LONDON (Billboard) - Bloc Party may be on hiatus after a frenetic five years since its debut album, “Silent Alarm,” but its singer/guitarist frontman, Kele Okereke, is keeping himself busy.
The London-based rock band acquired a strong live reputation while releasing three albums and two remix sets. Now, Okereke brings his love of electronic music to the fore on his debut solo album, “The Boxer” (Glassnote), to be released June 22 under the name Kele. Billboard talked to him about his new direction.
Billboard: “The Boxer” has elements of garage, dubstep and, on “Rise,” shades of Josh Wink. Are you a committed clubber?
Kele Okereke: I go dancing and I’ve always enjoyed going to clubs. I’ve always been vocal about that even at the beginning of Bloc Party. The biggest inspiration came from the fact that I’ve been DJ‘ing a lot more in the past few years, and I’ve really had to immerse myself in DJ culture. (Lead single) “Tenderoni” is the only song that is really ready for the dance floor. All the other tracks, they use sounds and textures that people from the dance world would recognize, (but) I don’t really think it’s a dance record. It’s a pop record. It’s songs your mum could like, if she likes to go out raving.
Billboard: You launched your tour in Ireland in May ahead of North American dates in July. What’s the live setup?
Okereke: I wanted it to be a live show. It wasn’t just about me doing a dance routine to a backing tape. I wanted there to be musicians on the stage (with me). I‘m playing one or two Bloc Party songs. Anyone that’s coming to see me at this stage is a Bloc Party fan. It’s like when Beyonce plays Destiny’s Child songs; it’s just a cheeky nod to older fans that have stuck with her.
Billboard: How have Bloc Party fans responded to your new sound?
Okereke: People are freaking out. Usually at the time we start touring, the latest Bloc Party record has leaked and this hasn’t leaked yet, which is a good thing, but it means no one is going to know any of the material, so they are just coming out of curiosity. If people are reacting like this without knowing any of the material, it’s going to be amazing to see what happens when people actually know the record.
Billboard: “Walk Tall” is a blistering album opener. Were you aiming for an intentionally unapologetic introduction to your new electronic direction?
Okereke: It wasn’t really about the sound of the record, although for the people who know me from Bloc Party, I guess that track will be a departure. It was more about this idea of holding your head high, which I‘m realizing is a recurring theme in the record, this idea of internal strength. Even the title, “The Boxer”: It’s about keeping on going when things are tough, keeping on with the fight.
Billboard: What does the future hold for Bloc Party?
Okereke: Once I finish this we’ll see where the others are at, because it isn’t solely my decision; there are four people in the band and we need to make sure we are all on the same page about how we could proceed. Until we get into a room together I don’t even really know what the future will bring. We still exist, but right now we are all doing other things. I‘m very much focused on this record. It’s something I‘m very proud of.