Life doesn’t always unfold the way we expect. That’s certainly been true for Brooklyn-based polymath Reni Lane, who has had quite an unpredictable journey – taking her from New York, to London, to Paris and beyond as a touring keyboard player for British band Razorlight, contemporary composer, high fashion runway model, Ivy League dropout, and proponent of the slow conscious creativity movement. Though she’s been a creative force in numerous communities and varying scenes, the modern-day “Reni-ssance woman” always comes back to music, and today she premieres here latest single “Detour” exclusively on Audiofemme.
“We’re going on a detour/Show you everything you ignored/Going on a detour/All the magic outside of your door/We don’t need a map/Your heart is all you need to pack,” Lane coos with earnest sentiment and richness of tone, echoing influence from Aimee Mann, Chryssie Hynde, and Stevie Nicks. “Detour” is an upbeat, timeless ballad – rhythmic and existential, the song pushes us to reclaim our inner strength, when we seem to venture off track from our intentions. In an opulent video shot in Ecuador by Oscar Zabala, Lane dons mysterious robes and frolics through cinematic landscapes with the cool, calm, collected poise of an androgynous 1970s glam rock-era icon.
The symbolism in “Detour” will feel relatable to almost anyone, but Lane’s own meandering personal journey certainly inspired it. Born Reni Jablonsky in the idyllic college town of Corvallis, Oregon, she spent a lot of time in the woods as a kid, building forts and learning about indigenous cultures. Her childhood was mostly solitary; a sibling was diagnosed with autism, and their friendship didn’t blossom until their adult years. One of Lane’s friends began to study the Suzuki Method on the piano. Fascinated, this inspired Lane to start piano lessons, which quickly became a time-consuming passion.
“My study of the piano took up all of my time. My obsession didn’t seem weird or unusual to me or to anyone else, because in our town in Oregon, there were a lot of artists and creatives.” Lane remembers; she soon felt ready to break free of the structured Suzuki Method, and began writing and experimenting musically. Her parents were nurturing and supportive, buying her a thrift store piano, and allowing her talent to thrive through supportive teachers. The culture shock came when her family moved to a more conservative town Williamsburg, Virginia when Lane was eleven. “I had never had to think about what I wore to school, or what was going on in pop culture. My idols were people like Hans Zimmer, Jane Goodall and Frida Kahlo,” she says. “I remember starting my first day of middle school in Virginia and people thought I was strange because I had no idea who the Backstreet Boys were.”
Still a self proclaimed nerd, Lane admits this was a turning point in her personal development, and finding her voice and truth in music became a protective shield. “It set me apart. Sharing my music helped me fit in and find my place as a teenage adolescent. It really did gain me respect, in a traditionally vicious public school setting,” she recalls. “I stayed true to myself – I was weird, the preppy kids were still going to make fun of me, but they had nothing on how good I was at music. It was my thing.”
Aside from music, Lane’s extraordinary abilities in math allowed her to graduate high school early, and she moved to New York City and took a desk job at a real estate company while pursuing music professionally with the support of a management team. The following year she enrolled at the prestigious Columbia University, first as a Philosophy major before switching gears to Creative Writing. She began forming and embracing her DIY ethos, commuting downtown for gigs at Sidewalk Cafe. Around this time, she began throwing parties and putting on live shows in her dorm room around a makeshift stage; she independently released her album American Baby in 2007. “That record was like a really expensive business card and a litmus test all in one,” she says. A self-shot, self-edited spoof video called “Frontiers of Science” went viral, prompting major record labels to court the young performer.
Lane signed to Universal Motown, and began living the dream of jet-setting around the world to meet with one hit producer after another. The label pressured her to drop out of Columbia to focus on the release of her major label debut, Ready. Consumed with the expectations from her label, she began to feel disillusioned and isolated, with her image and visibility under lock and key. “I always saw myself more as a renegade, DIY type person, but I was constantly pushed towards the Disney model,” Lane says.
Then, after a solo gig in Los Angeles, Lane was approached by Z Berg and Tennessee Thomas to play keyboards in LA buzz band The Like, on their tour supporting The Arctic Monkeys. “Joining The Like was a contrast to what I was experiencing in my own career. There were a lot of handler-type people around me in those days telling me that there were certain ways things needed to be done,” Lane says. “Once I joined The Like and saw their ship was run completely differently, it took a bit of the credibility away from those handlers, which was both terrifying, because it meant I was more alone than I thought, but also liberating. They brought joy back into my life in terms of just having fun with music.”
Though nowadays playing in multiple projects is understood as more exposure, back then, Lane’s management saw her involvement with a band outside her solo work as a conflict. Warned by seasoned manager Jazz Summers that Universal Motown was likely to drop her, lacked resources to promote her as a unique entity, and would “screw it up,” the exposure likely to come from playing for The Like seemed tantalizing. “It was the first time someone really straight up told me what was going to happen with my record deal,” Lane says. “I had this moment where I was like, wow, I actually really agree with him, but I was only nineteen and I didn’t know what to do. It felt like the right thing to do was honor my commitment to the label.”
But just as Summers predicted, Lane’s label dropped her after all. “It took me a long time to bounce back from that trauma and learn how to regain control and confidence in my own judgment. It took time and healing to trust my gut again,” she says. “I was pushed to do things that didn’t feel right to me, and I just went along with it. It was the kind of low-grade emotional trauma that can really fuck with your sense of self.”
Still, Lane is still proud of songs from her major label debut, co-produced with “guardian angel” Sam Bisbee. Long before “left-of-center pop” rose into the mainstream, songs like “Place For Us,” “Even You,” “We Don’t Forget,” and “Never Be Another You” helped Lane carve out her own niche even under the constraints of the label’s so-called guidance, and helped her secure crucial licensing placements in series like VH1’s Secrets of Aspen and The L Word.
If “Place For Us” was a self-dialogue to gain reassurance and find secure footing for her career as a musician, then a decade later, “Love Too Soon” became its follow-up anthem, blasting a wisdom that comes only with experience. Released in November 2020, Lane sings, “You gotta get away from it all/You’re gonna try your best not to call/Cause no one’s on the other line/To help you figure out when it’s time/To cut ’em loose,” as though reminding her younger self of the dangers of rushing into love, collaborations, and life. Projected fantasies may not pan out the way we expect, and can be detrimental to our inner creative world. With mindfulness, we can move on quickly and gain acceptance.
That’s where “Detour” comes in; it provides a bit of that optimistic magic needed to get something fresh off the ground, while leaving the listener empowered, with the new found self awareness, an ability to let the feelings pass and go with the flow. The song doesn’t call to action; instead it empathizes, and reconciles the universality of disappointment. Lane’s effortless narrative lyrics and ear catching melodies come from the moral conscience and wisdom of a profound songwriter and gentle realist.
Though she couldn’t have predicted it at the time, leaving the major label freed Lane up to license songs and play in friends’ bands and projects. Notably, Lane formed synthpop duo Fever High (Sire Records) with Anna Nordeen and late songwriter/producer Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne). In her collaborative element, Lane contributed piano, guitar, bass, trumpet and trombone to the band.
“When we formed that project I had practically been killing myself working so hard, gigging with all these different bands,” Lane says. “Sometimes we have to let go of this perception that good things are always going to be really hard. Sometimes good things happen, and they’re actually really easy, you know? And that’s kind of like how things were a lot of the time with Fever High. It was just really easy, and fun and it was all kind of like a break and escape from our regular grind day to day.”
And Schlesinger had a big effect on Lane’s songwriting, too. “Adam basically combined all the things that are really hard about songwriting, with all the things that are the most fun things about songwriting. He had that dichotomy nailed down. He would always find the really wordy mathy theory kind of melodies, tweak those, and then he knew how to pull really silly lyrics out of you in the studio. Lyrics that were both silly and profound…” Lane says fondly. “He always said, ‘Listen, you don’t have to be the best singer, or the best songwriter, you just have to have fun and believe in yourself.’ I really, really miss him. It’s not going to be the same New York without him.”
Lane has been drifting between Virginia and NYC for most of 2021, Tidying up a slew of new songs. She recently traveled to the UK in April, doubling up as stylist and keyboard player for the post-pandemic reunion of Razorlight’s classic lineup for a livestream concert. “All of this privilege is pretty mind-boggling to me given the current trepidatious circumstance of the world. I’m lucky to be one of the ones who could keep going with my chosen career during the pandemic despite the monumental losses occurring all around me,” Lane says. “As lockdowns were hitting last year I was finishing an intense schedule of Razorlight tour dates and then my bandmate Adam Schlesinger died early on in the first New York COVID wave. It was like a kick in the head. I’d also just been through a breakup so I had to slow down and take every day one step at a time.”
“Detour” reminds us to let go of what we cannot control and try to enjoy our non-linear journeys to the fullest. And now that she’s gained some experience and perspective, Reni Lane has some more advice for her younger self. “Get out of your head and into your body as often as possible. Does it feel good? Then do it! Be brutally honest with yourself. Screw all convention and question what you’ve been taught concerning the ‘proper’ way to do things. You know a lot more than anyone who is profiting off of your ignorance wants to admit,” she says. “Trust your vision. It can be as simple as combining touches of things you find beautiful or hiring musicians you admire. We’re all naturally drawn to things we like but the key is to do them with your own twist. So keep the inspirational juices flowing and replenishing! The last thing you want to do is to copy someone else out of blind ignorance. Maintain a high standard for things coming into, whether it’s art, people, ideas, or food.”
Her career has been “a long series of breaks that never ends,” but “I still find myself in situations among incredible talent that blows my mind because of some random show I played or last-minute gig I took on. But to give myself some credit, I worked really hard to get to the place to even be able to take those opportunities and run with them,” she says. “It’s incredible that any of us are alive in the grand scheme of things, so why not try our best to enjoy it? And what I enjoy most is making music and being as vulnerable as possible with the art I create, so fuck it – as long as I’m not hurting anyone, that’s what I’m keeping on with.”