The singer-songwriters we’ve had on Popwire all have great music and stories to share. In most (unintentional) singer-songwriter fashion, it has always been stripped back, personal, sole accompaniment to entire composition and usually with a guitar or piano or even exploring and trying their hand at electronic production. Don’t get us wrong because we love every bit of that.
Enter RENE, a Singaporean solo artist who has been releasing music since 2018 with meaningful and relatable lyrics and catchy guitar lines. What sets her apart from the rest is that creation of a signature sound that is greatly influenced by artists she has grown up listening to including Avril Lavigne, McFly, and Paramore, and she takes it up a notch with that advantage, solidifying what RENE’s music truly is – Grounded and real with the themes of social commentary, the vicissitudes of coming of age and personal relationships.
‘Something To Hide’ is RENE’s recently released debut EP which was celebrated with a launch livestream party of her and her band performing the songs, and channeling modern-day local Avril Lavigne with a tie around her neck, a sporty 2-piece suit, and Vans (we also absolutely love your signature jacket suits <3!). A collection of 5-tracks were written and produced revolving around themes of self-reflection, personal relationships, and her examination of human existence and society, where exploration of just how despondent and hopeful she feels with all that is going on in the world make up ‘Something To Hide’. Popwire caught up with RENE (before this heightened Covid measure) to talk about her EP.
We read that the EP ‘Something To Hide’ is a collection of 5 tracks that were written over the last 1.5 years – of which plenty of things have happened back to back (albeit Covid’19, sigh) Chronologically, can you share with us specific milestones/timeline of each track of what was happening around you?
I started writing ‘Something To Hide’ around December 2019, and ‘You Haunt Me’ was the first track that made it into the EP. I wrote it when I was dealing with a breakup – it was less of me going ‘okay I need to write something for the EP’ and more of me using it as an outlet of expression, which is how most of my songs are created.
I wrote ‘Off My Mind’ in early 2020, and I knew straight away that I wanted it to be the first single from the EP. The song came about because I was at a much healthier mental state by that point and things were going really well for me! Hence the upbeat track. I brought the song to my producer Russell Goh and we started working on it.
Then disaster in the form of the virus would strike, so recording for ‘Off My Mind’ had to be done remotely, and I could only go back into the studio after the circuit breaker was over to finish up the song. That was also when I brought ‘You Haunt Me’ to my producer Bani Hadir, and we started working on it! ‘U.F.O’ and ‘Leaving Anyway’ were written during the lockdown period, manifestations of the despondence and helplessness I was feeling during that time.
I wrote ‘The Whole World Shook Alive’ closest to the release of the EP. I’ve always wanted to use my music and platform to discuss themes important to me, especially issues like inequality and climate change. In this track, I narrate a super simplified version of the birth of our world (scientists please don’t come for me!) and how human greed has exacerbated poverty and exploitation to a point where our world has… become the way it is now.
Let’s talk about your recent online EP launch for ‘Something To Hide’ where you shared some details on some of your releases. For those who didn’t catch the online launch, could you tell us more about how ‘UFO’ came about?
I remember being at home during the lockdown and thinking, how in the world am I going to write new music if I’m just sitting here and nothing is happening to me? Through that moment of self-pity, I decided, screw it! I’m going to write about aliens and that’s how ‘U.F.O.’ was born. It started as a fun song about me spotting aliens, but then I figured I might as well go all the way with it. So it became a song about me pleading with aliens to save me from the disasters of human civilization. We all have those days!
You mentioned that you were listening to Taylor Swift’s single ‘August’ taken from her ‘Folklore’ album which inspired a part in ‘The Whole World Shook Alive’. What were some of the other music influences for this EP?
That’s right! A huge influence for this EP and my music as a whole was Avril Lavigne, particularly her ‘Let Go’ and ‘Under My Skin’ albums. ‘I’m With You’ was a song I listened to a lot because I feel it perfectly captures longing, nostalgia, and hope all wrapped up in the 2000s pop-rock sound that I love so much. It was the perfect reference for so many of my tracks. Some other influences include Lesley Roy’s ‘Unbeautiful’, The Paper Kites’ ‘Deep Burn Blue’, Neck Deep, The 1975, and beabadoobee.
We loved all your single and EP artworks, super thematic and so well done. Who was the artist behind these artworks?
Thank you so much! The genius behind the artwork was Trang Dang (@trangdrawsbangs). She was incredible to work with. I would send her the tracks and my intentions and messages behind them, then she’d do her magic. The only thing I requested was for the Frog to be in the artwork!
We did notice your frog friend taking up quite a big focus nearing the launch of your EP. Who is this frog friend of yours?
I did an Instagram poll just before my EP launch as suggested by Sonia Chew (let’s be real, I wasn’t going to say no to her idea), and my band and I picked the name of the Frog during the launch itself. So thanks to the wonderful suggestion by @peipokes, this frog friend of mine is now known as Tan Boon Kiat and has arrived to save humanity from our own destruction.
Let’s talk about the music videos for ‘Off My Mind’ and ‘UFO’. We notice they have a back-to-back theme visually. Are they supposed to be a 2-part release of sorts? What was going on in both videos?
The video for ‘Off My Mind’ came out first. The idea was that alongside the light-hearted plot of an alien sighting that only appears to the main character (me!), the video explores themes of social unrest and civil movements, and hopes to encapsulate the double-edged sword of plugging in and detaching yourself from your environment. That is, you get a much-needed break from the commotion around you, but detachment is a privilege and bears the risk of ignorance.
‘U.F.O.’ features me and my sister Risa scrambling to find an escape after getting a call from an unknown number, realizing that the world is ending in 12 hours. We try to operate a spaceship first, then mess around in a science laboratory, and accidentally open a portal which leads to many strange things. At the end of the video, we find out who the unknown caller was –spoiler alert it’s me from a parallel universe, i.e. the ‘Off My Mind’ music video!
It wasn’t meant to be a 2-part release initially because truthfully I only had the resources for 1 video. However, I met a couple of amazing people (who would eventually make up the team for the ‘U.F.O.’ video) along the way and we did ‘U.F.O.’ with whatever resources we had. I do hope we can put more videos out and expand this universe! Maybe we should call it the RCU (RENE Cinematic Universe)?
‘Leaving Anyway’ is said to be your most personal release to date. Why is that so? I wrote ‘Leaving Anyway’ during the circuit breaker at a songwriting session that my friends and I had over video call. I tend to write using my personal experiences, feelings, and immediate environment as inspiration, and ‘Leaving Anyway’ is very much a representation of the state I was in when I wrote it. I guess I’d say the track is my existential reflection of my identity and the choices I have made so far, and whether I’m satisfied with where I’m at and where I seem to be going. Also, it’s the first song I released where I use gendered pronouns, so that’s a pretty big step for me!
And finally, what’s next for RENE?
I’m still busy working on the campaign for the EP, trying to get the word out about my music, and hopefully securing a couple of gigs for the rest of the year. I’m super keen to write and release more music later this year, including ‘Better Than To Brood’ that I played at the EP launch, so I’m pretty excited about that!