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Rising Stars: Meet Renee Hikari

Today we’d like to introduce you to Renee Hikari. 

Hi Renee, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I was born in Tokyo, Japan, and raised in New York City. Music has always been a big part of my life growing up. My father is a saxophone player and my grandparents were both artists. 

I began playing drums in middle school, and I started taking it seriously after graduating from college after realizing that I didn’t want to pursue anything other than music. I started playing in bands and consistently played gigs in New York City for many years. 

In 2019, I auditioned for singer-songwriter, Diana Demuth and joined her band right along with my long-time partner, Billy Pearson. We opened for The Lumineers and experienced playing in arenas for the first time which was my life-long dream. We got to experience touring together which was also a dream of ours. To experience this kind of lifestyle as a couple meant so much. 

In 2020, the pandemic hit, and all of our arena shows were canceled. Although this was a heartbreaking moment, my love for music production kept me busy. I wasn’t able to play live shows for over a year, but I started to work at a music studio in Woodstock, NY for acclaimed producers, David Baron and Simone Felice who I am fortunate to call my mentors now. I assisted with records for Shania Twain, The Lumineers, Wesley Schultz (The Lumineers), and many more. My partner Billy and I created a recording space in our home to record our original music, and have been working with many inspiring upcoming artists.

Recently, Billy and I were able to go back on tour with our long-time friend and singer-songwriter, Kevin Daniel who is based in Nashville. We spend a lot of time in Nashville and always fall in love with the music scene there. We played shows during Americana Fest and had an amazing experience. This trip to Nashville sparked more opportunities for me to go back more often for music-related jobs as many of my musician/producer friends are now based there. 

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
The life of a musician is never a smooth road. But that’s why every opportunity is a blessing and a rewarding moment! The balance of pursuing music and keeping up with the cost of living in New York City has always been a struggle. 

I even worked as a full-time office worker for four years so I can have health insurance and save up some money for when I decided to pursue music completely full-time. There were many sacrifices but my love for music always kept me going and I just could never give up. 

The pandemic was the biggest struggle for obvious reasons- financially and mentally. 

The uncertainty of when we would be able to play music again, and make a living as musicians was a scary feeling terrifying feeling. 

But growing up in New York City, I was taught to be tough and relentless when it comes to chasing your dreams and making ends meet. I tried my best to use my time to do things I never had the time for, such as recording my own music. I also picked up whatever work I could find which fortunately led me to work at a music studio. 

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I am foremost a drummer, but I also work as a recording engineer, beat programmer, as well as content creator. 

As a drummer, I have played for all kinds of artists ranging in genres of pop, soul, r&b, Americana, rock, and country. 

I started playing drums because I grew up with r&b, soul, neo-soul, and funk, and I consider those genres my specialty. 

I love playing grooves with barely any fills. Just locking in with the music and playing in the pocket with a great bassist are some of my favorite moments when playing. 

As a beat programmer, I specialize in hip-hop, lo-fi, and incorporate sound bowls and other sound healing instruments to create a beat. I love sampling unique sounds and turning them into a groove. 

Recently, I worked with an artist named Sukhmani who I had the pleasure of programming beats for a few of her songs. 

Her music gave me so much freedom to explore beat making and it was such a euphoric feeling. She has a sultry and intimate voice that completely transforms music and to program deep driving beats to contrast her voice was really fun. 

I also recorded some of the instruments on the upcoming album from The Lumineers and that was the first time I recorded anything for a major artist so I was very proud about that! 

Most recently, I started a YouTube Channel to document my life as a full-time musician navigating through life. When I was on tour, I started documenting my days because I think a lot of people wonder what it’s like to live on the road. When I was looking at tour diary videos on YouTube, I couldn’t find a single one from a female musician’s life so I thought it would be interesting to document. 

My partner Billy and I are working on his neo-classical album that features him on classical guitar and features minimal production utilizing binaural beats, sound bowls, and other healing/meditative elements. 

Are there any books, apps, podcasts or blogs that help you do your best?
Recently, I’ve been reading Questlove’s “Creative Quest”‘ where he talks about how he stays productive as a multi-creative. Just reading about what goes through his head is eye-opening and it’s pretty insane how he juggles being a drummer, DJ, music journalist, film director,..etc! 

I also find that it’s important to step away from the world that you work in to find inspiration. 

Nothing transcends me to another dimension other than Haruki Murakami books. 

IQ84 is my all-time favorite book and honestly, any book from him inspires me because he is also someone whose work is heavily influenced my music. 

I also like “Song Exploder” podcast to hear how artists wrote their songs and behind-the-scenes moments. 

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Drew Bordeaux

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