The first indication I had that Tweaker was going to be a very cool project was a track called The Steel Box, on a drummer compilation called Flyin' Traps. My friend Melanie bought me a copy for my birthday in 1997, and Chris Vrenna's mix of electronic and acoustic drum sounds was by far the standout track. I would be following vague information in the coming years about Chris' emerging solo project, Tweaker. Anxious to hear more of the work of the guy who used to bang skins for Nine Inch Nails, I followed up on the remixes he did for Skinny Puppy and Greenday, but didn't hear much more about a solo project. It wasn't until more than three years later that I would finally hear evidence that the much delayed project may soon see the light of day. My friend (and one of the guys who helped me start the Hotline) Paul and I had made our way down to Washington DC to the Outer Circle movie theatre where we were meeting up with Evan Moore to catch Requiem for a Dream. Before the movie, Evan took us into his car and played an early copy of the Tweaker album for us. I knew upon hearing David Sylvian's unmistakable croon that this was the real deal, and after listening to a few tracks, I knew that when this album was released, it would most certainly have a permanent spot in my CD player. Just one year later, that would finally come to be.
The Attraction to All Things Uncertain, the debut album by Tweaker, is a smooth blend of electronic and traditional elements, with a depth to the music that satisfies the overly scrutinizing ear, without the aimless wandering that keeps so many other ecclectic albums from acheiving their potential. The guest vocals on Attraction are a great selection of fantastic vocalists, and the dynamic of the album works quite well, allowing the songs to range between hard rocking guitar licks washing over massive drums to resonant filter sweeps over old-school electro beats. It's no surprise how well the whole thing is put together, considering Mr Vrennas remixing and production credits read like a whos who in the music business. He's responsible for the remix of U2's Elevation that dominated the airwaves this past Summer. He worked with the Smashing Pumpkins on the Grammy award winning track The End is the Beginning Is the End. He's remixed tracks for Weezer, Nelly Furtado, Poe, and , David Bowie, and Xzibit (featuring Dre and Snoop Dogg)... just to name a few. He's produced albums for Cold, Jack Off Jill and Rasputina, and composed the original soundtrack for the PC game Alice, by American McGee (You know, the guy from id Software.)
To compliment the release of the CD, tweaker.net opened up a few days before the official release, and besides the wealth of links to Tweaker reviews and interviews, there's a well maintained message board where you can chat with other fans, as well as the Tweaker himself (and his friendly cohorts at Waxploitation). Coming soon to a club near you, we hope to see a Tweaker tour. If you haven't picked up a copy of Attraction, you should go out and give it a listen. It's damn good. Getting back to the point, Chris was kind enough to give us some of his time and do an interview. We tried to avoid questions that may have been asked in other interviews, because you can find those en masse at tweaker.net's news section, so hopefully this will be some unique information, exclusively for you Hotline readers!
Leviathant: Chris, you seem to get along quite well in the Tweaker forums, taking a good bit of time out during the mornings to write back to a good number of people. Of course this seems to thrill the community there to death :) Have you been chatting on the net for a while?
Tweaker: Not too much. I do use email and instant messenger quite a bit, and I had been posting on podboy.net every once in a while. Now that the official site is up, I have a place to have direct contact with fans.
Leviathant: One of the challenges of putting together heavily electronic music has always seemed to be getting someone with good pipes to sing. You've managed to assemble a fantastic selection of singers on TATATU. What brought you to decide on who appeared on this album?
Tweaker: I knew I wanted a certain style of singer...I was trying to tell a story, and wanted emotional singers. I also wanted to work with friends (Craig), and I got to work with one of my heroes (Sylvian.) There were other fantastic singers that I did do tracks with, but decided not to include on the CD just for mood and pacing reasons.
Leviathant: Aside from tracks you've already recorded with artists like Jonah Matranga and Xzibit, are there any vocalists you'd like the opportunity to work with in the future?
Tweaker: Jonah and Xzibit are 2 examples of the above question by the way...their tracks will come out as B-sides! There are lots of people I'd love to work with. It'll depend on how the second record shapes up mood wise.
Leviathant: With your heavy involvement in remixing quite an impressive list of bands, it seems quite natural that you're putting your own tracks through the remix machine. As this can often lead to more stuff than you can fit on a release, what plans (if any) might you have for putting out any of the stuff that may not make it to CD/Vinyl?
Tweaker: We'll be doing downloads from the site at some point, and possibly a remix album if we have enough tracks. I still love the art of remixing, and hope to have lots of remixes.
Leviathant: You've taken a pretty generous approach to putting your music up on the Net. Though Napster's not around anymore, a friend of mine who's a big Sylvian fan noted it strange that of all the tracks you'd put online, you put the one with David up. It's a fantastic track, but Sylvian fans are more obsessive-compuslive about collecting stuff than even NIN fans :b And releasing exclusive MP3 remixes to various sites online makes for a great fan scavenger hunt, but seems to be the kind of thing that would have a stereotypical industry exec crapping himself. What sort of philosophy do you have in regards to music and online distribution?
Tweaker: We got permission to do downloads of 'Linoleum.' I do believe that musicians should be paid for their art. Napster was stealing. There's no real debate about it to me. But...IF an artist chooses to do downloads (like I did) that is ok. We did it to promote Tweaker, and give people an opportunity to check out the music. I think it should be up to each artist how much of their music they want to give away.
Leviathant: The live show sounds like it's going to be pretty smooth. I've seen Autechre and Aphex Twin do the Laptop Show, Telefon Tel Aviv play most of their melodic stuff live but leave the rhythm again to laptops, but I'm anxious to see what you've got in store - especially since, unlike those guys, you've got songs with vocals + lyrics. Want to give a general idea of what you've got planned?
Tweaker: Well...it'll be me and 2 other guys, and the goal is to play or trigger as much of everything live as possible. I'm building a big dumb triggering drumset to pull it off. I'd rather the music sound different than the CD, but at least PERFORM it for people, not just hit 'play' on the DAT machine. As for the vocalists... yes, they will have to be played off tape, but there something special planned for that!
Leviathant: The last few bands you've played with live (from what I know of) have been pretty massive endeavors. Playing with the Smashing Pumpkins in 97 at the Grammies, and with Nine Inch Nails plenty of years before that. (Well, there was that gig with Scanner in 98, but I missed that! Argh :) I've always heard that it's more fun to play the clubs - are there any spots you're especially looking forward to performing at during your tour?s
Tweaker: Well, this will be my first tour as Tweaker, so I'm looking forward to all of it. We'll be playing clubs, but it'll be fun to build Tweaker from the ground up. I do love the closeness of clubs, and look forward to doing it again.
Leviathant: People have been comparing your record to Radiohead's Kid A; the comparison makes sense after some thinking, but I think there are differences in the production that set the two apart, when I listen to them. As far as producing this album went - do you spend a lot of time, erm, tweaking the tracks in a production environment such as ProTools (or Soundforge, or etc. etc.), or do you like to do most of the programming and twiddling live while laying the tracks down?
Tweaker: Well, first off, THANKS for the wonderful compliment of comparing Tweaker to Kid A. I do a bit of both, actually...I run beats, loops, etc through things and tweak as I lay it through ProTools. But I also do a lot afterward as well. It all depends on the track. I just sort of experiment as I go, and try not to repeat myself too often. The beauty of ProTools is that I can always go back to tracks and rework them.
WhitechapelMolly: When the Tweaker project was first completed under the ALMO label, there was a goal in mind. Upon signing to Six Degrees, you had time to think about things and ultimately the goal changed. How would you describe this goal?
Tweaker: Well...the goal was always the same. It's just that I had a concept that changed on ALMO. They wanted me to pursue a slightly different path with the record. I did that, but at the end, it wasn't exactly what I had set out to do. Six Degrees liked the original approach, and I had the time to go back and re-examine the tracks, which made a more concise record.
WhitechapelMolly: It's known that you're a fan of computer gaming. From working with various gaming companies and building relationships within- do you ever wish to get together with these guys and develop your own storyline with a soundtrack composed by you? The types of projects you work on are varied and maybe something like this is a possibility.
Tweaker: Thats a great idea! I love music for games. Maybe someday I'll do that, but for now just getting to create cool music for them is enough.
Leviathant: I've always enjoyed complex rhythm structures in music; With most of your tracks, you layer a lot of beats within a given songs palette, but you tend to keep to 3/4 and 4/4 time signatures. Within that timing you have really done some neat stuff (one of the big reasons I followed along with Tweaker news and with various remixes is because of the track you had on Flyin' Traps, I really had my head wrapped around that one). However, sometimes I love the really crazy odd-timing stuff one hears from Danny Carey on recent Tool albums. Do you like to fiddle around with unusual composition, arrangements, timing?
Tweaker: Sure...being a drummer, i worshipped Neil Peart and Rush, the kings of odd signatures. I will actually be bringing more of it into Tweaker as time goes by. It's a tricky thing to pull off odd time and make it flow naturally.
Leviathant: On your site, as we all heap praises about Microsize Boy, you called it one of your weirder tracks. I can't get enough of that one myself. While the whole album pretty much caters to my tastes, this one takes the cake. While I'm certainly glad you didn't make an all analogue + Vocoder record (visions of a crunchy daft punk!), what makes this track stand out as strange, to you? :)
Tweaker: I guess just the vocal on it. It was originally a full rock song with a guest singer named Ted Bruner of the band Colony. It almost had a Beatlesque harmony structure to it, so the drastic change of direction still makes me giggle...
WhitechapelMolly: You've had a hand at scoring, with American McGee's Alice. What about movie scores- is that also an area you'd like to explore? Are there any genres of film you're particularly interested in?
Tweaker: Movie scoring is something I've actually been working on getting into. I just did 4 scenes for the upcoming Rollerball remake. Given my musical style, I guess I love to do sci-fi/horror/suspense movies.
WhitechapelMolly: If we could paraphrase you for a moment-- You once said that remixing is equivilent to putting your fingerprint on the music. We don't believe that it is by mere coincidence that the Tweaker website sports a fingerprint and that some degree of mystery was left on the Forums as to whose print it was. Again I'd like to cite a previous interview where you expressed a desire to overcome the 'drummer guy who makes loud electronic distortions' label if such a thing ever existed. Is Tweaker your fingerprint- your statement- that this is the true Chris Vrenna?
It's one side of me. I wanted to explore certain emotions with Tweaker.
When I produce or remix, I get to use other sides and other skills. There's
also a happy side too, but I tend to save that for my wife!
Once again, if you haven't listened to anything from Chris' new album, check it out, and keep an eye on the Hotline for updates about Tweaker, including any future tour information. Remember, if you listen to Tweaker and like what you hear, be sure to pick up a copy of the album and support the talent behind the music. I mean, c'mon, these guys even send you a free sticker at their website! ;) We'd like to extend thanks to Chris and Jeff and everyone at Waxploitation for their time. Thanks to Commy and Soleh for all their work at podboy.net (among all the other great stuff they do!) and to Evan for letting me have a listen to that CD last year. And thanks to shader for the proofreading ;) For more information about Tweaker, visit the official website at Tweaker.net, and be sure to check out the various links contained within this article!
Coordination, layout and design by Leviathant. Interview by Leviathant and WhitechapelMolly. Original photography by WhitechapelMolly, inspired by Joe Sorren's painting, "Elliots Attraction to All Things Uncertain," as seen on the cover of the Tweaker album. Article ©2001 The NIN Hotline. Do not reproduce without permission.