When two artistic souls collide, one can only hope the scattered pieces come together with no jagged edges. But sometimes, a little bit of mismatch can be just the spark that sets a group apart from the others.
When Allen Valenzuela and Vincent Czekus formed TRKRNR while in high school, a particularly edgy blend was born. Valenzuela, a self-declared “house-head,” and Czekcus, a multi-instrumentalist, originally came together over a shared interest in hip-hop culture and dance.
“The original idea was that TRKRNR was supposed to be this in-house production crew that was going to ‘run the track’ for musicians, artists, poets, spoken word art,” Valenzuela said during an interview with The Daily Californian.
Valenzuela and Czekus have now been producing and recording music as TRKRNR for four years, performing under the respective stage names Saul Vallens and Gyrefunk. The chemistry they’ve developed translates well into a shared musical intuition. “We’re friends first and foremost,” Valenzuela said, “so it’s fairly easy for him and I to just get in the lab and create.”
Their closeness inevitably keeps many inside references unknown to outside audiences; many people may be confused about how to even pronounce the vowelless title of the band in the first place. Valenzuela laughed when asked about the cryptic name.
“We were like, ‘Trackrunner, that sounds cool. Let’s make it even more harder for people.’ So we decided to take out all the vowels,” Valenzuela said. He jokingly blamed Czekus for the difficulty of pronunciation and cited “twerker” and “truck runner” as some of his favorite fan guesses of late.
At its core, Valenzuela said, the band is “totally Bay Area born and bred,” based in different Bay Area locations throughout the musicians’ careers. And Valenzuela said some of his earliest musical influences are closely tied to the Bay. “At the end of the day, some of my early memories of music (come from what) my dad and what my friends listen(ed) to,” he said. “A lot of that was these underground rap living legends in the Bay Area or projects in LA.”
In the past, the artists dabbled in what Valenzuela coined “Bay slap hyphy stuff.” The group’s newer songs, including “Stimulate” and “No Summer Days,” fit into a more chill, hang-out type of vibe.
“That energy that’s in our music, it comes from this thing that exists in the Bay, this really raw energy, always trying to be fresh,” Valenzuela said.
Another perk of being in the Bay Area as a musician? Artist collaboration. Valenzuela and Czekus try to take every opportunity they can to collaborate with local musicians. The fact that they live quite literally right next door to many helps with such endeavors.
“Our studio is an actual house that’s comprised of all artists and dancers,” Valenzuela said. “Any time we’re sort of in the studio, we get all this amazing feedback from people that are creating art on the daily.” By practicing material surrounded by a constant source of creative inspiration right at the end of a hallway, the duo is able to fuel its own artistic passion with seasoned guidance.
One artist the two have been working with lately is Daniel Meisenheimer of San Francisco-based group The Pendletons. Meisenheimer co-wrote and is featured on TRKRNR’s latest releases, which dropped in March: “Stimulate” and “No Summer Days.” Shot in Oakland, the music video that accompanies “No Summer Days” reinforces that these artists live and breathe the Bay Area arts scene — as well as the fact that Meisenheimer brings a jazzy twist to the band’s otherwise funky mix.
“As soon as I met these dudes, I just knew we were on the same wavelength,” said Meisenheimer, who also joined in on the interview. “Everything has just flowed, and that’s how you know when something is right,” he continued.
TRKRNR was originally conceived as an interdisciplinary project, combining music with other art forms, and the band has striven to remain true to this vision. Valenzuela and Czekus both practice dance and work closely with friends in the dance community on the choreography for many of their projects. In upcoming shows, the two hope to incorporate even more dance pieces into live shows to make space for a medium they’re passionate about.
“That was our vision from the get-go,” Valenzuela said. “Every time that we perform, we have our friends come in and do the movement piece. … Urban street style dancing is always going to be a part of our set production.”
In the end, Valenzuela and Czekus just want to have an impact on the world, whether through Valenzuela’s at-risk youth counseling, Czekus’ teaching kindergarten classes or the two making music together. “We’re like energy workers at the end of the day,” Valenzuela said. “We always feel like whenever we’re vibrating high, it’s almost like we’re invincible.”
For the rest of the year, the two are leaving negative self-reflection behind to focus on the heart of why they started TRKRNR while gearing up to finish a second studio album.
“I am learning how to shed these weird insecurities that have held me back,” Valenzuela said. “It’s just all rooted in love and positivity.”