Bloc Party singer/guitarist Kele Okereke has been gearing up for the release of his solo album "The Boxer" (Glassnote) with a series of European shows.
Okereke brings his love of electronic music to the fore on "The Boxer," released June 22 in the U.S., but he says fans of the more guitar-based Bloc Party have embraced his shift in direction at the full live performances.
"People are losing their shit, people are freaking out!" Okereke tells Billboard. "Usually at the time we start touring, the [latest Bloc Party] record has leaked and this hasn't leaked yet, which is a good thing, but it means no one is going to know any of the material so they are just coming out of curiosity."
"If people are reacting like this without even knowing any of the material, it's going to be amazing [to see] what happens when people actually know the record," adds Okereke, who is releasing the side project under just the name 'Kele.'
Okereke worked with Spank Rock DJ/producer Alex Epton on the album, recorded in Brooklyn. He adds that he's "always enjoyed going to clubs" and was inspired by DJing. However, he believes lead single "Tenderoni" is the only song on "The Boxer" that is "really ready for the dancefloor" and describes it as, ultimately, a pop record.
Bloc Party also incorporated electronic textures in its records and two of its three albums ended up being released as remixed editions.
On its previous album "Intimacy" in August 2008, the band experimented with a digital release so it could get the record out to fans soon after it was recorded. Two months later, an expanded physical edition of "Intimacy" was in the shops and it was sent to those who had pre-ordered the digital-physical bundle.
"It was definitely a good experiment and got the music directly to the fans, which is always the most important thing, I'm definitely glad that we did it," says Okereke.
The band has worked with indie Wichita and Universal in Europe, and Atlantic in the U.S., but is currently a free agent. "The thing is we signed a three album deal, and we made those three albums, so we haven't got to listen to anyone other than ourselves," says the frontman.
Bloc Party released its debut "Silent Alarm" in 2005 and Okereke admits that it is "so much harder" now for bands to sell records and control all revenue streams.
"When we launched the first record it was right on the cusp of how the whole industry changed in terms of the deals they signed, and what they had to give away in terms of a percentage of the live income and merch income," he says. "It feels like we just missed that, we were probably the last generation of bands in the U.K. that actually made money from record sales and touring. And I'm forever thankful about that because your live income is your bread and butter as a band. It's what will see you through, so I'm glad we managed to safeguard [that]."
Okereke even reveals that in five frenetic years "we made a lot of money with Bloc Party, there's a certain amount of security," and says he feels it's now "time to enjoy this" slightly slower pace and solo project.
Asked about the future of Bloc Party, Okereke comments: "I'm doing this now at least until the end of this year, I'm committed to touring and promoting this record. Once I finish this we'll see where the others are at because you know it isn't solely my decision, there are four people in the band and we need to make sure we are all on the same page about how we could proceed, how we could continue, but right now I'm very much focused on this record, it's something I'm very proud of."
Other band members are working on other projects - Russell Lissack has joined Ash's live band, having once played in an Ash tribute band - but the hiatus is apparently just that, rather than any kind of disguised split.
"We [Bloc Party] still exist and I'm sure that we will exist again, but right now we are all doing other things," says Okereke.
Having recorded "The Boxer" with just a producer and computer, Okereke adds that he's "missing the sound of playing with other musicians" in the studio. "I'm missing that kind of immediate excitement, and I think when Bloc Party do get back in a room together I'm very keen for the idea of us just jamming together to see what's still there," he explains.
For now, Okereke will be playing with the live band he's assembled for his solo project with a full U.K. tour this summer followed by U.S. dates, beginning July 23 at Chicago Metro.