As the closing credits rolled in Jason Reitman's 2009 Paramount Pictures release UP IN THE AIR, starring George Clooney, many moviegoers wondered who was singing that high, breathy tune about uncertainty and indecision, a now classic song also titled "Up In The Air." The correct answer: Kevin Renick, a singer/songwriter whose stirring, autobiographical tune about the unpredictable and often anxiety-producing nature of life not only caused moviegoers to stay in their seats a few extra minutes at the end of Reitman’s Oscar-nominated film, it also appeared on the offiicial soundtrack to UITA alongside contributions from artists such as CSNY and Elliott Smith. Renick also recorded a fresh new studio version of the song for his debut full-length CD, Close To Something Beautiful, available on CDBaby, Amazon and iTunes.
The story of "Up In The Air" reads as a serendipitous alignment of stars for Renick, a St. Louis native--one that aspiring artists usually can only dream about. Renick is a passionate music lover previously known around his hometown as a freelance journalist who'd contributed countless album, film and concert reviews to publications such as PlaybackSTL, Sauce and The River Front Times and and various online music hubs over the past three decades. Renick’s talent as a songwriter, however, remained hidden from all except his close friends. In Fall of 2008, after an unexpected layoff from his long-standing proofreading job at a top ad agency, Renick was moved to take his secret musical dreams public. Guitar in hand, he began performing live for the first time at the tiny Grove Deli in suburban St. Louis, mainly to an audience of close friends and family members. The set lists consisted of covers by Neil Young, The Beatles, Bob Dylan and other iconic artists, as well as a handful of originals.
Only a few months later, in February 2009, Renick’s chance to meet director Jason Reitman at a college lecture provided him with the opportunity of a lifetime. Renick handed Reitman a cassette tape featuring his original composition titled “Up in the Air” and told Reitman the story of his recent layoff. After Reitman looked at the primitive format and wondered aloud where he would be able to listen to the cassette, Renick admits he left the encounter without a lot of expectations. But thanks to Reitman’s unique diligence in seeking out a cassette player, the song – which echoed the movie's theme and aesthetic – would not only become the title track of Reitman's new movie, the version appearing in the film would be the same one Renick recorded in demo form, sitting on the couch in front of his old cassette recorder, specifically to give to Reitman. In Dec. 2009, Up In The Air was finally released in the U.S., with openings in other countries throughout 2010. What followed for Renick was a whirlwind of attention: appearances on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and numerous TV programs in St. Louis; live hometown performances at the 2009 St. Louis Film Festival and the Songwriters Showcase in nearby Greenville, IL; a press junket to Japan with UITA actress Anna Kendrick co-sponsored by Paramount Pictures and American Airlines; and articles in the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, the Los Angeles Times, St. Louis Magazine, the Riverfront Times and many others. Blogs around the world upon Up In The Air's release buzzed with Oscar talk sparking debates over why the Oscar rules (that made Renick’s song ineligible for nomination) should be changed...
Renick launched a recording career following his song’s appearance on Rhino Records' Up in the Air soundtrack with a pair of self-released CDs: Close To Something Beautiful in 2010 and Come On Down in 2011. He also released a long-gestating ambient/spoken word collaboration with Canadian electronica artist John Sobocan, whose Eno-esque soundscapes proved the perfect complement to Renick's soft-spoken meditations on life, love and loss. That project, The Road To Olandra, was a crucial and influential stepping stone on Renick's creative journey. In late 2012, Renick released his fourth outing, Under The Wishing Tree, an ambitious song cycle that features "Ballad of the American Farmer," a song he'd been commissioned to write and record for the upcoming James Roberson documentary about the history of American agribusiness, In the Interest of National Security.
Renick performs gigs regularly around St. Louis and neighboring cities, in both a coffee house singer-songwriter format either solo/duo, and as a 4-piece band. He has played at venues including the prestigious Sheldon Concert Hall, the Old Rock House, Blueberry Hill, Off Broadway, the Way Out Club, Vin de Set restaurant and others, and appeared as a featured performer at the Nashville Songwriter's Festival in June 2011. With Renick’s special ability to channel Neil Young, he also performs periodically in a Neil Young tribute act called Shakey Deal. And he has recorded a children's song called “Read A Book” about the joys of reading; this song was submitted to the American Library Association for consideration in their literacy campaigns. Having penned close to two hundred beautifully crafted songs, Renick has forged a singular aesthetic that captures the timeless themes of love, friendship, loss and leaving childhood behind.
This was a worthy challenge I set for myself: could I pick out a dozen events that were the most influential and far-reaching in my overall musical story? After contemplating the matter for some time, here is what I came up with.
In my senior year of high school and after graduating, I learned that I could sing and play some Neil Young songs credibly, which gave me an early burst of confidence and earned my first approving comments from other people, in the realm of music.
Meeting Ted Moniak in college, who was destined to be my primary collaborator, creative soulmate and the guy who pushed me to learn and apply the most important rules of musicmaking.
Brian Eno. Literally everything about this wizardly, incredibly influential artist, but specifically his philosophizing about "using limitations to your advantage" and "trying things to see where they might go." Without reading and absorbing Eno's varied and inspiring insights about musicmaking, it's doubtful I would've written "Up in the Air" or even had the courage to keep writing songs my way.
Jim Ford is the husband of my cousin Nanette, and one of the first dedicated musicians and songwriters I had the opportunity to hang around. At music parties at his house, Jim would sometimes invite me to sing a Neil Young song or two such as "Down By the River" or "Heart of Gold." In September of 2008, Jim was playing monthly gigs at the Grove Deli in Webster Groves, and he invited me to be his collaborator that month for an evening of Neil Young music. This was to be my first actual show in front of a crowd. It went very well, I was compensated with a nice meal, and most importantly, the owner Joe asked me if I wanted to play a show myself at the Deli. Thus it was that the first "Kevin Renick & Friends" performance took place in October of 2008 with Kathy Pour and Ned Watson as my musical cohorts. I could not believe it was happening, actually, and it was so rewarding, and my friends in the audience so supportive, that I broke right through the creative barrier previously holding me back. I was off and running now, partially thanks to Jim's help.
Getting my song "Up in the Air" into the hands of director Jason Reitman in February of 2009. This proved to be absolutely the pivotal moment in my aspiring artistic career, setting a whole ton of things in motion.
Recording the albums Close To Something Beautiful and The Road to Olandra in 2010. There is no way to better learn about recording techniques and creative choice-making than to actually start DOING it. Recording my first album CTSB was a revelatory experience, with songs like "Read A Book," "The Sorry Song," "Call It Friend-o" and "Janey" all having memorable stories behind their creation.
Meeting engineer Adam Long through a contact I made in the wake of my mother's death. Adam turned out to be an ideal music engineer for me to work with, and many of my most enthralling experiences getting music recorded happened because of the attentive and enthusiastic way he works and how it jived with my own temperament.
My first concert at the legendary Sheldon Concert Hall in 2011. All the key people I was working with at the time took part, and even Christa Juergens, with whom I'd written a couple of songs already, flew in for the show.
Putting together a Neil Young tribute show at Off Broadway in 2011 soon led to the formation of an actual Neil tribute band, which I dubbed SHAKEY DEAL. The band evolved through several different incarnations, taking a big leap forward when fiery guitarist Mark Arnold joined in 2015, and its positive reputation grew over time. Soon enough we scored some fairly BIG shows, including a couple of well-attended concerts at Delmar Hall (from which terrific videos were taken) and a solidly professional outing at Jacoby Art Center in Alton in 2018.
Meeting the effervescent Denise Chappell at a very surprising Sherlock Holmes radio podcast in 2015. Denise turned out to be a splendid musical partner both live and in the studio; she ended up recording some key original songs with me including "Fast and Off," "These Things Happen" and "Different Without You." Performance-wise, we evolved as a duo to the point where we were soon doing songs I could never have imagined playing in concert before, such as duets by Johnny Cash and June Carter like "Jackson," and Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit," which Denise sings beautifully. Through this part of my music career, I grew unquestionably as a musician and performer, and likely had more pure FUN in the process than ever before.
The recording of CLEAR THE WAY in 2017 was something I approached as a serious, ambitious artist, paying attention to the sound, the packaging and the intent of the songs like the "experienced" artist I fancied myself to be at that point. From the ambitious 12-minute opening experimental track (intended to be a very personal meditation on unexpected life changes) to employing an actual harpist on "If We Can Keep Dancing" to the wildly intense personal statement I made on the title track working with Ted Moniak and Adam Long in the studio, to the absolutely emotional and melancholy circumstances surrounding the track "Just Movin' On," which found me working with legendary producer Lou Whitney in Springfield and overseeing one of the most potent recording moments of my career, when Rick Haegg, my childhood friend who'd never recorded in a studio before, and Ted Moniak laid down a dueling guitar instrumental that gives me chills to this day...as Rick passed away not long after recording his part. CTW felt like my first real shot at participating in the old-school artistic process that was soon to become undervalued in a rapidly changing music industry. A fabulous review of the album by Jackson Truax in early 2018 was something of a reward for me for the tireless work I'd put into the creation of this album.
Although I was known for doing mostly folk-rock style music in the singer/songwriter tradition, I was a passionate fan of ambient and evocative instrumental music. I had dabbled in that on The Road to Olandra and the opening track of Clear the Way, but I dreamed of the opportunity to create ambient music in a more focused context. That opportunity came in 2018 and 2019, when my friend Walter Whitney and I embarked on an experimental project at his studio. I also initiated some tracks for the project at Adam Long's studio thanks to his very enthusiastic and helpful encouragement of the ideas I started expressing. Though it took a long time to finish, partially because of the pandemic, LOST IN FAMILIAR TERRITORY was finally completed in 2023. It was my first ambient recording and a landmark of "outside the box" musical conceptualizing. I love the album and feel very proud of it, even as I know it won't be to everyone's taste. But it opened the door to all sorts of fresh new ideas.
These are a few of my favorite things...
My favorite musical artists of all time:
The Beatles Joni Mitchell
Neil Young Radiohead
Brian Eno Ephemera
Nick Drake Pete Namlook
Cocteau Twins Paul Simon
Some favorite movies:
To Kill A Mockingbird Sideways
Groundhog Day Taxi Driver
Field Of Dreams Dances With Wolves
Lord Of The Rings saga Lucas
Some novels that influenced me:
To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter (Carson McCullers)
Stranger In A Strange Land (Robert Heinlein)
Lord Of The Flies (William Golding)
Tarzan Of The Apes (Edgar Rice Burroughs)
20 favorite or influential albums:
The Beatles - Revolver
The Beatles - The White Album
The Clash - Sandinista
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - Deja Vu
Danielson Famile - Tell Another Joke at the Ol Chopping Block
Nick Drake - Five Leaves Left
Brian Eno - On Land
Ephemera (Norway) - Monolove, Balloons and Champagne
Joni Mitchell - Hejira
Pete Namlook - Air 2
Pink Floyd - Meddle
Radiohead - OK Computer
R.E.M. - Automatic For The People
Simon & Garfunkle - Bridge Over Troubled Water
Talking Heads - Remain In Light
XTC - English Settlement
Yes - Fragile
Neil Young - After The Gold Rush
Neil Young - Harvest
Some random things I love:
Going to wineries
Time travel stories
Nature in general, especially wilderness
The smell of campfires
Long talks with friends, preferably in person
Viggo Mortensen (my favorite actor)
Trying to find the perfect rhyme when I write lyrics
Norway and Iceland...the culture, music, terrain, etc.
A starry night sky when viewed from the countryside
Monty Python's Flying Circus. They're the Beatles of comedy, really!
Dancing to the great tunes at almost any Brian Capps show
Falling snow, when you can see that it's gonna stick!
When someone you love surprises you
The random people you meet on the road, when traveling by car...