for seven years. Things have gone through their phases, but to be honest I don’t think we’re any different as a band. Not really. In any relationship it’s inevitable that there’s going to be tension, but we’re sensible people, we understand that we need each other. I wouldn’t say we have any real problems.

We heard you already wrote a few songs for the new Bloc Party album?
Of course we used to do a lot of jamming, but we’ve stopped now. Bloc Party is on a break, so we have a few things but it’s nothing we’ve developed recently.

Do you have anything in particular you want to say to fans in Ireland?
Sorry we haven’t been over more. There’s no better place in the world for writing songs than Ireland. That’s why I’m coming back. I really enjoy playing in Ireland, you get a massive response there.

As published on, May 2010.

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