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Makin Waves with Renee Maskin: Helping Hands


By Bob Makin

originally published: 03/10/2024

Makin Waves with Renee Maskin: Helping Hands

On March 23 at Asbury Lanes in Asbury Park, Garden State Film Festival will screen the video for Renee Maskin’s song “Scrimshaw” produced by her filmmaker boyfriend John Decker. PHOTOS BY JOHN DECKER

The Garden State Film Festival will screen Asbury Park singer-songwriter Renee Maskin’s Makin Waves Award-winning video “Scrimshaw” on March 23 at Asbury Lanes. The short film was produced by award-winning filmmaker John Decker, Renee’s boyfriend, whose work has been featured at the festival before.

Featuring a song on “Shimmer,” Renee’s last album for North Jersey-based Mint 400 Records, the “Scrimshaw” video is one of several recent and upcoming collaborations between Renee and John. A former member of the fellow Mint 400 recording act Lowlight, the two-time winner of the Makin Waves Female also as several live shows coming up. She will perform March 13 at Red Tank Brewing with Mercury Brothers and Iowa-based Extravision. She has two Mint 400 showcases coming up with Toronto-based Volatile Youth on March 28 at Petshop, Jersey City, and March 29 at Old Franklin Schoolhouse in her hometown of Metuchen, which also will feature Highland Park-based label mate San Tropez. She’ll share the bill with label mate and recent collaborator Sonofdov on April 19 at Fox and Crow, Jersey City. April also will bring her to John & Peter’s in New Hope, where she’ll hare the April 20 bill with Blush. On June 10, she’ll participate in the North2Shore Festival at the Wonder Bar. Other upcoming dates include June 15, Prototype Paterson, with Girls on Grass; Aug. 18, Edenville General Store, Warwick, N.Y., and Aug. 18, Café Improv, Princeton.

The Makin Waves Artist of the Month for March, Renee chatted with me about all the waves she’s makin and will continue to make throughout the year:

 



 
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How did you meet John Decker?

I met John on Valentine’s Day back in 2020. I was playing a gig at Langosta Lounge, now The Break, and he was out hanging with a mutual friend. John’s a photographer. He saw the hat and the act and figured I might need a few promo photos. But then lockdown happened, and I asked him if we could circle back when COVID had calmed down and felt safer. So we finally did a shoot in the summer of 2021. It went great, and we became fast friends.

 

What impact has collaborating with John had on you professionally and personally?

We liked each other so much, he moved in! So now we work together in some capacity on a daily basis, more or less. John’s become my ‘band’ since going solo. We bounce ideas off of each other all the time, and we try to make a lot of them happen. We also pitch in and help each other when we can, when it’s feasible and appropriate to do so. We look out for each other, artistically and otherwise.

 

 



 
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What do you like most about the ‘Scrimshaw’ video?

Well, there’s two versions of ‘Scrimshaw.’ There’s the long-form, which is kind of an artsy EPK. It gives a little of my back story and why I sound the way I do. When John gave me back the edit, I laughed. He’s clever. He made some of the imagery we took on the road work with the script in a surprising way. Both the long and short versions captured the spirit of our travels and of the song. And real film is just so cool. You can’t fake some of those shots with an Instagram filter.

John was making the festival circuit back in his college days with Super 8 films. I think it was fun for him to make a return to the medium with ‘Scrimshaw.’

How does it feel to have the work selected to be screened at Garden State Film Festival?

I’m stoked! The Garden State Film Festival seems to keep growing bigger and bigger every year. It’s really a fantastic production, and it takes a small army to make it happen annually. I feel honored that we made the cut. John was in the festival last year with a documentary, ‘Marjorie Eliot’s Parlor Entertainment Harlem,’ which is a beautiful short about the Harlem jazz musician and her backstory. I’m hoping he’ll get in for something next year and make it 3-for-3.

 

Will the ‘Scrimshaw’ video win an award from the film festival or is it nominated for one? If the latter, do you know the category and other works it’s competing against?

I have no idea! Honestly, it would be nice, of course, but that’s not why we entered. We just want people to see the video and hear the song, and participate in the general revelry of GSFF.

Makin Waves with Renee Maskin: Helping Hands

Pictured in Death Valley, filmmaker-photographer John Decker, left, and singer-songwriter Renee Maskin, right, are in the process of following their video for “Scrimshaw” from Renee’s most recent Mint 400 Records album, “Shimmer.”

 



 
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What other collaborations have you and John done, such as music videos for you and music for his films and other mediums?

John and I are sketching out some ideas for our next big music video project. I’ve written a few new songs that lend themselves to some fun visuals, so we’re working that out. In the meantime, we’re carving out time and space in our living room and doing something we call “Parlor Sessions,” which are acoustic versions of some of my songs set to visuals in our apartment. I record the music, he shoots, and then I edit it all together. Conversely, he’s in production on a new documentary, and we’re working together and discussing what the sonic needs for the project may be.

Besides your work together, which of John’s works are you most proud and why?

Right now, John co-founded a foundation he’s helping to build with his longtime friend and legendary photographer Danny Sanchez. It’s called Mary’s Garden, and its mission is to offer hope and healing to those who have lost a loved one to suicide through a series of videos that share stories. Their inaugural event is in collaboration with the YMCA and will be held at The Vogel on May 14. I’ve been watching John and the other board members pour so much energy into building Mary’s Garden. It’s hard work, and it’s hard not to be proud of John for taking on such a project.

In addition, John just won a prestigious 2024 Individual Artist Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the Mid Atlantic Arts. John is a world of creative talent and work ethic. It’s great to see him get recognized in such a big way this year. John’s also a pretty modest guy, so I’m sure he kind of dreads me touting all of these achievements. But he’s doing really great things, people should know.

 

Will the next collaboration between you and John also be how you follow up ‘Shimmer’ or will you work together on a different type of project? Either way, when and how will that project be made available?

We’re both juggling a few things that involve each other’s help, so we’ll see what makes it out the door first. On John’s side of things, he started making a documentary about an episcopal monastery in Upstate New York called Holy Cross Monastery. The film will skew on the side of impressionistic and artistic, but it will document the lives of the monks there over the course of a year. I’m a helping hand for John with whatever he needs on the project, which includes audio and probably some ambient scoring. So far, it’s been pretty interesting. If you had told me a few years ago I’d be hanging out with monks, I’m not sure I would have believed it. But it’s a beautiful place, and the monks are friendly, and I’m excited for the opportunity and to see where the documentary ends up.

And for me, I’m sort of in the in-between stages of things. ‘Shimmer’ only came out a few months ago, and I’m still promoting that work. But I sort of can’t help myself. I’m already getting antsy and cooking up some new ideas for projects.

As far as my collaborations with John, I have a couple of songs that I think would fit together nicely on an EP, and all of them would be fun to do a music video for. So, we’re slowly gathering our thoughts and resources around that. In the meantime, we’ll have another Parlor Session up by the end of March. And all of this will be on my YouTube page when they are released.

Makin Waves with Renee Maskin: Helping Hands

Renee Maskin and John Decker regularly release live videos of acoustic versions of Renee’s songs in a series called Parlor Sessions shot in their living room. The latest, “Valentine’s Day,” is pictured. Another Parlor Session is coming soon and can be seen upon its release at youtube.com/@ReneeMaskin.

 

Will the single that coincides with that video be released on Mint 400 Records?

Yes, it will.

 

What do you like most about Mint 400 and why?

Neil, who runs Mint 400, has been a great champion of what I’ve been doing. To his credit, he gives me a lot of room to do what I want to do artistically. Also to his credit, when I’m in need of an opinion, I trust his. I’ve also met a lot of really cool people on the label, near and far, and it’s nice to see so many of them working hard and doing great things. You watch folks like Yawn Mower and Reese Van Riper constantly putting out music and playing shows. It feels good to be on a label with so much positive creative energy. And it’s also been a great excuse to work with talented people who I admire like Tom Barrett, Sonofdov and Nicole Scorsone. Like, ‘we’re the same label, man, come play with me!’

 

You’ve been getting a lot attention lately from WFMU, one of the most respected independent radio in the nation. How does that make you feel?

Oh man, it’s so much fun. It’s a dream come true! The fact that some of the DJs there see enough merit in my work to spin it once in a while, well, I do write home about it. I have a huge sticker of theirs on my guitar case. It’s such a great station, and I’ll proudly shout it out every time they spin me.



 
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What song did you contribute to the new compilation assembled by Alan Smith, host of WFMU’s ‘Six Degree’; what is the title of the compilation, and how is it available?

Alan’s known me for a long time now, and he reached out to me to see if I could write a song for his DJ Premium comp for the current WFMU Marathon. I got so excited, I wrote two. Only one was sent to Alan, and thank goodness, he digs it, but I’m hoping both will find a home on my next LP. Right now, the song exists exclusively on the Six Degrees WFMU comp. So, if you’d like to hear it, consider supporting WFMU and Six Degrees for the swag.

You work a lot with bassist Mike Noordzy. What do you like most about working with him, and when and how will you do so again?

Mike Noordzy is great! I think all who meet him can attest to that. He’s got great taste, and he’s way super cool, but he’s also very down-to-earth and easy to hang with. I trust him. I know whatever song I toss his way, he’ll add his additions, and it’ll be great. He understands what the song needs, and he delivers. We don’t currently have any work together scheduled, but he’s always rattling around my mind. I’d love to do something a little more avant-garde with him and Ben Ross the next time we do a Mysterious Wilds collaboration.

 

What do you love most about Old Franklin Schoolhouse in Metuchen and why?

The Old Franklin Schoolhouse is just my favorite on so many levels. It’s a labor of love by people who cherish live music and want to bring artists they truly enjoy to Metuchen. It’s the nicest combination of a listening room with a relaxed, fun atmosphere. And they have it all, from bluegrass to pure, loud, rock ‘n’ roll. It all sounds great in that little room.

 

When will you be playing there again?

Whenever they’ll have me, and even when they won’t. The next scheduled show is March 29 with San Tropez from Highland Park and Volatile Youth from Toronto. It’s a Mint 400 showcase, and it’ll be a lot of fun. Bring your own food and drink.

 

How did growing up in Metuchen influence you as a musician?

Metuchen has this weird, half-hidden quirkiness about it, probably having to do with it being a very small town that’s also a stop on the Northeast Corridor. The greatest thing about growing up there was being able to get on a train to the city when I was young and feeling suffocated by suburbia. How this all influenced me as a musician, I can’t really say exactly. But as I approached my 20s, I started getting curious about the world, about music that wasn’t on mainstream radio, about art that wasn’t easy to explain. And I guess because I had access to the city and because a lot of people in Metuchen have a curiosity about the same things, maybe there was a quiet empowerment to go out and explore my inclinations.

How, why and when did you gravitate to Asbury Park?

I had moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, after college. It was fun for a couple of years, and obviously music and art were everywhere, and I was soaking up all I could. But one hot, sweaty, awful-smelling summer day, I remembered how much I used to like summertime, and how I had always wanted to try living at the Jersey Shore. The feeling stuck, and I eventually moved. And I’ve been in Asbury Park ever since.

The greatest piece of advice I got in college was from my art professor Shalom Gorewitz, who told me to go where the artists are. So I figured if I wasn’t going to be in Brooklyn, if I wanted a little more salt water in my life, I should go to Asbury Park where there is art and music and things happening. And I haven’t regretted a second of it.

 

What do you love most about being based in Asbury Park and why?

The ocean is an instant mood-lifter and artistic inspiration, just being around it. And the fact that I can walk to venues and see my favorite bands, national and local. Asbury Park has a weird charm, and I’m obviously not the only one attracted to it. It’s full of creativity and community. And eccentricity. 

 



 
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When and where else will you be performing?

I’m booking way out already, and it’s only March. I’ve got Petshop on March 28, Old Franklin Schoolhouse on the 29th, and the Fox & Crow on April 19th. I’m planning a tour for later this year.  All my dates are up at reneemaskin.com and more on the way.

 

Is there anything I didn’t ask on which you would like to comment?

I have an EP in the works with Sonofdov (Dennis King), which will be out some time this year. I’m really excited about it, I think it’s sounding really beautiful so far. Dennis is a great songwriter. And what a voice! And a great all-around human being too.  I'm really stoked he's working with me.

I feel truly thankful that I’ve been collaborating with so many great talents the last couple years. They lift me up and inspire me. I’m in such a good place artistically these days. My hope is that it continues and grows.

Bob Makin has produced Makin Waves since 1988. Follow Makin Waves on Facebook and contact Bob at makinwaves64@yahoo.com.


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