I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Robin Renee. Not only is the performing songwriter not afraid to listen to what the voices in her head tell her, but she makes that intuition real.
Renée’s accessible tunes with a spiritual twist have forged her own genre – Mantra-Pop – and its development can be heard across the sounds of spirit.rocks.sexy. She began this leg of the journey with In Progress (2000), which was applauded in much alternative press across the U.S. All Six Senses (2002), stands as the real-life chronicle of one caught in the act of cosmic transformation. It was produced by Scott Mathews, who has worked with artists as fabulous as George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Elvis Costello, Patti LaBelle and many more. Live Devotion (2007) is Renée’s first recording dedicated wholly to sacred chant.
Now, will you please welcome Robin Renee …
1. What inspired you to create your own genre, Mantra-Pop?
I don’t feel like I exactly created Mantra-Pop. It’s more that I had certain sounds running through me that were shaping up to become more and more a distinct exploration. When I was recording the All Six Senses album in Marin County, CA, “I’m Coming Down” initially didn’t have the mantra at the end that you hear in the recording. Every time I sang it, though, I would hear the mantra, so I finally realized it was the coda to the song and really belonged somehow. So I didn’t really create Mantra-Pop. It just kind of showed up and needed a name.
If you want to see Robin Renee performing “I’m Coming Down,” click here.
2. When did you first realize that you wanted to become a musician and what sacrifices have you made to make this dream a reality?
I wrote my first song, or part of a song anyway, when I was about seven. It was probably when I was around ten or so, though, when I first started to get blissfully obsessed with musicians and music in general. It seems like sacrifices and joys are part of the deal all the time. The biggest sacrifice for a long time was stability – It is hard to know what’s going to happen beyond the next batch of booked gigs sometimes, which is unsettling. Feeling too unsettled can actually start to steal the creative impulse, and that’s no good at all. So, I have become very focused on maintaining balance no matter what, because feeling healthy, at ease, and creative is the whole point, or most of it anyway.
A few of the joys that have come along with this plan: meeting amazing people all over the country, having the flexibility to arrange my travels to spend time with said amazing people, and hearing from people who have been really moved by my music. That always feels startling and wonderful.
3. How did you get interested in Kirtan music? What musicians of this genre inspired you?
I started going to kirtan gatherings in and around Central Jersey with a friend over ten years ago now. Suzin Green and Alex Mitnick were both singing kirtan in the area at the time. I found what they were doing to be incredibly moving emotionally and spiritually. Then I started to find out more about Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, and so many others. They all inspired me in different ways. From there I just wanted to dive deeper into mantra and anything I could learn about the practice.
This. was made so differently than anything I’ve ever recorded, mainly because of the time it took all the energy to coalesce. Live Devotion, the first chant recording was done with a couple or rehearsals and one long day of recording, but This. was just the opposite. It took a long time for the songs to manifest. A few of the chants were already familiar to people who had been coming to my live kirtans, but some came along later. I started recording a few ideas with the help of engineer Jack Walker in Wilmington, DE. I kind of got stalled for a while, we worked intermittently, then finished up nearly a year later. The recording was done in layers – drummer Karttikeya came in pretty early in the process and we got down basic rhythm tracks. Jack played many of the keyboard sounds and other instrumentation, I was on harmonium and acoustic guitar, and we brought in Isitri Om Kati Brennan and Angela Cavallaro on response vocals. We worked out a lot of vocal layering and harmonies, which was fun. One great spontaneous afternoon came when Jack & I composed the ambient piece, “Leaving Space.” The whole recording took longer than I imagined to come together, but when it all fell into place it really felt great and I knew it was right.
5. Do you have a muse, or something that inspires you as an artist and feeds your creative soul?
So many people and things inspire me – George Harrison, David Bowie, Josephine Baker, Salvador Dalí, Imogen Heap, my grandmother, personal altars, friends and lovers, New Wave dancing, the ocean, silence, live concerts. Those are a few.
Robin has just released a new pop/rock single, with proceeds going to the “You Will Rise Project,” an anti-bullying organization. To buy it, please go here.
6. Where can fans go to see you perform?
I’ll be performing for the Loving Day celebration at Film Brothers in Wilmington, DE on June 13th. I’ll be singing kirtan in Ohio – North Canton, then in Cleveland, in July. This fall I’m excited about singing and co-facilitating at Peeling off the Layers to Reveal the Goddess in the Mirror – A Retreat for Women with author Edie Weinstein at Grail Springs in Bancroft, Ontario. You can always go to www.robinrenee.com and check the calendar for details and updates. To inquire about scheduling an event, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.