Ghostpoet: Interview With Hip Hop’s Flyest Former Insurance Clerk

On the same day the man with the ultra-cool flow was made redundant he signed a record label and the rest is history. Here he talks about the Mercury Music Prize, pork pie hats and why he'd love to work with Captain Beefheart...
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On the same day the man with the ultra-cool flow was made redundant he signed a record label and the rest is history. Here he talks about the Mercury Music Prize, pork pie hats and why he'd love to work with Captain Beefheart...


Perhaps nobody would have heard of Ghostpoet had he not been laid off from his job in insurance. Thank God he was because his 2011 debut album Peanut Butter Blues And Melancholy Jam was brilliant. Packed full oflaid-back, stream-of-consciousness raps fused with beats that owed as much to soul, electro or indie dynamics as they did hip-hop.

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He swiftly gained the attention of the wider world when he was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize and although he didn’t win the prestigious award, it did inspire a huge touring cycle that has seen him play with the likes of Metronomy, Jamie Woon and Alt-J, as well as at festivals including Glastonbury, Bestival, Latitude and Sonar.

Ahead of his next performance at the Ether Festival on London’s Southbank on Saturday 6th October, he reveals his plan for his second album, why he’s glad he didn’t win the Mercury, and why he had to get rid of his porkpie hat….

You’re in the studio at the moment, recording the follow-up to Peanut Butter Blues And Melancholy Jam. How will it differ from your debut?

Music is about a continuous evolution- it’s important to move on from song to song, from album to album.  I want it to evolve, but I can’t force it. I’m not saying “it must be this way, or it must be that way” but it’s more about how I feel, about my emotion and capturing that so it’s of the moment.

Grime is a genre that I liked, that I was listening to a lot at the time and which felt comfortable in my mind and body to pursue

You started off in a grime collective. How did you get from there to the sound we associate with Ghostpoet?

Grime is a genre that I liked, that I was listening to a lot at the time and which felt comfortable in my mind and body to pursue.  But then I woke up one day and decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do anymore. I used to get these HMV playlist CDs, back in the day, which had all different music on them. It was the first time I heard experimental artists like Squarepusher, Aphex Twin and Roots Manuva.

How did you get your break?

I was at University in Coventry and at the time music was just a hobby - I was making music, writing lyrics and putting on little club nights in and around Coventry.  I just had a massive passion for music; I never envisaged making a career out of it, that only came later.

Rather than rapping about guns and sex, you seem far more interested in normal people’s lives…

I’m just one individual in amongst millions of people, and I’m very lucky that I get to do something that I love to earn my money but I’m not the voice of a generation or anything - I’m just an artist, and I want to talk about my life, other people’s lives, make shit up and put it into my music, but not in the sense of being some kind of messenger.

It wasn’t like I signed to a major and had millions, unfortunately!

Is it true you were sacked from your job in an insurance office and offered a record contract on the same day?

Pretty much, it was the same day or the day before.  But I wasn’t sacked, I was made redundant. But it wasn’t like I was suddenly given millions of pounds;  I still didn’t have any money, I still had to pay bills, I’d still been made redundant. I was just fortunate that I had a glimmer of hope, of making that album, or having the platform to make an album. It wasn’t like I signed to a major and had millions, unfortunately!

Which three people - one dead, one living and one non-musician - would be your dream collaborations?

Captain Beefheart! That would be interesting. William Basinski who created the Disintegration Loops, which are tapes that have all different types of ambient noise. As the tapes go on they literally disintegrate and it creates really interesting elements.

And a non-musician?

I would like to collaborate with Gene Hackman! Maybe in a kind of short, I guess it would be like a music video.  I watched a film with him yesterday and he’s a great actor.  I’d like to put Gene Hackman in East London and see how he gets on.

As a former Mercury Prize nominee who would you like to win it this year?

I would love for Alt-J to win it, they supported me and I’ve known about them for a long time.  I love the album, and love them as people so I have a connection there.  At the same time I know Jessie Ware a bit and the people behind her album like Dave Okumu and it would be great if she won. Then Lianne La Havas has made another great record too, and I’d love her to win it. Anyone of those three I’d be really happy.

It’s not like I was being stopped in the street and being chased by screaming girls asking for autographs

Was not winning the prize a blow?

No, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t win it. The exposure and publicity you can get from being nominated sometimes is all you need.  I can say that for myself, that I prefer the fact I didn’t win it because I was then able to seize the exposure and push myself forward without the extra pressure of winning.

How much did the Mercury experience change your life?

To an extent, it was huge. You get people who may have never come across your music being exposed to it because of the nomination, and doors open for you as a result of being nominated. But it’s not like I was being stopped in the street and being chased by screaming girls asking for autographs. There was a definite change, but not necessarily a massive spike in popularity. I think that would have been personally hard to cope with for me, rather than just to concentrate on my art, which is the most important thing to me.

Is it true that you have ditched your trademark pork pie hat?

Yeah, I don’t actually wear the hat anymore. I got it for Christmas years back. I liked it so I kept on wearing it. But then I had to stop wearing it because I started to believe that I needed to have it to be me. But it’s not about the hat and it’s not about styling, I want to make music and if that is the case the hat isn’t important. For me, the music is about the sound, it shouldn’t be how you look. I’m interested in style but it’s secondary to my music because that is what I wake up everyday thinking about.

You have had a cracking start to your career, where do you want to go next?

I just want the chance to continue making music. Leonard Cohen got asked a similar question in an interview and said it was all about survival, and that’s what it is, surviving an industry where there are no guarantees.  I could bring out an album and people hate it and that could be the end of my career - you never know, you’ve just got to keep with it, keep making music, that’s all that matters.

This interview is one of a four part series dedicated to ‘Street Talent’ created to mark the launch of the new Lacoste Platinum collection at Foot Locker.

The Platinum Collection’s three styles: Tabor, Centara and Europa are available exclusively at Foot Locker from September 16

Lacoste Tabor White and the Lacoste Centara Black - both exclusive trainers launched at Foot Locker as part of the newest Lacoste Platinum collection. To find out more head to http://www.footlocker.eu/gb/en/k/Lacoste-Platinum.aspx

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