MORRISON – Aaron Remrey isn’t afraid to share his journey.
Parts of the 31-year-old hip-hop and rap musician’s latest music video, “Save Me,” are set in a cemetery in Carroll County between Lanark and Mount Carroll, as he reflects on surviving a 2013 crash with a semitrailer.
In one scene, Remrey – who records under the name A. Rem – sings as he sits beside a tombstone with the name “Remrey”:
“Something had to go wrong / for me to write this song ...”
Remrey nodded as he and his producer, Steven Bearsley of Straightaway Productions in Morrison, watched the video on YouTube during a recent interview.
“2013 was a real eye-opener, with my daughter being born and the car crash. It’s to redeem myself from everything,” Remrey said of why he’s so focused on his music career.
Redemption wasn’t always a theme of Remrey’s songwriting.
The son of Bryan and Angie Remrey of Lanark, Aaron, who lives in Freeport, attended Eastland and West Carroll schools and started writing music in junior high. He also had a big high school sports career, playing basketball and baseball.
“I started at third base varsity as a freshman. I had a lot of community support. I was planning on playing college basketball,” Remrey said, looking into the distance as he sat in the control room at Straightaway.
While Remrey was on a track to sports success, he felt differently inside.
“I’ve always felt misunderstood my entire life. If you’d ask before who I was, you’d get 10 different answers,” he said.
When he was 18, things took a sharp turn – for the worse. Remrey was charged with three felony burglaries.
“I felt like I let everybody down,” he said.
He served 3 months in jail, then did 6 months of drug and alcohol treatment at Sojourn House in Freeport before 6 months of house arrest, followed by 7 years of probation.
“If at any point I would have slipped up in those 7 years and got arrested again, I was facing 3 to 5 years in prison.”
Remrey started over, working as a restaurant manager at Applebee’s, Sonic, and Pizza Hut from 18 until 28. He completed his probation, which expunged the felony counts from his criminal record.
Remrey’s youthful interest in music returned in 2011 as a hobby, but he almost didn’t get the chance to pursue it as a career.
“In 2013, my brother, Andrew, and a friend and I all had the day off work. We were working 6 days, 50 hours a week,” Remrey recalled of the car crash that almost silenced his music.
Their friend fell asleep behind the wheel, and before Remrey had a chance to grab the wheel, they’d hit the semi head-on.
“I awoke 2 hours later,” he said. “The car was in pieces, and everybody else was in the ambulance. The paramedics had brought three body bags. All we had were stitches and bruises.”
The near-fatal crash served as a wake-up call, and Remrey started working harder on his musical career. He began performing concerts in Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Janesville, Wisconsin, Lansing, Michigan, and Detroit, and toured a lot in 2015 and 2016.
“The touring’s pretty much in the Midwest. With social media, your promotional budget’s more beneficial when used there. Every 10 years, the game changes, and it’s not all about selling mix tapes out of your trunk,” Remrey said.
Remrey also met Bearsley, and they later discovered they were distant cousins. They’ve produced three albums in 3 years – “Still Here, Still Standing,” “Middle of Nowhere,” both already released, and “Letting Go,” planned for release before the end of the year.
“‘Middle of Nowhere’ put us on the map. We’ve had downloads in all 50 states and 60 different countries,” Remrey said.
He had 12 songs on “Still Here, Still Standing” and 18 on “Middle of Nowhere,” and has seven of 12 planned tracks recorded for “Letting Go.”
“I’ve had seven on the radio. I go mainly for Pandora and Sirius XM. They’re more nationwide. I’m really trying to take this as mainstream as I can,” Remrey said.
While Remrey is looking to his future career, he’s hasn’t forgotten what inspires him. He’s trying to provide for his daughter, Brielle, 5, and sons, Ashton, 2, and Aaydon, 3 months.
“My daughter made me change my life, keeping me out of things I shouldn’t do. My kids play a big role in my life,” Remrey said.
Remrey’s determination to set his life on the right path has carried over into the work ethic he puts into his music. He’s set weekly, monthly, yearly, and 5- and 10-year goals.
“I break them all the time. I’m extremely hard on myself. I constantly have to remind myself, I have to look how far I’ve come.”