What Not To Say To Bloc Party's Kele Okereke

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Almost every slip of paper the publicist for Bloc Party sends out has some mention of how much Kele Okereke doesn't like interviews. Without fail, the articles in their publicity packet have some bit about how shy the singer is, or how he hates to discuss his personal life, or how he hates having his lyrics analyzed.

But don't mention that to him: "That's the worst thing you can say to someone in an interview," he said during our brief phone conversation last week.

Sigh.

So, I'm not going to pretend I got a lot of interesting info out of Kele, because I didn't. Our interview (it was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. but didn't start until nearly noon) was short and not terribly exciting. I did hear the clicking of his keyboard in the background stop a few times though, so that was cool. But, I also know from all the inquires I've had about my plus one that Phoenix is excited to see the British indie band at the Marquee tomorrow, so I'll give what I have.

First, though, an important thought I had because of this experience, which I'm sharing as an editor: This interview is another very good reason why Phoenix New Times music section and Up on The Sun do things the way we do, bringing you lots of local music coverage, with selected national news when it's timely and of special interest. We generally try to stay away from short phoners with musicians on another continent, particularly when the musician in question has a well-known aversion for interviews because, really, you're not going to get anything too exciting from the subject through a call that's shorter and less intimate than the one you'd make to change your cell plan. We talk to people who we can really interview, putting together articles, like, say, Benjamin Leatherman's excellent cover story on The Medic Droid.

In my younger years, I had to string these terrible conversations in to some sort of suitable story, salvaging a quote here and there and filling in with the usual PR-fed garbage to churn out something like, say, this. I'm very thankful we don't do things that way, and I sincerely doubt the media outlets who survive the epic collapse of our industry will either. It's pretty pointless for bands, writers and readers. Everyone, really, except for maybe the publicist who gets the band's photo and ticket-purchase info in the paper without buying an advertisement.

And what happens once this system breaks? Well, Kele Okereke won't have to do these interviews anymore. Everybody wins.

So, anyway, off the soapbox and on to Bloc Party. In 2005 they broke big with Silent Alarm, which was one of the decade's best debut records, offering up five singles. Their second record, A Weekend in the City, was a bit of a comedown. Their latest record, Intimacy was released in August and is, unsurprisingly, the band's favorite. (Breaking news: "to singer Kele Okereke, Bloc Party is at its best on this year's disc.") though you might it's electro-flirting and intense lyrics a bit boring compared to the deliciously crunchy guitars on "Banquet" or the raucous energy of "Helicopter."

The most interesting thing about the record, though, is that it was rush-released soon after recording, not so much to foil leakers as marketers. It was recorded quickly because the band found that it's first ideas were generally its best, said Okereke, and once the record was done, why wait for a massive marketing campaign to launch it?

"Anything that a band can do outside the norm, to play by it's own rules, kind of forces its fan base to come to it in another way," he said. "I really shouldn't be thinking too much about that sort of thing, I should be thinking about making music."

He does think about it some, though: "When you're aware that you're part of the machine that's just selling stuff to kids it's disheartening."

Also: "There' a generation of kids that are so savvy about marketing that they don't take it seriously."

So far, it's proven a success. Though the band is just now hitting the road with the album in earnest - normally bands have played a few shows on a tour before it hits shelves, or are in the bus within a month - Okereke said he'd do it again this way.

"It would definitely be somewhat regressive of us to go back to the traditional way," he said. "I think we would do it completely the same again."

Speaking of doing things the same way again, I'd still ask Okereke why he hates interviews so much. I mean, if music biz marketing playbook is about to be thrown out the window, certainly the format of the traditional concert advance could use a small update. --Martin Cizmar

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