|Robin Renée: In Progress
A Musical Album, Available on Audio CD
Interviewed by Cassandra Snow
Musician, lyricist and bi-activist Robin Renée has set afire the hearts of live audiences at music festivals and coffeehouses throughout the nation with her unique blend of contemporary rhythms and vocal range. And, now, with the release of her debut album, In Progress, Renée’s words, music and message are available to all – worldwide.
the CD serves as a testament to the freedom found in living with authenticity
and passion; yet, it the artist herself who proves the greatest inspiration
CS: In Progress has received such high acclaim. What was your response to the CD upon its release, when you first had the opportunity to connect with the music as a listener rather than as a musician?
RR: It took me a while to be able to listen to it and really hear it. I get a kind of ear fatigue after being so close to the music in the studio. After a little breathing time, I listened again and really loved it. That was a great experience. I've made a lot of recordings in the past where I felt there was something missing, or that I wasn't sure if I'd go out and buy it if I heard it on the radio. It was great to listen back to "In Progress," and to say, "Yeah, that's what I meant to do!!"
CS: What is the significance of In Progress for you personally as your first full-length release? What does it symbolize for you?
RR: I think it represents my first time out with the intention to do it all without compromise. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to hear and how I wanted these songs to evolve. It was quite a different experience from working as a member of a band or making a demo on my own. Making this CD helped me push through a lot of my fears – the little voices that tell me I can't do it, or it won't be good enough. It was very liberating.
CS: Tell us a bit of your history?
RR: Well, that's a big question! Which history?
CS: How have your upbringing and past experiences influenced your work?
RR: I have to say that my parents were always incredibly supportive of my music. A lot of parents discourage artistic endeavors, I think, in lieu of a more "practical" career for their kid. They used to come out to see my band play until 2 a.m. sometimes. I really appreciate now what kind of dedication that was. In retrospect, I think that kind of support since I was very young was really important. I was never held back or treated as if some career or creative choices are off limits. Also, my mother, especially, tended to listen to stuff that was very lyrical, and I do take a lot of my influence from the classic singer/songwriters. I got to hear a lot of Dylan around the house.
CS: Your music and lyrics are consistently full of impact and emotion. Is it difficult to maintain that intensity?
RR: I don't think I can help it. I wish I could turn it off sometimes! I'm glad that's there, really. I feel things very powerfully; it's just part of me.
CS: What role does your music play in your life overall? How does that creative release affect the way in which you relate to people, see yourself, etc.?
RR: Music is a huge part of my life, of course. I see it as a vehicle for Spirit. I try very hard not to allow the things I do to become the primary ways in which I define myself. They're not me, just activities or modes through which I express. I try to let those activities become channels for deeper knowledge, higher Self, or whatever words you like to put on that indefinable thing that we can tap into and really have a sense of Knowing. Sometimes I go through long periods of not listening to much music at all; I just try to clear my brain out of other sounds and hopefully let my songs come through. Lately, I've been in love with going out dancing & just having fun. It's great when music moves the mind and spirit, but it can really move the body, too. I can't forget that!
CS: Your lyrics reflect a tremendous depth and honesty. Have you always known yourself so well? Are there any specific issues yet to be tapped? If so, what are they?
RR: I guess I've been pretty introspective for as long as I can remember. I don't know how well I really know myself – how can I know for sure? I know that I try. Sure, there are lots of issues still in there – many ideas and emotions that are inside me that I don't really write about with any clarity. There are some I'm just not ready to explore yet. Maybe one day.
CS: You obviously take great pride in your heritage, sexuality, creativity, etc. What impact do you hope to witness within your listeners through your lyrics and your life in general?
RR: If people could be inspired to live more examined lives, I would feel very honored if I had an influence. I try to live very openly and honestly, because I believe that is a healthy existence and I believe that I have the strength to do it. If I am able to help a fearful person realize that it is possible to be oneself in this world, that would be great. Hopefully I don't sound like I'm trying to be some overblown example for the world. What I mean is something more low-key, I think. I seek to live a successful, free-spirited, engaged life. If other people are travelling on that path and I can help in any way, personally or musically, that makes me happy.
CS: What are your goals with regard to your music? Your writing? Your life?
RR: Music: A continually successful recording and live performance career, of course! Writing: To stay vital and creative. I'd like to get back to writing more poetry as well. Life: You do ask the big questions, don't you?!
CS: What are the primary guiding forces for you both personally and professionally?
RR: My spiritual path. I try to keep to that and trust my inner guidance. For me, Spirit and everything else I do is bonded indelibly.
CS: What is your definition of success?
RR: Well, that depends on what you mean. Of course you really don't need the recognition of others to be successful and to do well at something, but making a living is a good thing and recognition can really help! Ultimately, I am for personal best; I just want to do the very best I can at the things I do. I guess that's what success is to me, in general terms.
CS: What are some of the most difficult obstacles you have faced within your career?
RR: One of the big ones has been the racial expectations in music. Many people make assumptions about who your influences should be and what your music will be like based on race. I've always loved rock-based music and it's been hard to write and perform from that perspective, primarily, when there's this cultural expectation, spoken or unspoken. I've had to defend my tastes and choices more than I'd wish for, certainly.
CS: How have you handled such expectations in the past? Is your approach any different now?
RR: I used to spend a lot of time feeling incredibly upset about this issue. Now I feel a lot more settled within myself and about who I am as a person. I've figured out that there are lots of people out there who will and do connect to my music, and my music resonates with me. I don't worry so much about the people who don't like it or won't approve. They can listen to something else. It's taken me a long time to find that confidence. I remember the time when it finally dawned on me that the music industry had played into this chasm of "black music" vs. "white music." Artists were marketed that way and so many of us bought into, or were duped into, that oppressive system. I discovered so many sounds that you'd never hear on pop radio, and bands who were there but I had inadvertently ignored because they weren't part of what I had been into. I think the industry is changing now, too; there's much more blending of styles and acceptance of musical choices.
CS: Has your bisexuality limited any of your professional options? What words of advice or encouragement can you offer others within the LGBT community?
RR: Has bisexuality limited me professionally? In some ways it's hard to tell; I'm not sure how many gigs I haven't gotten because I'm bi. I do know though, that the LGBT community is wonderful and amazingly supportive. I feel only positive about being known in the community and I love to perform for queer and queer-friendly audiences. My best advice for other LGBT performers is to come out if you can (and you CAN!). I never wanted to go along for so long and get places as a closeted person that I couldn't as an openly bi person. This way, I am who I am out of the gate and I don't feel inclined to stay closeted for fear of losing status. I wouldn't be happy that way at all and I want to make the art that I have inside me without those confines.
CS: How might we best support one another in our creative endeavors?
Buy the merchandise! :-) Make sure our voices are heard within
and outside the community. Speak up and listen. Let people
know that their art is appreciated. It really matters.
Cassandra Snow has worked in various forms of expression over the years– from poetry, playwriting and novel writing to dance, theatre and photography. A graduate of Northwestern University, Cassandra currently works as a freelance journalist/writer. In addition, she is the staff Web reviewer for Venus or Vixen? and the author of a collection of original poetry, two stage plays and numerous works which have appeared in publications throughout the U.S. and abroad. At present, she is working to bring her novel, Yogi Love, to completion.
Cassandra finds her greatest bliss within her son, the aroma of nag champa, the divine act of creation and all things sensual.
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