It took me about thirty seconds of speaking to Ghostpoet to decide he was intimidatingly cool. Throughout the interview – which took place the day after his headline tour finished, before setting out to support alt-J in Exeter – I got the impression that this is an artist for which music is everything. Not that that took a lot to detect; Ghostpoet was clear on that front from the get go.
Real name Obaro Ejimiwe, Ghostpoet has three critically acclaimed albums and two Mercury Prize nominations under his belt, including one for his latest record Shedding Skin. In this album, he takes the listener on a journey of throaty exploration of the self and situation. While it’s not exactly a concept album, the whole record is a snapshot of Ghostpoet’s life; with this in mind, I asked whether he approaches the record as a whole, or song by song? “I guess it’s more the former. I like the idea of creating a body of work; creating a world of some sort over the course of a record. Not in terms of a concept, but just… a running feeling. Not even that, just trying to create an atmosphere over the course of the record. That’s how I look at it really.”
“I want to make music that I want to listen to”
Shedding Skin is certainly atmospheric. Vulnerable in some parts and interestingly wise throughout, the album is a blend of different styles and genres, coming together to form one cohesive sound. General consensus from the music critics is that it’s also a departure from his previous albums Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam, and Some Say I So I Say Light; does Ghostpoet see it like that? “I’m still very much going to make what I feel is right for me; I want to make music that I want to listen to first and foremost. [Shedding Skin] is definitely a more concentrated acoustic album. I’ve used acoustic instruments on the two previous records so, I just made a record I felt like making really. It’s as simple as that.” The album also features many different artists, included some I wouldn’t have expected, from Lucy Rose to Maximo Park’s Paul Smith. How do those collaborations come about? “I just contacted them. I have an idea of the kind of voices I want, then I go about trying to find them. I was a very lucky guy with the guests that I got on this record. I don’t find it unexpected, they just make great music. Music that I like, that’s it. I don’t look at it in terms of genre, demographic, strategy; they make music, I make music, that’s it. Full stop.”
This simple attitude towards making music which is, first and foremost, for himself, is obviously a defining part of Ghostpoet’s music. It seems commercial and critical success is the last thing on his mind: “I’m not interested in trying to make an album full of singles, or an album that’s gonna sell amazingly well in the charts.” In fact, when I asked him how he chose which tracks would be singles, he suggested that has little to do with him: “That’s the label’s thing. I make my suggestions but I don’t really care about singles. I understand what they’re for, and I have the final say in them, but I don’t really care.”
“it’s all about being as authentic as possible. I don’t like the idea of trying to make music to win awards or have a number one album.”
Again, it seems for him it’s all about the music. Listening to Ghostpoet’s back catalogue, it’s quite apparent he’s not making radio-friendly tracks, instead experimenting with his sound. But surely everyone is looking for some success? “If it happens, it happens. Like everything I do in my life, it’s all about being as authentic as possible. I don’t like the idea of trying to make music to win awards or have a number one album. If it happens based on music you want to make, its great.” Whether or not he’s looking for it, Ghostpoet has gained attention from the award panels, especially for the Mercury Prize, for which he’s been nominated twice. I asked him about this second nomination, and what it meant to him. “It’s great to be nominated again, and I’m really proud and humbled to be nominated for a second time. I hope it will open more doors for me, and will expose my music to new people. That’s all I want from the nomination.” Was that the case after the first nomination? “Yeah, definitely. From doing it before and seeing what’s possible from working hard, I’m hoping I can continue along that vein. I don’t make music for awards, I make it because it’s my passion; it’s a nice bonus when you’re recognised for that.”
After a successful headline tour, you can now catch Ghostpoet supporting Alt-J (alongside The Horrors) all over the country, including Exeter only a few days ago. While I would never have imagined putting those artists together, it seems that the music-first attitude of all three groups unites them: “One of the reasons I really wanted to do this tour was because both bands playing are making music which – even though they’ve both had chart success – isn’t for that. They’re trying to make interesting and challenging music. I feel like that’s what I’m trying to do myself.” With Shedding Skin, that’s certainly what Ghostpoet has done.