Genesis Owusu Is Making Us Smile Too

Interview with Genesis Owusu by Katie Tymchenko for Northern Transmissions
Genesis Owusu photo by Bailey Howard

Born in Ghana and based in Australia, Genesis Owusu introduced himself to the world when his debut album Smiling With No Teeth dropped earlier this month. While many were already familiar with Owusu back in Australia, the new album shocked music fans around the globe. The 15 track LP, filled with everything from funk and soul to hip hop and folk music, arrived with critical acclaim and high praise throughout the industry. Northern Transmissions recently spoke to Owusu about the album’s positive reception, upcoming shows and the evolution of his music.

Northern Transmissions: I reviewed Smiling With No Teeth for Northern Transmissions and have never had more feedback from one of my album reviews before. Lots of friends and family have been reaching out telling me how much they love it.

Genesis Owusu: Well first of all thank you, thank you for the review and the exposure. I’m glad your family loves it. The response has been so overwhelmingly positive and it feels like I’ve turned a lot of heads who had no idea who I was before hand which is really cool. Yeah just basking in it all, it’s been great.

NT: Smiling With No Teeth is quite extensive for a debut album. Was the plan for it always to be that long or were more songs added throughout the recording process?

GO: Yeah, me personally I like short albums so I had planned for it to be fairly short. Just as we were making songs and as I was refining the concept and stuff all the songs felt essential to me for one reason or another. So I felt it was kinda incongruent, it was interesting because yeah it was incongruent from what I might want as a fan of music but as an artist trying to make a statement it was all essential to me.

NT: In the age of the internet, labels tend to build off the success of singles and tend to just push out EPs, so it’s nice to hear that a full length album was important to you.

GO: Yeah it was extremely important to me, it’s what I’ve been wanting to do from the start. Like you said, in the era that we’re in, the era of playlists and everything, it has become about the single which I’ve been doing for most of my career, just putting out singles. I’ve put out one EP but just as a fan of music I’ve always loved the album listening experience you know, the experience of consuming and digesting a whole cohesive thought out project, so it was really important for me to do.

NT: There’s something for everyone on this record. You’ve got hip hop, funk, soul, folk music, a little bit of rock in there, yet you’ve still managed to create a sonically cohesive body of work. How did you make it work out so well? Because on paper it shouldn’t work but it obviously does.

GO: Yeah I was thinking that in the jam sessions when we were making it. The day we started making it I’m like “Yo, what the fuck are we doing?” (laughs) I feel like the album is just like a reflection of me. There’s a lot of contradictions and paradoxes that go into my personality just like there are in every human being but somehow it works, somehow its surviving… if I’m palatable enough then the album should be palatable enough as well, you know? I feel like there’s a lot of cohesion between the chaos.

NT: At first I thought your record was good at genre blending but the more I listen to the record I think it’s more about genre layering, opposed to blending. When recording, did you have any hesitations about putting these sounds together that may or may not typically “fit”. I feel like on specific songs you have a lot going on and you have to be kind of risky to do that.

GO: I’m risky! (laughs) I live life on the edge. No, I mean I had no hesitations in all honestly that’s just what excites me. I’m not afraid of something turning out trash. My journey is where my head is at when I’m making it. It’s very much in the moment and when I’m having fun making it, exciting and challenging myself, that’s where I feel the most fruitful as an artist even if the end result doesn’t turn out or like result into anything. I love making it. No, I wasn’t hesitant at all, that was giving me the most joy and the most life and the fact that it ends up working was just kind of a bonus on top.

NT: What you recorded, is that basically what ended up on the album or did you have some songs that weren’t able to make it?

GO: Well we did jam sessions for six days in total and we did 10 hour days so we made about 60 hours of music. So yeah, there’s a lot that didn’t make the album but that doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t come out. There’s still troves of stuff that we’re working on for the future possibly. So yeah there’s a lot.

NT: You’ve gotten praise from a few artists now, including Sir Elton John liking your music. I feel like he’s been a big champion for new and up and coming artists. So what’s it been like having positive feedback from your peers?

GO: Yeah its been great. I guess it’s kind of in the same van as what I was saying before, I’m really making music for myself first and foremost. So when I’m actually making music a lot of the time I’m shutting out what’s happening in the world or whoever else is in the world. I’m just not thinking about that. I’m just trying to make something that is representative of myself and how I feel and fully express it. But the fact that people receive it … it’s really heart warming and it’s a very pleasant surprise.

NT: Racism, mental health and personal relationships were the primary themes of this record. Were you nervous on release day about the vulnerability of this album?

GO: No, not really. It’s weird, I’d describe myself as an introvert in day to day life but I’m also very much like an open book, as long as you ask. Like if you ask something I’m more than willing to tell you for the most part. So it was really more of a feeling of relief on release day, that I can finally just put this out into the world and kind of let it free. Feels almost like a therapy session you know? Release day was more of a relief moment then a nerve-racking experience to just kind of let it free into the world.

NT: This album isn’t really something you can understand after a couple listens and the life of these songs seem to be ever-changing. Where do you find your relationship is with this music now that it has gone out into the world?

GO: Yeah I would totally agree with that. Oh yeah it’s almost surprising that it’s the same way with me as well. Obviously like I made a lot of conscious details into layering and leaving double entendres that people will pick up on, but also for me creating it while a lot of it was conscious it was very visceral as well…. I’m learning more about the album as I listen to it you know, which was surprising to me sometimes because I obviously made it.

NT: The lyric video for “A Song About Fishing” just came out and it’s pretty spooky yet calming at the same time. Was that your original vision for the video?

GO: Yeah, so I came up with the concept and I wanted it to just be reflective of the song thematically where it’s kinda like a Groundhog Day situation. It’s like every day, getting up going to the lake and hoping to catch something even though the day before and the day before and the day before, it’s like the circumstances might be dire and seemingly hopeless but for some reason you just do it again. It is kind of calming as a routine even though the circumstances around you are kind of spooky like you said. That was kind of the idea behind that.

NT: For the rest of 2021 what’s the plan? Are they doing shows in Australia?

GO: Yeah we’re starting tour next month, it’s blowing up actually! We announced 9 shows and just due to demand, we’re up to 23 shows. That starts next month. We’re building a whole new live show, whole new thematic set design and costumes.

NT: Can you give us any hints about what people can expect from the live show?

GO: Nope! People will have to come in with no expectations, just like they did with the
album!

*The interview has been condensed and edited for publication purposes.

Order Smiling With Gold Teeth by Genesis Owusu HERE