Photo: Kelly Pang
So how does a Political Science major with a minor in Sociology tackle issues such as social commentary, the vicissitudes of coming of age, and personal relationships? Well, not only through thoughtfully worded and insightful essays, but also through meaningful and relatable lyrics, addictive pop vocals and catchy guitar riffs.
Rene Ann Wong who goes by the mononymous "RENE" draws inspiration from a wide range of genres from punk to indie, and is influenced by artists the likes of Avril Lavigne, McFly, and Paramore.
She took to the stage at the age of 14 – most notably winning Noise Singapore’s The Great Singapore Replay Open Call in 2017 – and has featured members of her own family in her music videos. Now, that's sibei cool leh!
We talk to the 25-year-old NUS graduate about her musical journey, the good and bad side of this pandemic, and - du du du du du - aliens. 👽
You have about a decade’s worth of experience both on and off the stage. Did you always know making music was your calling even at a young age?
I started playing music when I was around 4 years old, typical Asian-parents-send-their children-for-piano-classes situation. I picked up the guitar when I was 10 after I joined my school's guitar ensemble CCA.
I actually always wanted to be a drummer when I was younger but, unfortunately, my school didn't offer a drum ensemble CCA, so guitar it was! I stuck with that CCA all the way until junior college.
I was 14 and in secondary school when I did my first performance outside of CCA – I remember I did a cover of "Save You" by Simple Plan for a humanities week performance.
I started performing outside of school when I was 18 with my cover band. That was around the time I started writing my own music, and I put out my debut single "Lonely" in April 2018. Haven't looked back since!
The power of music is through shared experiences. Apart from quirky subject matter (like interplanetary life in "U.F.O) and vibrant cover art, how do your songs speak to your generation and peers?
I think "U.F.O." resonates pretty strongly with my listeners because a lot of them are around my age – the youngest of the millennials, some of the older Gen Z’s, and the people in between like me – and can relate to how I feel.
The song is basically me saying: "Hey I think there are aliens out there... Can they please come here and save humanity from our unbearable existence?"
I think this starts off as somewhat of a self-deprecating joke but there is some truth to it. The experience of seeing destructive and extremely consequential things happening around you and the world paired with the feeling of powerlessness is something that I know a lot of us struggle with - and we deal with that through humour.
In the same vein, "Leaving Anyway" is a hugely important song to me because it also concerns existential nature, but has a much more personal touch to it. Along with the feel good 2000s-inspired pop-rock sound that I know people love, the track has me asking: "Am I okay with where I am now in life? I've done everything by the book and tried to keep up with everyone's expectations, but am I satisfied?"
I think it's inevitable that people face these kinds of crossroads in their lives, and I decided to pen mine down in song.
The creative Muses don't always speak to singer-songwriters, but clearly, they've been talking to you. Where do you get your inspiration from?
As a songwriter who writes mostly for myself, much of the music I write is inspired one way or another by my personal experiences.
I often use songwriting as an outlet for reflection and catharsis. Can't stop thinking about something? Too much on my mind but I've bored my loved ones to death with my talking? Ok, I'll process it by writing it down and hopefully I'll get a good song out of it.
Most of the time, my experiences revolve around my personal growth, the ups and downs of relationships, and things in society I take issue with, so I try to translate that into my music.
I've chosen not to separate myself as an individual so much from my music because I think this arrangement works well for me. I get to use my music as a platform to bring about messages and talk about issues that I find important, as well as a channel for my own reflection and emotional growth.
The pandemic has hit everyone hard. How has it affected (or inspired) you and your future as an artist?
I think like many artists, the pandemic's brought more negative than positive consequences. It did give me inspiration to write "U.F.O." and "Leaving Anyway" from the EP, but it's pretty sad that I wasn't able to have a physical EP launch for my debut EP.
It has forced me to think about other ways to bring my music to people, I've been thinking about streaming on Twitch to reach new fans and have a space to perform. Hopefully it happens soon!
I really, really hope that the situation gets better and people get vaccinated so live music can open up, and my band and I will have the opportunity to play the new songs live.
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