Chris Hornbrook is a professional drummer whose works include Poison the Well, Senses Fail and recently Dhani Harrison. I had the opportunity to chat with Chris about his career.
How did you get started with drumming?
I grew up around it. My dad was a bass player so there was tons of music around the house. At about 7 I started playing guitar, it was cool but I just didn’t like it that much. I then messed around with other instruments like alto saxphone. Then when I was in 12 I had a friend that was selling a drumset and I just kind of messed around with it a bit and just fell in love. So I convinced my parents to cough up $200 to buy it for me. Then from there I just started learning as much as I could.
Since you were a fan of the 90s music scene in Seattle, and Dave Grohl being one of your inspirations, would you say you are a Nirvana fan?
Yea, Nirvana was kind of the band that did it for me. I think that’s common for people my age and hearing Nevermind was pretty cool for me. But I really fell in love with In Utero that was the record that I heard and was like “whoa what is this?” It was so dark and everything was live. Like Kurt Cobain’s guitar was a scratch track. I just really liked how it was all put together.
When did playing in bands start for you? Was there anything before Poison the Well?
There was. There was a punk band that I was in, and that was my first real band. Before that it was just jamming with kids from high school and friends. Then I joined Poison the Well in the end of 1997/1998 and I was in it until hiatus in 2009. But, yea I was with Poison the Well during most of their entire incarnation.
So then what was the timeline of bands since Poison the Well?
As Poison the Well, our old guitarist started a band so I did some session with him and recorded some stuff. Then after that I moved to California and started jamming with friends here but never got anything going. Then I met a guy that was doing the final pressing for a band called Big Black Delta. Just really great, well done electronic pop music and I did some touring with them. But when that cycle ended that’s when I started doing Senses Fail. But between then I did some odds and ends stuff here and there, but now from Senses Fail I went into playing for Dhani Harrison. But I’m still jumping back and forth from Sense Fail and Dhani Harrison, its just that Senses Fail isn’t doing stuff right now.
While working with Dhani Harrison, who has a different style than your previous work, how did you work with that change?
It was taking a lot of queues off of what he wanted. So he had programmed some stuff and then other people programmed some stuff and so it was a lot of layering. When he played me the tracks it was just learning what he wanted from me. There were 4 or 5 tracks going at the same time and as a human, I couldn’t do that…I only have 2 arms and 2 legs. So it was taking what he gave me and turning it into something I could play and still being what he wanted. It was more so, “What are you looking for?” Every band is different, some want it exactly how its written and some don’t mind if you add a bit of yourself into it.
Luckily for me he just lets me do what I want. Because he knows I’ll stay within the perimeters of the song. We would just kind of sit down and work on some stuff because it was just a matter of taking an electronic record and putting into a live setting, which I had a lot of experience doing.
How long did you have to prepare for this tour with Dhani Harrison?
We did a bunch of stuff leading up to this tour. So we had a few weeks of rehearsal to play around and get the songs to where we wanted them for those shows and then when we came back I had like a week off. Then we went back into rehearsals do so a radio show and we went back in and started preparing again. Then it was just some shows here and some time off. Until we came back and started preparing for this tour. So we have been in and out for the past 2 to 3 months. And each time we came back and tweaked some things and everyone in the rehearsal room would add something. And Dhani would be there and add some things and just kind of guide it a bit, but he trusts all of us.
What is in the future after this tour ends?
When this ends, there’s talk about some more stuff with Dhani and then there’s also talk about some stuff with Senses Fail. But, nothing is certain yet, its just all up in the air. So I will have some time off to just kind of recollect and handle some personal affairs. But its also one of those things where I’m always on my toes because I could get a call either Dhani or Senses Fail and so its like I’m starting to relax but not too much.
Do you think in the future you would continue jumping between projects or do you think you’ll stick with one group?
Ideally I would like to balance back and forth. But realistically it makes it difficult because sometimes conflicts come up where I have to choose one on priority. So in an ideal world I would stick with one band that could support be financially and keep me in a position where I’m happy and musically challenging. I don’t know how realistic that is because of the way the world works. So the realistic response is that I will be bouncing back and forth between a few things.
You’ve been staying in the same lane musically with your drumming. Is there a genre of music or artist that you would like to drum for?
Well that’s a tricky question. I don’t want to say that I’m closed off to the ideal of doing something else, but I’ve come to the realization that I’m a fan of songs. I like being a song crafter, I like being with people who have a story to tell. That is the most appealing thing to me. I don’t like jazz, it doesn’t appeal to me. Same with Latin, there are elements of those genres that I like and maybe one day will implement those but I like really great songs. Whether it be in a pop format or another, I just really like songs. Maybe that’s why I stayed in the lane I did because I like crafting songs. Like with Dhani its more of his scoring. Then you have elements of The Beatles, because of the obvious, but then it has the electronic element because he really likes a lot of electronics. So at the end of the day he writes really cool songs, and that’s what I like.
If you could pick any moment(s) throughout your career, what would be the ones that stick out to you?
Favorite moments would be first with Poison the Well, doing our first major label release. It was extremely exciting, we drove from Florida to California and tracked the record with people we respected and then went to Sweden to finish the record. And after that we jumped right into our first European tour. I just remember that entire time just being really exciting and just being on the edge of everything you imaged just manifesting.
Playing with Dhani is super cool. I was a big Beatles fan and a fan of his father’s. And just getting to know him as a dude and getting to know his music has been a really rad experience. You just see past what other people see, like I know him better and I know what makes him tick musically from spending hours with him in rehearsals.
Another one is playing with Big Black Delta. Even though they might not have much name recognition, but John is one of the most talented songwriters and musicians that I’ve had the pleasure of working with. So with being around him I feel like I absorbed new ways of approaching music and crafting music.
A lot of my highlights are with Poison the Well because it was a lot of firsts with me. Not saying that everything else diminishes, but the overall experience with Poison the Well is a highlight. They were most of my firsts that represented the accomplishments of what I wanted to do and dreamed of doing. That band led to everything else that I’ve done, it was the root of it all.
Looking back, what is something that you learned?
The biggest thing, and the general misconception, is that just because you get signed to a label, you automatically become rich. Some of them stick and some of them don’t, and you hear about the ones that stick and go on to have successful careers but you don’t hear about the ones that don’t. And with tours, yea you’re making money by playing to a bunch of people, but just like any other business there are operational costs. People just don’t realize the cost involved with doing it, and I was the same way. Some of it I learned from my dad and some of it I had to learn the hard way. But that was the biggest thing that I learned.
Chris Hornbrook is currently on tour with Dhani Harrison until the end of November.
You can find Chris on his social media sites linked below.
Photo by Josh Giroux