Liminal Pleasures: An Interview With Ghostpoet
Listening to his two records, Obaro Ejimiwe’s Ghostpoet moniker could scarcely be more apposite. They’re a mixture of fractured electronic beats and intelligent yet disquieting production; they both conceal and reveal a subtle spoken word vocal style that explicates anxiety with an off-beat, part-rhymed subtlety. The spectral suggestiveness of the name fits beautifully on stunning new LP Some Say I So I Say Light, an album whose words flicker with love and loss but are always liminal – a part of the world of his songs which invites multiple listens. The songs less defy definition than ignore it completely.
It’s an approach which has seen him labelled as everything from Electronic Indie, dubstep to Hip-Hop, the latter something he’s rejected out of hand. When I speak to him, it is clear the record’s ambiguity is indicative of an approach central to how he makes music.
“I never try to be deliberately abstract. I think it’s a subconscious thing but I’ve just never wanted to be creatively direct in the sense that you spoonfeed an audience music that is listened to in a simple way.”
On Some Say I So I Say Light’s lead single ‘Meltdown’, the amalgam of disparate ‘genres’ is agonizingly affective. It’s driving, percussive beat lays underneath and opposite Ejimiwe’s languid vocals which part weary, part wise, speak of “Egg shell hearts just cracked/Crying on the train”. Underwritten by sparse pianos and set against beautiful female vocal refrains, there can’t be a more understatedly beautiful yet mesmerizing single this year, and one you can hardly call Rap.
However, for those looking to brandish labels, you can’t deny that the most immediately conspicuous element of both his records is his vocal style. Publicly admired by Mike Skinner, he’s been compared most closely with Roots Manuva and could perhaps be clunkily filed to both but when I ask where it comes from, it’s something he justifiably sidesteps. “I can’t think of anything I thought ‘I want to sound just like him’. It just started out from wanting to vocalise individual tracks and allow my voice and lyrics to form around them. I don’t really write standard melodies, I’m very specific in that way. I sit down with a song and I’ll tailor the words and vocals specifically.”
His insistence that his voice is subservient to sound may be something surprising to fans who’ve found his songs littered with strangely formed, and arresting observations on his “bus-stop reality”. But Ejimiwe is right – his are words which don’t scream for attention; lines like “And volume maximum/ I’m feeling like Maximus/you know in that film? Film4 Tuesdays” don’t disengage; instead they’re shared nods, textural details that add to the feeling of the words being encased in the song.
The total way approaches his music is something that he equates with how he emotionally engages with music himself. “I think my approach is trying to be honest and aiming for an emotional honesty to the song. I think honesty is important in music – not simply telling people what you think in lyrics but the whole song feeling honest. All the music I love feels that way.”It’s why later on he says he enjoys reading his reviews, even if they do call him a rapper. “I think I’m just a nerd! I just like to be aware of what people think. Some of them make me laugh but in a good way – I like that it stirs discussion. At least people are listening and are able to bring their opinion to my music – I wouldn’t want it to be simple that it was the same for everyone and you can file it away in a cupboard after two listens.”
“I try and make music which isn’t easy to label because I don’t think people connect with music because it’s a certain genre or label.”
Live, those ‘genres’ meld and change even more. “any live event is great because you can take different elements – a part of the song or instrument and use them to reassemble the song. I like that feeling of putting them back together.” If he’s able to dissect and rebuild live half as well as he puts music together to begin with, his show will be unmissable.
This interview is also available in our Magazine, free now at all Swn venues & our wristband exchange at Cardiff Fashion Quarter