Chris Vrenna has long been more than a drummer with a pair of magic sticks, but the extent to which his talents stretch and the schedule he keeps is nothing short of overwhelming. Prior to his set at Milk Bar on Saturday, Oct. 8, Vrenna sat down to discuss the return of his Tweaker project, why spinning records is a nice break from producing, and how Steve Jobs changed the music industry.
Sal Christ (SC): Well, you’ve been doing a lot of projects over the last couple of years.
Chris Vrenna (CV): Yeah, it’s been busy.
SC: Do you have any highlights?
CV: Well, I’m trying to finish my third Tweaker record.
SC: I saw that that was coming back.
CV: Yeah, it’ll be one last one probably. Well, I don’t think probably—I am doing one last record and kind of finishing up the storyline of the first two records and what not.
SC: Any idea when it might be out?
CV: Well, we’re supposed to finish by the end of the year. By Christmas-ish. Ish. That’s a big ish. If Metropolis Records is reading this, that’s an ish.
SC: It’s always an ish.
CV: Everything’s an ish, isn’t it?
SC: Everything just takes so much time to get done.
CV: Yeah, I know. Just because everybody has to do so much. Everybody has to work four times as hard for a fourth of the money and try to make a living. Do what you love and make time for family and friends and just try to have a life. It’s just a lot harder than it used to be as far as that goes back in the old glory days.
SC: How has that changed for you? I mean, compared to then compared to now especially with the Internet?
CV: You just have to work harder. I mean, I don’t think you have to work harder. It’s hard to explain because I’ve always been kind of a DIY guy—like my remixing. It’s never been like, Here’s a huge chunk of money from some record label—go do something, so when the whole thing happened, it didn’t affect me that much really because I work with a lot of small bands. The stuff I like is so fringe anyway that that stuff never had like huge budgets to begin with. You have to be able to do a lot more stuff than you used to. That’s what I mean by work harder, but it’s cool. Let’s see, what else? Flying out for a night and spinning somewhere. It’s fun just because you get so wrapped up in a keyboard sound or try to pick a kick drum or whatever, the minutiae about producing. It’s fun to go. I just want to play Depeche Mode and The Knife, so that’s what I’m going to do and some old revolting tracks. When I finally started trying it, I started digging through stuff I hadn’t listened to in ten years. Classic industrial, obviously, was there the whole time, so it’s kind of my whole past really. I was kind of like, Oh, yeah man. I love all this shit, what made me do what I do. It’s just fun to play stuff and be like, You guys are going to love this, and then they don’t like it obviously. I don’t give a shit anyway.
SC: Well, it’s more for you, though.
CV: It is for me, but it makes me reconnect to the whole reason why I even do this.
SC: Do you feel you strayed from that a little bit?
CV: Yeah. When you stare at Pro Tools for eight hours a day and projects…
SC: It’s hard to detach yourself.
CV: Oh, yeah. There’s a threshold where it is hard to come back and just kind of be a fan. Spinning has kind of made me have to step back over and given me some of that back. That’s why I like doing it—and the free liquor.
SC: Free liquor is always a plus. Are you planning to do more spinning?
CV: Actually, next week I’m in Vegas. I thought I was supposed to be in Jacksonville for Halloween, but that’s not happening. So I won’t be in Jacksonville spinning. I’ll be home hosting a Halloween party at my house.
CV: So, come on by.
SC: I’m sure you’ll put on a smashing event.
CV: Yeah. I’ll make sure to tweet my home address to everybody.
SC: Of course you never what kind of people will show up then.
CV: Yeah. God, no. I don’t tweet. I’ve never tweeted ever, so don’t ever think that. So yeah, I have three or four more gigs between now and the end of the year.
CV: I’m scoring my first movie—it’s a short. That starts in November. I want to eventually transition and get out of the rock. At some point, just score. That’s something I’ve always loved.
SC: Any favorite composers in that area?
SC: Yes, he’s amazing.
CV: Yeah and he’s like one of my best friends, too. Certain composer types have such locked style, you can hear like thirty seconds and you know exactly who it is. With Clint, it’s just whatever the movie needs. It’s not about, This is me, suck it. It’s like whatever is best for the movie.
SC: Kind of like Thomas Newman—you hear a few notes and you know it’s him.
CV: Yeah or like Danny Elfman. Obviously a genius, but within two bars you know it’s him. It’s the same.
SC: Like typecasting for composers.
CV: Yeah, totally. I like to be more invisible.
SC: Is that why you moved more into producing as opposed to other stuff?
CV: I don’t know. I think it’s like…I don’t know. It’s not about me. It’s about what’s right for the band or what’s right for the score or right for the remix, right for the song.
SC: Does that translate into your life outside of music? As someone who likes to be more behind the scenes? I guess, when you’re not in the studio. Like in your personal relationships and what not.
CV: Yeah. I don’t know. Hmm, I don’t know what to say to that—that’s weird. I’ve never been asked that before. I don’t know. I’m totally stumped on my own life right now. You stumped me on myself. Maybe it does. I don’t know. Maybe to a fault. God, that’s weird! You totally stumped me.
SC: I guess it gives you something to think about over the next few days.
CV: Yeah, I know. Do I treat my life like I treat my production philosophies? Hmm. I guess maybe I do. Maybe that’s it. I guess I do. You know, I believe maybe that’s why all those break-ups happened. Maybe I do. I don’t know. We’ll see.
SC: Well, you know, it is what it is.
CV: Yeah, I mean, I’m happy, so whatever.
SC: Well, yeah. As long as you’re happy.
CV: There’s nothing more to do. The rest of it’s not even worth it if you’re not happy doing it.
SC: So what do you do when you’re not in the studio?
CV: Sleep and watch TV. I love scores, so I watch as many TV shows and movies as I can get my hands on.
SC: Anything in particular that’s on your must-watch list?
CV: Breaking Bad! Do you watch that show?
SC: That show is amazing. In his other work, he plays such a clean-cut person and in this, he’s a horrible human being.
CV: I know. It’s been like four years running in a row and it’s like a record for one character that we like. Sitcoms, but not so much for music. They’re just something to fall asleep to when I can’t sleep. Musically they’re the worst.
SC: Well, there’s no art to that.
CV: No, there’s no art to that, but in the drama stuff on TV, that’s opened up a lot for different types of music and composition.
SC: Oh, definitely, and with the Internet, there’s all these web series.
CV: Exactly, which is so…
SC: It’s just the future of all of it.
CV: Oh, yeah. I know. Eventually. Between Netflix and Hulu, you know.
SC: It’s like, why have cable?
CV: Yeah, that’s what a lot of people keep telling me and I’m like, “But I have to DVR everything.” You know the bad thing about those [Netlix and Hulu] is when you travel, you can’t watch them outside of the country and that sucks. I guess it’s licensing rights, but for someone like me who’s on tour half the time it really sucks when you’re in Russia and all I want to do is watch something from back home and I can’t get to anything that I’m already paying for anyway and I still can’t watch it. It’s like, why am I paying you?
SC: Yeah. It needs to be accessible.
CV: They’re going to have to figure out a way if everything’s going to go mobile. That’s for the big boys to decide. So I just put on YouTube.
SC: Yeah, it all ends up on YouTube.
CV: Or some other weird
CV: Which is what they don’t want. You know. Then they’re not going to get the money.
SC: Yeah. I don’t know. I’m kind of hoping all of that moves more towards the artists. Record labels are great, for example, but I think too many of the musicians don’t—
CV: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Trust me, I couldn’t agree more. If it wasn’t for—God rest his soul—Steve Jobs, you know, being the first person to get all the majors to all sign off on the iTunes model for pricing plans nobody would ever buy anything. He’s the one that kind of priced it all at $0.99 and people decided it was no big deal.
SC: Yeah and it’s cheaper than buying hardcopy half the time.
CV: Definitely, yeah.
SC: I mean, you don’t have the physical art, but I think people more want the music anyway.
CV: Oh, yeah. I agree. At least it changed people’s mentality back from where it used to be, I’m not going to pay anything to As long as it’s fair, I’ll pay it. Or whatever. As long as people think that, in whatever format, it’s worth something, it’s better than it was there for a while when everybody was like it’s all worth nothing. That definitely still happens, but it’s not like it was. At least it’s changing people’s opinions—that’s enough. That’s the hard part. There is value to it, so give something. Everyone’s broke, everyone’s out of work, but give something. To say, You don’t deserve anything, I’ll just steal it—that’s just wrong, no matter what it is. Thank you, Steve. Sorry you’re dead, which sucks. That was such a sad day.
SC: Yeah, it really was.
CV: It really bummed me out.
SC: Me, too.
CV: Definitely a rough way to wake up.
SC: Yeah and talk about timing.
CV: Yeah, I know. Even the iPad as a music tool is amazing.
SC: Oh yeah?
CV: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. There’s this app called ReBirth that I used to run back in the 90s and I loved it. It was two TB-303s and an 808 and what it would do was make mods and I just loved that program, but it was only on OS 9 and it just died out in like 1999 or 2000. It just died. Gone.
SC: Yeah and you ran classic.
CV: Yep and it came out about two months ago on iOS, so I bought it. It was like ten bucks. I downloaded it to the iPad and it’s exact. Exactly the same. Just genius and I love it. Love it. So what are you, a psych minor?
SC: No, not at all. I’m a former filmmaker that burnt out.
SC: Yeah. Started over basically.
CV: Starting over is good sometimes, too. It’s good when everything’s ripped away or you just say, Fuck it. You know. It doesn’t matter, you just do it again.
SC: Yeah. You kind of get a second chance and you do things differently.
CV: Yeah. I’ve had some gigantic reboots where I’ve lost and/or given up everything and had to start all over. I’ve done it twice now. It’s kind of cool. It’s kind of refreshing. It keeps you young and keeps you hungry.
SC: Yeah, it shows you what you’re made out of.
CV: It’s like, am I just doing this? Why am I doing this? Well, I’m doing it now. I want to do it. I just lost it, so I’m going to do it again. Sometimes you have to force it. Force a different part of you.
SC: Yeah. Then you regroup.
CV: Yeah. It’s just healthy for people.
Vrenna’s latest work can be heard on the upcoming Marilyn Manson record Born Villian, as well Evanescence’s eponymous third studio album, for which he did all of the programming.