The Coolest Guy i’ve Never Met
From the juiced-box (and a song i even paid (a buck!) for): Kevin Renick – Close To Something Beautiful
[Press ‘Play’ to be serenaded]
Y’all remember i posted a Booze Revooze of Up In The Air, right? Well, at the end of the review i talked about Kevin Renick, an unemployed guy who decided to turn his misfortune into a sign by devoting his life full-time to his dream of being a singer/songwriter. He gave a cassette tape of the song “Up In The Air” to director Jason Reitman, who included the song as it was originally recorded at the end credits of the movie.
Not only did Kevin not yell at me for stealing the song and posting it in the end credits of my review, he even linked this Diary-a Of A Chronicle Drinker on his website: http://www.kevinrenick.com/. How cool is that! So, obviously, i hit him up for an interview, to which he graciously obliged, and what follows is one hell of an interview (if i don’t screw it up!). He is a genuinely cool guy and i’ve had a great time hanging out with him in The Bar None.
Don’t forget that no one has been able to convince me to stop doing the stupid mad-libbed intros. Kevin was nice enough to play along. Remember, i just asked him to give me specific words that i then plugged into this intro. He had no idea what the text was, he just provided me a list of words (that i’ve underlined for your reading pleasure).
You ever get wasted in Bergen, Norway? Well i did and stumbled into some place called The Stagger Inn. On stage was this cool folk singer who was rocking way out to a cover of Brian Capps’ “Two Nights Without Sleep”. i sobered up enough to light my miniskirt and wave it around over my head until the set was over. He communicated over to my table and let me buy him a Yes, Please. As i slurred my questions, he chuckled potently and did his utmost to understand.
Al K Hall: Man, that’s a freaking good song. Did you pick that up here in Norway or—where is it you’re from again?
Kevin Renick: Born and raised in Kirkwood, Missouri…a tree-rich suburb of St. Louis.
Al K Hall: Sounds lovely. Before we get any closer, what should i call you? ‘Mr Renick’ sounds too official. You got any other handles?
Kevin Renick: My very close friends call me “Kev”. A few friends started calling me “Commander” some years back due to my periodic habit of saluting when we parted at the end of a get-together.
Al K Hall: i’d call you “Commander Kevin” but that sounds too 1970s stop-motion, Saturday morning kids’ programming. How ’bout i just stick with “Kevin” for now and we’ll see where that takes us. You look mighty young, Kevin. How old are you again?
Kevin: “Old enough to repay, but young enough to sell,” to quote Neil Young.
Al K Hall: Is there a Mrs Commander pining away for you in Missouri?
Kevin: Nah, I’m single, but attached…with different lengths of tentacle for each of those I’m attached to.
Al K Hall: Yeah, i got that whole tentacle thing going on, too, and mine for you is growing. [Kevin starts to freak, so i gulp my drink before i say anything else stupid.] Hey, don’t you feel a little guilty that you’re so talented and the rest of the world just isn’t?
Kevin: Not at all…the great cosmic commander put various creative thingies in all of us, and it’s our duty to suss that out and act on it. I only feel guilty for taking so damn long to put myself out there. I’m making up for it by writing a new song every week and answering every single adoring email I get.
Al K Hall: Yeah, and even drunken pleas for interviews. You rock, man. Tell me, what kind of guy are you to hang out with?
Kevin: I think I’m pretty entertaining. I’m a first-class conversationalist, and I shy away from nothing in conversation. And, since I love drinking and handle it well, I am perhaps one of the greatest drinking companions any guy or girl could have. I’m serious about that.
Al K Hall: Hell, i can see it already. What kind of bar do you like?
Kevin: I love bars, love good drinks and love the kind of bold, unpredictable conversation that a great bar and good drinks can inspire. I tend to like bars with atmosphere, where the music is not too loud and the bartenders are extra friendly and witty. Little roadside bars out of town are among the best, and places that have a theme or fun name.
Al K Hall: Babe! You just described The Bar None! Thanks for the props. If you’re not in a bar, where can people other than me who’s always in a bar, find you?
Kevin: In warm weather: wineries. At home with my guitar. In the company of attractive women. Bookstores. When I can, I like to travel…I like being in my car on the road, going to visit cool friends or going to out of town gigs. But I’m restless these days…my life has dramatically changed, so I am sort of in limbo-land.
Al K Hall: i guess that means we’ll be seeing a lot of each other because i spend tons of time in Limbo-Land. But enough about pole dances, let’s talk about Up In The Air. In the seconds i burned on research for this interview, i accidentally found something relevant: Jason Reitman’s interview where he discusses how he got your beautiful song “Up In The Air”. Can you tell us, in your own words (and if you’re not too tired of telling it) your slant on how it went down? What made you go to the lecture in the first place?
Kevin: I went to the lecture because I was tired of being a creative wuss, and was bound and determined to get my song into Jason Reitman’s hands. Here was a major director coming to a prominent university in St. Louis, to talk about a movie that had the same title as a song I wrote. Incredible coincidence, and I had no excuse not to do everything in my power to give him the song—even if I didn’t have a digital recorder and had to tape the song on a cassette. Reitman was there to talk about his film career, and although part of me thought I was foolish to show up with the expectation of giving him my song, I had to try. Life is too short not to take chances.
Al K Hall: Amen, Brother. What’s your impression of Jason Reitman? Have ya’ll been in contact since the film’s release?
Kevin: I think Reitman is a very cool, unconventional, open-minded, visionary kind of guy. He keeps himself open to odd little quirks of fate, and changing circumstances, and that allows him to make films that are rich and multi-dimensional. The only contact I had with him was when we shouted out to each other at the St. Louis premiere of UITA. However, I wrote him a long letter which I gave to someone to pass on to him. I don’t know if he received it or not. At some point, I know we will communicate with each other again. I’m so grateful to him for opening doors for me.
Al K Hall: How’d the idea for the song “Up In The Air” come about? Did you write it before or after you knew the film’s title?
Kevin: I wrote “Up in the Air” well before the film went into production. I had the title and the concept already…the movie did not influence the song. It’s a coincidence that they are so well-matched thematically. The song came about because of my angst-ridden fear of the future, and a desperate wish for life to make sense, and to know that somehow I was going to make it. Which, of course, none of us can never really know, despite our best intentions.
Al K Hall: Did you see the movie in the theater after the release? Who did you go with?
Kevin: I’ve seen the movie multiple times…the first time was the sold-out St. Louis premiere at the SLIFF festival. I had a bunch of my close friends with me at that screening, and Reitman was in the audience. Since then, I’ve gone to “regular” screenings with several friends. At one of them, the girl I was with stood up and announced to people right as the credits rolled that they should not leave the theatre, because the guy who wrote the song coming up was right here next to her. This embarrassed the hell out of me, but I got a nice round of applause and a bunch of people coming up to me afterward wanting photos or autographs.
Al K Hall: What a kick ass story! Man, i wish i had a song at the end credits of an excellent movie so Miss Demeanor could embarrass me like that. What was your overall impression of the film? What about your song?
Kevin: I liked the movie a lot, found it a fascinating character study of three egocentric people who go through changes in unexpected ways, as well as a portrait of a fractured, techno-dysfunctional, angst-ridden time in America. My song is so personal that it’s weird for me to experience it in the movie theatre like that, at the end of the credits. But it sure does echo the movie’s major themes. Reitman had to cut a few verses, of course, to make the song fit.
Al K Hall: So why don’t you play the whole thing for us now, while i magically continue to interview you?
Kevin Renick – Up In The Air
Al K Hall: Awesome… Honestly, aren’t you kinda pissed that your song wasn’t nominated for an Oscar?
Kevin: I’m not really pissed, no. I think the rules of the music branch of the Academy are pretty arcane and not in keeping with the different ways music is created and recorded these days. Honestly, though, there wasn’t much chance that what was essentially a home demo was going to be nominated. But I got plenty of attention for my story, and at least half a dozen bloggers who said my song was one of the best of the year, so that’s some nice consolation there!
Al K Hall: Yep, and i’m one of those bloggers. Small world. Speaking of the Web… Brother, looking at your website, you got a lot of irons on the fire! It would seem that your upcoming CD release of Close To Something Beautiful is the hottest. What kind of music is it?
Kevin: My debut CD has a variety of styles, something I am determined to do in my career. There are some rockers, like “Call It, Friend-o” (inspired by the movie No Country For Old Men), some Neil Young-style folk-rock tunes, a dreamy tribute to the actress Rachel McAdams (the song is actually called “Rachel McAdams”), a ballad about my favorite high school teacher, and a bouncy little children’s song called “Read A Book” which is my impassioned plea to remind people of the joys of reading actual books instead of sitting at their computer all day.
Al K Hall: How’d you come up with the title “Close To Something Beautiful”?
Kevin: The title song sums up one of my ongoing destinations during the stress and depression of modern life… How close can you get to things that matter, things that are clearly “beautiful” and emotionally cleansing? In a few verses, I try to sum up part of my search, and it seems to be a song that people respond to. There’s a YouTube video of me and a friend doing an acoustic version of it. As for where you can get my CD, watch my website for details. It should be available by early March through direct mail order, on CD Baby.com, and hopefully on iTunes as well.
Al K Hall: i see in the video you’re playing with a guy—in the musical sense, i mean. Is the CD with your support group or solo?
Kevin: I recorded the CD with half a dozen talented, special friends. Most significant were Ned Watson of the blues rock trio The Blue Lemmings, and my close friend Ted Moniak, who understands my peculiar musical aesthetic better than anyone else. Ned and Ted are both energetic, creative multi-instrumentalists.
Al K Hall: Got any embarrassing dirt on them?
Kevin: Well, Ned is way older than me and parties hard, and Ted is slightly deranged and talks too much and parties hard. But they are both stellar musicians and good friends.
Al K Hall: Have you been touring recently to support the CD? Any debaucherous road stories?
Kevin: I’ve mostly played locally. I am just beginning to line up gigs out of town, but I sure look forward to having some road stories! Can hardly wait to throw my first TV out a hotel window, or have a sordid party mixing groupies, amphibians and blueberry vodka! Kidding!
Al K Hall: Babe, i’m not! That sounds great! So what’s your schedule like?
Kevin: I have two gigs in St. Louis later this month, and hopefully one in Chicago in late March, and a private gig in Texas in April. I want to play at colleges and universities. I love college students…they’re my peeps, along with angst-ridden singles or anyone who just broke up and has lost the meaning of life. Hey, I’ve got songs for y’all!
Al K Hall: Yeah, i love college students, too. But enough about my fantasy life… Your website also talks about a spoken word project with Canadian musician John Sobocan? What’s up with that?
Kevin: John is “a wizard, a true star.” He’s the Canadian Brian Eno. We did an amazing record called The Road to Olandra which is rather esoteric…it’s my verbal ruminations about life, nature and solitude, set to Eno-esque backing tracks that John conjured with uncanny intuition. We do have a MySpace site here: Olandra. I’d like for this CD to be out by spring. My goal is to sell over a dozen copies! John is shooting for TWO dozen! For the right sort of person, it could be an engrossing listen, I hope.
Al K Hall: Hell, get me drunk enough and i’ll buy a couple dozen myself. ‘Course get me drunk enough and i forget about college babes, so…
Al K Hall: On a more serious note, i read that you lost your mother last April. My sincerest condolences and a toast to those who’ve taught us more than we will ever learn. It would seem something comforting has come from her passing, though, in the form of another CD project, Our Mother’s Place. How did you get the idea for that? How far along in recording that are you?
Kevin: My mom was the most important person in my life, and losing her virtually erased a chunk of my personality and a lot of my faith in the future. It was traumatic. Before the “Up in the Air” thing even happened, I’d written a bunch of songs either about my mom, or about the process of grieving. I really believed in these songs and thought I’d written some real gems. I thought this album was going to be my debut. When “Up in the Air” hit big, it became necessary to do a more diverse, accessible CD and I changed course. But I am now hard at work on the second CD, and really need to pay tribute to my mom before I can creatively go forward. I have 18 or 19 songs written for Our Mother’s Place, and I’m not sure how many will make the final track list. Two songs have been recorded so far, and I’ll be heading into the studio in March to do a bunch more.
Al K Hall: Is there a message you want the tunes to convey?
Kevin: Yeah, that a loving mother is one of the most amazing gifts we’re given, something that molds most of us in ways we can’t even begin to understand until later in life. And also that grief knows no rules…it follows its own path. Grief needs time, friends to understand, and an outlet for its expression. The songs I’ve performed from this CD at gigs have really made an impact, I have to say. Everyone I know has experienced an intense loss of some sort, and my aim has been to write cathartic, beautiful songs about that experience.
Al K Hall: How ’bout you play us one?
Kevin Renick – All I Want Is…
[Press ‘Play’ for a world exclusive—a special shout out to Kevin for sharing it with me]
Al K Hall: Beautiful. If the rest of the CD is that solid, you’re gonna have a big hit on your hands. On top of all that, you’ve also got tons of writing projects going on. What are you most psyched about?
Kevin: Yeah, I always have multiple projects, it seems. I’m already mapping out my third CD, even though I’m just beginning the second! I have a book of “existential poetry and autobiographical meditations” that is pretty much done. But in terms of potential excitement, I am well into writing a novel that could be very interesting. I don’t talk about it much because some of the ideas in it are so good I am paranoid someone will heist them! But I will say that it’s a novel that combines a bizarre supernatural horror element with a passionate love affair between two Wisconsin writers. The music group the Cocteau Twins feature heavily in the story. My main character is an ethereal woman whom I want to be played by Emmy Rossum or Rachel McAdams in the movie version. That’s all I can say right now…the plot is top secret!
Al K Hall: Yeah, you don’t gotta worry about me stealing stuff. i have no recall. When i wake up, i consider myself lucky if i can remember to pee before it’s too late. Hey, you got any other projects in the pipeline i should know about?
Kevin: I’ve begun work on an improvisational, “sonic travelogue” recording with John, Ted and my friend Gretchen Hewitt. We’re aiming to make beautiful, hypnotic, unpredictable semi-ambient music that evokes different places and moods. You can also be the first to hear that I’ve written a song about J.D. Salinger that I hope to shoot a video for. I’m going to perform it for the first time at a gig next week. And a weird, ongoing side project of mine is a “history of bird song in music.” I’m fascinated by birds, and the different ways bird songs or calls have been used as either sonic coloring in music, or inspiration for the songs themselves. I’ve amassed quite alot of recordings for this project.
Al K Hall: Sounds trippy. Let me know when the Salinger song is ready. i’m a huge fan of his, always have been, and not just the good stuff either. [Kevin can tell i’m kidding about that ‘not just the good stuff’ part.] So, if a booking agent or muscial director is interested in contacting you, what’s the best way?
Al K Hall: Speaking of contacting you, do you have a few words for your many fans?
Kevin: Yes, I do. Every single one of you matters to me. No artist or musician is anything without people to hear and appreciate what they do. Every person who has enjoyed or related to “Up in the Air” and has written to me about it, has touched me with their thoughts and comments and inspired me to do more. Keep writing me, guys. I plan to answer every one of you personally until the day comes when it is so time-consuming I can’t continue. I like this part of my career, when the responses come in just a few every day, and I can write people back, get to know them, and share my own thoughts and advice with them. So…I encourage correspondence! Especially from beautiful women and rich people! (Again, just kidding!)
Al K Hall: Excellent. Now, to wrap this puppy up, we have the traditional Bar None questionnaire. What’s your favorite alcoholic drink?
Kevin: All of ’em! Seriously, I am partial to vodka-based drinks these days. Love vodka/cran combinations, and have developed a thing for blueberry vodka. I’ve also turned into a bit of a wine connoisseur…just love good wine. Sort of partial to rieslings, chardonnay and pinot noir. I love the movie Sideways for how it pays tribute to the art of wine drinking.
Al K Hall: i’m like that about wine too, except the ‘connoisseur’ part. When was the last time you had a hangover?
Kevin: I actually pride myself on being an advanced, balanced drinker.
Al K Hall: Lucky bastard. i’m what you’d call a ‘remedial drinker’.
Kevin: I almost never get hangovers any more. I think maybe a few years ago I got a little bit of a headache, but nothing that bad.
Al K Hall: You lucky, lucky bastard. Do you smoke?
Kevin: I don’t smoke. Ugh. Don’t like being around smoke.
Al K Hall: Sorry about the ash i got on your pants, man. What’s your favorite swear word? Do you swear? A lot?
Kevin: It’s hard to beat “shit” and “fuck”. They are all-purpose swear words. Nothing is quite as cathartic, especially in traffic, as yelling out “You motherfucking piece of shit!” I swear with some of my male friends, but tend not to do that when ladies are around unless I know them real well.
Al K Hall: Yeah, the bitches. [Thankfully Kevin knows i’m just kidding again.] Finally, what’s your favorite thing about me, Al K Hall?
Kevin: Your awesome website, your appreciation for lovely female celebrities and your drink-centric view of the universe, which requires balls and creativity! Two things you obviously have in spades, sir!
Al K Hall: Three, actually, if you count each ball. Nah, seriously, thanks for the love, Brother. Now just tell our waitress that and we’ll be set.
Kevin: Sure thing. You said this round was on you, right?
[This interview comes to an abrupt end.]
Here’s me reminding you that, unfortunately, Kevin and i never met in Norway or anywhere else in real life. The interview as done through e-mail, where i sent him a list of questions and he answered ’em. i added the other crap afterwards to make it look like we were in a bar, but i haven’t changed any of his responses in any way.
To conclude, i’d like to thank Kevin for not freaking out at any point during our exchanges. Kevin is not only a talented performer but a great interview and a sincerely nice guy. If you don’t believe me (and especially if you do) do yourself a nice one and stop by his website and Facebook Fan page. Drop him a line, tell him i sent you, and ask him when he’s appearing at a bar near you. As you’ve heard, his music is as cool as he is and you’ll be able to say you knew him when.
As for me, i’m looking forward to the moment fate puts him and me together in the same bar. For real.