Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Artist Interview: Ren Geisick

Merry & Bright is thrilled to bring you an exclusive interview with Ren Geisick, the San Jose-based singer-songwriter that graced our blog last year with the premiere of her single "Feels Like Christmas".  Ren has a very merry history with Christmas music.  Before "Feels Like Christmas", she released the single "'Cause It's Christmas" and two albums recorded at her live "Ren's Winter Wonderland" shows in 2016 and 2018.  Ren's Christmas shows feature a wide variety of songs - standards, her originals, and some surprises that are true standouts.  

2020 has thrown down a challenge to Ren's Winter Wonderland, with performance venue and gathering limitations in effect, but Ren has persevered.  She is going full ahead with Eight Reindeer power for a 2020 edition of Ren's Winter Wonderland, coming to you through the miracle of live streaming.  Her show is Sunday, December 6 at 7:00PM Pacific time (8 Mountain, 9 Central, 10 Eastern).  Links to the events on Youtube and Facebook are below.

Ren is an amazing singer, adopting multiple styles - poppin' it, jazzin' it, bluesin' it - and her love for Christmas music shines.  Her smile, which might be the best smile in showbiz, tells it all.  Please enjoy our interview with Ren, and I hope that many of you can join her for "Ren's Winter Wonderland" on Sunday December 6.

Ren's Winter Wonderland 2020 - Youtube livestream link

Ren's Winter Wonderland 2020 - Facebook event link

Ren Geisick website

Ren Geisick Bandcamp page

Merry & Bright Interview with Ren Geisick

Merry & Bright:  Hello Ren!  Thank you for spending some time with Merry & Bright.  I’m excited to learn more about you and your music, and I think our readers are in for a real treat.

Ren Geisick: Thanks so much for having me!

MB:  Let’s start with a little about you.  You’re currently a California bay-area musician.  Are you a native Californian? 

RG: I am a native Californian. I grew up in San Jose. My parents have lived here in the same house for about 45 years.

MB:  Can you tell us a little about your journey as a musician?

RG:  My family listened to a lot of music growing up and my mom was always singing around the house.  I grew up singing in church and actually, one of my first memories of singing in front of people was singing “Silent Night” at my church when I was about 8 years old. From there, I was in some school plays, and school choirs. After high school, I went to Cal State Long Beach where I studied Jazz Vocal Performance. After college, I worked on a cruise ship for 6 months which was really fun and a total trial by fire… I gained a lot of needed confidence on that cruise gig. All the while, I  was still singing at church and I still volunteer and sing at that church to this day. I’ve sung “Oh Holy Night” on Christmas Eve for probably 15 years. When I returned from the cruise ship gig at the end of 2011 I decided to move back to San Jose and pursue music closer to my family. I’ve been playing shows big and small throughout the bay area ever since. I released my debut album, “Ren, Love Song” produced by Jesse Harris in 2017 and last year I released a few singles including two Christmas songs one written by me and one written by my pianist, Jon Dryden.

MB:  Who are some of your musical influences?

RG: Have you ever heard of Eva Cassidy? She is one of my all-time favorites. I also love Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Patsy Cline… Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan are two songwriters I really like. I’d say my taste is pretty old school. I grew up listening to a lot of jazz, classic country and 90’s country, motown, blues, doo-wop… I loved that Amy Grant Christmas album when I was growing up, too!

MB:  You’ve written some great original Christmas songs, and covered (in your live shows, which we’ll talk about later) some that aren’t typical cover-fare, which all of us Christmas music aficionados really appreciate.  What’s your personal history with Christmas music? 

RG: Thank you! I mentioned this in a previous answer but my first experience singing in front of people was singing “Silent Night” at my church. I think singing at church and in choirs has added to my love for Christmas music. Also, I grew up listening to a bunch of great jazz Christmas compilation CD’s from Starbucks… remember those? I think that’s how I first heard “That’s What I Want for Christmas” by Nancy Wilson. It’s not a super common tune but one of my all time favorites. For me, it doesn’t feel like the holiday season unless I’m singing these songs. I actually wrote my song, “Feels like Christmas” with that in mind. If I don’t sing “Oh Holy Night” on Christmas Eve or “Silent Night” with the whole congregation and candles then it just doesn’t feel like Christmas. Once I started my “Ren’s Winter Wonderland” shows 6 years ago, I got to have an excuse to dig up even more great holiday tunes!

MB:  A couple outstanding songs from your live shows are “Santa Claus is Back in Town”, most notably performed by Elvis, and “Eight Days of Hannukah”, brought to amazing life a few years back by the incredible Sharon Jones.  Why did you pick these to perform in your shows?

RG: oh yes! I love those songs!  I love doing “Santa Claus is Back in Town” because it’s so bombastic and the lyrics crack me up! It’s silly and sexy and fun and allows me to really use the full power of my voice. Also the full band sounds so great on that tune! When I first heard “Eight Days of Hanukkah” I knew I had to do it for the show. Even though many of the best Christmas songs were written by Jewish people, there just aren’t as many awesome Hanukkah songs. “Eight Days of Hanukkah” has such a great groove and we do a really cool samba style arrangement by Jon Dryden. The song has great energy and a really nice message about love and family.

MB:  There’s a great energy that comes through in your music, and it sounds like you and your band are always having a great time.  Can you tell us about your band and musical collaborators?

RG: Yes. I love playing with a full band! I really miss it. For my Winter Wonderland Show, I am lucky to pull talent from a deep well of great South Bay musicians.  My pianist Jon Dryden and I are frequent collaborators and we have similar taste. He helps out with some of the arrangements and has written some super awesome Christmas tunes like “Cause it’s Christmas” and “Comin Down Christmas”. I usually have Scott Sorkin or Chris Motter on guitar, Chris Davies on bass, Jim Kassis on drums, John Worley on trumpet, and Kris Strom or Oscar Pangilinan on saxophone. My close friend, Amy Dabalos has been joining me for duets and background vocals since the very first Winter Wonderland Show and we always have a blast planning out our duets.  A fan favorite is our crazy medley of songs from the movie White Christmas (arranged by Jon Dryden) which, of course, includes the very cute song “Sisters” with a full on dance routine.

MB:  Let’s talk about Ren’s Winter Wonderland, your annual Christmas music show.  How did it start, and how has it evolved over the years? 

RG: Back in 2015, a friend of mine was helping a local theater called “City Lights Theater Company” with a Sunday night concert series and I had the opportunity to pitch a holiday show. I had always wanted to do a big festive concert and City Lights was up for it. I was pretty stressed out the first year because I was hiring the band and basically producing the show and I didn’t know if anyone would show up! City Lights is a 100 person theater and I hadn’t had an opportunity to sell tickets for an event of that size. To my surprise, tickets were completely sold out a week in advance of the show! Since that first year, many people in the area have made it one of their holiday traditions and the past two years I was able to sell out the show for two consecutive Sundays. Over the years, the band for the show has grown and I’ve added some singalong elements and other little twists. Also, Jon and I have written more Christmas songs so we are able to add our own original Christmas music to the show.

MB:  The music from the show is fantastic.  What are the plans for Winter Wonderland 2020?

RG: This year we are going virtual. I was chatting with Amy Dabalos back in July and she encouraged me to figure out a way to do the show despite the current circumstances, so I started to come up with a plan. I reached out to my community for support and was able to book a studio session, hire my band, hire a videographer and film a number of songs in the studio with social distancing and custom holiday masks. I have been editing those videos and the show will consist of me hosting the live streamed show in front of my parents fireplace where I’ll perform a few songs on guitar and ukulele and with Jon on piano and I’ll be introducing the full band tunes that were recorded in advance. There will also be a cooking segment where I will share the recipe for my family’s  traditional Christmas treat called nut coils. I’m hoping it can bring some joy to the end of a tough year.

MB:  2020 has been a challenging year for all of us, and especially for musicians, actors, and everyone in the performing arts.  How have you managed the obstacles that have come this year?  Have you been able to find positives and high notes amongst the hurdles? 

RG: Yes. This year has definitely required that I find new ways to connect. At the beginning of quarantine, I decided to get serious about learning how to play the ukulele so I decided to go live on Facebook everyday, play a few songs, and connect with people. I did that for about 30 days and even got to the point that I could put on a whole show playing ukulele and doing most of my original songs. I get a bit down if I’m not able to sing so learning ukulele and now guitar has helped me to keep singing despite not being able to get together with my bandmates. I had picked up and put down the guitar so many times in my life and the sudden jolt of this pandemic led me to realize that all the excuses I had made over the years were just me being afraid to fail. I feel lucky to have finally realized this but I do wish it hadn’t taken a pandemic to figure it out.

MB:  A standard question for artists visiting Merry & Bright:  Do you have a favorite Christmas song?

RG: I think it has to be “Oh Holy Night”.  But, if I had to pick a non-church song it would be “That’s What I Want for Christmas” by Nancy Wilson.

MB:  Who are some of your go-to favorite musicians that everyone should be listening to?

RG: Eva Cassidy, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald… I love all the classics. Some other people I like to lift up are fellow musicians in the scene who are my friends and are also awesome: Socorra, Amy Dabalos, Emily Cavanagh, Adira Sharkey, Steely Nash, and James Lanman who came out with a really nice Christmas album last year… just to name a few.

MB: What is one of your favorite bay area hot spots for great food and/or music?

RG: The Art Boutiki is my favorite local venue. They have been putting on some great live stream shows and I really hope they make it through this time. The best sound in the south bay!

MB:  Ren. Thank you so much for answering a few questions for Merry & Bright!  Do you have any final thoughts for your fans? 

RG: Thank YOU! I know this year has been intense but we can still spread joy this holiday season. Please join me for the virtual Ren’sWinter Wonderland show on December 6th at 7pm! The best thing about going virtual is that anyone can watch regardless of location! 

MB:  Have a very Merry Christmas Ren!

RG: Merry Christmas!!

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