The opening line of Cold Win, the opening track of Ghostpoet’s second album says it all: 'So a crunching bird flu signals another day’.
Such apocalyptic phrases engulf the UK producer’s music, and this latest offering Some Say I So I Say Light is no exception, evoking with a resonating sense of melancholy a fleeting sense of joy and hopelessness.
“I wanted to make something that was quite ‘London’ in sound,” Ghostpoet – born Obaro Ejimiwe – explains of the cinematic first track whose lyrics speak of fried chicken, greasy clothing and a need to escape the “gritty city”, against a background of a lurching French horn. “Everything I make is a snapshot of a moment in time,” he continues. “A lot of the music in the album was made when I was going through a lot of transitions – personally and emotionally. In the past I would have waited for that to pass, then try and make music. But I thought this time I would run with it and see what happened.”
Returning to Australia for a national tour with support from Melbourne’s Oscar Key Sung, Ejimiwe’s live act includes a full band and a canny flexibility of sound that sees every performance produce a different experience. “I started working with a new live band about a year ago; keys, drums, guitar, bass, backing vocals and experimental elements that morph and change and develop,” he says. “They can be modulated and evolve from gig to gig.” The result is a dark a sense of foreboding heightened by spoken word. And the word he keeps going back to is ‘gritty’.
His debut album, Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam was essentially a bedroom-produced work, leaving Ejimiwe keen to try working in a real studio for his second time around. The support of a new record label, PIAS Recordings, made this possible, setting Ejimiwe and his producer loose on the formation of the richer, grainier sound you hear across the final tracks.
“I’m not a glossy artist; my sound is gritty, but smooth, a bit like Marmite – do you have Marmite over there?” he asks. “Oh, it’s Vegemite there, innit?” he quickly corrects, laughing. “That’s kind of how I see myself as an artist, I don’t want to be completely likeable; I want to be a challenging artist.”
And he wants to be challenged as well. The second album saw collaborations with the likes of Tony Allen, Charles Hayward, Gwilym Gold, Dave Okumu, Lucy Rose and Woodpecker Wooliams. The biggest lesson he took away from working with such experienced musicians, he says, was their attitude to their work. “It was inspiring to realise that people like Tony Allen and Charles Hayward – people older and more experienced than me – are still very humble and hungry to be creative and experimental. You’re never too old to try something new.”
It’s with that open attitude, Ejimiwe says, he’ll approach the rest of the year, which will see him tour Europe throughout October before joining a couple of festival line-ups around Christmas, and even a few more collaborations about which he’s keeping mysteriously tight-lipped. Be rest assured of this, he says that he'll "keep being creative in any way I can.”
Ghostpoet will be playing in Sydney at the Oxford Art Factory on Friday 13 September and Melbourne at the Corner on Saturday 14 September.