We all know Franz Kafka’s classic tale, Metamorphosis, where a salesman is turned into a cockroach. What would be a nightmare to most of us barely fazed the salesman, still plugged into his past human lifestyle such as needing to go to work. The Australian-Ghanaian artist Genesis Owusu took inspiration from Kafka’s character for his latest album STRUGGLER, but instead of focusing on the mind-boggling aspect of it chose to highlight the resilience of the roach.
Following up on his 2021 albums Smiling with No Teeth and Missing Molars, STRUGGLER is a tale of the very real chaos of life told partly through internal dialogue, the power of strength, and above all survival against all odds. We caught up with Owusu to talk about the inspirations and creative process behind his new album, the therapeutic powers of music-making and what he would do if one day he woke up transformed into a cockroach.
Hey man, how’s it going? How have you been enjoying your summer?
I wish it was summer, it’s winter over here in Australia. Cold as hell. But can’t complain too much. Just released a fun little album about existential crisis. Been keeping pretty busy, but I get a little time at home now.
Congratulations on your new album STRUGGLER. Why did you pick that title for it?
My favourite piece of media ever is a manga called Berserk. It’s essentially about this guy who’s been dealt the worst hand in life. It’s fantasy, so he has to battle against demons and gods and such; things that are way grander and more powerful than he is as a mere mortal. So much grander that it shouldn’t even be considered a fight, it’s just more like a struggle. As such, his nickname is Struggler. But against all odds, through a few wins and many, many losses, he still manages to make it to tomorrow. That ethos of battling against grand, looming forces everyday, but still managing to make it to the other side as a mere mortal is pretty much the story of the album, so STRUGGLER felt like a pretty apt title.
You described the album as being a world that has “no ‘where’ or ‘why’ at hand”. Was that how you went about recording the album? No overall direction just vibes?
The process of actually recording the album was a bit more all over the place than I was used to, because I was literally all over the place, and recording in between tours. But I had a very strong direction, I knew exactly what I wanted to say. I had written a story about a Roach, that runs and runs and runs, trying not to get stepped on by God. The album is me basically being like, “what would this story sound like?”
I’m guessing you recorded a bunch of songs then cut it down to your top picks to make it onto the album. How does that process work when dealing with a project where loose ends are intentionally not tied back up?
For me, it was all about the story. I just wanted to translate this story from my thoughts into music as accurately as possible. So if a song sounded cool, but it was a little out of the realms of what I actually wanted to say, it would be hard for me to justify putting it on the album.
Tell me a little bit about The Roach, the Kafkaian main character of the album which also has its own dedicated track. Where did that come from?
As I mentioned, the story is about a Roach that runs and runs and runs, trying not to get stepped on by God. Living through the past few years, through Covid, the bushfires here in Australia, the wars that we can literally view on TikTok everyday, I feel as though it’s really emphasised the chaos and absurdity of the world that we live in, as well as how out of control we all are in the grand scheme. This chaos and absurdity is God, and we are the Roach. So small in comparison, a bug in the grand scheme of things. But have you ever tried to kill a roach? Those things are fast. They’re supposed to be the things that will survive a nuclear war. You think you stomped it, and you lift your foot and it’s not there. When you do get one, another pops out of the woodworks. The thing that shouldn’t survive against the odds it’s put against, but does anyway. The STRUGGLER.
If you woke up one day only to realise you have metamorphosed into a cockroach, how would you spend your day?
One lyric that caught my attention was actually on The Old Man where you say “Tapping in the worst to get the best of me”. What did you mean by that?
One of the album’s most prominent themes is resilience. But you don’t learn about the power of your own resilience until you get put through some taxing experiences. It’s only when you get put through a whole load of bullshit and come out the other end, that you realise that you could do that in the first place. It sucks honestly. But such is life. I guess there’s a more personal context to those lyrics as well.
Music became real for me when I learned to use it as a therapy tool. I started figuring out more of who I was and what I was dealing with through making music, especially when it came to things like depression. But when music became a career, I had to be able to pump it out as a product so I could pay bills and survive, but for a long time I only knew how to use it as therapy. So it became a kind of dark practice of forcibly pulling out the darkest shit inside of me so I could make something for people to dance to.
Your first album Smiling with No Teeth had its fair share of uptempo, light hearted fun while also dealing with serious topics, though STRUGGLER definitely feels more raw and grounded in real-life impacting experiences, without necessarily fully understanding what that impact exactly is yet. How do you see the evolution between your debut and sophomore album?
When I listen to my own music, it just feels like a snapshot in time. I remember what was going on when I made the track or album, how I was feeling, what I was thinking. The best way I can describe it is like, looking at school photos of yourself, before and after puberty or something. It’s just a sonic photograph of where I am now, what I feel and want to say now, as opposed to what I felt and wanted to say then.
On top of having just released your album, you’re already preparing to hit the road, touring Europe. What’s your pre and post performance routine? Do you do anything to hype you up and wind you down?
These days I just try to make sure my voice and body is still kicking. Do my stretches and vocal exercises before and after the shows. I feel a bit battle-hardened when it comes to touring now, so I can switch the hype on and off at will. I clock in, do my stretches, play a set of chaos, fire and brimstone, do some more stretches and clock out.
What’s next for you after the tour? Adding more dates? Returning back to the studio? Releasing more music? Or taking a well-deserved break?
Little bit of all of that really. Going to keep touring into 2024, definitely going to do a more extensive European run, got a few tracks that I dig that I’ll probably end up putting out, and hopefully get some rest in between all that. Do some more Duolingo.
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