Music has always been a way to deal with trauma, enabling an artist to turn difficult emotions into great art.
Newark High School junior Kelly DeRienzo’s debut album, “Chapters,” set for release on May 12, is a testament to how music can express someone’s growth despite life’s challenges.
“When I was really low, I felt like I had no one,” DeRienzo said. “I want to use my music, my writing and my words to be there for other people that may feel the same way as I do.”
DeRienzo began singing at the age of 7. She started writing her own work when she was 12, after she first struggled with anemia, a condition where the body produces too few healthy red blood cells. She also struggled with being bullied.
DeRienzo mainly uses electronic instruments but also guitar and her own lyrics. Her use of digital instruments gives her songs a wide sonic palette, from the eternal ambient synths of “Eden,” the piano ballad “The Problem,” and the guitar focused “Paint the Sky.”
“Paint the Sky,” a stand alone single, is about the death of DeRienzo’s friend, Newark Charter School student Madison Sparrow, who was murdered last year. The song references how Sparrow, on trips to the beach, would wake up her group of friends and ask them to watch the sunset. DeRienzo said Sparrow was an energetic, uplifting presence in her life.
“I’d be coming out of a class, and if I were happy, or if I were sad, she would just find me, run up to me and give me a hug,” DeRienzo said.
The main focus of “Chapters,” however, is her experience with bullying and the often messy world of high school relationships.
She started writing most of the 11 songs on “Chapters” after December, when the bullying subsided and her mental state improved enough to gain the confidence that is often necessary to complete creative work. The songs on “Chapters” are reflections on sad times, written from a more stable point in life, when one is able to look back on past mistakes and moments of pain and see how you’ve changed from it.
“Because I’ve been through all these experiences, it makes me like I’ve gotten a chance to sit back and observe a lot of things,” said DeRienzo. “I feel like I’m mentally at a point where I can recognize those red flags. I can notice when something isn’t right.”
DeRienzo’s Catholic faith is an important part of her music, featuring prominently in three songs. Other songs such as the rap-influenced “Clouds’,” which is based on her learning to drive, focus on the transition to adulthood that every high schooler goes through.
She made an effort to make some parts of the album more hopeful than what she originally wrote, going back and editing some of her first songs so they have a happier, optimistic, tone.
“They all revolve around the fact that you go through things but you grow from them,” said DeRienzo. “You know yourself more than anyone else does, and you can dictate your own life. People don’t have to like you, but you can do what you want.”