I know this is supposed to be a blog about books, but I don't remember the last time I got so excited by such an immense musical talent as Renee-Louise Carafice, and I have to write about her. I feel as though I'm in love, or at least have this massive crush - on her songs. Imagine melding Liz Phair with Joanna Newsom, but the product being even more stunning than the sum of its parts. To make a more New Zealand connection (Carafice is a New Zealander, now living in Chicago), I see her in the same vein of musical genius as David Mitchell (3Ds) and Ed Cake (Bressa Creeting Cake), with songs that reach deep inside you in a way you just don't quite understand; it's like they've always been there inside you and only now someone is pointing them out. You didn't realise they'd been missing from your life, but it's as if someone has just told you that you need air to survive, or that the ocean exists.
I feel ashamed to call myself a writer when trying to articulate how I feel about music - which is why I could never be a music journalist. The music I love best is the music I have such a visceral response to that putting it into words seems to trivialise it.
I only just discovered this wonderful musician when I heard her being interviewed on National Radio last Sunday. In between playing her songs, which I found fragile, defiant, surreal, funny and steeped in meloncholy, all at the same time, she talked. For once I was hungry to listen to what a musician had to say (unlike 99% of contemporary musicians I hear being interviewed). She talked about her time in a mental institution where she was treated for depression, and most of the songs on her debut album Tells You to Fight seem to be about that time in her life. But she talked about it in a way that didn't make me feel sorry for her; it just made me want to hear more about her way of looking at the world, a world where she rows a boat out on the ocean to sing someone to their death, or burrows far into the earth and makes a kingdom of the people she finds there.
Luckily for me, she is touring New Zealand at the moment and I went to see her at the Harbourlight in Lyttleton last night. And seeing her live just made me love her even more. Sitting there alone on the stage, swapping instruments with every song, that strange and beautiful voice... lyrics that were wickedly funny, and heart-breaking, but not just words: the melodies so weird and sad as well. The music I most relate to makes me think of my own work, makes me want to make it better, to try harder to convey a certain atmosphere, feeling, aesthetic. Her music makes me feel the way I want my books to make me feel. I came away feeling inspired.
For that reason, she's going on my list.
An example of some lyrics (apologies if I get them wrong, going from memory):
I will raise a bird army
they will peck you to pieces
they will tear your house down
and use the banisters as roosting places.
The wonderful video for Bodhisattva can be found here.
okay. wow. will have to listen now.
thanks rachael. i agree - i listen to music i love and want that visceral thing i get to somehow come through in my writing
forgot to add that I thought you nailed it completely, how does music do it, evoke where words cannot....
she sounds a little like Sarah Blasko - worth checking out if you haven't
i've requested that renee-louise visit auckland. I love joanna newsom; she was on my novel-inspiration iist.
Great voice - reminded me of Cerys Matthews of Catatonia.
Thanks for the tip. Have requested that she comes to Liverpool!
It makes me incredibly happy that other people have the same response to Renee's music as Ben King and I did when we first met her. She changed our lives. Thanks Rachael.
Sorry Nicholas - I somehow missed this comment. You're very welcome!
Thanks for the heads-up, Rachael. I checked her out on youtube and it's lovely stuff.
fans of renee-louise should also check out "tiny vipers" (jesse fortino, from seattle, WA) - she has released 1 album to date "hands across the void" on sub pop records and also 1 or 2 self released eps....they have VERY similar voices and styles - possibly tiny vipers is a little more "lo-fi".....have to agree that RLC has made the most beautiful request for violence that i have ever heard....the world needs a little more madness obviously.....
Thanks for the tip - her voice is a lot like Renee's, you're right! The music is slightly more downbeat I would say, but it reminds me very much of the music we were making and listening to in the late 1980s-early 1990s, long, involved soundscapes with voice as an instrument more than the main focus (I'm sure the lyrics here are great, I just can't understand them and it doesn't matter!).
I stumbled on your piece on Renee-Louise while struggling to write my own review of this extraordinary album and finding myself at a loss for words. Your response resonated with mine, and gave me the encouragement I needed to face the blank screen. I know what you mean about Liz Phair and Joanna Newsom –I hear bits of Buffy Saint-Marie in there too sometimes - but there is something utterly unique about Renee-Louise too – maybe it’s just that she has some of the same authentic brilliance as those other artists. Anyway, she is truly one of the greats and such an exciting thing to find. I know exactly what you mean about the sense of futility trying to put into words something as visceral as listening to music. Foolishly I keep trying. Thanks for getting me kick-started.
Hi Nick, thanks for dropping by. I think we have a similar taste in music. I've always been glad when you've written appreciative reviews of the Phoenix Foundation, a personal favourite. I look forward to seeing your RLC review!
I released Renee's album on my label, Monkey Records. Reading your heartfelt response to the album made me pick up your book (which had been sitting in my 'to read' pile for a while) and read it. I enjoyed it very much and your style reminded me somewhat of Isabel Allende (one of my favourite authors). I noticed on page 192 Agatha talks about how grand a hat would be with a bird's nest on it and a small stuffed bird inside. I'm sure you've noticed that's exactly what Renee is wearing in her promo pic at the top of your article!
Glad you liked the Harbour Light show too. The tour was a bit of a disaster for me financially as I had to bring Renee over from Chicago and we didn't get very good turnouts (middle of winter, 'recession', lack of radio support, etc) but people can make up for not coming to the shows by buying her album perhaps hint hint.
Looking forward to your next book.
I'll be back at he Harbour Light on the 13th January with the incredible Benka Boradovsky Bordello Band (East European/Gypsy/Klezmer) if you're around.
This comment is several years overdue, but Renee-Louise has just today released her new album entitled "I Will Raise A Bird Army", featuring the song you mentioned!
It should be available anywhere at record stores from this week. It's all very exciting!
strangenews at gmail dot com
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