Renée Reed on Ghost Stories, Growing up in Louisiana, and her Debut Album

By Amy Garlesky

Photography by Renée Reed

There is a richness that envelopes Renée Reed’s debut album. It’s an impression not due to any particular sonic quality, such as a specific instrument or certain melodic influence, but rather, an appreciation—both for the stories of who came before her and the stories she’s lived herself.

A Louisiana-native and born to a long line of musicians, Renée sees grace in tradition. From a young age, she found herself surrounded by Cajun music by way of nearby festivals and jam sessions in her parent’s shop. Yet even into adulthood, her respect for her local heritage gives room to this history within her work–providing grounding to her words and bracing her own experience.

It’s this sense of closeness, of Renée’s own accord, which is unmistakable throughout her record. In giving herself license to explore her own personal history, the result is a collection of tracks demonstrably assured–allowing Renée to delve into her past, accentuate her progress, and process the intricacies of her own healing.

Earlier this year, Renée picked up a disposable film camera to show us her life in Louisiana. In our subsequent conversation, we discussed astrology, her visual artwork, and some of the lessons and themes she imbued into her new record. Read our exchange below.

Slumber: Can you tell us about one of your all-time favorite lyrics? Who’s the artist, what is the song, and why do you like it?

Renée: One of my all-time favorite lyrics is “So bury me in wood and I will splinter, bury me in stone and I will quake, bury me in water and I will geyser, bury me in fire and I’m gonna phoenix, I’m gonna phoenix,” from the song “Say Valley Maker” by Smog. It is such a powerful line to me, the way it expresses the continuity in gaining strength after going through difficult times. It’s almost like a little prayer to me.

Slumber: You recorded these songs in early 2020, right at the start of the pandemic. How do you think lockdown and the health crisis influenced the creation and release of the record. Were there any unforeseen advantages to it? 

Renée: On one hand, I had so much time at home that there was no reason not to record. But more than that, I was feeling very anxious because of what was happening in the outside world, so I just decided to go into my own world and focus on recording the songs I had written up to that point. 

Slumber: There a lot of references to nature on this record. Is there any natural place either recent or from your far past you feel more deeply connected to than others? And why so—what makes it special?

Renée: I do find a lot of inspiration within nature. The sights, sounds, and smells in the country around here evoke such mystery and wordless emotion for me, which makes it easy to tap into my imagination. I’ve always loved oak trees so much, and there are so many beautiful and magical ones nearby. There’s one tree in particular that I’ve always loved to visit ever since I was little which I call the Fairy Tree. It’s gotten to be quite well-known locally, despite it being hidden away off of a rural highway, because of how exotic it looks. It feels like a sacred shrine. I love going to visit it.


Slumber: You also work quite a bit on your own visual art. Do you think that these two outlets of creativity overlap or build off one another for you? Do they help you express similar or different ideas, feelings, or thoughts? That is to say, in short, what’s your relationship with visual vs musical art?

Renée: Yes, they definitely overlap. Oftentimes I find drawing and painting helps me with my musical ideas, and vice versa. I’ll see certain visuals in my head which translates to music, it’s not a conscious process, and I think that’s why it’s sometimes difficult for me to describe what certain songs of mine are about because they come from such a subconscious, almost dreamlike state.

Slumber: What’s the song you wish you could’ve written? Can you tell us a bit why?

Renée: There are so many songs I wish I could’ve written, but “Seven Words” by Weyes Blood is definitely one of the top. It’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. The instrumentation and arrangement, the chords and the melody and the way she sings it, and then the lyrics. It’s all such a dream to me.

“This album is an ode to the process of learning and loving myself. I went through some amazing and painful experiences over the past several years...and it made me learn a lot about who I am, and how happy I am to be me.”

Slumber: If someone was listening to this album for the first time, what’s the ideal setting for listening? 

Renée: My ideal setting for listening would probably be at night, in a very comfortable place like a car or at home. It’s kind of an introspective record, so I think a setting that reflects the mood would be ideal. I’d recommend headphones. But I think listening to it outside would be nice too, like during a walk.

Slumber: [There are some] references to astrology on the record—for example, “Gemini Moon.” Are you interested in astrology—and do know your sun, moon, and rising signs? What are they?

Renée: I’ve always been interested in astrology because I’ve always felt so connected to my own signs. I am a Scorpio sun, Gemini moon, and Aquarius rising!

Slumber: You grew up in Southwest Louisiana and studied traditional music at the University of Louisiana—what, if anything, have you learned/taken away from your upbringing, family, and studies of Cajun and Creole music? Anything that’s influenced you—not necessarily in a sonic way—but a personal & creative way as it relates to you as an artist?

Renée: My parents are musicians, my grandfathers were musicians … there was always music being played at the house, or my parents’ shop, and I was always being taken to their gigs and local music festivals. The kind of music I’ve been surrounded by has such deep traditional roots, which has obviously led to my passion for traditional music around the world, but it’s also music that is played so rawly from the heart, and this has had an inescapable influence on my own music.

Slumber: I simply must ask based on the second track “I Saw A Ghost”—what are your thoughts on ghosts? Even if this was not a literal reference, do you believe in them? I do, personally, even if I’ve never seen one. Can you tell me why you believe, if so?

Renée: Ha, I love this question! Yes, I do believe in ghosts. I grew up in a family of storytellers who loved to tell a lot of ghost stories. Growing up around that kind of energy has made it hard for me not to be open to that stuff. Also, I’ve lived in old houses with a lot of history all my life, so I think that definitely feeds into it too. I’ve had a few experiences myself with seeing ghosts and other paranormal entities throughout my life. This song in particular is about seeing a ghostly apparition, but it’s also metaphorical, about truly seeing myself and feeling frightened about what I see.

Slumber: What was the first important record you owned? What excited you about it & how do you feel about it now? Have your feelings changed about it?

Renée: The first important record I owned was probably Never For Ever by Kate Bush. It was one of my dad’s old records which he gave to me. I remember being a little kid and holding the record in my hands and being so fascinated by the album artwork while listening to the music. As I’ve gotten older, I relate to the songs in different ways, but I’ll always have the same fascination as I did when I was a kid because it made such a huge impression on me.

Slumber: What do you want listeners to know before listening to this new record? And what do you want them to gain, feel, or learn coming out of it?

Renée: When I listen to this record, I know that the process of writing and then recording these songs was very emotional for me. I was very much in my natural element because I was home and also in my nightgown most of the time. It’s very personal, but I hope that listeners can interpret and relate to the music in their own ways. Hopefully, it will be as therapeutic of an experience for them as it was for me.

Slumber: What would you say this album is an ode to? That is to say, what did you feel this record was dedicated to, or exemplified about yourself, the world, something else?

Renée:This album is an ode to the process of learning and loving myself. I went through some amazing and painful experiences over the past several years while writing most of these songs, and it made me learn a lot about who I am, and how happy I am to be me. So the album feels like an autobiographical account of my process of healing and growing.

Renée Reed’s self-titled debut album is out tomorrow via Keeled Scales. Watch the video for “I Saw A Ghost” below and pre-order the record here.