Ahead of his Mercury Prize nomination on the 20th for his third album, Shedding Skin, Obaro Ejimiwe and I discuss his latest album, his influences and ambitions, and where his music and life intertwine.
CG: Thanks for taking the time to chat to The Student, you were the only Mercury nominee to get back to us so really good of you to take the time.
OE: Ah no way.
CG: And congratulations on your mercury nominee, that’s what – two weeks away, how are you feeling about it?
OE: Yeah, I don’t know really – maybe because I’ve done it before but I’m kind of not really thinking about it. I’ve got lots of other bits keeping me busy..
CG: Yeah you have your tour round the corner as well.
OE: Exactly, so it’s not that I don’t appreciate it, it’s amazing, it’s just-
CG: The butterflies aren’t there as much?
OE: Yeah I think so, and it’s slightly later on in my career now.. It’ll be the week of the Mercury Prize where I’ll be like “oh shit..”
CG: Once it’s on the doorstep kind of thing.
OE: Yeah and just right now I’ve got so many other bits at the forefront of my mind keeping me busy.
CG: That’s right you have your tour right round the corner for your new album, this one’s more band-centric-
OE: Well I’ve always played with a band on tour.
CG: True but your latest album seems to have more of a classic band setup is what I’m driving at, I was doing my research and I read that Brian Eno had a word with you about the whole thing when you were in Mali?
OE: That’s actually been mis-reported. We had a general chat about music and he said that sometimes its best not to take forever to make a record and that some of the best records are done really quickly and move on. I just kept that with me when I was thinking of this record and it wasn’t said to me directly but it just stuck with me and struck a chord.
CG: Okay, so your new album, Shedding Skin, do you want have a quick word on the artwork, the symbolism behind it etc.? It’s your own skin cell on the artwork which I found really cool.
OE: That’s correct yeah, the artwork idea came soon after I’d thought of the album title, which is sort of a subconscious album title – this idea of moving on from things in your life and.. identity is another concept that I wanted to talk about in this album. That sense of identity, partly the zeitgeist of the time, you know? Where do we stand at the moment, where are we going?
CG: Would you agree your most recent album’s more of an uplifting one?
OE: Erm, I guess so. It’s not intentional. Again, it’s just this subconscious thing. I think I’m just in a happier place I guess.
CG: And so the album kind of reflects on your life in a sense?
OE: Yeah kind of, I mean, not so much my personal life, but the world I’m living in, the things that I see. That’s why it’s a combination of things. It could be all just happy – but that’s a bit boring. As humans we’re not always one thing.
CG: It’s funny you say you’re environment because you used to work the student union at Warwick University whilst producing PBBMJ, did your experiences working the door have any influences in the more melancholic undertones you get in that album?
OE: I don’t know really, I’m sure it’s in the mix somewhere but no not really.
CG: Another thing I wanted to talk about was your track Off Peak Dreams, do you want to talk about what inspired you to make the budget the average monthly wage for a 9-5 job?
OE: Well I wanted to make a video that reflected what I was talking about, which was the 9-5 grind, you know. The hamster wheel situation where you’re waking up, going to work, finishing work, getting drunk, going home, rinsing and repeating.
CG: The routinity of it all.
OE: Exactly. And so, currently, I’ve worked a 9-5 job more than I’ve worked in music, so I feel I wasn’t being patronizing. I just wanted something that was headline worthy, that people would discuss and think about, you know? Initally I wanted to do it as a weekly wage but the production team said that was ambitious. So we went with a monthly wage and I’m really happy with how it turned out, its one of my favorite videos. Even though on the surface it looks really shit, you know what I mean, but it’s a reflection of what I feel about life. It’s not always hi-flight, it can be lo-flight, it can be budget – and that’s what I wanted to get across.
CG: I always feel like with your music it fits an ambience or a mood rather than a genre, and I think there has been a progression in your albums. I’m sure you’re far away from thinking about what comes next in terms of production with everything on your plate right now, but do you have any plans to stick to the more guitar laden stuff that we’re seeing in your most recent album with a more classic band setup, moving away from the electronic beats that we saw in your earlier works that gave it that more vacuous, melancholic?
OE: I don’t know. I feel like I’m happy with where I am right now, musically. Maybe I will try to develop the sound I’ve created on this record, there’s always room for improvement. Dunno, looking back on this record there are already things that I would do differently. But yeah, I’ve enjoyed making this record and I’ve enjoyed the gigs that have come from it so I don’t know, we’ll see.
CG: And on that subject you have your tour coming up, what’s tour life for you like?
OE: I love it. It’s good fun. We’re a chilled bunch. We do get on the drink a bit, it’s not like Rolling Stones level. We remain disciplined, but we know how to have fun.
CG: And you’ve built a real family out of it, seeing as you use the same recording band as your tour band, so to speak.
OE: Yeah, that’s correct, and it really helps because we all think the same way, we all work as hard as eachother onstage and give the best show we can, and the listener will bounce off that and feel that and hopefully enjoy it.
CG: For sure, I’ve felt that in your gigs.
OE: Ah thank you.
CG: So how’s life in London treating you?
OE: Yeah well I was born and bred here, London’s London – it’s good.
CG: What’s keeping you busy outside of your music?
OE: Life, really. Got my dog. (He’s called Ghostdog fyi.) Nothing special really, just soaking up life and all that – taking in as much as I can that London offers.
CG: Yeah as I’ve grown older I’ve definitely come to realize how much of a cultural mixing pot that London is.
OE: London’s good, it’s expensive… but its such a multicultural place and yeah it’s got a lot going on.
CG: So what are you listening to at the moment?
OE: Let me think, Joanna Newsom, I really like what The Maccabees are putting out at the moment, dj Harvey..
CG: I love dj Harvey, I saw him couple months back he was great.
OE: Oh yeah? I really want to see him live, just something different that I haven’t gotten into before.. What else, I’ve been listening to Floating Points’ new record.
CG: Yeah Floating Points’ new stuff’s great. Ok cool. You alright to finish with a few quickfire questions?
OE: Erm, if they’re not stupid ones..
CG: No, they’re good ones.
OE: Go ahead.
CG: Who would you want to perform with, dead or alive?
OE: Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
CG: Night in or night out?
OE: Both, really. I still haven’t got to that stage where I prefer one over the other… Both.
CG: The person you’d most like to listen to your music?
CG: Besides Ghostdog, your most prized possession?
OE: Haha, nothing really. Everything’s replaceable. I guess my Mercury Prize statuette thing. But nah, everythings replaceable. It’s just a thing.
At this point Obaro had to end the call and call me back for the last couple minutes so they went unrecorded, but we finished the conversation by discussing kind of how music’s always going to be a reflection of the artist to a certain extent – be it intentionally or not, and that ‘Shedding Skin’ is to a certain degree a representation that life’s going well for Obaro at the moment. He said that that made him nervous, because everything is temporary and life’s not one thing, but that’s also exciting, because it means that something has to come next and he’s looking forward to seeing what that thing is and where it will take him musically.