SLIFF 2009 Spotlight | Kevin Renick and “Up in the Air”

kevinrenick-header.jpgPLAYBACK:stl’s own Kevin Renick, whose song "Up in the Air" appears over the closing credits of the film of the same name. "I feel honored to be part of a movie, even if a small part, that has something worthwhile to say, and that makes really good use of a song I care about."

 

 

 

 

  

One of the most anticipated films of this year’s St. Louis International Film Festival is Up in the Air, the new film from Oscar-nominated director Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking, Juno). Already getting Oscar-buzz, the film stars George Clooney as a man whose job is to fly around the country and lay off people for bosses who are too cowardly to do the deed themselves. St. Louisans have a particular interest in seeing the film as it was shot in our own backyard, with local haunts from Lambert Airport and the Mansion House to the Cheshire Inn and the South Grand Schnucks standing in for locales around the country. But another item sure to pique the interest of locals is the presence of Kevin Renick, an unsigned musician from St. Louis who miraculously scored a spot on the film’s soundtrack.

If that name looks familiar to regular PLAYBACK:stl readers, it should: Kevin Renick has been a member of the Playback staff since day one, serving as an "editor at large" during our days as a print magazine, penning the "Norse Code" column to expound on his love for Scandinavian music, and writing countless music and film reviews over the last seven years.

Though he has been a lifelong lover of music, his transition to being a dedicated musician is much more recent. "I’ve heard melodies in my head since junior high school," says Renick, "and always had a deep, abiding passion for interesting, especially moody music. In high school, I discovered Neil Young, who became my songwriting and performing idol. His influence on my entire life was huge. During high school, I began writing lyrics and ideas for songs in my notebooks when I had free time. My senior year, I bought a cheapo Yamaha guitar, my first one. Learned some chords, and I began writing songs in earnest."

Though the music bug bit him early, his dedication waxed and waned. "I got into the bad habit of feeling really inspired and enthusiastic for a period of time, and then getting very discouraged and stopping for awhile," he says of those early days. "As in, I’d put the guitar down and not pick it up again for two years. But in a productive phase, I would write a bunch of songs and feel excited, then get discouraged again. I always wanted to record a CD of my original songs…that was my dream. But something in the big picture was missing. Finally, last fall, I had a creative breakthrough and started practicing enough to get more competent on guitar. And I began an absolute spree of songwriting that continues to this day. I’ve written close to a hundred songs now, and more are always simmering below the surface in some manner. I made my live debut in September of last year and have developed a ‘zest’ for doing so that seems to carry me through the angst-ridden moments."

One of Renick’s compositions that he continued to revisit over the years was a contemplative number called, coincidentally enough, "Up in the Air." "I actually don’t remember when the idea first came," Renick says of the song, "but it has been one of my signature songs for awhile, kind of an ‘old friend.’ I poured my angst about the uncertainty of life, the difficulty of finding a good job, the sadness about wanting my family to see me happy, and the unresolved hopes and ambition I felt, into that song. It’s a contemplative ballad about longing and uncertainty at its core."

As Renick began performing his music live last fall, he brought "Up in the Air" back with him. His timing couldn’t have been more perfect. "I dusted off the song last fall, changed a word or two and started singing it again," Renick recalls, "and it was around that time I learned that a movie with the same title was being filmed in St. Louis. ‘Hmmm,’ I thought. ‘This is a coincidence. What if, somehow, the plot/theme of the movie, was similar enough to my song to make it relevant?’ Well, the big surprise was that this turned out to be the case."

The next step was to get the song into the right hands. "I attended Jason Reitman’s talk at Webster University this past February," Renick recalls. "I’d gone with the idea of giving him a copy of the song, which coincidentally had the same title as his new movie. I felt I needed to push myself out of my past tendency to be timid or reluctant when a big challenge presented itself. I didn’t know if I could get close enough to Jason for this to happen, but when I raised my hand to ask a question during his talk, I concluded by asking if it was okay if I gave him a copy of my song. He said, ‘Sure, the more unusual the way I get the music, the better…’ or something to that effect. After the lecture, I went up to him as he was heading out and gave him the cassette, which surprised him. ‘A cassette?’ he asked. ‘You don’t have a CD-R or something?’ I replied that I didn’t, and felt foolish and quickly headed out. [I] thought nothing more about it and literally forgot about it [until] a full six months later, [when] the music producer of the film, Randall Poster, emailed me and told me that Jason wanted to use the song. I was naturally thrilled and incredulous. I still find it hard to believe even now!"

Renick may be new to the music business, but he’s already planning big. Striking while the iron is hot, he’s putting the finishing touches on his first CD (likely titled Close to Something Beautiful) to be released before Christmas. After that comes a project even closer to his heart: a tribute to his late mother, who passed away earlier this year. "I have 20 original songs pretty much done for that project, which I’ll start working on in late winter," Renick says of the project, whose working title is Our Mother’s Place. "It’s a song cycle about grief, transition, the steadfast love of mothers, and the importance of friendship in helping one through tough times. I have written some songs I am really proud of for this record and can hardly wait to get started on it. I’d love for it to be out by Mother’s Day next year." He also hopes to collaborate on an original song with Ephemera, his favorite Norwegian band. "That might be pushing the envelope of what’s possible," he jokes, "but I’ve already done that, so why not dream big?"

"I have to say that all of this has been overwhelming," Renick says of the whole Up in the Air experience so far. "This is no ordinary small movie. This is a big, zeitgeist-capturing movie that has wowed the critics and the audiences wherever it’s been shown. I could never have predicted that in my wildest dreams. I feel honored to be part of a movie, even if a small part, that has something worthwhile to say, and that makes really good use of a song I care about. To be on the soundtrack of a major movie, with Crosby, Stills, Nash  & Young, Elliott Smith and other big names! Like, wow, man.  But it truly was always my dream to write songs, and it was something I thought I could do if given a chance. Jason Reitman has given me that chance. I’m humbled and grateful."

Up in the Air screens Saturday, November 14th, at the Tivoli Theatre, with a half-hour performance by Kevin Renick prior to the showing. For more information, visit http://www.cinemastlouis.org/. | Jason Green

 

Upcoming Kevin Renick performances:

12.01.09 Vintage Vinyl Up in the Air soundtrack release show, 7:30 p.m.

12.05.09 Iron Barley, 6 p.m.

01.15.10 Grove Deli in Webster Groves, 7 p.m.

For more on Kevin Renick, visit www.kevinrenick.com.

 

Photos by Debra Mitchell

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