Interview: Recording Artist Genesis Owusu

We speak with the Ghanaian-Australian musician about his surprise release, "Missing Molars"

After releasing his stellar debut album, Smiling with No Teeth in March, Canberra, Australia-based Genesis Owusu (aka Kofi Owusu-Ansah) headed out on a tour across the country—though promoting a record and performing looks a lot different in the midst of a global pandemic. As if that weren’t enough to keep his professional life exciting, Owusu decided—just a few months after his debut—to surprise-release an EP called Missing Molars comprising songs that were recorded during the Smiling with No Teeth sessions. Like Smiling with No Teeth, the new EP tackles topics that include racism, mental health and identity, and while it’s more of his off-kilter, genre-defying, super-funky music, Missing Molars takes on a slightly darker tone. We spoke with the 23-year-old Ghanian-Australian artist—whose influences are many, and whose style knows no rules—about the surprise release, his recording process and the artwork that’s had a hold on him since he was a kid.

You recorded 60 hours of music for Smiling with No Teeth; you must have had a lot to get through in order to choose which songs would appear on Missing Molars. Can you tell us about that process?

It was actually, honestly, really easy because we’d already made the songs, they just didn’t make it onto the main album, for different reasons. Maybe narratively speaking, they didn’t fit quite as well as other songs. Mainly the songs are in a kind of different narrative space for the most part. So I already knew which songs I really loved that didn’t make it on, because we spent so much time with all of them initially. We really put this out, kind of for that sake—because I had these songs already that I loved that didn’t necessarily fit the album, but I just wanted to put them out. It was a labor of love, putting Missing Molars together.

Missing Molars, so far, sounds a little bit darker. Was that intentional or were you really just selecting songs that you felt deserved some time to shine? 

Yeah, there definitely is a darker tone to it. Smiling With No Teeth, just around its concept—while it is dealing with these topics of depression and racism and stuff like that—the main mode of Smiling With No Teeth is the fake smile or the facade. So lyrically, it’s about these topics, but sonically it’s—a lot of the time—super-upbeat and funky and sexy at times, because the concept is kind of layering honey over your demons. Putting glitter all over the bullshit. Whereas these songs, they probably didn’t make the main album because of that, because they didn’t have that glitter all over them, you know? It was much starker and to the point tonally, which is why they fit together in this separate project.

Recording 60 hours of music in six days seems phenomenal. Can you tell us about those sessions? 

Nothing about the sessions were like anything I’d ever done before—a completely new experience for me. First of all, working with a band of musicians that prolific obviously helped. But it was really a matter of just getting into that room together. It was such a small space with no distractions, all you could really do was make music. And once you clicked, you didn’t want to stop until it had reached a natural stopping point. And I guess for us, that natural stopping point was like 10 hours a day.

Did you have a specific intention when you embarked on recording or was it really just true, spontaneous collaboration with musicians bouncing ideas off each other? 

I came in with no preconceived notions; no, like, real ideas even. I had never even met most of them before we started making the album, so I just walked into the room very aware that this could be a complete train wreck. It sounds crazy. It sounds chaotic. And that’s how I like to make art.

Your musical taste is obviously vast—one minute listeners can hear ’80s new wave and the next it’s art-pop or punk—but was there a specific influence that you feel really impacted this project?

In regard to all the different genres on the album and different sonics and stuff, I’m just a big music nerd and I think that is the same for most of the band members. It wasn’t a conscious decision like, “OK day four, we’re making punk music” or “Today we’re going to do electronic music.” All of us have been so steeped in all these different sounds for all of our careers and lives. When we decide to open our mouths in a certain hour, certain second, that’s what comes out.

But if there’s one piece that’s most central to my life, it’s a 2002 original Xbox game called Jet Set Radio Future. I played when I was like five years old, and it’s set in neo-Tokyo and you play as a gang of rollerblading, dancing, graffiti artists who battle for turf, with the police and other gangs of rollerblading, dancing, graffiti artists. The whole point is it’s set in neo-Tokyo that’s super-authoritarian and is ruled by these corrupt, billion-dollar corporations, and freedom of expression is outlawed—and you’re the antithesis of all this. And it’s all soundtrack. It’s the craziest concept and I was consuming this at five years old not knowing what is going on, but it was soundtracked by this pirate radio station called Jet Set Radio, which was all these crazy sounds like glitch-hop and future-funk and noise-rock and all this crazy shit. It was just an assault on the senses, and that game and that soundtrack have never left me throughout the rest of my life. So I think that’s, honestly, the most central piece—that whole game is the most central piece of art in my life.

Do you have any hopes or expectations for Missing Molars once it’s released into the world, and takes on its own life? 

No, and I didn’t feel like that for Smiling with No Teeth either. People are going to take it how they take it, and I’ve kind of embraced that concept to its fullest. I kind of get excited by that. I kind of get excited when I read reviews and thoughts from people that are dissecting the tracks in such a different way to how I initially intended it; and that’s kind of because it just adds new layers and it enriches the piece to an extent that you couldn’t do yourself if you tried to gate-keep it. It makes it a lot more valuable in my eyes. So, no: I made it how I made it, and I’m gonna put it out, and once I put it out, it’s yours.

Images courtesy of Byron Spencer