First born & dodging bullets

By Neshy Denton

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The band that thrives amongst chaos, trudging through the trenches of the UK’s music scene, have come to announce their debut album “unum” coming out on October 6th. Their stance stays solid as they dodge bullets from all guns that life points at them. Even though some may have scraped the surface and left a scar, they learn to find beauty in these blemishes. Today we speak with Janelle and Leanne to give us an insight of their artistic voyages.

What is the story behind the making of GENN?

It’s interesting, and might be out of topic, because the first version of GENN was basically a different band. In a different country. Under a different name. With a different drummer. So, you know, a lot of it was different. But, essentially, all of us except Sofia (Portuguese, Jamaican, British) are from Malta. We decided to move to the UK because it made more sense for music reasons. We found Sofia, which is a bit of a story in itself. We first met them in person on the first day, at the first gig we ever played live. It felt kind of like a clean slate, we’ve been going four years strong since. 

How do you see the Maltese name ‘GENN’, which you say means frenzy, reflect on the band? 

I think we came up with that particular name after a lot of discussions. Due to the fact that people external to the band always saw this as a wild dream. They sort of thought it was crazy to think we wanted to be musicians. In addition to that, we have had a couple of rather crazy incidents. But, that was the main reason – the subversion of other people’s opinions. I see it as a reclaim.  

What do you mean by having some crazy incidents? 

Well! I guess there is a lot to choose from. I guess it’s safe to say that at one point all of our equipment got stolen. It relates to a whole lot of drama that came because of this. Another good one was when we all had first moved to the UK in 2019, each of us at different points of the year. But by April we were already gigging so Leona and myself (Leanne) were constantly flying back and forth. Which was just madness. With us, even though it might not be apparent on social media, there is always something going on. Having to fight through crazy manoeuvres. That’s what I’d say represents within the name. 

All bands face daily challenges working in the music industry today. You guys hold an interesting four piece together coming from immigrant backgrounds. What would you say are some of the challenges you generally come across being based in the UK?

It ¡s a different ballpark I think, music wise, being from Malta. Obviously there is a scene there. It is very slow, and very small. It does reflect on our perspective if that makes sense. So, to go from that to coming here and being part of something bigger is definitely a big change. I remember when we moved here we would take anything we could. We played over 50 shows in 2019 while two of us were still in another country – our logic was to take everything you can. Which is not something we follow these days. I think we’ve adapted pretty well in how we approach the industry considering our circumstances. You know, it is very much a case of being a bigger fish now coming face to face with the open sea, if you know what I mean. 

Did you find moving to the UK, to jump straight into the industry, intimidating at all? 

I wouldn’t say intimidating. But, it definitely made us step up our game up because there are a lot of artists from around the world who are also trying to perform in the UK. So there was that realisation of having to take things seriously. 

Do you think your heritage influenced your sound and the themes you explore in your songs?

It does change your approach, for sure. The whole different world of music, art, conversations in general. Even though I don’t think our separate cultures are directly interloping, there definitely are underlying influences. There is a sense of where we come from. Especially in our coming album, there are two songs in particular that have more of a Mediterranean, north-African style, which were inspired by conversations about identity. For example, in Sofia’s case, she comes from a Portuguese-Jamaican British background. She is very much inspired by the music her dad showed her. You know, it all boils together! 

Do you ever feel misrepresented in the media due to this? 

I definitely think you don’t see many bands like this in the scene. Obviously there’s also a gender aspect to it as well. It is one of those questions that is a bit of a nuance to answer. I mean, I have never considered ourselves a minority, but sometimes it does feel like that part gets misconducted in a way. For example, being the only band with our gender and ethnicity in a line up. I think things are getting better, but it is a gradual process. 

The key ingredient to flourishing as a band is to nourish and discover your identity. Through challenges and opportunities you come across some incredible character building experiences. You’ve mentioned before about struggling with an identity crisis. How have you dealt with this? 

Identity plays a big issue with how you view the world around you and permits towards everything else that you do. I think at this point it is more of a reckoning, or embrace of who we are. Of being ourselves. Also the journey of discovery. It is the conversation that has reflected well on this outcome. Our next album’s name is “unum” which signifies oneness and collectiveness. So it brings us back to that personal and collective journey of discovery. As abstract as that may sound. 

Being a female-fronted band in the psych-rock scene has it’s own set of obstacles. Do you have any supporting experiences?

We’ve met so many interesting and cool people along the way. Obviously obstacles come naturally in this sort of thing. I’d like to think it gets better as we go along, because these days our audience is more cultivated around the earth. I feel like they know us and we know them. But, especially starting out there was a lot of pigeon holing. But on the positive end of this, we’ve met many good souls in the scene. For example we got our start up in the UK in “Loud Women,” “Get In Her Ears” and “Femrock” gigs. You would see these events run by women and it is cool to see these specific gigs going well. The psych-rock scene, as with the rock scene in general, has a lot of positives and negatives when it comes to representation. There are obviously a lot of things that need to be done, but we did notice a positive change in the years that we’ve been active here in the UK. There is also an overwhelming passion for the music and the general support for this particular scene stems from fans buying merch and a genuine love for left-of-the-dial music. So that always helps the art!

I find it difficult to measure success in bands nowadays. It is not like back in the day where you were either a hit, or you were not. There are so many different layers to the industry now. Because one could argue it should be measured defined by wether you are signed or not. Or about the amount of streams. Or about selling out gigs. I know you place an importance on your genuinity, so how do you consider you measure your own success? 

This question is definitely close to heart. Because we work very much independently. In our eyes we are doing good. We handle all of our situations. But, I think measuring success is very tricky, it is quite abstract. I think a good way is wether you can make a living out of it. I believe that our success, or movement within the scene will be gradual. I like to see success by looking back a year ago and seeing everything we’ve achieved. It is definitely an ongoing thing. 

You have an album coming up soon. What importance does this release hold for you?

Musically, there is definitely more cohesiveness. The fact that it is our debut album is quite a big thing for us. It feels like having your first child, I guess. You know, I’ve never had that. They always say having a first kid is daunting and a life changing experience. I think it feels quite similar. From a logistical point of view, the fact that we are releasing independently and putting in a lot of hours to the backend side of things is also going to give us a sense of satisfaction that is purely ours. It is time, money, learning new skills.. you know?

Is there a specific song you are most excited about? 

(Lea) Oooh, it feels dirty to answer that. Mmm that’s favouritism. Although! I do have a little soft spot for some songs. There is one that’s not gonna be a single. It’s going to come out with the album. The introduction riff – this might sound a bit wild – is something I would play for myself if I found myself stressed or something. It was originally my self soothing exercise, which then became a song. I think I’d like to keep it safe by not mentioning the name. 

(Janelle) I don’t think I could choose one song. I think one has a personal connection called Calypso (released already). It started with some lyrics I came up with sat on the sofa in my old flat, you know, thinking about stuff. I didn’t think it would make sense with the rest of the album but I’m really glad that it did. So it’s slightly different than the rest for me. 

You’ve just come across a band making their own realm with their own strange odysseys. With four singles from the album already released, they prepare for the birth of their first born child, under the name of “unum”. They are collaborating with independent record shops and doing in-stores for the album’s physical and digital drop. Their in-store shows start on the 6th October at London’s Rough Trade East venue. Tickets are below. 

Follow GENN | Tickets For Shows | Link To Pre-order Album

Cover photo by Phil Drury