The duo Renee Dupuis and Joe Cardoza, who go by the moniker Renee & Joe, have complimentary talents; while both do vocals, Renee hits the keys while Joe handles the strings. They put out a new album in May, which you can pick up on Bandcamp. Red Bird is their second album following the 2013 release of Dreamsteering. This morning I sat down with a vanilla sugar latte and gave it a listen.
The duo gets things started with “Can You Feel Me,” a toe-tapping tune with an optimistic drum and bass pairing, a rhythmic cousin of Peter Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks”. The album continues with “Lie-La.” The bass winks at me from across the room and saunters over. Just as I give in to the delicious, deep whirlwind of sound that’s got my cilia wiggling like never before, the vocals come in. My eyebrows go up and I listen deeper.
The next track is “Red Bird.” “Every red bird I see is a cardinal to me / because I do not know the red birds,” sings Joe in an articulately mournful-comedic opening. The music is sparse but not wanting; hinting at that which we have that serves as a constant reminder of the things we do not have but someday will, might, or could possess – whether it’s knowledge about ornithology, material objects, or something else. The track is short, coming in at just under two minutes, but it is profound.
With lyrics that smell like a meat smoker in a church parking lot and dusty, meandering music, “Steal You Flowers” is earnest and musically divine. To listen to Renee & John play is to listen to true musicians as they play (in every sense of the word), experiment, and create. As the song progresses, “’Cause I know better than to come home with nothing / Gonna steal you some flowers,” sings John, recognizing that his first instinct (fueled – or not, perhaps – by his laziness) to return without any tangible gesture of love is probably not the right one for his darling.
The next song on the album, “Secret Dances”, smells like chimichurri and sounds like an impromptu party. The instrumental track intertwines melodica melodies, saxophone (played by Justin Downs), and sultry drums with a passion that swells and ebbs in a journey of sound as incongruously simplistic and complex as a medieval tapestry. This is a dance I want in on; I just hope I wear the right shoes. (I suppose they can always come off.)
“Kevin Bacon” is trivia night at the neighborhood pub. While Renee works magic on the piano, Joe pays homage to Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. “Frazzle” is a funky trip around the block. With paisley syncopation, the song shifts from keys to guitar to keys again. The song leaves you wondering if it was all a dream.
The album progresses with “Aller Dormir,” a short exploration of the fitness of Renee’s infrahyoid muscles (wow) that leaves one feeling anything but sleepy. As Red Bird continues, “Welcome to the Party” begins slowly, like the sort of morning where you rub your hands together and ask, “Where to begin?” Joe welcomes the travel-weary listener to “The Party.” He sings of the glorious morning sun and just how worthwhile it will be to participate in the party. “Sleep it off,” repeats the chorus, as if to persuade the dubious listener to take a break and start over again in the morning.
“Friday Funk” has the sort of chord progressions that make me smile, and the laid-back beats with currents of melody running through, like an aesthetically- and gustatorily pleasing marble cheesecake. The song shifts sound around like an expert bagger at Trader Joe’s, with the seriousness needed to get the job done and the frivolity of a hibiscus shirt in the dead of winter.
“All the religions in the world are exactly the same / so we should be friends / we should be friends / why aren’t we friends?” begins the next track, aptly titled “Friends.” Joe goes on to bring up more confounding variables that divide people by labels only. I could say that this song comes at just the right time, for political reasons, but I won’t, because these differences have always existed, and always will. But Renee & Joe have a point here: that these differences exist does not mean that we should resign ourselves to the fact and give up on being friends with those who are different from us. Surrounding ourselves with people who are just like us is not a very good way to come up with new, spectacular ideas, is it?
“Cycle” begins with the sort of casually skillful piano playing that I wish I could pull out at gatherings, surprising people who thought they knew me well with my mad skills. Then the song morphs into an electric fountain, gurgling up harmonic vocals, piano, bass, and drums in an artful cascade of meditation on paper airplanes and the purpose of it all. Morphing again, “Cycle” picks up speed and explodes in the power of Renee’s voice and the sort of music that reminds me of warm spring afternoons and muddy feet. As the album ends, it leaves me happy and awfully grateful that there are people making music in the world like Renee & Joe.
Renee & Joe make good music. This is the sort of music that could become something truly interesting, given the right opportunities: mainly, equipment and time (and gobs of money). There is an element of imagination in both the music and the songwriting that, were the album blasted to the masses through omnipresent loudspeakers, would incite an epidemic of kindness. Strangers would give you flowers. Strangers would grow more flowers. There would be free talks on bird identification everywhere, and people would stop making fun of birders. A Renee & Joe utopia is one I would love to inhabit. In short, these are some musicians very deserving of your support, so add them to your Music Library already.
Interview with Renee & Joe
What’s the best part of having your spouse and your creative and performing partner?
J: Being apart sucks. We like each other. Playing gigs together means more time together. Gig night = Date night. We follow a Delaney & Bonnie model where this project showcases our original tunes but we can also supplement a band. Renee started playing keys with “What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?” a few years back and I was subbing on bass and now we’re both pretty regular members of the band. We love being in that band.
Your website mentions that you have been playing since you were kids. How did you first decide to become a duet?
R&J: We got together for a talent show our freshman year of high school. We played Blackbird. Then we started playing open mics. And then we started playing bars and people paid us money and it was awesome.
Where did you learn to play?
R: I come from a musical family. My dad plays guitar and sings, my mom and older sister play piano. My brother (Dan Dupuis, drums) was in rock bands, practicing in our basement. I could put cotton in my ears and listen to STP covers. It was all very inspiring.
J: My dad had me rocking on the bass at an early age. My younger brother played drums. Classic example of the things a guitarist will do for a solid rhythm section.
Tell me about your creative process? How does your music and lyrics come together?
R: Sometimes I think of a melody while driving and quickly record it on my phone. Voice memos everywhere. Sometimes I write lyrics and then set them to music. Sometimes it happens simultaneously. Amanda Cook runs a writing group at the Gloucester Writer’s Center. It’s great to workshop lyrics there and I will often bring songs for opinions and edits.
J: Listening to as much music as possible, as well as the weekly classes at the Writer’s Center are the start and the rest is a fight to the death to find creative time. I can bring Renee the skeleton of a song (she does the same) and we workshop songs together. Demo. Listen. Subtract. Listen. Add. Record in the studio QUICKLY in as few takes as possible.
As a newbie to the Boston area. Which artists and venues would you recommend I seek out?
R&J: We run Open Jam at the Rhumb Line in Gloucester on Boston’s North Shore every Monday. We also love Tuesday nights at Jalapenos with KGMB right here in town. If we were city folk Monday nights we would be at Toad seeing The White Owls residency. We both love Lyle Brewer on guitar, Joe Kessler on fiddle and Jimmy Ryan on mandolin. They all play in a ton of bands. We loving dancing to Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band and listening to Susan Cattaneo. Other favorites worth seeing live or digging up online include Marc Pinansky & Andrea Gillis, John Pohida International Airport & Jittery Jack.
With a successful win behind you at tonight’s competition, are you going to do anything special to prepare for the finals on December 20th?
R&J: It felt really good to present unreleased material and meet and listen to new friends and their original songs. We hope to write new songs between now and December 20th (and be off book this time).
I love your album art work. What’s the story behind these images?
R&J: We went to high school with Sarah Goodreau but she was way introverted and neither of us really knew her but after our first album was done we needed art and sort of remembered she was good at it. We sent her music with absolutely no criteria or restrictions. She listened and responded with illustrations that fit our music perfectly. We have very literally loved every image she has ever sent us.
What was the first album that you added to your personal music library?
R: Mine was Jagged Little Pill. I still know all the words. Along with everyone in my 6th grade class. Classic.
J: Mine was either Jar of Flies by Alice in Chains or the Friends Season One Soundtrack, so I’m going with Jar of Flies by Alice in Chains.
What was your most recent addition to your personal music library?
R: The last record I purchased was Laura Nyro’s New York Tendaberry a recommendation from Brian King (What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?)
J: Less Talk More Rock my favorite album by the Canadian thrash group Propaghandi
What was your first live music experience? Which venue and which artist(s)?
R: Hanson. At Great Woods. Mansfield, MA. UGH now it’s called Xfinity center.
J: Would you believe me if I told you that The Wallflowers played at Beverly High School?
If you could cover one album in your music library which would it be?
R&J: We already cover four songs on Weezer’s Blue Record, only six to go.
What artist do you wish more people had in their music library?
R&J: We just want people to know that Steve Miller did NOT write “Jet Airliner” (Paul Pena) that Otis Redding wrote “RESPECT” and that Bob Dylan wrote “Wagon Wheel”.