Graveyard Shift: GhostPoet
We’re living in a post genre world. In fact, in years to come its Data Transmission’s bet that these recent times will be remembered the ‘Genre decades’: a hangover from the days of vinyl tribes and FM radio. If any one area has suffered from stereotyping, It’s that of urban music. With many artists finding it hard to break out of either the enforced bling of hip hop or the increasingly crushing cheesiness of R’ N’B; downtempo, spoken-word music, whatever it will be called, has had a rough ride on the back of its mainstream monikers.
Step forward Ghostpoet. Hailing from Coventry originally, his own crossover urban sound – a combination of rapping and spoken word with electronic, downtempo backing – refuses to be put into any one individual playlist. It hasn’t stopped him progressing though: in 2011 the then 28 year-old released first album ‘Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam’, toured with Metronomy, appeared at Glastonbury, Sonar, Secret Garden Party and Latitude among others and was nominated for the 2011 Mercury prize.
With his second studio album ‘Some Say I So I Say Light’ due May, Ghostpoet recently teamed with Nokia Lumia to perform a secret gig inside a Bristol Graveyard. Data Transmission caught up with the enigmatic character shortly before the event.
You – and an increasing amount of urban artists- sit outside the traditional norm in terms of your style. Do you think that’s made it easier for emergent urban acts to get out there because it is always a unique sound or harder because you can’t follow the typical online routes of “sounds like”, or pre-set playlists?
I don’t really think about it at all really, from the beginning I was always, almost naturally, (deciding) that I wasn’t going to think about genre, or what particular direction I wanted my music to go in, I just kind of followed that philosophy from the beginning. I agree with what you’re saying that now there’s a lot more artists that ride the idea of different genres and blurred lines between genres and I feel that’s partly due to the public having a bigger appetite for the idea that music doesn’t have to be specifically down one type of path and maybe, I’m benefiting from that now and maybe 5-10 years ago I would’ve found myself in a different situation so, I feel lucky.
How did you start out?
I had my own productions in a sense that I was making from a basic computer set up in Coventry from when I was at uni- around 19-20 – and I just kind of developed my sound from there, I just never really knew what I was going to create, I just knew that I had had this kind of hunger, this appetite, to keep creating so I decided to develop that as I got older and -as I still do today – to just push the envelope and evolve as an artist day by day, month by month, year by year.
The nature of what you do – spoken word, slowed up beats, people are likely to put you in a broadly hip hop category – has it been challenging for you to develop a sound away from that when maybe there’s an expectation to sound like that?
I just set out to be me. Every single person in this room right now is an individual and I feel it’s very important for me to address individualism. It’s not like, I’m not trying to be difficult or trying to have some kind of plan or agenda, it’s just natural. It’s just a need to make music, make sound, I think about sound for it’s sake as much as production. I’m just continuing down this path because these sounds feel natural to me, will always feel natural to me.
You’re particularly active on social media, you also incorporate all sorts of discussions on the internet into your music. Do you think, with online networking and with perhaps in the near future other emergent nations and cultures coming to the fore, music is going to end up being much less defined than it is now- with US Hip hop, British Grime, Italian Disco etc? Or do you think that will always remain?
The lines are being blurred. The internet’s added to that idea that within the space of ten to 15 minutes you can be listening to sounds from all over: Sounds from the UK, sounds from Brazil, sounds from Afghanistan sounds from wherever and naturally, especially with the the younger generation who are growing up with this being the norm, lines will be blurred, and the idea of genre – if not already, will become extinct hopefully, because I think all that stuff gets in the way of the listening experience. Because if you grow up in just one genre it restricts your listening experience and your potential discoveries of new music.
How does it work with you on stage? – because you’re not mellow necessarily, like reggae, nor are you macho hip hop, or pacey enough for 4/4 electronic line ups – so in live performance , how do you approach that?
Energy’s important, I always look at it first of all from the viewpoint of a fan. I’m a fan of music, a fan of live music and I very much believe that energy is paramount, On top of that, I guess everything else kind of comes from my love of punk music and watching old videos of the Clash and the Sex Pistols and the Ramones and, not that I make that kind of music but the energy they gave off on stage is electrifying. I feel music should be alive and it should be an experience you take away and tell your friends, tell your family and potential buyers about the energy of that performance.
You incorporate so much into both lyrics and production – how does the production process work?
With my new album it’s a case of the demo was kind of started by me playing on an upright piano I have in my room. I can’t play the piano but I get the tone and the feeling of chords that feel right for me, and I use that as a starting point. I use those to start working toward particular themes and build things from there. This time round I’ve been working with both a lot of analog equipment and a co-producer. We worked hard to make sure the music was everything: it was experimental, it was musical, it was emotional, all these elements are important in my evolution as an artist.
Do you always have backing designed for specific one set of lyrics then?
These lyrics stem from some kind of demo, be it a chord progression or a drum beat because lyrically Im trying to work out emotionally what’s happening with the music and then put that into lyrical form, then after that for the rest of the song it’s a kind of back and forth tennis match between the music and the lyrics.
How did the album come together?
There’s never been a theme or an overall direction musically. I was touring the first album overall for about two and a half years and over that time I was collecting ideas thinking ‘this is cool, I’ll keep it for another time’ then when I got down to putting a record together I decided on how many tracks I wanted. Then it was only at the end of collecting or collating these tracks that I began to think about it was one single thing. Even then I never thought “these sound good together” because everything is very much of the moment and each track reflects how I felt and the feelings I was going through then as different to how I feel at any other time, it’s just a continuous emotional journey.
Does that mean you had to be disciplined about going back to review ideas? If you’d changed how you felt from when you’d made them?
That definitely happened with this record, A lot of the tracks ideas were born in a very dark place, then I was in a much happier frame of mine when I got to the studio and down to recording time. Some of it is a balancing act in terms of keeping the nucleus of the track alive – that I think is very important to still remain real to the time. But also I guess, subconsciously it’s whatever I feel is right to me now, or now, for then, is how it’ll end up.
What advice would you give aspiring artist?
It’s very important to be yourself. Do not allow scenes or genres to dictate music or what you should create. As a fan, I wanna know your point of view on the world, not a carbon copy or duplicated version of what you think is life. I think it’s important to be you as much as possible.
Some Say I So I Say Light is out on the 6th of May 2013