Brian Tichy: Making the Most Out of Things

By Jeb Wright

Brain Tichy has made a nice living drumming for the best and biggest hard rock bands in the business.  He has either record with, or played live with, among others, Whitesnake, Slash’s Snake Pit, Lynch Mob, Ozzy Osbourne, Sass Jordan, Billy Idol, Derek Sherinian, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Gilby Clarke, Vinnie Moore, Zakk Wylde, Ace Frehley and Foreigner. 

He is making a name for himself by organizing and performing in a tribute’s to Led Zeppelin’s drummer John Bonham and is highly regarded as one of the best drummers in the business.  Why then, did this talented pounder of the skins walk away from Whitesnake to play guitar in a new band? 

Yes, the previous question did say ‘play guitar.’  Tichy not only is an amazing drummer, he can flat out play lead guitar…we are talking major riffage and soloing—this guy is good.  Hell, he should be…he has been hanging out with guys like Doug Aldrich, Reb Beach, Vinnie Moore and Zakk Wylde for years—not a bad way to pick up a few tips on how to play the six string. 

So, Tichy leaves Whitesnake and announces he has a new band with vocalist Sass Jordan called Something Unto Nothing, S.U.N. for short.  He recorded both drums and guitars on the album, but live will play guitar.  The music Sass and Brian have made is pure rock and roll heaven.  There are moments of Joplin, moments of Zeppelin and even moments of Crosby Stills & Nash.  These guys are all over the map, musically, but they do so without disrupting the flow of the album.  The music is good…damn good.  S.U.N. have a chance at making a big splash on the rock scene.  With proper management and exposure hard rock fans of the 1970’s and early to mid 1980’s are going to eat this band up.  S.U.N.’s debut is going to be on everyone’s Best of 2013 lists.

In the interview that follows, Tichy discusses writing the songs for the album in a shack, recording the album in his house, taking a spill on his bike and breaking his collarbone right as the band was getting ready to take off, recovering from the surgery needed to repair said broken bone and how he even quit a huge gig playing drums for Whiteanake to take a chance on S.U.N.

We also discuss his John Bonham tribute and some of his favorite classic rock epics.  This is a riveting interview with a man on a musician to take his new band to the next level and accomplish everything under the sun that he has ever dreamed of. 

Jeb: Did you and Sass Jordan really hole up in the country for two weeks and write the S.U.N. album?

Brian: Not in the country; I live in Canyon Country.  Right behind my house there is a bunch of mountains and canyons.  If you go walking up there, or mountain biking, like I do, then you will see, in this one section, an old abandoned cabin.  It is really a rundown shack.  I am sure there are kids on motorcycles cruising by, but they are not bothering anyone.  Besides, it’s just a rundown, abandon old shack. 

We decided to do this little experiment and go up there and see what happens.  We brought the acoustic guitars, some water, some wine, some beer and some food and just went up there to see what happens.  A lot of the ideas for the album came from there. 

Jeb: Where did you record the album?

Brian: We did the whole record at my house.  I have a house and I’m a drummer and I have a kid.  The house resembles a music store and a toy store exploded together—that is what my house looks like.  I have drums in my living room and I have a studio in my loft.  It is conducive to all things in my life. 

We wrote and recorded in my living room.  A lot of people have home studios, so that is not uncommon.  The difference is that I have, in my living room, where most people would have a couch, my drums and they are all mike’d up.  It’s cool.  I am a drummer; what am I going to do? Pay for a studio when I can get as good a sound in my living room?  My neighbors are all cool with it, as I am respectful; I’m not tracking at midnight. 

Jeb: You and Sass go back. 

Brian: I did drums on her Rats record in 1993.  It was a coming together through a mutual musician we knew named Stevie Salas.  He saw me play drums with Vinnie Moore and we kept in touch. One day he told me that he was playing in this Randy Rhoads tribute along with Stevie Stevens, Richie Kotzen, Sass and others. 

I grew up on Randy and I am a huge fan.  I cut my teeth on guitar trying to learn what he was playing on those records.  I would literally rewind and play, rewind and play, and try to figure out what he was doing; it was totally self-taught.

I flew out there from New Jersey and it was a great experience.  There was a point in the jam where I turned around and Dimebag Darrell was behind me and he was giving me a thumbs up. I was a huge Pantera fan, so that was awesome; this was back in 1993. The next day, I got asked to do a demo track for the Sass song “High Rode Easy.”  The demo track became the final drum track and the song became a single. 

We go clear back to then.  I did a Canadian run with her that summer before joining up with Zakk Wylde’s Pride and Glory.  We saw each other a little bit on tour, as Pride and Glory and Sass both opened for Aerosmtih in Europe.  We didn’t talk for a long time after that. Through the Internet, on MySpace, we connected years later.  I told her if she was ever in LA to get a hold of me as I had a studio in my house.  We did, and that’s what happened. 

Jeb:  What was the first song you wrote for S.U.N.?

Brian: ”Burned” was the very first song we wrote together.  I wanted to give Sass something that she could come out swinging with.  It had the big riff and a call and response kind of like “Black Dog,” “Spoonman” and “Still of the Night.”  Every song we wrote, but one, is on the record. 

Jeb: So the writing just flowed. Was this always a band effort or was it going to be a solo Sass album?

Brian: I told her to just stay at my house so we could just write and record all of the time.  As we continued to write, we realized that this was not just going to be songs for her next solo album. These were songs that had their own sound and we knew this should be a band. 

I had this epic idea for a song where we just wrote everything under the sun.  We, then, decided we should call the song “Sun” but, then, we thought it should be an acronym for “Sun.”  So it became “Something Unto Nothing.”  We, then, said we should just call the band that, as it is sort of vague and people can make what they want of it. 

That was all wrapped up around 2011 and then I went out with Whitesnake for the year.  In 2012, I had the year off of Whitesnake, so the main thing I did was to try to get S.U.N. rolling.  We got a record deal and the record is now out digitally and physically comes out the 12th of February.  We are good to go and we are getting great reviews. 

Jeb: This is almost a cliché description but it is a real record.

Brian: This realness factor is so uncommon.  We used no click tracks and no Auto-Tune.  It puts fear into people to do this in the studio.  We didn’t gate the drums and we didn’t sample anything.  If you want to do that, then that is cool.  There was even a time in the ‘80’s where I loved what Phil Collins did with his recorded drums.  He made it huge.  I love all of that stuff.  In the ‘90’s, it got more real sounding, to a certain extent, with Grunge.  Pearl Jam and Soundgarden did it well. 

I am a musician, so I care about this, but a lot of people, who are non-musicians, really don’t care.  They just want to jam along to a great song.  If the listener doesn’t care about the perfection of what we can do in the studio with cutting and pasting and Auto-Tune, then that says something.  If they dig and old Aerosmith, Zeppelin or Sabbath album just the same that they dig a new rock band, that is on the grid and using all of this stuff, then what’s the difference?  A secretary that is driving home doesn’t care if it is in perfect time. 

Does anyone care if the tempo to “Free Bird” is not even throughout the whole song?  No, of course not; then why do we do all of this perfection with the click track? What is the fear?  What is the problem? 

I became almost a slave to it when I started using ProTools.  When I listen to my favorite records of the day, then they are not like that.  Not even Steely Dan or Queen are like that.  If you get Steve Smith playing on a Journey ballad, then you can be damn sure it is near perfect, because he is one of the best drummers in the world.  It is perfect in the sense of time, but when you want to talk groove, like Steven Adler on Appetite for Destruction, it changes everything.  Who wants to hear that approached in the same way as a Steely Dan record?  I don’t need to hear Steven Alder playing to the click.  I need to hear him play with his personality and the way the music is moving him—that’s what is important.

Modern rock bands want to make everything perfect in the studio and that befuddles me because I just don’t get it.  These records are not going to be timeless.  They are not going to create anything like Zeppelin IV, Back in Black, Ghost in the Machine or Moving Pictures.  There will be great records, but they are not going to top these records.  Just listen to Keith Moon on Who’s Next.  Pete Townsend wrote the songs and the band took the songs and made it the Who. 

Jeb: A guy that does what you’re talking about, even though he is very technical, is Phil Ehart of Kansas. 

Brian: The track “Carry On Wayward Son” is amazing.  When I was a kid I would listen to the radio and wait for that part where Phil does this little skip in that song that was different than what he did the first time around.  I would wait for that part and then just put my fist in the air when it happened.  To me, that little skip, where Phil Ehart decided to go against the riff, is epic to me.  His drum sound is not Zeppelin or Hendrix…it is his own sound.  He has his own groove and his own sense of time.  He is amazing. 

I put “Carry On Wayward Son” among the Top 10 of epic songs to ever make rock radio.  Starting with “Free Bird” and “Stairway to Heaven” and then moving into “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  I might throw “More Than a Feeling” in there along with “Wont’ Get Fooled Again.”  I put “Carry On Wayward Son” in there too. 

Jeb: In addition, you also do the John Bonham drummer tribute.  You organized this huge one you just did at the NAMM show this year. 

Brian: John stamped his personality in his groove, his tone and his swing and feel.  He stamped it so hard on those records that everybody bows to him; nobody is ever going to bow bigger to any other drummer than John Bonham.  That is why we can do a tribute show to him and all these drummers say, “I want to play.” 

Jeb:  Did the idea just come to you?

Brian: I always have a bunch of ideas.  If you hang around Zakk Wylde, who is super successful, then you realize he is an idea man.  He has a non-stop flow of humor and ideas coming out of him.  I have ideas in the same way, but half of them are just goofy ideas that I say that I hope to do one day. 

The John Bonham tribute, however, seemed like an idea that was a win-win for everyone involved.  I didn’t think about how many man hours it would take to put that together.  I just thought about how much fun it would be to get all of my friends in a room and to make a jam out of it. 

It hit me when I was listening to "Bonzo's Montreux" off of Led Zeppelin’s Coda album.  I realized that I had been listening to this guy for 30 years.  At the time, it was the 30th anniversary of his death.  I am always talking to these drummer friends of mine about him and I thought it would be great to go somewhere and play all of our favorite songs. Then, it hit me that I should do this in a club, because people would want to see this, especially if you got name drummers from famous bands. 

I talked to Kenny Aronoff, Frankie Banali and some other of my good friends and they thought it was a great idea.  We talked to this promoter in town who was the catalyst to make it all happen.  He said, “That is a pretty good idea.  I have September 25th on hold at the Key Club.”  The club wanted us to get big names.  We ended up getting 18 drummers to show up and the entire Bonham family was there.  Jason Bonham closed the show.  The idea was cool and I kept it organized and the show was successful.  We did two more around 2011. 

I did it at the House of Blues last year on his birthday.  We called it Bonzo’s Birthday Bash.  I didn’t even realize that ‘bash’ was a party and that it has a double meaning when it comes to bashing a drum.  I said that to my partner afterwards, when it hit me.  I was like, “Dude, it is a bash like a party and it is bash like you do to a drum.”  He goes, “I have known that the whole time.”  It was really retarded of me. 

We did the one at NAMM this year, which my drum company Natal build a kit for me.  Natal is owned by Marshall.  Technically, for all those Bonzo purists out there, his paint spattered congas from the Royal Albert Hall DVD are from Natal. They were an English percussion company from the 1960’s and were used by Santana, Zeppelin and other bands. The owner of Marshall, Jim Marshall, is a drummer. He took the name and made those drums.  I joined up with those guys during the Whitesnake tour in 2011. I thought that they should make the drums for that show [The John Bonham Tribute], as it would get them some great exposure.  When you see it, and hear, it, then it sounds and looks great.  

This last one was the biggest one.  We could have sold out two nights.  Marshall/Natal sponsored the show and made it their show for NAMM, which was great.  It was opening night and it was the talk of NAMM.  We went for nearly five hours and had over 30 drummers and fifteen guests.  It is like an Ozzfest sized show that went on at NAMM.  The experience of the other shows prepared me for when we bumped it up a notch. 

Jeb: Going back to S.U.N., You play guitar in this band and you really play it well.  Why did you hide this from us?

Brian: If you are a drummer and you’re playing for all of these well known bands, then that is your thing. I’ve played guitar since high school.  I’ve learned from all of these great players that I have been with like Vinnie Moore, Zakk Wylde, Steve Stevens, Doug Aldrich and Reb Beach.  I love guitar and being around these guys is great.  There are a ton of guitar players who wish they had these experiences.  I learn about their tone and the way they hold their pick and the size strings they use… 

I used to have a band called Ball where I was the guitar player, but it never got going in the States.  I guess the fact that I am doing this in S.U.N. makes it interesting.  I am a drummer who plays guitar.  I remember in high school thinking that someday I would know how to improvise on guitar.  I was just barely playing blues scales and dreaming.  I’ve worked hard, but I’ve got a long way to go to play like I think I can play. 

Jake E. Lee jammed with S.U.N. I spent years trying to figure out his stuff growing up.  A couple of years ago, I was on tour with Lynch Mob.  We were backstage and I started doing this little lick that I came up with in high school.  George goes, “What is that?”  I said, “It’s just this little picking pattern.  You have to pull up and pick and it is pretty cool.”  He tried to do it, but he wasn’t doing the right thing.  He was like, “That is cool.  It looks simple, but there is a lot going on, as it has that delay like thing going on.” I remember thinking how interesting it was that a guitar hero of mine was asking me something.  I showed him a little pattern.  It was a polyrhythmic grouping.  It was like a drum grouping in fives.  It is not a natural thing to hear; you have to work on it. 

When I did the S.U.N. record, I listened to the guitars and it was pretty straightforward.  I said to Sass and our manger, “I want to put a guitar piece on there that shows I know how to play more than just basic guitar.”  I put this thing on it called “The Beginning of the End” and it was all based in this A Spanish harmonic minor scale.  I wanted to show that there are a lot of techniques on there.  I was a freak for [Joe] Satriani, [Steve] Via and [Eddie] Van Halen back in the day. I was 18 or 19 and was just going shredding crazy.  Yngwie [Malmsteen] came out and I had to learn how to sweep pick. 

Jeb:  You played in Whitesnake with guitarist Doug Aldrich.  He is one of my favorite players.  What is he like to play with?

Brian: Doug is awesome.  Before Doug and I were buds and I was in Whitesnake I was aware of him.  I watched his stuff on YouTube.  He has the whole big picture going on. 

Before I started touring with him I told him, “If I was going to call somebody up and start taking lessons from them, I would be taking lessons from you.”  He has a really defined technique.  He has great rhythm chops as well.  He works fast.  When you’re rehearsing something he jumps right into the groove.  We work really fast together.  That is why he has played with the greatest singers in rock.  He went from Ronnie James Dio to David Coverdale.

Doug has done great with Whitesnake. Doug has a lot of real estate in Whitesnake, but there are other sides to Doug.  I would like to see his Burning Rain band get more noticed.  He is much more than a hired gun; he is in his own world. I’ve heard him play some stuff that is out of the realm of what he his known for.  He has a big vocabulary on guitar.

Jeb:  I love the track he did with Derek Sherinian.

Brian: That is another cool world to jump into.  Derek is a keyboard dude, but he is the biggest fan of Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen.  He is a good friend of mine and we have done a lot of writing together.  We are talking to each other about doing some stuff together in the future. 

He is going to be playing on this song I am writing with S.U.N.  He doesn’t know he is going to be on it, but he is.  After we hang up I am going to go upstairs and continue working on Sass’ vocals for this song.  While she is here we are writing more stuff.  We write and record constantly. 

We have this song that we are in the middle of right now that is nine minutes long.  It’s called “Not a Good Day to Die.”  It contains all things that epic songs contain.  She is right in the middle of doing the vocals. 

I can’t wait for the second record.  We are going to open the second record with this song and we’re going to put this nine minute epic out to radio.  We are not going to sell a million records, but chances are, what we are, and what we are about, that we are going to make it.  Sherinian has got to put his keyboards on this song; wait till you hear it. 

Jeb: This band is so important to you that you gave up a hell of a gig playing drums for Whitesnake.

Brian: Whitesnake is going out all year starting in a couple of months.  It was a great experience to do the record and the tour.  Having 2012 off make me fend for myself, as Whitesnake was not working.  I knew they would start up the next year.  I could look at it a couple of ways...I could take care of myself until the machine started back up and they go back on tour.  What does that time represent in your life?  It is either going to be down time and I can stay home, but I’ve got to pay bills every month, so I’ve got to work.  At the same time, I am trying to get to another level of what I consider success.  I don’t consider that just waiting around to do sessions.  Every time I sit down at the drum kit I give 100% and try to play the best I have ever played in my life. 

I put all of 2012 into S.U.N. and then the call came from Whitesnake that they were going out on tour in 2013.  I looked at Sass and she was not just doing this because she was bored; she’s doing it because she is into it 100%.  Why am I going to stop something that we both easily believe in just to go on tour?  Why wouldn’t I just give this a chance?  If I went with Whitesnake then I would give Whitesnake 100% but Sass would go home thinking that I was not into this 100%.  She wouldn’t say that but I would think that.  If she did the album and then told me that she was going to go do these other tours then I would tell her I didn’t want to be in this band anymore.  It just made sense.  I want to do more than I’ve already done. 

You sit with David Coverdale for a year and you learn a lot.  You don’t get success like that because someone threw it in your lap.  You have a God given talent and you’re focused and you’re driven.  That’s David; he’s a bad ass.  If I looked at that and didn’t pick something up from him, then I should just be happy being a drummer.  I want to go to the next level. 

I want us to talk again when S.U.N. is getting to headline the Greek Theater, or Madison Square Garden.  Why would I want to do anything shorter than what my dreams are?  That would be a waste. 

Jeb: As all of this was going down you had a nasty accident and injury.  How did you come back so fast?

Brian: It was all because of the surgery.  They put a metal plate in there and when I came out it was an instant difference and it is all locked into place.  I can move my collarbone and there is no pain.  I was okay the week after.  It was all because of the surgery.  All I know is that I have a bunch of medical bills sitting around!  It did the trick.

I had to cancel my New Year’s Eve gig with the Moby Dick’s because of the accident and the press was like, “Oh, Whitesnake’s drummer had to cancel a gig and Frankie Banali had to replace him and three weeks later he is playing with S.U.N.”  It was probably confusing for people who don’t know how it goes.  Nothing was supposed to happen like that, but it just happened.  The injury just stopped me in my tracks, but it gave me a chance to go out and talk about the album. 

If I was a couple of miles further out and I had fallen and smashed my skull then who knows what would have happened.  It was pretty stupid.  I had a bad wipeout with a broken bone, but it could have been worse.  Any day, any one of us can wake up and get into an accident and we are done for.  It made me want to make the most out of things. To me, to make the most of it then I need to have a little bit of confidence to go farther than I already have.  This band is killer.  I have an opportunity with Sass, who is a lifer, and we are going to see what we can do with it.     

Jeb: Last one: Were you really in a band called Aluminum Jew? 

Brian: It is the most boring thing of anything I have ever done.  I will talk forever about stuff that I am passionate about, but this was nothing.  It was a cover band in New Jersey that somebody called me up and asked me to play with.  It was a long time ago.  That is what the promoter guy called it.  The people in band had nothing to do with the name.  Somebody threw it on Wikipedia.  I wish I could take it down.  I don’t even know what the name means.  It is a waste of my time to talk about.  If I would have had more balls I would have told the promoter to change the band name.  

Jeb: Okay, really, this is the last one: Does S.U.N. have a tour booked? What’s the plan? 

Brian: We are trying to get the record out and to do a lot of press.  We are trying to capitalize on all of these great reviews and get a tour together.  There are things going on right now that I can’t talk about because nothing is confirmed.  With a new band, every time something moves forward, then it increases the chance of things moving forward some more.  Every time a door opens up, then that increases the odds of another door opening up and getting us in a better place when a tour comes around. We just need exposure.  If it goes the way I think it is going to go, then it should keep moving up.  We’ve been doing this a long time, separately, and we are going to do it right; the best we can, as a band. 

Buy S.U.N. Here