Front and Center: Priscilla Renea, Singer-Songwriter
By Laura B. Whitmore
Priscilla Renea has spent nearly a decade as one of the songwriters behind some of music’s biggest hits by artists such as Rihanna, Selena Gomez, Pitbull, Miranda Lambert, Diplo and more. Heard of “Timber,” “Country King Bed,” or “Something Bad”? Yep, that’s her.
Now she is poised to return to focusing on herself as an artist, with her forthcoming album release, Coloured, dropping this June. The country and soul-infused album features her powerhouse voice and engaging story-telling on urban-soul ballads like “Heavenly” and country-inspired “Gentle Hands.”
Renea is headlining our Women’s International Music Network She Rocks Showcase at the ASCAP Expo and sat down with us to share her views on the industry, her music and more.
You can find out more about this inspiring musician at priscilla-renea.com.
WiMN: Your new album ‘Coloured,’ is simply a work of art. Fun, deep, cool, musically different. I love everything about. Can you talk about what inspired you?
PR: In this album I talk about politics in music, I talk about my struggle with my family not understanding my music in “Family Tree.” In “Different Color” I talk about how I have to be a chameleon and change my colors to reflect where I’m at. All the things I am putting on this album are all my thoughts and everything I can’t say. Everything that I come home and I cry about on my husband’s shoulder. Everything I can’t say to people, I said it in this record. And the 10 years that I’ve been doing this has all been leading me to this point.
WiMN: Your song “Gentle Hands” is one of my favorites, and I also love the song, “You Shaped Box.” Can you share your inspiration for that song?
PR: That’s really like a letter to myself. I had self-esteem issues for a long time. I mean, I knew I was cute, but being a girl is hard. In America we’re still learning how to treat people. So that song is a letter to myself saying, see, God loves you, and he made you just the way that you are.
WiMN: Your music defies categorization and surprises the listener with a lot of broad influences. What is your musical background?
PR: I’m a black girl from the country. I was well educated. I like classical music, I like heavy metal. I like French and German music that I don’t understand the words to. I didn’t listen to rap until I was in high school.
I feel that every time a black artist puts out an album that has a little bit of soul, it automatically gets relegated to R&B, and I don’t think that’s fair. We have contemporary rock. We have classic rock. We have contemporary jazz. We have classic jazz. Why can’t we have contemporary R&B? Why do all the black artists have to be shoved into one category? All the things that, you know, people want to force on me…I’m trying to break that convention.
WiMN: The industry has been shifting rapidly and you’ve experienced the effects of that very personally. What’s your take on the direction we’re going in?
PR: In 2018 we’re still talking about color. In 2018 we are still talking about women’s rights. There are people who are in positions of power that don’t want to see change. The record industry didn’t want to cooperate with us and now we have Spotify. Now Spotify doesn’t want to pay artists, there will be another solution that comes along.
The young generation has no desire to be boxed in. They have no desire to be told what to do. They are putting out their music directly to the listeners and THEN the labels come and say, “We want to purchase this.” It’s a bit of stalemate.
A reason that I structured this project the way I did relates to all of this. Streaming rights is a big issue. I went to congress to talk about this. It’s an issue of value. Do you see the value of our contribution as songwriters? If we cease to contribute you don’t have a platform.
That’s another reason why I made this album. I don’t just want to talk about it, I want to be about it. I want to show people what the issues are for songwriters and artists. I’m never shy about the truth.
WiMN: You have seen some incredible success and also heartbreaking setbacks. Do you have any final thoughts on how to deal with negativity in the music industry?
PR: Even when you are winning, you still have challenges. There are people who will say, we like you but only this much. We like you but you can’t go past this line. And it’s taking on that challenge. And even stepping away.
You can’t get mad. They’re not doing it on purpose. Everyone is trying to survive. If you take it personal you will drive yourself crazy. I am a light being. I love being happy, I love making other people smile. I love that my music makes people feel something.
WiMN: We’re excited to see you tour and hear more from you. Do you have any final thoughts?
PR: Finally I feel that I’m finding my tribe and finally I am surrounding myself with people that want to see me win and want to grow with me. Because if I win my whole team wins. Everyone rises with the tide. That’s why I am so grateful to ASCAP, because from day one they have given me a platform and a voice.
And I’m also grateful for the struggle because I know I’m going to reach my end goal. I’m going to win no matter what. No one can stop me. All I have to do is believe that I can do it and keep moving forward.