Nowhere To Hide Now: Ghostpoet Interviewed

Nowhere To Hide Now: Ghostpoet Interviewed

Diving into his dark but illuminating new album...

Ghostpoet is one of a kind. Obaro Ejimiwe has been working for over a decade now, consistently producing work that is challenging yet accessible, evidently politicised yet continually personal, resulting in a catalogue that stands apart from his peers.

In many ways, new album ‘I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep’ is his darkest, with its dystopian terrors relating both to societal terror and inner pressure. It’s bold and outspoken, a record that refuses to give in to easy answers, even with the toughest of personal questions. Typically inspired, it may sound succinct – 10 tracks, 41 minutes – but it was actually constructed across many months, edited down from lengthy, improvisational passages. 

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On the phone to Clash during lockdown, Ghostpoet already sounds removed from the project. When he completes something, he notes, he’s already moving on – embracing new thoughts and new sounds, and allowing his mind to wander. “I’m definitely trying to continually look forward,” he says. “I guess it’s partly down to my name, Obaro which is a Nigerian name – it means always forwards, never backwards. So maybe that’s it – it’s in my DNA.”

Yet he’s never truly removed, from himself or the world around him. “I’ve always tried to write about the times that we’re living in and the emotional state of humans and society and that’s always been at the forefront of my mind,” he says.

“I was just tapping into that as per usual,” he says of this new album. “As I get older I feel a bit more jaded maybe. I feel it’s important for me to use the platform that I’m lucky enough to have to talk about things, or at least throw out questions out there, and that’s what I decided to do with this record.”

Written and recorded in London, the city’s unique pressures help mould and shape the project. ‘I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep’ was constructed amid protests to help those affected by the Grenfell fire, huge marches against austerity, and the last election. In amongst all this, though, we find Ghostpoet at his most pensive, his most introverted, shining a light on the darker corners of his psyche.

“I feel it’s impossible to ignore the everyday,” he says. “Maybe again, it’s something to do with me being older but it’s definitely informing my art. Even when it’s not coming through in a lyrical sense, it’s definitely coming through in a musical sense.”

“And that’s important because it’s important that as an artist I am recording the times,” he adds. “I feel it’s so important for artists to do – I’ve always tried to do that and I’m just trying to do that in a more concentrated way now.”

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Stylistically, ‘I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep’ is full of daring about-turns, seemingly chaotic patterns re-contextualised as style. At times recalling the sonic surrealism of PIXIES, Ghostpoet name-checks Mark E. Smith during our interview, notably The Fall frontman’s role as an ‘un-musician’ to shape and mould the sounds transmitted around him.

A recurring reference point is Talk Talk’s later albums, and Mark Hollis’ dynamic charge into the unknown. “Mark Hollis and the rest of the band would get people in and giving them a mood, record a whole load of takes, and then piece the music together on the back of that,” he explains. “That’s what I went about doing. I got people in and took a whole load of takes and then it was a case of working out what I wanted to do musically. It sounded great when I was reading the chapter about getting their creative process but in practice it was quite taxing! I mean, I have no musical training.”

In places, the album is reminiscent of Can, or even early 70s Miles Davis – perhaps not sonically, but in the way those forces would take live performances and twisted them in the studio. “A lot of my musician friends are always scratching their heads... like, what the fuck is this Obaro?!” he laughs. “But it just makes sense to me and I’ve always done that. I feel like if it isn’t broke then don’t fix it.”

The music and lyrics would evolve in tandem, each staying true to a defined emotional root or mood. This, too, was a break from the norm, a shift from the manner Ghostpoet would normally approach his lyrics. “This time I felt like I wanted to mould the lyrics more around those ever-changing structures,” he says, “so I wanted a bit more scope and space to change things or adapt the words, or how I performed the words, in using particular lines in a particular way.”

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Clash can’t help but wonder: with so much information – from individual musicians to societal shifts – surely the pressure during the editing process must have been immense?

“I didn’t feel any weight, I’m quite selfish!” he exclaims. “For me, I wanted to make sure that I made a record that I would enjoy even if it was for the brief period of time before it’s released. I wanted to make sure that I enjoyed it and I was pushing things forward creatively.”

“I think it comes in at 41 minutes or something like that, and that always felt like the right amount of time. It’s the right amount of tracks – not too many, not too few, not too much, not too little, just enough to get your point across. My mind was pretty free when it came down to arranging it and pulling it together because that’s always the way I’ve tried to make music. I want to try and be creative, to be free, and really go with my gut instinct and really just embrace the happy accidents that happen when you’re making a record.”

‘I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep’ has been released at an inauspicious yet remarkably prescient time. It’s atmosphere is dread and foreboding echoes the pandemic of anxiety that has accompanied COVID-19, heightening the unease many of us have felt for some time.

“It partly feels like it would be impossible for it to go back to normal,” Ghostpoet reflects. “Because we’re gonna go through a lot mentally, physically. You don’t hope for it to happen but people are dying, and that’s always going to change you as a person. It’s almost like a reset button has been pressed and everything has been stripped away and all we have to focus on is survival. Keeping a roof over our heads, keeping food in our belly, make sure all our friends and family are fine... and that surely must have long lasting effects on how we view many things going forward.”

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“I hope that people start to take more value in the simplest things... As much for myself as anybody else, I just want to not take anything for granted and really enjoy what I have. Will that change in time... you know, I think for some people it will. But will it be widespread change of society? Who knows. It’s difficult to say at this moment of time but I’m hopeful that can be the case because I feel society needs to change. Coronavirus has really exposed so many things that do need change, structurally, so let’s see if that happens.”

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'I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep' is out now.

Words: Robin Murray
Photography: Meara Kallista Morse

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