Catching Up With Kele
By Jason Lamphier
For his first solo album, Bloc Party front man Kele Okereke has teamed with producer XXXchange (Spank Rock) to craft a set of beat-driven electro-rock rave jams. "The key for the sound of the record was to take things as harsh and physical as I could make them," the British singer says. Yes, the get-in-the-ring cover art for The Boxer and the new video for its first single, "Tenderoni" (which calls to mind a kickboxing class hosted by Daft Punk), are pretty butch. But it seems Okereke is actually just punching through his emotions to reveal shades of vulnerability and advocate personal empowerment. Turns out the dude has a tender side. Out sat down with Okereke -- whose solo stage name is simply Kele -- to talk about how his sexuality influences his songwriting, how he really feels about boxing, and just what the hell "Tenderoni" means anyway.
Out: Let's start with the requisite question: Why a solo album and why now?
Kele: The reason I'm putting out a solo record is that all the others in the band wanted to stop and have babies, and I didn't really want to do that. I'm gonna wait until I'm 35 before I start to think about having babies. And I'm only 28, so...
I'm noticing a different sound than what you've worked with on the Bloc Party records. What do you think being a solo artist has allowed you to do that you couldn't or wouldn't do with Bloc Party?
It was never a case of feeling I couldn't do anything with Bloc Party at all. I feel that they were always very encouraging of letting me do what I wanted to do. There was no frustration about musical direction, it was more just that they wanted to take some time out, and I didn't really want to. I wanted to carry on working. So that's really where this record came from. And I guess it's more of an electronic record, but that was because I didn't really want to repeat where I'd been before. It could have easily have been just a record of me and a piano and a double-bass player, or something. It was just about not repeating myself.
Talk about how you chose your collaborators for The Boxer and how you all worked together.
On the record, in terms of collaboration, there's only really two singers -- two amazing singers, two girl singers from London -- Jodie Scantlebury and Bobbie Gordon. They were introduced to me by my friend Dan who plays guitar for a band called the Noisettes because they're the Noisettes' backing singers. And they did some amazing work on the record for me. But apart from that, it's mainly just me and the producer, Alex XXXchange. He played some synths on the record and did some percussion. It was just the two of us.
The title, The Boxer, is curious.
Is it self-referential? Was there some kind of personal battle that you were coping with that set the tone for the record?
The title The Boxer, that was kind of misleading because I'm not really so much into the idea of boxing as a sport, I think it's kind of gross. I'm not really into watching people fight for sport. But I do like the idea that, as a boxer, you have to rely on nobody else but yourself to find the energy and the fight and the gumption to carry on going. I thought that was quite an inspiring image, that even though you're being hit and you're being knocked down, you have to keep going. And maybe making this record felt a little bit like that? I didn't really know exactly what I was going to be doing. I'd never done anything like this on this scale by myself. And there were times that it was overwhelming, but I did keep going -- I had to keep going. Making this record is the thing I'm proudest of -- the achievement I'm proudest of -- in my life, for sure.