Musical maverick Ghostpoet talks inspiration, the music industry and where he's taking his sound next...

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 11 Dec 2013
  • min read
Obaro Ejimiwe is Ghostpoet, an inspired musical maverick whose 2011 debut album Peanut Blues and Melancholy Jam saw him Mercury Music Prize nominated.

The same year he supported the likes of Metronomy and Jamie Woon and went off on tour, seducing audiences at Bestival, Sonar and Glastonbury with his inspired, soulful take on electronica.

He’s since collaborated with and remixed the likes of Metronomy and Micachu while a second album, Some Say I So I Say Light, was released to widespread acclaim earlier this year. We quizzed the eccentric singer songwriter about songwriting, the Mercury Music Prize and why tunnels inspire him...

Can you remember the first records which made you want to make music?

Badly Drawn Boy’s The Hour of Bewilderbeast and a track by Squarepusher called Iambic 9 Poetry. Squarepusher wasn’t a direct inspiration but that song directly connected. It made me want to put emotion at the centre of my music.

How did you start making music?

For me making music was a natural progression from being a fan. I’m not proficient in any particular instrument. I can work my way around a keyboard and guitar but it’s really basic. Much of my music has been electronic because those are the production tools I’ve learnt on.

Nothing I’ve done so far has been overly planned. It’s more to do with being in the right place at the right time and saying yes to a gig or making a record.

Did you always want to make music?

I naturally become that person. I’ve always loved listening to music. To me making music is a natural progression from being a fan. It makes sense for writing music to come next.

So it was a logical step to start writing and recording?

It certainly feels like that. Nothing I’ve done has been overly planned. It’s been more to do with being in the right place at the right time and being ready to say yes okay I’ll do that gig, or let’s make a record, I’m up for that. Situations like this have come my way and I’ve tried to ride the waves.

You’ve now released two albums - how has your songwriting developed?

I’m now more comfortable with my style but making music is an ongoing learning experience. I want to constantly evolve as a writer. Both records were to do with my mind set at the time and achieving a balancing between abstract thought and clarity. It’s great to be able to write and hopefully have people listen to what I say.

Do you have ideas in place before you begin recording?

I write wherever and whenever rather than in one particular place. I don’t really have anything pre-written when I sit down and write. I might have the snippet of a line but mainly it’s a compositional process. I’m trying to channel into it and work out where that particular piece of music wants me to go lyrically.

How did you find your unique vocal style?  

I have to thank my parents - they gave it to me. It’s not a voice I put on. I was experimenting with the delivery and how I draw the lyrics over the shape of a song. I try to not think too hard about it.

Which artists currently inspire you?

Hiatus Kaiyote describe themselves as a future soul band - they’re great. I love their lyrics and song structures. I’m listening to, as I always do, old Radiohead albums - Kid A and Amnesiac and a lot of Can. I’ve been reading up on their history and how they write lyrics with made up words, similar to Sigur Ros. Plus everything around me inspires me – right now, the sun is coming through the window. It looks so beautiful. We’re alive, having a conversation. Everything and anything inspires me.

What are your thoughts on the music industry’s health?  

It doesn’t really concern me. I don’t make music to sell 100,000 copies or be in the charts. Those old fashioned markers of success don’t fuss me. If it happens, then fine but it’s not a big deal.

But I’m still a massive nerd when it comes to the industry. I know the labels, the structure and how it works from conception to release. But I don’t allow it to impact my music. I want to be creative and not think about business. Having said that, the business is still here and all credit to it. There are a lot of great people working as part of it. Now they’re having to think differently because the old structures are either dead or dying.

Your debut Peanut Blues and Melancholy Jam was Mercury Music Prize nominated – what did that do for you?

It raised awareness of my music to the wider public. But as much as I loved the idea of it, I didn’t want to get carried away with the hysteria. I just knew it was an opportunity to play to people who’d never heard me before. I never thought I could sit on my laurels and use that to carry me forward. The nomination will be with me for the rest of my life but I want to build a longer-lasting career.

Have you any advice for aspiring songwriters?

It’s important to be yourself. Now more than ever you have that opportunity, partly because musicians have to be DIY when it comes to making music and being creative. Social media lets you put yourself directly in front of your audience.

The idea of making music for chart success or getting the maximum radio play - it’s boring. You need to be yourself and make yourself happy creatively. Hopefully it will be good enough to be picked up by whatever or whoever you want it to be.

What does the future hold for you?

I’m looking into writing new music. It’s been a great year releasing a record, touring and seeing so many other live acts. I’ve got enough ideas for a record. It’s a case of working out how I approach it. That’s the future.

Have you a favourite sound?

I really like the sound of reverb in tunnels. It really inspires me. I live in Dalston and in Shoreditch there’s a tunnel leading from Shoreditch High Street to Liverpool Street. There’s sometimes a saxophone player in there. It sounds great.

Ghostpoet is published by Universal Music Publishing.