Ahead of his new album “Shedding Skin”, Laurence Morgan had a short talk with Obaro Ejimiwe, aka Ghostpoet, on writing music, public perception and sushi.
Your new album is called “Shedding Skin”, which is out March 2nd, do you feel like there was a need to let go of some elements of your music, or was there a different reason for the title decision?
It is partly that, yeah, but it’s also that kind of idea of identity. You know, if you look below us, we’re all the same anatomically. Obviously we don’t all look the same, but beneath skin, black or white, man or woman, there’s a lot that links us together. That’s why, with the album cover, we just took a bit of my skin, we took a biopsy, put it under a microscope, and I think it looks really great.
Do you feel pressure when it comes to how people receive your music? Your first two albums have been fairly universally critically acclaimed.
No, not really. At this point, you know, I’ve released a couple of albums, this is my career, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Some people will like it, some people will hate it, and that’s how it goes. In the end, I’m doing this to pay the bills, but I try not to put pressure on my creativity.
NME.com are currently streaming your new album on their website, and have recently described you as an “experimenter”. Is that a title you like to have? Do you consider yourself an experimenter?
(Laughs) Yeeeah. I don’t know about that, the word “experimenter” sort of suggests someone who doesn’t stick on one thing and just jumps around from one thing to another. I know that this new album is different, and big respect to NME because they’ve been really supportive, but I wouldn’t call myself that. I’ve gone for a guitar, band record this time around, but it’s not like I’m just constantly trying different stuff and don’t take it seriously. On previous albums there have been songs like “Plastic Bag Brain” and “Slothtrot”, they were guitar songs. I would never want to take the piss out of people who make guitar records all their life.
You worked with a band closely for I think the first time. Did this change the way you approached writing, did you leave more of the detail of the songs to be experimented with?
Er, I’m not sure. I guess I got the demos to a certain point by myself, but phrasings and elements of songs changed to some degree. So I guess you had different incarnations of the songs, but I always wanted to treat it like a solo artist. I wanted to make it a band sound, and it was good to work with a band who could do that, I worked with the bassist from my touring band, so that’s where they all came from.
There are a couple of occasions on the album where you hear short fragments of a woman speaking in Japanese at the beginning, middle and end of the album. Would you care to shed some light on this?
Yeah, that was a last-minute thing! I was watching a documentary called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, which basically follows this really dedicated sushi chef in Japan, wanting to be the very best. It showed me those people that don’t let outside influences in on them, and I was really struck by it. So obviously I had to have some Japanese in there! My former keyboard player is half Japanese, so I just recorded her saying “The beginning of ‘Shedding Skin'”, “The middle of ‘Shedding Skin'” and “The end of ‘Shedding Skin'” in basic Japanese. I added that in really late, I just like to add weird shit like that sometimes.
Melanie De Biasio and Maximo Park’s Paul Smith are featured voices on the record, as well as Lucy Rose, who you’ve worked with before. Do you write a song with a singer in mind every time, or do you ever write the song first and think about collaborations later?
I tend to write the songs with a type of voice in mind, and then I ask the person that I think is closest to that vision. It’s always touch and go whether that person will accept or not. In the case of Paul Smith, I wrote it with his type of voice in mind, and then it turned out he was up for it! You just never know until you ask. More often than not people have said yes, but there have been rejections. I always like having other voices on my record though, especially female voices. I always like the juxtaposition of my voice and other female voices.
Often one of the most impressive elements of your music is the distinct atmosphere you create with each track. Is creating an atmosphere one of your main priorities while writing?
Not really, at least not from the beginning. It becomes more of a subconscious thing, but I do try and create a kind of sonic world within my songs, have everything inside this world. When you’re writing an album too, you want that to carry out over the course of a record. I guess that’s one of the reasons that I normally work by myself, because working with a few different producers can make that harder to achieve.
“I suppose when you start out you run the risk of your style being set in stone forever.”
Clearly words are a vitally important part of your life. Do you write poetry/literature as well as these lyrics? Is it something you plan to do?
(Long pause) I don’t know, I don’t know. There’s something that I put up on Soundcloud that’s more of a spoken word track, it was just something I put up online. I enjoyed it, and I want to try other creative endeavours. I don’t know though, a novel just feels like… it just feels like a bit of a gruesome task. I don’t know if I’ve got enough words in me to do it. I don’t think I’d mind doing it, maybe when I’m older and greyer, and I can’t jump around onstage as much.
It’s quite interesting to see that some websites advertising your gigs, including websites like seetickets.com categorise you as Hip Hop – firstly, does that particular categorisation frustrate you, and is it annoying that people are still generalising what you do after 3 very different albums?
(Laughs) I know, I know, don’t worry, I’m on it! But yeah, it’s ridiculous really. I’m not hip-hop. Maybe before I did write kind of experimental hip hop… but not even then really. I suppose when you start out you run the risk of your style being set in stone forever. It’s more annoying that people who don’t know me might turn up expecting a hip hop gig, and the reality is something very different. I don’t quite understand the system of categorisation, but I don’t really care. I just let people listen and make up their own minds.
Ghostpoet’s new album, “Shedding Skin” is released on March 2nd, and you can watch him perform at the Leeds Belgrave Music Hall on April 4th.