Born and raised in southwest Louisiana, Renée Reed has always been unselfconsciously Cajun. She grew up on the accordion-bending knee of her grandfather Harry Trahan, in the middle of countless jam sessions at the one-stop Cajun shop owned by her parents Lisa Trahan and Mitch Reed, and soaked in the storytelling of her great uncle, the folklorist Revon Reed and his infamous brothers from Mamou. She was surrounded by a litany of Cajun and Creole music legends, both backstage at the many festivals of Southwest Louisiana, and on the porch of her family home.
The cover of her debut single,“Out Loud,” is a photo of her in traditional Mardi Gras costume. It’s not the typical New Orleans Mardi Gras costume most folks are used to seeing, but a costume of the lesser known Courir de Mardi Gras, a rural celebration where there are no spectators and the participants’ costumes more closely resemble French medieval attire.
But Renée also voraciously explored beyond her cultural roots. She dove into a broad spectrum of 60s folk and attended Richard Thompson’s masterclass camp in the Catskills outside of Woodstock, New York. She developed an affinity for outsider art, animation, and puppetry. At around the same time Renée started writing her own songs she discovered Serge Gainsbourg, Françoise Hardy, and yé-yé (1960s French pop). What might seem incidental to some, encountering French in this way was a revelation to Renée and began to forge a bridge between her many influences.
In high school she was grouped with a few of her classmates for a project that evolved into a band in its own right called Shrugs. The band quickly became favorites on the house show circuit between Lafayette and New Orleans and traveled to Austin to play on several bills booked by the Austin indie/folk label Keeled Scales.
During the later days of the group, Renée enrolled in the University of Louisiana in pursuit of dual degrees in Traditional Music and French, and took a job working in the Archives of the Center for Louisiana Studies. She started experimenting with her own music and began playing solo sets and performing Cajun traditional songs as part of a trio.
She continued writing, and when she and her partner brought home a Tascam cassette four-track her only goal was to have a way to record something more tangible than cellphone voice memos of her songs. She recorded a few songs in early 2020 and those recordings quickly opened the floodgates. They quickly went on to record a total of 15 songs, twelve of which are included on Renée’s self-titled debut album. Some of them were finished or written from scratch during the recording sessions.
Two of those early songs, “Out Loud” and “Until Tomorrow” were released respectively in May and July 2020 to quick critical praise. Gorilla vs. Bear described her music as “an effortless, inspired union of the haunting folk music that Reed was raised on and a lilting, lost ’60s French-pop gem” and The Wild Honey Pie used the words “folk gaze,” “hazy,” and “haunted daydream” to write about her debut single. She has drawn comparisons to Jessica Pratt, Mazzy Star, and Cate le Bon.
Renée’s music has a mysterious quality with a strong melodic undertow. “Fast One” is one of the more buoyant songs on the album, but Renée says it’s a song full of anger. There is that duality throughout.
The songs on Renée’s self-titled debut album chronicle a three-year period. These are songs about toxic relationships, seeing ghosts, ancestral baggage and blessings, and daydreaming about a lover.
Renée describes her music as dream-fi folk from the Cajun prairies, and this, her debut album, as “a whole document of me coming to terms with myself and embracing who I am without reserve.” There is a timelessness throughout these songs, a through-line to the past, and a deep mixing of influences into something hopeful and new.