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INTERVIEW: Renee Cologne

How would you classify your music?

I call my music electronic, orchestral pop. However, that is not to say that it’s necessarily electronic, orchestral OR pop! What do I mean by that? Well, I’m glad you asked! Strictly speaking, my music is not “electronic” like Aphex Twin or Deadmau5, but I use electronic elements (beats, synths, odd created little sounds); the orchestral part comes in, with my use of strings, horns, woodwinds, glockenspiel (I guess the glockenspiel is technically an orchestral instrument?). I LOVE the sound of real acoustic instruments – the human element to balance the electronic. And pop, sigh. Pop music gets such a bad rap. In the old days, Mozart was considered pop music, as in, popular music, the music of the day. So by pop, I mean music that borrows from different styles, is generally under 10 minutes in length and is melodic.

Tell us about your newest release

This is my fourth record, called “Coverlings”. It is a collection of cover songs deconstructed and put back together using both human elements (earthling – voice, acoustic, orchestral) and electronic elements (alien – machine, beats, synths). ‘Coverlings’ is a word I made up, but I loved the science fiction aspect to it.

I produce all of my own music and play a lot of the instruments – it doesn’t mean I’m an accomplished player at any of them, but it does help when I have an idea, to not have to wait for someone else to play it! I have a studio in my home, and record most of the music here – except for the orchestral & real piano sessions, for those I rely on old friend Randy Crafton, who has an amazing studio Kaleidoscope Sound in Union City, NJ.

I went to school for recording engineering and really am a geek at heart – I love understanding and figuring out how things work. It’s one of the things that turns me on most about producing music – making sounds, stumbling upon things, happy accidents I call them.

Who are some of your top 5 musical influences?

Who are my top 5 influences? Wait, I only get FIVE?? My dad was a hi-fi junkie and music lover.  He had a record collection with as many personalities as Sybil, from Flamenco guitar music to Loretta Lynn to Stevie Wonder to Beethoven and more! As a result, my “influences” were really varied. But if I had to narrow it down, I would say in no particular order . . . Bulgarian Women’s Choirs, Barbra Streisand, Queen, Stevie Wonder, Jane Siberry, Neil Young, The Police, Aretha Franklin, Bjork, Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt. Was that more than 5? . . .

What do you want fans to take from your music?

I want people to be moved, to feel deeply, I want them to be rewarded upon repeated listens with new layers, sounds and gems, and I never, ever want them to be bored.

What is the best concert you have been to?

Probably the first time I ever saw Jane Siberry perform – it was at The Bottom Line in NYC, packed show, standing room only. She came out onto the stage, the audience was silent, and she just stood there looking around. Moments passed and the audience was growing uncomfortable – did she have stage fright, forget the lyrics, what was going on? Finally, she broke the tension and said ‘what is everybody looking at?’. There was nervous laughter, she started singing, just one note at first, then another. I remember being bathed in the sound of her voice. I was transfixed. Still am, she is one artist who has the power to dive deep for me.

What do you like most about playing live?

Creativity for me is a circle, a cycle. Much like the cycle of life. First there is nothing, an empty page, a blank canvas, then there is a song, the song takes a form and I find ‘the way in’ for how the song will sound, then there is the sharing of what you have created with others. This is such a special gift – not until I perform a song live does the cycle feel complete for me. I love to sing, I love to be on stage with other musicians, holding that space and going on that journey with other people is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever known.

Is there a song on your latest CD release here that stands out as your personal favorite, and why?  

I love all the songs in this collection for different reasons, but the one that stands out for me is “Wichita Lineman” because that is the song that launched the whole project.

I was driving down the road listening to Fresh Air with Terry Gross and heard her interviewing this guy who was a total character. I didn’t know who it was, but he was sharing some awesome stories about the music scene back in the day in the canyons of LA. He seemed to have known and worked with everybody. She asked him if he would play a song. He sat down at the piano and started playing the first few notes of Wichita Lineman, as soon as he started singing, I knew it was Jimmy Webb. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I just knew that I had to sing that song. I went home that afternoon and started it. I sort of consider it the touchstone of the record.

How have you evolved as an artist over the last year?

I find that when I’m working on something, I’m sort of in a vacuum. I collaborate with Mike Stanzilis, an amazing bass player that I went to college with who I think is one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever known. We tend to get together, come up with some nuggets, some kernels of ideas, and then I run with them. It may be months before I work with another musician again. During that time, it’s sometimes hard to have any objectivity about what you are creating.

I would say that what has changed for me over the last year is just having confidence in what I’m doing. Being clear about the integrity of the music, having faith in the process as it unfolds.

If you could meet, play a gig, co-write a song, have dinner, have a drink with any band or artist (dead or alive) who would it be?  

Hmm, different artists for the different parts of the question. I would love to meet and spend an afternoon with Barbra Streisand, talking music, design, life. I would like to travel to Iceland to work on a project with Bjork, cause, amazing. I would have loved to be on stage with Prince in any capacity, even as a fly. And if I still drank, maybe have a pint with Imogen Heap and do some music with her as well?

What’s next for you?  

I am a creative being. I am happiest when I am creating something, anything really – music, videos, costumes. But I tend to fall down on the business-end – the actual sharing of what I create. Putting it out into the world so that it may have a life of its’ own and be shared. So, what’s next for me is to find the audience for the album I have created, mount my live band and do some shows. I would also love to do some film placements, create music for modern dance, like Pilobolus or Momix, and collaborate on some unique projects with other producers.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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