Ghostpoet - The RFB Q&A
16 Sep 2013
RFB chats to Ghostpoet about his second album and upcoming tour.
RFB first met Ghostpoet just over three years ago, he was playing main support to the much hyped, but now long forgotten Kid Adrift and was yet to release his aforementioned critically acclaimed debut. Charming, conscious and considered, we spoke at length about how he felt things might change after the release of that record and prediction were characteristically modest.
Skip forward, and we’re all more than aware that his humble expectations went a teeny bit better than initially he expected. Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam was one of 2011’s most impressive records, garnering critical acclaim topped of by a deserved Mercury Prize nomination. It’s with all this in mind that RFB was particularly looking forward to catching up with the man, who has recently released a brilliant sophomore record in Some Say I, So I Say Light, about how things have actually been since our conversation, the place he finds himself in now both personally and artistically, the ever changing nature of the capital city in which he garners inspiration and his upcoming headline show at London’s established Hackney Empire.
Obaro, what have you been up to?
Just gigging! I’ve been doing weekend festivals at the moment and the second record came out. It’s mad that we spoke just before my first one! I’ve just been busy, trying to forge a name for myself in this musical landscape; it’s been fun so far.
How are you finding that, forging a name for yourself, does it feel like it’s working?
The proof, I guess, is if we speak in another two or three years, and if I’m still here! I don’t know, it’s just a case of me trying to make the music that I want to, and trying to pursue creative endeavors that reflect me as a person and my creative urges. So far so good, really, I can’t complain.
And how have you been achieving that, getting your creative energies out there and making sure they are reflective of you, it’s not always easy to do?
I guess my main creative outputs so far have been my albums, but I’ve been offered different projects and stuff; some I’ve turned down because they aren’t what I want to do, and others have been what I want to do and I’m pursuing them. With the second record, and with my name getting known a bit more, the projects that are coming my way are more to my liking and hopefully through these particular projects outside of music, I can create a name for myself. I’ve been working with Casio and G-shock, which involves designing a watch but also creating an art piece to coincide with it. It’s kind of a pan European competition, so there are other cities involved and I’m representing London. Stuff like that keeps my mind ticking over.
Did you set out to do stuff like that? When you first sat down and thought, “I’m going to do this Ghostpoet thing”, was the plan to be making watches?
(Laughs) No, no.
I mean, did you want to make sure it wasn’t just about making music but about creating something bigger, and knowing that there are other entry points to do that?
For me, it isn’t solely about music, but yeah, it is my entry point so to speak and it’s definitely not like I’m going to turn around and become a fashion designer, but it’s very important to follow other creative paths, to enhance and influence my music; that's part of just living really. It’s not just the day to day it’s about doing other creative things to help my music so that’s where it’s all stemmed from.
And were there other creative entities other than just being a musician that inspired the second record?
It was more kind of just living and following new ways of living. I got involved with running and trying to get fit and moving to East London, bits and bobs that influenced the record more than the creative stuff now, but I feel like this stuff will influence future works.
You mentioned some quite big lifestyle changes, did that have a big affect on the album?
Yeah, if anything, it was on a subconscious level, discovering a new part of the city that I’ve lived in all my life, as well as taking on a new way of life. Things like trying not to drink as much and stay relatively healthy, clearing my mind. With the first record it was very much a case of creating a record in my spare time, when I’d finished work and had some time in the evening or weekends. With this one, I had much more time, much more freedom. It wasn’t like I was just working on music all the time but it was about finding myself, even subconsciously without even realizing that that was getting into the record somehow.
Was that reactionary to the success of the first album? And in turn, did the position that put you in further push these personal and creative changes?
Yeah it’s difficult. When the first album came out I didn’t know who was going to listen to it. With the second record it was a case of, trying to dismiss the idea that there were potentially people wanting to listen to it or that were expecting something and just trying to be creative again and still stick to the path that I wanted to take musically and lyrically which was to be of the moment but not so much that it was about life in the music industry, because that’s boring! (Laughs). I want to make music that as many people as possible can relate to so all of those things were coming into play. In the very beginning it was a bit difficult because I felt I had to please all of these people; then I just said, “Fuck it, make a record, have fun with it, enjoy it, be as creative as I can be and whatever the results are, they'll be at least what I wanted to do”. Good or bad, it will have been what I wanted to do. Reviews have been good and I’m still just reflecting on the fact that I’ve done two records now and they’ve both been received well; I can’t complain!
You talked about making the album as relatable as possible, what are the bigger themes throughout?
Emotions innit! (Laughs) We all have ups and downs and good days and bad days and desires and wants and fears, and that’s regardless of how rich or poor you are, black or white, male or female, from England, from Zanzibar, it’s all the same in that respect. I still feel it’s very much about sticking to those things and trying to make music and lyrics, which reflect those themes. That’s all I can do, if I try to do concept stuff, it’s not gonna work, if I make up fantasy shit, it may work but it’s not gonna sit well with me, and even though I don’t listen to my records all the time, if I do in five or ten years time I wanna be able to be proud of them and that’s what’s important in that case.
Working with those emotions, is it a case of understanding yourself, or is it about understanding others?
I think it’s both it’s very much a case of looking within, as well as looking at the immediate world around me, and the world further afield, outside of these shores. I think if I were to just sit in my room and make music, it wouldn’t be a reflection of the lifestyle I lead. I do just do very normal things and I’ve had the opportunity to travel through music and I’ve taken that stuff on board subconsciously. There’s people I meet and things that I just observe that I just stack up and then it gets out in the music in different ways.
How important has London been to you, and do you think it has changed a lot between albums?
Well, you interact with your environment, consciously or subconsciously and I guess its just soaking it up. I partially lived in Coventry when I made the first record and then I was solely in London for the second, so it was definitely in my thoughts. But I’m very aware that we live in the world now, we don’t just live in London and that’s it. That was one of the things I wanted to fight from the beginning, to not make a London-Centric record. Yeah, London is very dear to me, I was born and bred here but it’s not the world! With the Internet you can make a track today and it’s potentially going to everyone, so it was important to make a balance. London is changing; I interact with it very differently to when I was younger. I’m exploring more and coming across things that you may not have when you were younger.
Are you enjoying it more as a place?
Yeah it’s alright! (Laughs)
Perhaps the general feeling is that it’s not as enjoyable as it was and everyone’s sort of frustrated and paranoid and anxious.
Life is what you make it, I’m very aware of all these things you’ve mentioned but I just want to be happy, I could easily get bogged down by all that and maybe it would help my music but I’m thirty years old, I just want to be content and move forward with positivity in my heart. London, like lots of cities in the world, is going through tough times, and it’s not to say that I dismissed that but it’s about living your life and moving forward not backwards.
Is there a thoughtful inclusion of positivity in the album? Are you trying to make sure you’re being positive because the alternative is being negative, like everyone else?
I try not to be negative in the music that I make but I’m not afraid to make dark music if I’m feeling in that kind of mood and want to put that across. It’s not a reflection of me as a person, I’m quite a happy person these days, but at the same time, life isn’t full of roses so it would be wrong for me to be 100% positive. With a lot of my music I’ve veered towards the dark side of things just naturally.
I think less so in this album, the sound feels more level, so it’s not finding those moments of resolution in the bigger moments of the track, instead it’s constantly trying to search for them. What was interesting, especially having spoken to you before, is whether you would have answered these questions the same way three years ago, about things like positivity?
Probably not, I still am finding myself and I didn’t have much confidence in myself as a person or as me as an artist. I’m not saying that I had to make another record to become an ‘artist’ but you live through things and grow older and stronger. Well I’ve felt that I have over the last few years. I don’t really care anymore, not it an anarchist Sex Pistols way, I just feel I can do what I want creatively and I’ve been lucky to have been given the opportunity to do that. That’s given me confidence just to be myself and not be afraid to say how I feel. It’s easier than having a character.
Do you think that was the case in the first album?
I was still trying to work out the ‘public persona’ and I guess with the second record I just thought I’d be myself. After a while, it was just easier being myself, other than being this celebrity pop star type thing that you get pushed towards.
Were those options available to you, was there a point where you could’ve gone and done those things?
I guess so, there were potential collaborations that could’ve resulted in that but I turned them down because it’s not for me. It was important to be as blank as possible and to not make moves that would result in me being put in a box or zone because then you have a shelf life and I want to be around for as long as I can really.
It’s interesting because it doesn’t really feel like you went away between the two albums, but it seems like the changes that you’ve made are ones that you’d expect someone to make in the darkness of their bedroom. Is that one of those things where people assume an artist has to do that?
What, like go up in the mountains?
Or is the reality just Obaro the guy, just doing what he has to do?
Maybe, I’ve always had a mind on the future even though I was making music, had made the record and was touring it. I thought it was very important to still keep an eye on the future and not just live for the moment and think “oh great I’ve got a record out and have got nominated for the Mercury, I can sit on my laurels now,” I felt that I had to still think about where I could go next creatively and how I could forge ahead and still stay relevant in five or ten years time. So I wasn’t like rocking back and forth in my room thinking “What am I gonna do?!” (Laughs) I think way too much so I was constantly thinking about what the next move was and trying to achieve it.
Do you think your contemporaries have changed over time? I remember when you first came out and were packaged as something of a leftfield artist alongside Micachu and Kwes. Now, the music you make is far more prominent.
In that respect, musical tastes have definitely changed and people are much more accepting of a mixture of genres on a track, which is interesting because I didn’t set out to do that it just kind of came naturally as I listened to so many different styles of music, like Micachu and all those people just listened to music and it’s just sound. I feel with my own music, I guess it is partly more acceptable now; it’s all timing. If I came out five or ten years ago, it may have not made sense, it’s difficult for me because I don’t really make commercial music so it’s not like it’s going to chart massively or going to be in that world so it’s difficult, not in a sense for me to make it but in having a place. I have a place of some sort, I don’t where that is, an island somewhere in the world of music.
How’s it been playing this album live? I imagine with confidence there’s been a change.
It’s been really fun. I’ve been working with a new band for about a year and I brought them in once the second record was done and they’re all great musicians it’s been good to create the tracks live whilst still keeping their essence and making them work live, making them more energetic in places and surprising people, because a lot of people think it’s really down tempo and that it’ll be really slow and depressing but it’s not. I’ve been gigging a lot and hope to gig much more with this record. It’s nice to have two records to play with.
Yeah, more material must make it easier.
Yeah it’s great, there’s still scope to add in more tracks. I’ve got a UK tour coming up in October and hopefully I’ll be able to some more in there and develop it further. Everything’s played live now whereas before, it was part backing track, part this, part that. It’s opened up lots of opportunities.
Is the Hackney Empire headline show a big thing for you?
I guess! I’ve never been there before! Everyone says it’s a great venue. It’s really nice that I can play venues of that size and I hope I can fill it. When I last spoke to you I was playing at Old Blue Last and that was a big deal at the time for me and things have advanced so quickly so it’s nice that in this musical climate that I can have gigs of that scale. I hope to do a good show that’ll allow me to do bigger shows after that. Let’s see what happens!
It’s interesting that you said you always look to the future as a marker otherwise you get a bit stuck, but do you think maybe for other people it’s a more pivotal point than it is for you?
Yeah, it’s not a case of, “I must go bigger”, it’s more that I would like to! That’s what I’m going to aim towards, but for me to say “I have to get bigger” means that I have to make bigger tunes and try to be a Kings of Leon type character.
That would be interesting to see...
(Laughs) No it wouldn't! I want to continue to develop and evolve as an artist, then hopefully if I can do that naturally, bigger and better things will occur. That's the way I look at it really and how I’ve looked at it up to this point. I refuse to look at pictures of it because I just want to be amazed by this Hackney Empire Wonder, and it’s just round the corner so I’m just going to bike it there. We were going rent a Range Rover or something, just do something really stupid.
How about a Stretch Hummer? It’s so close you could just get in the back and walk down to the front of it. You wouldn’t even have to drive it anywhere!
(Laughs) It’s like a five minute drive if that, so it would be quite funny to see if we could rent something stupid for five minutes.
Can you get a Jetpack yet?
Hovercraft, see if we can rent one for like ten minutes.
Yeah, that could be our big scoop; 'Ghostpoet plans to arrive at gig by hovercraft' how he’s changed, I first met him outside the Old Blue Last...
I was living in South! I got the tube!
Ghostpoet's new album Some Say I So I Say Light is out now. Tickets for his upcoming tour and show at London's Hackney Empire are available here.