Having been completely bowled over by the first tracks released by Leeds based Genie Genie, it was a total treat for me to manage to snatch some facetime with the man behind the project, Tiss to find out more about what makes Genie Genie tick.
As it turned out I like to talk, Tiss likes to talk, my collaboration partner Jude threw in a few illuminating questions, and our time turned into a reet real grilling which got to the heart of the man and his musical ethos.
How did you get into music?
I started when I was about 12/13. Everyone was playing football and rugby and I was like nah-ha, I want to paint my nails rather than get into the scum on the rugby pitch.
So I was flicking through yellow pages, when that was a thing, looking for random things to do and then I saw drum playing lessons and I thought, that’s sick. Then I got into a band at school and eventually that turned into my old band Honey Arcade.
This is a question from Jude really, were there any particular albums which influenced you and inspired you to make music.
I remember after playing my first gig at Brudenell with my previous band, we played with Fling. While they were friends of mine before I saw them, I think I was just playing for a hobby. Then when I saw them, they were really cool and doing something really different. That opened a whole world of creativity and stuff.
That made me think this is cool and this is what I want to do.
You have a very extrovert personality and style. So when you are on stage, is it about the performance or the music making?
Heh that’s a tough one. Clearly I do it because I wanna make music, I love making music.
I don’t treat it as a different thing really; making records, writing or live shows. It is all part of the same thing. I want to do both and I make one thing to do the other if that makes sense.
I am however all over being a bit of a weirdo on stage for 45 minutes. I really love that. I’m really into the artistic visual side of things, that’s a really big thing for me. But I don’t want to just make shit music just so I can do that. The music has to be the most important thing otherwise it’s just me stood in silence on the stage and that would be too weird.
Obviously this is how I’m creative; through putting my ideas into things through music. The gig is just the bonus you get from it.
I wanted to ask you about your interest in world music. I adore that fusion you have with a Middle Eastern vibe.
When I was starting to make music for my solo stuff, I didn’t know what to go for. I’d be listening to a band thinking, oh this is the vibe, and then later on I’d realise I’d just made a cover of one of their songs.
I needed to find what was different and what I was into and wanted to do. Then I got introduced to Transglobal Underground and I’d never heard the Middle East and Western music mixed together. It was one of those moments: shit this is so cool, why isn’t everyone doing this, it’s so good.
So I took it from there.
I’m not actually a guitarist either so I found it easier to play the Middle Eastern scales and stuff. All the notes are together, I really liked the sound and developed my playing like that. I like that it has a character to it which is different from your classic 4 chord songs. I think it’s different, interesting and can be manipulated into different things too which is cool.
I know you are playing live with other people, do you see yourself as a solo artist and is there a greater pressure upon you being solo?
Every instrument, every recording was done by me apart from a few songs which have saxophone in them. I’ve started rehearsing with my live band, there’s 6 of us so it’s all a bit crazy and manic.
While it is a solo project I’m not shutting down the idea of experimentation and ideas from people in the band. I don’t want the live show to sound like we are just playing some records through some speakers.
My band are a group of misfits and that’s what I wanted; everyone’s individuality as a performer themselves rather than it just all be about me. Musically it’s a solo project but there is a lot of room for experimentation and creativity with the people I’m playing with.
Then you might ask the guys in the band. They might tell you I’m a fking control freak!
Because I’ve done it all myself I know how everything should sound in my head and how I want it. So on one level I’m like do it like this, but I am open to ideas.
What’s behind the name Genie Genie?
I remember going to a mates house and getting really really drunk, and all the people there were London Fine Art Students. They started drawing and I thought OK I’ll join in although I cannot draw at all.
So I drew something kind of like a genie but it kind of looked like a sperm also. I ended up getting it tattooed on my arm.
So it looked like a genie, and I liked the word Genie and then I thought two of the same word looked better, so that’s literally it.
I did wonder if there was a Bowie connection, with his interest in performance art.
No that was not intentional. I was there one day and someone came up to me and said, oh yeah you are from that band Gene Genie, and I was like “no!”.
Just because I wear make up and prance around, I’m not trying to copy and there’s no connection there with Bowie. I just didn’t think that deep into it as you can probably tell.
It just sounded cool and kind of fitted the whole Middle Eastern influence.
What else inspires your style and music?
My sister and my mum were into musical theatre, so I was brought up into that and love it as well; the theatrical part of it. There’s maybe a subconscious influence without really knowing it.
Its like the Lemon Twigs and stuff, it’s so over the top it’s like you could see it in the pit in the theatre. While my music isn’t like that I think thats inspired me.
It’s also about mixing thoughts up; Middle East, Indian music along with chugging T Rex type stuff; loads of different stuff I’ve heard and put it all together, spit it out and see what happens. That’s kind of what I’ve made.
What’s your last 3 music streaming service searches?
This is going to be really embarrassing. Right top one is Little Walter then Nick Cave. The third is Faux Real a new band I’ve been listening to.
You make it big you are headlining Leeds and Reading what’s on your rider?
I don’t know man, it depends on how fame hits me. In my minds eye I’m gonna be this really cool nice modest guy….or I could be a proper arsehole. Actually I probably don’t have it in me to be an arse.
When we played there a few years ago, I was like 16, there was a free booze fridge. We drank pretty much all of it because we couldn’t get served behind the bar.
So my rider would be an unlimited amount of beer (a good stella or something) and a dressing room where everything is red, glittery and golden and like so over the top. With a huge mirror with light bulbs all around it for my make up. I’ll be in a glittered crop top in a glittered room. Oh there will have to be lots of hot custard available too. I love custard.
I wonder about the constant pressure of using Social Media for artists. Do you find it a chore or a pleasure?
I do like using social media but at the same time it would be good if people did it too through coming to shows and stuff.
It’s weird at the moment as anything about music or the band has to be through social media as you can’t go anywhere or do anything. So whether I like it or not I’m forced to do it anyway.
I do like doing the teaser videos for my songs and stuff. That’s a right laugh, I love pushing it as much as I can. You get good messages and other things like “you fking weirdo”. I like p1ssing people off. If I have to produce stuff for social media I might as well try and do it in a cool way.
Another question from Jude: In the post punk genre, which artists inspire you and what is it that you do differently?
The post punk thing that’s going on is great but at the same time some of it irritates me.
There’s some good bands, I’m friends with people in really good bands and they’re doing really well, doing good stuff that’s a bit different. However, it’s a style that can get a bit exhausted after a while, and it can feel that almost everyone is doing that samey moody stuff.
There are some really sick bands like Treeboy and Ark and Dense who are really good. I’m really into it, but I didn’t want to do the same.
There’s bands who are punk like, not doing punk sounds but with punk attitude like The Garden from America and it’s like the weirdest thing you’ve ever heard. Then I look at those bands from the 80’s like Xmal Deutschland and the Virgin Prunes which is kind of like what some of the bands now are doing, but those bands in the 80’s weren’t trying to fit that post punk image, they were just doing something a bit weird. Some people are just sticking to what’s “meant to be” in that genre.
I think it’s really cool but I’m trying to stay away as I dont want to fit into any category really.
You can play many instruments what would you say to encourage anyone starting out?
You don’t have to do it by the book.
I was really scared when I started doing this because I’m a drummer, I can play some chords and I can play a bit of keyboards but I’m not a guitarist or a keys player. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it all on my own.
However it’s important not to put too much pressure on yourself not to think you have to be at the next level. You don’t have to be amazing at playing at all.
I’m not the most amazing singer, I just kind of whine into the microphone and it works.
I think when you dont know as much technically, it means you actually have to be more creative. If you don’t know a shortcut you have to go the long way round and in so doing you might find something creative or unique.
So to answer, you dont have to be perfect just experiment with everything.
What’s next for Genie Genie?
I’ve just started rehearsing with my band which is very exciting.
I don’t want to say too much as I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I’ve been talking with people down south who want to do some livestream stuff. What would have normally been a gig in London is obviously now a livestream. We have a few live sessions lined up, not set in stone.
This will be the first time I can show everybody what our live performance is going to be like and that’s going to be exciting because its definitely forcing me to be as creative as possible and try to do something cool rather than just standing in a room videoing it.
The full band has saxophone, guitar, organs and synths, it’s a pretty hefty hefty line up and we can’t wait to get going. I’ve been planning a gig and a gig idea, but its dependent on when everything opens. Meanwhile its just writing, recording keeping stuff coming.