Renee Maskin, like many other New Jerseyans, has the NJ Transit app on her phone, and she uses it to see what time the train is coming. After all, she lives close to the Asbury Park stop on the North Jersey Coast Line.
Except that she’s not catching the train to New York.
“Most people use that app to catch the train,” says Maskin on the phone from Asbury Park. “I was using it to see what time the train was coming so I would stop recording and instead make a coffee.”
Dodging the sound of the train was a challenge that Maskin had to face recording her new album Swimming, which was released on January 14. She recorded the album in its entirety in her Asbury Park apartment. The song “Summerfield” pays homage to the situation, trains and all.
“Summerfield was the place I used to live, and it was a big crazy apartment,” recalls Maskin. “It was a beautiful apartment, but the train would run through my living room, and I was literally over the train tracks. It was a weird juxtaposition of a really beautiful space with a lot of craziness all the time, and when you’re alone, you get to think about it all the time.”
Despite constantly having to check the NJ Transit app, Swimming marked a new beginning for Maskin.
Maskin previously sang in the Asbury Park-based indie band Lowlight, with whom she released four albums. But, she felt like it was time to move on from the band and start her own solo career.
“I enjoyed being in the band, and it wasn’t an easy decision,” says Maskin about her decision to leave Lowlight. “But they were going their own way creatively and I wasn’t really happy with the direction. So what am I supposed to do? I’m not gonna not make music anymore because I’m not in a band.”
The recording process of Swimming was a new one for Maskin. It was her first time recording an album by herself, and it was a learning experience.
“I was learning on my own,” says Maskin about the recording process for Swimming. “I was starting from scratch and it was a learning curve, but overall I’m happy with the results. It took a long time because I didn’t know what I was doing and [had to] go back because I made mistakes. But I feel pretty good about the results. I can see where it shines, and I can see where it improves next time.”
Maskin was pleased with the technical aspect of the album as well and the satisfaction of making an album on her own.
“I was able to pump my own voice up a little bit, and pump up my guitar work and not be deferential to other people,” Maskin says. “I’ve always been a good team player, and being like, ‘If I’m taking up too much room, that is room that someone else can’t take up.’ I’ve been good about stepping back and letting people do their thing. I was all by myself in an apartment and no one else was doing anything. I could do what I liked, and could add things and take things away. I do like working with other people, but there is something satisfying about having the last word.”
Even though Maskin isn’t in Lowlight anymore, she still has some fond memories of her time with the band. One of her favorite memories is getting to open up for The Pretenders during their 2018 tour.
“She’s cool and also she’s tough so don’t fuck with her,” says Maskin about Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde. “She really looked out for us and when she wasn’t happy with the sound guys that weren’t her crew, she brought her crew on for us and was like, ‘My crew does your sound now.’”
Maskin realized when playing those big stages that goals are within reach, and that nothing is impossible.
“It was amazing and the fact that I was able to touch it was amazing,” says Maskin. “It’s within reach. You’ve just got to work really hard and do your best, and things will be within reach.”
In order for touring with The Pretenders to be within reach, Maskin had to start somewhere, and that somewhere was the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park.
“It was my first show at the Wonder Bar and it was an acoustic night,” remembers Maskin. “It was when Christine Feola was putting on shows and someone asked her to give me a shot. So she put on this show that wasn’t going to be well attended and I had the worst spot. She put me first and I didn’t fuck it up. To her credit she came up to me and was like, ‘That was pretty good,’ and she booked me again. From there on out, it was building from there.”
Even though Maskin is from Middlesex County and went to school at Ramapo, it was Asbury Park where she cut her teeth as a musician. Asbury Park is also a central point of her first solo record, Swimming, and it even comes through in the name.
“During the pandemic, when I was isolated and freaked out, I would wake up and jump in the ocean every day. I wanted the record to have that sentiment that things aren’t necessarily alright, but you can find the spaces in which things are alright.”
Swimming in the Atlantic Ocean was how Maskin handled the early stages of COVID, but she doesn’t want Swimming to be a pandemic type of record.
“I would like Swimming to transcend the moment,” says Maskin. “I don’t want to think about this moment once we are past it. But you can hear it, songs like ‘Summerfield’ are me in that apartment with the trains. Obviously the pandemic affected what I was writing, but I don’t want it to be a pandemic album. I don’t want someone 20 years from now to listen to this album and think, ‘Oh, this album is only about lockdowns and wearing masks, what a shitshow.’ I think it can transcend the experience that we had with broader themes of isolation, loneliness and hope.”
One of those hopeful songs on the album is the lead song, “We Won’t Lose It Now.”
“It’s a song about moments of niceness in all of this,” explains Maskin. “We were looking at all this shittiness, but we could go to the beach, hop in the water and feel good.”
Maskin’s fifth song of the album, “Wind of Knives,” draws inspiration from a lunch she had with her friend.
“I went to lunch with my very good friend who has a little toddler who I haven’t seen since the pandemic. She was telling him not to play with knives and he was messing around with the little butter knives. He started coming up with these scenarios about knives flying through the wind, and I was sitting there listening and was like, ‘Oh, that’s a cool visual.’ Then I got home and wrote a song about it. Look at this little two-year-old telling me how to write songs.”
Even though Maskin released an album in January, she is going full speed ahead on future music plans.
“Me and Mike Noordzy recorded this past weekend, and we will have an album later this year. I’ve started tracking on another album that I hope to be out by the summer, and I’m just keeping going and figuring it out.”