This year’s winner is an 18-year-old indie-pop artist from the Lansing area who’s captivated fans across the state with a big voice and big dreams. The Artist Spotlight and Local Spins on WYCE podcast.
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When she was just six years old and the proud owner of a new guitar at Christmas, Kanin Wren told her parents that she wanted to win a Grammy Award.
“I was setting goals young,” conceded the now 18-year-old singer-songwriter from the Lansing area.
She’s still setting ambitious goals.
“I would love to do stadium tours,” said the up-and-coming artist who’s made waves over the past year with her Taylor Swift Experience tribute shows across the state, along with releasing her own catchy, pop-propelled singles.
“That may be a little naïve and it’s going to be hard, but that’s kind of my dream. And it always has been since I was little.”
For this talented teen singer, those big dreams might have a much better chance of becoming reality than they would for most other fledgling young artists.
After releasing her first song at age 11, Wren already has established fruitful contacts in Nashville (where she’s played the legendary Bluebird Café), recorded indie-pop songs in Los Angeles with producer and Elton John bassist Matt Bissonette, and just this week, unveiled a new single co-written with respected producer and songwriter PJ Ju.
And today, Local Spins names Kanin Wren the winner of its 2024 Local Spins Emerging Artist of the Year Award, presented to Michigan musicians or singers who’ve made a splash over the past year while also showing impressive potential as rising stars bound for prominence beyond the state’s borders.
This year’s honor will officially be presented to Wren at the upcoming WYCE Jammie Awards, taking place on Feb. 23 at The Intersection in Grand Rapids, with performances by 17 bands and solo acts. Last year’s winner was Allegan County native and Americana singer Myron Elkins, who’s signed to a Nashville record label.
“This is huge,” she said upon learning of the award. “It means a lot to me. It’s a huge honor.”
The accolades don’t come as a surprise to those who’ve worked with the singer, calling her a stellar songwriter who’s confident, relevant and refreshing. Bissonette said she’s “in the right position to succeed” thanks to her “overall maturity and natural talent.”
READY TO FOCUS FULL ATTENTION ON WRITING AND TOURING
For the singer who started life as Kanin Thelen, it’s just another step toward solidifying her career in music even though she doesn’t even graduate from DeWitt High School until this spring.
Leaning toward taking a “gap year” before considering possible college enrollment, the singer aims to focus on touring, writing and honing her instrumental skills.
“In 2024, my plan is to divide my time between recording in Nashville and here in Michigan. I believe it’s important to explore different creative environments and harness the unique energy of each location,” she said.
“I have set aside May and June to fully enjoy the last moments of high school and graduation festivities, but on June 8 we have a double-header performance starting with the Kellogg Cereal Festival in the morning and ending as the headliner for Shorts Brewing’s summer bash in northern Michigan. It’s going to be an exhilarating day from sunrise to sunset.”
Exhilarating could also describe Wren’s endeavor the past year in paying tribute to Swift, an artist who’s inspired and influenced her own music. Her “Taylor Swift Experience” – a show concept first suggested by adviser Elle Lively – has played venues throughout Michigan to enthused audiences of rabid Swifties.
“Taylor Swift’s music holds a special place in my heart for several reasons. Taylor writes about her own life experiences, taking us on a journey from her early days as a budding songwriter to her current status as a young adult,” she said.
“This authenticity and vulnerability resonates deeply with me as a listener.”
WRITING HER OWN SONGS THAT EVOKE EMOTIONS WITH ‘A SPRINKLE OF MAGIC’
The tribute shows have honed Wren’s stage presence and bolstered her interactions with fans, while also affording the opportunity to captivate audiences with her own indie-pop and country pop tunes.
“I’ve learned how to connect with the audience in a meaningful way, understand their energy and create an immersive experience,” she said. “Taylor Swift’s fan base is incredibly dedicated and I didn’t anticipate the overwhelming positive response we received. … It has reinforced my belief in the power of music.”
As such, she wants her own songs “to evoke emotions, whether it’s through relatable life experiences, a touch of imagination or a sprinkle of magic.”
That theme runs through two of her newest songs which she debuted for this week’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE – “Cupid’s Stupid,” officially released as a single today (Friday) just ahead of Valentine’s Day, and the forthcoming “Dine and Dash,” which she performed live in acoustic fashion with Detroit-area guitarist Garret Bielaniec (who’s recorded with Alice Cooper and performed on stage with the likes of Eddie Money). Scroll down for a video of their performance.
Crediting her parents for playing “a pivotal role in shaping” her musical journey from a young age, Wren said she’s eager to graduate from high school and devote full attention to her art.
“I feel that in order to truly determine whether music is a hobby or a career path, I need to give it my undivided attention,” she said, adding that she’s also working on projects “that make a positive impact” on youths and special needs children.
“Up until now, I have only been able to dedicate a fraction of my day to music. This is my opportunity to give it 100 percent of my time and effort.”
In addition to showcasing the music of Kanin Wren, this week’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE — which spotlights music by Michigan artists at 11 a.m. Fridays on WYCE (88.1 FM) and online at wyce.org — featured tracks by St. Joe Jack, Phil Biggs, Sophia McIntosh, Strange Heart, Harry Dean & The Dusty Boys, Spencer LaJoye, Colonel Zachman, The Verve Pipe and Max Lockwood. Listen to the full radio show below.
VIDEO: Kanin Wren, “Dine and Dash” (Live Acoustic)
PODCAST: Local Spins on WYCE (2/9/24)
PHOTO GALLERY: Kanin Wren at Midtown for Local Spins
Photos by Jamie Geysbeek
Photos by Chelsea Whitaker