Ghostpoet: “I’m constantly questioning what it is to be human and what makes us tick”
The world outside may have ground to something of a halt, but the genre-defying, twice Mercury prize-nominated artist Ghostpoet is on-hand to serve up a record very much of its time with ‘I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep’ – a thoughtprovoking snapshot of the dystopian mess we have all entered into.
Last month, as lockdown measures continued to shackle the UK and COVID-19 continued to snare its way across the globe, Elliot Lucas called Obaro Ejimiwe to discuss how he’s dealing with the current crisis and what he hopes to achieve with his latest musical musings.
First things first, how are you doing? How are you coping with the lockdown?
I’m okay, in terms of my own mental state. I think we’re all feeling the same way in terms of frustration. And trying to, on a psychological level, understand what’s going on. You look outside and everything looks fine. It’s something that you can’t see and that’s very difficult for the mind to comprehend, at least for me. It’s getting better. I think the human brain is very resolute and is able to adapt to pretty much any situation. So I’m starting to get used to it, but at the same time, I’m trying to fight that because I don’t wanna get used to being indoors. I’m doing what I can.
How have you been filling your free time?
Talking to journalists mainly *laughs*. Other than that, keeping my mind busy, keeping my exercise up, reading, pondering, cooking.
Let’s talk about your latest album ‘I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep’. What is the overall theme or message of the record?
Well, I’ve tried to make music in the same vein that I have on my previous records, where I’m constantly questioning what it is to be human, and what makes us tick as human beings. So that’s what I always go about trying to do. That’s what I felt like I’ve achieved on this record but in a more concentrated way. That’s very ambitious.
What made you want to approach big topics such as that in the first place?
It’s been a lifelong thing. It’s what I’ve been doing since my first record. I’ve always done that in some shape or form because these are constant questions in my mind. I always want to make music that people will relate to. It’s important to evolve lyrically and musically, record to record. But I still want to ask those questions that we’re all interested in. So that’s what I write about.
You’ve described the track ‘concrete pony’ as a “a snapshot of where were at as a society. We seem to have everything and nothing at all. Infinite possibilities and choices galore but we seem set in stone, frozen in place, oblivious to the storm clouds in the distance”. Is it fair to describe the record as a critique of society?
Not a critique of society, it’s more of an essay. It’s an essay on society.
That’s interesting because the album, to me as a listener, seems to have a very negative vibe. You have this sort of horror-based aesthetic, with very unsettling lyrics and melodies. Is it not designed to unsettle?
*laughs* Of course not. I wouldn’t wanna do that. I think it’s important that you feel something. If that’s how you feel after hearing the record then I think I’ve done a good job. Some people will find [the record] positive, some people will find it negative. Some people will find it somewhere in between. That’s fine with me. I just make stuff that makes me feel good. Yes, it’s a dark record, but with depth and meaning. Hope is sprinkled in there. Although, not too much.
Do you think your album is exactly what people need right now to take their mind off of things?
I don’t know. Who am I to say? I would like people to listen to it. People have a bit more time on their hands, so maybe they’ll be able to digest what’s going on in it a little more than they’d be able to normally. But who am I to say that’s the thing they should be listening to; that’s up to them.
Album Review: I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep
The first thing that strikes you when listening to this record is Ejimiwe’s vocal delivery. For all the critical acclaim that Ejimiwe’s music has received, he cannot be accused of coasting on a beautiful singing voice. The passion he puts into his music is not evident in his disinterested baritone, which he uses to speak-sing many of his lyrics (an artistic choice, since previous offerings by Ghostpoet have been more expressive). It is evident, though, in the substance of those lyrics. Ejimiwe transports listeners to a bleak, dystopian world, in which the worst elements of modern life are dialled up and emphasised. But he also emphasises the resilience of the human character even in the face of those circumstances. Like stars, it is a light that can only be seen against a backdrop of darkness.
It is also evident in the sonic characteristics of the album. Ejimiwe’s music can be described as orbiting trip-hop, alternative rock and electronica. But Ghostpoet himself has long decried the constraints of genre, and the insistence on labelling. “I’m just an artist who experiments with sounds and loves guitars,” he has said before. That’s reflected in this album, which has an everything including the kitchen sink approach to sounds and instrumentation. Eclectic sounds like sirens and shaking tins never feel intrusive or forced, merely supplementary. It is a feat of disciplined attention to detail and wild creativity.
Overall, the album has a consistent voice. No track feels out of place or jarring, and each song transitions smoothly from the last. As such, nobody could describe this album as a ‘rollercoaster’ ride, but this album hits its stride early on and stays there. Ghostpoet immerses listeners in a world and a sonic landscape that is truly unique.
I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep is out now via Play It Again Sam