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Robin Renée

Biography

Robin Renée (they/she) is a musician, activist, artist, scientist, and journalist particularly known for their original, genre-blending and sacred music. They describe themselves as “ a Mantra-Pop recording artist, writer, kirtan chanter, Pagan, fangirl, once and future scientist, and advocate of all things queer and sacred .” 1  Her creative expressions range from progressive podcasts to community workshops to live shows and an extensive discography of original music. Renée’s work encourages community engagement and shared spiritual practice. In the early 2000s they developed a new musical genre called Mantra-Pop: “accessible, lyric driven alt-folk rock with a spiritual twist.” 2  As a bisexual, polyamorous and nonbinary creative 3 with a mixed-race family background, they use their music to “make space for those of us who really are living those in-betweens, because a lot of times you feel like there’s no place for you.” 4

Both of Renée’s parents enjoyed music and encouraged Robin’s passion from an early age. Renée explains that they “took me to concerts from when I was really quite young, and once I started playing in bands, they would go out of their way to show up and be supportive.” 5  Robin began to take piano lessons at age seven and at age ten formed her first band Solar Explosion, later called the Half Mann Band. They began writing songs around the same time—their first about Billie Jean King—by imitating the pop music of the time. They still credit their parents for influencing their eclectic musical taste: “Mom and Dad, respectively, turned me on to Bob Dylan and Kraftwerk. I’d say that explains a lot about who I am today.” 6  

Renée came out as bisexual in junior high, but was less out at their Catholic high school, Bishop Eustace Preparatory School in Pennsauken, New Jersey, because it felt riskier to be so. While there, they took advantage of the musical opportunities available to them by singing in a folk group and during Mass. Though Robin made a few lifelong friends in high school, for the most part she found the Catholic school environment conservative and stifling (Robin Renée, Google Docs comment to author, November 20, 2023). So, when they arrived at Livingston College at Rutgers University, Renée got to work seeking out people and situations where they felt connection and relevance. One of the first things they were excited to do was to join the Rutgers University Gay Alliance (which later became Rutgers University Lesbian/Gay Alliance aka RULGA). They also joined a new wave band called Chapter 12 that had posted a newspaper ad for a keyboardist. As people left and were replaced Renée began to sing lead vocals and write/co-write some of the songs.

Over time Chapter 12 morphed into a new band, called Spy Gods (Robin Renée, Google Docs comment to author, November 20, 2023) . Spy Gods performed together in the late 80s to early 90s, touring in the Central Jersey and New York area. Renée contributed vocals and played keyboard; other band members included Marcello X on guitar, Sharief Hobley on bass and Bob Ramos on drums. Renée describes their style as “a kind of World Beat set... [a] funk-punk-Beefheart-Prince Afro-Caribbean rock ‘n’ roll soup.” 7 

After Spy Gods, Renée took a break from performance, a time in which they rediscovered their spirituality. Eventually they began to perform solo and read poetry in the café scene. In 1994 Renée released a cassette-only recording called Tryptophanzine, which combined folk, new wave and spoken word. Later they played guitar and lead vocals for the band The Loved Ones, collaborating with Brian Racek on guitar and backing vocals, Andy Gesner on bass and backing vocals, and first Scott Wilson and then the late Ron Howden on drums (Robin Renée, Google Docs comment to author, November 30, 2023). The most recent chapter in Robin Renée’s musical journey began with the release of their solo album In Progress (2000), which was received with applause in alternative press across the United States. Her next album, All Six Senses (2002), was produced by Scott Mathews who has worked with critically acclaimed artists such as George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Elvis Costello, Patti LaBelle and more. These two albums display Renée’s post-punk, alt-folk style, borne from an eclectic range of influences and personal favorites including Devo, Kraftwerk, James Taylor, Joan Armatrading, Gary Wilson, Richie Havens, Elvis Costello, David Bowie, Steely Dan, T. S. Eliot and Tatyana Brown among others.

In 2007, Robin Renée released their first recording dedicated wholly to sacred chant, entitled  Live Devotion. Their 2009 album spirit.rocks.sexy: Mantra-Pop Headlines from the Clairaudient Dreams of the Evocative Robin Renée showcases Renée’s development of Mantra-Pop, which integrates their alternative, acoustic, post-punk style with spiritual chant. In a 2013 interview Renée explains that Mantra-Pop articulates their central concerns as an artist.

I feel as though the essence of my music and attitude is Mantra-Pop – In my universe, there is always an edginess, and a rock ‘n’ roll, alt-culture sensibility, as well as an awareness of Oneness and sacredness. No matter what I’m singing, writing, or presenting at the time, that sensibility is always there. So really, Mantra-Pop is the way I describe my work overall. 8

Mantra-Pop articulates Renée’s preference to work with multiple styles: creating eclectic mashups that infuse sacred music practices with rock, punk influence and folk sound. When writing new songs, Renée discerns which style serves them best in the moment, resulting in a musical career that winds back and forth between influences, at times featuring more rock, blues, and punk sound, at others focusingon sacred chant and kirtan musical practices. 9

As an example of this fluctuation, Renée’s next album This. (2013) returns to the “energetic, centered place of Live Devotion,” to guide the listener along a spiritual trail using a blend of chant and sacred song in the style of kirtan music, to inspire “stillness, joy, and inquiry into the heart of living.” 10  In July 2013, Renée released the single All I Am , using a portion of the sales proceeds to support the anti-bullying You Will Rise Project. 11  About the song, Renée explains in a 2015 interview: “I really want to make the statement of being all of the things that I am, regardless of whether some people think that...you have to choose one or another.” 12

When asked how playing music contributes to their spiritual practice Renée likens music to breath, describing music as a means to contact authentic human connection. Renée hopes that spiritual music honors every corner of human life as sacred expression, explaining that: “all of our ways of being and ways of experiencing are spiritual because it’s all part of the growth that we’re going through.” 13 This hope echoes their persistent interest in mixing, blending, and mashing-up seemingly disparate ideas and genres to break down divisions. Even our whole culture really splits body and mind and spirit and I feel like we are all of those things. You know, I come from a mixed family background, and so black and white as separate doesn’t make sense to me; the whole gay and straight, even sacred and secular...those divisions I think are detrimental to us as beings.” 14

Renée’s song “Blessed Be, Namaste” embodies this desire to create relationship across disparate elements. The song’s title features Wiccan and Hindu instructions to mutually acknowledge divinity in one another, while the song combines kirtan chants with acoustic folk sound. In 2016 “Blessed Be, Namaste” won the UU Vincent Silliman Hymn competition; it continues to be sung in UU congregational spaces. 15   Robin Renée’s development of sacred music flows from their personal spiritual development. She follows a fluid, eclectic, personal spiritual path, describing herself as “a longtime practitioner of meditation, bhakti yoga, and eclectic Paganism. Indo-Pagan, Krishna witch—I enjoy wading through the words I might use to describe the set of practices that call to me.” 16 They celebrate Pagan traditions and holidays that align with their spiritual instinct, 17 honoring deities and practices from a range of traditions with an approach marked by sincerity, thoughtful enthusiasm, and depth of inquiry.

Renée grew up around their parents’ interest in Eastern philosophy and spirituality, so they had some familiarity with chanting and meditation when they began to study kirtan. They approach kirtan as a form of yoga that focuses on the heart. The style is devotional, meaning to provoke an outpouring of love. The typically Sanskrit repetitive refrains work vibrationally to resonate in the body and consciousness of those who sing or simply listen. 18 While playing sacred music for others is an integral part of Renée’s public spiritual practice, she also relates to songwriting as sacred practice. Much of their material comes from dreams and, though the writing process is different each time, they have come to intuit when an idea or image is speaking to a new song.

Renée has often been on the move, traveling to play music, attend conferences or otherwise collaborate. They live in New Jersey, and travel to Cleveland, Ohio to gather with the Devo fandom and play music with groups like the (presently dormant) Mutant Mountain Boys. 19 In 2016 they opened for the Caldera Pagan Music Festival in Lafayette, Georgia, 20 and continue to organize and perform in live music festivals annually, often around queer and Pagan themes. They move in response to their passions and their relationships, creating art and commentary out of authentic, enlivened engagement.

In addition to writing and performing music, Robin Renée has co-created two podcasts with friends. The Audacious Eleven podcast, produced in collaboration w ith Wendy Sheridan, Mary McGinley, and Donna Juzva covered topics ranging from “pagan spirituality and life empowerment to technology, entrepreneurship, love, sex and fandom.” 21 The second and, as of 2023, still running “Leftscape Podcast” began in 2018 in response to the presidential election of Donald Trump. A collaboration between Robin Renée and Wendy Sheridan, the podcast is “dedicated to exploring the prominent and hidden conversations among progressives in the U.S,” 22 and engages guests “from the worlds of activism, music, theater, publishing, STEM, spirituality and more.” 23 Robin Renée also curates a weekly hour of (mostly new wave, punk, post-punk, and alt-rock) music called “Saved By Zero,” named for a song with the same title by The Fixx. Their playlists are featured on Yacht Rock Discord, RadioPVS.com, Mixcloud, on their YouTube channel “Saved by Zero,” 24 and on various radio programs across the country by invitation.

While making music they have worked in SEO, web design, social media management, 25 and in microbiology as a Senior Lab Analyst (Robin Renée, Google Doc comment to author, November 20, 2023). In the early 2000s they worked as a journalist for several Central New Jersey newspapers, which included an opportunity to interview B.B. King. She also wrote for Biff Bam Pop!: a blog in appreciation of pop culture, in addition to personal blogging and interviews about polyamorous relationships and living. Renée has developed workshops on topics of nonbinary gender identity and polyamory at venues like the Poly Living Conference. 26

Currently Robin Renée works as a freelance creative and SEO manager and looks forward to a return to live performance. They continue to create sacred and profane music, and to make public statements and appearances as a prominent Black, queer, bisexual, polyamorous, and nonbinary eclectic Pagan spiritual artist and leader.

(This biographical statement was written by Lux Knudsen Cowles for a Queer & Trans Theologies class at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities and was edited by Robin Renée.)

1 Renée, Robin. 2020. Robin Renée . October 14, 2023.
https://www.robinrenee.com/robin-renee-photos-video-press.
2 Loebig, Brian. 2013. “Entrepreneur in Action—Robin Renee, Mantra Pop Artist.” The Ink Blog (blog). https://theinkblog.net/2013/01/16/entrepreneur-in-action robin-renee-mantra-pop-artist/ .
3 Berg, Alex. 2017. “Non-Binary People Break Down What the Term Really Means.” Attn: entertainment that informs . November 2, 2023. https://archive.attn.com/stories/18166/non-binary-people-break-down-us-what term-really-means.
4 Renée, Robin. 2015. “Sacred Music.” Interview by Michele Granberg. Positive Energy TV . October 21, 2023. https://vimeo.com/139979866.
5 Gilbert, Marie. 2013. “Super G Interviews the Very Talented Robin Renee.” The South Jersey Writers’ Group Blog . November 1, 2023. https://south-jersey writers.blogspot.com/2013/07/super-g-interviews-very-talented-robin.html .
6 Ibid.
7 Walker, Glenn. 2016. “Robin Renee: The Biff Bam Pop! Interview.” Biff Bam Pop!: an appreciation of pop culture (blog). October 24, 2023. https://biffbampop.com/2013/07/26/robin-renee-the-biff-bam-pop-interview/.
8 Ibid.
9 Renée, Robin. 2015. “Sacred Music.” Interview by Michele Granberg. Positive Energy TV . October 21, 2023. https://vimeo.com/139979866.
10 Renée, Robin. 2020. “Bio.” Robin Renée . October 14, 2023. https://www.robinrenee.com/robin-renee-bio.
11 Ibid.
12 Renée, Robin. 2015. “Sacred Music.” Interview by Michele Granberg. Positive Energy TV . October 21, 2023. https://vimeo.com/139979866.
13 Ibid.
14 Ibid.
15 René, Robin. 2016. “Blessed Be Namaste is Winner of the 2016 Vincent Silliman Hymn Competition.” The Dream Between: innerworld tours beyond boundaries with Robin Renée (blog) . November 26, 2023. https://dreambetween.wordpress.com/2016/05/08/blessed-be-namaste-is-a-winner-of-the-2016-vincent-silliman-hymn-competition/.
16 Renée, Robin. 2014. “Buddha, Baal, and Mary—Finding Your Footing Among Many Spiritual Paths.” The Dream Between: innerworld tours beyond boundaries with Robin Renée (blog). November 2, 2023. https://dreambetween.wordpress.com/category/spirituality/paganism/.
17 Renée, Robin. 2010. “November New Year.” The Dream Between: innerworld tours beyond boundaries with Robin Renée (blog). November 2, 2023.
https://dreambetween.wordpress.com/category/spirituality/paganism/.
18 Renée, Robin. 2015. “Sacred Music.” Interview by Michele Granberg. Positive Energy TV . October 21, 2023. https://vimeo.com/139979866.
19 Renée, Robin. 2015. “Traveling Companion.” The Dream Between: innerworld tours beyond boundaries with Robin Renée (blog). November 2, 2023. https://dreambetween.wordpress.com/2015/09/.
20 Ibid.
21 Renée, Robin. 2015. “Sacred Music.” Interview by Michele Granberg. Positive Energy TV . October 21, 2023. https://vimeo.com/139979866.
22 Sheridan, Wendy, McGinley, Mary and Robin Renée, co-hosts. 2018. “Ch-ch-ch changes (Episode 1). The Leftscape: the shape of progressive conversation (podcast). https://leftscape.com/episode-1-ch-ch-ch-changes/.
23 Ibid.
24 Renée, Robin. Saved by Zero . YouTube Channel. Accessed October 28, 2023. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJdBoJShHXMu1YVVAWK0e5oxgCtwRKHI.
25 Loebig, Brian. 2013. “Entrepreneur in Action—Robin Renee, Mantra Pop Artist.” The Ink Blog (blog). https://theinkblog.net/2013/01/16/entrepreneur-in-action robin-renee-mantra-pop-artist/ .
26 Renée, Robin. 2015–2016. “Working & Living in Mixed Media.” The Dream Between: innerworld tours beyond boundaries with Robin Renée (blog). October 23, 2023. https://dreambetween.wordpress.com/.

Biography Date: January 2024

Additional Resources

Connect with Robin Renée’s Work:

https://leftscape.com/

Facebook: https://facebook.com/robinreneefan

Instagram: https://instagram.com/robinreneemusic

“Saved by Zero:” https://www.mixcloud.com/robin-renee/

Tags

Neo-Pagan/New Age Movements/Occultism/Spirituality | Artist/musician/poet | Author/editor | Online activist | New Jersey

Citation

“Robin Renée | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed May 30, 2024, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/robin-renee.

Remembrances

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