“I Always Seem to be Digging into the Shit”: An Interview with Chris Orrick

Ryan Meaney speaks with Chris Orrick about his name change, his new LP, 'Portraits,' and speaking up for the voiceless.
By    June 13, 2018

Chris Orrick has been dealing with his demons long before there was music to help explain them. The Michigan rapper has tried fervently to come to terms with his mental health and addictions over the course of three albums and two EPs full of spite and tongue-in-cheek cynicism towards the man he sees in the mirror. Released on Mello Music Group, Portraits sees Orrick attempting to make a connection between his innermost demons and finding where true happiness lies, but ultimately failing to do so.

Those familiar with Orrick’s music will see many of the same themes we have come to expect: depression, addiction, reconciling with his deceased mother, trying to find a place in the hip hop community—if there even is a place at all. He takes his listeners on a tour of where his depression coalesces, spaces as dingy and grainy as a dive bar stool to ones far more public and revealing like the supermarket. The listener is privy to not only how Orrick sees himself, but how others perceive him. The 30 year old ex-factory worker feels as though he is running out of time to make something of himself, and this sense of urgency drives Portraits to exciting and compelling heights.

It’s often difficult not to question ones own well being when listening to Orrick rap. You feel like you know Orrick incredibly well after listening to the innermost ruminations of his mind. It’s like asking a troubled friend how they are, and they simply respond with “alright.” You know that it isn’t true, but you take their word for it.

While some of the uncertainty and sarcasm remain, there is an underlying feeling of hope on Portraits. His words are friendly, often melancholy, but offer a tinge of optimism that makes you think everything might be alright. —Ryan Meaney

Because you are so open about your life and mental health through your music and social media, my first question is a simple one. How has life been for Chris Orrick since we last heard from him?

Chris Orrick: It’s been decent. We put out a deluxe version of Day Drunk and added some songs to it, but the last thing people have heard was probably Instinctive Drowning. But I’ve been pretty good. Same shit, I’ve been feeling a little better since that record. I turned 30 in December, so it’s been crossing that threshold of meaningless age but also having a lot of meaning attached to it. I’ve been good.

One major thing that changed for you was your moniker. How did this change, and the controversy surrounding it, change you as an artist?

Chris Orrick: Honestly, not that much. I haven’t really given a shit about the name in a long time. I picked that name when I was eighteen, and The Matrix had come out a lot earlier than that. had been in a band before and I was in between names and I was thinking about going by Chris Orrick, but for whatever reason I was uncomfortable going by my real name on stage. I went by Red Pill based on the idea of going on the path less traveled, but honestly I haven’t given the change much thought.

The producer on my last record, Ill Poetic, told me around the time I changed my name that I was probably the only one who could pull off the name Red Pill because it was pretty corny [laughs]. But honestly, the artistic change hasn’t been that drastic because it just felt like the right thing to do. People know me and know my politics and I just didn’t want anyone to question the type of person I am based on the name.

I have heard the new record Portraits described as Look What This World Did To Us from an older, wiser perspective. Do you think this is true? How have your views on the themes of that first record changed over time?

Chris Orrick: I think to an extent, yes. Sonically, Portraits is much more aligned with Look What This World Did To Us than the last record, more of a jazzy and boom-bap style, a little dustier and stripped down. As far as the themes go, I’m still a drinker, I still deal with depression, it’s a lot of the same. I’m still pretty broke, still with the same girlfriend, but I think it’s different in the sense of working full time for a boss versus now working part time for my dad and having that freedom to pursue music more easily.

The way I end the new record is with the song “What Happens Next” and on LWTWDTU I have the track “10 Year Party,” and the line that most people gravitated towards was “I’d rather live for ten years the way I want/than seventy for someone else.” Getting a little older you think, “Sure, from 25-35 I can make this work and scrape by on bills,” but at some point you have to ask yourself, ‘What happens next?’ I know I’m not going to be millionaire rich from music, but at some point I need to really be thinking about my future. Did I fuck my credit up pursuing this rap career, do I want a kid, and can I buy a house someday? It’s looking at it from an adult perspective and asking what it all really means and for how much longer can it go on.

You went from working with one producer on Instinctive Drowning to a bunch of different producers on Portraits. How did that change the sound or direction of this new record?

Chris Orrick: In my solo work, I’ve done it twice where I’ve worked with one producer. The first was The Kick, which I did with Hir-O, the second being Instinctive Drowning with Ill Poetic. It’s just totally different, but there are good qualities and bad qualities with both.

With one producer, cohesiveness is way easier because they have an idea of what tracks to send. With Ill Poetic, there are ten tracks on the record and he sent me eleven beats. We were building it 100% brick by brick, knowing exactly where everything was going to fit.

When it is multiple producers, I am doing most of the building myself trying to find beats and producers that will fit with what I am envisioning. I will usually start off with a couple beats from people I know and grow from there. Like on the second track from Portraits (“Stories”), I knew I needed a very particular sound of something light hearted, and I sent out on Twitter exactly what I was looking for and the beat I got back was just perfect. Like I said, there are good things and bad things about both, but I liked on Portraits being able to delegate the vision for the record.

You are very vocal on social media regarding your views on our country’s politics and general shortcomings. Do you think expressing yourself in this way helps or harms your mental health?

Chris Orrick: Honestly, I’m not sure. If you could chart when I’m mostly Tweeting, it’s probably between nine o’clock and midnight, which is when I’ve already started drinking. So most of it I end up deleting because I’ll see all of the notifications and I realize I need to put my phone down [laughs].

There’s this kind of cathartic value to ranting into the void, but there’s certainly also this embarrassment with it. Even if you mean every word of it, it can still be taken out of context. The biggest problem is that half of the shit people say they wouldn’t say in a public setting.

I had a moment recently, and it’s not just the Kanye West shit that’s currently going on, but there is so much information and I’m not sure what our society is going to do about the free flow of information, whether it is false or true. It is something philosophically we are going to have to deal with. You can’t just say whatever the fuck you want, because people will buy it. And I don’t know if it is a free speech issue or an education issue, but the Internet was really good for a while and then something broke.

How has our devolving political landscape affected you as a person, both mentally and musically?

Chris Orrick: During the 2016 election I didn’t like myself, I didn’t like the people I was seeing online. If you were paying attention, there was this sort of PTSD with this election with people experiencing an extremely vitriolic election for the first time through social media.

As far as music goes, it begs artistry to tackle things a little deeper. You look back at the ’90s as this glowing time in American history, and one of the most popular bands in the world is Rage Against The Machine, who’s totally political. And of course hindsight is going to make things look a little better, but it seems like now people are either really diving into this shit or looking for a way to escape it. For me, I always seem to be digging into the shit, and I wonder if there are any trends where music becomes more political depending on what is going on in the country.

Switching gears a bit, I know that you are a true Michigan State alum and fan so I wanted to get your take on the recent scandals that have rocked the university. Did these come as a shock to you or are you more disillusioned with all of the other general badness that seems to be engulfing us?

Chris Orrick: As a Michigan State graduate, it is completely horrible. With Larry Nasser, you are probably looking at the most prolific sexual assaulter in recent history who was protected in such a horrible and disgusting way. Hearing about it is embarrassing, no doubt about it. I’m proud of my school and proud of my education and it was a horrible thing, but I’m also concerned with how they are handling the day-to-day. It seems like everyday there is some new bullshit. The school board, the president, the board of trustees just keep fucking it up. It’s so simple: you have the worst sexual abuser in history, you condemn him, and you clean house with the board and anyone associated with him.

These people are rich, man, and I don’t feel an ounce of sadness if you lose your job. If you fuck up in this moment, it is so easy to just condemn it and do the right fucking thing. If there is any evidence that these football or basketball coaches had any wrongdoing, they should be gone immediately. You have people at Penn State or Baylor who back up these coaches despite these horrible things they do. If people were hurt, there should be punishment no matter who it is.

It’s funny you mention that sort of “us vs. them” mentality. It reminds of the song on the new record, “Jealous of the Sun,” and the common people going against the rich elite.

Chris Orrick: We have to draw a line in the sand at some point. If you want to put it in perspective with the local ideas of the Michigan State stuff, you have the sensible people who know that this shit is fucked up. You have the football fans who are going to ride or die with these coaches and teams no matter, which is truly messed up. Then you have people on the opposite end of the spectrum who almost are looking for something to be wrong so that they can shut the programs down completely and just say fuck the school. Then you have everyone in the middle who think, “this is horrible, this has nothing to do with sports, we have to figure this out so we can fight against these pieces of shit.” You want to love people and care about people, but there are things that you just can’t tolerate anymore.

Do you find when you create and release a project as personal and self aware as Portraits that it is a cathartic experience or is it more draining for you?

Chris Orrick: It totally depends. The thing is, these are the thoughts I am having all the time, so in a sense it is good to put it on paper and hear it back. But it definitely doesn’t cure anything. When I am writing about my mom, like on the Portraits song “Mom” or the self-titled track on Instinctive Drowning, those songs can be difficult to listen back to. Eleven years out it is more heartbreaking to me to think about what could have been different than the actual event, so it totally depends on the song and what the subject matter is to how I’ll react to it.

It has been awhile, but are you planning on touring behind the new record?

Chris Orrick: I really hope so. The last time I toured was with Murs, and it was a funny thing because I hadn’t done a full out U.S. tour before. I got to tour with someone I really look up to and I ended up going for about two months in 2015. I had a tour lined up the next spring that fell through, a tour the next fall that fell through, and then I put out Instinctive Drowning and the commercial success wasn’t as good as I thought it would be.

I didn’t really want to think about music after that because the business side starts to look like shit and then you start questioning yourself and your artistry. So I’d really like to tour behind the record. This feels like a very “test the waters” type of situation, and I’d hate to talk about a new project while I’m promoting this one but I’m also starting to work on new music. Just trying to make sure that over the next year I’m putting myself back in the good graces of my fans and trying to not have expectations of myself and just make music that I really love.

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