Renee Maskin goes behind the scenes

As die-hard music fans, sometimes it’s not enough to just play our favourite songs on repeat over and over. Sometimes, we want to go behind the scenes and know everything there is to know about those songs and the artists behind them. (Not in a creepy way, of course.) Renee Maskin hails from Asbury Park, NJ, a place most closely associated with Bruce Springsteen. The boardwalk town has a rife musical history, and wears it like a badge of honour. Just before the holidays, Renee released her latest LP, Shimmer. The alt-country vibes were enough to reel us in, but she hooked us even further with the stylish cowboy hat. That deserves one of our patented “yee-haws”, don’t ya think? Below, Renee offers some behind the scenes insight into the making of each track on the record – listen along, won’t you?

Rain, Rain
This song was really fun to put together. Although, towards the end I was feeling like it was missing a puzzle piece.  I had the guitars and vocals, I had the feel I wanted. But it needed something. I had heard REM’s “Losing My Religion” on the radio around this time and had been thinking about mandolins. I ran to our music store in town and bought one before it closed for the day. I finished tracking the song that evening. It’s a magical feeling when things fall into place like that, when the parts finally click together and it feels finished.

‘Horses’ had been on my previous LP, tracked mostly live with The Mysterious Wilds (Ben Ross and Mike Noordzy), with a very garage-rock vibe. I wanted to give the song another angle with an acoustic-based treatment. I replaced the drums with violins (played brilliantly by Nicole Scorsone) and added some subtle lap steel moments for atmosphere. There’s a tension in the sparseness of the composition that I really like. When the instruments finally come in, it’s a relief. It helps balance the lyrics, which paint their own picture of a kind of tension.

As the opening line suggests, this song was written for a smattering of people I know who are cashing in their chips and heading down to Nashville. I got one such friend, the amazing songwriter and musician Tom Barrett, to track drums for it remotely from his new home there. Mike Noordzy came in with the upright bass, and I went to town tracking guitars. I took the opportunity to really play and stretch a little. I had a lot of fun. I’m not a technical person; I don’t love overly complicated playing for the sake of it. But it felt right, so why not?

This was actually not my first attempt at ‘Scrimshaw’. I had tried a different version earlier last year but hadn’t, in my estimation, captured it. So this was another round in the ring with the song. I’m really happy with it this time. I tried to bring in some Johnny Marr jangle while still keeping the country influence well-preserved. The song has a delicate feel, and mixing it was tricky. But, after many, many renders, I’m happy with where things finally landed. It’s one of my favorite songs on the record.

This song was very much a studio song, an experiment. I was having a lot of fun with the panning bass run and the spaced-out banjos. The sampled organ drumline. All the little parts fell into their places pretty quickly and neatly. In the beginning, all I had was the lyrics, which feel like a short poem, and the guitar line. We had taken a trip to Joshua Tree and were captivated with the landscape, but disillusioned by some of the people and experiences we had run into. I thought about a Raymond Pettibone drawing, which has the line ‘I thought California would be different…’. I fired up the mics and out came a song.

Mosquito Dreams
The writing of this song came together very quickly one morning. Tom Waits calls these moments “like a dream through a straw”. I set to work in the studio shortly after that. Nicole again graciously laid down some violins.  I had been thinking about Neil Sabatino of Fairmont’s unique vocals and his production style and wondered if he’d send over some backup tracks. And boy, did he! I had a lot to parse through and mix, but the wall of vocals literally and figuratively breathe a lot of texture into the song. Everything swells in and out like water. Again, I am really pleased with the balance of the song, from the wall-of-sound vocals to the trem guitars. 

Frustrated Painters
This is one of the sparser tunes on the record, production-wise. Again, I was thankful Nicole laid down violins and took the pressure off of me. Her playing on this one gives me goosebumps. I had the banjo line in as an idea throughout the song, but decided that maybe it would be better to just have it come in at the end. Like a movie with a strange ending. That’s also where the bass finally opens up after keeping it simple and tight for three minutes. There’s a little Yamaha Keyboard for texture throughout. I think it’s one of the more evocative songs in this little collection.  

Flamingo Pink
This one turned out to be kind of traditional sounding, spurred mostly by the simple bassline I put down. Nicole heard it and instantly had ideas for different violin sections. I don’t think I stopped smiling as she laid it all down, and effortlessly I might add. Tracking the main vocal and its harmony is always a little bit of a challenge for me, it never happens instantly. But once I know my lines, it’s always fun getting them down. Overall though, I think violins carry this song. Thanks again, Nicole!

I wrote this song in the dead of summer, and was trying to capture that feeling on the recording. Lazy guitar. Slide swells like heat waves rippling up. Very subtle and delicate bass. I think it’s a pretty way to end the record, a record I very much enjoyed making. 

Shimmer is out now via Mint 400 Records. Stream it on all major streaming platforms, or pick up a copy via Renee’s Bandcamp page.

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