South Londoner Obaro Ejimive aka Ghostpoet, is a musician who is hard to define. A talented producer, singer and master of the spoken word, he solidified his position as one of the most exciting up and coming artists with a Mercury prize nomination for his debut album “Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam”, and through high profile supporters such as The Streets’ Mike Skinner.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO GET INTO MUSIC IN THE FIRST PLACE?
It was an instinct, more than anything. I just wanted to be creative, and I didn’t know what avenue that would be. I’ve always loved listening to music from an early age obsessively, so it felt like a natural thing to first start writing, and then producing, taking it to where it has gone now.
IF YOU HADN’T MADE IT IN MUSIC WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’D BE DOING?
I would be a builder. Or doing customer service shit like I was doing before.
HAVE YOU WRITTEN ANY TRACKS INSPIRED BY YOUR TIMING WORKING IN CUSTOMER SERVICES?
I guess elements in terms of peoples’ emotions when working those kinds of jobs – wanting to do something else rather than doing what they’re doing. Nothing directly about customer services!
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES TO MAKING IT IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY?
I never really think about it in that sense. I’ve always been making my music and ultimately I wanted to get on a label and release an album but I didn’t think about it in the sense of “these are the hurdles I’ve got to make it through to make it happen”. It has been mostly luck really! Me mumbling over music seems to have captured peoples’ imaginations and here we are.
YOUR TRACKS ARE VERY MUCH LYRICALLY DRIVEN. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT SO MANY TRACKS DOMINATING THE CHARTS WHERE LYRICS ARE AN AFTERTHOUGHT, ALMOST?
I don’t really check the charts or know what’s going on. It’s a different audience, overall. With chart music it’s about the musical vibe, or a catchy chorus, or a great video – hats off to them. Me personally, it’s not all about lyrics, but about trying to be as creative as possible with my music.
WHERE DO YOU DRAW YOUR MAIN INSPIRATION FROM?
I get inspiration from everyday people. Being voyeuristic and observing life. That’s more my inspiration. I like all styles of music but I wouldn’t say I had any individuals that I draw attention to when I’m thinking about making music.
WHAT IS YOUR SONG-WRITING PROCESS?
It’s more compositions first and then I try to tap into the emotion of the music. I try to let the music direct me lyrically. It’s back and forth – I may start a tune today, write a bit over the course of the week or a month. I don’t really try and put pressure on myself to get things done by deadlines – which is the bane of my manager’s life!
HAVE YOU EVER HAD WRITER’S BLOCK?
Not really. I just write crap when I have writer’s block and see what happens from there. It’s all crap really… it’s just crap (laughs). Crap remixed many times! It’s not about churning out tunes. It’s about soaking up life and using that as inspiration for my music, so I’ve been lucky so far.
DO YOU FIND IT HARD TO SUM UP YOUR SOUND BECAUSE YOUR INFLUENCES SEEM TO BE SO ECLECTIC?
I just look at it as sound. If I had to sum it up, I’d call it experimental electronic hip-hop, I guess. It incorporates all the sounds that I love, which is not only music in the traditional sense of the word, but also everyday sounds which I put into tracks. It’s really simple. I don’t see the point of this interview, you’re wasting your time! (laughs) Let’s continue!
WHAT MUSIC DID YOU LISTEN TO GROWING UP?
It was a combination of traditional African music, so hi-life and afro-beat, and reggae and pirate radio stuff – jungle, garage, drum and bass. I soaked it all up.
DO YOU ENJOY LISTENING BACK TO YOUR OLD MATERIAL?
No. I try not to do it. I had to do it the other day because I was rehearsing for an acoustic gig and it was strange! Partly because I’d moved on from it, and partly because when you write something you are in that moment in time and listening to it takes you back to particular points in your life, some good, some bad. It’s a weird one.
WHICH TRACK OF YOURS TO DATE ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
I’m proud of them all equally, but if I had to choose one it would have to be “Liiines” because it was written in a time when I was trying to make it, trying to get my music out to people and it wasn’t happening. It was written out of that frustration. So it’s weird performing it now when things are slightly different and it seems to be quite popular with a lot of people.
WHAT IMPACT DID BEING NOMINATED FOR A MERCURY PRIZE HAVE ON YOUR CAREER?
It definitely took me up the ladder, so to speak. It was a good confidence booster for myself really, because up to that point I’d brought out an album, I was gigging, and it’s not like you need the seal of approval from Mercury but it’s nice to be recognised for music that you really want to make – because I made it. No one told me to make it. To be recognised for that is great and it gave me the confidence to continue in that way.
DID YOU SEE IT COMING? WERE PEOPLE TIPPING YOU?
A couple of months before, odds were starting to come up on betting shops and I was like, this is crazy! I never envisioned I’d get nominated at all. It’s still a surprise that I’m there in the history books. At the same time, I don’t want that to be the highlight of my career. It’s one chapter. I want to push on and do bigger things.
WHAT COULD OUR READERS EXPECT TO SEE FROM YOUR LIVE SHOW?
The live show is different from the recordings. There’s a lot more electronic manipulation to make ears bleed, and it’s a case of it being more energetic – a different experience. For me as a fan of music and the experience that I get from music, I want it to be different when I see the artist perform live. It’s important to create something that the audience can take home with them and say, “that was rather good”.
DO YOU ENJOY WATCHING OTHER LIVE SHOWS?
Yeah! I was at one yesterday. Because I’ve been doing live for a bit now, when you do anything like that you instantly watch things differently – you analyse it! So I’m analysing the sound, analysing the banter, analysing everything! I can’t really enjoy it as much as I would like, but I go to as many as I can.
WHAT ARE THOUGHTS ON FASHION? IS IT IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I feel like I should say yes. Yeah, fashion is cool man. It’s important. It’s a reflection of one’s personality. I think for me, I’m a musician first. I like to look good but it comes secondary to my music.
YOU HAVE AN ICONIC STYLE THOUGH, FOR WEARING YOUR HAT?
The hat is gone. No more hats. This is the first shoot I’ve done without a hat in my life.
SO WE HAVE GONE DOWN IN HISTORY?
WHAT WAS THE INCENTIVE FOR BEING HAT-LESS?
When you wear something for two years, it gets a bit smelly. And it’s a bit constricting.
DOES YOUR HEAD FEEL COLDER NOW?
Kind of, yeah! It’s almost like a phantom hat is still there. At the same time, I wore it because I liked wearing it. There wasn’t no game-plan to try and create an image of myself. I wear my glasses because I have a prescription for them. I didn’t want to be known as the hat and glasses man. I want to be known for the music I make. The hat is at home and safe.
YOU COULD SELL IT ON EBAY IN A FEW YEARS TIME?
I could. If times get hard that could be the next phase.
FINALLY, WHO ARE YOUR IDOLS?
Everyday people. People who get up everyday and do jobs that maybe they don’t like, but they have to pay the bills and go through everyday struggles… looking after kids, looking after relatives, trying to make something of their lives, with all the issues they may have circling around them. That is truly heroic and inspirational.
Ghostpoet is currently working on his second album, to be released in 2013 on PIAS Recordings.
Interviewed by Holly Rubenstein for IDOL Magazine (www.idolmag.co.uk)
Photography by Samuel Bradley