Some people are really good at envisioning their own future. Lauren Isenberg — Renforshort –– is one of them. She imagined hanging out with Julian Casablancas of the Strokes in her song “Julian, King of Manhattan” long before actually hanging out with him. As a child, the only career path she saw for herself was the one that she is on right now, a songwriter and performer who just finished her first headlining North American tour and released her debut album, Dear Amelia, last year. That album includes collaborations with Travis Barker and one of her longtime favorite songwriters, Jake Bugg. Renforshort’s debut EP was Teenage Angst in 2020, and her second EP was Off Saint Dominique in 2021.
Richly multilayered stories are one reason her songs are so compelling. She’s been writing songs since she was young and writing them forever. When she first started, her songs were about her stories — she describes them as “little novels.” Later she learned about pop song structures from working with Toronto songwriter and producer Nate Ferraro from the Midway State. These days her songwriting changes from day to day, although she usually finishes tunes in a day or two.
Sometimes she is inspired by what she is reading. “I’m in the process of reading Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami. I enjoy reading books about love and longing. I find the different perspectives quite enlightening and good content for my music,” she says.
Just 21, Ren grew up in mid-city Toronto as the self-described “second middle child” in a family with three musical brothers. “Every time they are home, we all jam.” Her brothers all play piano, drums, bass, and guitar very proficiently and could be professional musicians themselves if they wanted.
She describes being close to her mom, who films some of her TikToks, for which she has nearly 70,000 followers. Delve deep enough and you can see her grandmother dancing to one of her TikToks. (This one.) And she has nearly half a million monthly listeners on Spotify.
She’s a lefty who writes and signs autographs left-handed, but her guitar teacher made sure she played a “righty” guitar, so that she could walk in anywhere and pick up a guitar and jam. Following musical theater, in an early foreshadowing of her extensive touring, Ren moved to singing at open-mic nights wherever her family traveled. She and a friend played regularly in a low-key Tuesday night open-mic night at a bar in Toronto in high school, where her friend’s mom took them to the shows. At 13 she put a song on YouTube called “Hopeless Town.”
While some people wear their hearts on their sleeve, Ren has her musical influences etched on her skin, including an “XO” tattoo on her hand in tribute to her favorite Elliott Smith album, and a “For Emma” one, in honor of Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, on her arm.
Nirvana was also a major influence. “Kurt just kind of writes whatever. It can be almost kind of stream of consciousness. He inspired a whole generation.” Her favorite Nirvana song is “About a Girl.”
Earlier this year she visited Colbain’s memorial bench in Seattle, which functions like a pilgrimage spot, similar to Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris. She said people write what Kurt and his music meant to them on his bench.
Seeing so many people affected positively by his music really spoke to her. She says the riff from Nirvana’s “Come as You Are” “will live forever.” Somewhat related, she plays the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind” as a cover at festivals.
The Strokes are another longtime love. Ren cites “Ode to the Mets” as a favorite and wrote “Julian, King of Manhattan” in the style of a Strokes song to be a romanticized take on “What would it be like to spend a day with your idol?” Which actually came to pass.
“It was really cool, like a religious experience,” she says about spending time hanging out with Casablancas in Australia. “It didn’t really feel real!”
Ren, for whom mental health issues are important and something she addresses in multiple songs and on social media, has been open about her feelings and about going to therapy. She thinks people are now more open to discussing this than they were when she was younger. “It’s nice that people understand mental health is your health and it’s the same as if you break a bone. Your brain needs to be healthy.”
Going into detail about her self-administered stick-and-poke tattoos, she explains that they are reminders of how she felt when she was younger.
“They don’t really mean anything, any of them, but they are very significant to me because they remind me of being an angsty teenager, and not realizing that they are never going to come off. Kind of that whole … nothing can hurt me and I’m going to live forever and you just destroy your body,”
When Ren is on tour she loves thrifting — a perfect coat in Liverpool or great vintage VHS tapes in North Carolina, for instance. She says being on tour is “super isolating” on days she isn’t playing shows.
The group has been together since their first tour, with YungBlud, in 2021. How did you form the band, I inquire?
“I definitely had worked with different musicians here and there who have all been insanely talented. But one day I got a DM from a British dude, who is a drummer, that he loves my music and would love to be involved. Now my entire band is composed of Brits, and I love them all to death.”
When she is developing a song, they are not included but she “loves sending my music to them along the way and working on the live show together whilst the music gets finished up.”
Following Ren on social media, you can watch her songs gently eased into the world. When we spoke I asked about a fascinating snippet of a song on one of her TikToks with the lyrics “I’m on the pathway along the Serpentine / Hard to stay grounded when your thoughts are way too light.” She told me the song was finished but not released.
However, the danger of following her is that you may wake up with one of her not-fully-released tunes in your head, constantly checking social media to see if that song has been released yet.
You’ve been warned.