Hailing from Lafayette, Louisiana, Renée is a musician who possesses a special gift, one that I have always loved in any musician, the ability to make complex ideas seem beautifully simple. The evidence is there to hear on her stunning, self-titled debut, released last month on Keeled Scales. Across twelve songs she describes modestly as, “dream-fi folk from the Cajun prairies”, Renée chronicles a three year period, full of making sense of the world and her place in it.
The resultant record has a timelessness to it, songs carved from the ancestral coal face, weaving together the seemingly disparate strands of the Cajuan and Creole music she grew up surrounded by at her parents shop-come-music-venue and her own musical discoveries, seeming to pick out sounds from minimal folk to French Chanson. For the most part this record is just Renée and her acoustic guitar, yet it has a depth of character to it, whether it’s the dreamy musical textures she rings from six-strings, or her voice, that seems almost to say one thing, while hinting at much more. It’s a voice that seems to carry a story alongside the lyricism; in the almost dismissive hint to the delivery of Your Seventh Moon, or the exquisite and undeniably sad tones of Fool to the Fire, as she laments, “all your love that you never really gave”.
Throughout the record, there’s a certain dream-like quality, it allows space for your mind to wander, before pulling you back with an arresting tone or a lyric that hits like an arrow and demands you come back into a more conscious, attentive state. Take the wonderfully hypnotic Little Flower Dance, it flows in on a gorgeous, bright-guitar line, a gentle lilting piece, that suddenly takes a dark turn that catches your ear entirely off-guard, “feeling kind of bruised, feeling black and blue inside”, or when Fast One’s driving guitar-tone is cut through by the dancing melody, “with you darling, I could live a lie”. It’s these moments that are littered throughout the album, these little drips of trouble in the serene surroundings, the moments of vulnerability and humanity that make this album so much more than just a truly beautiful listen.
Today Renée is sharing an exclusive live version of one of the record’s stand-out moments, Neboj, which you can check out below, alongside my interview with Renée where we talk about growing up surrounded by music, playing from the heart and looking forward to, “all the surprises to come”.
FTR: For those who don’t know who is Renée Reed?
I am Renée Reed, and I am from Southwest Louisiana. I grew up in a very musical family with strong Cajun roots. I started playing the guitar and writing my own songs around ten years old, and have been doing that ever since. I am releasing my debut record on March 26th on the Austin label, Keeled Scales.
FTR: You’re about to release your self-titled debut LP, what can you tell us about recording it?
It is a collection of songs that I have written over the course of three years and also during the recording process. It was recorded at home where I felt very much in my element.
FTR: Did you approach writing the album differently to how you would approach writing a single? Is it a collection of songs or was it written to be an album?
It was originally just a collection of songs that I wanted to put on tape, but I didn’t really have a set intention of what to do with them. It wasn’t until halfway through the recording process that I thought it could be made into a full length record. Once they were all recorded I realized, too, that together they told a very specific story about myself in this moment.
FTR: I read about your background in Cajun and Creole music, what was it like growing up surrounded by music?
Growing up, both of my parents were in Cajun bands, and both of my grandfathers played music as well, so I was always at gigs, jams, and festivals with my family. It was very normal to me because that was my everyday life growing up, but it wasn’t until I got older that I really started to understand how special and unique it was.
FTR: Do you think those influences filter into your songwriting?
Yes, definitely. I think a lot of those influences are subconscious for me too, because writing music is very intuitive to me, and really connected with my emotions. Even though most of what I write would not be considered as traditional Cajun or Creole, it comes from a very similar feeling because I grew up around musicians who played very much from the heart, and that’s also the culture to which I belong.
FTR: The record contains songs in both French and English, how do you decide which language suits the songs best?
It’s usually the music that always comes first, and then I’ll just start working out words that have the right feel to the music, whether that be in French or English. It is the most natural for me to write in English, because that is my first language, but it is also quite instinctive to write in the Cajun dialect of French because I grew up listening to and singing a lot of Cajun songs with my family. I am familiar with its specific vernacular, and I feel a deep personal connection with it.
FTR: Who are your influences as a songwriter? What were you listening to when you wrote this record?
I’m always listening to a variety of different music, whether it be folk, Cajun, pop, “world music”, etc. I remember listening to a lot of Tyler, The Creator and Megan Thee Stallion while in the process of making this record because it filled me with inspiration and energy in my creative process.
FTR: It’s obviously a strange world to be releasing the album into, how has the pandemic affected your plans?
Staying home, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands to do more visual art which inspires my musical mind, and vice versa, so despite larger anxieties it has been an unexpectedly fertile time for me creatively. With there being no live music or touring right now, performing and promoting my music through social media has been an interesting experience.
FTR: What’s the best way for people to support musicians at this time?
I would say the best way to support musicians is through any channel or platform that directly supports artists. Bandcamp has been amazing in that way.
FTR: Once you can get back out on the road, what can people expect from the Renée Reed live show?
I’m excited to finally play the songs from this record, and to start sharing new tunes as well.
FTR: Why do you make music?
I can’t help but make music, it’s a natural instinct to me, and a huge part of my life and identity. It’s hard to explain why because it’s just one of my needs.
FTR: Do you have any other creative outlets beyond music?
I love drawing and painting, because they come from a creative place that’s similar to when I write music. I have a big interest in puppetry and making puppets, and I hope that I can get to that sooner than later.
FTR: What is the music scene in Lafayette like currently? Are there any artists I should be listening out for?
As of now, the only venue open is The Hideaway, which is outside and has a very relaxed atmosphere. My favorite local artists in Lafayette are Scenic World, The Babineaux Sisters, Juliane Mahoney, Corey Ledet, and Adam Richard. I believe they are making the best of the traditional folk and alternative scene in Lafayette right now, and they are some pretty amazing people too.
FTR: What are your ambitions for this record? Is music still a viable career?
I hope that this record can go as far as it can in the world, and I hope that it connects with people on a personal level. I know that I’ll always play and create music, whether it’s a viable career or not. I hope that I will only continue to grow and evolve as an artist.
FTR: What’s next for Renée Reed?
I have some new songs that I can’t wait to experiment with and record. I’m looking forward to touring around the U.S. and hopefully also internationally! Everything that has happened with this album has been so unexpected, there have been so many wonderful surprises, and so I’m also looking forward to all the surprises to come.