Cecily Renns is a songwriting machine. It feels like every time I look over on her page, she has about fifty new projects out. In October 2022, she released Dysfunctional Bunnygirl and then a few months later in January, she dropped Pop². She’s also part of the online collective, MIDI Bunny, whose first album is slated to release August 4th, 2023.
After much back and forth, we finally figured out a good time to meet for an interview – turns out, it’s hard to schedule a Discord call when one of you is in New Jersey and the other is in Seoul! But we did it, and talked about the beauty of the online music community and the power of cringe.
Hello! Thank you for meeting with me! Finally we meet!
LET’S FUCKING GOOOO!! Okay, so, I’m Cecily. I’m in a band. We’re making an album called MIDI Bunny. I don’t know if you heard, but it’s gonna be the next big emo sensation. MIDI Bunny supremacy!!! I’m so excited for the fucking album.
Do you have a release date?
We plan to drop it this summer.
That’s exciting. I didn’t realize it was so close.
We would have had it out sooner, but [my partner Biddy Fox] is still mixing the songs. The band is us two, and then there’s like, seven different people we asked to record stuff with us. That’s kind of how the band works.
Are these primarily musicians you find online and work with remotely?
Yeah. They’re my friends! What I do – and a lot of people do not do this, I recommend you do this – what I do is I find a musician I like. And usually they have a Twitter. So I message them and I tell them, “good album! I just found you on Bandcamp and thought it was pretty good! We should be friends!” Because I wanna be friends with all the cool fucking musicians on the Internet!!
Oh yeah, me too. I should do that more.
I’ve been doing this since like 2020. So now I have like, 100 different friends who are really talented! And sometimes they come to me! I have this Discord where I can put all of these people together in one place. We made this compilation album in the Discord server, it was called (Para)-Social Club.
I love that so much. The Internet is so cool.
Yeah, it was so incredible. And you know, Bridgette – Biddy Fox – has told me, like, “I would have stopped making music if you didn’t listen to it and share because you are the big reason people listen to my music now.” And I realized I have a real influence. That’s why now I try to collaborate a lot more. It’s because now I realize, “ohh, when I feature someone on an album, I have an audience that I can send this person’s way now.” I used to do everything by myself, but now…
Actually, what you’re saying reminds me. I covered something recently from a ska band – Atlas & Oracle – and once they realized how many people were in Ska Twitter, the two of them talked to a bunch of other musicians and built out a full collab album with full instrumentation.
Yeah, it’s really cool that now there are all these Internet bands. Gingerbee is a big influence for me. They’re very good. MIDI Bunny had been a thing between me and Biddy for like, a year. But when I heard that album by Gingerbee, I was like. “We NEED to make an album. We need to make an album already, we need to make an album that’s like, AT LEAST almost as good as this this one.” But I feel like people still have this idea that rock bands HAVE to play live and you HAVE to play together.
When it comes to doing online collaborations, how do you plan out what you’re gonna do? When I imagine putting together things for an album, I DO imagine people sitting in a room together and riffing off of each other. Are you playing over a voice channel and figuring stuff out? Or does somebody just send you a file and then you do whatever you want around that file?
I write all the songs and then – okay, so I write music in a…very not-punk way. I don’t riff on instruments. I write everything in MIDI first. A lot of people write in a more improvised way, right? I can’t improvise because I can’t play an instrument. So I rely on music theory and shit like that.
When I think about features, usually I have people in mind so I write the song for them. I write the song around their voice because I usually write pop songs, and in a pop song, the person’s vocals are the most important part. I’m really into having a lot of different voices in our albums. A big influence to me is Bomb the Music Industry! Which was Jeff Rosenstock’s band. And if you go to look them up, they have like 50 members, because he just got every friend he ever had and had them play one thing. That’s what I want MIDI Bunny to be. I want us to have like 50 different honorary members every year.
Oh yeah, Rosenstock’s a collaboration machine. I see him credited as a guest on songs all the time.
I just like working with people. It’s a really different feeling when you write a song and you hear another person sing your words or play your melodies. It’s a humbling feeling. But usually they change it a bit, make some adjustments to it. And I just let them do that because I want them to have their own little spin on it.
You put out a lot of music before under JohnJRenns, like the album-a-month project. Do you feel like you’re doing a totally different thing now as Cecily?
I think Cecily’s sound is an extension of what I was doing before as JohnJRenns. I guess it’s an evolution, because now I use real instruments played by real people, and before I just used MIDI. But the core difference is that, it never felt like JohnJRenns was a person. JohnJRenns was just a music project. I very intentionally never talked about me or my life in my albums back then. I always wrote concept albums and fictional stories. I very much had a distance between my music and me as a person, as myself.
Then in 2022, something happened. 2022 was a crazy year for me, and at the end of it, I came out as a girl. As Cecily. And as Cecily, the one thing I really want to do from now on with this name, with this new identity, is to talk about myself a lot more and actually be myself in my music. When I came out as trans, one of the things I told myself and promised myself was, “I’m gonna try to be the most honest version of myself from now on.” And that involved being honest in my art.
Is that terrifying, to shift from talking around yourself to putting yourself front and center?
It was, at least right before I released the album. I had a lot of anxiety. And then I put out the album and people liked it and I was like, “ohh, okay, this is what I’m doing for the rest of my life then. Now I’m gonna do this.”
Tell me about the real story behind Dysfunctional Bunnygirl.
Dysfunctional Bunnygirl is about this girl I dated, and she was a mega-fan of me. And it turned out that she didn’t like me, she liked the person that she made up inside her head based on my music that she heard. That was like the weirdest fucking thing that’s ever happened in my life.
Can you tell me about the tape run for the album?
We did a reprint of it this past month. I did it with this guy, Adam, who runs a label called Plantasia Records. A few months ago, he messaged me and he asked me if I wanted to sign on to his label. He had done releases with Coin Locker Kid and Fax Gang. Like, I mean these are cool, cool artists so I was like, “OK, OK, let’s do stuff together!!!”
Now, I know you have a new MIDI Bunny coming out. But what’s next under Cecily Renns?
After MIDI Bunny, I’m gonna work on another Cecily Renns album. And this album is gonna sound completely different. Like it’s not even gonna be rock music. I think it’s gonna be like – okay, spoilers. This is just for readers of Left of the Dial, this is your secret scoop. But my next is gonna be an opera, and the songs are gonna be like MIDI Beach Boys. MIDI baroque pop. There’s gonna be different vocalists who are gonna play characters.
If you were talking to somebody who was nervous about putting out music, and didn’t know what to do or where to start, what advice would you give them?
The advice I always give is just that you should finish your projects. And you should get into the habit of being fast with your projects. Now, I did something where I made an album every month. I do not recommend that you make an album every month. Instead, make a schedule. Like, just make one song every week. Doesn’t have to be good, even.
The big mistake that beginner musicians make is that they have this like, one masterpiece album they wanna make right away. It’s 20 songs long, and complicated, and it’s like 2 hours. The truth is that you’re not gonna be able to make this album. Or if you DO make this album, it’s gonna suck because it’s the first album you’ve ever made. Do not spend way too much time making one album that’s gonna be bad anyway. You can make your masterpiece later. Put it on hold. Start making random songs and random albums first. It’s gonna make you a way better musician.
Hell yeah, hell yeah. That’s advice I should take…finish my fucking projects!
It’s good! I recommend that! That’s the thing people always say that they’re envious about me – that I’m very prolific. A bunch of people always ask me, “how do you do it?” And I’m like, it’s because when I was was 14-years-old, I made a song every day! I made shitty Undertale remix albums one after the other.
I actually really like how much unpolished, amateur stuff gets put out by artists now. Even if they might cringe at it later.
Oh yeah. I listen to a lot of music in the scene. And I’ll be honest, I don’t want to say mean things about them, but you get a lot of these albums by 14 or 15-year-olds. And this is like, their first album they’ve ever made, and it sounds exactly like Weatherday because that’s like, the only thing they’ve ever heard. Or like, exactly like Car Seat Headrest. But like, I wanna root for them because again, they’re 14. And I’ll follow them because I know in the future they’re gonna make some fucking amazing things.
It rules to be able to follow people right from the start, too.
Yeah! Like, I followed Carter C for about 5 years now, since they were like 14. And the music they make now is absolutely, incredibly breathtaking. I feel like they’ve grown up and sound more like themselves. It’s great.
When you first started making music, who were you ripping off?
Oh shit. Um, I mean, in the very very beginning it was a lot of Lemon Demon. I mean, the thing about me is that I haven’t stopped, I still rip off other people’s music. Now I rip-off Jeff Rosenstock! But that’s the thing. You never really stop copying other people’s stuff. You just grow to have a more diverse set of influences. Because finding your own style is not about coming up with something totally original. It’s about combining your set of influences and putting your own spin on it.
Right. Yeah, that’s a good way to put it.
It’s also like, when you’re 14, nothing interesting has happened in your life. It’s like, the only thing that’s happened to you is, “well I broke up with my first ever boyfriend.” And then, 1000 different queer kids have gone through that and write a song about it. And you all just make Twin Fantasy again. But that’s good, because if we live in a world where every queer 14-year-old makes an emo album about their first breakup, that’s way better than just like, crying about it alone.
This is kind of how I feel about DeviantArt artists. You can go into DeviantArt and see the ugliest, most anatomically off artwork of like, Kingdom Hearts characters that are made by 15-year-olds who don’t know how to draw…but it’s still so cool to see. And you can see the artists grow.
Ugh, the fucking way the Internet hates DeviantArt for that. There’s this idea that being cringe on the Internet is the worst thing you can do. Like if you’re cringe, you are cancelled harder than if you like, literally groom someone. It’s terrible. That sucks, man. 14-year-olds get to be cringe! Have you heard Vylet Pony?
Yeah, she talks a lot about this in her music. About being cringe. And I’ve been very inspired by it ever since I heard that. I think people should be more cringe. Whether you’re 14 or you’re 25, whenever, I think we should be allowed to make bad art because that’s the only way you can grow as a person.
And it’s great that people can make music that would never be accepted by a major label. One of my favorite albums of all-time is the Parannoul album, To See the Next Part of the Dream. The way that album is mixed is really bad and all the instruments are in MIDI. No major label would publish that album as it sounds now. It sounds terrible actually, but it’s great. It’s great BECAUSE it sounds terrible. Everything’s harsh. Everything’s loud. You know, that guy, he recorded his vocals on a smartphone.
Bridgette does that. Biddy Fox, my partner. She does that on purpose. She likes how it sounds.
See, I LOVE that.
Yeah, you should listen to her music. Everyone should. It’s great.
Which is another thing that’s cool about all of this stuff. If you were working with a major label and you were like, “I actually want to use a mic that sucks on purpose,” they’d probably tell you no. The only way you’re gonna be allowed to do that is if you’re already a big name, like if you’re Björkor something. You know, I don’t want to make it sound like every major label sucks or anything…
I do. I think every major label sucks. [laughs]
But it’s like, yeah, I don’t know. I just think it’s all so fucking cool.