Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Ghostpoet 2020 Emma Dudlyke
Nine Songs

As he prepares to release his fifth album, Ghostpoet talks Max Gayler through the songs and artists that have helped to sculpt one of the UK's most contemplative iconoclasts

24 April 2020, 07:00 | Words by Max Gayler

Obaro Ejimiwe is drawn to mavericks. Artists who have dared to swim against the current have in turn inspired him to build his own catalogue of music, that holds a mirror to - and reflects on - our hardest moments.

As a songwriter, Ejimiwe pits his sombre voice into the midst of a vast array of sounds, and in keeping with the spirit of the mavericks he admires, the bold-thinking iconoclast's musical touchpoints aren’t easy to pin down.

He's repeatedly and astutely swerved conversations that try to slap a genre on his writing. After venues tried to brand him as a hip-hop artist in 2013, he made a point to explicitly denying it, stating on Twitter that he's “not a rapper, MC or lyricist… hiphop or any other genre”.

Over four albums as Ghostpoet, Ejimiwe has drawn on inspirations that have been eclectic to say the least, taking in psyche rock, the nuances of contemporary electronic producers and beyond. Somewhere between easy listening and captivating spoken word, the motif of his delivery has remained constant throughout different production techniques, instrumentation and lyrical themes, that move from the personal to the political. With each album he's taken the listener deeper into his psyche, moving from personal problems on "Cash and Carry Me Home" to societal concerns on "Off Peak Dreams”.

You won't find Ejimiwe calling for the spotlight however, he views his music as a reflection of the world around him, not just how he fits into it.

Despite being Mercury Prize-nominated in 2011 and 2015 for Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam and Shedding Skin, Ejimiwe once claimed he'd make music for nothing more than a sandwich. What might seem a strange claim actually paints a picture of a humble artist, one that has devoted his creative energy towards making music that much like some of his favourite artists, captures not a piece of himself, but a sign of the times.

Ejimiwe's fifth album, I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep is a story told over ten songs of contemplative lyricism. It's a record that continues to blur the lines between genres; exploring beat poetry, dipping its toes into free jazz and embracing an ambitious range of instrumentation. It's another example of his ability to flow back and forth between different approaches, reflecting his affinity for artists that push the envelope, take risks and aren't scared to innovate.

“I could name a hundred different artists who had an effect on me and my music,” he explains. “I like the idea of music that isn't polished; music that's more reflective of real-life, tarnished, rough and ready, with flaws. I like music full of happy accidents and that's something I'm trying to strive towards more than anything.”

There's a prevalent maturity in Ejimiwe's lyricism, I Grow Tired… continues that growth and experiments with minimalism, but isn't afraid to shout and share the experiences he's picked up in the three years since his fourth and most harrowing record, 2017s' Dark Days + Canapés.

His Nine Songs choices are as much about the artists - who all share a maverick streak - than the songs themselves. As I learned in our conversation, as an artist, Ejimiwe knows we're all a product of the music we listen to, whether or not we try to be.

“Moonlight On Vermont” by Captain Beefheart

“This song is from Trout Mask Replica, which is one of his first records. I couldn't pinpoint the first moment I heard that album, but there was something about it that was completely bonkers. I'm sure I discovered the record long before I started making music professionally, I don't know, but it stuck with me.

“You've got to really invest the time with Captain Beefheart, some of his later stuff was a bit more palatable, but this album was peak Beefheart. I loved the fact that he orchestrated his band to complete randomness and it was totally unplanned, “Moonlight On Vermont” is actually one of the most ‘quote-unquote’ normal songs compared to the rest of the album.

“I think with this record he kind of imprisoned everyone in a house for a period of time. He wouldn't let them leave until it was done, so they'd all gone a bit mad by the end of it. He had his own way of making music, and the asshole part isn't something I decided to take on.

“Trout Mask Replica was such a divisive record. Some people would rather kill themselves than listen to another note of it, some people, like me, actually adore it. I find that quite inspiring, the idea of creating music that can provoke the bait, be thought provoking at the same time and be happy to go against the grain. I've tried to do that as much as possible with my own songs.”

“Sorrow Tears and Blood” by Fela Kuti

“This isn't specifically my favourite Fela Kuti song, but it’s one of the many great examples of his genius. I discovered him on a cassette tape I had when I was really young. I still vividly remember the actual tape itself too, it was a black tape with a blue label and it was a recording of various songs, but I remember listening to “Sorrow Tears and Blood” and thinking ‘What is this?’ I've been a massive fan ever since.

“He's similar to Captain Beefheart in the way he made his own path and never allowed anyone to dictate what he should make or write. Especially in his heyday, which was during a difficult time in Nigeria, he was fearless in the face of politics, a really inspirational figure who will forever be in my life.

“I like certain music that has a political action in its call. I still don't think my music is political, but I like listening to music that is. It's important to make music that's a reflection of the times we live in. Politics is in everything, but you don't have to overtly talk about it, or bash people around the head to deliver a message.

"It's very much a case of socially commenting on what we're all going through in different shapes and forms. That's where I'd say it meets music. It's one theme on a myriad of things I like to talk about and touch on.”

“Pyramid Song” by Radiohead

“Radiohead have been very brave from early on and up to the present day. They became global superstars after Pablo Honey, they could have continued down that road and lived happily ever after, but they chose to tear up the rule book, rewrite the framework and start again. They wanted to make music that felt right to them and that's always inspiring to me.

“This song is from Amnesiac and I found a limited-edition vinyl of it in a small record shop in Amsterdam. I'd been wanting to get a copy anyway, but I took it home and it's become one of my favourite pieces of vinyl that I own.

“It's interesting that I chose “Pyramid Song”. I believe it was inspired by a Pharoah Sanders song, but I'm not completely sure. Jazz is something that I love but when I discovered this song it was long before it took hold in my life.

“It's interesting dissecting it and analysing their work. Hearing it, you can see there's a lot of odd stuff going on but they're so good at creating a balance between the melodic and the crazy, as well as the melodic and the weird. They marry those elements together and make them work over the course of songs and albums. It's always impressed me; I've always loved the nuances of their sound. Subconsciously, different influences creep into my songs and I guess this sound has made its way into my music.

“I went on The Talkhouse Music Podcast and spoke to Phillip Selway about music and life. I jumped at the chance to talk about our different approaches to music. It was a real honour to talk to someone from a band I admire.”

“Hate and War” by The Clash

“I'm 37, so I didn't grow up with that album The Clash. It was one of those records a schoolfriend must have introduced me to in sixth form or something, but it instantly felt like something I wanted to discover more of. It's an album I keep coming back to from time to time.

“I loved their fearlessness, they’re a great band full of talented musicians and I really love Joe Strummer and what he stood for. The Clash were so committed to talking about the real world and life as it was back then, but at the same time wrapping it in catchiness - that juxtaposition between hard-hitting subjects and an almost pop-punk sound. Obviously, it wasn't as extreme as that and there were some really soft moments, but they knew how to change things up and go hard.

“When Bob Dylan picked up an electric guitar after being an acoustic player for so long, people were in outrage. The purists will always want things to remain pure and niche, anti-establishment and everything. I've been an artist for almost a decade and like many I realised that you've got to do what you've got to do to survive. If that means pushing your message to more people then that's fine, so I really can't judge The Clash for releasing a punk album which was popular.

“That's what art is, it’s doing something that people don't expect. That should always be at the forefront of your mind when you’re making music, because we are very lucky that we have this platform and opportunity to express ourselves. If you can't really let yourself go and be bold, I think it's a wasted opportunity.

“Artists can get comfortable with the status quo or what they've produced. It's difficult if you’re super competitive, so I imagine bands like Radiohead went through a lot when making these massive U-turns. There aren't many examples of artists getting insanely popular and then tearing up the rule book and starting again. I always admire people that stick to their guns and believe in a particular way of making music - waiting for people to catch up rather than pandering to the crowd.”

“Another Pearl” by Badly Drawn Boy

“This is from his first record, The Hour of Bewilderbeast. It was the first record I ever bought, and I got into at a very young age, way before I had any desire to make music. He made phenomenal videos for that album too and even the artwork is great.

“It's such a myriad of sounds and ideas thrown together onto an album. It's one of my favourites of all time and it's such a masterclass in experimentation. At the same time though, it's rooted in guitar music but with a lot of emotion in the lyrics; I think the musical choices that accompany the lyrics makes him a great artist.

““Another Pearl” is one of my favourites on the record. From memory, I can picture the guitar tone, the bass, the drums and where the sound sits in the mix makes it so easy to listen to. The ending is phenomenal too, it gives such a great send off to a well-arranged song.

“Whenever I'm trying to discover something new with that album, I can always go back and hear something new. I’ve listened to it so many times. It's stimulated my evolution as an artist and my intent to learn about the sonic and technical side of things, and through that I'm discovering things about music I'd never known before.

“Damon Gough is such an amazing writer, he's someone who can write a very catchy song but also with depth. I feel he was possibly slightly misunderstood when this album came out, maybe even ahead of his time, but he’s a great artist all the same. He’s a storyteller, it became hit and miss what you’d get at a show of his, maybe some music, maybe some stories, but that all adds to the magic for me.”

“Bonnie And Clyde” by Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot

“I could have chosen something way more obscure! But something relatively recognisable makes sense.

“I loved his use of strings - those arrangements and the grounding between harps and violins - everything else just soars above the song, they appear and disappear so fluidly. I love the juxtaposition between his voice and a female voice, I've always been obsessed with that marriage between two different stars. I don't speak French, so I only know the lyrics through translation and the couple of records of his that I have that explain the concept and lyrics.

“Serge Gainsbourg was a very controversial artist. He was happy to try so many different musical styles and I love the playfulness of his discography. It feels quite crazy, the idea of flying around making so many albums in so many places and using every genre.

“It takes something to be great enough to say, ‘Fuck it, I'm going to go and do that.’ It says something about his conviction that he was happy to rub people up the wrong way and go close to the bone.”

“People Ain't No Good” by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

“I gravitated towards this song because I've always loved that Nick Cave has never been afraid to talk about the dark side of life. It's that statement - not everyone is great and some people just ain't no good - it's so honest and isn't said enough.

“The delivery of “People Ain't No Good” is really weird, because it's dark subject matter but it’s almost like a lullaby. A lot of music is happy to create this illusion of happiness, tranquillity and good times, but Nick has always been the character who has tread the other side of the tracks. He's happy to talk about sex, lust, death, loss and woe. It's something that's helped me to be braver and express myself lyrically. I've always loved him as a lyricist and a writer.

“He's another artist that's kept making the right choices. Those last few albums, Push the Sky Away, Skeleton Tree and Ghosteen, were all full of odd things. Musically, it's funny that this is the scene of Rock and roll, when it really isn't. The live side of things are so much more in the world of Rock and roll, and that's just a whole other side of him that I love. He's a phenomenal performer with such a great band.

“For me, it's Avant-garde guitar music. Then you put his character on top of all of that and it becomes so interesting. It's sometimes so strange listening to his music, but I love the strangeness.”

“Homeless” by Burial

“I don't know the exact moment I heard this song, but I do remember that it hit me instantly. That whole record Untrue is phenomenal, it really encapsulates a mood and a time of night. I love the nuances of his music, the manipulation of the samples, and the fact he wasn’t bothered about being known for anything other than his music.

“I wouldn't argue with anyone who claims that Untrue is one of the most important electronic albums of the 21st century. It's got everything, yet at the same time it's not that complex, which I like. It's not like an Aphex Twin sound, it's quite stripped back in places. He’s so good at being conscious about less is more, and always making sure that everything that's on the mix is needed and vital.

“That sort of thing has always inspired me. I really try to put that minimalism in my mind when I'm making music. It's quite funny that the first single people will have heard from my new album is “Concrete Pony” because it's definitely the most minimalist song on it.

“Burial is a master of his craft and I've always kept this record close to me. He's an emotionally driven producer and it's rare to see people like him.”

“Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt” by Pharoah Sanders

“This was probably the first jazz song that made me understand jazz more. As a kid I'd only really listened to traditional jazz, but this was the first Avant-garde thing I'd come across and thought, ‘Ah, I think I get it now. I understand.’ It started my love affair with jazz, especially the spiritual sounds that artists make.

“I've always been inspired by songs that tell a story, even if it's just through the instruments. With free jazz there's no concept or goal, you can make a song as long as it needs to be. “Upper Egypt Lower Egypt” is 17 minutes long and it's all vital listening, from zero to the end of the song, it's such a journey.

“It takes time to get into that sound and I can't listen to it in every circumstance, it has to be the right moment for me to tap into it. I always think that if there's something to root you into a song, your brain will eventually accept that this isn't the regular sound format where all the instruments follow each other. It's more that every element is going on its own journey, they'll all reach the same destination but they're following their own paths.

“That's why this song is so special, it makes me understand and accept that. That's the beauty of music; not every piece that's ever been created is for everyone. Some people will love it and some people will hate it and that's fine. It's the beauty of art.”

I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep is out 1 May via PIAS
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