Profile: Claire Reneé/25/Singer, Songwriter, Professional Dancer, Lover of All Things Art.
Who is Claire Reneé?
Claire is someone who is growing everyday and growing in my art. I sing jazz, R&B, and neo-soul. I like to write pop, country, when it comes to writing I don’t have any boundaries and I like to keep it like that. It keeps me versatile. The same with dance, I was classically trained at the Dance Theatre of Harlem and Alvin Ailey and after [learning] modern and ballet I couldn’t stop with that. There was so much out there, seeing people like Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul, I went on to hip-hop, popping, breaking, I wanted to encompass it all. If I go for something and I want to do it and pursue it as a career, I want to be really good at it. There is no option. Otherwise I won’t call myself a dancer, singer or songwriter. That’s who I am. That is the make-up of me, my art.
When did you realize you had a knack for writing and when did that cross over into songwriting?
I would write poems here and there or I would write in my journal but I never took it seriously, it was just for therapy. I remember in high school, we were reading Sula, I think, and we would have different assignment options and I decided to write a poem. To be honest, I was being lazy and I thought “I’m going to write a poem and whatever comes up, comes out, it’s a poem.” I was sick one day and I wasn’t in class, the next day everyone said, “The teacher read your poem, everyone loved it!” And I was thinking, “Why did she read that, I spent no time on it.” [My teacher] told me, “You’d make a great songwriter one day.” That always stuck with me. I didn’t get into it fully until I started taking singing seriously around college. I wanted to study Music Business, so I did that for a while. I realized I had so much more to say and that’s when my writing started.
Where are your favorite places to write?
Being a city kid for so long I definitely found solace and calm at skate parks. If you go to the skate park you see so many different shades, sizes, heights, eye colors, there’s unity and the sound of hearing the wheels on the pavement is therapeutic to me. I like to write in my room, at the beach. I like writing anywhere in nature, other than that the studio.
Do you have a favorite time of day to write?
Generally, I like to write at night, that’s when my creative juices start flowing. I feel I should take over the world when everything is closed and no one is doing business. But I also have my spur of the moment times. I’m not one of those songwriters that have to have a set way, it doesn’t help with versatility. One day I want a chance to write a dope song with a dope artist and sometimes you have deadlines and you have to be ready to write a song and complete it by the deadline.
Who are some of your favorite artists who influence you?
I could go on and on. Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, I dig her musicianship, she’s a prodigy. I admire any person but, especially a woman who goes into the studio or band rehearsal and knows what she’s talking about. We get such a bad rep as singers, especially female singers. Know your chords, be able to communicate with your drummer, your bass player. You don’t have to know every sharp and every flat but stuff like that is dope to me. Who else, Brandon Boyd from Incubus, I love his voice. Justin Nozuka, Billie Holliday, she just has a sadness to her voice, it tugs at your heartstrings. Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Coltrane, Ahmad Jamal, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Diplo, that dude is crazy! His knowledge of music is beyond me. There are so many people.
I read on your website that you were dancing from the age of four. At what moment did you decide you would make music?
I think I was just sitting in one of the practice rooms at college and I got tired of not knowing how to play the piano [chuckles]. So I sat there, it was evening, I didn’t turn on the lights, and I thought, “I’m just going to play something.” And I came up with these random chords and I wrote a song. Whatever sounded good I memorized it in my hands and then from there, words. It just flowed naturally and I wrote my first real song which was called Love Music. It was weird that I composed and wrote my first song in the same instance. That’s when I really thought I could do this. I have things to say and clearly if I want to do music, I can. I’m somebody who hasn’t touched a piano ever and I just wrote a song.
What were the steps from that moment to making your first EP?
My first EP came a little while after that. From just starting to write and realizing that I had a voice even though it was very faint at the time, I really wanted to hone it and find someone to help me master what I was realizing about myself. The school that I was attending wasn’t helping me in that sense. I felt like I was actually way ahead compared to everybody else and I didn’t feel like I was being challenged. And they only studied classical which was actually very intimidating and not what I was checking. So I started studying with a voice teacher who went to Berklee College of Music. I told her I was thinking about auditioning for Berklee and she was there to play for my audition and it went surprisingly well.
I found out around Christmas that I got into Berkeley. That was another sign that I was really meant to do this. Boston was an interesting place. Definitely learned a lot about myself, I had some experiences. I hated Boston so I came back home and I was working a lot. I was studying with another teacher who taught at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music but for the most part I was working a lot and I just felt like I was stuck. I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t really singing much. I was just working and then I was tired and then I’d go to sleep. I would do the same things every day. I thought, “I can’t let this happen, I can’t get comfortable.” That’s how Doubts, Dreams and Ambitions came to fruition. I was at a point where I felt stuck and I felt like every time I looked at social media everybody had something going on but me. That can kind of play with your ego a little bit and I was like, “I need to get up and do something.” That’s why [the EP] is called Doubts, Dreams and Ambitions because we all have ’em.
When you were creating Doubts, Dreams and Ambitions it was because you fell into a routine, would you say that influenced your trip to L.A?
L.A. didn’t really become a thing until I started to realize that the scene isn’t here, unfortunately. There are a few of us young people trying to do stuff and that’s cool, but then again this whole “coming together” thing in New York has been very interesting. So I decided to check out L.A. It seems like all the people I listen to or check out are making trips to L.A. at some point in their process. That’s when the light switch went on; maybe New York needed a break from Claire.
How was that L.A. experience?
It was a great experience. I don’t know if I am super blessed to have met who I met but, I didn’t really know anybody. There was a poet I knew named Brooke Jean, we admired each other’s work through social media. She reached out and we became really good friends. That was my road dog in L.A. I was still working out there, so I met people at my job day to day. They actually slow down and make time to take things in and I think that’s what really helped me, I just learned to slow down. I went out there and people were like “what are you out here for?” And I’d say, “I just needed a change of pace,” and that was ok. I’d say that to people in New York and they’d respond, “Where are you going to live? What are you going to be doing? Do you have studio time set up?”
With the change in vibes from NY vs. L.A., did you do any writing and did you notice a difference in your writing?
The beach was such an inspiration! And the weather too, I could be outside a lot more. The quality of life is different out there. It allowed me to write about the birds and the trees and nature because I was out in it more but it also allowed me to heal. There was also some dark stuff that came out that I felt like I wasn’t releasing here because I didn’t want to be here, and I didn’t want to do anything and I wasn’t motivated. So when I went out there and had a change in lifestyle things started coming out and it was okay. We’ll see what I have to say in my next project.
Was there anything you missed about the Bronx or New York in general?
I missed my Caribbean folks. In L.A. there is diversity but it stops at certain places. I realized one day I was wondering where the Puerto Ricans, the Dominicans, the Haitians, the Jamaicans, where is the Jamaican spot? There were times when I was craving a beef patty and I was like where do I go? I don’t want to go to Roscoe’s and I don’t want to go get fresh juice.
Since that trip would you say you look at NY any differently?
For sure, it’s still home and I will never take away from the fact that it is really the greatest city in the world. I haven’t even been to every city, but I’m working on it. I get why everyone wants to be here. [That trip] made me realize that just because NY might not have been a place I wanted to be at a certain point in my life doesn’t mean that it won’t always be home and that it won’t always be a dope city that you can find beauty in.
What would you say is next for you in terms of your artistry?
Honestly, I don’t know yet. I am in a place where I am still getting ideas back. I’m getting used to being back in such an overwhelming city and I’m taking it day by day. I’m letting things play out organically until something goes off. Usually it’ll be a pattern in my writing, a topic that comes up a lot in my writing, or a book I’m reading. I might get inspired by that and twist it into how it correlates to my life. But I’m still figuring it out and I don’t want to rush it. There’s a lot going on though, I’ll tell you that much.