The teenage experience provides fertile ground for writing material; the good and the bad. The anxiety of growing up in the 21st Century is something that Canadian musician renforshort – aka 18-year-old Lauren Isenberg – is deft at expressing. Self-described as “tastefully weird”, her music is brimming with youthful aesthetics and moments of self-reflection, and is every bit as fun, angsty and painfully awkward as growing up can be.
2019 debut single ‘waves’ turned heads, but it was the follow-up single ‘mind games’ that earned the teenager viral attention, thanks to its grunge-pop sonics and Tim Burton-inspired video. Building on this success, her debut EP ‘teenage angst’ met with international acclaim, bagging her a European tour and remix with Linkin Park legend Mike Shinoda.
Following on from her lockdown anthem ‘fuck, i luv my friends’, Isenberg deals with young love in energetic latest offering ‘nostalgic (luvsick)’. Brimming with the sharp observation and driving guitars that characterise her songs, it stands the Canadian comfortably alongside fellow Gen Z laureates, Billie Eilish and beabadoobee.
NME jumped on Zoom with Isenberg to talk fake break-ups, tackling mental health in songwriting, the influence of Scott Pilgrim vs The World and pretending to be Effy from Skins.
Before the global pandemic hit, you’d built up a nice momentum with ‘teenage angst’ and the European tour. How was it coming to terms with the reality of lockdown?
“I often think of what would’ve been if the world was normal right now, things like SXSW and a US tour, but even being able to fit all that in before this happened was great because it helped me grow my fanbase. Creatively, I just felt dry. I spent lockdown in Toronto with my family and I wasn’t seeing anyone or having any experiences, so it put a bit of a break on my creativity. Also, everything was done via Zoom sessions, which was weird and quite hard to do because it’s not super collaborative.”
You still managed to push on with writing during those months of lockdown, releasing ‘fuck, i luv my friends’. How did you overcome those hurdles?
“That song is about not being able to see your friends, which was the one thing I was thinking about and the one thing I felt like I could talk about. Also, all my friends were leaving for University and going to different places this year anyway, so it sort of felt true regardless of lockdown.”
The track has a youthful innocence, something that comes through often in your work. How did you draw that into ‘Nostalgic (luvsick)’?
“I actually wrote that song last year about this point in my life when everyone goes away and you are left thinking about what could’ve been. It’s really about reminiscing about the past with a particular person. I wanted to imagine what it would be like to go through a break-up in that context, so it’s a song about a break-up with no actual break-up.”
At points in the song it feels like you are mocking your own youthful naivety. Do you feel like that now you’ve reached the point you were writing about?
“Yeah. It’s very school-girly and innocent, like my high school boyfriend is the love of my life when really, you don’t know anything yet. When you’re in high school everything seems so much bigger than it actually is.”
Where else do you look to for inspiration?
“Film and television is a very important part of my writing. What I see on screen translates into music in my head, so I pick a character and really get into their headspace. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was a huge inspiration for ‘Nostalgic (luvsick)’. I love Edgar Wright’s style; it’s all very jumpy, so I took a lot from that sonically and visually. At the beginning of quarantine, I watched Skins and I just was Effy. I felt like no one could touch me. It did help me a lot because I’d feel like a bad bitch, and I’d be able to sit down and feel like I was writing a song about Cook or Freddie.”
Do you find being so blatant and honest in your lyrics easy?
“A big thing I like to do is therapy sessions before I write. My producer and I sit and talk about what’s going on in our lives, then everything just comes out of that. Sometimes, if I don’t want to channel bad energy or deal with something for the rest of the day, I’ll note it down and build around it another time.”
Your songs promote the idea of positive mental health; is that something you’re aware of when you’re writing?
“For me, I know what I would want to hear from a song. I want to feel like there’s someone else that feels the same way I do. I didn’t experience that until people started talking about their feelings and sharing their experiences with mental health. I feel like it’s my duty to use my platform to write about those things and help other young people feel comfortable and at peace with themselves. I think that’s the most important thing I can do with my music: to make people feel like they’re not alone.”
With songs like ‘i drive me mad’, you’re essentially soundtracking the teenage experience…
“That song is the realist it got for me. I wrote it as I was having a panic attack in a session with people who had flown in from New York for me. It’s funny seeing people bumping to it, but to be honest if people like it for whatever reason, then I don’t really care what they read into it. There’s something charming about playing a song about anxiety at a party, it’s funny and ironic.”
You even managed to get Linkin’ Park legend Mike Shinoda to remix the song. How did that happen?
“That was crazy! Mike posted my song on his Instagram story, so I DM’d him and we just talked. Then, when I reached out to him for a remix, he said yes! It was really cool to have a legend touch my song and just know it exists.”
renforshort’s ‘nostalgic (luvsick)’ is out now