Music

Some Sad Puff on an Acoustic Guitar: An Interview with Bloc Party's Kele Okereke

Photo: Rachael Wright

Kele Okereke: "When we started Bloc Party, it was going to be about energy. It wasn't going to be about some sad puff on an acoustic guitar. And ten years later, I have become that sad puff with the acoustic guitar, which seems kind of poetic to me for some reason."

It's Friday night, around 8:30 in South London.

A few years ago, Kele Okereke, best known for his work in Bloc Party, would have been laying the foundations to a typical Friday night. If he had to work, it most likely would have been spent either tuning his guitar for a 10 p.m. Bloc Party gig or getting something to eat in preparation for a late night of DJing or performing as a solo artist. But tonight, he's hunkered down with his daughter, Savannah, whose first tooth recently just came in.



Kele Okereke

Fatherlarnd

(BMG)

Release Date: 6 Oct 2018

Such is life as a new parent in your 30s.

Okereke's latest album, Fatherland was written while he and his partner were awaiting the arrival of their daughter by way of a surrogate mother from the United States. It was recorded in Portland, Oregon with Bloc Party bassist Justin Harris producing.

The album is a major departure for Okereke. The dance-oriented grooves of his previous solo albums The Boxer and Trick have been replace by folk-leaning acoustic guitar, flutes, and horns. The dapper "Capers" has an old-timey feel to it.

Gauging by the album's title, listeners may anticipate Fatherland would focus primarily on a person dealing with the responsibilities of being a new dad. But most of the songs on the album deal with relationships and all of their mature messiness. You could think of the album as a sort of hybrid between Beck's Sea Change and Bruce Springsteen's Tunnel of Love (though Okereke said he's never listened to much of Springsteen). There's an equal smattering of warmth and paranoia throughout Fatherland, which Okereke described as a transitional album to PopMatters via a phone interview.

* * *
Album-wise, how would you describe Fatherland?

The intention was to make something that marked this moment in my life Something that had a sense of intimacy. I think that can be heard in the music. To me, it's a collection of really gentle songs. Songs like "Streets Been Talking", "Do U Right", and "Portrait" seem to be about saying "goodbye" to aspects of my life, or the person I was. That's what Fatherland feels like to me, really. It feels like the ending of a chapter and the starting of a new chapter.

It's a noticeable departure from your previous solo albums.
When I started making Fatherland, the only thing I really knew was that I need to get out of the clubs. I needed to get away from the dance floor. I remember at the time, promoting Trick that I was starting to feel a little weary about constantly being up at three in the morning at clubs.

I never really composed music on an acoustic guitar. I always kind of avoided it. But I started to see that there was a power in that form of delivery. And I guess I wanted to explore it.



There's a lot of folk elements in it.

When Bloc Party first started in the UK, there were a lot of singer/songwriter acoustic bands that I absolutely hated, and I wanted nothing to do with [that]. When we started, it was going to be about energy. It wasn't going to be about some sad puff on an acoustic guitar. And ten years later, I have become that sad puff with the acoustic guitar, which seems kind of poetic to me for some reason.

How did becoming a father affect you as a songwriter?

Impending fatherhood was definitely in my thoughts in 2016. It was something that I've obviously been planning with my partner for a long time. For years in fact. I think that has manifested in the record, somehow.

I don't know if Fatherland is about the reality of being a dad because I recorded it before we even met our daughter. But I feel it's more about the sense of anticipation, knowing in a few months time, our lives are going to completely change. On a personal level, I needed to shape up in a way that I had never had to do before.

How is Savannah now?

She's doing fine. She's very happy. She likes to laugh, but she also likes to get in the way. She's very curious about things. Every day, I feel like I see something different in her. Yesterday, we saw her first tooth. I feel very lucky that I'm able to experience all of this with her and my partner. It's the best thing I ever did. I just hope I can be there, and be a constant for her.

There's a lot of uncertainty in the lyrics -- mainly about romantic partners.

I do feel that certainly with songs like "Do U Right" and "Portrait" -- those songs essentially deal with lovers in the past that might still have some kind of hold over me. Writing those songs was a way of trying to draw a line under that.

Another key thing that happened during the recording of Fatherland was you traveled to Nigeria to see your grandmother. How often did you travel to Nigeria growing up?

I've been to Nigeria about four times. The last time before last year was '93 or '92. It's kind of sad. My parents go frequently. They go every year, but for the last ten, 15 years, I've been traveling a lot. I haven't really had any spare time. The times they've gone back, I've been out on the road. So, that time in February was the first time that I had real time off. I knew that I had to go see my grandma. It was a lucky break in my schedule.

How was it like going back after not seeing Nigeria for so long?

It brought back a lot of memories. It's funny, because the last time I went, I was like 13 or something. Just driving along these dusty, red roads. The people and foods. It did feel quite familiar, which was slightly odd to me. I think I was there for only four or five days.

Are you planning on touring to promote Fatherland?

I'm doing some shows in the UK in October, which I am excited about because it will be great to share the music with people. But I'm kind of not excited about traveling, and being on the road for a few weeks because it's going to be the first real time that I've been away for a long time [from Savannah]. I don't really know how that's going to feel. I'm kind of tentative about touring because I'm quite enjoying this domestic bubble that I'm in right now.

You've said that Fatherland marked a transition in your life. Other artists have released albums that marked similar transitions. Were there any of those albums that you particularly gravitated to while recording Fatherland?

The album I'm enjoying quite a lot at the moment that I think definitely reflects a change in the artist and the singer's life is the latest Björk album ( Vulnicura). She obviously wrote about the breakup of her marriage. I've been listening to it quite incessantly. You can really hear the heartbreak in her, coming from her soul in that record.

Is the music path on <i>Fatherland</i> something that you see yourself exploring on future records?

If I'm honest, no. I feel like making this record, working with all of these amazing musicians to make the record was something that was fun, and it was a challenge, and I enjoyed it. But I don't imagine this is going to be the sound of future records to come.

There is a part of me that worries that people might think that this is what I'm going to be doing now forever. And that isn't the case. It couldn't be further from the truth. I feel like it was great fun making Fatherland, but there are other things I'd like to explore.

I'm already working on the follow-up to this album. I feel with what I'm doing right now, literally right now, it's a combination of everything I learned as an artist, as for as a songwriter, and as a musician. I definitely enjoyed making Fatherland, but that's not how I'm going to bow out.

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image