Racism. Drug use. Homoerotic longing. Hipster haircuts.
Kele Okereke has a lot to say. The lead singer of the U.K.-based dance-pop outfit Bloc Party is known for being outspoken about subjects of controversy, and the band’s second album, Weekend in the City (Vice), released last month, treads a fiery coal bed of blazing hot topics. (Okereke also recently threw sparks in the blogosphere by calling other musicians — specifically, Jack White of the White Stripes — “treacherous” in their refusal to address politics in their roles as entertainers. Jane Fonda would have been proud.)
After releasing their debut LP, Silent Alarm (Vice), in 2005, Bloc Party reached sudden, dizzying fame, and received album-of-the-year honors from NME — all while providing a booty-shaking soundtrack to lines snorted in bathrooms with danceable singles like “Banquet.” Heavy keyboards, hyper drums and wry, bitter lyrics spat through a thick British snarl were hallmarks of the sound, and made for Britain’s greatest musical export that year.
This sophomore release, however, is a little more textured, and the lyrics more confessional. On the first single, “I Still Remember,” Okereke touches on a homosexual affair that never was, singing “And our fingers, they almost touched/You should have asked me for it/I would have been brave . . . I kept your tie,” while songs like “Uniform” exhale a deep, ironic sigh about the homogeneity of hipster culture. In keeping with his political nature, the Nigerian-English Okereke sings of terrorism and paranoia on “Hunting for the Witches,” but behind it all, again: ass-wagging tunes ripe for the disco.
We interrupted Okereke’s dinner in London to ask a few questions about Weekend in the City — its confessional lyrics and the nature of its noise. The catch? Moments before the interview, we were instructed to nix any questions of a personal nature. Perhaps, after recently coming out to the British press, Okereke is feeling a bit exposed.
L.A. WEEKLY:A lot of sophomore albums are very insular due to the touring life, but on this album, it feels like you’re still in tune with a broader human experience. Did you find you had to write in a narrative way, almost taking on a voice?
KELE OKEREKE: I was adamant about avoiding those kind of clichés, the “second-album syndrome.” You know, lyrics of people being on the road for a year and they have nothing to say. A lot of lyricists get this really shallow “Woe is me…” stuff, which I think is completely lame. I think it’s important that [lyrically] there was a dramatic grounding and not me being annoyed, or me complaining about being a rock star.
Do you ever regret having been outspoken politically? Do you feel that it puts too much attention on that aspect of your music and your work?
I don’t think that we are that outspoken politically. We happen to notice what’s going on in the world, we read newspapers and watch the news. We’re not political… we just have an opinion on what’s happening in the world, as people would, or that you’d like to think that ordinary people would. I think that’s more frightening, that we’re being singled out as being somewhat radical and we’re not being radical at all.
[Your first U.K. single] “The Prayer” starts to veer off into an erratic direction rhythmically, and feels almost like a rebellion against predictable dance music. Was that intended?
We were very adamant that we’re not going to be employing that form of disco, punk-funk guitar thing that every single band out of the U.K. in 2005 seemed to be doing. Those sort of rhythms and that style became incredibly boring for us. There’s more than one way of being dancy than that crap sort of [imitating throbbing techno drums] “unce unce unce” all the time. It just seemed sort of hackneyed. The aim of the song was to get down to this essential, kind of… primalness? Primalty? Is that a word? [Laughs.]
You decided with this album to print the lyrics in the liner notes. Was that decision based on being misquoted or misunderstood?
Yeah, I was fed up with being misquoted, I guess. And I’m incredibly proud of them, so I want people to see them… Music for me is the most important thing in my life. I have to be honest about what I want to talk about. I have to be honest about the things that move me. It’s sacred to me. But once I finish recording it, it’s public property. It’s not my property anymore. It’s just a document of the moment that’s passed.
Bloc Party will perform Mon., March 19, and Tues., March 20, at the Wiltern, with openers Final Fantasy and the Like.