Ghostpoet interview: "I think fame is an illusion"

Rowan Faife

Obaro Ejimiwe—aka two-time Mercury Award-nominated artist Ghostpoet—talks fame, family and the joys of touring. 

Reader’s Digest: You’ve just moved back to London from Margate. How did you find it there compared to the city?

Ghostpoet: It’s much slower paced. I wanted to get out of the city for a while and get closer to nature. I was born in London and I’ve always been around the city, so I wanted to try something a bit different, and have more space.

RD: What are your memories like of London in the 90s, and then Coventry, where you studied in the 00s? What sticks with you the most about those two places?

Ghostpoet: Coventry is more memorable because of the experiences that I had around university, and because that’s where I started making music.

It’s quite funny when I see stuff connected to the 90s now and they look so interesting—at the time it felt so boring!

Ghostpoet posing with flowers
​​​​​​Photography by Emma Dudlyke

RD: You give the impression that rather than always aspiring to build a career in music, you fell into it quite naturally…

Ghostpoet: Yeah, I guess because I was fond of music, and the natural progression in my head was to go from listening to music to making music. But at the same time, because I’d been brought up in a household which was very much about earning and living a 9-5 existence, the idea of music as a career was alien.

RD: Is that because it didn’t feel realistic?

Ghostpoet: I think it was more the case that everything I’d been taught at that point made me believe that you couldn’t have a regular income from something that’s a passion. So that was always on my mind.

Part of it was also maybe confidence when I was that young too, I almost didn’t feel I could do it, you know?

"I make music for myself"

RD: How has the transition been from your previous life? Have relationships with friends and family changed or remained the same?

Ghostpoet: They’re pretty much the same. I just don’t buy into the idea that you need to become this thing when you’re a musician, this kind of “star” or whatever. I think fame is an illusion. Reality is reality and I’d rather stick with that.

My friends and family keep me very grounded, which is important. I feel incredibly lucky.

RD: Looking back over your work for the past 10 years, is there anything you would change about any of your previous projects?

Ghostpoet: Yeah of course, always, but I’m not going to tell you what. [Laughs].

The nerd side of me wants to change everything, but my head—and my heart—say I’ve just got to leave it alone.

RD: Do you have an interest in making different music under new monikers?

Ghostpoet: Yeah, I’m actually in the process of doing that, it’s something I’ve been threatening to do for a long time.

I’m just trying to work out how, because with anything under a new name, you’re starting again, starting fresh, and I want to make sure that I am very clear about what I want to make, and I haven’t quite worked it out yet.

I want to do more electronic stuff, less vocals, or vocals that other people record to it. So, I will do it, and nobody will know it was me, but it’s got to feel right. I’ve experimented a lot.  

"I think fame is an illusion"

RD: Can you still listen to music for the sake of enjoyment alone, or is it impossible to turn off the part of your mind that’s seeking inspiration for your own compositions?

Ghostpoet: I find it hard to, really, because I’m not so much looking for inspiration, but I’m always analysing songs, so I can’t just listen. I find it really hard to listen to songs for the sake of just listening.

I listen to music all day every day, but there’s a part of my brain that’s like, Ah, why did they decide to use that time sequence, or, what kind of bass are they using? How did they get these drums? It’s a constant thing. I’m always kind of taking a mental note and thinking, OK, I wouldn’t mind trying that technique or trying something similar sonically. That’s always in there.

RD: The new album is called I Grow Tired but Dare Not Fall Asleep. How literally are we meant to take that title?

Ghostpoet: I feel that generally people are tired of the way life and the world is currently. And as much as we are tired, we bear it because there are bills to pay, and we have to live, we have to stay awake and carry on.

I Grow Tired but Dare Not Fall Asleep album cover
I Grow Tired but Dare Not Fall Asleep album artwork

RD: What was the impetus behind starting this album?

Ghostpoet: When I am making a record, an album, it [stems from] a combination of ideas that I have had lying around for maybe a year or so.

I don’t really write saying, “Right, I’m going to make a song for an album”. It’s kind of like, “Here’s a batch of songs that are a reflection of a moment in time,” and then I want to develop those until they make sense.

I had like 20 songs for this record and I cut it down to 10, but from the beginning, they all felt like songs that felt right together, like a world of their own, and I developed it from there...

RD: What were you trying to invoke in the listener through the music video for your single “Concrete Pony”?

Ghostpoet: The song is me talking about our relationship with technology and social media and likes, the instant gratification we get from such things.

I don’t try to invoke anything in anyone, it’s just the case that I have a particular thing that I want to talk about, which is a reflection of society in some shape or form, and then it’s a case of signing a mirror, I guess, more than anything. I make music for myself.

RD: What themes are you touching on with the new album?

Ghostpoet: Lots of things we all go through, be it mental health, be it our space or place in society in terms of what is the purpose of us as humans even being on this planet, and emotions: love, hate, sex, war, all that s**t.

RD: And where do you feel this album sits in terms of your other projects?

Ghostpoet: You’re always evolving [as an artist] and it’s definitely a reflection of where I am mentally and physically now. I think it’s the best thing I’ve made.

People say stuff like that, and it sounds very f*****g cliché, so maybe this sounds cliché, but I think it’s the best thing I’ve made because I produced it myself, so everything is down to me compared to previously. I am really proud of that and I feel that musically I am at a point where the whole Ghostpoet thing feels fully formed, a real concentrated version of itself.

"I'm at a point where the whole Ghostpoet thing feels fully formed, a real concentrated version of itself"

RD: Are you interested in touring with this record?

Ghostpoet: Yeah, a lot! But I feel like if I start thinking about stuff like that, then it will affect what I make. I hate when I hear songs from people who purposely made stuff that will work in a big arena or whatever. It’s not really how people listen to music, is it? So yeah, I don’t think about it.  

RD: And how would you describe the live Ghostpoet experience?

Ghostpoet: Loud.

RD: How do you feel on stage compared to when you’re in the studio?

Ghostpoet: A different part of the brain needs to be used, I guess.

Writing in a studio or making a record is more analytical, and the live thing is more instinct and guttural.

RD: How do you find touring? Is it ever an isolating experience?

Ghostpoet: I feel that’s really boring when I hear stories about stuff like that. That’s the biggest part of the fun, the camaraderie you have with your band. I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.

ghost poet posing with flowers
Photography by Emma Dudlyke

RD: Are you an artist who, even before your project is out, starts anticipating the next one?

Ghostpoet: I’ve had thoughts about it. I’ve probably got enough songs to do another record already, but lyrically I haven’t got anything to say yet. I wouldn’t release a record tomorrow.

RD: In this era of streaming, how do you gauge the success of a project? Are you looking to hit a certain number of views, or is that not a concern?

Ghostpoet: Good question. What is success? I just want to be able to play live a lot, because that’s what I love to do. I think that would be a good level of success for me personally if I can keep the live campaign going for as long as possible.

Other than that, if I can just keep going and be able to make enough money to keep myself relatively well-fed and showered, that would be enough for me.

 

Ghostpoet's new album I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep is out May 1.

About the interviewer: Rowan Faife is a rapper, YouTuber and events promoter. He worked as a consultant and lyric writer for the BBC-backed film, VS. He tweets at @twitteurgh

 

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