Singer Deniz Reno has been there and done that. Twelve million downloads later she’s found peace in Bali. Photos: Oscar Munar.
Deniz, you grew up in a creative environment … your father is a sculptor in Kazakhstan, your mother too … tell us about life in your home as a child.
I had quite an unorthodox upbringing. My father, Vagif Rakhmanov, is a well-respected sculptor and academic in Kazakhstan and internationally. His lifelong devotion to his sculpture and his work ethic have always inspired me. My mother, Marina Reshetnikova, is a tour de force. She is a sculptor and a respected film industry scenic artist. She is the hardest working person I know, as a mother, as a woman, as an artist. When I was little she spent every ounce of energy and every last penny she had kindling my interest and unlocking my abilities in various disciplines. One of the highlights of this year for me was hearing her name being read out in acknowledgement for her scenic contribution to the set decorating team on Guillermo Del Toro’s Shape of Water at this year’s Academy Awards.
You’ve also worked as a scenic painter, and been recognised in various other fields … were you one of those kids who could play any instrument, make any sculpture or paint any painting?
I have worked as a scenic painter and sculptor in the film industry in Toronto, Canada, for nearly eight years. Not many people are familiar with the term “scenic artist”. Scenics work under the direction of the production designer and the art director to bring their artistic visions to life, or to set, rather. This can involve anything from painting sets to producing intricate works of art and sculpture, collaborating with the prop, set dec. and costumes departments. Working in the industry seemed like a natural continuation of my upbringing as a visual artist. Back in Kazakhstan, I started painting and making little sculptures at the age of three. By the age of 10 I had participated in many solo and group shows and sold a number of my artworks to international collections. My parents had me study flute for four years and I was always singing. At the time no one had any idea what my casual passion for singing would turn into, and neither did I.
When did you realise you could sing?
I think I always knew that I loved music, I just didn’t think anything of it in terms of turning it into a career. Where I grew up, it was and still is widely believed that if you wish to amount to anything in any creative field you have to start honing your skills as early as at four or six years old. So I naturally thought I was going to be a visual artist and nothing else. The realization came when other people started stopping me around the ages of 12 and 14 and telling me I had a voice. Then one day my father produced a cassette tape recording from when I was a few weeks old. He said “I always said you’d be a singer!”
Tell us about some of the things in your life that have shaped or affected you … whether recently or in the past.
There are so many. I feel like I’ve lived nine lives. My life before coming to Canada, and then several that came after. I would say in the past, having to fight for my dreams shaped me. My journey up as a singer was full of challenges. Songwriting did not come as easy to me as painting, I had zero connections in the music industry. I had to work at it for years. Having to work multiple jobs from the age of 13, trying to believe in myself when no one else would. Being rejected over and over and over again after giving it my all and told that only one in a million people succeed in the industry I’ve chosen. But a voice inside me always said “keep going”. In terms of life-transforming experiences, you get so caught up in the race you forget that our time on this earth is limited and none of us know when we’ll leave this place or how. A year and a half ago I lost my fiancé Graham Dickinson, in a BASE wingsuit crash.
When Graham died I felt like the child in me, my trust in life, my trust in people, all perished. Last year was a year of massive spiritual transformation. I thought I had life all figured out and then this hurricane hits and you’re the only one left standing and you have this choice: to slowly die inside, poison your body or lash out at the world to ease the pain, or somehow come out of it. My dad always told me growing up, “Deniz, you’re a dragon, no matter what happens to you, you get up and you carry on.” So I made a pact with myself to rise for the both of us and carry on with all the amazing things we had planned together. We had a shared vision of helping make this world better, kinder. When you lose someone you are deeply and unconditionally in love with it breaks parts of you forever, but I believe that what remains can either be used to hurt or to heal others. I chose to use the pain as fuel to be of service to this world.
You’ve worked with some big names in the music industry and your cover of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Games went viral … it all sounds very glamorous, but does it start out that way? What is your songwriting process?
In 2013 I got in touch with Anton Ishutin, one of the biggest artists to come of out of Russia’s deep house scene at the time. He asked me if I wanted to do a cover of Wicked Games and we made it happen. I had recorded the vocals literally on a portable mic setup in my bedroom closet. What neither of us predicted was that on YouTube alone that cover would be streamed more than 12,000,000 times. That track ended up blowing up in Eastern Europe and all over the world. For me it led to more collaboration opportunities. I’ve most recently worked with Keys N’ Krates on a track called Something Wonderful off their new EP Cura, also with Matt Lange and many others. As in film so in music, the glamour of it all comes post-release when you’re promoting material, selling the dream so to speak, going to parties, doing interviews. But the reality of being a recording artist and what truly matters is days on end spent in the studio with a producer or sometimes by yourself, crafting the sound, writing lyrics, recording vocals. There’s nothing glamorous about the process, but it nourishes my soul like nothing else.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have just released a music video for my brand new single Fly on my label Taksu Records. It features incredible wingsuit flights from some of the top talent in the skydiving, wingsuit and base communities, amongst them my friends Jokke Sommer, Gabriel Lott, Carlos Pedro Briceño, Niccolo Porcella and Angelo Nico Grubisic and epic footage by Shams at Big Kids Cartel, Brandon Timinsky and Ruben Sabotatge. The song and video are really my show of solidarity and appreciation to anyone who’s ever followed their passion in life, lived and sacrificed believing in the beauty of their dreams.
What attracted you to Bali, and what has kept you coming back?
I ended up in Bali a couple of years ago by sheer accident, or so I thought. Like many who come to this island I just needed a place to heal and reset. It took me three days to fall in love with this island and a couple of weeks to meet a handful of very special people who are now dear friends of mine. The immense gratitude for the ways in which this island has helped me tap into my authentic self and the relationships it has given me cannot be put into words. Every day spent in Bali I am in awe of its rich artistic and spiritual culture. I am in awe of the Balinese people, their traditions and compassion to all who come here and all who choose to stay.
Ok last bit not least … your favourite footwear?
I prefer to walk barefoot, which is one of the things I absolutely loved about living in Australia for a time. It’s incredibly grounding and makes me feel more present in my body and happier in general. That being said, unless I’m in nature or on a beach you’ll most likely find me in some sort of flats, whether it be flip flops or ballerina flats. And at events I’ll always be rocking a slick pair of heels.