TAS in Session: Kele
Bloc Party frontman Kele Okereke has temporarily traded the rougher guitar chops of his longtime band for sleeker, synth-driven dance grooves, as evidenced on his solo debut album, The Boxer. There have been broad hints throughout the ten-year, three-album history of Bloc Party that Kele had been exploring a more electronic, club-friendly sound; the band's 2008 release Intimacy was even accompanied by an album of remixes.
Kele, who is offering fans the chance to remix his first single "Tenderoni" on his own IAmKele.com site, will be touring North America in July and August; he plays New York's Webster Hall on August 3.
Back in June, Kele dropped by The Alternate Side studios and chatted with Demos about Bloc Party's hiatus, working with producer XXXChange and his lucky bicycle. And he happily unfurled three acoustic versions of tracks from The Boxer: "Tenderoni," "Everything You Wanted" and "Rise."
Demos: It’s a gift having you here in Studio A. What’s the greatest gift a fan has given you?
Kele: I like it when fans make things and draw pictures of me. I like it when they bake cakes. I like it if there’s some effort involved, that’s always nice.
Demos: And you’re good to your fans. I noticed on your website that you’re letting fans remix [your single] “Tenderoni.” Is that good? Bad?
Kele: I think it’s just a case of seeing what people come up with. I think the remix is a very powerful entity in terms of getting your music out there to people. I’ve been turned onto songs just by hearing the remixes. I’m always curious to hear a good remix.
Demos: In regards to your new album, The Boxer, how does your own physical training inspire your music?
Kele: (laughs) It hasn’t really. Well, I guess it’s good because it’s an outlet. I was speaking to Lucy, my keyboard player, earlier about this. Some people go jogging to clear their mind and it’s good for me to have something physical to do because I get a lot of that energy out. It means I’m a lot calmer the rest of the day. I don’t know if that’s fed into the music, but I’m a lot calmer. I find that if I don’t play some sport or go cycling that it’s hard when I come back from tour because I’ve been away for three weeks and I’ve not been on my bike. It’s my favorite thing to do.
Demos: What kind of bike do you ride?
Kele: A cheap one ‘cause in East London it’s totally going to get stolen so I didn’t get an expensive bike, which is depressing. But it hasn’t been stolen yet. I’ve had it for two years and it’s not been stolen, but I do take very good care of it. Always lock it up.
Demos: And look at you on the cover of this album, showing off those abs.
Kele: (laughs) I guess the point of all of the imagery for the album has been ....
Demos: I’m a sexy man.
Kele: I’m a sexy man and I want people to know it (laughs). No, it was just with this, I wanted it to look different from Bloc Party. I wanted all of the artwork feel different because it felt different making the record.
Demos: The stripped down version of “Tenderoni” is really different.
Kele: Yeah, the song gets to breathe properly and I get to sing it properly. It doesn’t have that kicking beat on it. [Lucy and I] had a lot of fun working it out.
Demos: The Boxer is really intense, the beats are in your face.
Kele: Yeah, it ended up being a lot more intense than I initially thought it would be and that’s really Alex, the producer, of XXXChange. He did a really good job in realizing the songs and bringing them out. He’s a genius.
Demos: Do you have a ringtone?
Kele: A ringtone? No, I don’t. My phone’s always set to vibrate.
Demos: Well me too, but if I was ever going to put on a ringtone, I noticed in “New Rules” and “On The Lam” you have an operator sound effect. Old school, landline.
Kele: Did you have that same voice in the States? Because I wasn’t sure if it were a regional thing. But yeah, that’s the voice you get when you called a number and it didn’t go through. It would ring out and that voice would come on the line. With “The New Rules,” there were all sorts of animal noises sampled on that track that when I was recording it in London, we spent days going through sample libraries and cutting things out and sticking them in places, like a collage. Alex was really into that and used it again on “On The Lam.” He saw something in that sample, that was kind of effected in the track and the whole record, that it all seems to be about stopping and starting again. I think his singling out of that sample is very poignant.
Demos: You say something in “The New Rules” about learning to be laid back. Are you uptight?
Kele: Am I uptight? Well, I can be. But it was more about getting older. When we started Bloc Party I was in my early 20s and now I’m going to be 30 soon.
Demos: Bloc Party is on hiatus?
Kele: Yeah, we’re taking some time out to do other things. Russell and Gordon are doing other projects, I’m doing my own project. Matt is at home watching “Lost” and playing computer games, when last I spoke to him.
Demos: You guys have done a great job and have gone pretty far. I like your quote where you say that you’ve not gone far enough. Where do you want to go personally?
Kele: Well, no, I think making music with other people in a band, and making music in general, it’s not really about definitive goals about where you want to be, it’s just about enjoying the ride every time you make a record. Feeling that you will come together to make something that you’ve all contributed to, that’s the aim. So when we do get back together, it’s just going to be about the four of us in a room together, hopefully vibing off of each other like we did when we started.
Demos: Every band fights; any relationship that doesn’t have fights means that one person’s not thinking.
Kele: I think fighting is important. It shows that you’re committed to the goal. In any creative relationship you’re not always going to see eye to eye, but you trust the people that you’re in a band with. That’s why it hurts to fight, but it’s important to do so.
Demos: Are you a New Yorker now?
Kele: No, not yet, but hopefully soon. I haven’t got the swagger or sass quite yet, but I think that’s coming. I’ve learned a few new slang terms that have been interesting. Things like “cra cra” when something’s crazy.
Demos: You recorded with [the producer and DJ] XXXChange in Brooklyn?
Kele: Yeah, in his house. Literally, when I was recording the record, I got out of the subway station, walked ten seconds to where he lived and didn’t see any of Brooklyn, except from his window. He seemed nice. We worked from about 12 to about 6, so It was like a working day. So I saw the sun go down, which was nice. I didn’t really party hard whilst I was here because I was focused every day. It was important. I put my fun hat away whilst I was working and focused on my work hat.
Demos: Your boxing gloves.
Kele: My important shoes and trousers and went to the office. It was a different mode of creating but I like just having to bounce ideas off of as opposed to a band. He knows more about music than I do, so it was good. I learned a lot, about regional variations of R&B across the States, like dirty South and how that sounds different. And reggaeton, which we really don’t have in the UK. We only really get the occasional R&B hit over there; it’s not like everything from here goes over there. So it was educational. I really got into this rapper named Nikki Menage who is really blowing up right now. And Lil Wayne. He’s not popular in the UK at all, but he’s a superstar here. Who’s bigger, him or Drake?
Demos: Lil Wayne.
Kele: Who’s better?
Demos: Lil Wayne.
Kele: I don’t know any Drake.
Demos: Well, how would we describe your new music?
Demos: What’s the future for Kele?
Kele: Lots of awesome shows. I’m looking forward to the festival season, to making more music, to having a good time and enjoying the summer.
Demos: You’ll also be DJing?
Kele: Possibly. I don’t know if DJing is the right term (laughs). I’ll be playing some stuff I like, maybe. I’m no David Guetta or whatever. I’m just getting by.
Kele Tour Dates
July 01 - Cockpit, Leeds
July 02 - Academy 2, Oxford
July 03 - University, Southampton
July 05 - Waterfront, Norwich
July 06 - Village Underground, London
July 08 - Digital, Newcastle
July 12 - Thekla, Bristol
July 13 - Ultra!, Nottingham
July 14 - O2 Academy 2, Birmingham
July 16 - Melt Festival DE
July 17 - iTunes Festival, London (with Underworld)
July 23 - Metro, Chicago IL, USA
July 24 - Varsity, Minneapolis MN, USA
July 25 - Turner Hall, Milwaukee WI, USA
July 27 - Crofoot, Pontiac MI, USA
July 29 - The Mod Club Theatre, Toronto ON, CA
July 30 - Capital Music Hall, Ottawa ON, CA
July 31 - Osheaga Festival, Montreal QC, CA
Aug 02 - Royale, Boston MA, USA
Aug 03 - Webster Hall, New York NY, USA
Aug 06 - Trocadero, Philadelphia PA, USA
Aug 07 - 9:30 Club, Washington DC, USA
Aug 09 - Mezzanine, San Francisco CA
Aug 10 - Troubadour, Los Angeles CA
Aug 12 - Doug Fir, Portland OR
Aug 13 - Chop Suey, Seattle WA
Aug 27 - Rock En Seine, Paris FR
Aug 28 - Leeds Festival, Leeds UK
Aug 29 - Reading Festival, Reading UK
Aug 31 - Ibiza Rocks, Ibiza ES
Sept 25 - Parklife @ Parklands, Gold Coast AUS
Sept 26 - Parklife @ Wellington Square, Perth AUS
Oct 02 - Parklife @ Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne AUS
Oct 03 - Parklife @ Kippax Lake, Sydney AUS
Oct 04 - Parklife @ Botanic Gardens, Adelaide AUS