evolving and getting intimate with kele okereke on his new album, trick
For a man once known for being private, Kele Okereke has opened up a great deal of late. He invited i-D to his house – a neat two-up-two-down in Brixton - to discuss his new album Trick – and to pose for some photos with Olive, his British bulldog.
You grew up in East London but have moved to Brixton. Had you had enough of the scene there?
Yeah. I guess I've lived in East London all my life and I guess I felt like there was more to see. I lived in New York for a year and when I came back, I felt I really needed to be in a different part of the city. I lived just by Arnold Circus and I just got fed up of every time I'd come out of my house on the weekends, there'd be people throwing up in the street. It was a little bit like living in Leicester Square.
Do you get recognised out on the street here?
I get a lot of rude boys saying that they recognise me. I'm lucky that people who recognise me tend to be music fans so it's always cool speaking to them. I remember when we were finishing off a single in a studio in Primrose Hill and we stepped out to get lunch and Liam Gallagher walked past and someone shouted 'you dickhead' from their car. That's got to be pretty lame to have to deal with that. But then I guess he's always invited that kind of reaction. But still, I think, if you're just going to get a pint of milk... I shouldn't say this though, now everyone's going to start calling me a dickhead.
So rude boys listen to Bloc Party?
I think they probably recognise me from magazines or the television. I get it all the time, but that's cool.
Trick has an easy confidence to it, which wasn't there on The Boxer. Is this reflective of the writing process?
I think it's probably reflective of me as a person. I made The Boxer four years ago and it was the first time I'd really made a record by myself. I was really excitable. During the process, I was trying out lots of things. It was like being a kid in a candy store. I think that's why the record had a lot more of a nervous, energetic feel. I think maybe with Trick, I didn't feel like I had to prove anything.
Somebody wrote that listening to Trick is 'like coming across your diary'. Was it a challenge to invoke that intimacy?
No not really, because it's not like a journal or a diary to me. There are aspects of my experiences in the songs. I think all writing is autobiographical on some level. But it's not a diary. The situations and the people, they aren't me. I'm a storyteller, that's what I'm doing. It's not confessional.
Are particular songs about particular people?
A song like First Impressions has aspects of my experiences, but it's more a composite really. It's like I've taken lots of experiences that I've had of meeting people for the first time and how that felt and I've tried to relay that, as opposed to one moment. I write songs because I want to convey ideas, rather than because it's therapeutic or to expose things.
What do you listen to? Have your musical tastes changed much over the last decade or so?
Because making guitar music is my job, I'm maybe a lot more critical about it. When I hear an indie song on the radio or in the gym - not in the gym actually, because they don't play indie music in the gym - but if I hear a new rock song, I'm deconstructing it. Breaking down what's happening, the key that it's in, the mood, the creative choices that they employed to make it and thinking would I have done that? And that's not really so fun whereas with electronic music, it still feels like I'm being shown a lot of stuff I don't know.
You were writing a book while you were in New York. What came of that?
I finished it; it was a collection of short stories. But at the last moment, I lost my nerve a little. I read Palo Alto, the James Franco collection of short stories, and I felt that they got a lot of attention, not for his merits but for who he was. The first thing I put out there, I want to be really proud of and I didn't really feel like that towards the end. It was a cool process and it got me to writing a novel, which is what I'm doing now. When so much of what you do is shared, it's nice to have something that's just my own. If I ever go back to it, it will take me back to the place I was when I wrote it: living on my own in New York.
And there are rumours you're working on Bloc Party's fifth album?
I don't know, it's complicated. We haven't formally sat down and decided anything at this stage. I'm obviously focussed on touring and promoting the solo record, which I guess I'll be doing until the summer of next year. I think I'd like to make another record, but certain things have to change. We'll see.
You used to go raving growing up. People can mean different things by 'raving'. What did it mean to you?
I went quite a lot when I was doing my A-levels. The raves that we went to were mainly outdoors, in deep Essex, around Chelmsford. I guess it was my first introduction to real techno music. I think the term 'raving' has come to mean something else now, just going out clubbing. But to me, raves were always slightly dirty experiences. I always associated them with being off your head in a field somewhere and you didn't really know where you were. I thought they were cool and that's why now when I go to Berlin, it reminds me of that experience of hearing music that is so loud that your ears start to hurt - but everyone's enjoying it and in the same kind of zone.
Text Oscar Quine
Photography Francesca Allen