The artist/ producer Christos DC (aka Christopher Vrenios) was born and in Washington, D.C. by parents who sang opera and taught voice professionally. He takes his name from his Greek heritage, using a nickname given to him by his grandmother to represent the lineage that set the tone of his musical path.
It was Christos’ deep appreciation for the sounds coming out of Kingston, Jamaica that led him to produce and record with legendary reggae artists Sly and Robbie, the Firehouse Crew, The Itals, Augustus Pablo, Sugar Minot and Don Carlos, the original lead singer from grammy winning group Black Uhuru. He also has co-written and recorded with the world-famous Thievery Corporation. He spent several years on the road as a guitarist and backup vocalist, performing in the United States and abroad.
In 2008, he released his first full album, Time to Rise, followed by his second release, Under the Sun which led him to create the D.C. based independent record label Honest Music. His last full-length album Long Road was released on Earth Day 2014, and received critical acclaim. The first single and video Just Talk To Me features Kenyatta Hill, son of icon Joseph Hill from the trio Culture. The summer hit of 2015, Righteous Chant, finds him reunited with Don Carlos. The song Heart Of Gold, a reggae rendition of The Neil Young classic song released in the latter part of last year and topped several charts in Amsterdam.
The latest single release ‘Speak The Fire’, from his new album entitled Tessera, is a collaboration with Zafayah, one of the best up and coming reggae artists from Bulgaria alongside The Skankin Monks, powerhouse band/ production unit from Amsterdam. “Love is the frequency of which the Creator works through one another,” Christos conveys. ” This is why I make honest music.”
Official Website: ChristosDC.com
IRIE. You were born and raised in Washington, D.C. to parents who sang opera and taught voice professionally. How did you get introduced to roots reggae music?
Christos. I grew up in a household where I was exposed to music at a very early age. My parents are both professional opera singers and also taught voice out of our home so music was a very big part of my upbringing. My father, Anatasios Vrenios was pretty well known in the late sixties and seventies. I discovered reggae music when I was very young. I believe I was 12 years old when I first discovered a radio show in Washington DC called “Night Of The Living Dread” hosted by Doctor Dread (Gary Himmelfarb), who founded RAS Records. By the age of 16 I was frequenting Jamaican record shops and started to grow my personal collection.
IRIE. You studied guitar at an early age, eventually learning to play by ear as you grew older. What inspired you to choose guitar as your instrument? Do you still have or remember your first guitar?
Christos. I started studying guitar around the age of 10 learning some basics at the time. When I became serious I begin to study by ear and would learn the records I was Listening to and this helped shape my ability to play reggae music. Unfortunately, I no longer have my first guitar as it was stolen from me but I have collected quite a few over the years.
IRIE. Who were some of your musical influences that helped shape your music?
Christos. Some of my early inspirations influenced my direction in music greatly. There are so many I could mention but just to name a few, groups like Steel Pulse, The Abyssinians to artists like Dennis Brown and Desmond Dekker. Outside of the Reggae genre I love so many styles but feel quite influenced by certain artists like Curtis Mayfield and Al Green and ranging to people like Neil Young and even groups like War. I’ve had an extensive vinyl collection for many years as I truly believe in supporting music that I love.
IRIE. How would you describe your sound?
Christos. Musically I would define my sound as having a strong foundation in roots reggae. There are elements of jazz, world music and even old school soul. I tried to add these things subtly however so it’s not obtrusive and this song keeps a consistent flow. I’ve been told by people that I sound a bit like Aaron Neville or Curtis Mayfield at times. I remember Don Carlos telling me as a complement years ago that I don’t sound like anyone else. That really boosted my confidence at the time in my pursuit to step out on my own.
IRIE. You started your music label, Honest Music DC, back in 1997. Together, with Darryl “Trane” Burke aka Darryl B, you have put out 5 albums, your most recent release being the DUB version of Tessera. How did you and Darryl B meet? What is the vision and mission behind Honest Music?
Christos. Initially I started honest music as a platform to release my own material. Darryl and I had crossed paths over the years in the reggae circuit. We decided to start working together a few years ago as we found we both share a common interest. It was very clear from the beginning that he and I work quite well together and it seems that since then the stars have lined up.
IRIE. In July of 2017, you released your fourth album, Tessera, which in Greek means ‘four’. We love this album! Tessera is every definition of what true roots reggae music should be. Where did you find the inspiration for the songs on Tessera?
Christos. I’m very thankful the response has been so positive for this album and thank you for the kind words. I believe each song has its own unique inspiration. I named the album Tessera because it’s my fourth full album and also the Number 4 resonates with the vibrations and energies of practicality and building solid foundations through discipline and hard work. Something I strive for in every aspect of life. The tune “What Is Happening” for instance was inspired by a song made up by a good friends 6 year-old son. He played me a recording of him singing it one day and I asked him if it was OK to create a reggae version. I basically took his Melody and composed the chords around it.
IRIE. Tessera features some serious players in the reggae industry including the Riddim Twins, Sly & Robbie; Akae Beka (Vaughn Benjamin of Midnite); Harrison Stafford (Groundation); Kenyatta Hill (Culture); Zafayah and The Skankin’ Monks. Can you share with us what it was like to bring these great artists together to work with you on Tessera?
Christos. I feel truly blessed to have worked with so many talented and legendary artists on this project. It was a great honor to be able to work with each and every one of them. It’s a beautiful thing to see that a common vision can be shared through people of different cultural backgrounds.
IRIE. Is there a track from ‘Tessera’ that resonates most with you? If so, why?
Christos. I resonate with each song individually in a different manner. I have to say it was a great feeling to bring new life to “The Desperate Ones” that was originally recorded by Nina Simone. The tune “Roloi Komboli (Watch Rosary)” was very unique for me as well as it’s really quite different from the classic Greek song. This was quite a challenge but made the work even more rewarding.
IRIE. What do you hope your fans or first-time listeners take with them after hearing Tessera or any of your previous albums?
Christos. I hope that listeners will gain an even greater appreciation for roots reggae when listening to this album but find the greatest compliment is when you actually touch someones Spirit or uplift them. This is truly an honor.
IRIE. Dub reggae has been on the airwaves of many sound systems lately. What is the inspiration behind producing your new album Tessera Dub?
Christos. Since a young age I’ve been a big fan of Dub. I used to buy these records and would bring them home and play guitar while listening to them experimenting with different effects. I feel this is a very important element in the Reggae genre and felt as if this record would sound great being dubbed. It is truly a blessing to have legends like Mad Professor, Sly & Robbie, Tippy I (I Grade), Dubfiles (Mellow Mood) and other wicked dub mixologists in one space. I’m very pleased with the result and truly thankful for their great contributions.
IRIE. This past summer we got to see your tour with your musical mentor and good friend, Don Carlos, as his supporting act. What does that say to you about your musical journey and where you are today as a respected Roots artist?
Christos. I was very fortunate to travel with Don Carlos over the summer as his opening act. I worked with him many years ago as a guitarist in his band and also recorded on a few of his albums. I am humbled to have come full circle now working with him as an artist of my own accord. It has been a long journey and I plan to continue my growth process down this path.
IRIE. We hear that you’re quite the chef? Could you share with us one of your signature dishes?
Christos. I have a very strict diet and have been cooking most of my life. I usually prepare dishes for every recording session or rehearsal and would be happy to share one of my favorites with you. I was taught how to make a dish many years ago by a friend from Ghana called Jollof rice. Since then I have adapted many versions of this but my current favorite I call Jamaican Jollof.
IRIE. Is there anything you would like to say or share with the Irie Magazine audience?
Christos. I would like to say to the audience out there that without your support we would not be able to continue this work. To the young and upcoming artists, continue to strive for growth along the way and always be true to who you are. Much love and respect to all of you at Irie magazine as well as your readers!