Interview by Courtney Solloway
Reneé Phoenix is a multi-talented singer/songwriter and musician. Most notably known for her work with band Fit For Rivals and The Explicits. She and her band have found success online on multiple platforms and fans are wondering when they will get new songs from herself or the band. Through live-streaming on social media platforms she has gained a large following from all over the world. I caught up with her for a Skype interview on her music, band, projects and to ask some questions about her career.
There was a huge gap between Steady Damage and Freak Machine being released and there was quite a style change as well, why was that?
It took us a while because we were stuck in what I like to call label showcase hell. Where we were flying out everywhere to go perform in front of labels and do the whole song and dance thing and with that and doing the whole business side of things and dealing with those labels and getting the right deal. It was just a pain in the butt. So, there’s a long time in between mostly for that and kind of deciding where we’re gonna go from there. And I think there was a creative shift because we wanted to try something new and do a little bit different and I feel that Freak Machine you hear a lot of Thomas and me. It’s always been like that since Steady Damage. He and I write everything from drum to bass parts. But trying something different was like alright. It’s kind of weird it’s a weird album I’m not gonna lie but I like it you know it’s experimental.
Yeah, it’s been received really well Novocain has currently reached 3.3 million views on YouTube so how does that feel?
That’s really wild because I was just thinking you know Damage has done really well it has like over 30 million views now or something so it made me really nervous to do that again because I was like oh shit is it gonna do well? Are our fans still there? Because it was such a long gap but it’s picked up quite a bit and it’s doing really well and I’m super excited about that and it makes me really excited for the future of music
Yeah, it was definitely received very well and you have fans that are spread so far! You’ve got quite a lot in Mexico quite a lot in Europe. Do you feel that your social interaction online has boosted that a lot?
100% I try to form a community with our fans and just be present with them other than this you can’t touch me rock persona type thing. I want to be there for people and I think that definitely benefitted us with the reach and everything we have. I feel people talk about it more when you include them with things, I dunno I’ve formed some really solid relationships with some south American outlets and everything it’s pretty crazy the amount of support over there. I didn’t plan on that and we definitely get asked did you guys want a South American fan base, I was like yeah, I want everyone to be our fan but for some reason, it took off over there. We have a bigger fan base there and in other countries than we do here (America). Everywhere else but where we’re actually at
So, you did Warped Tour in the US do you feel that helped a lot?
We did Warped Tour a while ago. I feel our breakout success has been through YouTube through the internet through other popular creators. I feel the internet is such a powerful tour. We’ve had play on Sirius XM Radio and a bunch of others, I feel it helps but being the person in charge of the social engagement on Facebook and being in the thick of it I feel we had more interaction online by capitalizing on YouTube and talking to creators. I dunno maybe it’s just the way things are changing in the music industry. I feel like kids are picking up their phone and listening to radio on there or Spotify or Amazon music and that kind of stuff rather than turning on a good old-fashioned radio anymore.
You take a lot of consideration for your community did that go into your twitch and YouNow?
Yeah definitely, it started with that. I didn’t know what would happen if I tried doing that and I’ve had pretty good success in bringing people in and together and I just want to expand on that onto Rivals and keep that community attitude. I’m hoping to be back on there soon.
Do you feel like you are starting to recognise people on the streams and that you’re making friends rather than being the listener and musician?
100% I feel like I’m forming relationships with the fans and I think that’s pretty cool – if that’s the level the fan wants to be at. I think it’s cool that there’s even that option. I remember growing up and listening to all my favourite artists I always wished I could talk to them and ask them about their career. Like how do you do this or that? I just try to be as chill as I can with people. I mean I can’t talk to everybody but I at least try to make an effort to
I saw a previous interview you did and you said that The Explicits gained attention from Indie labels but you said you didn’t feel ready, was there a reason for that?
It was my first band. I was really young and I didn’t feel 100% where I wanted to be as an artist and the right deal wasn’t in place. I just wasn’t there I feel as opposed to when we signed with Rivals – even then I still wasn’t ready for that but now I feel readier than ever.
You are a huge fan of No Doubt and Garbage. Have you considered doing what Garbage did and creating your own label?
That’s honestly like for a musician where you want to be at. Those bands that have already had that label success that catapulted them into that. I think Garbage came out in the 90’s late 90’s and they have such success where they don’t need the label for anything. What’s cool about that is they get to make all the decisions, keep all the money – it’s less hands in the cookie jar as I like to say it which gives them the freedom to do more things. They’re still touring and having fun but they’re doing it on their own terms. Nine Inch Nails are the same way along with Metric – they’ve been around forever and do really well too. That’s really where you want to be. I’m not opposed to signing onto another label for the level we are at now it just has to be the right deal and timing and everything. Hopefully, I can say more on that soon.
Do you feel it’s necessary to have a label backing you or with the online presence it isn’t as needed?
I definitely don’t think it’s as needed. As I was saying it’s about the type of deal you get. Just because it says Atlantic Records on the top doesn’t mean it’s the cure-all for all your problems if anything it’s like now you have a new set of problems to deal with. It just depends on the label and who you’re working with and what type of deal you have. But nowadays it’s not necessary you can be very successful without with all the internet avenues – it’s such a platform to get yourself out there. You know they do have resources that sometimes bands don’t have or yourself and it can be beneficial but it’s all circumstantial.
You started putting a lot of stuff on Patreon and a lot it revisits The Explicits gritty punk style. Do you think that will make its way into Fit For Rivals?
Thomas and I were talking about doing just a garage punk rock album. Like recording everything live so it’s shitty on purpose you know. That could be fun but yeah definitely.
That sounds really fun and it reaches out to an audience that you’ve had before and expands it further.
Tell me a little more about the Patreon what was the idea behind it? Stuff that wasn’t going into Fit For Rivals with you and Thomas or things you wanted to do personally?
I think it’s a mix of both of those things. I’m constantly writing material and I just feel like I had all these songs and nowhere to put them and this gives me a home for them. It’s motivating me to create more material which has been cool and beneficial for me and the fans as they have more song between albums if they choose. It’s been a lot of fun.
You put up a post a while ago and at the bottom saying it won’t make it to the final album. Does that mean you guys are in the process of making one?
Yeah, I’m always writing and so is Thomas and we’ll get together with 100 ideas each and combine and make new things together. So, we have this big vat of ideas and content I think for Freak Machine we wrote probably wrote a few hundred songs if not ideas that will maybe make it on the next album maybe not. But the point is to always keep creating.
Who do you think are the most influential artists right now in your scene?
I think some of the more current artists right now are Sia she’s fantastic and a great songwriter. I love her attitude in interviews and just who she is. Foo Fighters are always around and I love their attitude and style of music. Who else… It is hard to keep up but as far as new I think I’m going to stick with Foo Fighters and Sia. I don’t care who’s singing it or what if it’s a good song it’s a good song. That goes for covers too.
You’ve expressed a love for Spanish music to listen to in your car, why is that?
It’s just fun. I think the station I listen to is called Caliente which is funny to me for some reason. It’s just fun to listen to on a drive, I understand some of the words but not everything it’s just fun to lose yourself in.
What’s the best show you’ve ever played?
Hmm… There was a show in Boise, Idaho and that was a lot of fun. This was a case where the local radio station played our music so much but so many people came to this place we had never played at before. That radio station was fantastic and super supportive and it’s hard to find that and people that are super into the music and not just the money. But that was awesome.
On an opposite note what has been the worst?
Let me think… I want to say Warped Tour was really bad. Just because it’s so hot and there is no saving yourself from that heat. I remember some of the days we played the stages just facing the sun and going out there the microphone was so hot I couldn’t touch it. The bass player at the time blacked out and threw up. That heat was just excruciating. I couldn’t hear myself the sound was crappy. It was a weird day. The bassist at the time was like I blacked out for that whole last song I don’t know what I was playing or going on and I was like oh god.
You’ve had the opposite where you’ve played in the freezing cold and you didn’t have enough jumpers to wear?
I had every jacket I owned at the time on. I’m from Florida and when is it ever cold in Florida. It’s never that cold and I completely underestimated the power of snow. It was freezing and the worst part of that tour was the door was right by the stage and people were going in and out and I was like this is not good for my voice. Just staying warm was so difficult
Who would you say your favourite band to tour with so far is?
Flyleaf. They’re are fantastic. They are the nicest most encouraging people and so good live. They are one of the best bands I’ve seen live, Kristen’s voice was just amazing. I’ve never seen anyone hit so many runs so perfectly before it was just amazing. But yeah, they’re all super sweet, very supporting musicians so I’d have to say Flyleaf. Their attitudes and how good they are
So, who would your dream tour line-up be?
I guess we would open for Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age. Yeah and maybe Eagles of Death Metal would be there. Maybe Hole would show up somewhere for no reason – just something totally random.
What if you were the headliner?
Nine Inch Nails – yeah right haha that would be so wild. Wow, I don’t know it’s so weird being the headliner because that’s like saying you’re the boss bitch and I’m pretty shy and weird about it so I don’t know if I could say who I’d want to open for me.
Have you ever met one of your idols? What was it like?
I’ve talked to Shirley Manson of Garbage before and that was awesome. She was super encouraging and said what I was doing was very important so that really stuck with me so I was like oh shit I gotta keep with this. Definitely a few hard times I’ve had her talking to me about that has made me want to go forward. I’ve also spoken to Linda Perry from Four Non- Blondes before. She’s a really popular producer she also had really encouraging things to say and I’d hope to work with them in the future. It was super cool meeting them, really cool chill people.
What would be your advice to people starting out now?
To stick with it and never give up. That’s the number one. Take your time creating and doing the things you do especially when releasing an album don’t rush to get something out just to have something out. Listen to your fans and be respectful and nice to all. Encourage and help other musicians around you and keep positive people around you at all times. If someone’s negative in or outside of your band nip that in the bud as fast you can and move on. Leave as much room for positive and inspiring people as you can. That’s just me speaking from experience, I kept way too many negative people around me for way too long and wasted so much time with that. Yeah, ditch the negative in with the positive.
You did a thing on YouTube called Kids Interview Bands what was that like?
That was really fun I love kids I think they’re fantastic – like drunk little people. It was super sweet and a new perspective on things and I’d definitely do that again.
You said at the time you thought your apartment was haunted?
Oh my god where I was staying was like a house divided in two. I was on the top part it was quite an old historic house that they redid. So, my dog would stare at a corner in my kitchen and bark at nothing and this one piece of the floor that she would dig at it was just super strange behaviour. I don’t know if it’s true but they say that pets can sense things we can’t or whatever but it just made me think things were haunted. My roommate at the time said she saw this black figure moving around and I was like what is that about I haven’t seen anything. And one of my other friends said separately that he saw the same. Just a bunch of weird stuff happening. I never saw anything and I’m not opposed to the idea of ghosts I’ve just never seen one of felt haunted.
If you had a movie made about you, who would play you?
I have no idea… hmm… maybe someone kind of off-kilter like Maggie Gyllenhaal that could be cool. She seems chill.
What’s the weirdest thing to happen to you on tour?
I remember we checked into this hotel once and I opened the door and it was like something out of a movie. There were roaches all over the place like coming up from behind the headboard in the bathroom. On the back of the door there was a swastika that someone poorly spray painted over the bathroom ceiling was caving in. Needless to say, we got our money back and got out of there. That was pretty weird.
Have you ever had a crazy fan experience?
I’ve had people try to grab at me and that’s weird. I’m an awkward hugger, to begin with so having someone grab me is strange. I guess that’s a little strange but I always try to be with someone and never on my own.
What’s your favourite venue to play at?
The NorVa in Norfolk, Virginia. They had a basketball court, sauna, and a hot tub and arcade all on the back of the venue. That was pretty wild. Not normal at all but House of Blues around the country are pretty nice too, the backstage areas are well kept. Generally speaking, backstage areas aren’t the nicest being on a bus isn’t great. You’re stuck in a small crowded area breathing in everyone’s yuck haha.
What would be the ultimate venue for you to play?
Wembley Stadium in the UK or any of those bigger festivals that Nine Inch Nails or Queens of the Stone Age perform at. I’d love to be a part of that.
What was the first instrument you picked up?
The drums I think. I had a little plastic guitar and microphone as a kid. But the first I wanted to learn was drums and then my dad told me you don’t want to be a drummer there’s too much shit you’ll be in the back and you can’t play that at parties. He was like you should learn guitar and a few months later I did. Drums are super fun I play them now I’m not in my parents’ house and I’m not 10.
What’s your favourite Fit For Rivals song in general and your favourite to play live?
Favourite in general… there were a few we recorded in the studio that were my favourite that we never released. On Freak Machine I would say Special Kind of Crazy and live I’d say Hit Me cause that one I can really dig in vocally.
How did you come up with idea of who to fight in the Hit Me video?
We just thought a robot would be pretty funny and we actually put it together in Thomas’ garage and it was fun building that stuff. We’re pretty hands on so Thomas did the green screen for that video and stuff as well.
Do you think you’ll release more music videos in time?
I dunno if we’ll do one exactly like that but we’ll definitely do more for sure.
What’s your favourite hobby outside of music?
Outside of it… Uhh, I watch Netflix and play video games I love my VR and doing video work. I’m currently editing a documentary type thing for Fit For Rivals now.
Do you enjoy seeing the covers of your songs?
I love watching people cover and doing stuff of our songs. I’m going to try and encourage people to do more of that and it’s fun that people react in that way
How does your fiancée Lindsay feel about the attention?
She’s very chill and cool about it she’s very supportive and encourages me to do more. She’s wonderful and she’s such a creative and talented person with a good voice on her too. It’s a good complementary relationship.
You went to Qatar and performed for the soldiers out there what was that like?
That was wild. Flying to the other side of the world and everyone was super appreciative we came and it was a once in a life time opportunity. We went into the city and that was wild too. I felt like such an alien over there with all my tattoos and stuff. Can’t say I wasn’t scared to do it but I was glad I did. Driving a tank was super weird, like in the desert and driving over anything.
Is there anything you want to let people know about?
Stay connected with us on social media as we release all our announcements on there like my EP coming out soon.
All of Reneé and Fit For Rivals social media:
Check out some of her songs from her EP and band here!