Better known by his stage name Genesis Owusu, Kofi Owusu-Ansah proudly speaks from the Nation’s Capital.
Despite a rigorous touring and recording schedule, the 25-year-old still considers Canberra his home since his family moved there from Ghana when he was two. “That’s what it says on my license,” he laughs.
While some may consider the city’s slower pace a weakness, Owusu-Ansah relishes it. “I think I’ve stayed here for so long because I’ve been touring so much lately, and this career has… put a lot of chaos in my hands, which I love and appreciate and thrive off, but it’s always nice to have somewhere that’s the complete opposite to lay my head down after all the craziness,” he explains.
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The musician’s sophomore record, Struggler, was released in August to critical acclaim. It also bested his debut album’s six ARIA nominations (of which it won four, including Album of the Year) with a staggering seven. “Everything feels like it’s happening all at the same time, and nothing has really sunk in yet, because I feel like I’m still sprinting at a mile a minute,” he says. “Whereas Smiling with No Teeth felt like it was a bit more spread out.”
On Struggler, Owusu-Ansah continues to explore genres far beyond hip-hop and R&B, including post-punk, funk, and new-wave. “I didn’t really think about it,” he recalls. “When I go into a studio, it’s not like, ‘today I’m going to make a punk song’ or ‘today I’m going to make a hip-hop song.’”
“If I’m feeling a certain way, or I have a certain thing I want to say, when I open my mouth to say it, it feels like this sound correlates with [that] emotion,” he explains. “I don’t really think about it in a genre sense, just emotions, and if it’s all one story, then it all generally seems to gel and make sense together in the end.”
Unsurprisingly, Owusu-Ansah says he draws inspiration from all over, finding it hard to pinpoint. “Just kind of everything I see and hear and listen to, from birth until now,” he says. “Everything I love and everything I hate; it all somehow makes its way in there.”
Recorded in Australia and the US, Owusu-Ansah says the making of Struggler was much more sporadic and turbulent. “It wasn’t as neat and linear as being able to make the first album,” he recalls. “I had some fans in Australia, but I wasn’t on the level that I am now, so [there wasn’t] eyes on me waiting for the next thing.”
“Whereas this one was off the back of still touring the first album, so I kind of had to find time to create music, and it was a very different process,” he says. “It was it was a challenge for sure, but it was a challenge that I feel like I faced head-on.”
While comparisons between a first and second record will always be made, especially one as successful as Smiling with No Teeth, Owusu-Ansah sees it differently. “I think how I develop as an artist is just how I develop as a person,” he says. “I’m not really striving to [be] like ‘this technically has to sound more engaging and better than the last one,’ I just use it as a form of expression and therapy.”
“It’s a snapshot of the moment that I’m living in at the time – how that looks, how that feels, the events going on around it,” he says. “So, when I compare the second album to my first album it’s like looking at old school photos of myself, like before and after puberty.”
While there were external pressures, Owusu-Ansah says most were internal when making Struggler. “Finding something that I genuinely wanted to say and that still felt authentic and sincere,” he says. “Not just having to put something out for the sake of putting something out.”
Like his first, Struggler is a concept album. Inspired by reading Samuel Beckett and Franz Kafka during a time of a pandemic, bushfires, and wars, it follows the story of The Roach trying not to be stepped on by God. “The Roach is a metaphor for us as humanity and the God character is a metaphor for these crazy, looming, grand, uncontrollable forces that we have to battle against every day,” he explains.
Concept albums are a continuation of Owusu-Ansah’s storytelling. “When I was really young my first creative outlet was writing short stories, and then it moved on to poetry, and then it moved on to music and albums,” he says. “I think throughout this album process, I realised that I’ve always just wanted to be a storyteller and the medium has just changed throughout the years.”
Though it can be challenging, Owusu-Ansah says following a concept can give him more material. “It’s restrictive in a way where sometimes I’ll make a really cool sounding song, but it just can’t fit into the narrative, but that will just force me to make another song that does,” he explains. “Later on, I still have a song in the vault, so it’s kind of a challenge that benefits me in the long run.”
Owusu-Ansah approaches his live performances differently from his studio recordings. “In a lot of ways, it’s been the most important part,” he explains. “When I make music, it’s generally a selfish practice in a sense… it’s all about me, it’s all about how I feel, my standards towards the music [and] the world that I want to create, so as long as it reaches my standards, I don’t really care if it’s unlistenable to everyone else.”
“Whereas the live show is the part where I truly want to open the doors to everyone and make it like, once you enter this space, we’re in this space together,” he says. “It’s really important to me in that sense because I get to see all the beautiful faces of the people who support me.”
In turn, Owusu-Ansah says he treats live performances like a different medium, almost like a theatre piece. “I really love the theatrics and the narratives that I’m able to put into a thing like a live show,” he says. “Instead of having it as this place where I just regurgitate sounds that I’ve already made I get to put things in a new context.”
There are multiple incarnations of a Genesis Owusu live performance, both equally spectacular; one with The Black Dog Band and one with his Goons – a group of dancing men in balaclavas. “I think all the configurations have their strengths and their times to shine, so I think I’m going to keep playing with that,” he says. He would also like to try and perform solo. “You know, throw my weight around a bit and see how I stomp around the stage just by myself.”
After touring internationally, a stack of ARIA nominations and wins, featuring in Barack Obama’s end-of-year list and being named ACT Young Australian of the Year last year, Owusu-Ansah is eying off his next big achievement in the Australian music industry. “Just make some money,” he laughs. “Make sure I got a place to live, that would be really nice.”
Genesis Owusu is playing Festival Hall on December 8, for tickets head here.