Renee Cologne It’s a conundrum that Reneé Cologne has been living in New York City for 20 years, when, as she likes to joke, she is only 16 in record company years — an inside jab referring to record companies practice of signing and promoting very young artists. Not that she minds that so much, her path is one she wouldn’t trade for the world, and began 16 years ago ...
Born to a traveling circus troupe based in Raleigh, NC, it didn’t take long for her to discover a sanctuary in music. Not for her, the bright lights and show biz glamorous environment that surrounded her. She was a more quiet, introverted child — given to melancholy Spanish music and epic poetry. While other children fantasized about growing up and being famous, all she wanted was to live a “normal” middle class existence — marry a nice man, have dinner on the table for him after a hard days work at the office and maybe have some kids. The bearded lady in the circus troupe felt sorry for Reneé and bought her an EZ Bake oven. Ever-resourceful, she made little cup cakes and other baked goods and sold them at a profit to the children who came to see the circus.
Her family, Mom, clown Junebug and Dad, Samuel, conquistador and ringmaster, indulged her and allowed her to go to college, rather than join the troupe. That is how she found herself studying classical music and baroque harmony at the University of North Carolina in Greenville. But they wouldn’t let her wear the costumes she was so comfortable in and wanted her to sing this beautiful but not-natural-to-her-voice music called Opera. It was all way too stifling.
So, she went on to Berklee College of Music, where real live jazz musicians studied and taught. They didn’t care what she looked like as long as she could sight read jazz vocal charts and orchestrate for big bands, both of which she learned to do. Ah, and her life-long need to “know how things work” found its voice, finally — in audio recording and engineering and production. Armed with a Bachelors of Music Degree in music production and engineering, she moved to New York, where our story began 16 (wink wink) years ago.
Reneé made the rounds in New York, performing at all the Songwriter Circles, and many of the clubs in the city before being awarded a New York Foundation of the Arts grant, starting her own record label, Backdoor Records, and setting up her first home recording studio. She released her first record in 1994 entitled Aromatherapy because, how can you not call your first record that when your last name is “Cologne?” She still hopes to release her own fragrance at some point, or at least include a scratch and sniff label on her CD releases.
During her years in New York, she also formed a band with fellow musicians called Big Panty, the shows and recordings of which, are still legendary, if only in their own minds. She sang on movie soundtracks and composed for dance troupes and experimental theater.
But the wanderlust of being born to a traveling circus troupe crept it’s way back into her heart and soon, she was off on her own adventures — to Jamaica to soak up the sun and the musical ways of Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, and Bob Marley and she learned to wail. Next, she was on to England, where she solidified her love of dark English beers and English men in the pubs of London. More importantly, but maybe not as risque, were the influential artists who continued to help mold the "sound" and world that Reneé was honing: artists like the Beatles, Queen, Elton John and Peter Gabriel. A friend she met in London brought her to Slovenia and Yugoslavia to tour, twice — there she learned about life and death nationalism and the Bulgarian Women’s Choirs, which influenced her to write her own collection of a cappella choral pieces entitled “Hymns for a Hungry Planet.”
In 2003, she completed a record 2 1/2 years in the making, entitled The Opposite Of, a project utilizing industrial loops, strings and horns, whereby Reneé played drums, guitar, bass and sang and got to make weird noises in the name of Art. Putting her aforementioned engineering degree to work, Reneé recorded the album almost exclusively in her studio in the old Wonder Bread Factory in Hoboken, NJ; although, she did mix the record in a “real” studio, the now defunct Hit Factory (NYC) with guitar god and freakishly-talented Pat Thrall.
But, in a great twist of fate, Reneé’s roots reared their head again and she fell in love with the star trapeze artist in Cirque du Soleil, who not surprisingly, encouraged her bourgeoning obsession with flying and costumes. They moved into a house in the suburbs of New Jersey and in between gardening, barbecues and having play dates with the neighborhood kids, she began in earnest her latest masterpiece. Donning her costumes and headpieces for inspiration, she threw herself headlong into the music and recording, but bumped her head in the process, which was a happy accident and only helped her discover new ways into the “soundscapes” she was creating. Utilizing many of the same elements present in "The Opposite Of," soaring string lines, crunchy stuttering beats and rich, thick, sensual vocals, the new record was becoming sharper somehow, infused with hooks that sneak up on you and grab you by the throat when you least expect it. Like a song you heard in a dream that comes back to haunt you. Lyrically, she tackles the everyday life of a housewife — what to do with the FedEx man, how to buy appliances at Sear’s and when it is time to resort to yelling at the top of your lungs.
She emerges blinking into the sun from her attic studio in the suburbs with a martini in one hand and her new record in the other appropriately titled, Rock and Roll Housewife.
Check out a live video of "Housewife" played at Joe's Pub HERE.