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13th May 2013

Interview: Ghostpoet

One of urban music’s most exciting voices talks progression, diversity and choosing his own path

“Some people decide to go down a particular path in life, or follow a particular crowd – some say I. Instead of doing that, I’m walking down my own avenue – so I say light.” Ghostpoet is attempting to elucidate the thinking behind the title for his sophomore record, Some Say I So I Say Light; after his debut carried a similarly-abstract moniker, Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam, it’s obvious he’s not one for a straightforward self-titling. “It came to me in a dream, as ridiculous as that sounds. I wrote it down at the time, and kind of forgot about it for a while. It wasn’t until we came to finish the album that I realised it had stuck.”

Ghostpoet – or Obaro Ejimiwe, when he’s at home – provides compelling evidence that extra-curricular pursuits at university can involve more than just supermarket vodka and regret. It was during his time as a student in Coventry that he made his first significant forays into music. “I’d never really met like-minded people, musically speaking, until I got to uni,” he says. “It was less about actually making anything and more that I was just listening to so much stuff, and absorbing so many different influences. I was really into grime at the time, and I had the opportunity to meet a lot of MCs and DJs – I was able to immerse myself in that scene.”

As much as this could easily be considered a lazy comparison, Ghostpoet reminds me, overwhelmingly at times, of The Streets. It’s not just the blend of typically-urban genres with a handful of more eclectic influences; it’s the atmosphere, on both records, that kind of mirrors what Mike Skinner produced, particularly on Original Pirate Material and A Grand Don’t Come for Free; that brooding, late night, inner city ambience that’s only partly translated through the lyrics – Roots Manuva, too, often pulled it off on his more contemplative efforts. “The music always informs the lyrics – it’s never the other way around.  When you’re trying to come up with the words, it’s all about tapping into the emotion that you’ve created through the music. You need to figure out where the sounds want you to go.”

If there’s an obvious explanation for the influx of new ideas on Some Say I So I Say Light, both sonic and thematic, it’d be the progression from Peanut Butter Blues‘ bedroom-produced beginnings to working with an established producer in an actual recording studio. “I knew that if I wanted to evolve as an artist, I was going to have to go into a proper studio. I knew straight away that I wanted to bring in a co-producer, and that was all part of wanting to challenge myself, artistically speaking, by doing new things, and forcing myself into positions that made me a bit uncomfortable. The whole of the first record was sort-of laptop-produced, and this time we actually did most of it analogue, which was something I hadn’t really thought about before.”

The co-producer in question – and he is, indeed, a co-producer, as Ghostpoet is at pains to point out – is Richard Formby, who’s worked extensively with one of Ghostpoet’s favourite bands – Wild Beasts. “I love that band, and I admired the work Richard had done with them; he’s produced all three of their records so far. I liked what he did with Darkstar too, so I had kind of a trial week with him and we really hit it off. He’s a good friend now. Probably the most important thing was that we got along so well.”

One of the most obvious signs of advancement on Some Say I is the decision to include a number of collaborations, with Gwilym Gold, The Invisible’s Dave Okumu and Lucy Rose all making appearances. “I feel like I’m not a musician in the traditional sense,” he reflects. “I look at songs as if I’m trying to put them together, and I had an idea of who I thought could help complete certain tracks. Lucy Rose came to my attention through the work she did with Bombay Bicycle Club, and as soon as I heard her solo stuff, I knew I wanted to have her on the record, so I wrote that song (‘Dial Tones’) with her in mind.”

Ghostpoet’s signature is the eclectic mix of genres that he’s embraced on both his records, with hip hop only one influence among many; he’s repeatedly distanced himself from the ‘rapper’ tag. “It’s just a reflection of the fact that I’m a fan of so many different kinds of music. If something feels right, I’ll put it in there. I’m not consciously trying to make the record sound diverse, but I wouldn’t ever try to write a song by only focusing one particular sound.”

The lean towards an analogue recording process was perhaps not totally surprising, given that Ghostpoet insists on a full live band when playing shows. “I really want the gigs to have a different flavour from the records. Often, it’s very easy for electronic artists to just turn up on stage with a laptop and a mic. I know, from going to gigs myself, that you want to take something unique away from a live show. I love guitar music; it has the best kind of live energy, and that’s what I’ve been trying t o channel.”

With Some Say I meeting with similarly positive reviews as its predecessor, it wouldn’t be remiss to suggest that another Mercury nomination might be in the offing, after Peanut Butter Blues was pipped by PJ Harvey back in 2011. “That was really crazy. The recognition was great, and it opened a lot of doors for me, but I don’t think about it too much now. I’m always looking to the next thing, and that time has been and gone.”

Ghostpoet plays Gorilla on May 28. Some Say I So I Say Light is available now via Play It Again Sam

Joe Goggins

Joe Goggins

Music Editor.

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