Interview Ren Harvieu: ‘What’s The Point In Doing All Of This Half-Arsed?’

Ren Harvieu talks Snow White, Cinderella & Sleeping Beauty.

It seems not a day goes by without another big-voiced songstress being touted as the new Adele / Winehouse / Duffy (although thinking about it, wasn’t Duffy the new Winehouse?).

While many remain pale imitations, possessing little more than one good single in them, now and then an artist emerges who promises something more, a suggestion that greatness awaits.

Salford-born starlet, Ren Harvieu is one to keep an eye on. With a voice that pays lip-service to sixties greats, like Dusty, Sandie and Cilla and a collection of sweeping, cinematic tunes that bring to mind an era of dry martinis, smoke-filled rooms and Brylcreemed young men, here is a big-voiced songstress worthy of your attention.

Ahead of the release of her debut album, ‘Through The Night’, she takes time out to talk about, amongst other things, the album, her songwriting and why Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are such important influences on her work.

You’re about to release your debut album, was this something that you’ve always wanted to do?
Not really. When I was little there was never any aspiration to be a ‘star’. It was my mum who pushed it. She kept entering me in all these scally talent competitions in Salford. Even then I still didn’t really like it because it seemed like being a singer was just a bit shit. But I began to realise that the real problem was that I was doing the wrong kind of music. So, I began working with a friend of mine called Chris, and started to write the kind of music that I wanted to listen to.

How would you describe the album to someone who hasn’t heard it before?
Bold and dramatic. Also, unlike a lot of the retro-sounding albums that have been released by female singer/songwriters in recent years, filled with songs in which they moan about boyfriends, mine is filled with a lot of fucking aggression. There’s no “boo-hoo, poor me”. Instead there’s quite a lot of anger, so much so that in some ways the album might seem a bit ‘male’. I think a lot of people won’t be expecting that.

What are the main influences on your music?
I’ve always loved the old Disney films, like Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, stuff like that. I used to spend hours as a kid just watching a stack of Disney videos that I had. Some of the songs in those films, beautiful, sweeping, numbers, are wonderful and have had a real impact upon my music. But I’m also very indebted to Manchester, the music that has come out of that city. My mum was really into bands like Joy Division and The Smiths, playing them really loud around the house. I heard them a lot when I was young and grew to love them too and they’ve been a big inspiration for me.

Was it hard to condense these different influences down into a ‘sound’ for the album?
Yes, it was really difficult. I was still a teenager when I was working on a lot of the songs that made it onto the album, so like any teenager I was prone to changing my mind one day to the next. I’m sure I was a bit of a pain in the arse for Jimmy (Jimmy Hogarth, her principle writing partner and producer). But no matter what styles or genres we went through, we always kept the ‘voice’ in mind, trying to create music that complemented it, which I think we’ve done.

What do you think the album says about you as an artist?
I don’t think it’s the kind of album that you would expect a twenty-one year old girl to make. I think it shows I have depth and that I’m not playing it safe. It’s quite mature in style and content, which I think is actually fairly representative of me as a person. I’ve always had an old head on my shoulders. Even when I was a kid I acted like I was about forty. It’s just the way kids are like where I’m from.

Many of the album’s tracks sound very emotional, is this something that’s important to you?
Definitely, because what’s the point in doing all this half-arsed? I need to pour everything about me into the music that I’m making. I never wanted to put out an album filled with bland, insipid crap. I want people to be swept away both musically and lyrically. If you don’t try and do that then all you’re really making is lift music.

Lyrically, what influences do you draw upon when you write?
I always carry a notebook around with me so that I can jot down ideas as they come into my head. Generally it tends to be the strong emotions that get written down; specifically things that make me angry or anxious. Sometimes is can be about relationships but really I find that my inspiration can come from anywhere. It just has to be a strong feeling.

You’ve collaborated with some different writing partners on the album. Do you prefer this or writing on your own?
If I’m honest it varies track to track. It might sound a bit anti-social but sometimes there’s nothing I like more than sitting in a room on my own and typing away for hours and hours. I find it quite therapeutic and I’ve written a lot of material that way. But yes, I have worked with some great people since I started out, like Jimmy Hogarth, Ed Harcourt and Dave McCabe from the Zutons. And some of these collaborations have made it onto the album. I’ve grown to really enjoy working with other people. In fact it can be just as enjoyable as writing on your own, plus it has the added benefit of letting you learn from others. As a result of these collaborations I’ve definitely improved as a writer.

Do you have a favourite song from the album
I can’t really choose one, they’re all so different. It would be like asking a mum to pick their favourite child. They’re all my favourite if that doesn’t sound too cheesy.

You’re twenty-one now, so it’s been four years since you first started out. How do you think you’ve changed in that time?
Back when I was seventeen, I was really shy and found the music world a difficult place for me. I was just a young girl from Salford and suddenly I was mixing with all these dead posh people from London. I think in that first year I hardly said a word. But over-time my confidence has grown and I’ve matured. I’m now much more comfortable being where I am.

The album is out this week, so what’s next for you after that?
I’ve got loads of songs that I’m dying to work on. I wrote a lot of the album years ago, so I’ve written loads since then. When I was in hospital last year after a pretty bad back injury (one that for a time threatened the continuation of her music career) I had a lot of time to just write and write because I couldn’t get out of bed. It was basically either do that or watch Loose Women. So, as excited as I am about the album, I’m also looking forward to getting on with the next one.

And are you touring at all this year?
Yes, I’m doing a few dates this month and then I’m doing a few festival appearances in the summer, such as Bestival and Camp Bestival.

Ren Harvieu’s new album ‘Through The Night’ will be released on 14th May via Kid Gloves / Island Records.

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