Woodstock-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Adrien Reju isn’t one to hide her influences on Strange Love and The Secret Language out August 7th. The accessible yet respected harmonies and compositional mode of Fleetwood Mac and Feist is present in this worldly recording of singular love songs that feature A.C Newman, Marco Benevento and also includes covers of artists David Bowie, Prince, John Cale, Elliot Smith and King Missile.
Reju has already shared the stage – as both the opener and band member/backup singer – with artists including Neko Case, Rachael Yamagata, Amos Lee, Gillian Welch, Linda Rondstadt, A.C. Newman and David Bromberg. Having collaborated with some of the most respected names and voices around, Reju has certainly allowed artistic relevance to brush her way immediately, but she still echos that of a true DIY artist, even showing a sharp edge through the beauty of the compositions.
Having got her start in Philadelphia collaborating with Amos Lee and the folk-blues-rock storyteller Chris Kasper, Reju immediately found a scene that honed her work and allowed for the building of valuable musical and life lessons. In 2010, Adrien moved back to Woodstock where she further honed her craft and has evolved into an artist who cares deeply about what she creates which has led the writing and recording of Strange Love and The Secret Language. Here Reju has collaborated with her musical contemporaries, recorded choice covers and delivered a lucid album that resonates on first listen – pretty much an ideal album concept.
Glide is premiering Strange Love and The Secret Language out August 7th (below) and along the way Reju shared some insight into her work, life and other items of interest.
Strange Love and The Secret Language really resonates on the first listen in the tradition of Fleetwood Mac and Feist- were you looking to make an album that was both easily accessible but also musically challenging? I think you achieved that. What were your original expectations for this album?
Wow, thank you for noticing that and saying so. It’s funny you should bring up both Fleetwood Mac and Feist as both were inspirations in the studio when we were recording. The producer (Chris Maxwell) and I listened to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors for drum sound inspiration. The drums on that album are mixed very forward and dry and you’ll hear that quite a bit on Strange Love & the Secret Language. When we were discussing the direction we wanted to take for the overall sound, I also referenced Feist’s first record Let It Die as a piece of work I admired because it has such variety from track to track, and yet she was able to maintain her voice and “sound” all the way through the album. Also, that album had a similar form as SL & SL since it was half covers and half original songs, and she managed to successfully showcase her own material up against some pretty great songs that were written by other people.
With songwriting and music in general, it has always been my mission, in a sense, to figure out how to take something complex and present it simply and accessibly. It’s an interesting challenge and certainly one that I considered when making this album. I also wanted to draw in a wide range of listeners.
What songs are you most fond of on Strange Love and The Secret Language and why?
Man, that changes from week to week. But I would say I’m most fond and proud of the Elliott Smith cover “Waltz #1” and the song “Solo Mission.” Someone (a fan) had suggested I cover “Waltz #1” but the original version is so achingly beautiful I didn’t want to go near it at first. But then Chris (the producer) had an idea and asked Owen [Biddle] to pedal a note on the upright bass, and Dan [Hickey] to play a steady beat on the cymbal. I picked up a classical guitar and we improvised over that bare landscape for a while until we hit on something that worked. It was a really beautiful and natural way to arrive at a fresh take on the song without trying to be too clever about it.
“Solo Mission” is a song I wrote during a time when I was feeling nostalgic for things in my past, places where I’ve lived, and people who I’ve known and loved throughout my life, and realizing that it’s really the longing and the absence of those things that makes me feel so strongly about them. I was living in a house in Woodstock at the time I wrote it and had just moved there from NYC, and was really experiencing the stark difference between the two places. When you’ve gotten used to the constant hum and frantic activity of the city and then move to the slower-paced isolation and wilderness of the mountains, you immediately become aware of how much time and space there is, and the only thing you can do is be with yourself and be in harmony with the environment around you. It was an important time of self-reflection and growth.
“Soul Love” was also extremely fun to record. It’s an incredible song with some pretty profound lyrics, and musically we paid homage to some of my heroes as well: the Brian-May-esque guitar solo for instance, and the Gladys Knight “Midnight Train To Georgia”-style background vocals.
Aside from Elliott Smith, you also have covers of David Bowie and Prince on the album – are those artists some of your biggest influences or was it just those particular songs that spoke to you?
When choosing the covers for the album, I saw myself as a curator of songs, so to speak. There are some artists I really admire because they consistently put out great work, and then there are artists I love because they made me feel something or because I identify with them and look up to them in some way, but I’m mostly just into good songs. Bowie, Smith, and Prince are all brilliant songwriters and have influenced me and many others as well, but I never got to the point of obsession over them the way I did with Joni Mitchell, Jeff Buckley, and Queen. Good songs though, that’s where it’s at for me.
Your music has been labeled a unique brand of indie-folk-retro-pop do you think that’s a fair assessment and how would you best describe it?
I have a hard time defining my music in terms of genre. I like a lot of different stuff. I can see why someone would use all of those words, separately or together, to describe my music. So sure, I would say that’s a fair assessment. Accurate? I’m not sure. I guess my first album A Million Hearts was pretty folky compared to the more electrified “retro-pop” sound of my EP Lucky Ones. SL & SL encompasses a bit of both. I’m constantly evolving and listening for what interests me. That’s what’s most important to me.
You’ve shared the stage or collaborated with Neko Case, Rachael Yamagata, Amos Lee, Gillian Welch and Linda Rondstadt – obviously each name is very well respected amongst critics and music fans – what gave you the sure-fire to go out on your own vs being a side musician?
In a lot of ways being a side musician would be an easy and fun way to maintain a career in music. But, I have that itch inside of me that I can’t ignore. I love the process of writing songs and then sharing them with people. I love being a part of that symbiotic relationship.
Has finding your own sound come easy or has it been a struggle after having shared the stage and collaborated with so many artists?
I wouldn’t say it’s a struggle to find my own sound. I’m a fan of many of the artists I’ve played with over the years and of course they have influenced me. The fun part is taking all of those ingredients and throwing some of them into the pot in order to make some soup. Hopefully the soup tastes good, if you know what I mean.
AC Newman guests on one track- you’ve collaborated with him in the past- how did you get him involved this time around? He obviously has a huge talent for big power hooks – do you take anything musically from what he’s done?
I met Carl at a BBQ in Woodstock a few years ago when we both lived there. I remember telling someone that I was “really looking forward to hearing AC Newman play at the upcoming comedy show in Kingston,” not realizing that he was standing right next to the guy I was talking to. It was funny and kind of embarrassing, but it must have stuck out to him because he asked me to play and sing in his band shortly thereafter. We played two shows opening for Neko Case and also performed a duet at a Pete Seeger Tribute show at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock.
When I began searching for cover songs for the album (I was looking in particular for songs under the theme of unconventional love) I immediately thought to ask Carl for a recommendation. He has such an immense library of obscure music that I thought he would be able to pull some gem out of it for me. That’s how “Hemophiliac of Love” by King Missile ended up on the album. I thought it only appropriate to ask him to sing it with me as a duet and he reluctantly obliged (kidding). No, it was really fun hanging out with him in the studio. At one point in the song, Chris had him sing through a Paper Jamz WooWee vocal effect box to give it a megaphone sound. I think Carl went out and bought one after that and it became his new favorite toy. Haha. Yeah, I really respect Carl as a songwriter and also added a little AC Newman-esque vocal Coda at the end of the song, to honor his presence.
Marco Benevento is another nice surprise to hear on your album - How did you get to collaborating with him and were you aware of his previous work?
Marco also lives in the Hudson Valley area and Chris recommended him for the Elliott Smith song. He and I were supposed to play a show together at Levon Helm’s Barn earlier in the year, but the show was canceled, so this was my way of creating another chance to work with him. I had seen him play in bands around the area and he would sometimes bring along his upright piano rigged with effect pedals to the show, and I just really loved his wacky energy coupled with his virtuosity and unique voice as a musician. One of my favorite albums of his is Between the Needles & Nightfall.
You got your start in Philadelphia and knew Amos Lee from early on. What was this Philadelphia scene like back then and what did you feel the city had going for it in terms of fostering a place to play? How do you feel about it today?
I lived in Philly from about 2004-2009. There was something very special happening in the music scene around that time. I think maybe it had a lot to do with the fact that it’s the home to one of the biggest taste-maker Triple A radio stations in the country, WXPN. It’s a magnet for creative people. A colorful city full of history and also music history (it was home to the songwriting R&B and Soul Production duo Gamble & Huff). I remember going out almost every night to an open mic or a bar to meet up with my friends, many of them songwriters, and we would share songs with each other. It was a very safe and nurturing group of people that I befriended there and many of us are still playing music and we keep an eye on each other. Amos Lee is one of those people, for sure. Also, Chris Kasper, George Stanford, Langhorne Slim, Birdie Busch, CowMuddy, Jaron Olevsky, Freddie Berman, Zach Djanikian (also featured on the album), Emily Zeitlyn (The Divers), Ross Bellenoit, Kevin Hanson, Craig Craigstofferson, Mutlu, all incredible musicians and songwriters and people.
I go back to visit Philly once every few months or so to play a show or do some recording. There’s still a lot of music activity happening there, but I’m not so much in the scene anymore to know what that feels like. I think fondly about that time though.
The album owes its existence in part to a highly successful PledgeMusic campaign, which netted you 113 percent of your stated financial goals. What piece of advice would you give to other musicians going this direction?
Oh cool, I like giving advice. Probably because I really appreciate getting advice when I can! So here it is, if you’re looking to raise money for your new album, the ultimate goal when using a service like PledgeMusic is to raise awareness about your project and create a deeper connection with your existing fans and hopefully gain new ones. Use your Project Manager for all the expertise they can offer you. I learned so much from my Project Manager, not just about how to utilize PledgeMusic, but also about music marketing in general. It’s all about creating a genuine connection with the people who support you. It’s reciprocity, give them free stuff and ask them to spread the word. People are incredibly generous. Pledge updates are your friend. Have fun with them, make videos, post sneak-peak clips of songs, invite your fans into your process and ask them for feedback. The only potentially difficult part is the pledge fulfillment. Make sure your incentives are simple enough for you to create and complete before the deadline.
As the only daughter of two very musically inspired parents, what has their reaction been to your success starting out?
They are both supportive in different ways. My mom (a music textbook editor, former oboist and music teacher) is and always has been a cheerleader in the bleachers and my biggest fan. It’s adorable. I’m so lucky to have her on my side. Sometimes she’ll be the only person to retweet my tweet of a photo I took of a weird open mic poster or something like that. She enjoys suggesting creative ways to market and present my music (she used to manage actors). She’s also my editor.
My father is a professional cellist, composer, and conductor of an Orchestra in Vermont. His support often comes in the form of constructive critique and interesting assignments. “Have you ever tried writing a song where the A section (the verse) was loud and the B section (the chorus) extremely soft?” It’s a great idea, I haven’t tried it yet.
What performance or artist or albums have you seen/heard in the past year that has most inspired you?
I really like Father John Misty’s new album I Love You, Honeybear. Also, my friends Mike + Ruthy just came out with a great Americana album called Bright As You Can. The New Pornographers’ Brill Bruisers is pretty brilliant too. And have you heard Emily King’s The Switch yet? So good!
As far as performances go, I recently saw legendary songwriter Dan Penn play his songs “ Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” and “Dark End of the Street” solo acoustic at Lincoln Center Our of Doors. Those are epic songs recorded by some heavy hitters, Aretha Franklin and James Carr, and it was so incredible to see him play them in his own way. Also, Amos Lee’s live show keeps getting better and better. I might be biased, but I think he has one of the best live bands out there.