Obaro Ejimiwe – otherwise known as Ghostpoet – is responsible for some of this year’s most original and exciting music.
The South Londoner’s latest album, Mercury Prize-nominated Shedding Skin, is an instantly recognisable mix of indie, hip-hop and soul overlaid with compelling, poetic vocals.
At the end of the month Ghostpoet will bring his live act to Manchester’s Band on the Wall venue – and he is glad to be making the journey north.
He told MM: “I’m looking forward to coming to Manchester; it’s always a good laugh. I’ve been there many times, and I’m excited the gig’s sold out.”
He cites Mancunian band Joy Division as one of the main influences on Shedding Skin, which was released in March.
With its sparse guitar lines and subdued atmospherics, it is not difficult to detect the stylistic similarities to Ian Curtis’ groundbreaking post-punk group.
“Joy Division are a great band and it’s about the atmosphere they create; I’ve always loved that and I’ve always felt that I want to capture a bit of that,” Ghostpoet explained.
“I’ve always been aware of the music scene up in Manchester. The Stone Roses, Oasis… it has a rich history.
“And when I first started going there to play gigs I was like ‘oh, man, this is the place!’”
Shedding Skin is Ghostpoet’s biggest success to date, reaching number 52 in the UK album charts, with singles Off Peak Dreams and Sorry My Love, It’s You not Me receiving extensive airplay on stations such as BBC Radio 6 Music.
The record marks a change of direction from his previous albums, featuring greater use of guitars and a more organic sound than its predecessors.
Obaro said that, despite adopting a new approach to making music, he did not find Shedding Skin a difficult record to create.
“I knew what I wanted to do – I wanted to make a guitar record, and I wanted to make a record that had simple elements in terms of guitar, bass, drums,” he said.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while. I just wanted to use those elements and see what I could make from that.”
Another departure from the tone of 2013’s Some Say I So I Say Light is the more socially aware nature of the lyrics.
While that was a highly introspective record, many of Shedding Skin’s songs – such as album opener Off Peak Dreams – focus on the struggle to get by in the modern city.
“The last record was a breakup thing – more inward-looking and not really interested in what was going on in the outside world,” Obaro said.
“For this record I was in a much happier place, so it was easier to look out at the world and see what was going on.
“I just wanted to talk about what I felt was going on in the country and the world that I live in.”
Ghostpoet certainly has experience of the 9-to-5 grind to which many people can relate.
He had a number of jobs after he graduated from Coventry University, including a stint in a call centre – but music was a hobby that provided a release from that life.
His career developed in a thoroughly modern manner, as he built up a following by sharing music using social media platform Myspace.
He told MM: “I never looked at music as a career; I was looking at it in terms of people who became Myspace friends.
“They became friends in the real world to a certain extent, and I started to see them develop and thought it would be quite cool lifestyle.
“I never really had confidence in what I was doing; I never really pursued it – it was just sheer luck, I guess, that I was discovered via Myspace.”
Although the internet proved to be the launchpad for his career, Ghostpoet relishes the opportunities he now has to connect with people in a live setting.
It is certainly a far cry from the isolated life of working in a call centre.
“It’s great going to gigs and playing gigs because that’s the only real place,” he said.
“There’s nothing like meeting fellow humans, meeting them in the flesh and hearing their stories, and the way music connects with people.”
“And it’s different people, you know – it’s men, women, old, young, black, white – everyone. It’s more than I ever envisioned, and I’m really pleased that’s the case.”
Success does not seem to have changed Obaro, who remains modest and self-effacing throughout the interview.
He believes having had other jobs and coming to the music business later than most – his first album was released when he was 28 – has helped to keep him grounded.
“I thought making music’s got to be better than my existence right now and I just thought I’d better give it a go,” he said.
“But having those things and living a normal life has helped, and I definitely strive towards living normally.
“I don’t feel successful; I just take it one day at a time and enjoy it and never forget that I’m in a very lucky place.”
For many people facing the 9-to-5 reality but harbouring dreams of a more fulfilling career, Obaro’s success will no doubt be an inspiring tale.
His distinctive music, his willingness to experiment with new sounds and his modest attitude make him a particularly intriguing artist with the potential to create many more compelling records in the years to come.
Ghostpoet will play at Band on the Wall in the Northern Quarter on November 26. His latest album, Shedding Skin, is out now.
Image courtesy of Generation Bass, with thanks.