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An Evolving Artist - Singer Becomes Filmmaker Interview with Peaches Chrenko

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I love seeing creative people continuing to find new ways to express themselves. This is the case with Peaches Chrenko, who began her artistic journey through music: singing, songwriting, and composing. Finding success singing professionally, and working with some incredible people, she now uses all of her talents to tell stories.

Finding Reallusion's iClone software to break into digital storytelling, Peaches already has two short films to her credit and is hard at work on much more. And if that's not enough, she also scores films for others. I recently had the chance to talk to Peaches about her work, both past and present. Singer, songwriter, musician, composer, producer, vocal coach and filmmaker - this is Peaches.


Peaches Chrenko

Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Where are you from and when did you realize your passion for music, singing, songwriting?

My dad was military, so I was an Air Force 'brat' born in Biloxi, Mississippi - Kessler Air Force Base. We moved every 3 years. By age 16, I had lived in Florida, California, England, Montana, Germany, New York and Arizona, and had been to 11 schools.

My mom tells me at 18 months I was already trying to play actual chords on the piano, so my parents started my piano lessons at age 7. In addition to my lessons, which were classical, my parents bought me lots of Top 40 PopHits sheet music for fun. Frustrated that Pop sheet music was often inaccurate to what I heard on the radio, I taught myself to play by ear so I was learning to read music and play by ear at the same time. I did not know this was a skill until years later. I remember the moment it occurred to me that I could make up my own melodies. I was 9, so I started writing music. My father surprised me at age 12 by copyrighting/registering 3 of my songs.

When did you get involved in digital art and filmmaking, and what drew you to it? Did you view it as a logical next step - an extension of your songwriting?

I kind of stumbled onto it. In 2010, I found a site online that allowed you to create little animations and I started playing around with it. I kept trying to make it do more complex scenarios. Then it hit me that I really wanted to tell stories, and that animation could be a realistic way for me to do it, so I began researching to see what was out there. In the beginning, I was not interested in combining my music with animation. I just wanted to tell stories. Later, I decided I should at least do my own scores. Then, as my animation skills increased, I started seeing the limitless possibilities for all of my music, both vocal and instrumental.


Still from "Rock Of Ages"

What software are you using in your filmmaking and audio recording?

My first films, Rock Of Ages and Cognitive Dis, released in 2015, were made with iClone 5 pro. I am now using iClone 6 for my upcoming releases. My recording software is Cubase 6.5.

Who or what inspires you to create?

Oh goodness ... my experiences, my beliefs, other singers and musicians, both good and bad. I learn from everyone. I create because I have to challenge myself to see what I'm capable of. I don't believe in limits whereas human potential is concerned. Limits are boring and often only exist in the mind. Creating for me is very spiritual. I have to create. The 'process' drives me crazy at times, but it also keeps me sane. Beyond this, I believe it's my 'calling' or 'purpose,' if you will, to inspire others.


Still from "Cognitive Dis"

What do you enjoy doing outside of creating?

Watching movies, spending time and eating with my sons, my mom and dad, yardwork. ... I'm a simple girl, lol.

As a musician, what instruments do you play, and have you had any formal training?

Piano, rhythm guitar, electric bass and a little ukelele. If I have access to an instrument, I'll learn it. No real formal training, outside of the piano lessons. Other than a few music theory type classes at a local college years ago, I am largely self-taught in terms of playing instruments, songwriting, scoring, and playing by ear. I'm also a piano instructor. I've taught beginning and intermediate piano for over 40 years.


Peaches' home studio

You did a fantastic job scoring the music for the short film "Hard Requitals." Can you tell us what is involved in scoring music for film?

Well, thank you. This is the first time I've ever scored a live action film, though I've wanted to and have prepared for it since I was 12.

After I received the raw footage for Hard Requitals, the producer and director told me which scenes they wanted music for, then they gave me musical references for certain scenes. Some scenes they wanted a classical flavor and some, like the park conversation, they wanted horror in the form of evil, disturbing sound effects. The opening theme and credits they left up to me. After those discussions, I began the process of watching and living with the footage. Then, I started translating emotions into music; feeling which chords, melodies and instruments would best support or enhance each scene.


"Hard Requitals"

How did you get involved in the project? Are there any other films you may be involved in coming up, aside from your own projects?

Kinte Fergerson, the producer, asked me to score the film. I have been asked to score 2 live action films since Hard Requitals' release, but there have been no details discussed yet. I am working to get my music into TV/Film/ Commercials with the help of a connection I have.


Peaches with Seth Riggs "Vocal Coach to the Stars"

How long have you been singing professionally, and what would you consider highlights of your singing career?

Omg. Can it be 39 years since I left home at 17 and started singing for my supper? Yikes, lol!

Some highlights for me would be:

*My voice featured at Superbowl XVI halftime Motown Tribute singing "Dancing In the Street."

*Meeting & working with Vocal Coach to the Stars, "Seth Riggs" who was vocal coach to Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Natalie Cole, Josh Groban, Barbara Streisand, etc, etc. I credit Seth for my ever increasing vocal range and stamina. Seth introduced me to one of his top instructors, Tom McKinney, Beyonce's vocal coach at the time. Tom taught me so much vocally.

*Meeting Elton John, Smokey Robinson, Martin Sheen, Tom "Tiny" Lister, Michael McDonald and Billy Preston, Marla Maples, Tiffany Trump, John Noble and so many others, including Natalie Cole who said to me, "Girl, Seth Riggs will take care of your voice!"

*Hanging out at Chaka Kahn's recording studio VERTEX RECORDS with her little sister Tammy and co-writing and singing with Chaka's (at the time) brother-in-law Howard McCrary, grammy nominated for The California Raisins. Howard is the best musician/singer I've ever worked with. Back then, amongst other things, he would often conduct for the Jimmy Kimmel show band when they needed a sub.

*My TV appearance on NBC UNIVERSAL's sitcom "COMMITMENT." After this TV appearance, I received a letter from the Screen Actors Guild (S.A.G.) inviting me to join and become a member. This appearance made me S.A.G. eligible for life.


Martin Sheen and Peaches

Your very own first film project "Rock of Ages" is an interesting one in the horror genre. What can you tell us about its creation?

When I wrote the song in 2005, I had very specific visuals for it in my head. Black and white, gothy type singer in a theater singing about being abandoned to an audience of evil creatures that were going to eventually overtake her. I know it's weird, but I couldn't get away from this vision, even though I had no idea how I could pull it off since, at the time, I knew nothing about animation, 3D, or making films. And I certainly had no idea there was such a thing as animation software.


"Rock Of Ages"

I really love the "Rock of Ages" song you wrote. I especially love the part, two minutes in, where you added the additional vocal. What can you tell us about the song and composition?

Just for fun playing around with my voice and a string patch one day, I started picturing a woman crying out to God for help in her despair. Not in a religious way, just a human afraid and in pain. The words and melody just poured out. I wrote it in maybe 20 minutes, then hid the song for 10 years. Then I found iClone.

Rock Of Ages, the song and the film represent the heartbreak and abandonment I experienced when my marriage failed and I found myself raising 3 sons alone. It was a very dark, painful and fearful time for me. That this hardship had fallen on me at the hands of someone I thought would protect me was the hardest thing to believe and accept. The zombies and creatures, the church dialogue between my characters, Drake and Driscilla, reflect this time.

Your second film, "Cognitive Dis," is very different. I love the concept. What led you to create it?

I created HipHop beats for my oldest son who does conscientious Rap and I suggested that he name one of them Cognitive Dis. He and I have discussed cognitive dissonance a lot over the years. He chose a different title, but I couldn't get it out of my mind. I started seeing a story concept I could animate using the track I'd written for him as the score. I believe we all experience cognitive dissonance at times, whether we're conscious of it or not, and I believe it affects certain decisions we make. I really wanted to relay this in a non-preachy, entertaining and heartfelt way.


"Cognitive Dis"

What is your workflow like when creating films? Are there any tips you could provide, whether on the software or the process?

I'm still figuring out my process, being so new to both animation and filmmaking, so I'm probably not the best one for tech tips. Lots of good tutorials available for iClone, the software I use, and I watch everything I can get my hands on. And, like I've always done with music, I study and analyze 'the greats' in detail. I love excellence. I also analyze specifically why something looks or sounds amateurish.

What is your proudest achievement so far?

On a personal level, I'd say raising 3 little humans by myself who are good, smart, caring people who thankfully still like talking and hanging out with their old mom, even though they are grown men now :).
Professionally, I'd have to say my 9 year LA experience, wherein I vocally and musically learned a lot and somehow gained the respect of people I never even thought I would meet, let alone work with. There were hard times, but it was a confidence booster for me.


Peaches with Billy Preston

What goals might you have for the future? Is there anything you'd like to do that you haven't already?

Oh yes, definitely! To make films & music BETTER and FASTER than I have been, lol. Would love to sing my song Rock of Ages with a real orchestra, travel, with my sons, my mom and my dad, buy a house, write a song for a major artist, score a major film...

I noticed you are also a vocal coach. Do you still do this, and do you specialize in any certain area?

Yes, I am still a vocal coach. I do private and group voice lessons in person and on Skype. As far as 'specializing,' all aspects of the voice are connected, therefore, I have to address the whole voice. Breath control, pitch, expanding the high and low range, placement, vibrato, straining, vocal fatigue, stage fright, stress of daily life, diet ... each affects the other. Everyone has some issue in mind when they come to me, which is our focal point, but we achieve results by addressing the voice as a whole.


Still from the upcoming "PeachStreet 5"

Can you tell us about your next film project, "PeachStreet 5"?

"PeachStreet 5" is kind of a throwback to the old 'street corner acapella 5-part harmony singing groups,' but using covers of today's popular music, mixed with old school and original music I write just for this series. Each member of the group has a distinct personality and vocal range, but in actuality, I am singing all 5 parts. I'm hoping to help bridge the generational music gap on both sides. The premier episode features an acapella cover of Aretha Franklin's "I Say A Little Prayer For You" and Arianna Grande's "The Way."


I want to thank Peaches for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions. Be sure to look for much more to come from Peaches, including the exciting "PeachStreet 5," and a horror short entitled "Hallie."

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