Emma Rena’s career has taken her from Minnesotan suburbia to LA, from lush greenery to busy intersections, from school musicals to the Grammys. For her most recent single, the singer-songwriter unlocked a new location — a dimly lit room that provided the perfect setting for the range of emotions narrated by "Charlie Went Blind."
In the music video, the atmosphere created by the '70s paneling and furniture functions as a midpoint between the song’s fresh, modern sound and the timeless story of heartbreak and longing it tells. The melancholic video is the first Rena has created entirely by herself, a callback to the early stages of her music career, which took place almost entirely on YouTube. This track is also the first single off her first EP, RIP Emma Rena, due out soon.
Ahead of her morbidly titled EP, PAPER spoke with Rena about all things "Charlie Went Blind," including where the song got its title. (The answer will surprise you.)
"Charlie is Blind" is a very vulnerable song. Was the songwriting process different for it?
Honestly, this one I rewrote so many times. I probably have six or seven versions. There were so many things that I wanted to say that I just kept rewriting it, different melodies, different lyrics. But the first thing that stayed the same was the chorus, the "I can't get over you" part.
Why is the title "Charlie is Blind," as opposed to that lyric or another line in the song?
That's actually a really good question. First of all, I feel like "I can't get over you" as a title sounds corny as fuck. The producer I work with [Jacob But Happy] always sends me folders of music and his titles are always so obscure and random. This song was actually just titled "Charlie Went Blind" when he sent it to me, and I just decided to keep it. For some reason, it just felt right.
So he just picked out and it resonated with you?
I guess his cousin's dog went blind. I think the day he made that track, he found out and then just called the track ["Charlie Went Blind"], which is wild.
In the music video for the song, it says "based on a true story." Could you tell me a bit about that true story?
I'm trying to figure out how I can say this without putting myself on blast. But also who really cares? I just wanted to depict — I don't know if you've ever experienced this — but when you're just so... I felt so left alone with my thoughts. I often was sitting in my room or at a desk or somewhere in my house, and I'm lost in my own trance. I'm just ruminating over something or someone and I just wanted the video to reflect how I was coping. It wasn't even a breakup, but how I was getting over this guy that I was talking to.
I think a part of writing is... you have to exaggerate how you're feeling. I mean, I was sad, but also I think when I write it's always just a release of a feeling and that comes with exaggerating words sometimes, which I'm fine with. It's my narrative and I can kind of do whatever I want with it.
In terms of the styling [for the music video], the belt-skirt was so cool. Did that symbolize or represent anything or was it just cool?
I'm so excited you asked. Honestly, I saw the belts online somewhere. It was just one belt and I was like, “That'd be so cool if I bought seven and just put them together." And it was my first time directing a video. I found the set, I made the whole video, I edited it. It was my first time really doing 100% creatively myself, which was really fun.
Are there any other defining ways that the song marks new territory for you?
The production of my music has been very simple and stripped back, and this song is definitely a continuation of that. It’s one of the songs off my project that I'm releasing hopefully in the fall. The songs on there have more production and it's less of an acoustic vibe that you [get] from my other songs. So I’m excited about that, but this definitely was consistent with the other songs that I've released. Sonically, at least.
Tell me more about the new project — is there anything else that you can talk about?
Honestly, it's just me being sad. We've kind of honed in on a very specific sound and I'm really excited to finally release a project. It's called RIP Emma Rena. I'm really, really excited about it.
What was the thought process behind the title [RIP Emma Rena]?
Coming to LA, when I moved here, I’d never written a song in my life. I just sang. In order for me to get to where I am now, even just as a creative and as a songwriter, all the goals and expectations for myself kind of had to die. It was a really painful, growth process and I remember just being like, “Wow, I feel so far from the person I was when I first moved here.” I felt like RIP Emma Rena was fitting.
Was singing something that you started when you grew up in Minnesota?
Yeah, I was definitely singing, making YouTube videos, and this big producer had seen them and started flying me out to LA every weekend and I was like, “This is about to be it. This is my moment.” I was gonna sign to his label and then the whole thing fell apart. Then I had to figure out how to start working with people and how I could make music. I didn't have a setup in my room like I do now. I wasn't very self-sufficient. So the way I started working with producers and getting into rooms was by starting to write. Not for me per se, just for stuff and other people. That's how I started writing for Empire.
From that I got more familiar and comfortable, but going to the studio, if I found out I was by myself and there wasn't another writer, I would be so nervous because I'm like, "I can't write a song by myself."
Was that kind of full circle then, to do everything for this music video for yourself?
That's a good question. Maybe, now that I'm thinking about it.
Photos courtesy of Emma Rena
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