There is a timidness to Renée Reed’s songs. You sense there’s a shyness whereby these songs have taken some time to reach the surface and emerge for us to indulge.
The Lafayette, Louisiana songstress arrived on the scene earlier this year with her self-titled debut LP, via the equally modest Keeled Scales label.
Reed’s songs are like skittish half-forgotten dreams, slowly unfurling through clunky phrases, entwined with precise finger-picking. If you listen closely enough, the rich drones that ring off Reed’s guitar echo like they have been produced in a dilapidated outhouse.
Then there’s the songwriting itself; the kind of ghostly folk laments that stalk hallways and provide a backdrop to those lonely nights sat at the bar drinking and ruminating where exactly life went awry.
It’s songwriting that permeates raw reality. Songs like the atmospheric opener, Out Loud, album highlight, Fool to the Fire, and the Cajun French closing number, the fantastically titled Drunken Widow’s Waltz.
Reed’s songs aren’t as frenetic as Jessica Pratt’s (Fast One), and slightly more hurried than, say, Marissa Nadler’s (Little Flower Dance). However, all three songwriters drift through that same world, and in a year that has so far produced few stand-out folk records, Reed’s debut is by far the finest of them. An album containing granules of working class spirit with a rich depth that’s so far been unrivalled.
We caught up with Reed, albeit via email due to time differences, to ask her about the album and the inspirations behind it.
Sun 13: You’ve been surrounded by music your whole life with your parents being musicians. Given this fact, did you ever envisage not giving your life to music?
Renée Reed: “Not really. Music has always been my passion, and I don’t really know what I’d do without it. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
S13: As someone who has always been surrounded by music, can you remember your first musical experience?
RR: “I don’t remember the specific first experience because music was being played around me by my parents, grandparents, extended family and friends all the time, but my earliest musical memory is of my mom and dad and grandfather playing together at the house.”
S13: Can you tell us about the writing process about the album?
RR: “Most of the songs were written over the course of three years, with a few being written during the recording process. Originally, I only set out to record a few demos of my more recently written songs, but I was satisfied with how they sounded and decided to record everything I’d written up to that point that hadn’t been recorded yet. Once I had everything down I could see a cohesive connection between the songs that I hadn’t seen before.”
S13: The storytelling throughout your songs reminds me of reading classic fiction. Are you an avid reader?
RR: “I’m actually not a very big reader, but I do love lyricism in music. As I get older, I find myself gravitating more towards that part of the writing process, and to artists who have a way with their lyrics as well as their music.”
S13: I read an interview of yours from earlier this year and you said that people don’t have to ‘talk right’ in order to get their point across, which I found interesting. It kind of feeds into your wordplay which has a stream of consciousness attached to it. What are your thoughts on that?
RR: “Yes, I tend to write from a subconscious place and so my lyrics often first come out more abstractly, following their own internal logic rather than more linear narratives, because they are centred in my deeper feelings. Sometimes I’ll bring them into sharper focus, but usually I find that in their original state they convey more of what I am trying to say.”
S13: There’s a very dreamy aesthetic that encapsulates songs, particularly with the likes of Neboj. Like they have been inspired by simple everyday life and the observations that come with them. Do you see your songs in that light?
RR: “Yeah, I think so. I don’t really think about the content of my lyrics so objectively since it comes from such an emotional and subconscious place, but the words do describe my feelings and images of experiences throughout my life.”
S13: I Saw A Ghost and Fast One seem like songs that dance on the fringes of existentialism. How did they come about?
RR: “I Saw a Ghost came about from certain paranormal experiences in my life, as well as stories I’ve heard from family, but it also deals with the feelings of seeing myself and being scared of what I see. Fast One is about certain people who assume they know me more than I do, but still giving them a chance, and hoping for a friendly resolution.”
S13: The themes of love and death seem interwoven throughout as well, especially with songs like Little Flower Dance, Until Tomorrow, The Ash. Was it important to highlight both ends of the spectrum?
RR: “Well, I do love thinking about how love and loss are interwoven, and the complexities within those themes. But I wasn’t intentionally thinking about those themes while writing those songs. They are expressions of my own actual experiences.”
S13: Fool to the Fire seems like the darkest song on the record. Do you remember writing that one?
RR: “Yeah, I remember writing it while looking at a picture of my parents, which inspired a more introspective narrative of my life up to that point, as well as the thoughts and feelings on what I’ve gone through in the past few years.”
S13: How much does Lafayette have an influence on your songwriting?
RR: “Growing up in a family of active Cajun musicians has definitely influenced my passion for music, and my overall view on life, but I was also exposed to and encouraged to explore a whole world of music beyond that which has had more of an influence on the way I write. As far as Lafayette goes, it hasn’t so much shaped my songwriting style as it has the content of my songs.”
S13: What’s the music scene like there?
RR: “Aside from traditional south Louisiana music, there is an amazing alternative and non-traditional music community as well. I particularly love when those two blend together as it helps to further evolve the traditional culture.”
S13: What are your plans for the rest of 2021?
RR: “My plans are mainly just to write and record more, but also to finally start playing live again and hopefully go on tour.”
Renée Reed’s self-titled album is out now via Keeled Scales. Purchase from Bandcamp.