JPR Live Session: Renn

Feb 10, 2017

From the start, Nashville artist Renn’s journey into music was far from the conventional tale. Time spent torn between passion and insecurity, hobby and calling eventually lead to Heartache and a Song - Renn’s debut album. Poignant lyrics blended with raw, soulful melodies give listeners a starkly personal glimpse into his journey, in a way that connects us to our own.

It’s a career that almost never was. With his admission to Nashville’s Belmont University in 2006, Renn decided to hang his hat on his guitar-playing abilities rather than his voice. “When I arrived to begin my first semester, I remember a friend of mine (who has since signed to a major label), sing Bon Jovi’s ‘Living on a Prayer.’ I knew I didn’t have half his vocal range or star power at the time, so I just stopped singing and stuck to guitar.” Despite an inability to read music, Renn’s passion and skill on the guitar earned him the respect and endorsement of his peers and instructors - many of whom are now Grammy Award-winning.

Taking deep interest in religion, Renn began studying common religious texts in his classes, and noticed his lyrical prowess evolve through the approaches to reading that he learned. “In class, we’d use what are called exegetical methods to break down verses in various texts… I began doing that with songs, you know—looking at each individual line, and questioning everything. ‘What is being said here? Why these words as opposed to others, and how does it make me feel?’ That’s how I started looking at my own songwriting.

Though songwriting and guitar continued to progress, Renn still lacked the confidence to pursue his own music career. “I was raised to believe art was a hobby rather than a career, and I guess I didn’t want to risk being a failure.” Feeling purposed to take his religious studies a step further, Renn moved to Redding, California - selling all but one guitar - and began a ministry school. Surprised by the amount of opportunity given him to perform in musical ensembles there, the culmination of events there rekindled his passion for music.

After moving back to his hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina, Renn began working on some original material, this time singing again while drawing inspiration from his own life and experiences – the most significant and symbolic of which, a recent failed relationship. “I had already bought the ring with money I didn’t have at the time… Then all of a sudden, the truth surfaced about some things that were hidden, everything took a turn for the worst. The night she called to end it all, I drank half a bottle of Jack and slammed my fist down on the bed… but, I hit my guitar by accident—It was completely destroyed. I lost everything I cared about most in one night.

The irony wasn’t lost on him, and the breakup helped to develop Renn’s voice and style, morphing into something new and inspired, but oftentimes dark. He drifted toward lyrics that were both raw and honest. Understanding his music was far from what others in his life and religious community expected, Renn took a sudden change of direction. “Ultimately, I chose to go about recording the album without support from any of my friends, heading back to California and couch surfing for months to complete the project.