ghostpoet on shedding his skin, recording till he's 80 and why he never sugar coats things
We speak to the Mercury Prize nominated singer and share an exclusive remix of his new single, 'Off Peak Dreams,' by Thom Alt-J.
With his first two, albums Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam and Some Say I So I Say Light, Ghostpoet (real name Obaro Ejimiwe) carved a distinctive sonic niche for himself with a sound redolent of Roots Manuva and The Streets, but very much of its own. The release of his third LP Shedding Skin further cements his position on the landscape of the British music scene. On an early spring day, i-D met Ghostpoet in a north London boozer to discuss Jarvis Cocker, why - given another chance - he'd choose a different name and the fact that life ain't all roses.
You have a very idiosyncratic vocal style. How do you write?
I take every track as a potentially fresh way of writing. I don't look at it in the sense of "I have a style and I need to stick to it" for each track. I just write to the music that I produce. I guess it started from wanting to try to do something that was different from what I was hearing around me. I just wrote and naturally it just seemed to fill the spaces and cracks that formed in the music I made.
What would you say has influenced that style?
I couldn't really pick something out that I'd say is a direct influence to what I do lyrically. I guess I just live and breathe and that influences me more than anything. In terms of this record, I listened to a lot of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I love Nick Cave - I think he's a great lyricist. Jarvis Cocker is another one I listen to a lot. With the people I was listening to, the running thread is very much a case of trying to talk about everyday things in an interesting way. That's what I've tried to do. I don't like sensationalising life. Life is just life. As much as it can be fantastical and Hollywood-like, most people don't have access to that kind of existence, including me, so I don't feel the need to sugar coat things. I just write as I see.
Do you think that focus on the 'grittiness' of everyday life is a particularly British thing?
You've got amazing people in the US too. You've got Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen. There are so many artists over there that connect to what I do. Lou Reed, was a great lyricist. But I think there is something in the water, so to speak. We definitely make music that is distinctive but at the same time travels well. I'm trying to make music that is part of that lineage.
I don't think a band like Pulp could have happened in any other country…
You're probably right. Theirs is such a unique sound but they were still very much one of many acts doing similar things. Jarvis is a very, very intelligent guy. I'm a big fan.
He lives in Paris now. Maybe he got sick of the grittiness of it all over here…
Everyone has their saturation point.
The sense of melancholy that runs through your music: are you trying to communicate how you feel about life?
I guess so, but not directly in terms of my life. Again, I don't think life is happy all the time. It feels like a natural thing to make music as I make it, with a tinge of grey, so to speak. It's definitely a reflection of my personality and where I live which is Britain. But I've been lucky enough to play outside the UK to many other people. When we played to people in Europe and further afield and they still get it and that changes your mind.
Do you still see yourself making music in 10 years time?
Who knows? Leonard Cohen is still doing it at 80, isn't he? People like Nick Cave are still doing it. I saw something on Neil Young the other day, he's still making music in his 60s. I don't really think about it but as long as I enjoy it, I'll keep doing it. I don't know if I'll want to perform forever. I want to be able to branch out and do other things than just my own Ghostpoet thing, maybe produce or write for other people. That may be the avenue I go down.
Lastly, why did you decide to perform behind a moniker?
Because my own name is very difficult to pronounce so it made it easier to have a name that was easy to pronounce and didn't really give you an idea of the music that was behind it. If I could go back, I wouldn't use 'poet' because I get stupid poet questions all the time. It's the first instinct, to feel that I'm a poet when I don't think I am. I know what poets are and I'm nowhere near that level. But you know, some people say your name chooses you, you don't choose your name.
Text Oscar Quine
Photography Felix Joseph