Jahr 2002




Vrenna at Apple 

The confessions of an audio-addicted Tweaker

By Stephanie Jorgl

Folgender Artikel wurde auf der offiziellen Seite von "Apple" veröffentlicht. Nun ja, im Grunde sehr interessant, weil man viel über Vrenna's Arbeit erfährt und welche Geräte er benutzt. Natürlich ist viel Werbung für Apple dabei, aber interessant ist der Artikel auf alle Fälle. Leider habe ich ihn nur auf Englisch vorlliegen.

Quelle, so lange es noch online ist: http://www.apple.com/hotnews/articles/2002/07/chrisvrenna/

Grammy-winning producer, drummer, engineer, remixer, songwriter and programmer Chris Vrenna has scored and remixed for film and video games, and has produced, engineered and remixed for all sorts of artists including David Bowie, U2, the Smashing Pumpkins, Marilyn Manson, Green Day, the Wallflowers and Nine Inch Nails (NIN) — for whom he was the original drummer. Now he releases his own songs under the band name Tweaker.

Drum-driven Vrenna

From the beat-driven early years to Nine Inch Nails, the Smashing Pumpkins and Tweaker.

Tapping Into the Next Level

Remixing for soundtracks and record labels, fighting against a predictable style and thoughts on producing.

Mac-based Recording

From StudioVision to ProTools, tools for sound design and advice for recording at home.

By Stephanie Jorgl

Chris Vrenna first got into music at the age of five. “I had a big thing for marching parades and marching bands. My dad realized that, as the bands marched by, I’d always be marching with them in time, and that I would beat on things in time, so he thought, ‘Well, that’s kind of unusual,’” says Vrenna.

“So he asked me, ‘Do you want to learn drums?’ And I said, ‘Yeah!’ So he called around when I was about six and tried to find someone to teach me drums,” he says. He found a jazz teacher who said he would be willing to give a six-year-old a chance on the drums.

Vrenna took lessons from the teacher for 10 years before moving onto a rock drum teacher. And he supplemented his training by playing in a marching band, a drum and bugle corps, the BCI drum corps and the adult drum corps.

He Bangs The Drums

“I was in the percussion ensemble of the Erie Youth Orchestra—that was my very first European tour. We did a two-week tour playing Copeland music, all American composers, when I was 16 or 17,” reflects Vrenna. “I was the pit drummer for two seasons of musicals for Erie’s Playhouse Theater, so I know how to read charts.”

When he was 15, he started a punk rock band. “I’ve never played in a cover band. I played originals my whole life. Even back then we were writing original stuff,” he says.

Enter Trent Reznor

When he was a senior in high school, Vrenna met Trent Reznor. “He was in an electronic synth band in Cleveland, the Exotic Birds, that did fairly well, and I was in a synth band in Pennsylvania,” says Vrenna. “My keyboard player and he were good friends. Trent was selling his Linn drum so he could get the Linn 9000, so I bought it.”

Vrenna and his friend started going to Cleveland to see the Exotic Birds play. Soon after high school, when Vrenna was going to college at Kent State in Cleveland, he got a phone call from Trent, asking Vrenna to join the band. Vrenna joined for 18 months, until the band broke up.

That’s when Trent started writing his own music, which became the Nine Inch Nails’ “Pretty Hate Machine” album. When that album took off, Vrenna joined the band for the live tour, and to help with programming. He later received a Grammy for his work on NIN’s live version of “Happiness In Slavery.”

Leaving Nails Behind

Vrenna decided to leave Nine Inch Nails in 1996, a year after NIN played a co-headlining tour with David Bowie. “We did the Marilyn Manson ‘Antichrist Superstar’ project and the summer after that, I felt it was time to move on,” says Vrenna. “I was changing, and my tastes changed, and I didn’t like living in New Orleans.” So Vrenna left the band and moved to Los Angeles.

“I got out here around Christmas. I’d just finished unpacking the last of my boxes, was sitting down making a list of all of the industry people I was gonna call on the day after New Years break when I got a phone call,” says Vrenna.

“It was the tour manager for the Smashing Pumpkins saying, ‘I got your name from so-and-so… Do you know how to run StudioVision… ProTools… do you understand the MIDI beatclock? And like drum machines?’ And I said, ‘Yeah…’ So he goes, ‘Great, because I’m trying to find somebody who can be Billy’s programmer on tour.’”

From Pumpkins to Roses

The tour manager asked Vrenna if he could be in Portland the following night. He agreed and started the job programming for the Smashing Pumpkins right away. “I was Billy Corgan’s programmer for four months after that because he was still on tour but had all these other commitments — for remixes and productions,” explains Vrenna.

“We were carrying a mini laptop StudioVision writing rig on tour, and while they were up on stage, my job was to engineer, program and keep it all running,” he adds.

“We also had a VS880, an MC-303 and a rackmount K2000. It was great… a totally different scene, but it was weird to be on tour but not on stage,” he admits. “It was just what I needed though, because it was an immediate — ‘Boom! You’re onto something else.’”

While he was on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins, Vrenna got a call from Axl Rose, who invited Vrenna to come down and hang out with the Guns and Roses for a while. “I did for a couple weeks, but then decided I didn’t want to join the band,” says Vrenna.

The Advent of Tweaker

Realizing he didn’t want to join another band, he decided to move on and try writing his own music, which led him into remixing. “I just started writing and eventually it all became the Tweaker record, while the remixes I was doing slowly turned into productions and other work,” he adds.

“I never intended to get my own deal or anything like that,” says Vrenna. “I thought, ‘Yeah, it’d be pretty cool to do a record, I guess. But then I got an offer from a label. They ended up signing me and so I worked on the album for about 18 months, delivered it to them and never heard anything from anyone.” It turned out that the label was being sold, so Vrenna fought to get his album back, so his art wouldn’t get stuck in the midst of a label merger.

One Cursed Debut Album

“I got my record back, started shopping it around again and got signed by Six Degrees,” he says. “Then I went back in and reworked a lot of the record — further fulfilling the vision, and finally got it done.” But the release date was 9/18, which meant it was shipped out on 9/11 and so Vrenna’s Tweaker debut album got delayed on trucks and planes. The result was that the release wasn’t in sync with its promotional materials.

Then, a couple of tours that Vrenna’s Tweaker was lined up for were cancelled — as most major tours were at the end of the year. “This started a downward spiral… a series of unfortunate events,” says Vrenna. “My Tweaker album was cursed from day one.”

But Vrenna didn’t give up. He’s continued hammering out remixes and programming work for film soundtracks and record labels, and he has a concept already in mind for a second record. “My goal is to record it and put it out by next year,” he says. “I wanna get right back on the horse, get people to get the second record. Then maybe they can then backtrack and get the first.”

Slingin’ Soundtracks

“I like music in movies. But I think so much of it is just too clichéd,” says Vrenna. So he decided to score films his way. “I started by doing a couple scenes for a small movie,” he says. “Then I got the chance to do some remixing for ‘She’s All That’ — a Freddy Prinze Jr. movie. Then I got to do four scenes for ‘Rollerball’ — the remake directed by John McTiernan. And now, I’ve just completed my first full score — for a no-budget indie, gonna-go-to-the-festivals piece.

“I’d really wanted to go through the process because I’d never done one from tip-to-tail like that,” says Vrenna. “It’s called ‘AKA Birdseye’ and it is a kidnapping murder mystery done to look like a documentary, with a pretty good cast.

“But the challenge was that they wanted a blend of ‘Calexico’ and ‘Run Lola Run’ for the soundtrack,” says Vrenna. “It was a hard stylistic blend but it was challenging and it was fun to do.” The indie film — a 100-minute movie with 82 minutes to score — took him about four months.

Remixing the Greats of Rock & Roll

When Vrenna was asked to remix some music for the “Tomb Raider” soundtrack, he got to work on the remix of U2’s “Elevation.” “They are the nicest guys ever,” he says. “They wanted to play out the parts for my remix, so I was like, ‘You mean I get to record the Edge?! Just tell me when and where!’ So they said, ‘Just tell us when and where’ and I was like, ‘Alright!’”

Vrenna worked with the entire band for two days — one day of recutting, and one day of mixing. “All four of them would come in, and they all approve all of the mixes. They are super nice guys. It’s weird, you meet some of these bands with new money and they’re all about ego, but then you meet these gods, and they’re the sweetest guys in the world,” says Vrenna.

He’s Got No Style!

The title of his Tweaker debut album is “The Attraction To All Things Uncertain” and that pretty much sums up his style. “I purposefully don’t have a style,” he says. “I try to do different stuff on everything I do.

“One of my favorite producers ever was Flood, who I got to work with on ‘The Downward Spiral,’ and I saw how Flood worked,” says Vrenna. “And when you go listen to the work he’s done with the Smashing Pumpkins, PJ Harvey, Depeche Mode, Pop Will Eat Itself or Nine Inch Nails, you’ll go, ‘None of those records sound like one guy.’

“I almost didn’t get the Rasputina thing because somebody thought ‘Well all he’s gonna do is put distortion on everything, you know, Industrial stuff.’ and I was like, ‘No, it’s not. I mean, I listen to Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, Aphex Twin and ambient works when I go to sleep. It’s not all that I know, just because I happened to be in a band that does that style of music,’” he says.

“So it took me a long time to disprove and lose that typecasting stuff that I’m just going to put drum programming all over everything,” he adds.

“The kind of remixing I’ve been doing over the past year is taking bands that aren’t necessarily heavy, and making them more heavy,” he says. “Like I did a remix for the Wallflowers because their first album was huge, but by the time their second album rolled out, the airwaves had changed. So in order to fit in with the playlist, they needed to darken it and roughen it up.”

Scoring For Games

Four years after NIN did work on Quake, Vrenna got a call from the former ID contact he’d known from back when the Nothing family collective/NIN were working on the score for Quake, asking him to work on scoring the game Alice. Vrenna took the gig and worked on it for six months, creating 70 minutes of score.

Vrenna is now scoring another video game — for a yet-to-be-announced title. “I can tell you that it’s got totally scary ambient music in it,” he says. “And it’s going to be absolutely arhythmic.” He plans to work on that game for the next few months

Producers on Producing

NIN visionary and former collaborator Reznor, also a fantastic producer himself, says of Vrenna, “Chris has always had good sensibilities, instincts and taste — all paramount qualities of producing.”

And Vrenna has his own comments on producing for those interested in getting into it. “It is something that I think most people fall into naturally. If you are a musician, keep making your music and being as creative as possible,” he says. “If you are an engineer, again, keep working on a variety of projects in different styles, with different gear, and just learn.”

When deciding what bands to work with, he says it all comes down to whether it’s a good fit. “I must feel like I can help them, and that we can do good work together,” he says. “And I must like the music and people involved as well, of course. Producing is like joining the band for two months, so we’d all better get along!”

Long Hours

Vrenna typically spends anywhere from 8-12 hours a day in the studio. “I used to spend way more hours in there,” he says. “But as I get older, I realize that people are only mentally productive for that long. After that, it’s diminishing returns.”

The Ice Age of Audio

Vrenna first learned sequencing in Performer, on a Mac Plus, in 1986-88, while Trent was working on “Pretty Hate Machine.” But then Opcode put out StudioVision with combined audio and MIDI programming for the Mac. ProTools had two-channel stereo audio recording, but StudioVision provided a way to combine the benefits of ProTools audio with MIDI.

“So, Trent bought the two-channel interface, the Pro I/O and the DAT I/O,” recalls Vrenna. “He had a 660MB hard drive in a two-space enclosure, and we were so stoked because it was like a whole hour and we could get that whole record in there. And that drive was three grand at the time. We kept it forever.

“So we moved to StudioVision and used that program from 1991 all the way up until Gibson bought Opcode and then summarily dismantled StudioVision,” says Vrenna. “The program started getting pretty bad by the end—they needed to do some serious rewrites, like they didn’t have crossfades yet. Some other programs were starting to overtake it as far as speeds and stuff. And finally it just went away.”

ProTools Wins His Rig

But, the same week that StudioVision died, Vrenna got a free ProTools CD in the mail. “It was pretty featureless demo, but it functioned exactly like StudioVision did. So without even opening the manual, in 10 minutes I went, ‘Oh… grabby hand, oh, piano roll keyboard… Hmmmm I can’t do this, but I can do this… and by the end of the day I forgot what program I was using, and years later, I’m still using ProTools,” explains Vrenna. “I just never clicked with another program like I did with ProTools.

“Plus, I do so much work with other people, and every studio has a ProTools rig. So, I can easily interact with those studios. When I bring a song in, or want to take files back from a studio, I can burn them and they’ll load right up on my home computer,” he says. “It’s just so interchangeable, where some other programs are not.

“You know, there are so many choices out there and even at my own house, if someone says, ‘Can you put some distortion on this?’ Okay, I’ve got 20 distortion pedals, I’ve got four pieces of rack gear, I’ve got nine plug-ins, there are so many options,” explains Vrenna. “If I need a synth bay sound, I’ve got a stack of hardware synths, a stack of software synths… so it’s like, ‘What do we want to use?’ But there becomes a point at which everybody is becoming just so engrossed with the technology that sometimes they forget about the creative part.”

Power Mac Runs The Studio

Wanting to finally delve into the countless software synths he’d collected but couldn’t quite get to work on his old machine, Vrenna finally just retired his G3-upgraded 9600, and got a Power Mac G4 933MHz. “I thought, ‘I got six years on one machine?’” says Vrenna. “So then I said, ‘9600, you’re retiring with honors!’”

His current Power Mac G4 configuration includes a SuperDrive, 1.5GB RAM, an ATTO card, a Mix Cube, two 18.1-inch flat panel displays, ProTools, three 888s, the Virus, McVSP synth 1 demo, Stylus by Spectrasonics plus Propellerheads’ Reason.

“I really like the Native Instruments guys,” says Vrenna. “I like their products and think they’re really, really well done.

Sample Lover

“I own a lot of ILIO and Spectrasonics sample CDs, so when that Stylus came out — it just sounds monstrous! And I just downloaded that demo of Amplitube… that thing is smokin’… I can’t wait to buy that! It’s a really good plug-in, it really sounds good. And SampleTank is coming out soon for ProTools — I can’t wait.”

After reviewing some sample CDs for East West, Vrenna started thinking about putting out a sample CD himself. “I’ve been talking with one company pretty seriously about it. I don’t know how lucrative it would be, but from a creative standpoint, it seems like it would be a fun thing to do,” he says.

No Tricky Sound Design Software

Vrenna doesn’t use any software outside of ProTools for sound design. Mostly, he just tweaks the sounds brought in from his favorite synths with ProTools. “I have my favorite outboard synths — the Nord 2, the original Virus and Andromeda A6, which is just my new baby. God, that thing is good!” he exclaims. “It’s got 16-voice, all real analog,” he says.

“I have a lot of outboard weird stuff,“ says Vrenna. “But I admit that the Virus plug-in is much easier to program because it’s just this screen full of big huge knobs instead of ‘shift-hold-parameter scroll… scroll… scroll…’ So it does make it easier for programming. But sometimes I just want to beat on the thing!”

He’s still adding to the palette and just got a copy of Ableton’s Live. “And I live and die by Pluggo,” he adds.

Home-based Pro Results

“One of the cool things about computers is that no matter what software you’re using and whether you’re using an Mbox or whatever, you can do cool interesting things at home and get cool, professional sounding results,” says Vrenna.

“I started out using Macs because they were the only computers that could run all of the music software I needed back when I started doing music on computers. But even today, Macs are still just more intuitive and easy to use,” he adds.

When asked whether advances in audio software/hardware have made his job and life easier, he responds, “Absolutely! The ability to make pro-quality records at home, or just about anywhere a laptop can go, has changed the way records are made. I can deliver records now much cheaper, and often faster than before, with no sacrifices.

Always Sing at Home

“I always record vocals at home because — what? you need a good microphone, a good mic pre-amp, and you need your software to record it to. So why would I want to spend a band’s money sitting in a studio, at $500 a day or $1,000 a day to use one mic?” says Vrenna.

“And you just need a quiet space to do it in, without air conditioning hums and such. So, no matter how big the budget is, we do vocals at home, because you can and technology allows us to do that,” he adds.