Chris Vrenna:
Confessions of an audio-addicted Tweaker

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Grammy-winning producer, drummer, engineer, remixer, songwriter and programmer Chris Vrenna has scored and remixed for film and video games, and 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.

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.

Chris 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.”

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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… Pro Tools… 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.

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“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.

Next page: The Record and Remixing U2

Chris Vrenna

1. Confessions of a Tweaker
2. The Record and Remixing U2
3. In the Studio with Pro Tools


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.

Continued on next page

Useful Links

Recent Vrenna Interviews
Tweaker of Sound

Nine Inch Nails

Power Mac G4

Pro Tools
Antares Filter
IK Multimedia’s Amplitube
IK Multimedia’s SampleTank
Arturia Moog
Cycling ’74 Pluggo
Native Instruments
Trilogy Atmosphere

Roland V-Synth

Mesa Boogie Triaxis
Microwave XT
Line6 Amp Farm
Line6 Bass Pod

Audio Interfaces
Apogee Rosetta


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