21 Songs, 1 Hour 3 Minutes


About Mark Renner

Alex Chilton once said his advice to a young musician was to make a really good record, because if it really was good, someone would eventually find it. Mark Renner's life in music is an example of Chilton's theory in action: He attracted little attention for his work in the '80s, making music that merged the clean lines of British post-punk with a thoughtful outlook and a sense of space that reflected his rural upbringing. But Renner's recordings were rediscovered in the 2010s, and his musical career enjoyed an unexpected second act.

Renner grew up in Upperco, Maryland, a rural community not far from Baltimore. While living on his father's farm, Renner became fascinated with the then-burgeoning new wave scene, inspired by trips to Baltimore record stores where he picked up albums by Ultravox, Bill Nelson, Yellow Magic Orchestra, and the Associates. In the early '80s, Renner moved to Baltimore and began immersing himself in the local music scene. Learning to play guitar and keyboards, he went from fan to musician when he joined a band called Boys in the River, and later worked with another Baltimore group, the Favorite Game. Looking for greater autonomy, Renner bought a four-track cassette machine and set up a simple home studio where he could work out his own material. He had a parallel career as a painter, and in 1984 he composed and recorded a series of ambient pieces to accompany his first solo exhibition, which he distributed on cassette as The Lost Years. During a visit to Scotland, Renner struck up a friendship with Stuart Adamson, formerly of the Skids and soon to form Big Country, who would encourage Renner to pursue his musical ideas. In 1986, Renner stepped forward with his first album, All Walks of This Life, which he produced and released on his own Gate International label. The album's sales were modest, but it attracted enough attention that Renner was able to strike a deal with Dimension Records for his second album, which in turn had a distribution deal with prominent indie imprint Restless Records. Despite this boost, 1988's Painter's Joy didn't fare much better than the debut, in part because Renner was reluctant to tour.

By 1990, Renner was nearly 30 years old and had a growing family to support; he had been working part-time for a package delivery service and opted to go full-time, thanks in part to a union provision that he could retire with a full pension at the age of 50. Renner continued to make music and paint in his spare time, but he didn't release any material until 2006, following his retirement, when he self-released Goldenacre. Three more self-releases followed: 2006's Memoirs of a Distracted Church Organist, 2007's A Desire for Forgetfulness, and 2010's Enduring the Going Hence. Renner was living in Texas and dividing his time between art and humanitarian work in Ethiopia when one of the founders of the independent label RVNG Intl. happened upon a copy of All Walks of This Life at a flea market. Surprised and impressed by what they heard, RVNG began exploring Renner's body of work, and eventually contacted him with an eye toward reissuing his music. In February 2018, RVNG released Few Traces, a collection that featured both rare and unreleased material from Renner's archives. The album appeared as Renner was working toward completing an album of original material, while filmmaker Maia Stern was completing a documentary on Renner's life and work called Few Places. ~ Mark Deming

Upperco, MD