Inspired by the surrealism of Twin Peaks and with Alice-In-Wonderland tendancies, Renata Zeiguer's music is full of delightful twists and turns that will draw you into her world where she grapples with themes of sexism, depression and her own identity.
Renata Zeiguer's music isn't always what it seems. With "Wayside", her delicate vocals dance above dreamlike guitars and at first instance, everything appears to be in order. Yet, it isn't long before a menacing guitar screeches in for attention and smashes through the calmness, like a knife splicing through the centre of a painting of a soft landscape.
Her vocals are light and feathery, but lyrically she's not afraid to get surreal and never shies away from challenging, and often complex, topics, instead choosing to deal with the very core of her depression head on. Through her songs, she exposes the inner workings of her mind and slips through time signatures, keys and swirling last minute turns. It's a chaotic, dreamlike world where Zeiguer is able to displace your footing so you don't know where you're standing.
Her debut album Old Ghost is mesmerising and, at times, unsettling, where Zeiguer continually creates a false sense of security before whipping away the carpet from underneath your feet. The only thing that is guaranteed throughout is that the Brooklyn-based artist will grab your attention and retain it as she dips and dives on a journey through her very own thoughts.
We caught up to learn a bit more about how her song-writing process, her inspiration and how the album reflects a particular time in the artist's life.
Can you tell me a bit about how you wrote "Wayside"? What was the main inspiration behind the track?
"Wayside" was one of the first songs I wrote and it came from a very inward place and inner voice. The inspiration for the song was basically a cathartic release from an internal conflict that I’d been struggling with for a long time. I think it epitomised the life chapter that I was to be embarking on over the next two years that followed. Like a door opening. The song is about being at odds with yourself, both individually and also on a larger social, societal scale. Challenging a notion that you know isn’t true. For me, it was challenging myself to overcome the defeatism, self-deprecation, sexism and masochism I was struggling with, which I later recognized was largely due to depression. I had gotten to a point where I was very self-aware of my unhealthy psychological complex, but was still learning to act on it and do something about it, to challenge myself to change and overcome it.
How did Old Ghost come into being? When did you start writing the album and were there any tracks that were particularly challenging to write?
The album came into being after I’d written the songs and realized I should make an album. I recorded everything with the band in two days in August and added some overdubs in three days. It took a while because I had trouble finishing lyrics and I basically fell into a downward spiral in my personal life and had to take some time off from playing. That happened again the following year, after we’d mixed everything. I wasn’t sure what to do with the recordings and part of me wanted to try recording again in a more lo-fi, bedroom-recording setting. In the end, Northern Spy reached out about it after Adam Schatz who produced the album sent it to them. Eventually we began working on the release in the fall of 2017, after I decided on the title being Old Ghost. It was a lyrical reference from the song “Gravity” and I felt like it embodied the vibe of the songs and that general chapter of my life.
I've read that Twin Peaks influenced the way you wrote the album, in what ways do you think its influence works its way into the album?
I think I was influenced by both the surrealism and the actual music in Twin Peaks. It was the first time I’d really seen the show and for a while I was very absorbed into the world it created. To me, it had this special blend of surrealism, humor, menace and innocence. An overarching presence of something being there that isn’t overtly there and a deep sense that things are not as they seem. I think it all resonated with me at the time because I felt like my psyche lived in a similar world – I was both positive and lighthearted, but underneath, incredibly negative and dark. There’s also a lot of dream space and subconscious that plays out into reality in the show, and that hazy fog also resonated with me because I felt my subconscious self was struggling to voice itself – I was trying to to confront my sense of self and my self-worth and I was having trouble recognizing how I truly felt and what I truly thought. With depression, even though your reality may be blatantly distorted, and even if you recognize that it is, your thoughts and feelings are still real, so there’s a very delicate but very real conflict there that I was having trouble reconciling.
What does the song-writing process involve for you?
For this album, my writing process mostly involved hearing an idea in my head and letting that spark flow directly into recording a little demo, improvising individual parts one by one over the same track, layering until it felt like a song. After hearing the idea in my head, I’d record into GarageBand over a casio or an organ beat. I loved making little miniature arrangements like that and layering parts over and over, like building a collage or scultpure. Some songs I experimented with the vibe of the song, trying out different tempos and beats and instrumentation. I liked that aspect also, making different arrangements of a song and seeing how the same song could sound totally different.
Which artists did you grow up listening to? Is there anyone who had a particular influence on you?
I grew up listening to a lot of classical, jazz, bossa nova, tango, and The Beatles. I had an eclectic mix because on the one hand, I started with classical piano and violin so I was learning all of that repertoire, but outside of that world, I also loved jazz standards and musicals and singing songs. As a kid I was also actually a fanatic of the original classic Disney films. Aside from the Beatles, I was very influenced by classical composers like Bach, Debussy, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. I was also very influenced by Billie Holiday - I remember being moved by these recordings of Billie Holiday and Lester Young from the 1940s that my piano teacher showed me.
What does 2018 entail for you? Is there anything that you're particularly excited about?
I’m excited to promote and tour this album and play more shows with my incredible band of friends and musicians. I feel a sense of relief and letting-go now that the album is officially “out.” I’ve been relating the whole process of this album as an exorcism, “setting my old ghost free.” I feel like I finally have more space to work on new music.