By Nicole Hanratty
November 14, 2012
Chris Rene, X Factor alum, released his debut album, “I’m Right Here,” October 2nd on Syco/Epic Records on the heels of celebrating a year of sobriety in April. The work Chris did on “I’m Right Here” represents his most significant accomplishment in music. The hip hop sensation co-wrote most of the songs on the new album recorded this past year in Los Angeles with a dream team of producers that includes Claude Kelly (Akon, Britney Spears, Bruno Mars), Chuck Harmony (Ne-Yo, Rihanna, Mary J. Blige), Supa Dups (Eminem, John Legend), Christian Rich (Pharrell, NERD, Lupe Fiasco), and Soulshock (Usher, Bruno Mars).
“Recording this album has been magic,” Chris says. “This is what I’ve always wanted to do! I am now truly living a dream.”
Nicole: How are you?
Chris: Life is good. Life is beautiful.
Nicole: Good. You’re in Santa Cruz now or are you traveling?
Chris: I’m in Santa Cruz and Los Angeles. Right now I’m in Los Angeles.
Nicole: I went to college at UC Santa Cruz.
Chris: Oh, you went to UCSC… huh?
Nicole: I did! I loved watching the “Young Homie” video because it just felt like home seeing Capitola and Soquel.
Chris: Yeah… that’s right!
Nicole: So, tell me why it was important to you to film your first music video in your hometown.
Chris: It’s very, very important because that way I could get the rawness and just the essence of where I’m from and to represent my town, Santa Cruz, and all my people, all my friends that were in it, just made them a part of it. It was like a family thing.
Nicole: The people that we saw in the video were friends and family of yours?
Watch Chris Rene “Young Homie” Hit Music Video
Nicole: The love life tattoo you have, I know that’s a big theme of yours and it was on the skateboard and the train tracks and I know you have the campaign. I’m wondering, can you tell me what you love most about life?
Chris: Me? Damn, that’s a crazy question. What do I love most about life? (laughs) I’d say opportunities and moments, sharing moments and opportunities to make music.
Nicole: I know you’ve talked about your musical influences ranging from Mozart to Led Zeppelin, which, I find the most impressive thing about you…your diversity. You’ve said that music-wise you “love anything that’s got that crazy passion.”
Nicole: Can you tell me what you’re most passionate about?
Chris: I’m most passionate about music and creating.
Nicole: What things inspire your music?
Chris: Let’s see, I’m not sure… I just get the feeling, basically with music. The motivation is the feeling of having music make you feel good. Usually it has to deal with living and experiences. It’s a big feeling though, for real. That’s the inspiration.
Nicole: I know you were ten weeks sober when you stepped onto the stage to perform at your audition for X Factor which was really a brave thing to do and I’m wondering what positive tools you’ve incorporated into your life to help through situations like that where, maybe in the past you would have used alcohol or drugs to help calm nerves or get through an uncomfortable situation. What do you think you grasp onto now?
Chris: Now I just grasp onto my program. Read my book and do what alcoholics do when they are in recovery, work the steps and call my sponsor.
Nicole: I know it’s a challenge.
Chris: It is a challenge, yeah, everyday; a challenge, dude.
Nicole: In the “Young Homie” song that you wrote–and one of the lines that I like the most–“open up your eyes and look around.” I wonder what that was like for you and what you saw when you were first really sober and opened up your eyes.
Chris: I just started to see things differently. I started looking at things more positive and had more hope. That’s what it was like.
Nicole: There’s a photo I saw of you in New York that I think you posted via your Facebook. You’re sort of standing there and behind you, it looks like maybe you’re in Times Square. You’re album is all up in lights. What was that like for you?
Chris: Yeah, that was a great moment for me to be in Times Square and to be up there on that thing. I mean it was amazing. It’s a crazy, crazy feeling.
Nicole: The “Trouble” song I know was written by Alex Lambert and it’s a little less hip hop…
Nicole: It almost has a sort of like a reggae pop feel to it.
Watch Chris Rene “Trouble” on YouTube Music Videos
Nicole: Your “Chains” song is definitely more of a pop rock. So your album definitely shows some versatility and I’m wondering, for you, once you’ve been labeled hip hop or rap–or in general for musicians, as well–is it difficult to parlay into other genres?
Chris: For me, no. They put me in these genres and to me it doesn’t matter. I’m going to make awesome music. That’s my genre, awesomeness.
Chris: (laughs) You know? I don’t know, being in the studio and working on the album with producers, I really mastered this album. I really know what I want to do now. I was kind of like not really knowing, trying to just do what was given to me. But now I know more of what to do. Now I can take the bull by the horns and show people my true passion. It’s crazy. It’s a trip.
Nicole: I think my favorite song on “I’m Right Here” is “Tidal Wave” which, leave it to me to fall in love with the bonus track.
Chris: Dope. That’s more me, right there than anything.
Nicole: Is it really?
Nicole: I love the melody. I love the honesty in the lyrics.
Nicole: I think somewhere in there you say, “I want to put my program first because I’d be dead without it.”
Nicole: And “sometimes I ask myself am I really staying honest…”
Nicole: You talk about “I used to hit meetings everyday. Now, it’s once a week…”
Chris: Yep! (laughs)
Nicole: (laughs) “and I’m swimming on a tidal wave trying not to sink.”
Chris: That’s real.
Nicole: Yeah. That feeling of swimming through a tidal wave. I think that’s something that’s highly relatable for people struggling with challenges in their life and I’m wondering how you personally keep yourself from sinking?
Chris: For me it’s just like one day at a time. It’s just practicing principles, being honest with myself, that’s the main thing and being honest and kind to others. When it’s really hard, I don’t know you just—I just–keep paddling, basically, metaphorically speaking. Just keep doing the next right thing and doing what’s in front of me, you know?
Nicole: Mm-hmm. Is it challenging when you’re traveling to catch meetings and stay working your program?
Chris: Yeah. It’s hard because of the times. There are interviews and then there’s concerts and stuff like that. It’s hard to go to meetings and work on the book and stuff. It’s been a struggle for sure.
Nicole: I know one of your lines is, “everything I lost comes back again.” Can you sort of tell me what it felt like when you started to get back everything you lost?
Chris: Oh my God, tears, just in tears. When you lose everything and then you you get it back? It’s… oh man, it’s pretty crazy. Not everybody’s felt that so it’s a unique feeling to have.
Nicole: Who would you say is the one person that you met as a result of your audition that’s most affected your life in a positive way?
Chris: I’d say Claude Kelly and L.A. Reid.
Nicole: Who’s the one person you would still like most to meet?
Chris: Someone I’d like to meet?
Chris: I’d like to meet Outkast.
Nicole: I think I read you’re a fan of their music, that they’ve influenced you. Is that right?
Chris: Oh yeah, definitely.
Nicole: You’re a dad, too, right?
Chris: Oh yeah.
Nicole: You’re a role model now for the kids who are looking up to you and you’ve done so much. I’ve read you’ve sold hundreds of thousands of singles, you’ve been on the Ellen Show, your YouTube videos have been viewed more than forty million times. And with all that success, I’m wondering how does Chris stay this guy…just a normal guy with his head on straight?
Chris: That’s just what I do. Everything’s still the same. Just love for music, you know? That’s what it’s all about. I’m just a guy who loves music.
Nicole: So it’s just that easy to stay grounded?
Chris: It seems like it.
Chris: I don’t know. (laughing) Yeah, it gets exciting. Everyone has an ego and stuff but I just try to keep my eyes on the prize and just keep moving forward.
Nicole: The team of producers you worked with for “I’m Right Here” was sort of like a dream team. How did you choose who you wanted to work with to put that EP together?
Chris: Basically, the label kind of chose them. They’re like here, go work with this guy and see what happens. That’s really what happened and I went and worked with different producers and that was it. I didn’t know that I could fit people into stuff like that, but after, now I do. You know what I mean? I was stoked to have worked with all those cats.
Nicole: What’s on your playlist now? What’s the most recent album you’ve downloaded?
Chris: I’ve got Yelawolf on there, Too Short. New artists, not really so much. Yeah. Al Green, oldies, old good music. Dope music.
Nicole: Al Green’s my favorite.
Chris: Mm-hmm (affirmative). He’s the shit.
Nicole: Yep. Okay, just something fun for your fans. Tell me, what’s your favorite place to take a date?
Chris: (laughs and consults with his friend) What do you think about that?
Nicole: Are you getting help from the crowd? (laughing)
Chris: Walk on the beach… Hang out… Go to dinner… See a movie… Walk on the beach at night. Boom.
Nicole: What’s your favorite way to spend your day off if you ever get one?
Chris: Chillax and do nothing.
Nicole: (laughing) When you’re out traveling on the road which fast food restaurant is your go-to spot?
Chris: Jack In The Box.
Nicole: That’s mine, too!
Nicole: Okay, what is your all-time favorite movie?
Chris: Lord of the Rings.
Nicole: Okay, here’s a harder one…. If you had to pick one song title, any song, to describe your personality, what would it be?
Chris: Oh no. I don’t know?
Nicole: I’ll give you a minute…
[Life of a Rock Star™ is betting he means the Gnarls Barkley song.]
Nicole: I always ask artists which charities are close to their heart and I saw online that you’re involved with the Santa Cruz organization, Grind Out Hunger, and that you set a goal to raise $50,000 which translates into 200,000 meals. Can you tell me a little bit about your involvement with that charity and the organization and why it’s important to you?
Chris: Definitely. I’m a hunger fighter for Grind Out Hunger and what we do is we’ll get people meals that don’t have them and feed families and just by sending a tweet out or something I’m able to do that. It’s amazing. I love the organization. They’ve just built a skate park / art / music place the kids can come to after school and it’s a safe place to hang out. So, it’s super cool.
Donate to GRIND OUT HUNGER charity here
Nicole: That’s great. Is there anything new coming out in 2013 we have to look forward to?
Chris: Oh yeah, definitely. A new single’s coming out, some new songs no one’s heard yet and some crazy projects in the works right now. …We got a book coming out, too. That will be pretty detailed. It’s going to be trippy.
Nicole: What’s it about?
Chris: Basically it’s about me getting in a car crash and going to the hospital and then making the decision to go to rehab. Then, it flashes backs on different moments of my life when I was doing crazy stuff.
Nicole: Oh, that’s going to be a great book!
Chris: In the moment, as you’re reading it, I’m doing good stuff, but I’m flashing back into all the crazy stuff. I’m like, wow, I’m in this moment, changing my life, looking back at how crazy I made things. It’s gnarly.
Nicole: I’m looking forward to reading it.
Nicole: I’m so appreciative of your time today.
Chris: Thank you!
CHRIS RENE SUPPORTS CHARITY:
GRIND OUT HUNGER