LIVE & LEARN is the sensational debut album from a rocking young singer/songwriter out of Melbourne, Renee Cassar.The most remarkable thing about Renee Cassar’s debut album is that it’s hard to believe it’s a debut album at all. As it is, LIVE & LEARN is an amazing introduction to one of the truly great new female rock voices of this generation.
Just listen to the opening track, a thumping rocker called “It’s Not You” – you’ll be singing along with your fist punching the air before you know what’s going on. Keep an eye out for the song’s stunning music video, directed by 2008 Tropfest winning director, Michelle Lehman.
Renee comes rocking and rolling straight out of the box, sounding like she’s been making great pop/rock records her entire life. In fact, she’s only had an independent EP to her credit up until now, albeit it a fantastic debut EP she sold at her shows, produced by Powderfinger’s Darren Middleton [who also makes a guest appearance here on the new album] and featured the track “Dreary Day” [which was picked up by Triple J, Channel [V] and Rage].
Yet Renee has already established herself an enormous fanbase all across the world in the short time since she first picked up a guitar and unveiled this powerful, unique vocal talent of hers. Think a mix between a young Alanis Morissette and a clean-living Courtney Love.
If only the young Renee Cassar had a dollar for every play she’s scored through her MySpace page so far, she would be a very rich young lady: Renee’s MySpace play-count is, believe it or not, just about to top the 7.5 million mark … and counting.
From the solitude of her bedroom in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, Renee quietly and tirelessly worked away on perfecting her edgy, heart-felt pop/rock songs and personally taking them to the world, long before a record company or manager or publisher came along. Even before signing to anyone or anything, Renee’s self-generated MySpace success led to her selling an extraordinary 18,000 downloads through iTunes.
But once the good folk at MySpace labelled Renee as Australia’s Number One unsigned talent, a title she incredibly held onto for a year, it was inevitable that everyone would come knocking on that bedroom door. “It all fell together in a couple of months,” says the effervescent 22-year-old singer of her step up into the majors. “I think it was just fate I was meant to be with the team that I’ve got around me right now. Good old MySpace – it’ll help you along,” she laughs.
Renee had already amassed a collection of 50 or so self-penned songs before she started work proper on LIVE & LEARN. Three of these earliest tracks, her biggest MySpace hits – the edgy and thumping “Are You Happy Now?”, the epic ballad “Forget To Breathe” and the pained, lilting “Waiting” – have survived the long journey to be re-recorded for her debut. “I was definitely sure those three songs were going to make the album,” Renee says.
It’s the heart and soul in this trilogy of virtual classic hits that encapsulates Renee’s untainted musical spirit and what’s made her music so instantly connectable to so many. “Those songs are just really real,” she says. “I sat down and wrote those about specific situations and told the exact story of how I felt at that time. I think because they’re so real, there’s no bullshit. It was exactly as it was at the time. It wasn’t conjured up, it’s not like someone else’s situation, which I like to do as well – I like to listen to someone’s story and go back and write it.
“But these three songs in particular were definitely about what had happened in my life at that time. So I think that helps when people listen to the songs. They can also take parts out and relate it with what’s going on with them at the time as well. Just the realness of it, I think, that’s the main thing.”
Brand spanking new featured tracks on LIVE & LEARN include the album’s soaring title track, an emotive mid-tempo rock ballad that feels like an instant alt-rock classic. “Live & Learn”, alongside two other brand new songs [the scorching, rocky “Heat It Up” and the celebratory “Something About Love”] were co-written with young American songsmith McGowan Southworth, best known around these parts for co-penning Ben Lee’s ARIA Award-winning hit song, “Catch My Disease”.
Providing the album with a slightly different mood is the darker but lively “Beat Backwards”, another rousing, intelligent rocker which can best be described as something Bruce Springsteen might have written in his earlier days. Renee co-wrote the song with Adam Argyle, best known for his work with Newton Faulkner.
With such a diverse and accomplished debut album, it’s hard to believe Renee came to music so relatively late in life. Although she’d been writing little songs and poems for her own amusement since she was a child [she actually started writing raps when she was 11 and obsessed with Eminem and 2Pac], Renee didn’t pick up a guitar until she was 17.
Up until that point, much of her focus and spare time outside school was taken up mastering an entirely different stringed instrument – a tennis racquet. Renee wasn’t just a social player, she was actually well on her way to becoming a pro. Between the ages of 11 and 17, she’d be up each morning at 4am with her dad to get a few hours training in before school, and then would be back on the courts in the afternoon. She was so good; in fact, she made the Victorian state squad.
But then everything suddenly changed one afternoon during a drama class at school when her teacher insisted everyone get up in front of the class and audition for the school musical by delivering a rendition of – ahem! – “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”. Renee was petrified at the idea of singing in front on her classmates, but closed her eyes and got on with it. When she finished, the class erupted in applause, her teacher was peaking and immediately gave her lead role in the class musical.
“I was in complete shock,” laughs Renee. “Like, ‘Really?’ So I did this play in year 11 and I was still playing tennis. Then the urge in me to pursue music started growing more and more. I got a lead role in another musical and that was going to be in front of a couple of thousand people and I thought, ‘I’m going to have to prepare for this,’ because I didn’t want to make an idiot of myself. So I went and got some singing lessons.
“That’s when I decided I wanted to persue music. So I pretty much the next day put down the tennis racquet and went to the city and bought a little $70 guitar and started doing that.”
Renee transferred her discipline from the tennis court into her music, diligently practicing and mastering her new instrument and finding her feet as a songwriter. When she felt confident enough, Renee started venturing out and performing in acoustic bars around her hometown of Melbourne. She’s performed hundreds of solo shows since then, but it’s a sign of the times that the internet would provide the portal for the young songstress to take her music to the world.
It didn’t happen overnight, but Renee now finds herself signed to the prestigious Island Records and on the eve of releasing her powerful, brilliant debut album, LIVE & LEARN.
Recorded in Los Angeles with the celebrated international producer Luke Ebbin [Bon Jovi, Will I Am, All American Rejects, Plain White Ts], LIVE & LEARN is one of the most confident, immediately accessible debut albums you’ll ever hear. It’s like a dozen singles on the one disc, spanning direct rockers to intimate ballads. As a singer and front women to a rocking backing band, Renee is sexy, passionate, full of rock and fun.
If you haven’t heard of her yet, prepare to be blown away by the remarkable talent of Renee Cassar with her brilliant debut album, LIVE & LEARN. Everyone will soon agree that she is without question one of the music world’s great new finds of 2009.