chat room

Kele Okereke Takes Manhattan

After a trio of albums that began with their megasuccessful 2005 debut Silent Alarm, London band Bloc Party went on hiatus last fall, unsure if they’d continue playing together. Drummer Matt Tong moved to Bed-Stuy, and front man Kele Okereke spent time in Clinton Hill recording a solo album, The Boxer, that was released this summer (sans his surname). He also appeared on the cover of the spring issue of Butt magazine, very much affirming his sexual orientation after years of (usually) dodging the subject. Another new development: Kele — who plays Webster Hall tonight — is moving to New York next year.

Is your apartment in Shoreditch or one of the other East London neighborhoods?
No, it’s totally in the middle of Shoreditch. That’s why I want to move. It’s crazy.

So why New York?
The thing is, I’ve lived in London since I was a child, and I love it. But it’s time to see a different part of the world. The thing about New York I like the most is the conversations I have — they’re just the best in the world. Everyone that’s interesting in America moves to New York and because of that you get the most interesting subcultures. The most insane nights I’ve ever had in my life have happened in New York.

It’s a good place to have insane nights. What neighborhood are you thinking of moving to? Williamsburg is like Shoreditch.
That’d be like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. I’ve been toying with the idea of moving to the Lower East Side. Matt lives in Bed-Stuy. Everyone I know who lives in New York lives in Brooklyn, but if I move to New York, I have to live in Manhattan for some period of time. It’s just so iconic.

The album’s called The Boxer, and you’re boxing in the video for the first single, “Tenderoni.” You have a ripped physique.
It’s not really my body. [Laughs.] We had to use a stunt double because I’d been basically indulging for a few weeks — I wasn’t nearly as cut.

But haven’t you been kickboxing?
Yeah, but the two aren’t really related. The Boxer came to me last year when I was thinking about making the record and how it felt — I definitely had to toughen up in certain ways and be focused on what I wanted to achieve. Someone standing on his own who has to rely on nobody but himself. I just liked that image. I’ve been kickboxing only since the start of the year. It was one of three New Year’s resolutions: to kickbox, learn the piano, and dance more. Alas, I haven’t really kept them.

You’ve been calling The Boxer a pop record, and it’s very dance-y. What can fans expect from your shows? Any high-concept staging, backup dancers?
I was toying with the idea of letting the band stay in London and me just carrying on with, like, a nineties ghettoblaster: walking out onstage, putting it down, and then a bunch of dancers just coming out from the wings doing awesome dance routines.

Are you serious? That would be fresh.
It would be fresh, and it would be phat with a “p” and an “h.” [Laughs.]

I have to ask you about doing Butt magazine. How did that happen? Because when Bloc Party broke out, you didn’t really want to talk about being gay.
Uh, you know, um, next question. I kind of just want to focus on the record.

You can’t comment on doing Butt at all?
Not really, because it’s — because I leave it to the past really. So I don’t want to answer that question. Is that going to be a problem?

You’ve relegated it to the past?
Everything I’ve said — I don’t know. I don’t really want to talk — I’ll happily talk about this record, but I don’t really want to talk about the past.

But as an out rock star, do you see yourself as unique? You’re very different from Rufus Wainwright, the Scissor Sisters.
I don’t think it’s a good idea to be aware of how you’re being perceived. It changes things. It changes your values. I do this because there’s something I want to express. That’s the only reason. I don’t really check my critical barometer ever. I don’t read interviews I do; I don’t read reviews or anything like that. I go off on tour, I do the shows, and then I come back and I live my life. Does that make any sense at all?

You’re focused on being an artist.
It’s not about being a spokesperson or a role model or any of those things. I do this because there’s something I believe in: what I create. I don’t like to think about anything other than that. It keeps it pure for me.

The video for your second single, “Everything You Wanted,” was shot here in Dumbo. Why?
I was watching an interview with Olivia Palermo from The City and she was saying that she lives in this cool area called Dumbo. I thought, Wow, if Olivia lives in Dumbo, I gotta go check it out. So I did — and I loved it. I thought, This is where we have to shoot the video. No, I have to clarify that [laughs], it totally isn’t true. I was making that up! [Laughs.]

I was gonna say …
She is completely heinous. I wouldn’t listen to anything she said. But apparently she does live there.

And that’s the first time you heard about the neighborhood?
Yeah. But I went to see it — we checked out a few locations — and at that time of day, it was just the most serene, beautiful light. It’s right by the water, too.

What about moving to Dumbo?
Isn’t Dumbo totally yuppie?

Kele Okereke Takes Manhattan