RICHARD CHYCKI - Sound Decisions
November 21, 2007, 10 years ago
If you were a club rat in Toronto at the tail end of the ‘80s chances are pretty good you saw the band Winter Rose play live. You certainly would have heard of them; they were a major fixture on the hair band scene for close to two years in a nose-to-grindstone pursuit of recognition and the professional career that was supposed to come with it. The brainchild of guitarist Richard Chycki and fronted by vocalist James LaBrie, Winter Rose had a better-than-average shot at the big time. Little did the pair know when they started that they were destined for bigger and better things. LaBrie would sign on with New York prog-metal juggernaut Dream Theater in 1990 and rise to international fame in the space of only one album, the legendary Images And Words. He continues to be a respected vocalist the world over. Chycki, on the other hand, seemingly disappeared from the Canadian rock/metal scene following LaBrie’s departure (a move, it should be noted, he supported). He was anything but idle, however, having moved away from the stage and his guitar hero persona in favour of a career as a producer. In retrospect it was inevitable. It was also the best decision he could have made.“Recording has been a part of what I do since the beginning,” Chycki explains. “I recorded the first neighbourhood band I played guitar in when I was 14 years old. We paid an arm and leg to rent a beat-up Tascam 4 track reel-to-reel deck with a Tapco mixer to do overdubs and mixing. Very lo-fi, but it was a start. Throughout the Winter Rose era, my recording career was developing from my working with bands in various studios, so the recording side was already ramping up back then. I’ve always gotten a creative satisfaction from being behind the console, so it was a natural progression for me to stay behind the console. Simply being so busy in the studio put the band thing on the backburner.”
“Much of the work I did in the earlier days was paying dues with Canadiana,” he continues. “Jeff Healey, Kim Mitchell, Tom Cochrane, all the mideast Canadian staples of the day. I had some notables with movie soundtrack submissions earlier on, but Aerosmith would ultimately be my first real killer engineering gig where I scored a #1 radio hit in America, and I’ve never looked back!”
It’s worth noting the Aerosmith song Chycki is referring to - ‘Jaded’ from Just Push Play - was (with the exception of the # 1 ‘I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing’) the band’s highest peaking single in eleven years, since ‘Janie's Got A Gun’ hit #4 in 1990. The song went to #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart where it remained for 5 weeks, and #7 on the Billboard Hot 100. ‘Jaded’ was eventually ranked #47 on Billboard's year end charts.
Chycki’s body of work boasts productions with Rush, Mick Jagger, Sum 41 and Funeral For A Friend to name a few, but it’s much more diverse than what one might expect of a producer that made a name for himself working with guitar driven acts. He’s had no qualms about stepping out of the rock box, having worked with artists such as Seal, Pink, Sean Paul and P. Diddy. The question is, how did he end up in the studio with artists that have little or nothing to do with the rock end of the spectrum?“Much of my work is word of mouth via both artists and labels. I get a chunk of gig-related email via my official website, too (www.richardchycki.com). I guess the ‘Busiest Guy In Rock’ and ‘Canuck Lord-Alge’ quips that I’ve been labelled with have morphed into a good reputation of sorts (laughs). Anyone who has worked with me knows that I present lofty goals to my clients and I do exactly what I say I’m going to do because I was in a band and that’s what I would expect from a producer or mixer. With the sweeping changes in the music industry, bands and labels are getting smarter about their choices. They want the security of placing their project in trusted hands, so to speak, and I’m honored to be trusted in that way. Additionally, with more and more musicians being hands-on in the recording process, I’m at the end of the line waiting to mix it, essentially putting it all together and make it sound its best.”
“I mix a lot of rock but I enjoy mixing other styles too,” Chycki adds. “Lately I’ve been getting quite a few calls from the Christian rock community as well. As a matter of fact, I have a #1 song on the R+R Christian charts in America right now (‘Signature Of Divine’ by Needtobreathe). It’s an interesting challenge. But the building blocks of mixing actually stay relatively the same – good sound is good sound.”
Conversation turns to Chycki’s exploits at home in the rock and metal community. Earlier this year he took on two very different projects in terms of scope: legendary icons Rush and their new album Snakes & Arrows on one side, the debut album from up-and-coming all female act Scarlet Sins on the other.“I recorded and mixed Snakes & Arrows, Nick Raskulinecz produced it,” Chycki says of his latest Rush experience. “We both had a common goal to make a modern yet more vintage sounding Rush CD so it was a very complementary relationship. Nick’s an accomplished engineer in his own right having worked with the Foo Fighters, so I very much respect the trust he put in me. Regardless of which band I’m working with, I never feel like my gig is just a job. I’m not the weekend nightshift boy at 7-11 so I’m very grateful. But I will say that in between all the listening and meter watching, once in a while you look up and see Geddy riffing out and the thought crosses your mind – ‘Holy Fuck! I’m recording Rush!’”
Chycki’s involvent with Scarlet Sins album came as a surprise to many people given that – with all due respect to the ladies – the band is a small time unsigned act. He was hardly slumming it by any means, but when your discography boasts international million selling albums you certainly don’t have to take on smaller projects. On top of that, the girls have gone on record saying Chycki initially refused to work with them because he “hated” their original demo.“Anyone that hears the Sins CD can’t believe it’s a bunch of girls,” says Chycki, who is quite proud of the record. “That’s such a stereotype, isn’t it? Really, they’re simply a solid, energetic band with good songwriting. Given that they rock and don’t need to play the overt sex card at all. They’re an obvious marketing dream for a label with any A&R; foresight and that’s certainly reflected in the head-turning within the industry going on for them right now. For the record, I didn’t hate the material, the demo just didn’t sell me and I was in the middle of a Rush project at the time. I was asked to come down to their rehearsal space and listen to the band there. They sounded nothing like their demo and I could hear the potential much better in person. They were so freakin’ nervous … kinda funny really!”
“About working with indie bands, one of the things I didn’t have early in my career as a musician was a mentor. Having no roadmap and no access to proliferating technology like MySpace was quite a frustration back then. So, this is my way of giving back. I get personal gratification from taking good people with a quality band that has caught my attention, putting it together, kicking it up a bunch of notches and helping them knock the ball out of the park. It’s a karma thing.”
As many Dream Theater and Winter Rose fans know, Chycki and LaBrie reunited for LaBrie’s third solo album, Elements Of Persuasion, in 2005, with Chycki behind the board. It had been 15 years since Winter Rose, although the duo did release a Winter Rose album featuring their original recordings in 1997 by popular demand. It’s interesting to note, however, that LaBrie’s vocals on the ballad ‘Saved By Love’ sound much more refined compared to the rest of the songs on said album, almost as if they were recorded fresh for the release despite claims it features only the original tapes.
Chycki dismisses the suggestion: “Sorry dude, you’re hearing things. The ‘Saved By Love’ demo on the Winter Rose CD was recorded during the Winter Rose era. LaBrie has always had pipes. I used good gear to record the vocals way back so it stands the test of time well. The solo on there is the same one recorded in my apartment with the guitar amp buried in my closet surrounded by pillows and blankets so I didn’t piss off the neighbours; it didn’t work! The entire collection of Winter Rose demos on the CD was recorded in 1988 - 90 and were mixed in 1997 for the CD release. Working with James again (on EoP) was like wearing old shoes – comfortable, and in many ways we carried on from where we left off. We had a lot of laughs making EoP and I think the good spirits translated to the final product.”
And to clarify what has long been considered rumour by those not on the inside, Chycki did in fact work with ex-Skid Row vocalist Sebastian Bach prior to the birth of Winter Rose and Bach’s own rise to fame.“Winter Rose as a band began with me and LaBrie in 1988,” Chycki affirms. “However, I have some early songwriting demos that Baz sang on … one of the songs he sang for me in fact was ‘Saved By Love’, which I wrote even before I met him. I worked with Baz when he was a kid and he was a great singer then.”
One of Chycki’s early projects also included Toronto legends Slash Puppet. In an interview with BW&BK; earlier this year, former frontman Mif credited Chycki with saving the band’s self-titled debut EP. According to Mif the first producer on board “made it sound way too Bryan Adams; it wasn’t powerful at all. Rich remixed the whole thing, and made it what it is.” An EP, incidentally, that has sold for hundreds of dollars on eBay. Mif goes on to say he wouldn’t turn down the chance work with Chycki on his new rock project if the opportunity presented itself.
Chycki comments: “Dude! That was aaaaaaages ago! I think Mif is being a bit generous to think I saved the Slash Puppet album but I’m glad he’s still feeling good about it. I don’t recall hearing the original version but I do remember taking a more organic Brendan O’Brien-ish (Black Crowes, Soundgarden) approach for the CD mixes. Yeah, I read about Mif’s new project in BW&BK.; I haven’t heard from him since mixing the Slash Puppet CD way, way back so I don’t know anything more than what I’ve read.”
At present, Chycki is putting things such as breathing and sleeping on hold in the interest of several new projects. He’s also got a wish list in case anyone’s interested…“Breathing? Sleeping? What are those? (laughs) I’m currently working on a new Rush DVD as well as some remixes for a band on Atlantic Records called Skillet, and mixing some new tracks for Simple Plan. Tool is on my wish list. Metallica is on my wish list. Anything cool is on my wish list. I have a loooong list…”
Coming full circle, Chycki looks back at the early days with a sense of accomplishment and pride. There are no regrets, and there’s no unfinished guitar hero business even though he was a world class shredder in the making before he turned to full-time production work.“I always thought of myself as more of a songwriter in the day as opposed to a guitar hero, but thanks. In a word, no – I don’t miss the guitar hero thang as I never felt that I was one. I’d like to do some recording again; I definitely have the itch. Maybe I’ll team up with someone someday. It depends on my schedule and if there’s a demand for it. Recording sure won’t be any problem (laughs).”