Friday, February 12, 2010

Big Voice from a Small Town: Interview with Rena Wren

Introducing singer, songwriter, and composer from Hot Springs, Arkansas is Rena Wren. Rena Wren is a small town girl from Hot Springs, Arkansas with a big city voice that compares closely with big names like Taylor Swift, Jewel, Aimee Man, and Norah Jones. She has an amazing voice and the music only makes her talent shine even brighter. Writing since age 10, and performing since she was 12, her career in music did not come until much later.
Her recent breakout album entitled, Sweet Mystery won the “Homegrown Song Contest” for her fun song about Jenny moving on and celebrating her new found independence with a night on the town wearing her “Red Dress”.
Any woman who has been in Jenny’s shoes can relate to the song,
“She is letting him know, make no mistake. She’s letting him go, a big step to take. Gonna have a ball, glass slippers and all. Jenny’s got her Red Dress on…taking on the world.”
This uplifting song is a tribute to all the girls who have ever felt trapped in a relationship and who are afraid of taking that leap into the unknown.
The rest of the album is impressive, well written, and could easily cross over within the folk rock and pop country genres charts on commercial radio. Rena likes to refer her music as a trend of evolving folk pop with a mix of rock and alternative funk.

To really showcase her talent, I hand picked four tracks from her debut CD “Sweet Mystery” that I felt are commercial ready in the pop chart category. To listen, go to The Great Unknowns Presents.
I met up with Rena and I got an in-depth look behind the music of Rena Wren. Here was our conversation:
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First off, I have to ask you about your album.
One of my favorite songs is “Tell Me Ten Times”. It’s one of the most simplistic songs, but it captures a type of emotion in your voice that I don’t hear on your other tracks. What was your thought process when you wrote this song?
Okay, first off, there is no big mystery in the sky to the way I write songs... Actually, the songs usually write me. I play chords and the lyrics just fall out of the sky...I wrote this song a few years back when I was exploring the idea of people needing to hear repeatedly how much they are loved. I call it my tongue-in-cheek ode to codependency. I have had those relationships in my past where I really needed affirmation and proof that I was worthy of love. This was reminiscent of that. I pulled it off the shelf for this cd and the band loved it, I like singing it, so we threw it down. I like the sultry part of my voice in this key and I wanted the vulnerability of this sounding like a late-night conversation between partners (or would-be partners). And, Matt Stone just tears it up on lead guitar. I don't think he had ever heard the song before we got in the studio with him to cut the lead so it was really fun!On the song “I am the sun”, I’m a bit confused about its meaning. I know this probably sounds ridiculous, but is it about being the sun in a relationship with another person and that person is the moon? What does the symbolism in this song mean?
Oh gosh, yes, this is about a relationship that probably needs to end. It is about being polar opposites with someone and not in a good way...like someone trying to change you. This is an early fan fav, which makes sense to me because they are used to my songs being a little mysterious and they like it that way. This is one of my favorite songs as well. But I miss the banjo track we used to do on it. The symbolism is about one person overshadowing the other, never being on the same page...when my sun it out, your moon comes up. I am warm and sunny, you are cold and wintery (lots of imagery there...) "my weak heart is no match for your will" is my favorite line.Which song represents you the most?
Yikes! For this CD, we chose from about 40 songs that I was connecting to at the time we started recording and we actually put tracks down for 17 and finally ended up with these 15. So it is difficult to choose just one. I write from so many different angles, but if I had to say for me personally, I like "Wrapped Up In You" because I wrote it when I first started seeing my husband. That song is truly written by me and about me. I like the way the words wrap around the chords. Plus, it is a different spin for a waltz... Probably not the song you expected, right?!
Do you have a tendency to write music not about yourself, but write in the eyes of the character in your song? Like the girl in the song "Red Dress". The girl in the song isn't you, but metaphorically is about a girl in a horrible relationship that finally got out. Was this song about a previous relationship or about someone you knew? Or did you create her out of thin air?
Actually, I did create Jenny out of thin air. Although, I am sure I pulled from memories of relationships gone by, both mine and others! Jenny was fun to write. I wrote the chorus first and had all those vocal layers going on in my head for days to the point that it was really kind of irritating. My hubs liked the song right off the bat, so it was really easy. But I did have to sit down and ask myself why Jenny was wearing that red dress and what was so gosh darn important about it. I let that percolate for a bit and then one day while driving the first verse popped into my head like magic! The rest of the song was easy after that. Then I realized that I might have been channeling Tommy Tu-tone's character from "867-5309" and perhaps this song was about her later in life after that guy she gave her number to turned out to be a real “douche”. But we certainly had fun recording this song! I did all the vocal layers myself and at the end I think there are about 8 tracks running! On a side note, this is one of the most "commercial" songs I have ever written. I never write commercially on purpose, but sometimes it just comes out that way. Many of my early fans from my coffeehouse days (just me and my guitar -- very raw) don't like this song. I think they consider it a sell-out! But I love Jenny! I am actually trying to donate this song to the Red Dress campaign for Heart Truth, a non-profit through the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute. They raise awareness for women's heart health. I keep emailing them to no avail yet... I also won a song contest on XM radio with Jenny and that was way cool (www.jaythomas.com). Oh, to answer your other question...YES, I often write from other people's perspectives. I don't choose it, it chooses me! I can walk in the gas station and overhear a story about someone losing a job and come home and write a song about it...it just happens. My brain would actually prefer to communicate in song and dance. I am a little freak of nature.You seem to put a lot of abstract meaning in your lyrics. What motivated you to write music like this?
I started doing this as a young child. I was a very bright child and spent a lot of time "in my head." I had an aversion to the norm, wasn't into video games really, and I enjoyed the abstract. I think it kept some sort of focus off details of things that were difficult to deal with. We moved around a lot and I entertained myself in daydreams... Maybe that is why. Not really sure!The band that stands out in my mind that used to write abstract music was the Beatles. Who were or who are your musical influences?
You know, you are like the 10th person to tell me that. And I LOVE the Beatles, each and every one of them. I tend to shy away from comments that compare me to them because it just feels weird to think that someone would compare me to such legends! But I get what you mean about the style of writing. I think this is a great compliment and I am truly flattered. I am thinking of trying to cover a Beatles song on my next CD (which is already in the works!). I guess I will have to start embracing this comparison. I was strongly influenced by church music early on and then later musical theater. I used to be obsessed with torch songs and could still listen to Ella all day long. Also my dad loved Statler Brothers, Oak Ridge Boys, Don Williams, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash. My mom was a HUGE Elvis fan, although I didn't really get what the big deal was. Now that I am older I can see how amazing he was for his time. I loved Billy Idol, Cyndi Lauper, later Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, Harry Connick, Jr., Norah Jones. So no WONDER my music is a little schizophrenic in style. I just like to be who I am in any given moment. One day, that might be B.B. King and the next day it might be Jennifer Knapp. And if who I am is a jumbled mix of hodge-podge mess, then so be it!Going back a little to before you started:
When did you know you wanted to be a musician?
Age 5 or so. Although, my parents would’ve had simultaneous strokes if I said that out loud. So I pretended I wanted to be an attorney and now I am both. Careful what you manifest, kiddos!
When did you write the lyrics to your very first song?
Oh, geez, probably by age 10 although I lost all that stuff somewhere along the way. My mom used to have all my old journals but I don't know where they are now. I was a hopeless romantic and wrote lots of cheesy love songs.

How old were you when you made your first live performance?
Probably in church by the time I was 12. For pay? Age 16.
Solo? With my own music...approximately age 30.
With my own music for pay? Age 35. I was a closet songwriter... Ha-Ha!!!Why the late start? Were there specific events in your life that didn’t allow you to pursue your passion?
Not really. Probably my family didn't really think any artistic endeavor was "practical," so I kept pretending I didn't really want to do it for a living. Now I am an attorney part-time and a musician part-time. But I am exactly where I am supposed to be. I do know that. Thinking back on it, when I was in the 9th grade I was chosen by my drama teacher to audition for the Houston School of Performing and Visual Arts (the "Fame" school), but my mom wouldn't let me. Drat the Rat. But I am over it. I still do like acting and dancing, too. Did lots of theater all throughout my life!How is it different for you now?
Well, now I just do what I want because I can. And my parents still love me. Although, I think my dad is embarrassed about me being a professional musician. He came the school of that you either work or have fun - not both at the same time. LOL! My mom taught me to play piano and read music and sing harmony at a very young age.
Was it your husband that encouraged you to produce this album and begin your music career?
YES! He loves it and has played music his whole life as well!
Do you consider music to be a career change or do you plan on continuing to work and do this as a hobby?
It is one-half of my career. I prefer musician to attorney and we shall get there!If a record label approached you and offered you some outlandish offer, would you be willing to put your heart and soul into just music and go on a live tour?
Yes, absolutely. BRING IT ON!!!

More with Rena Wren:

Listen to an exclusive look at music from her album, "Sweet Mystery" on The Great Unknowns Presents.
Go to her official website
Purchase "Sweet Mystery" at Amazon.com and Rena Wren's official store

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