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Nola Wren: No Damsel in Distress

“It might be worth noting that I am a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan.”

Brooklyn-based Nola Wren has a new single coming out this spring, and will soon be kicking off a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money to shoot a video. In the run-up to this, she talked to Vehlinggo about her big break last year when College asked her to contribute to Save the Day, his latest EP.

Talented indie-electronic artist Nola Wren has some big plans for 2015 — a new single and a crowd-funding campaign to help her make a proper video for it — but what if she decided tomorrow to put it all on hold and go down a different path?

Well, if that were her goal — and I’m glad it’s not — she’d already have left behind a noticeable mark on retrosynth music.

At some point in the summer of 2014, Wren posted to SoundCloud a laid-back and catchy electro-pop song called “College.” The song was actually about the institution of higher learning, but it caught the attention of a man named College, whose music itself brings about its own sort of higher learning.

Call it chance, or maybe fate. Call it the magic of keywords. Call it what you will. But David Grellier — the French artist behind the pioneering 80s synth-revival project and co-founder of the Valerie Collective — liked her work and asked if Wren would be interested in collaborating on his upcoming EP. To review, one of the pillars of the Drive soundtrack wanted to work with her. What’s a talented artist like Wren going to do?

“I immediately jumped at the chance,” Wren told Vehlinggo. “I’m a longtime fan of his music.”

The result was Save the Day, last fall’s brilliant and haunting EP that shattered the themes of the classic stalker films that inspired it.

Working together could prove to be tricky — she’s in Brooklyn, New York, and he’s in Nantes, France — but Google Voice and email proved to be handy. Even these methods have their challenges, but it’s certainly an improvement over the early 2000s, when Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello had to physically send digital tapes back and forth when they worked on tracks for The Postal Service.

“It was ultimately a wonderful experience,” Wren said.

Grellier has told Vehlinggo how he and Valerie creative guru Alexander Burkart turned their inspiration for the Save the Day project into music and art. Their muse? The villainy and paranoia of films like 1971’s Klute — which starred Jane Fonda and was directed by known paranoia addict Alan J. Pakula — and 1979’s psychological horror flick When a Stranger Calls, starring Carol Kane.

Once Grellier and Burkart had that in order, it was time for Wren’s touch. She not only offered up her beautiful vocals to the EP’s title track, she also wrote the words she sang.

“David described his vision for and inspiration behind the EP, which I took into account throughout my own writing process,” Wren said. “At that point, he already had settled on ‘Save the Day’ as the name for the project, and the instrumental track he sent me to write [lyrics] to was to be the title track.”

In Wren’s hands, the song obliterates the idea of a hunted damsel in distress.

Don’t Be Afraid

In my review last fall, I noted that in the song it’s actually the woman who’s here to save the day, skeezy beasts be warned.

Nola Wren
Nola Wren performs “Save the Day” along with College in November 2014 in New York. Photo Credit: Vehlinggo.

“It might be worth noting that I am a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, and I think one of the reasons why is because that’s exactly what the show did — It took a pretty, unassuming blonde cheerleader-type, and gave her the power to kick everyone’s ass,” Wren said.

Grellier followed up the release of the EP with a November-December tour of North America. On his second date, he made his way to Manhattan, where he and Wren were able to perform their song together.

“I had a blast singing the song live,” she said. “The Highline Ballroom is the nicest venue I’ve ever performed at. Hopefully, one day soon, I’ll be playing solo shows there myself… once I can find a backing band.”

Wren hasn’t revealed many details about her new single or campaign, but people can probably learn more in the next couple weeks. What she did say, though, is that the song and a video are important to her.

“I care about this song too much to not give it a great video, but I simply don’t have the resources to pay for one,” Wren said. “The majority of my previous ‘music videos’ were self-shot with an iPhone 4S, and I think it’s time to step up my game, for sure.”

In the meantime, here’s Wren singing “Save the Day” live in New York: