While preparing for imminent fatherhood, Kele Okereke discovered his love for folk on his third solo album Fatherland.
In 2010, many were caught by surprise when Bloc Party frontman Kele Okereke shared his debut solo album The Boxer, swapping distorted indie rock for electronic dance music. After making a name for himself as a DJ and releasing the house-y follow-up Trick in 2014, Kele changed gear again. He said goodbye to clubbing and settled down in South London with his partner and newborn daughter Savannah. In the process, he found a new outlet in folk music. We talked to Kele about writing his third solo record Fatherland before his show at Silent Green Kulturquartier on May 4.
You wrote Fatherland in 2016. Why didn’t you release it then?
I went to Justin [Harris], Bloc Party’s bass player’s studio in Portland. We recorded it all in 10 days. Then, in the process of mixing the record, the world changed: I was heartbroken when Britain decided to leave the EU; when Trump was elected. There was a sense of optimism fading. It was weird for me then to promote this album knowing that it’s speaking about this tranquil phase whilst the rest of the world is not tranquil at all. I’ve never felt more frightened about how things are than I do right now. It feels slightly incongruous, this album. But the beauty of music is that it’s forever. It might be fun to rediscover this album in 10, 20 years time. It might make more sense.
So, your next album will be straight-up political?
Mixing music and politics is a very difficult thing. I don’t think many people do it well. It takes a lot of skill to be able to write about what is happening in the world. I cringe a little when complex ideas get reduced to soundbites. Over the years, I have tried to write how I see the world, and that’s the most important thing. As long as you’re writing from an authentic place, telling your struggles, I think it’s worthwhile.
Is “Grounds for Resentment”– a gay love song – still a taboo in many places?
We don’t exist in an apolitical vacuum. Just because I’m writing a song about same-sex desire doesn’t make that any more political than heterosexual pop stars and how they see the world. There might be a spotlight shone on me because my view isn’t the dominant mainstream view.
How did you make the transition from house to folk?
Making Trick, I really immersed myself in club culture and nightlife, staying out until five in the morning. I knew when I finished touring that record, I wanted to go inwards to make something away from the dancefloor. Having spent the lesser part of my teenage years deriding folk music, I suddenly had a real yearning to listen to singer-songwriter music like Joni Mitchell, Elliott Smith, Nick Drake; this incredibly powerful music framed by a voice and a story. Fatherland was a way for me to confront some of the prejudices I had. I couldn’t stand the music my parents listened to, like Afrobeat, highlife, the motown and soul they’d play in the car, it was something I really tried to move away from. Now it’s the music I’m most excited to listen to.
Many of your lyrics deal with turning points.
Even though Savannah hadn’t been born, I knew that it was coming. When I think of this album, it feels like saying goodbye to a period in my life and trying to prepare for what would come next. That’s why there are so many songs about relationships ending, having to cut people out of my life. As a lyricist, I’ve always been fascinated by the point where what is happening on the inside overcomes what is happening on the outside; when the body realises that enough is enough, and something has to change.
Kele May 4, 20:00 Silent Green Kulturquartier, Wedding