The Mercury Prize nominee Obaro Ejimiwe speaks on his latest album, his influences and where his music and his life intertwine
By Callum Godfrey (@calgodfrey)
CG: Thanks for taking the time to chat to The Student, and congratula- tions on your Mercury nomination, that’s what – two weeks away, how are you feeling about it?
OE: Yeah, I don’t know really – may- be 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.
Yeah, you have your tour round the corner as well.
Exactly, so it’s not that I don’t appre- ciate it, it’s amazing, it’s just…
The butterflies aren’t there as much?
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…” just right now I’ve got so many other bits at the forefront of my mind keeping me busy.
That’s right you have your tour right round the corner for your new album, this one’s more band-centric…
Well I’ve always played with a band on tour.
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?
That’s actually been mis-reported. We had a general chat about music and he said that sometimes it’s 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.
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.
That’s correct yeah, the artwork idea came soon after I’d thought of the al- bum title, which is sort of a subcon- scious album title – this idea of moving on from things in your life and…iden- tity 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?
Would you agree your most recent album’s more of an uplifting one?
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. I mean, not so much my per- sonal 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.
I wanted to talk about 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?
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, finish- ing work, getting drunk, going home, rinsing and repeating.
The routine of it all.
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 patronising. 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, it’s 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.
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. 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 gave your ear- lier works that vacuous melancholy?
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 al- ways room for improvement. Dunno, looking back on this record there are al- ready things that I would do differently. But yeah, I’ve enjoyed making this re- cord and I’ve enjoyed the gigs that have come from it so I don’t know, we’ll see.
And on that subject, what’s tour life for you like?
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 re- main disciplined, but we know how to have fun.
And you’ve built a real family out of it.
Yeah, that’s correct, and it really helps because we all think the same way, we all work as hard as each other onstage and give the best show we can, and the listener will bounce off that and feel that and hopefully enjoy it.
So how’s life in London treating you?
Yeah well I was born and bred here, London’s London – it’s good. Got my dog. (He’s called Ghostdog fyi.) Noth- ing special really, just soaking up life and all that – taking in as much as I can that London offers. I have definitely come to realise how much of a cultural mixing pot that London is.