Interview: Efren Ramirez
Sat, 11 Apr 2009 18:30:31
Efren Ramirez Videos
Efren Ramirez is something of a modern renaissance man. Between lighting up the screen in films as diverse as Crank: High Voltage and Napoleon Dynamite, he also manages to DJ at the hottest clubs around the globe. Efren's been spinning behind the decks for a long time, even starting a nightlife entertainment company called Nocturnal Rampage, while he was still studying acting. The Los Angeles native invited ARTISTdirect.com into his home and he discussed creating music, returning from the dead for Crank: High Voltage and much more in this exclusive interview.
Given your packed acting schedule, do you still DJ often?
In between working on films, I do DJ all over the world. Before Napoleon Dynamite, one of my day jobs was working on the company I own, Nocturnal Rampage. My partners and I would throw a bunch of raves here in Los Angeles. It was a great way to make cash quick, and it was so much fun. I love the rave scene for a few reasons: one is because of the music, and two is because everyone can be his or her own individual self and not worry about what other people might think. You're just accepted for who you are and for the love of music.
How do you typically compose music?
I use Acid, Soundforge and ProTools. There, you can actually create your own music. You create the beats, the melodies and everything. I can deconstruct a Justin Timberlake song and remix it into something new. I mashed up Busta Rhymes and Missing Persons. When I'm mixing those two songs, it's a set mix, and I can add in 50 Cent with the beat of Nine Inch Nails. The melody is so right that it works.
Is it difficult to read the crowds that you're performing in front of and making mixes for?
You have to really know the music, for starters, to mix the songs correctly. The other part is to know the crowd because if the crowd doesn't like hip hop then you don't play hip hop. If you're in Miami at Club Mansion, you're going to play progressive house and tribal house, and they're going to dig into that. In Georgia or North Carolina, I put on "Sweet Home Alabama" because it mixes well with hip hop. However, I put the song on and everyone stopped dancing! I was like, "Just kidding!" I put back another hip hop song [Laughs]."
Is there a certain enjoyment in doing mash-ups?
It's always fun to do mash-ups when you know how to read the audience. You find the audience who really likes the music and who are moving and you ask, "Why do they like it?" Put on the music, try it out—you start with that and go with that. Being a master of ceremonies is like being a priest in a church. It's like being a rabbi at your own temple.
Looking around, there's DVDs everywhere. You're a real movie guy, huh?
I don't have basic cable hooked up to my T.V. People tell me I should. Maybe I should to watch some shows now. I have a whole collection of DVDs. I like to watch movies. I love to have the freedom that I can sit down and watch a Brando flick. Last night, I was watching Dead Man Walking with Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. I didn't realize it was Tim Robbins that not only directed it, but he wrote it as well. It reminds me that you have to work just as hard, if not harder, than they did. I have a lot of friends that are in the whole Hollywood scene. I want something more.
What is it about the Crank films that resonates with you?
The Crank films are different. The speed of Crank reminds me of Mad Max. Remember when that came out and how different that was? It opened up American eyes because there was so much space in that film. It was shot in Australia. There was so much land and such outlandish characters. It reminded me of Marlon Brando's film The Wild One because the characters are different and poignant. The characters in Crank are very different. In film, when you have stories that are driven by character, you totally become immersed in them. Whether it's action, horror, drama, comedy or sci-fi, in the end, if you have an audience member that says, "That was a wonderful film, that was so different," then you've done you're job. That was what I experienced when I read Crank or any of the other scripts I've worked on. They're quite an experience and a ride.
So you instantly fell in love with the franchise?
I fell in love with Crank because it's so different, and it has such wonderful characters. You have to take smart chances and intelligent risks. When I did Napoleon, it was something that I'd never done before. When I did Crank, it was something that I'd never done before. When they asked me to play my own twin brother for Crank 2, I was like, 'Are you fucking kidding me?' [Laughs]
Did your character in Crank 2, Venus, instantly appeal to you?
I liked that Venus could actually make a difference. In the film, the funny thing is nobody knows that Kaylo has a twin brother, so it's going to be much more of a surprise to a lot of people. I found him so similar to my own life. We also have our differences. Obviously, I'm not going to take a life [Laughs]. Venus doesn't give a f***. He lives in such a different world. Even though he lives in solitude, he and his brother come from dark places. When I did the first film, Kaylo was a civilian wanting to fit in that dark world. If a civilian can't handle that world, he dies. Venus is this character who knows what's up. He knows what he's doing. One is very passive, and one is very active. I started to look at it like my relationship with my twin brother. I have an identical twin. It's always important to be the vessel so you're able to best tell the story through the character's eyes.
“There's so much out there. If there's nothing out there, create it.”
It's a real "L.A." series.
Crank is a little piece of Los Angeles. It's one Crayola in that 64-color Crayola box. You only see one strand of it. Los Angeles is a combination of so many things. It's the melting pot. You can drive 20 minutes and see something totally different, from Beverly Hills to East L.A. to Malibu to Venice. In the Crank films, you see little pieces of what the underground L.A. scene is like. I don't think that's ever seen. When films portray Los Angeles, you either see the homies of East L.A. or the glamour of Beverly Hills. There's more than just that! I hope people show even more of Los Angeles in films.
How did you start DJ-ing?
I needed money, and I needed a job. I was working at an acting school teaching kids. I was teaching martial arts, and I was selling hospital things at a cubicle. My friends were computer geniuses, hardcore nerds. They introduced me to the Acid program, and I started to create house music. I wanted to create an electronic band. Our first CD was electro and the second was more ambient music. We went to the rave scene to sell our CDs. We made our money back, but we were like, "Could we get hired?" The more we DJ'ed, the more we got hired. We had Cabarave at a place called Orion on 7th and Spring. The Orion was badass. We did another called United, which we had DJ Vandell and DJ Irene. The last event we had was called Extravaganza, and we had a good five-thousand people there.
What was your initial aim, musically?
Ideally, I wanted to mix hard techno with new wave. Put those genres together, and you get electro-clash. It was a wonderful experience, you know everyone and everyone knows you. I was studying acting, and sometimes I'd have my Shakespeare book next to my turntables because I had to memorize my lines for the next day [Laughs]. The trick was to under-promise and over-deliver. We always did that. I enjoyed performing live.
Did things change after Napoleon?
When Napoleon Dynamite blew up, it changed everything. It seemed like overnight everyone treated me like a celebrity. That was cool, but it was strange for me because I had been their friend the week prior. Rather than moving thousands people, I was moving millions of people. I was given a lot of power."
Do you find similarities between DJ-ing and acting?
When you're DJ'ing, you're working and moving the crowd. You're living in the moment for what it is. I'm not going to play "Achey Breaky Heart" if I'm DJ'ing in Atlanta, Georgia. You feel the vibe. There's a certain kind of hip hop you can play there, like Ludacris or Wu-Tang Clan. I feel the vibe. Sometimes I do mash-ups. It's the same thing with a script. You need to find out what that world is and, once you find out what it is, you have to be able to deal with everything moment-to-moment. I like playing characters that are different because I think those voices need to be heard, as opposed to the typical homie or gangster since I'm a Latin guy. I'm always looking out for those other roles and those other stories that haven't been told yet. There's so much out there. If there's nothing out there, create it. Let me write it.