It’s kind of ironic that I can be considered an ‘old fashioned’ music consumer as I still prefer to individually set up my mp3 player once a week, adding new tracks and albums while deleting others. Especially in the age of streaming a certain limitation of possibilities is helpful when you want to give records more than just one chance, because some things just need time. I own that little 8GB player for seven years now, I think, and as far as I can remember there’s only one album that managed to constantly remain on the hard disk – 1972’s Pink Moon by singer/songwriter Nick Drake. The final album by the artist who passed away at the age of 26 two years after the release is a timeless and reduced beauty. It’s a silent and delicate masterpiece, driven by its introspective character. There has always been a time and situation for it, so I never saw the need to delete it.
‘It got such a solemn melancholic feel which is fascinating,‘ says Kele Okereke when asked about the record. We’re sitting in a quite sterile office room in Berlin’s gentrified centre when we begin talking about his just released third solo album Fatherland and the influence Pink Moon had on it. Just like the bound between the 1970s LP and my mp3 player, there is an ongoing connection between me and the Bloc Party leading man. Following his career from early on I’ve became a massive fan of his band and solo releases, making him one of the key figures in my musical socialization. Over the years we got the chance to meet up multiple times to reflect on the progress of private and artistic life. The Kele Okereke in 2017 surely is a different one than the person who shook the indie music world back in 2005 with Silent Alarm. ‘I should feel like an adult since I’m 35,’ he says with that gentle warm smile, ‘but I don’t feel like it.’ Well, who knows how that feels anyway, right?
Fatherland sounds way different than anything Okereke has released so far. Unlike its previously quite electronic solo albums, his third solo effort is a soulful and reduced mixtue of folk, soul and gospel, being inspired by artists like Joni Mitchell, Elliott Smith and Nick Drake. But the biggest inspiration might have been Savannah, his newborn daughter. He recorded the LP before the child came into the lives of him and his partner. ‘Having a kid means an automatic shift in priorities and how I see things in my life’, he tells me. The album was planned as a compilation of lullabies he would sing to Savannah and originally the simplicity of Pink Moon played a crucial part in the design of the sound as he states:
‘The original plan was to just make an EP, really raw and pure with my guitar and voice. But that never materialized and we went straight to making a full album. It’s kind of a shame since that reduced EP would have been a very naked and delicate experience in the spirit of Pink Moon.’
Getting a different perspective
Compared to me Kele Okereke’s relationship with Pink Moon isn’t such a long one. ‘It’s a relatively new thing in my life,’ he confesses. ‘My partner played me the title-track around two years ago. He told me a lot of stories about Nick Drake as an artist back then. I only knew the name and not the music of the character behind it.’ Drake was an underrated songwriter of his time who – like many great artists – received critical praise more after his way too early passing. ‘It was the stark nature of it that fascinated me’, the songwriter states, ‘just guitar and voice.’
‘I was immediately blown away by the sound, especially the musicality of his guitar play.’
Pink Moon was recorded in only two nights at the Sound Techniques studio in London in October 1971 with a limited amount of time and a maximum amount of raw purity. While Nick Drake was suffering from depression in his later years he was told to actually be in the good mood while recording the LP although that might have been not the case during the actual writing process. That could help to explain the contradiction in the sound of Pink Moon – the melancholic solitude and the warm feeling of understanding that are sensible in these songs. It’s a sound that needs its a bit time and Kele Okereke wasn’t really open for that sound in his teenage years as he explains. ‘A lot of my friends were into him back then and back then I felt like this isn’t really for me since I was all about energy and intensity’, he explains while also stating that he had a similar issue with Elliott Smith. ‘I kind of had an idea what the music was about without actually listening to it.’ It took him a few years, an open musical mind and also a partner on his side who convinced him to open up for this sort of sound. Kele explains: ‘When my partner introduced me to it and also told me that it helped him during phases of depression in his life I got a different perspective on the music of Elliott Smith and especially Nick Drake.’
Okereke describes Fatherland as ‘a positive oasis’ written before Brexit, Trump and all the madness that has happened in the past one and a half years. ‘If I would have written an album in 2017 it would have sound quite different and angry,’ he explains. But that also guarantees a certain timelessness in the music of his latest release, something quite similar to Pink Moon although he decided to not got for the initial reduced recording plan. ‘There’s still songs like Yamaya which got that feeling and Streets Been Talkin’ was initially also designed to sound that way,’ he says. So, there’s a sense of Pink Moon visible in certain parts of the record. In another funny coincidence both of us realize that we’re not that much into the other two albums and the countless rarities and home recordings of Drake yet. ‘I also like the track Riverman which my boyfriend once played to me, but that’s pretty much it,’ he explains laughing. Hopefully, Savannah will appreciate that sort of music as well in the future.
That future, however, remains a vague and adventurous place for the restless songwriter who doesn’t know yet what’s next for him. Well, at least he’s refusing to confirm whether his next release will be a sixth Bloc Party album, solo music or something entirely different. ‘I tend to always move away from what people expect me to be. I’m lucky that I still get inspired by new music,’ he says while also once again confirming:
‘The sound of a rock guitar is simply not as exciting for me as lot of people think. There are other possibilities to show intensity and anger.’
I personally never got why genre purists what label a band like Bloc Party as an ‘indie rock’ group. Still, Kele Okereke appreciates its artistic past while remaining hungry for the future. And that future is probably not seeing more tender lullabies for a while. ‘It’s quite depressing that we haven’t progressed as a society,’ he says while being quite aware that his band’s sophomore album A Weekend In The City somehow feels like a self fulfilling prophecy which I already noticed earlier this year. ‘I feel vindicated with A Weekend In The City,’ Kele states ‘Back in 2007 people told me I was super negative and way too serious. Guess there was more truth in it than I might intended.’ Wisdom comes with age and maybe the realization of that is a crucial element of adulthood, right? Personally, I’m looking forward to have new music by this man on my mp3 Player in the next years, right next to Pink Moon.