Jeremy Renner is best known for his Oscar-nominated appearances in The Hurt Locker and The Town and as the star of The Avengers, Bourne and Mission Impossible franchises, but his next leading role is on the small screen.
Renner — and his music — are the stars of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Summer of Jeep campaign, bowing Wednesday on television and online and premiering exclusively below. Renner joins past Summer of Jeep artists including OneRepublic, X Ambassadors and will.i.am.
A trio of Renner’s songs air in four Jeff Tomsic-directed commercials touting Jeep’s Grand Cherokee, Compass, Wrangler and Cherokee models. Renner appears in each ad, as well as performs.
While he’s not stepping away from acting, Renner, who has played drums since high school and has also taught himself piano and guitar, is eager to spread his musical passion.
“Music is a wonderful personal form of expression to me, [initially] never to be shared,” Renner says, sitting on the patio of his Hollywood Hills home, nicknamed The Nest in a nod to his Avengers character Hawkeye. “It’s just something that I can sit at the piano and accompany myself and it’s immediate. I don’t need a camera, I don’t need a script.”
Renner recorded a cover of The Animals’ “The House of the Rising Sun” a few years ago — now up on Spotify, along with “Heaven (Don’t Have a Name)” with Sam Feldt — and that led to his creating more of his own music and ultimately aligning with FCA. “They promote the heck out of their Jeeps,” he says. “Ultimately, there’s not a better platform in my mind.” Last year’s Summer of Jeep advertising campaign had a $25 million budget and this year’s is expected to match that.
His Jeep affiliation developed organically. Earlier this year, Renner provided the voice-over — and very briefly appeared — in a 90-second commercial for FCA’s Ram Trucks. Though they did not meet during the making of that ad, a few months later, Renner and FCA chief marketing officer Olivier Francois were introduced by a mutual friend.
“I was [in Los Angeles] because I was looking for what would be the anthem of the most important campaign of the year,” says Francois, who went to Renner’s home. “Jeep is maybe the most important brand we have, at least in the U.S., and our Summer of Jeep campaign is one where we tie together the spirit of freedom and adventure and Americana — all the values of the Jeep brand — with the feel of summer and with music.”
Unlike many of his competitors, Francois prefers to use previously unreleased music. He told Renner of his search, revealing he was seeking something anthemic — “like Imagine Dragons meets Queen” — when Renner asked to play Francois some of his own music.
“That can be a very embarrassing experience,” Francois admits, adding he has had to turn down music from top artists because it wasn’t the right fit. “So honestly, I was kind of reluctant to go in the studio with Jeremy because of that, and even worse, what if I fall asleep because I was so tired and jet-lagged” from flying in from Italy?
However, Renner’s rock music “blew me away,” Francois says, especially “Nomad.” “The sound was exactly what I was looking for. It’s authentic, it’s American, it’s rock ‘n’ roll, it’s powerful.” Francois goes so far as to say that initially he was more interested in Renner’s music than Renner’s likeness in the ads, but then realized the potency of having both.
The commercials mark not only the first time an actor has performed his own music in an FCA campaign, they are also the first time one artist has had three songs used as part of a campaign.
“If you put all these media dollars on just one song, we are just going to saturate the space. People are going to be tired of it,” Francois says. “So the idea [is to] spread this media power over three or four songs — the theme is the same, the brand is the same, the association is the same, but the storytelling is different, the music is going to be different.”
For example, in the Grand Cherokee spot, a disenchanted, tux-clad Renner leaves a swanky party to escape for some off-roading before pulling up to a packed roadhouse and performing. In the Wrangler commercial, he and his band trade in their tour bus for Jeeps as they head to a gig.
Just as Ram had, the Jeep brand resonated with Renner. “It’s not a minivan. That’s not going to work with this face,” he says with a laugh. “It’s known for being rugged.”
The commercials come as Renner, 48, segues into a different phase in his life. Renner felt driven to find a way to spend more time with his 6-year-old daughter, Ava, of whom he shares joint custody with his ex-wife. “I’ve done one movie in 30 years in town, and now that I have a baby, I can’t go to Botswana for nine months,” he says, as Ava brings him a slice of cake she made for Father’s Day.
Those who have followed Renner’s career know the music move isn’t as left-field as it may seem. Renner sang Crash Test Dummies’ “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” over Tag’s end credits, “American Pie” in Love Comes to the Executioner and “Good Ol’ Rebel Soldier” in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. A website is devoted to his various music moments, including performing on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The View and at the Life is Beautiful Music & Art Festival in Las Vegas. He also appeared in P!nk‘s “Trouble” video in 2010.
As Francois notes, he was looking for “Imagine Dragons meets Queen,” and Renner’s foot-stomping “Main Attraction” fit that bill, while the jazzy “Sign” has more of an Amy Winehouse feel. “There’s only been two artists probably in the last 20 years that had any value to me: Amy being one of them and Adele being the other,” Renner says. “I like that type of music. It can lean into rock, it can lean into soul, but obviously it comes from a jazz background.”
Tying in with the launch of the commercials, the three songs, co-written and produced by Eric Zayne, will be available via all major digital service providers starting Wednesday.
Additionally, Renner has linked with iHeartRadio by curating a summer playlist, posted July 1, that includes a number of his songs. iHeartRadio has invited Renner to perform at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas in September, according to Renner’s publicist, but he has not made any commitment to play live yet. Renner’s partner in his Record Street Music is MTV co-founder Les Garland.
Several of Renner’s songs, including “Nomad” and “Sign,” appear on the soundtrack for Arctic Dogs, an animated film coming this November in which Renner voices an arctic fox, alongside James Franco, Alec Baldwin and Anjelica Huston.
While Renner contemplates releasing an album and says he’d love for his songwriting to lead to more opportunities, he’s playing what comes next by ear. Referencing Hawkeye, he jokes, “It’s not like, ‘Hey, I dropped my bow and arrow. Here’s my microphone. Check me out. Now I’m like Elvis!’ It’s not about that,” he says. However, he admits he’s looking forward to seeing where this new chapter could lead. “This is a face that really gives zero fucks about most things in life, to be honest with you, but I’m excited. I’m nervous in the sense that there are some unknowns, but ultimately I don’t have any expectations.”