Ren Gill, known professionally as Ren, is an independent singer-songwriter from North Wales who found his musical home in Brighton and made huge waves with his viral 2022 online single Hi Ren, receiving 6.8 million views in just two months.
Ren has been making music and spoken word poetry most of his life, despite being challenged by debilitating health issues – both physical and mental.
Known for his punchy, authentic and honest lyrics, delivered in his unique raw style and with seemingly effortless musical ability, he passionately tackles difficult issues through his art. In June 2023, Ren released another very personal single, Suic*de, about the loss of Ren’s childhood friend Joe, who took his own life. He sat down with Mind to chat about his creative process and the story behind this important, evocative song.
“Looking after your mental health and keeping yourself in a place of peace and groundedness I think is the first step to making a better world”.
Responses to the song
Ren has received a huge number of positive messages from fans, saying how it has helped them personally. During the interview with Mind, he spoke about the reactions he’s had and the song’s potential to help others.
“It’s quite a weighty thing, it’s almost like a responsibility. But it’s beautiful.”
“It’s like I’ve taken this dark thing and it’s been transformed into something that’s light for someone else, it’s a buoyancy aid for somebody else.”
“It doesn’t justify Joe’s death, but it justifies my journey with it”.
Writing the song
The song, which Ren started during one of the lockdowns, was initially about his own mental health issues. It even had a release date scheduled, until Ren realised it felt unfinished and needed further thought.
“I came up with this melancholy piano thing. I used to like what artists like Kendrick do when there’s a sudden beat switch and it takes it somewhere unexpected.”
“Initially it wasn’t meant to go the way that it did, it was still going to be about me. Then it came out, almost unintentionally, about Joe and it turned into something I hadn’t really addressed in a decade of thinking about it. I thought I’d dealt with it but evidently there was still an untapped reservoir of stuff there.”
“It almost felt like I lost my innocence and my youth when Joe died […] It made me grow up very quickly”.
“Whether it’s a song that’s heavy like this one or something ligh-hearted, I always feel a little bit lighter after it”.
“It was incredibly positive and to have it out there, I always like to feel like I’m honouring someone who I think deserves to be honoured”.
Using spoken word
As with much of Ren’s music, he ends Sui*ide with spoken word.
“Usually, I memorise the piece and then I record it but I wasn’t doing this, I’d write two lines then record it, come back write two lines, record it and all of that was the first pass. That’s why I was crying – because it was so fresh for me.”
“I thought it sounded a bit imperfect but that’s great, leave it like that, it’s got to be that raw because what it’s talking about is imperfect and messy”.
“I left with me bawling my eyes out and I actually think it’s better that way”.
Playing it to Joe’s parents
“It was beautiful. I hadn’t seen them in a long time. We sat down and I played them the live spoken word version and we broke down in tears, all of us. I was crying before they were crying because the weight of what I was showing them sunk in very quickly”.
Performing the song
“I try to embody the headspace I was in when I wrote it, then I think you can be more true to the performance. It can be pretty taxing sometimes when it’s such a heavy topic”.
“You’ve got to embody it a little bit. Even if you’re feeling great you’ve got to open a bit of door to that”.
Songs that have an impact
“Music has been my therapy for so long. There’s one song, and it hasn’t got words, called ‘Before the Beginning’ by John Frusciante. Sometimes I think unspoken things can say more than words can. The first time I heard it I just cried because I thought it was so beautiful. That’s one I would say has helped me a lot”.
How does music impact on your mental health?
“All the time, whether it be writing and turning bad situations into positive ones; whether it be listening for escapism; whether it just be like, walking down street feeling glum and you put on a happy song and all of a sudden that cloudy day becomes sunny. I think it’s incredibly powerful and it’s the closest thing to religion for me, the closest thing to God that I know”.
For mental health information and signposting call Mind on 0300 123 3393 weekdays 9am – 6pm.
For someone to talk to about how you’re feeling call Samaritans on 116 123 anytime, or call Calm 0800 58 58 58, 5pm to midnight.