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Kele: “I’m Obsessed With Making Music”

With British indie-rock faves Bloc Party again on “hiatus”, enigmatic frontman Kelechukwu “Kele” Okereke has recorded another solo album, Trick, succeeding 2010’s The Boxer.

Trick finds Okereke, now a committed DJ, venturing deeper into underground house, garage and bass, with the music elevated by his soulful vocals. Mind, he’s also recruited singers Yasmin, herself a part-time DJ, and friend Jodie Scantlebury. But, Okereke says, Trick isn’t so much a club LP as music for playing after a night out.

The album, led by the quasi-progressive house single Doubt and followed up by new single Coasting, thematises transience and negotiation, being occasionally erotic, occasionally pensive, yet invariably murky. Perhaps symbolically, Okereke is unveiling the album just before his 33rd birthday.

Okereke is no latecomer to dance culture. Following 2005’s classic debut Silent Alarm, helmed by future ‘it’ producer Paul Epworth, Bloc Party curated a cred remix album, and their subsequent releases were on the indie-dance tip.

Bloc Party last performed in Australia at 2013’s Future Music Festival. In the meantime, Okereke would become an in-demand guest vocalist and dipped into dubstep on his EP The Hunter, later going on to issue two club records, beginning with 2013’s Heartbreaker, on Damian Lazarus’ Crosstown Rebels – the label that reinvented prog-house in the noughties. Okereke himself handled all the production on Trick and he’s keen to do more for others.

All this independent activity has raised questions about Bloc Party’s future, the shy Okereke always a reluctant frontman. Drummer Matt Tong has already formally quit, albeit quietly. Next year is the 10th anniversary of Silent Alarm. And Okereke, who over winter DJed at Western Australia’s CIRCO festival and his East Coast side-shows, isn’t ruling out a reunion.

Watch: Kele – Doubt

Music Feeds: You lately collaborated with Perth’s Sable on a track for Jack Daniel’s – The One. How did you find that session? He’s a cool kid.

Kele Okereke: Yeah, he’s a cool kid with an extensive knowledge of lots of trivia, which I thought was quite interesting. He was cool, and it’s cool working with him as well. He’s very professional and very talented. It was definitely a good experience.

MF: He’s passionate about music and indoor rock climbing. I didn’t know about the trivia!

KO: He seemed to know a lot about a lot of things, like he had an encyclopaedia brain. Which helps, I think, probably, for making music.

MF: He loves Jamiroquai, that’s the other thing.

KO: Well, he didn’t tell me that. Maybe if he had, I wouldn’t have done the song with him (LAUGHS). Maybe not. Only joking!

MF: Trick sees you delve further into that subterranean world of bass, house and garage. At what point did you determine that you’d like to follow this direction?

KO: There wasn’t really ever like a conscious decision to follow a direction. You make music with the tools that you have in a vein that is inspiring you at the moment. I was DJing a lot. I was in clubs a lot at, like, 3, 4 or 5 AM, so I was soaking a lot of those sounds and those textures and those kinda feelings up.

That’s maybe why this record is a lot more of a kind of “subterranean” record, because every other weekend I was in clubs. I was not sleeping, I was getting on planes and, of course, after a while, it’s gonna have an effect on how you choose to compose music, if that’s the only thing you’ve been exposed to.

MF: Did you have in mind making music that you could actually play out, given that you are DJing so much?

KO: I think it was less about making music to play out, because I guess I’d done that with the Crosstown EP stuff. It was more about having music to put on after you come back home and you’re still buzzing and the drugs have worn off and you’re feeling introspective or whatever – it was more about that kinda period, the soundtrack for those sorts of feelings.

To me, it’s not really club music. There’s only, I think, one or two tracks that would work on a dancefloor [or] would work in the set that I play when I DJ. The rest feel like more “head moments”, if I’m honest.

Watch: Kele – Coasting

MF: It’s been suggested that you’ve made this transition from being a frontman into a producer, but it seems more like you’ve just expanded.

KO: I think I’ve always had an interest in the idea of production, in that really that’s how you make the song, more so than just putting in a vocal or a musical idea. How the song sounds and people hear it coming out of their speakers, that’s always something that’s kind of interested me.

That’s why even with Bloc Party I took a very hands-on role when we were recording in the studio – just how things were shaped. With all of the producers that we worked with, we were never like, ‘Go and do your thing’, and [we were] washing our hands of the process. So I guess with my solo stuff and the Crosstown stuff, it was just an extension.

You’re taking an idea and you’re seeing it from start to finish. You aren’t just contributing your part – a vocal or whatever – it’s really about the whole product. Yeah, I think that’s ultimately what’s most enjoyable for me, more enjoyable than being a singer or a guitarist or whatever. It’s someone who makes a work of art.

If I think back, that is the reason why I started playing the guitar. It wasn’t about playing other people’s songs or it being a financial side of it, because I wanted to make my own music. I wanted to make my own experience. That’s why I started playing the guitar, not because I wanted to sing. I only sang in Bloc Party because nobody else wanted to sing and it was like, ‘Well, someone has to do it’, so I did it.

From there, I started to become more confident about my voice and whatnot, but it wasn’t like I was one of those kids who walked around the house singing all the time. I only really sang because I had to. I was obsessed about making songs – I still am. That’s why I’ve made, what, six records in under 10 years, because I’m obsessed with making music. I’m obsessed with the finished product. You know, you start with nothing and you pull the ideas out of the air and then at the end [of] the process you have a physical artefact. I think it’s cool. I wanna do it for as long as I can.

MF: Trick seems to have a subtext of negotiation. What sort of headspace were you in when you were making this record?

KO: Yeah, it’s interesting that you say that there’s a subtext of negotiation. I definitely agree with that in a lyrical perspective. I feel that all the songs are about lovers who want something, who want something more, from their partner. I guess the resulting songs are explorations of those feelings, like a song like Stay The Night or Humour Me, where there is clearly an imbalance between the couples, where somebody wants something more from somebody else.

The songs like First Impressions and My Hotel Room or Coasting, when it’s the opposite, when it’s the start of their relationship, the start of their transaction, everything seems positive and everything feels equal, because it’s just about the first spark of desire. In terms of my headspace, I don’t know. I made the record over the course of two years, so that’s a very long period, and obviously I was doing it in between other things.

I was travelling a lot and not really able to focus so much on the music. So I don’t know if there was a prolonged headspace, or a prolonged thought process, that accompanied making the record. I don’t know why all the songs are love songs, in that respect. I think it might have something to do with being in clubs a lot and seeing people coming together, seeing people flirt with one another across dancefloors – maybe that had some kind of effect on what it is that I was choosing to write about, because it’s still a very powerful thing, attraction and love and ownership.

MF: Next year will be the 10th anniversary of Silent Alarm. Will you guys mark that in any way – with an album repackage, shows?

KO: To be honest, I’m not so interested in looking backwards. I think the most impressive thing that we could do as a band would be to respond looking forward and keep on making music to say that we’re still motivated.

I think that’s more important than revival or some kind of nostalgic experience. I feel that the band isn’t some record – at this point it’s a collection of records – and I feel that the best way to honour that would be to make more records, not just to look back to where we were.

I don’t think that sort of thing does much good for artists. I always cringe a little bit when you hear about bands going around just touring on a kind of anniversary record. I feel that it just seems a little bit cynical.

MF: You were just here for CIRCO. What are your tour plans behind Trick? Will you come back to Australia?

KO: I really hope so! You know, I love Australia. I love Australians, I love the food, I love the weather, I love the conversations that I have there. So, yeah, I would have thought at some point I’ll be back in Australia. At this stage I don’t know when. But I’d love to come back, so fingers crossed.

Trick will be released in Australia on 10th October, just in time for Okereke’s 33rd birthday. New single ‘Coasting’ is out now.

Watch: Kele – Trick album teaser

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