Five Minutes with Genesis Owusu: The Australian-Ghanaian musician finding inspiration in absurdity

HUNGER catches up with the artist following the release of his sophomore project ‘STRUGGLER’

Every artist likes to think they’re breaking the mould, smashing the confines of the boxes fans and the media have placed them in, yet it’s rare to come across a musician who really does push the boundaries for all they’re worth. Introducing Genesis Owusu, an Australian / Ghanaian musical outlier unafraid to craft his never-before-explored soundscapes. The artist produces a blend of classic punk rock, alternative R&B, and utopian future funk, creating listening experiences that keep you second-guessing at every moment. Given his avante-garde approach to crafting his sound, it’s unsurprising that Owusu’s biggest influencers come in the form of rap royalty Outkast, contemporary stars like Frank Ocean, and, of course, the legendary Jimi Hendrix. 

Now, Owusu is entering his next evolution via the release of his sophomore album STRUGGLER. It’s a project where intricately woven instrumentals lay the foundation for poignant personal exploration from the perspective of a character called The Roach, which can sometimes be ominous, yet never disregards the possibility of hope. ‘Leaving The Light’ kicks off the project – an abrasive, hair-raising intro where Owusu recites “Better run, there’s a God, and he’s coming for me.” As the album progresses, it feels as though we’re experiencing a mental crisis, something which becomes more apparent in the intense ‘Stay Blessed.’ It’s not all doom and gloom, though: ‘See Ya There’ provides a welcome moment of respite (well instrumentally and vocally, at least), with Owusu’s buttery smooth falsettos providing an ethereal, almost time-freezing experience, before being thrust swiftly back into reality. In the album’s closer, ‘Stuck To The Fan’, we see our hero accept that life is often a series of upward battles that, in essence, never really end, but after each mountain traversed, the task gets more manageable.

Here, we sit down with Owusu to discuss the themes and process behind the album, the impact his heritage has on his sound, and touring with Paramore.

How would you say STRUGGLER differs from your debut, Smiling With No Teeth?

You’ll hear a refreshed sonic palette and experience a new universe/storyline like an author writing a new book. Really, you’re listening to someone in the next stage of their life. Music is a snapshot, reflecting the events and feelings of the time it was made. I’ve grown, changed and experienced a lot in the time between albums. For me, listening to the albums back to back is like looking at my school photos before and after puberty.

What were the main inspirations for this album? And what did you draw on sonically that sets this album apart?

I got interested in absurdist stories and plays, stuff from Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus and others. I thought that line of philosophy and their ways of thinking were so interesting, and that inspired me more than any music I was listening to at the time. Rather than getting inspired directly by other music, I wrote my Roach story, then tried to imagine what that would sound like, and that’s how the album came to be.

‘Leaving The Light’ is one of the most intriguing tracks on the album, along with its music video. How did the inspiration for the track come about?

I wrote this story about a Roach that runs and runs and runs and runs, trying not to get stepped on by God. The Roach is symbolic of humanity, and God is symbolic of the absurd, chaotic and uncontrollable universe that we live in. We, as humans, are so small in the grand scheme of things but still find a way to struggle through life when the odds are stacked against us. I ended up writing the whole album about that. Leaving The Light is the first single, but also the first song on the album, so I wrote it to set the tone and introduce the story.

You worked with Lisa Reihana on the album; what’s your relationship like with her, and how did she help bring the visual aspects of the project together?

Lisa Reihana is an incredible visual artist from Aotearoa (New Zealand). This Museum of Contemporary Art opened up in Sydney recently; my manager went to the opening and saw a huge installation that Lisa had made. He immediately sent me photos and was like, “We need to find her”. And he did – we ended up sending her the upcoming music, and she was really into it, and the collaboration started from there. I told her all about the Roach story, the absurdist influences, all of my themes and visual interests, and she ran pretty free with it from there, infusing her own style into it. I’m pretty sure she hadn’t made a music video before Leaving The Light, but you wouldn’t be able to tell.

Did you feel any nerves about sharing the project with the world?

I’m interested to see how people receive it. It might be different to what a lot of people fell in love with about the first album. But fuck it. I can’t stand still, hoping people will keep liking me. I gotta keep moving, gotta keep growing. I didn’t know people were gonna love the first album so much either, though I just knew I loved it. That’s how it is with this one too.

How does both your Australian and Ghanaian background influence your music today? 

Being in both cultures kind of also means I’m not fully in either. It means I’m outside but also free to create a culture of my own, where I can pull in the things I love or hate from either and make something crazy. All of my music is just a reflection of that sentiment, using my outsider perspective to create a new experience that is unique to me.

You recently went on tour with Paramore; what was that experience being on the same bill as such an iconic band?

They sold out two Madison Square Gardens, man. Shit’s crazy. Thought it’d be a little longer before I got to play there. I brought my friends from Canberra, Australia, across the world, and we were dancing on the Madison Square Garden stage with Paramore and Lil Uzi Vert. It’s hilarious. Surreal. Paramore are such nice people too.

What’s something in your playlist that nobody would expect to be there?

I feel like since I play with so many genres, there wouldn’t be anything that surprising in my playlist. Madonna? Turnstile? Caroline Polachek?

What album would you choose to soundtrack your life?

If I couldn’t choose one of my own, maybe Your Queen is a Reptile, by Sons of Kemet.

What advice would you give to an artist coming up today? 

Try to figure out your own definition of success early. Know why you’re doing what you’re doing. It can be easy to get caught up in what other people think you should be doing, but it’ll help you a lot to keep your specific goal in mind and to trust your gut. If you’re making music for fun, make sure you’re having fun. If you win a Grammy, but you’re not having fun anymore, then you’re still probably going to feel like you’re betraying yourself. If your goal is to win a Grammy, that’s cool too, as long as you know why you’re in it.

Is there a specific goal in mind for you in your career?

I don’t want to be a pop star. I just want to be able to express myself genuinely and honestly, live comfortably, and create the craziest shit I can.

WriterChris Saunders
Image CreditsBec Parsons