Singer-songwriter Renee Wahl laughs often — especially when admitting she likes to “geek out” on the science behind how music affects us psychologically. A physics major who served in the Air Force and taught physics to audio engineers, she quotes Einstein (“imagination is more important than knowledge”) while connecting science and songwriting.
“People tend to think of science as this hard, concrete, boring thing, but it’s really not. It’s not that knowledge isn’t important, but even in science there’s a creative aspect, as there is in songwriting. If you’re just looking at songwriting or science from the perspective of formula, you’re not creating anything new.”
Wahl’s touring behind her smartly composed new album, “Cut to the Bone,” recorded with Lucinda Williams guitarist Stuart Mathis at his home studio and a deft band that fleshes out the music’s rootsy tension and release. Songs like “Six Days Til Sunday,” the sultry “Temptation” and “Cold Day in Memphis” depict characters grappling with desires that can get the better of them, as Wahl moans like a tougher Kelly Willis over steel-buffed waves of guitar, organ and strings.
Wahl, who lives with “horses, a donkey, and a bunch of dogs” on 37 acres outside of Nashville, pointedly avoids staking out political positions. Yet her song “To the Bone” is political, at least insofar as it concerns “people that try to make you think they’re going to fix all your problems, and really they’re only in it for themselves.”
“Well, you come around here, black Cadillac and all
The right time, the right place, and the answer to their call
They drop to their knees begging, ‘Rescue me’
But I’m not falling for you, dear, even though it would be so easy”
“People choose who they want to follow based on what they’re being told they’re gonna get from them, and across the board, people have their own agendas. Whether it’s a politician, a lover, or a religious leader, they tend to gravitate to those positions of power because they may already be a little corrupt, or they become corrupt because of those positions of power. It’s not all black and white.”
Her song “Meds,” which humorously shuffles through a “virtual rainbow” of antidepressant medications, has elicited positive responses from audiences — even though, Wahl acknowledges with a laugh, she gets the impression that “some people aren’t sure if they should respond to it … It’s a funny song about a very serious subject.”
“I tend to write a little on the dark side, and this is probably the darkest collection I’ve had,” she says of the album. “It has this theme of really looking deep at yourself and others, and what’s going on in our life and the world, looking at both the positive and negative and not necessarily painting things in a pretty picture. There’s no sugarcoating.”
Renee Wahl performs at the Love Song Bar at the Regent, 450 S. Main St., downtown LA, at 9 p.m. Thursday, June 6; Tawny Ellis and Lasers Lasers Birmingham perform earlier. Free admission. Info: (213) 284-5728. Reneewahl.com, spacelandpresents.com/info/the-love-song-bar/