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Renée LoBue is art-inspired. Reminiscent of Dora Maar and other art world gods’ muses, she self-prompts her transcended world as performer on stage and video. Along with drummer and producer Ray Ketchem and other exceptional musicians, they make up the art-trendy, dream pop imaginative band, Elk City. Having endured post-art conscious age of 2000’s decade onward, the band recently released an EP, Souls In Space, consistently manipulating edges of psychedelia with future-sensing sounds and textures, created by collaboration of fierce musicians, along with the vision of Ketchem, and LoBue’s luxury for color and mood in song and her elegantly refined vocals. Upcoming release of a personal project, Flowers of America LP ‘VIDEORAMA‘, LoBue channels a psychically-triggered darker world, where she assumes role of the haunted, possessed. LoBue is quoted as saying “EmoLectro music is what I’ve dubbed the emotional-electronic ways of VIDEORAMA”. This is in keeping with the art-curious edge of LoBue’s persona, managed from her love of theater, dance and movement, treating the art form of song as canvas, where her emotions and art conscience spill over time within which essence fuels temperament for melody and soul-searching lyrics, maintained by production, worthy of lyricism and structure.    

Elk City’s current lineup. From left to right: Chris Robertson, Richard Baluyut, Renée LoBue, Ray Ketchem, Sean Eden. Photo by Phil Silverberg

Kofi Forson: Renée LoBue, this is an important time for you. Your Flowers of America LP ‘VIDEORAMA‘, drops on March 6, and now can be pre-ordered everywhere.

Renée LoBue: Thank you. It is. I’m very proud of FOA’s VIDEORAMA. The goal was to send it around to friends- to share, what I call, a “breathing piece of art therapy” with a handful of people. It was Ray Ketchem who convinced me to share it with the world.

Forson: First featured video from the LP is Creepy Creepin’ the Dark Hallway. The video itself is another of your fantastic turns at channeling European actresses like Isabelle Adjani. I think of her performance in “Camille Claudel”, movie about Rodin’s lover. 

LoBue: Thank you. I’m truly flattered with your Adjani reference! I started working on the piece that became the Creepy Creepin’ the Dark Hallway video in February of 2019. None of VIDEORAMA was recorded yet. Like all videos I make, it was done sheerly for self-entertainment, artistic release and lastly, my love of editing. When I chose “Creepy Creepin’” as the first single, I realized the video and the song would be a perfect pairing.

LoBue & Ketchem during the making of FOA’s VIDEORAMA Photo by Jon Reino

Forson: Perhaps sentiment of the song is reminiscent of current trend of psychic-horror femme fatales in recent movie releases. 

LoBue: My initial inspiration with the making of the video was color, tone and the continual manipulation of the footage. One of my favorite films is Romero’s Night of The Living Dead. If you watch the video I directed for Elk City’s Pity Of A Rose, you’ll see countless nods there. The “Creepy Creepin’” video takes it further because it explores themes of the science of the mind. The song can be interpreted in a myriad of ways, thematically. Then there’s the positive aspect of “Creepy Creepin’” I hope listeners will appreciate.

Forson: Certainly, this is more of a personal project, distant from what you are known for with Elk City.

LoBue: While Elk City is an emotive band, FOA has an extra layer of raw intimacy. For a while, there was talk of VIDEORAMA becoming 2 Elk City records released at different times. In the end, I honored my original intention: I wanted VIDEORAMA to be the musical equivalent of a text from a close friend. The goal was to document an individual exploration through a single lens.

2018 collage by Renée LoBue: Tell Me What To Do, Joan Mitchell

Forson: There’s an art sensibility to who you are and what you do. 

As with every form of art therapy and practice, call and query for making art stems from stimulation of the art conscience.

Base for your art revolves around a Barthian philosophy of image, music and text. Hence, your pleasure is derived from making music, video and performance as well, but what in essence is your ultimate joy in creating songs? What is it that pulls at your coat, draws you into the well of songs brought to life in such a miraculous way? 

LoBue: My ultimate joy in creating songs is in Utopian improvisation. I don’t talk about this much (or, at all), but, for the most part, what I do musically is improvised. For me, the creation of songs is the conscious act of reshaping my world. Songwriting to me has always been escapism combined with the shape-shifting exercise of delving into the limitless expanse of the mind.

Forson: Your songs do reflect a channeling of creativity; the way a painter would prepare a studio, stretch canvas, assemble brushes and paint. What is the structure behind every song? What do you begin with, lyrical line, melody… I think of Tom Waits and how he used to have a tape recorder in almost every room and records bits and pieces of inspiration.

LoBue: My primary joy in creating is in improvising. It also carries over into the work I do with collage and video. Musically, most of what I write is improvised with melody and lyrics coming to me at once. I can see and hear the entire song in my mind, along with the arrangement and production values. It’s all there. My only job is to pay attention. To capture it. With VIDEORAMA every song was musically and lyrically improvised on the spot with my iPhone capturing it. If you listen to the original iPhone demos of VIDEORAMA, you’ll hear that everything (minus Ray’s brilliant production artistry) is the same: The melodies, arrangements and lyrics. Again, I don’t talk much about the way music comes to me. At risk of sounding pretentious, I’m more of a channeler. It’s always been my primary and most honest way of writing.

Elk City’s Souls In Space. Photo by Felice Simon

Forson: Your working partner is Ray Ketchem. What is the process like? First having an extended arm of creativity, but that of a man. How do you merge in your ideologies as male and female artists. Describe that gendered sphere. Most importantly, what makes it work. How does he identify as awesome and great to work with?

LoBue:  Ray is a very special person in the world. Then there’s his astounding creative side: He’s too humble to say he was a child prodigy at visual art, went on to work in advertising as one of NYC’s top illustrators, then taught himself audio engineering and production. To know and work with him is a gift. The running thread of merging our ideologies as male and female artists will always be respect. What makes it work between us will always be trust. We present one another separate offerings from opposite sides of the artistic table. That’s what makes it work: Respect, reliance trust and always, curiosity.

Forson: Your working relationship goes back to Melting Hopefuls which became Elk City. Talk about being in the band, Elk City. What is the difference between working in the studio and making a record to going out on tour? Please if you can give mention to some of the musicians you record with and others you go with on tour. Is the studio band same as touring band?

LoBue: Ray and I started Elk City after Melting Hopefuls disbanded. Over the years, Elk City has had different lineups. The current lineup seems to have touched on something deeper: Sean Eden (of Luna) and Chris Robertson, both on guitar. Richard Baluyut (of NYC bands Versus, +/- , Flower) on bass, Ray and myself. I enjoy all aspects of being in a band. Working in the studio is the blank canvas of thought I so enjoy, while touring is the expression of the canvas outward. We’ve been fortunate to tour the world. I’m truly grateful to be surrounded by the adventurous musicians, the incredible people in Elk City.

Forson: My introduction to Elk City is the album, Everybody’s Insecure. As with all your songs, what captures my interest is your inspired voice, then as I groove into the song I think of form and shape of the song, well-crafted lyrics, musicianship; vignettes of images, emotiveness and danceable rhythms. 

What do you remember about making of this album? 

LoBue: We began making Everybody’s Insecure at a studio in Brooklyn. Those recordings were scrapped, and we re-recorded everything at Ray’s (then) studio, Orange Road. In the interim, I had written additional songs, like Sparrow. The scrapped recording attempt was a blessing in disguise, because it afforded us the opportunity to make a better record. I’m particularly fond of the cover art of Everybody’s Insecure because the photo was taken at one of my favorite places on Earth: Avis Campbell Gardens in Montclair. Because of that, the cover holds extra special meaning for me. I do believe you can hear hints of what was to become FOA’s VIDEORAMA when you listen to Elk City’s Everybody’s Insecure and Souls In Space.

Ray Ketchem at work at Magic Door Recording, Montclair. Photo by Jon Reino

Forson: Last year, Elk City released Souls In Space EP. How is this record consistent with evolution of the band, yet takes new turns and is perhaps more adventurous than for example your earlier albums which trail as far back as 2000? 

A lot has happened in life. How has that shaped you as person, woman, artist and musician in making of this recording?

LoBue: The Souls In Space EP was recorded at the same time as Everybody’s Insecure. Certain tracks didn’t fit the vibe of Everybody’s Insecure, so we held them and released them last fall as Souls In Space. Interestingly, we got more feedback from the 5 songs on Souls In Space than we did on Everybody’s Insecure. The main reaction was to the subtleties. So many people reached out telling us the relaxed approach and atmosphere drew them in on a deeper level. I realized we had touched on a quieter power with Souls In Space. I’m always drawing on cumulative experiences when embarking on a recording. Additionally, because I’ve immersed myself in both collage and the study and creation of film over the past few years, I became ravenous for deeper creative experiences. I unraveled in the most wonderful way and began to crave work that was more challenging.

Forson: Since the first Elk City album, the world has moved through a post-realm, in some cases a post-post consciousness which finds us now on-line and on the internet. You make very good use of Instagram, where you post these videos of yourself in a non-formal setting where you riff excerpts from monologues, and channel role of yourself as performer, trending in a modern day disillusionment, tragicomedy. 

What is the history of your love for theater, crafting a scene, and how does this translate to your performance on stage and in video?  

LoBue: I think my love for theatre began as a child when I saw a television commercial for the NYC debut of Mummenschanz. I was immediately transported to a world of fantasy and to the possibility of possibility. (And that was just from the commercial!) My fascination with crafting a scene comes from my desire to recreate and reclaim space. Every moment of every day, we have that ability. My performance on stage and on camera is a visual document of my discovering possibility. It’s the expression of my curiosity with my surroundings. While filming the creation of one of my collages, I turned the camera on myself and realized there was a completely unexplored world to work in. It was nothing like taking a selfie. It was the discovery that, much like visual art, film and video are a blank canvas. Editing allows me to choreograph my fascination with the power that exists in small and subtle movements. Even the tiniest movement carries mountains of meaning. If you watch my videos you can see that. 

Fun Fact: I did see Mummenschanz for the first time a few years ago and it was thrilling!

Forson: Who are some of your favorite art heroines? 

LoBue: Chantal Ackerman, Debbie Harry, Pam Grier, Isabelle Huppert, Carrie Mae Weems, Cindy Sherman, Patti Smith, Adrienne Shelly, Rachel Harrison, Dana Schutz, Louise Bourgeois, Carolee Schneeman, Dusty Springfield, Susan Choi, Maya Deren, Sandreen Bonnaire, Yayoi Kusama, Monica Vitti, Sylvia Plath, Juliane Lorenz, The Go-Go’s, Agnes Varda, Siouxsie Sioux, Iris Apfel, Twyla Tharp, Erica Jong, and any woman selling any product on a home shopping network.

Forson: At what point did you say, I want to make that transformation from an ordinary girl growing up in New Jersey to becoming an alternate to rigmarole of family life into transcending with a call and query to art and the art process? When were you bitten by the art bug? 

LoBue: This has always been who I am. There was never a point where I made a choice.  My journey has been more about learning to tune in to my inner knowing. The hardest part was sifting through the confusion of the large majority of people I was surrounded by telling me I shouldn’t be this. I wasn’t groomed as a child. I’m from a single working mother household in Elmwood Park: A lower middle-class town in Northern New Jersey where the main source of industry was a toilet paper factory. Again, I would use the word trust: It’s been about discovering and trusting myself and who I really am. When I started surrounding myself exclusively with people who appreciated me as an artist, I blossomed.

Still from the outdoor performance piece, Red Purse, 2020
Preview of this video on Instagram.

Forson: You make your home in New Jersey, and life has taken you all across America and places in Europe.

What have you learned from time when you found your voice, to becoming a recording artist? Is the adage still true that it is difficult for a woman to make it in the music industry? How have you maintained a sure-fire way for finding your way through the making of your music and getting it out there? What keeps you grounded?

LoBue: What keeps me ground is doing this. I’ve been in bands since graduating high school. Being in indie rock bands gave me the opportunity to figure it out as I went. I was so naïve, plus, I always had to find a way. I kept doing it because I was hungry. I craved the artistic experience of making music. The excitement. It’s the excitement of thinking about projects I want to film, art I want to make, music I want to record. When I think of ‘making it’ in the music industry, I think of top 40 artists. I do believe, in certain business-minded top 40 music circles, that it’s difficult for a woman to make it in the music industry. Making music and getting it out there comes back to finding a way: Whether on a label or independently, I’ve always found a way to release music. It’s important to know your audience and to have a solid work ethic. It’s equally important to respect your artistic vision and to be approachable, because most of the people interested in what you’re doing are artists themselves. 

Forson: You’ve referenced literary figures like Hemingway and Bukowski in song. What is your opinion of the male artist in history with reference to his muse? 

What have you learned from the dominant persona of the male artist in history? How has that helped you to be fierce to counteract that persistent trauma in the female artist?

LoBue: I think of RW Fassbinder, my favorite filmmaker. (If you want to strike up a conversation with me, mention Fassbinder.) A dominant personality, as is widely known, his muses Hanna Schygulla, Ingrid Caven, Margit Carstensen (to name a few) were portrayed in such a way that depicted a struggle, a silent strength, a curiosity. In that sense, I believe a male artist -even a dominant one- can assist a female artist in the act of highlighting her experience, essentially facilitating awareness. Conversely, the dominant persona of the male artist in history can be utilized by women. That is, women can draw upon those experiences and build their truth, their art out of it. Use it and don’t look back.

Still from the video, FaceTiming My Ego, 2020 Link to this video on Instagram.

Forson: By day you are an assistant to a contemporary art collector. Not to be presumptuous, but what current trends do you see in the art market? A Jordan Casteel painting recently sold for over $600,000. I see a lot of black portraiture and hyper-real impressions of consumerist culture. Ingenuity in composition is hard to come by. 

What patterns and styles do you sense and see as to what is inspiring artists to make art?

LoBue: On patterns and styles: I believe artists will continue to be inspired by consumerism, (think luxury brands like Supreme). Wherein the past, corporations were inspired by street artists, the tables have flipped: Artists are now drawing upon the global mixed messages of corporations and creating challenging work in response. Additionally, I think we’re moving further and further into valuing live experiences. In my humble opinion, visual art, dance and theatre have become the most viable and lucrative art forms. There’s no Spotify or Netflix for a painting, or a dance or theatre performance. (Yet.) I see a trend of artists becoming inspired to conceptualize unique live experiences, be they communal or independent. Of course, there are platforms like YouTube that allow us to watch anything being made (or on display), however, getting people to attend a live creative experience is what will inspire artists to think and, ultimately, create differently.

Forson: What is fascinating about you is your spiritedness. It is subtle, and observant. Not to be someone possessed by transcendence of art-making; you are. But it’s the grace with which you emote, commit, create.  Somehow, someway you are challenging this nature with the Flowers of America LP. You are quoted as saying you will lose friends and still make friends with this LP. That’s extreme confidence.

It’s nice to know who you are and where you are, wouldn’t you say?

LoBue:  I would say so, Yes. And, thank you. I did say I’ll lose and make friends with VIDEORAMA. I meant it. When I decided to make VIDEORAMA it was because of hounding intuition; the premonition to move forward with it. I needed to make this record exactly as it was: A complete and uninterrupted document. Musically, it’s darker than I’ve ever gone. And I’m completely respectful of listeners who may not like it. I had the feeling of expansive floating when making VIDEORAMA because I did it the way it asked me to do it. I wasn’t sorry. I was racing toward a spiritually-sonic lighthouse with open arms.