INTERVIEW: Kevin Renick

27 01 2010

If you have read this blog with any sort of frequency over the past month, you will undoubtedly know that I have something resembling an obsession with the movie “Up in the Air.”  So when I found out that Kevin Renick, the singer of the film’s titular song, had discovered my blog and posted a link on his website to me, saying “lots and lots about UP IN THE AIR can be found at this info site,” I was ecstatic.

I perused around his site and found an e-mail address for the singer.  An idea pulsed through my head: why not humbly ask for an interview?  Much to my surprise, Renick happily agreed.  He couldn’t have been more kind throughout the process, offering to conduct the interview in whatever manner was easiest for me.  We opted for e-mail because it allowed more time for thoughtful and more eloquent answers.

We talked plenty about “Up in the Air” – the movie and his song – and also about what lies ahead for him in the music industry.  Renick’s words were incredibly profound.  Despite the spotlight that has been shined on him from this burst of fame, he remains wholeheartedly humble.  For those who do not know Renick’s story, he gave a demo tape of his song to Jason Reitman at a lecture.  The director loved the song enough to include it in the movie “Up in the Air.”  According to Renick, “Jason liked the ‘D.I.Y. aesthetic’ of my song….[and he stated that] it gave an “authentic voice” to all the people in the U.S. who’ve lost their job and their direction.”

What inspired you to write the song “Up in the Air?”

What inspired me to write the song was an intense feeling of uncertainty and fear of the future. On the one hand, it was knowing that life is full of possibilities, that the loss of one job or one girlfriend doesn’t mean life is over, but on the other hand, it was the angst of knowing that things could get worse, that every decision or risk taken has an equal chance of leading to more unhappiness as well as possible NEW happiness. And there’s the ongoing concern of what family and friends will say about every move or decision you make.  Thinking about this stuff filled me with loneliness and sadness, and I longed for the feeling of freedom that certainty, something I’ve almost never had, would bring.

At a lecture, you stood up and asked director Jason Reitman if he would give your demo tape a listen, which seems pretty gutsy to me.  Where did you work up the gumption to do that?

I was tired of NOT taking chances, of at least “giving it a shot” when an opportunity was there. I’d written a song called “Up in the Air,” and a big movie was filming in town called “Up in the Air,” and this was a pretty fascinating coincidence. And the director was at the university doing a free lecture. What could I lose by trying to get my song to him? Wasn’t that worth a little embarrassment, and a few people laughing at me? And wasn’t the possible upside worth considerably more than the downside?

What did you make of the movie?  Obviously, someone like me who has never been employed (or unemployed) sees the movie differently than someone like you, who has had to deal with the pain of unemployment.  What did the side of you that knows this pain take away from the movie?

I liked “Up in the Air” very much. I experienced it as a character study, a look at three strong, interesting people who all had contradictions and who were all self-centered in a certain way, but still human and  vulnerable. And all of them learned some lessons in the movie. The unemployment theme obviously had resonance, but it wasn’t the primary thing that hooked me, even though it was something I related to. I WAS hooked on the general timeliness of the theme of searching for a connection, and the way technology governs much of our lives. And the movie made me think about the risks involved in getting close to people and how you can maybe think about that at times, but if you’re normal, you don’t let it stop you from wanting to form relationships and connections.

Do you think it struck a different chord for you now because of the great promise your future holds?

Did it strike a different chord for me because of my personal story? Well, there was something to that scene where Clooney asks J.K. Simmons how long he was going to wait to follow his dream. I think we all compromise in life…only very lucky people get paid to actually follow their ultimate dream or career path right out of college. For me, music has been that dream, and of course there is considerably irony to the fact that Reitman’s movie has given me a chance to do that, after I was laid off from my long-time job. So yes, this aspect of the movie does have great personal resonance for me.

CAUTION: Spoilers about the ending of the movie “Up in the Air” are revealed in the question below.  DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE MOVIE.

What do you make of the ending of the movie?  In other words, what do you think the fate of Ryan Bingham is?

I think it’s pretty clear that Reitman wanted to leave the ending ambiguous. Clearly the character that Clooney plays has undergone some changes; he’s had a few experiences that have altered his perspective. But we have to decide for ourselves whether he is simply returning to his former life just as isolated and self-centered as he was, or whether he’s going to be more open now to relationships, and to different possibilities. There is no right answer to that.  I personally felt he was relieved on one level to return to that lifestyle, but with a new degree of loneliness and self-awareness that was bound to affect the way he reacted to things in the future.

This movie has opened up a lot of opportunities for you.  What can we expect in the future from you?   Are things still up in the air or have they become more grounded?

Things are still up in the air on most levels. Career transitions don’t happen overnight. I still have to think about work and paying my bills, and it is still difficult. Making music takes time…building a fan base takes time. I don’t know where things are ultimately going, I just know I am seizing the opportunity to give music a shot and see what I can do with it. I am gratified that a lot of people have written to me and seem to have an interest in my songs. I will work to become a better performer and to keep writing worthwhile songs. I hope I can earn the respect and appreciation of a variety of listeners.

What can you tell me about your new album, “Close to Something Beautiful?”  What kind of tracks will be on the album?

My first CD is a collection of very different songs, some of which have been around for awhile, and some of which were written either just prior to “Up in the Air” or just after. There’s a rather strange but rocking song called “Call It, Friend-o” which was inspired by the movie “No Country for Old Men.” There’s a song about my favorite high school teacher, and there’s a few love song-type things. And there’s a pretty funny track called “The Sorry Song” which I’ve been doing at my gigs for a long time—it’s a song in which I just apologize for disappointing people in different ways. On some level, I think the idea came from an old movie called “A Thousand Clowns” in which the Jason Robards character says “the most you can really offer people is a really good apology” for not being perfect. I’ve put a lot into the CD, and naturally I hope people will like it.

This concludes my questions.  I hope that I asked interesting questions and that Renick’s response proved as thought-provoking and insightful as they did to me.

If you are interested in Renick’s music, please check out his website at http://www.kevinrenick.com.  He has two songs available from the new album which will be released by late February.  Unfortunately, ridiculous rules have disqualified the song from competition at the Academy Awards in March, but the song has undeniably made its mark on millions of viewers who have seen “Up in the Air.”  As a singer/songwriter, what more could you ask for?

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