AN INTERVIEW WITH ĠENN - "UNUM" ALBUM
"Unum" is the first LP by art-rock/post-punk band ĠENN. The group formed in Malta and then decided to settle in Brighton, where they met drummer Sofia Rosa Cooper.
Their music reflects their collective experience and different backgrounds. "Unum" is, first of all, musically diverse and rich in contrasts. It feels spontaneous and instinctive, yet technically and structurally complex when it comes to its many layers. This is not purely a work of music, but the closest thing to a "fine art product". It encloses homages to literary works, like in the track "Calypso" (written to celebrate author Mario Azzopardi), elements of folk culture, prog-rock ethereal soundscapes, and exotic jazz atmospherics.
This debut album finds one of its highest points in the lyrical range. It gifts us with impressive storytelling and a highly poetic delivery. Its technical complexity doesn't take away from the band's ability to connect in a universal way.
Opening track "Rohmeresse" is a clear example of that. With their iconic chorus " I wanna stay in all day, I wanna sleep in all day, all day!" they explore the recurring narrative of spinning thoughts and overthinking that most people can relate to, but they adorn it with contrasting celestial prog rock. Making the worldly sound unworldly. This is just one of the many contrasts this album holds.
I have asked Janelle some questions, and she accurately reported what the whole group had to say about their album and music!
ĠENN are Janelle Borg - guitars (she/her), Sofia Rosa Cooper - drums (she/they), Leona Farrugia - vocals (she/they), and Leanne Zammit - bass (she/her).
- How and where did you all meet? Your multinational backgrounds make your band really interesting stylistically speaking.
- Your music is filled with a multitude of influences! “Unum” in particular is a cultural and music meeting point. It ranges from post-punk to Maltese folk, prog-rock, garage, jazz…the list seems pretty endless. Do you think it is important nowadays for a band to identify with a particular genre of music, or do you think it has become irrelevant?With streaming platforms and the globalisation of local music, I think genre has become quasi-irrelevant...which works for us as we all listen and like different stuff!- Would you say that moving to Brighton and coming into contact with its contemporary scene has influenced your style and music writing? With other superlative acts such as Porridge Radio, Opus Kink and many others, it really seems the perfect place for music culture to flourish!Definitely. Sofia grew up in this scene, but it was all new for the rest of us. With such a high level of talent in the city, we had to step up our game, so Brighton definitely pushed us to grow and explore our identities, both as humans and also as artists. - “Unum”, as the title suggests, has a universal worldly tone to it. Despite its many atmospheres, moods, and ethnic influences, it still holds a unified meaning and style or narrative. How did you manage to make all of your music identities, styles, and backgrounds come into one powerful piece of music?As cheesy as it may sound, it really happened naturally! I think what's special about our bond is that we really respect each individual's thoughts, playing style and musical influences. Most of the songs were born through jams, so they really came together naturally. The music came first, then the lyrics, which I guess explains why the vocals have an instrumental function in our music.- Is “Unum” a concept album?I think unum makes more sense collectively than as individual tracks - so maybe it's an accidental concept album! With regard to the lyrics written by Leo, they were written during a certain period of their life and heavily framed in the existentialist school of thought - so there's,in a way, a running concept with the lyrics.- Did you write it during the pandemic? How did you surf through that period as people, friends, and artists?No, we didn't write this album during the pandemic. We actually wrote our previous project, our EP Liminal, during the pandemic. This was a strange writing process, as we wrote everything remotely, which was a completely different writing experience from unum, which we wrote together. A few months after we had just moved, Covid-19 happened, so we were honestly really there for each other during that time as friends. It was really tough on all of us adjusting to a new country (minus Sofia), having shows cancelled every day and trying to make sense of what was happening.- Is there a particular track in this album that you feel most connected to as a group?Rohmeresse was the first album track we wrote, and I think it gave us a sense of what we wanted and could achieve musically with this album. So it holds a very special place in our hearts...plus, it's super fun to play live!- Your lyrics touch on emotional and social subjects. They speak of alienation, social acceptance, collective stereotyping, while never failing to display irony and a keen sense of humour. Do you believe that irony is a powerful weapon when it comes to post-punk music nowadays? Maybe we are less verbally direct and obvious than punk before, but we can still convey powerful messages through sarcasm and sharp intellect!Considering the tough times we're all living in - especially with what's going on in the world right now plus the cost of living crisis - we could all use a little bit of humour to get us through the day!- Your message is one of individuality, self-acceptance, and self-worth. The feeling of being “outsiders” is a common denominator to this album. How would you describe it in relation to gender, music, and arts in general.One hundred percent. I think most artists feel like outsiders, but in our case, the last few years have been really crucial for us as individuals in reflecting on our individual identities and our role in the music industry as four people from immigrant backgrounds. When we were writing this album, we were all having this...identity crisis...for lack of a better term, so it definitely permeated through the music.- There is a strong jazz component coming through in a lot of your songs. What really amazes me as a music lover, is how you are able to almost “customise” the way you play each instrument while making it your own. I think that is a really powerful music statement! Your rhythmic lines, for example, are a jazz/prog-rock hybrid, while your guitar is exquisitely post-punk. Has any of you studied jazz as a base? Or is it something you acquired after?That's really kind of you, thank you! Sofia grew up with jazz, and their playing style is definitely very jazzy! Their dad was a great influence on their playing style, plus Sofia used to go to blues and jazz jamming sessions when they were young, so that definitely carried through. Leanne learned bass from a jazz guitarist and is a proper prog head, while Leo has always had a special admiration for jazz, soul and blues singers. I didn't learn jazz, but I love listening to jazz and jazz-adjacent music - and as you very well noted, I was a big fan of the early pop-punk music in my teens. I think our individual playing styles were a result of all of this plus years of trying to come up with a distinct playing style.- What is your writing process like as a band?Most of the Unum songs are a direct result of jam sessions. The others were descendants of individual noodling ideas that were then collectively crafted into songs.- Who are your biggest influences in art and music?Big question! We would all have different answers for this one. For me personally, one of my favourite things ever is digitally crate digging for obscure stuff from different parts of the world. Recent finds include Derya Yıldırım, Badil and freekind. Leanne listens to a lot of prog, math rock and metal - with bands like Gojira and TesseracT being mainstays in her playlists - plus a Gorillaz influence from her teenage years. Sofia's our drum and bass expert - but she also has a wide palate, including faves like Stevie Wonder, Little Simz and Jeff Buckley. Leona is an artist through and through, as they are mainly inspired by visual and literary works such as Eric Rohmer, Agnès Varda, Jean-Paul Sartre and many French new wave films as well as contemporary art.- Do you have any live UK dates planned ahead?Yes - we have a full UK tour planned for February and March. If we've piqued your interest, we'd love to see you there!I met Leona in kindergarten when we were four and Leanne in college when we were 16. Back in Malta, we were in a band that was quite a big part of our life at the time. When we decided to give music a proper shot, we decided to move to Brighton and start a new chapter. It was then that we met Sofia - basically I did a quick search for drummers in Brighton on Facebook and she was recommended by someone. I contacted her on Messenger, and the rest, as they say, is history.
February 24 - Bedford - Bedford EsquiresFebruary 26 - Norwich - Voodoo Daddy'sFebruary 27 - Manchester - Gulliver'sFebruary 28 - Leeds - OportoFebruary 29 - Edinburgh - Sneaky Pete'sMarch 2 - Dublin - Whelan'sMarch 4 - Cardiff - The Moon March 5 - Bristol - Crofter's Rights March 6 - London - The Lexington.
Thank you so much to all of you for your time! We will definitely see you in London on the 6th of March.
Photographer - Jordan Core