Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke Is Just Getting Started
BY Matthew Breen
May 14 2012 6:00 AM ET
Navigating fame and the media took some on-the-job training too. Reserved when not onstage, Okereke has been described many times as shy or suspicious. “When I started this I was a lot younger,” he acknowledges. “Do I seem shy?” He doesn’t. “I think maybe in the beginning I was a bit cynical, a bit suspicious about the whole process of interviews and star-making. I think people mistook my shyness for being a bit disinterested in the whole process.”
But it wasn’t disinterest that queer fans and LGBT media outlets were sensing. Though out to his friends and family, he refused to discuss sexuality in interviews, saying that because his songs didn’t deal with sexual orientation, it made little sense for him to discuss his own.
“I was always slightly conscious about the angle that discussing me being gay was going to take in the U.K.,” Okereke says. “It seemed like something everybody was hinting at and alluding to.” Interviewers and media accounts started describing him as closeted, including a 2006 article in the Observer Music Monthly’s Gay Issue, and Okereke felt hounded.
“I’ve never had any problems being out and open, but I didn’t like feeling as if I were being pressured into being a role model or a spokesperson for people,” he says. “I was just a kid, and the decision wasn’t mine. It felt like everybody else had an agenda and that I had to play along. Yeah, in the start of my career I did have a big problem with that, but then you realize it is important to people to share experiences. You’re an artist, you’re outside of the boundaries that ordinary people are living in, and you do have a duty to speak up. You really do. I guess it was just realizing that.”
Role model is a heavy mantle to carry, though. “I have trouble deciding what socks to wear every day, and the idea of being a spokesperson for people, the idea that your words go on and have a life outside of you, it was just a bit intimidating. I’m still working out who I am. I’m still working out what I stand for. I don’t begrudge anyone for wanting to know about me. It’s up to me to know how much to disclose. I’ve learned this over the years, but I’m not stupid. I know exactly what I’m saying to people. Some things will always be private. Some things will only be things that I know. And that’s good for me because I will always own that part of me.”
Owning part of himself, of his music, is something he’s thought a lot about. “That’s the hardest thing about making music,” he says, “because when it’s out in the public domain it’s not really yours. Everyone has an opinion of it, and everyone else wants to claim parts of it. My favorite period is always the writing, because that’s when you’re pulling stuff out of nothing. It’s yours. Once it’s out there it doesn’t feel like that anymore.”