Earlier this month, I got the opportunity to chat to singer and songwriter GINGE about her debut EP “Belly“. A lot had changed since we last spoke in June 2020. GINGE had gone from having three singles to whole EP. An EP that was filled to the brim with sun-soaked melodies, witty lyrics and catchy tunes. I sat down to chat to GINGE (Renée) about her latest project “Belly”, her inspirations and her love of jazz, R&B and soul. A heads up: You’ll be listening to “Belly” all summer.
GINGE: The process was really organic. I had just started working with Boudewijn Pleij, who did most of the production of the songs, and also the executive production of the whole EP. And we just started making songs and then eventually I looked at the list of the songs we had made, the demos… well, we started saying: “This could be a whole EP.” Because there’s a clear linear sound and story wise it also fits together. So I thought, why not make an EP?
Tala: One of the things I really like about “Belly” is that it has such a variation of sound within the album. Every song sounds very different from the ones before. You’ve got your slow, smooth songs, then the opposite. [talks about interview being chill]. So you’ve been working on “Belly” since the first lockdown.
GINGE: With this EP, I think I really continued with my line of growth, in terms of what I wanted to sound like. You know, in our last talk we talked a bit about “Flowers” and “Triggerhappy” and those songs, and since then it really took a different turn sound wise. I think I just grew up with a lot of pop music around me, and when I started making my own music that kind of sound was what I went for. Because it was the first thing that came to mind, and you know pop songs do have an easy structure to write and lyrics too. You know what goes where. I used to only work with Clarkxkent – the producers of my first three songs – and I do still work with them, but their studio – they moved to another address. We now work in studios that are like a hallway of old offices where everybody has a studio now. So, I got to know Boudewijn and Thijs – the boys who also form my band now! They’re also a collective called .multibeat, which maybe you’ve seen come up. I got to know them because Clarkxkent moved to the studio next to them. When they got more of a leading role in the songs they went on and did some sessions with Boudewijn and Thijs alone – Thijs is the producer of YLS.
Tala: And the sound?
GINGE: The sound of my music in general went more towards jazzy, soul, R&B. I think it was really organic, but now that I know I can make this kind of music, I know that this is the music I want to make. I really had to get to know people and grow into it organically. Now when I look back, I see in my youth that my father tended to listen to really amazing jazz, Chaka Khan, Erykah Badu… It wasn’t until later that I realised that this was the kind of music I listened to while growing up, I just didn’t focus on that. Somewhere inside of me it came along!
Tala: You can definitely hear that in the EP. I love jazz and grew up listening to Nina Simone and Ray Charles. The EP holds all the key elements of these songs like R&B, jazz, but making it modern. It’s really special.
GINGE: Thank you so much. All the credits to the producers who made it. You know, they studied jazz. If I was activated by them playing this kind of music, I wouldn’t have been able to come up with the melodies to go with that.
Tala: Tell me about your writing process. Obviously when we last spoke which was over a year ago, we were speaking about how you wrote a lot from experiences you had, but also… for example with “Triggerhappy” you were inspired by NCIS, the American show. I thought that was really cool. With the EP, what was the writing process like? Was it similar?
GINGE: Well most of the songs…well all of them were written from feelings I did experience myself so they’re not as… as fictional as “Triggerhappy”, where I really took something form another world and tried to place it within me. For instance, “Trip Down” is a really differently written one because it’s more… a metaphorical way I’m telling a story?
Tala: It’s a lot more abstract, in comparison to the rest of the album.
GINGE: Yeah, exactly. With that one I did it on purpose. There are a lot of different stories on the EP, but with that one… “Trip Down” for me is about a cycle of feeling bad and not knowing a way out of your mental state of being. But I was kind of… my English vocabulary was kind of limited. I kept on writing songs where I tend to lean towards “I feel this”, “you do that”. More easy ways of speaking, so with that one I really sat down and I thought I wanted to write a song about how I felt in that moment. But I didn’t want it to be cliché or as much as… literal as other songs. So I really tried with “Trip Down” on purpose to find other ways to describe my inner world. With “Molly”, “Knuckles & Keys” and “Taste It” – those are very much based on my experiences and encounters and now I’m writing about it.
Tala: One thing I always find really interesting to look at when an artist releases an EP when they pop in a song that is quite short, or is almost like an interlude or a segue way into another song. So I was wondering about your track “In the End”, it’s the seventh track on the EP and how it’s only 1:56. What was the plan, or aim I should say, for that track?
GINGE: It doesn’t say so on the streaming services, but “Stranger” for me was really supposed to be on the EP as a bonus track. So it doesn’t say that, but for me “In the End” was really the outro for the EP. Now adding “Stranger” to it also gave me a sort of vibe of… you’ve been listening to this more mellow and calm vibes and someone has been telling you stories and you’ve had to really open your ears… and now we are segue waying into a track that… “Okay, I’ve listened to all of this quite serious lyrics (if you really listen to the words) and now we can just leave the EP dancing”. You know? But “In the End” is a funny one because it was a lost MP3 file. In the beginning of the track you hear me breathing and stuff, and it is on purpose – but also its because we couldn’t edit it. When I found it on my computer, I was like “this is perfect for an outro/intro”, or something that could act like that. For me it really catches the vibe of the studio – you can hear someone talking in the background – a friend of Clark’s who is talking about me making music and what he thinks – you can hear it, exactly what he is saying. I know he’s talking about what he thinks I could do in the future.
Tala: So, quite a personal track in a way?
GINGE: Yeah. The vocal recording is really personal… it’s really a quick look into how things are in the studio, or how something is recorded. Because the recordings are really not neat on that track, but the lyrics… the producer of that one is Shyboy. He just came in one day in the studio and said “I’ve got this beat, we can do something with it”, but we never got back to it so it became the mp3 file. The lyrics are really saying that something is over and maybe it did cause drama, or it moved us. But in the end, we learnt from it and we are okay with each other. I thought that was a really beautiful note to end the EP on. There’s so much stuff happening everyday, so many stories, but in the end we’re all learning and it can take us towards something else, allowing us to have our next step towards growth.
Tala: “Belly” strikes me as one of those albums that you listen to when you’re having a beer on a hot summer’s day, the sun is shining and this EP is on in the background. It’s very easy to listen to, its beautiful. You must be really proud.
GINGE: Yeah, you know it’s a big step for me honestly. As you know, I started out with three singles, and this was the first whole project with more songs on it that we had worked on for longer. It was the first time I got to experience one song leading to another song, how they should flow into each other… those kind of things. I also really wanted to make sure that “Belly” was released just in time for the summer. We were talking about postponing it maybe. It’s also mellow, it has these jazz influences but its not difficult to listen to. You know, jazz can be difficult – and I wanted to be a mellow and easy listen in which musicians or people who were more into music could also see the little musical messages and vocal pieces throughout the songs. That’s what I really wanted it to be. And for the people who don’t listen to it in the park, but maybe on a train ride, in a car or at home. They can really listen to the stories, but they don’t have to listen to the stories to enjoy it. They can also just enjoy the melody and not really listen to the words. But if you do, there is a story.
Tala: Such a clever way of writing, you’re giving people the option to choose to how they listen to a piece of music.
GINGE: When I started writing, I really gravitated towards writing sad things – and I still do because those feelings or stories have more to unpack or unravel. Because when you’re happy, you’re just happy. So when I started [writing music] I only wrote sad things, like “Flowers” and “Crawl” really pull on your mood and can be a bit heavy. So, I decided to still write about sad things, but present them in a melodic and happy song. “Whispers” was the last single before the EP and the melody is happy and you can sing along and listen to it on your bike in the sun… but when you really take a good listen, it’s about not wanting to be someone’s secret. That’s sort of my way. I can still think about more difficult stuff and think about feelings that need unravelling… but still make it digestible. I think that’s my way of writing songs now *laughs*.
Tala: How important was it for you to have a song like “Knuckles & Keys” on your EP?
GINGE: Really, really, really important. Cause, you know… I talk about feminist stuff and womanhood with my friends a lot and it’s something that came by a few times in the studies that I do, which is Evolving Society, which can be in a small way or a big way. I do youth work most of the time, helping young people move forwards using arts. But I felt like, why am I only writing about things like love, flirtationships… if there are things in my daily life that are so much more important. My daily life isn’t only about love and seeing someone walk by. I did write songs about it that are not released. One of my first songs that I wrote with Clark was called “Body Is Yours” and that was about – well, we spoke about it in the first interview. I really liked it but that was more of a happy ballad and it wasn’t exactly the sound that I wanted anymore. “Knuckles & Keys” I wrote after… you know… just another experience of the negatives of being a woman today. I felt like there was so much to say about it [sexual harassment]… it’s hard to say: “this will be an activist song, which will make people understand”. So I just started writing a list of things I experience just by living as a woman, which is what lead to this song. I wrote it at home, on a YouTube beat, then I sent it to Boudewijn and he was like “whoa, we will make this work!”. I’m really happy with it. I also wanted to have a song that people can sing along, in which they’re not only humming along with the melody but can also feel powerful saying: “I should do as I like!”. I really like the line where I say: “I’m asking for respect like Aretha”, because it makes a comment about the time and how things have kind of evolved but should be better. I would love for us to play it live with a crowd and having the outro be like” I ain’t here to please ya!”, and just people humming it along. Almost as a kind of an affirmation in a way.
Tala: It’s a very, very powerful song. Reaffirming. You were saying how you didn’t want to necessarily write an “activist” song, but I wouldn’t deem “Knuckles & Keys” as that, I would just say it’s about real life, lived experiences.
GINGE: It wasn’t that I didn’t want to write an activist song, but I wanted to it to be something that all the people who already listen to my music could listen to. So it would not be… in this industry I do… I only work with men. As of now, I did get to work with a female producer which I’m really happy with. But when I got into music there were only men around me. I did talk about this kinda stuff in the studios. I really enjoyed talking about it with men, seeing how… getting to know what other people’s views are on the topic. But I also experienced a lot of “oh, feminism is a scary word!” and stuff like that. Or comments like “you’re the feminist girl, right?”, you know? Really annoying. But it made me think that my music should be digestible but also clear on what it is about. “Body Is Yours”… I played it a lot in the studio for people who came by, and then I would ask them: “So, what do you think the song is about?”. They were like… “Hmm. ‘Body Is Yours’ so… it’s about flirting and… you know? They listened, but they didn’t hear. They didn’t fully open themselves up to what it was about. So with “Knuckles & Keys” it is still a digestible song. It’s not only for feminists. It’s catchy and if you hum it along, you’re singing about something serious but you have a good tune.
Tala: It’s like “you’re GOING to listen, whether you like it or not!”.
GINGE: That’s the difference between this [“Knuckles & Keys”] and “Body Is Yours”. “Body Is Yours” felt too heavy for people to listen to – especially if I told them beforehand what it is about. I think men would react differently, but with “Knuckles & Keys” it’s easy-listening. It’s saying: “some women and people may not have their keys in their hands when they walk home alone at night, but I do. In my head, this is what I have to do.” But its really nice to hear that it worked.
Tala: Absolutely, it’s a favourite of mine on the EP. Another one I found really interesting was “Stranger”. That song talks a lot about female sexuality, empowerment, confidence… It’s just another really powerful song. You’ve got a very interesting divide of having the themes of the reality of sexual harassment for women and gender-nonconforming people, with the complete opposite end of the scale – the liberation of feeling all these things that women and gender nonconforming people are told they’re not allowed to experience. But what women and GNC people are doing in music is reclaiming that.
GINGE: It’s funny that you say that… because I never looked that song in particular through that perspective. When I released it, I never thought of it having that perspective. I do really hear that in “Stop Calling”, though. It’s like, “I am in charge”, and “no means no”. But with “Stranger” it’s really funny. Because with songs I’m… sometimes way more confident to talk about that stuff – you know, like walking up to men, me calling the shots and not waiting for someone to come to me. When I sing it, I can be really… liberated. A few weeks ago I was doing this radio interview and they asked me about that song. I got really shy, and went all quiet *giggles*. I was like: “It’s about flirting with someone, hehe!”. A kind of shy I really don’t like for myself! I think “Stop Calling”, is what you’re talking about. It feels really weird for me to talk so liberated about it. I don’t feel like people would… I’m not afraid that people will talk about me or think anything. I do get shy when I think… that people can see me in a… I don’t know. When I talk about this stuff to a group of people who don’t know me I get so shy, like “I flirt sometimes?” *laughs*.
Tala: When you sing or create something, you can be another version of yourself though, right?
GINGE: You can be a more confident – or a stage version of yourself.
Tala: I’m not surprised you get shy. It’s personal, There’s still conations and attachments to these things. Like you said earlier – when women or GNC people talk about things we’re still not taken as seriously as men, so talking about these things is important. Those songs just make you feel really empowered.
GINGE: I think I also subconsciously wrote those songs in a way to… have myself repeat these things literally, over and over. I have to sing them, so I have to feel empowered in that moment, because I’m wanting it to be that truth in the moment. In that way, if you have to repeat the song so much, it also empowers yourself as the singer. When I go out, I want to be the one on the dancefloor being like “who am I gunna meet tonight?” *laughs*. So, if Stranger” can make someone feel like that, then wow. It’s like, I can feel this way again because I did before, and I can make someone else feel that way too. Maybe.
Tala: Absolutely you can. If you had to go back to when we last spoke, would you give yourself any advice?
GINGE: I think I can definitely put more trust in an organic way of growing and evolving and finding your sound. I definitely have these moments where I… blame myself for not writing as much as I want to. I’m thinking, “oh, this is childish”, or “my vocabulary is not big enough to write anymore good songs”. You know, everyone puts themselves down sometimes. You know, with all of how my music is going… everything is growing organically. I don’t have to put more pressure upon myself than there already is. It’s enough to do a side hustle, a clothing shop, studies, and music at the same time, you know? I’m really proud of myself for making it work. I definitely crossed my own boundaries sometimes. There’s this cycle I get into sometimes… maybe I spoke about it in our previous talk. I had these burnouts. Definitely shouldn’t say to myself: “burning out means you’re working hard enough”. I should be really proud of myself of growing through that and still putting in the work. But – I know now where my boundaries lie, you know? Be more cautious with that. It took me [realising] that to be where I am now. My mother’s first reaction to the EP was that the sound was really grown-up and mature. I really like that about it. At the start of writing and making music – we’re getting back to the pop music influence, and there’s nothing wrong with that – for me it was easy to hold onto because I knew how it worked and now I challenge myself more to do different kinds of stuff. I know now I can definitely make an EP with soul and jazz influences. I’m just really proud of myself for challenging myself. Listening to music from other people, thinking “oh my God, this is so good, but how can I write onto it?”. So no, I don’t think I would have any advice for myself. Just be open to growth.
Tala: I know this is a hard question – but I’m going to ask. On your EP – if you had to pick one – which is your favourite?
GINGE: *laughs* Oh, but I know that! I already know. Not a tough question for me. It’s a bit of an unexpected one. It’s not one we released as a single. But it is “Taste It”. It’s a short one… but it’s the most jazzy – I think. I also really like the lyrics I wrote for that. It’s one of the songs where I think I could really put into words how I felt. Sometimes you write a good song, but it’s not how you meant it. But with “Taste It” … that’s exactly how I felt.
Find GINGE on:
– Spotify – where you can listen to “Belly”.
Written by Editor & Content Manager Tala
Written by infostoryofsong