Brian Tichy talks to LRI about Whitesnake, KISS and following his rock guitar passion with S.U.N. !!
Brian Tichy has spent a career building up a resume that has made him a modern day drumming legend with artists like Billy Idol, Slash, Foreigner and most recently, Whitesnake. He turned the speed bag into a musical instrument and has been mentioned by pretty much everyone I’ve interviewed from Zakk Wylde to George Lynch as one of the best in the biz but dropped a few jaws not too long ago when he announced he was quitting Whitesnake to focus on playing guitar and making music with his band S.U.N (featuring Sass Jordan on vocals). It’s a gutsy move to turn down the type of living Brian could make playing with legends but it speaks volumes about his passion for creating music, a passion that dates all the way back to his days at Berklee College of Music in the late 80s. I recently had a chance to talk to Brian, who was typically high energy and excited about all that is going on with Something Unto Nothing (S.U.N.). Read on….
Legendary Rock Interviews: Hi Brian, thanks for calling. I am digging Something Unto Nothing a lot, this video for “I’m the One” and your lead guitar break sounds like total Jimmy Page.
Brian Tichy: (laughs) Well, thanks man. Jimmy is my all-time favorite, number one guitar player on the planet so there will definitely always be some of his influence in my playing. That particular solo I remember I was trying to play a little harmony guitar part together and halfway through the solo I stopped and said “Oh, I don’t really know how to put this part together or finish this part so I’ll just start again and do another part” and then I never bothered to finish it, so it just sort of stops and starts again midway through it. It’s kinda funny.
LRI: A lot of people have heard about how you conceived and wrote a lot of this material by going out into a shack in the middle of nowhere and just beginning out of nothing. Did that free-rolling, open minded 70’s approach follow into the studio sessions as well?
Brian: Yeah, you just get away from everything because if you’re not away from it all you are just checking your emails and texting and getting phone calls and all that becomes a normal part of your writing environment. If you can find a way outside of all that and literally go into the canyons and find a shack and bring food and water and just hang out and play you are not gonna be thinking the same. Any environment is different, go sit in the middle of the city and try and write a song or sit on a mountain or the beach, each place you are gonna get a different experience writing and whatever you feel at the moment combined with where you are is going to lend something different to the end result as opposed to just sitting in the normal recording studio trying to write. It was just an interesting thing to do because we could, why not, do it because you can.
LRI: Some of that Led Zep vibe comes from your guitar sound and drum sounds. It has a really warm tube amp 70s sound that carries over throughout the record and combined with Sass and her vocals almost makes it sound like it was recorded in the analog era.
Brian: Cool, it’s not, it’s totally digital but it’s got the feel of that because the drums were recorded real organically and it just takes advantage of compression and EQ of a wide open loud drumset in a big room. That’s really all that is though. That’s the foundation of the the sound of the record right there and then after that it’s just putting a mic in front of a Marshall, the vocal mike and the bass being miked up sometimes and direct other times. Everything is just right in your face and direct but the ambiance of the drums is what gives it that sound you’re speaking about. You don’t hear that on rock records these days, I’m not saying no one does it but most of your current modern rock radio records follow kind of a formula that is not really conducive to what a drumset sounds like anywhere. If you take any of those drumsets in a room and listen to them versus the record you will be like “That doesn’t sound like the record” because the record has been modified and changed so much with triggers and samples and beat detected where they make everything line up perfectly. It kind of makes the end result stale.
LRI: Aside from someone like Kenny Wayne Shepherd no one gets radio play with organic sounding stuff it seems, at least not out here in the midwest sticks.
Brian: Right, everyone wants everything the loudest and compressed the heaviest and look, I love volume probably more than anybody, I love it and I love compression but when it gets to the next level it actually starts to make it sound smaller. The overall sound tends to shrink a little bit. When you listen at first it’s like “Oh wow, that’s loud and big and powerful” but if you actually listen to the sounds your getting they’re actually much smaller than the sounds that Hendrix and The Doors were getting back in the day. They’re putting so much stuff on top of stuff that you’re forgetting what the true sound of the instrument is.
LRI: I’m a huge KISS fan and the sound that Eddie Kramer got on “Rock and Roll Over” to me is what everyone should aspire to (laughs). That whole “studio capture” of a big live sound that they got….
Brian: I’m a hardcore old KISS fan like up to….well, okay I probably went past where I should’ve probably (laughs) but I was way into them, they were my first band and I know pretty much all that stuff up to Creatures of The Night or Lick It Up but they really kept it together through “Love Gun” and I love that stuff. “Destroyer” was a great album but the drums are just soaked in reverb and it’s not the same as that sound on “Rock and Roll Over”. On “Rock and Roll Over” Peter Criss’s snare is just popping out and his toms are killer, that’s Peter Criss to me, “Rock and Roll Over” and “Love Gun”.
LRI: Speaking of KISS, one of the first times I noticed you musically was one your cover of “Rip It Out” on the Ace Frehley Tribute album. Was that one of your earliest recordings?
Brian: Yeah, technically that was my first time ever in a totally pro studio playing and singing. That was my first time ever singing aside from some demos for my band that I was working on. I just went in there and got it goin and knocked it out in like 8 hours and did the solo and the vocals. I LOVE “Rip It Out” that’s my favorite Ace Frehley song and as a kid that 78 solo record just made a huge impression on me. I got Ace’s record first and the other three just didn’t compare. Paul’s was cool, in a KISS way, there’s some really cool stuff, Gene’s was a little quirky and Peter’s was really old school rock and roll and mellow with the ballads and all that Ace’s record just flat out rocks. Top to bottom, it KILLS. I love it.
LRI: When you announced leaving Whitesnake it was kind of surprising to everyone but now between everyone hearing your album with S.U.N. and Tommy returning to Whitesnake it seems like everything has a positive bent to it. Did the transition play out as well as you would have hoped?
Brian: Yeah, I just made a decision to not go on tour this year, for a bunch of reasons but mainly because I believe so much in this band. I think that if we give ourselves a fair shot there could very well be a time where we’re the headlining band I’m calling the shots in my own band and that’s my career and that’s S.U.N. I believe in this that much. I have NO idea how far it will go but I don’t care, I just know that I’m trying to get there. David deserves 100% from everyone in Whitesnake and I gave 100% while I was there. Still, there comes a time where you have to decide what you’re going to do and a year is a pretty big chunk of your life. A year can go by and be a chunk of your life that you don’t get back. It’s already March, what are you gonna make of your year? I know what I have to try and do this year but I still have to work and earn money. I’m not just gonna sit back and say, “Oh, I think I’m gonna do my new band this year” and take my time and that’s it. I don’t just have some inheritance or publishing or savings plan where I’m just sitting around chilling. I’ve gotta work and I know that because I’ve already done this, I’ve already been in this position where I could stay with a Foreigner or a Billy Idol or you could maybe take yourself out of that position to see what new things open up, for whatever reason. This time though, I have a really good reason because I have something that’s happening right now with my partner in the band, Sass and she is 100% in too, this is all she wants to do. So what am I going to do go “Oh, okay I’ll talk to you next year Sass, when I get off the road with Whitesnake”, she’ll be like “Ok, great thanks”. We already did that but I didn’t know when I joined up with Whitesnake that I would have a full record that I fully believed in with Sass, that just happened a few months before the Whitesnake tour.
LRI: Still, it’s pretty cool to be a part of that Whitesnake drummer lineage….
Brian: Oh yeah, Are you kidding me?? That was a huge thing for me to sit there and follow in the footsteps of my idols guys like Ian Paice, Cozy Powell, Ansley Dunbar and Tommy Aldridge, are you kidding me??!! Paice had me with Deep Purple, “Made In Japan” and “Machine Head” and I bought the “Slide It In” cassette when I was 15 and EVERYBODY knows Tommy really from the Blizzard of Ozz and the 1987 tour. I am psyched that Tommy Aldridge is back in Whitesnake because he is one of my idols and I grew up listening to him and he is a huge influence on me and my playing. So like I wrote in my announcement about leaving, Whitesnake is going to move and go on without me, when I was there I would give 110% but when I’m not there the band doesn’t stop. Comon, it’s WHITESNAKE!! You’re gonna have a million drummers that want that gig, a hundred GREAT drummers and I thought Tommy should get back in there if he was available and David wanted to pursue that it makes perfect sense to me. I’m psyched, the fans are psyched and everyone pretty much agreed that was the way to go so that is great! I thought that was probably what was going to happen with Tommy so that works out for the best. However, I do not want Tommy Stewart to rejoin Godsmack (laughs).
LRI: A lot of people hate giving a well known musician room to play other instruments like Eddie Van Halen on keyboards or Zakk Wylde on the piano. They get stuck in seeing them in that one static position. Have you experienced any of that from people who are big fans of your drumming?
Brian: I’ve always, always played guitar. I’ve always been a drummer that loved guitar and I’ve never “not played”. Guys like Zakk Wylde and Slash and Joe Holmes, Steve Stevens, Stevie Salas, Doug Aldrich and these guys are some of the best players in the world and I’ve been fortunate enough to hang around as a drummer learning from them and picking up stuff like picking techniques, finger techniques and tone and how they work while I’m doing it myself I was learning from them and it’s like a constant thing. I think for someone to give a guy like Eddie or Zakk crap is just one track mindedness and insanity from guitarheads who don’t see the bigger picture of anything you’re doing, you’re not there just to play guitar, you’re there to play MUSIC. If you wanna play guitar and guitar only and sit in your basement and shred scales all day go for it but you’re gonna be the only one listening to yourself. Zakk is a MOTHERFUCKER, Zakk is a BADASS because he will get up onstage with anyone on the planet and throw down just as hard whether it’s the biggest star in the world or just a club musician and shred and then he’ll sit down at the piano and then he’ll play some banjo. Has anyone ever watched the guy chickenpick on guitar, he is INSANE. We all know he’s got his pinch harmonics down which is something I still struggle with but the dude has a wide variety of tastes and just loves music. You’re not going to be able to top a Zakk Wylde on guitar in terms of raw talent but that is the tip of the iceberg, he sings, he plays all these instruments. Someone complaining about playing multiple instruments has to realize they sound like a 14 year old punk in their basement (laughs). That’s like senseless, that’s like only liking punk rock. That’s like only thinking it’s 1977 and you only like the Sex Pistols, it’s like “Seriously????, that’s how far your mind has expanded? I don’t even wanna talk to you if that’s all your getting out of music (laughs). I guess that’s good, I guess we need people like you in order to balance out the others, thank you” (laughs). I want to prove that I can play guitar and write music, I don’t know. I’ve always played guitar like I am playing it right now, I’ve always worked on technique and every time I play guitar I get better, I just have to work at it and keep doing it. The baddest cats in the music world can play multiple instruments, Prince, Phil Collins. Phil Collins is an amazing drummer and an amazing singer but he’ll sit on the piano too, Don Henley too. I have a few goals and one of them ties to Zakk and one to Tom Gimbel who plays everything but is known for playing in Foreigner. Tom is one of the most musically versatile dudes on the planet, he plays sax, flute and rhythm guitar in Foreigner but he also solos, he can sing backup, can sing lead. He used to play keyboards and sax in Aerosmith in the early 90s plus he can sit down and track drums and has all of these vintage Ludwigs. He is a total FREAK in the musical sense. I’ve seen Tom while on tour with Foreigner just sit down at a bar and play Beatles and Pink Floyd and Elton John and just hold the bar spellbound and I’m thinking “I wanna be THAT guy”. He’s like really, really happy and everybody loves him and he’s playing all these killer songs and it’s fun! Same thing with Zakk, dude can just sit at a bar and hold everyone captive watching him sit and play on the piano, all these classic, classic songs. It’s awesome and it’s the same dude that gets up there looking like some mountain man freak and shredding on guitar can sit down and play you some classic smooth Eagles and Neil Young and Beatles on Piano. Who would have a problem with that and ONLY want him to play metal guitar?? Thats crazy.
LRI: Besides you and Sass up front you have put together a killer rhythm section in Michael Devin on bass (Whitesnake) and Tommy Stewart (ex-Godsmack) on drums….how does that work with Michael as far as live shows and touring?
Brian: When Sass and I started S.U.N, Michael who is a real good bud of mine from Whitesnake was just hanging around us and I was like “Man, you should come up and throw down some bass for us” so he did, he just hung out and played bass on stuff and co-wrote some stuff. I had told him “Hey dude, this is like a brand new thing but if it becomes something, you’re a part of it to whatever level or extent you want”. At that point we were both in Whitesnake together and now, he’s staying in Whitesnake and that’s totally cool, I get it. This is my band that he’s a part of , he’s on the record, he co-wrote and his picture’s on the record. As far as live shows, we want him to be in this band but hey, his choice is to be in Whitesnake and he never left Whitesnake so…
LRI: Who do you have in mind for live shows or joining the band on a permanent basis?
Brian: Well, who do I have in mind? (laughs). John Paul Jones would be pretty good choice wouldn’t he? (laughs hard). If he can’t do it maybe we will get Gene Simmons or Paul McCartney….I don’t know (laughs). I know a lot of awesome bass players and they are great, great friends, it’s just a matter of seeing who’s available to do what. I have a couple guys I have talked to but it’s all about who can do what and how much and who’s available and all that. We’re not ready to go out without a bass player (laughs).
LRI: Sass has been doing her thing as a solo artist for so long but it is nice to really hear her front a true rock band.
Brian: Sass needs to be part of a band, she WANTS to be part of a band, she’s awesome on her own don’t get me wrong but put her in front of a band and it’s another story. Everyone knows her as Sass Jordan and that’s awesome, we’ve talked about this before, her voice is a big voice, put it in front of a big sounding band and you complete that whole picture. I met her in 93 when I played on her “RATS” record and it’s a great record with a ton of great writing she did with Stevie Salas, just a ton of great stuff and a really good team and songwriting partnership there but I think we’re going even farther. I think the spectrum in S.U.N. is even wider, I don’t know why, I’ve never even thought about it other than to say it just rocks but I’m not gonna get all Meshuggah with her even though I love Meshuggah and she and I connect on so many levels and styles but still make it all sound like a BAND. A band sounds like a band when you can put a record on and not hear ten different sounds and variations, when it just sounds like a BAND. Like when you put on Van Halen 1, it sounds like a band, not a bunch of bands, ONE band, Van Halen. Same thing with AC/DC, Pantera, and on and on, it’s unified. The vocalist is one piece of the pie of the greater band pie so to speak
LRI: I cannot believe the size of your vocalist’s testicles. She sounds incredible on this album but the other thing that really stands out is the sound of the background and harmony vocals. I mean, it’s a different type of music than Crosby, Stills and Nash but it has that quality of harmony. Are those you and Sass singing together?
Brian: Oh cool! Actually it’s mostly her, she harmonizes GREAT with herself and some of it is also Michael Devin and myself. It’s mostly her though. When she is in there recording and knocking out vocals, including harmonies, it is pretty effortless for her.
LRI: You do know that this album and songs like “Mobile Again” and “Nomad” are so strong that they really evoke the image and sound of a band that NEEDS to be slugging it out on the road. Did you collaborate on lyrics, were they influenced by a lifetime of touring?
Brian: Most of the lyrics are hers, they were ideas she brought to the room and we’d listen to it. That’s her world but sometimes we would talk about the flow of things here and there or what something might mean. Sass definitely loves touring and she loves traveling and being on the road playing her music for sure. Being on the road and playing your music is your life. You know when you leave your family and your home life that you’re going to miss them but at the same time you know that you’re not going out there to go on vacation. You’re going out there to work it and bring your music to the people. We are just fortunate that we love what we do and when we get the right opportunity it will be fantastic to get S.U.N. out there and push this to the masses. I am all about it. We are working on lining that up right now but in the meantime you can find the album everywhere including iTunes, I really hope everyone gets a chance to check it out.