Rench continues his fearless musical journey with Them’s The Breaks

Rench (Photo courtesy of Dan Whitener)

If New York’s Rench ever needs to go looking for sponsors after the Friday release of his latest solo album, Them’s The Breaks, he can start with those Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup folks.

“I’m the guy that’s been having the peanut butter and chocolate together all his life, so it does seem natural to me,” laughs the Gangstagrass founder who has made a career out of mixing country and hip-hop into a hybrid sound that works better than anyone could have imagined.

This was never something concocted in a musical lab, though. It was just natural for him.

“I grew up in the 80s, when hip-hop exploded and really took over, so when I was in third grade, recess was about putting down your cardboard to do backspins to the Beat Street soundtrack and Run-DMC,” said the California native. “But my dad is from Oklahoma, so when I got home, the turntable at home was all Johnny Cash, George Jones, Hank Williams and a lot of honky tonk stuff. And those became the two major influences on me.”

Yet when he eventually moved to New York, it wasn’t to shake things up as an artist, but to work behind the scenes in the studio.

“I didn’t always intend to be the artist,” he said. “I came to New York and started producing. I was making beats for hip-hop MCs and I’d always have these urges to be like, ‘You know what would sound great in there, a pedal steel guitar?’ (Laughs) And they’d go, ‘What are you talking about?’ So I had to start experimenting with it for myself.”

By 2001, he was mixing his influences with the band B-Star, and then it was off to form Gangstagrass, picking up critical raves as well as fans from all different demos along the way, even if the big guns of the music industry remained baffled by what he was doing.

“As far as folks in the industry, the real problem has been that the industry has been in such turmoil that nobody wants to take chances on things, and since this isn’t a preexisting market, they just think this is too far out for them,” Rench said. “So, for me, it’s been a case of the industry just passing because they’re not ready to try something different like this.”

The fans get it though.

“People who are not hip-hop fans like it, and people who are not country fans like it,” he said. “Sometimes people who are not into country or hip-hop like what I’m doing because once you bring things together, the new thing can become its own sound and go into new territory.”

There’s that Reese’s theory again, but what he says is true. In a music world programmed to put everything into neat little boxes, Rench reminds us that very rarely do you find a listener who only listens to one thing. So why not give something new a shot? Or as he puts it, just get back to something that was going on way before he made his first beats.

“Why are we surprised when there are so many examples of this?” he asks. “And the reason is because for decades, the industry has been presenting these different genres as being so separate and being such different markets, even though for the musicians there has always been a lot of cross-pollination. And for fans as well, you’ll see Americans out there that have Johnny Cash and Jay-Z on their iPod on shuffle. But there are separate radio stations, separate magazines, separate charts — all these things that show them as very separate institutions going to separate audiences, when the reality is that there’s a lot of people that are ready to mix this up and have been for quite a while.”

And Rench is ready to give them that hybrid mix as soon as possible. So hang in there, man, the new album is less than a few hours away.
“It’s been a while since I’ve released a Rench solo album because I’ve been so busy with Gangstagrass stuff,” he said. “Some of these are songs I wrote years and years ago and they weren’t really Gangstagrass songs. They were definitely songs that I would do on my own and they started piling up. While the Rench stuff was a little bit on the backburner to focus on Gangstagrass, all the other ideas that I was having definitely collected to the point where I said, ‘Okay, now it’s time to get back to all that stuff and put out a Rench album again.’
So right now, the emotion is impatience. (Laughs) I’m so excited to share this with everybody and finally let them all hear it. It’s hard to keep a secret.”

Rench plays Hill Country Brooklyn on Thursday, April 13. For tickets, click here

For more information on Rench, click here