Resisting the temptation to sugarcoat the world around us, London-based artist Ghostpoet continues to tackle the pressures of the modern world with latest album I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep. The artist, real name Obaro Ejimiwe, has spent over a decade meticulously recording the challenging political and societal issues that we face.
The new album might just be his darkest piece yet. Melancholic tones guide the listener’s ear through ten tracks of ingenious songwriting and superbly crafted production. We caught up with the two-time Mercury Prize nominee for an in-depth chat about the album and more.
How are you doing today, Obaro?
I’m okay, thanks. I’m in the process of moving, so just trying to work out what I need to get rid of. In the process of lockdown, I’ve certainly come to the realisation that I need a lot less. It was a good opportunity for me to kickstart a declutter.
Speaking of lockdown, how did you find the whole experience?
It wasn’t easy. The first couple of weeks were a very unusual experience, to say the least. As a society, we’ve never had to deal with a situation like this, in recent history. For me, it was quite mentally taxing to start with. However, it became easier once I got an idea of the kind of daily routine I could put into place.
That time also saw the release of your latest album, I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep, which came out in May. How does it feel to have it out in the world?
It was really nice to put a record out. It’s there in the world now and it’s doing its own thing, really. People are starting to discover it, and only time will tell how far it will go.
Throughout the album you explore isolation, confusion, and intense feelings of being overwhelmed. Do you think that, with the timing of the release, perhaps listeners are connecting with it differently than they otherwise might have?
It’s a weird one. I love the fact that people are so connected to the record. Yet at the same time, it’s slightly painful that the connection is because of a global pandemic. It’s bittersweet.
Music, lyrics, art…it’s all down to interpretation. That’s how the album was taken by listeners at the time, which was great, but it wasn’t my intention. I was writing more from the perspective of the trials and tribulations that we’ve gone through as a society in recent years.
It just so happens that it seems to connect and tap into what was going on at the time. I’m always trying to do that. I guess this time around I’ve just never been so on the money.
You certainly were. For many, you’ve produced a record that sends a reaffirming message of not being alone in struggling with aspects of everyday life.
I always want to write music for people who don’t have a voice. For people who don’t have a platform to say how they feel. I think it’s important to make people understand that they are not alone in their fears of uncertainty and loneliness. We’ve all been feeling that way, the majority of us anyway, so I think it’s important to discuss these things or to at least put them out there.
It feels like a really personal album. As well as societal observations, you also share a lot of your own intimate emotional experiences. Where do you find the courage to be open and share such raw and personal thoughts? It must be daunting to put parts of yourself out there like that.
It’s partly down to not having the courage to do it in real life. I’m not as open as I’d like to be in everyday conversations. My music is an avenue to put my feelings on display and break down what’s going on in my own brain.
I’m not sure if it’s courage. I think it’s a necessity. You have to put yourself dead centre amongst people. I never want to be the artist who feels they’re more special than everyone else because they put words to paper. I’ve never felt like that and I think that it dictates the way that I write as well. I’ve never had the need to be a fantasist or write fiction. I want to talk about real life as much as possible, which I think comes through in this album.
Do you set out to record with the intention of covering certain issues, or is it more how you feel when you feel it?
I’d say that it’s very much the latter. For this latest record it’s a reflection of the experiences, conversations, things that I’ve read, listened to, watched and what I’ve felt over the last few years. They dictate what I write about. That’s how I’ve always written, because I’ve tried a couple of times to say ‘I want to write about this’ and it never ends up working well. So, I’ve given that up now. I prefer to capture that initial feeling and run with it.
You address the influence and pressures of social media in the album. It crops up in the lyrics of a few tracks, including ‘Rats In A Sack’ and ‘Social Laceration.’
I feel that there are different pressures that come from social media, depending on what you’re looking to get out of it. It’s set up for you to create this online personality that isn’t really a true reflection of yourself, and I get that it’s attractive to be able to do that, to be able to portray the best parts of your life or the best parts of your day.
Then there’s the ‘dopamine effect’ of the likes you get from putting across this perfect version of yourself. It’s really quite addictive and I feel that there’s something very dangerous about that. It’s taking us further away from imperfection and individuality.
I do use social media a lot myself. I just try to distribute it in a constructive way. I never falsify anything. It’s always just me being me. Like everything that I talk about in the album, I think that message is really important.
Another huge discussion point in recent weeks has been the Black Lives Matter movement. If we focus on its importance in the music industry alone for a second. From your experience, what advice would you give to young BAME artists starting out in a society where equality hasn’t been obtained yet?
That’s a good question. Racial equality is something that, at this point in history, shouldn’t even be something that we need to discuss. It should just be standard that the colour of your skin isn’t going to impact your prospects in life.
In terms of advice, I think I’d have to go with the same thing that I’d tell anyone of any race and that’s just to be yourself. Make music that you believe in. I can’t speak for all ethnicities. However, in terms of Black artists, the trouble that we’ve always had is the automatic assumption that you must be an urban artist.
Every Black artist will have had totally individual experiences, so I can only give my opinion from my experience. Which is that the perception of what genre of music a Black artist should produce is something that is not on us to fix. There’s nothing that we need to do to change that.
Relating it to my own music, I’ve been making left-field alternative, in my opinion, guitar music for a while now. Some people get it and some people don’t. However, I feel that if I was a white artist there still wouldn’t be as much of a confusion. That’s nothing to do with me. That’s down to other people’s perceptions.
Overall, I feel that initial perceptions of Black artists need to change for there to be a more level playing field. Ultimately, all I’m looking for is just to be myself and not let the colour of my skin dictate what people’s opinions of my music will be.
Looking ahead, how do you plan to focus your energy in the upcoming months?
It’s difficult with the effects of the pandemic ongoing to have any real solid plans in place. I guess the short-term plan is to promote the album in some more inventive ways. Ways that don’t involve live gigging. Which is something that I’d like to do, but currently can’t. So yeah, I’m going to start working out other ways to be creative from the confines of my flat.
All photography: Emma Dudlyke