Renee Maskin has been a big part of the Asbury Park music scene for many years as both a solo performer and lead singer and guitarist of Lowlight. Her first official solo release is "When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings" - a song written by Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs - a 2018 film written, directed, and produced by the Coen brothers. Her version appears on the new Mint 400 Records compilation "At The Movies II."
New Jersey Stage reached out to Maskin to learn more about the solo release and what her future plans are.
Tell me about the song on Mint 400 Record’s “At The Movies II” compilation. This is your first official solo release on a record label, right? What led you to choose this song to cover?
Yes, this is my first official solo release. It naturally worked out that way. I've been working on a record, but I was able to wrap up this one track more quickly than balancing a whole album. I think it's fitting though. I've been gigging solo for as long as I've been playing a guitar. I'm kind of happy the first official recording I put out into the world is someone else's song. It takes some kind of pressure off of me as I open that gate.
I loved Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and the more I watched it, the more taken aback I was about how good that first song in the movie actually is, despite the wonderful goofiness of the scene. And then I read up on it, and Gillian Welch wrote it. She's one of my favorite songwriters, so of course I thought it was great. I knew I wanted to put my own spin on it, so it was a no brainer.
In August, it was announced that you parted ways with Lowlight. What is it like going from a band you’ve been with for many years to performing solely under your own name? You had always done solo shows in between, but this is kind of different.
Technically, I parted with them much earlier. But yeah, I mean, it was tough. I think anyone who has ever been in a serious band knows how intense and personal and unique that relationship is. But I have always been gigging around on my own regardless of being in a band. So once I was vaccinated and things started to open up and feel reasonably safe, I was pretty much back to the thing I had always done, participating in a vibrant artistic scene and playing gigs. The first few shows I had to choke back some tears, it was so nice to be doing what I love again.
Lowlight has a track on the "At The Movies II" compilation too. Are you on that track as well?
No, I'm not on the Lowlight track. I've been out of the band for quite some time, but it wasn't announced right away. But their track is great. They're definitely flexing their virtuosity and ambition as musicians, as well as their appreciation for cinematic music in general. It's a great contribution to the comp.
Do you see yourself moving forward as a solo artist from now on or are you looking to create a new band?
Both. I started to learn how to record myself over the pandemic. And while a trained engineer might be horrified at my process, I'm not unhappy with my results. Overall I think I'm doing a decent job of capturing a feeling. And it doesn't sound half bad for someone with limited means and knowledge.
But, one of the funny *only me, only in Asbury Park* moments I had this year is that I walked up to Mike Noordzy after one of his gigs and casually asked him about maybe hopping on some of my recordings. I've known Mike for a long time. Next thing I know, he's writing really fun and awesome songs for me to sing and we're jamming every week. We're playing with another long time friend, Ben Ross (Mike and Ben are in Mothguts together) in Metuchen at the Old Franklin Schoolhouse on the 20th. So a band is happening too, and it's been coming together organically, which has been really fun and nice.
Up until recently your FB page mentioned a solo album coming in 2020. Did that ever happen? If not, what are your plans for future releases? Do you see an EP or album coming this year or next? Or singles instead?
No, it's taken me a long time to figure out what I'm doing solo-wise. I'm also bad at facebook. I think I wrote that a long time ago while I was still in Lowlight and focused on the band first and foremost. But I just sent some files off to mastering this week, so assuming everything keeps moving forward, I'm looking at an early 2022 solo release.
My first solo record is going to be called Swimming. It's not that acoustic, actually. I was pretty isolated in my apartment for the duration of the pandemic lockdown, so I brought out all the instruments and pedals and did what I could texturally on my own. I think the record reflects as much Brian Eno as it does Bob Dylan. My influences are vast and always change, but Eno music-wise and Dylan lyrics-wise are two solid pillars that will be standing in my mind forever.
Mike Noordzy and I are scheduling some recording time in the Old Franklin School House in Metuchen, so there will be a band release in 2022 at some point. I'm also toying with the idea of doing something much more acoustic and straight forward for a solo summer release. We'll see. I feel like a big chapter of my life just closed, and it wasn't easy for me to come to terms with. But lately, a lot of really great things have been happening in my life. I'm grateful and excited. So a new chapter begins. When I sit down to record the next batch of tunes, I'll see where I'm at and what feels right. And that's what it will be.
Lowlight played many festivals, opened for national acts, and had critically acclaimed records. What would you say are some of your favorite memories during the run?
Opening for the Pretenders at Boston's Orpheum Theatre was hands down my favorite gig ever. The northeast is notoriously intense in some ways, but man. You win over Bostonians and you have yourself a good time from there on in. I'll never forget that night. And then of course, being a Jersey band with our nose to the grindstone, graduating from the Sea Hear Now festival nighttime showcase the first year to the main event the second, I was so proud of that.
You know what's funny, in terms of recordings, I think my favorite song I wrote for Lowlight is "NYE". It's a holiday song, which is why it's funny to me that it's my favorite, but it aims straight at the heart. I have "Of Glitter and Dust" etched into my hat. I'll forever be proud of my contributions to that era of my artistic efforts.