Every aspiring creative can relate to the importance of music and art as a constructive outlet for your emotions and ideas. A lot of artists begin to understand that in our adolescents. Because The Come Up is about building a platform for young artists, we wanted to conduct a interview about how young musicians use their music as an outlet.
Reign LaFreniere is an example of a young talented artist’ who has found a way to express ideas of loss, activism, and identity through music and film. At 18, he is already an accomplished musician and filmmaker. He is a student at an art school in San Francisco and commutes by Cal Train back and forth to the city. That where myself and Leopoldo Macaya, our resident photographer, met up with to discuss his craft and his vision.
Reign was born in Berkeley. In elementary and middle school he spent a lot of time at San Jose, where he still frequently performs open mics at The Poor House Bistro and Caffe Frascatti. San Jose is one of the few cities where he can showcase his talents and appreciates it because of it.
“I think it’s awesome,” Reign said when we asked him about his thoughts on the music scene “I think the whole community is awesome. Everybody helps everybody out. And everyone’s talented too.”
Reign has been playing guitar since he was fourteen, and developed his craft studying the classics; The Beatles, Pink Floyd and other quintessential rock artists. He references Sam Cooke, Jimi Hendrix, and Ben Howard as some of his major influences. It is apparent he draws from classic and modern interpretations of rhythm blues, rock, and gospel music especially when it comes to his guitar playing. His crooning is akin to a more soulful gospel sound, which comes from his background in choirs. Rise Up is a notable example of his work that embodies both Hendrix style rock with a folk delivery style.
Because LaFreniere plans to pursue film in college, we eventually began discussing his film works, his inspirations, and the connection to his music. Kubrick and The Coen Brothers were the immediate names he dropped for artist who inspire him. Whether it be Kubrick, or Hendrix, or Pink Floyd, all the artist he mentions as inspirations are famous for creating themes and motifs and enhancing their work by conveying emotion through atmosphere. Reign mentions that creating ambiance is a key to producing any content, whether it be music or film.
“I feel like atmosphere is really important in anything,” Reign says, when referring to his creative process “there’s got to be a certain vibe, you know, for an emotion to be drawn out.” It’s always impressive when an artist’ constructs an atmosphere to accompany their music. Even more impressive is that Reign recognizes its importance at such a young age. Reign pauses and starts admiring the tunnel we’re walking through near the Guadalupe River.
“But yeah, atmosphere is awesome” he laughs.
LeFreniere’s use of aesthetics and atmosphere is a means of enhancing his emotionally potent lyricism. Originally, he sung political style folk songs, but he realized that was not his genuine voice. “There were dry,” he says about his early works “you could tell the heart wasn’t in it.” He was experimenting his with sound and if you listen through his discography, you can hear the folk influences. It was not until fairly recently that Reign began focusing the bulk of his time on music.
Shortly after Reign returned from a backpacking trip in Yosemite, the content which would make his feature film, the Ghost Ship fire occurred.
Ghost ship was a warehouse near the Fruitvale neighborhood in Oakland. It was converted into an artist collective and December 2nd in 2016, a house record label 100% Silk was hosting a show. During the house show, a fire broke out. Several were injured and 36 lives were lost in the deadliest fire in Oakland’s history and one of the deadliest events in the recent history of California. Reign’s friend was among the lives lost.
“The whole school was…everyone was traumatized after that and I decided to use music as an outlet for that. And then that’s how, that’s usually, where it [his music] comes from.”
The Ghost ship fire had a lasting impression on the Bay Area’s art community and the tragedy pushed Reign to explore his musical endeavors.
“SkyMan, that’s about him” Reign explains, referring to his song Sky Man off of his Taking Back Winter EP, which is about the friend he lost in the Ghost Ship fire. It’s beautifully done; the backing vocals and drums are sparse in the best way and his voice and guitar carry you through a young man navigating loss.
“these changes you want to see
and danger is at your feet
And he said, it’s going to be alright
I had hope once before, but it burned away
I have a friend who is no more
But he said it is going to be alright”
LaFreniere mentions his hope of releasing a full album soon. In this year long time frame, he also will be graduating, starting film school and finishing the films he is working on this year. He mentions the pressure he puts on himself to create “I get angry with myself,” LaFreniere says, when he is not working towards his music or art. A feeling any artist can relate to. “My mom worries,” he says and the three of us can’t help but to laugh.
Our conversation led into a discussion on identity. Reign did a TED Talk where he discussed his issues with bullying and criticism when it deals with identity. “I struggled making whether I should make music I really want or music more appropriate for my race” the artist explains. Reign struggled with his music and identity, but its clear he has found his space and knows himself.
“There shouldn’t be boundaries when it comes to art” the artist says confidently “I personally believe the world is moving towards a more unified culture in general. I think we should start accepting that [rather] then fight it.”
In the midst of our social conversations on identity, music, the Internet, and the differences in our generations, he mentions that his generation seems more self-aware. He believes this self-awareness is what motivates the recent student protests around mass shootings. Self-awareness is one of the most notable traits I picked up from this local musician.
He carries himself with an lucidity of his place in the world, and where that can lead him. He says he is not fit to be a politician or scientists “If I can use my art to get to a place where I can have a voice, then I can help the rest of the world.”
I can’t help to think of all the personal and social events happening to young artists’ right now and how that influences their state of minds and their visions for the future. It is apparent with young people like Reign, they are eager to have their voice heard. In the middle of these conversations, he laughs and says “I’m still trying to figure all of this out”
Reign will be playing at the The Come Up 2: Electric Boogaloo this Friday March 2nd 9pm at Uproar brewing in San Jose, California. You can find his music here and his film work here.
*interview questions were conducted by Isaiah Wilson and Leopoldo Macaya. All photography was created by Leopoldo Macaya. You can find more of his work here.