Catching Up With Kele Okereke
By Out.com Editors
After releasing a solo record, Kele Okereke is back with his band, British indie rock foursome Bloc Party. The group will release its latest, Four, on Frenchkiss Records on August 21, and will begin its U.S. tour this week. We caught up with Okereke to find out how living in New York City influenced him, why he wrote a book of short stories, and what it's like being an out gay musician these days.
Out: You’re back with Bloc Party after a two-year hiatus during which you released your solo album, The Boxer. What compelled you to regroup?
Kele Okereke: I loved making my own record—you are only limited by your imagination in what you can do—but I started to miss the spontaneity you get from musicians jamming and playing together. It really feels we’ve come full circle as a band. After the release of [our first album] Silent Alarm, I felt my musical horizons were expanding. Subsequently I was really hell-bent on throwing as much of that into the music we were making, and it took my solo record, which was entirely electronic album to come back to wanting to make a guitar record. I realize now that’s how I operate as a musician—always veering from extremes. You love a record while you are making it, but as soon as it’s done you can’t help but pick holes in it and want to head in the opposite direction.
What single record has had the most influence on you as a musician?
I don’t think I’d be in a rock band now if I hadn’t heard ParkLife by Blur. My sister had the record, and I would always go into her room and listen to it while she was out, and it maybe started something that I’m not sure would have been there without it.
You’ve lived in London and New York. How do they compare?
I was living in New York for a year, and I really expected to be out dancing in clubs every night, but there was nothing. Well, there was one really awesome dance party called the 718 sessions in Santos Party House—which was monthly—but that was the one consistent dance party that I went to. When I was growing up, there was a dance party in London every night of the week that would be playing exciting music that would sound completely new, and you wouldn’t have to go far to have your mind blown.
You wrote a book while living in New York. How did that experience compare to music writing?
It’s a collection of interconnected short stories—quite queer short stories I must say. They are fictional but inspired by things I was hearing, conversations I was having, thoughts of the world I was immersed in. For a long time writing songs was my only creative outlet, so it’s something that I really cherished and I put a lot of myself into. Towards the end of writing these stories, however, I realized there’s something very attractive in story telling and story-writing, because you are solely responsible for taking the reader on a journey, and you can take them word by word into a whole other world or perspective that I don’t think you can do with song writing. It’s like comparing an apple to a Big Mac: They are both creative experiences, but the way they are appreciated is completely different.
As an out musician, how important has it been to synthesize your sexuality with your music.
Obviously, I am a singer and that’s what I’m consumed with most of the time, but I realized very early on that you have to make a space to have a life outside what it is you do, so it’s quite hard for me to talk about how the two are reconciled. I’ve always been very open and honest in my private life, and I guess it feels nice to know that I’m not hiding a secret. If I’m going to get up on stage and sing in front of 12,000 people, I have to come from a place of complete honesty, and if I’m going to spend three years writing a book it has to come from that same place. In my relationship with creating, there is nothing more important—I couldn’t lie or tell half-truths, or what does it mean otherwise?