Smiling with No Teeth

Smiling with No Teeth

“I really wanted to make a whole cohesive project,” Genesis Owusu tells Apple Music of his debut album. “I wanted to make something akin to To Pimp a Butterfly and Food and Liquor and all the awesome concept albums that I grew up listening to.” The Ghanaian Australian artist named Kofi Owusu-Ansah’s debut LP is a powerful concept album that tackles depression and racism in equal measure, characterized here as two black dogs. “‘Black dog’ is a known euphemism for depression, but I’ve also been called a black dog as a racial slur. So I thought it was an interesting, all-encompassing term for what I wanted to talk about.” The music itself is vibrant and boundaryless, with elements of soul, hip-hop, post-punk, pop, and beyond, showcasing not only Genesis Owusu’s remarkable talent and creativity, but the influence of each band member he worked with to write and record, including Kirin J Callinan on guitar, Touch Sensitive (Michael Di Francesco) on bass, Julian Sudek on drums, and Andrew Klippel on keys—all of whom brought their backgrounds and influences to the table. “The album’s eclectic sound is a reflection of all of us as human beings, and also their interpretation of me from their own musical backgrounds,” he says. Smiling With No Teeth is split into two thematic halves, each focusing on one of the two black dogs. Owusu-Ansah talks through the entire concept in the track-by-track breakdown below. On the Move! “Up to this point in my career, I feel like I've been categorized as ‘the funk guy,’ but a lot of those songs were created within the same two-week span. After those two weeks I was on to other stuff, but because the process of releasing music is so slow, that perception lingered about. So I wanted the intro to shatter that as soon as you press play. It’s explosive. You know something is coming.” The Other Black Dog “This song introduces the internal black dog character. Instrumentally, it feels like a movie chase scene. The internal black dog is chasing me through cracks and alleys, trying to be everywhere at once, reaching out, trying to engulf and embrace me. It was a very intentional, conceptual choice to have these songs sound upbeat, dancy, and sexy. But it's all a facade, it's all a fake smile when you really delve into it.” Centrefold “It’s told from the perspective of the black dog, as a sort of distorted love song from the place of an abuser. It doesn't respect you at all. It wants to consume you and use you for its own pleasure. And it manifests itself in this distorted love song that sounds groovy and sexy and alluring.” Waitin’ on Ya “It’s a sister track to ‘Centrefold.’ The through line has the same story.” Don't Need You “It’s back from the Genesis Owusu perspective, where the black dog has tried to lure you in, but you reach a point where you realize you can live without it. You don't need it, you can break free of those chains. It’s like an independence anthem: You’re breaking free from its clutches for the first time.” Drown (feat. Kirin J Callinan) “It continues on from ‘Don't Need You,’ analyzing the relationship from a more detached aspect, where you're realizing the black dog’s mannerisms. You can separate yourself from it so you're two individual beings. You can realize it’s a part of you that you have to let go. You are not your depression. You can make changes and separate yourself. Which leads to the chorus line, ‘You've got to let me drown.’” Gold Chains “As an artist, I feel like I'm just starting to turn some heads and break out, but I've been touring and playing for years. Going from city to city in a van. Playing to no one. But so many people are like, ‘Oh, you're a rapper, right? Where's your gold chain? How much money do you have?’ So the song plays into the perception versus the reality—‘It looks so gold, but it can feel so cold in these chains.’ The music industry can exacerbate mental health issues and stuff like that, when you're overworked or commodified. Instead of an artist creating a product, you become the product.” Smiling With No Teeth “This is the center point. It’s encompassing the themes of the album from the narrator’s perspective rather than the black dog. It’s an intermission between Act One and Act Two.” I Don't See Colour “So much of Act One had honey and sweetness and upbeat tracks, but now we rip all that away. It showcases the personality of the next black dog, which is much more direct and brutal. They've faced the brunt of racism and there’s no more sugarcoating. The extremely minimal instrumental is intentional, so you can completely focus on the lyrics, which are much more scathing. Being a Black person in white society and having to experience the brunt of racism, I'm often also expected to be the bigger person and the educator. So this arc is validating the emotions and the venting that should be allowed. It’s therapeutic when you're faced with those circumstances.” Black Dogs! “It was produced by Matt Corby. This one and ‘Easy’ were the only two not produced by the band. It’s a straight-to-the-point song encompassing a day in the life of me, or just any Black person in Australia. It’s not that I'm getting abused by police every day, but it's all the little microaggressions. Sonically speaking, it plays into how I feel every day, going into white spaces and feeling a bit paranoid.” Whip Cracker “It’s the ‘I've had enough’ moment. The lyrics—‘Spit up on your grave/Hope my thoughts behave/We're so depraved’—play into the bogeymen that people want to see, but obviously as a satirical guise. And then it goes into bigots of all facets, essentially saying enough is enough, times have changed, it's over. And musically speaking, halfway through, it just explodes into this funk-rock section. It was very ‘What would Prince do?’” Easy “This one was produced by Harvey Sutherland. I was in Melbourne with him doing sessions, and I'd just gone to the Invasion Day protest, so it was sparked from that. It’s about the relationship between Indigenous or native communities or just people of color, and the colonized country they're living in. One partner—the person of color—is fighting their way through a relationship with the very abusive partner that says they care about them and that they'll do things for them, but it's all lip service.” A Song About Fishing “This song started out as a jokey freestyle in the studio, but it turned into this weird parable about perseverance in dire circumstances. I feel like these last three songs are like Act Three of the album. They’re about both of the black dogs. Even though the circumstances seem so dire in the realms of depression and racism, I’m still getting up every day, trying my best and going to this lake where I can never catch any fish, but hoping that one day I'll snag something.” No Looking Back “It’s a pop ballad about how I've gone through this journey and now I'm finally ready to put these things behind me, enter a new phase of my life, and be a bigger and better person. It's like the transcendental conclusion of the album. And it's kind of a mantra: There’s no looking back. Like we've gone through this and we're done, we're ready to move on.” Bye Bye “‘No Looking Back’ was going to be the final track of the album. It was going to end on a very positive note, but it was too much of a Hollywood ending for me. It felt unrealistic. I've learnt a lot throughout my journey, but there’s no point where you can dust your hands off and be like, okay, racism over, depression over. So with ‘Bye Bye,’ the themes are crawling back to you. It signifies that this is an ongoing journey I'm going to have to face. I had to be clear and real about it.”

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