Name: Joshua Idehen
Occupation: Poet, vocalist, rapper, spoken word performer
Current release: Joshua Idehen teams up with Daedelus for the mini album Holy Water Over Sons out via Albert’s Favourites. He has also contributed to The Comet is Coming's 2020 single “Imminent” as well as the two most recent Sons of Kemet full-lengths Your Queen Is a Reptile and Black to the Future.
[Read our Deadelus interview]
[Read our Danalogue of The Comet is Coming interview]
If you enjoyed this interview with Joshua Idehen and would like to find out more, visit him on Facebook, and Instagram.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
Sometimes I have to physically sit myself in front of my laptop and squeeze the impulse out. Sometimes, I’m so moved by a moment, a scene, an event that a single line will grow a forest. Both processes have made some of my best work.
I’m constantly absorbing art and current affairs for inspiration, but this project with Daedelus is the first time I’ve really dug into my personal life in a direct way for a poem. It was weird.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
Yeah, when I’m lucky, there’s a concrete idea to start with, then I can build. But most times, I have to get through several terrible drafts before I reach what I think is good enough.
Sometimes I do a lot of daydreaming and procrastination beforehand: sitting about and playing with the verses in my head, shuffling lines around, and when I feel it’s too heavy to keep in the ether / I’ve got a shape, I pour it on a page.
Sometimes, when it’s a long poem, like “If We Must Take It, Fair Enough”, I go blind on the page.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
Yeah, my early versions can be shit drafts. A lot of shit drafts.
On Holy Water, "Over Sons, Standing In My Own Way" had five different versions before I settled on what ended up on the EP.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
Nein! I should though, but I’m lazy.
The closest thing I have to a ritual is lay about for ages, play loads of Tekken and then panic as the deadline looms.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
Depends. If I’ve been procrastinating, then I have most of it in my head and then it becomes more like piecing the puzzle / lines I’ve thought up on the page.
If I’m going in blind, I can struggle for an age.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
Everything I’ve written to music was born from listening to the music I was sent.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
There is no waste in a good lyric. You feel its intention, even if it’s another language. Don’t know how else to explain it. “Life is a game and true love its trophy”- Rufus Wainwright. Spot on.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Editing is god’s gift to writers. I nip and tuck at a first draft, and then when I practise and get the words into muscle memory, more pruning happens, finding different ways to express lines etc.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
Not really. I’m too much of a control freak and I’m getting better at “killing my darlings”.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
My creative state is a place of joy and anguish for me. When I have the words to say what I want to say it’s like, to quote Radiohead, everything’s in the right place.
When it’s a struggle, ugh, I can feel useless.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I finish nothing. I accept where it is for now and move on. I’ll change it when I perform live if I fancy.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
I was really lucky with this Daedelus project, we were so far apart and the process to finishing it too so long, it gave me time to go back and listen to the old takes and start again, as and when. I
t’s not an option I always have, but when I do, there’s always something that could be improved.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
Ah, that’s all a dark art to me. I’m not the biggest fan of my voice until production / mixing / mastering have turned me from a frog to, uh, a Nigerian prince. I am eternally grateful for the magic.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
For the last 11 years I have never worked on one thing, solely. When a project is done, I am already halfway into the next thing.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
At my best, I’m honest in my art. More and purer than anywhere else.