Brian Tichy isn’t a drummer you instinctively think about by name when recounting your “best of” list, yet he’s been the backbone behind so many of your hard rock and metal favorites. Having played with artists as diverse as Zakk Wylde’s Pride & Glory, Billy Idol, Ozzy Osbourne, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Foreigner, Whitesnake, Geoff Tate’s Queensryche, Lynch Mob, Seether, and Tooth & Nail (just to name a few), Tichy is obviously one of the busy go-to guys on a short list of in-demand touring and studio drummers.
What many people may not realize, though, is that as great a drummer Tichy is, he is an equally great guitar player as well. You’ll hear those chops all over the debut CD from his current rock band, S.U.N. (Something Unto Nothing), which also features Sass Jordan on vocals and Whitesnake’s bassist, Michael Devin.
In addition, Tichy is the mastermind behind the annual Bonzo Bash, which brings together the top rock drummers from around the world every year to honor the late John Bonham of Led Zeppelin fame. At the bash, a band of top musicians is backed by numerous guest drummers sitting in (on a Bonzo replica drum kit, naturally), each playing their choice of classic Led Zeppelin tunes.
A gifted musician (not to mention Berklee grad), Tichy exudes a pure love for the art of making music. After playing a string of recent Tate/Queensryche shows, we sat down to a cup of coffee with Tichy to learn more about the man, the myth, and the drumming.
“The real bibles of practice were my records.
Whether it was Kiss or Zeppelin or Van Halen
or Aerosmith or Nugent or Foreigner or Rush or Yes.”
MPc: Who or what was it that got you into drumming?
BT: It was just the drums themselves. Before it was a particular person, it was just straight up drums—just the sound and the look of a drum set. As a kid at like five or six years old, I thought everybody… I thought everybody thought the same thing: that drums were the coolest thing going, and, if we could all have a drum set, we'd all have a drum set in the house.
So it was really a completely pure, innocent look at what I felt they were. And then, soon after that when I got a drum set, my first drum idol/hero was Peter Criss, and Kiss was the first band I was into. For a few years before I got really into other bands and stuff, I just bought—I think my first record was Rock and Roll Over, and then I got a few more Kiss records. When I was in like fourth grade, fifth, sixth grade, it was all about Kiss. And then all the other bands followed after.
MPc: You attended Berklee College in Boston, but before that what was your training?
BT: I took private lessons from fourth grade. My parents said, if you stick with private lessons for these few months, by Christmas, if you’re doing all right, we’ll get you a real, proper drum set for Christmas. And so I did, and that was in fourth grade. Before that, I had a kit from Sears or something. It had flames painted on it and it was like a little kid’s kit that broke and was trashy. But I did learn how to play beats and stuff. It didn’t have a high hat, it had a bass drum that sounded horrendous, so I didn’t even play the bass drum, I’d just keep time on the floor with my foot. But it was still playing drums to Kiss records, that’s what it was.
And yeah, I studied privately basically fourth grade to eighth grade, so it was about five years, and then once again in eleventh and twelfth grade. That taught me all the rudiments and how to read music and all that. I didn't practice hard for lessons. The real bibles of practice were my records, whether it was Kiss, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Aerosmith, Nugent, Foreigner, Rush, Yes and on and on, that was how I practiced, listening to those records. I tried to emulate and imitate the sounds of the drummers on those records.
MPc: So listening to those records was really important to you and really helped your learning?
BT: There's a ton to be learned. I think what's more important than anything is when you listen—first and foremost music, it's an audio experience, and secondly it's, for rock and roll, it's a visual thing, and it's a power thing and all that. But the first thing is, if the sound of something blows you away and then you want to investigate and learn why it inspires you, that's what makes you the player you are. And then everything falls together. Everything comes together after that.
MPc: You have an impressive list of people you've worked with. Can you give us a rundown of your musical career?
BT: I was in Boston, at Berklee Music College for a few years and I ended up playing with a couple of different things going on in New Jersey and New York. One was the very first gig I ever got with my buddy, J.D. [DeServio], on bass. J.D.’s in Black Label Society now, he’s one of my best buddies.
He got into a band first at Berklee. It was with a singer named Jodi Bongiovi, which was the cousin of Jon Bon Jovi. This was the late ‘80s, she had some record deals, J.D. got the bass gig, and the drummer quit for whatever reason. I got the drum gig and we went on, did some shows in like ’89. And then I joined up with another band on Atlantic Records was which was not Zebra, but had the singer from Zebra, so you’re talking about Randy Jackson. He was starting a new band that was post-Zebra and I did that record and bounced between New Jersey and Boston that year, around 1990.
And then I went up back to Boston, finished college, and I was trying to start an original band. And then soon after that—that dissipated and fell apart. Myself and J.D. got together with this guitar player, Vinnie Moore, who was doing a solo career then. He’s an amazing instrumental guitar player. He had toured with Alice Cooper already, but he was supporting a new solo record, [an] instrumental record, and we toured all around the country. Then [we] opened up for Rush with him, and that was all ’91, ’92.
And somewhere in '93, I started coming out to L.A. and I was playing with Stevie Salas, recording with him because he had seen me play on tours with Moore and I started playing with Sass Jordan and did her record. Somewhere in there, I did a clinic with myself, J.D. and Zakk Wylde in New Jersey. I jammed a couple of times with Zakk prior. So, the end of the summer in '93, Zakk called me and said, " What are you doing? I'm starting this band, Pride & Glory, blah blah blah. Come on out." I went out to L.A., we jammed a bit with myself, Zakk and James LoMenzo, we recorded the record in Seattle, rehearsed for and then toured behind it, and in '94 I moved to Los Angeles..
MPc: And what happened when you moved to L.A.?
BT: We did Pride & Glory, that was ’94. Somewhere in there I jammed with Slash and they had the same management, and then all ’95, I did Slash’s Snakepit around the world. He put that record out—we had a great time. And it was like ’95, which we stuck together a little bit after that, with Slash and myself and James LoMenzo writing, putting ideas together. That sort of dissipated in ’96.
’98 and ’99, I joined up with Foreigner. I’d done the demo for Marti Frederiksen, who was writing music with them and I did drums on a Foreigner demo for him, and they all liked it and asked me to join. So I joined up with Foreigner in ’98, ’99 and into 2000. I had only left them because in 2000, they hadn’t had much touring booked and Ozzy was looking for a drummer, and I auditioned and got that. So I left Foreigner to go to Ozzy, and then 2001 I joined up with Billy Idol and that went pretty solid from 2001 to 2009, with a little bit of filling in for Foreigner in there.
MPc: Wow. Did you work with anyone else during that time?
BT: Somewhere in between there, I filled in for Seether, for like a month, and for Velvet Revolver for a few weeks. And then, after Foreigner—I left Foreigner and Billy within (I guess) the same year or within a year, just wanted to have kind of an open road and that’s when—like soon as I did that, two days later when I got off the road with Foreigner, Doug Aldrich called me, asked me about Whitesnake. So I joined up with those guys.
But the cool thing was that I didn’t all of a sudden join up with them, go on the road. We joined up and did the record and it wasn’t until about nearly a year later, from mid-2010 till like May of 2011, I had time home to be with my kids and start other stuff, which included a lot of writing for the band I have with Sass Jordan called S.U.N. And a lot of that was going on at that time.
MPc: Nice, yeah so seems like you've been busy playing in a lot of bands. Did you do anything else with Whitesnake? Or did you do anything else after playing with them?
BT: Yeah, it's just all, like playing rock in a lot of bands. We toured Whitesnake in 2011 and then 2012 we didn't tour at all and I opted not to continue with Whitesnake this year because I wanted to once again try and push my own band a bit more and stuff. So rather than committing to a year of Whitesnake and putting S.U.N. on the backburner, I wanted to just be home and see what would happen if I allowed myself to have more time towards that.
We just did a few East Coast Bonzo Bashes and then right after that I did a Queensryche tour for a month or so. I have two more dates filling in for them. It's like the Operation: Mindcrime Anniversary Tour, so that's a lot of fun. So yeah, two more shows and it's done. It's been really cool because Sass Jordan is on the tour as well performing the part of Suite Sister Mary as well as doing background vocals on some of the other songs. Sass and I have been the opening act on the tour as S.U.N., but doing it acoustic stomp style with she and I, an acoustic guitar and a bass drum.
MPc: It was really cool, man. I was really digging it. Will there be anything in the way of new material from S.U.N. or possibly a tour of some kind in the future?
BT: Yeah, I don’t—we’re just trying to piece stuff together. We’re just happy that we got Sass and I out opening for Queensryche. And there’s a couple dates here and there, we’re seeing if it’s doable, because there’s no getting on a tour thing right now. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. We’re hoping that something will. Right now, it might be some scattered shows here and there or getting together a little run.
MPc: How did the whole thing with you playing in Queensryche come to be?
BT: Simon Wright is their drummer now and, when he signed on, he had already had a month of dates with the Dio Disciples. So, he basically couldn’t—he had those commitments for that month. I know most of the guys in the band, so it was more like I think they were just talking who might be available? Let’s, like, reach out to some drummers and see. And it worked out that I got an email. It’s an interesting day when you open up an email, it’s from Geoff Tate asking if you’re available for the month of June. It’s like, oh, cool. You look into it a little bit more, like, yeah, it’s going to be a lot of fun. And it’s some really cool tunes, played with great guys.
“Anything that’s not even is odd.”
MPc: What's the songwriting process like in S.U.N.?
BT: The songwriting process in S.U.N. is pretty simple. Sometimes I have guitar ideas and maybe a little bit of a melody or a title even and you run it by Sass and she gets into it. Or she has a title idea or some lyrics or she has a groove idea. But it usually happens when we’re together. And a lot of times we’ll write and, while we’re writing, start talking about other stuff, another song idea comes out and then we’ll have a couple of things going on at once, which is really fun.
But we’re open to a lot of different things and that’s the great thing, is like we’re just not—there’s no limits to what we’re going to try and do. It’s like I want to write epics, I want to write hard rockers, I want to write borderline metal and funk and whatever. You do whatever, it don’t matter.
Usually it just starts off with some kind of guitar idea that inspires a little stuff or guitar groove idea… but she’s also, she’s got ideas. I might have some stuff on my own that I’ll throw her way when we get together, but we don’t write unless we’re in a room together. It makes it real fun, because then as soon as you’re sitting there, you go, Oh, cool, this is a cool idea. Oh, yeah, here’s the beat and you said this and I said this and now we got this and blah, blah. And now, we’re starting on the same page together. When you get to that point and it’s pretty much—she might not have the lyrics or not everything’s nailed in, but we have enough to say it sounds pretty solid. Then I can record a drum track and, once I put the drums down, then you can start putting guitars and basses and she just starts coming up with moving ahead, moving with lyric ideas and going.
MPc: Cool. Switching gears, can you give me a full rundown of your kit?
BT: It’s really just like, the average setup is kind of like a Bonham—it’s basically a Bonham setup. It’ll be a one kick drum 26x14, a snare is 6-1/2 x 14, and then a rack tom, 14 tri tom, it’s 16, 18, floor toms. That’s pretty much the set. And then if you want to get a little bit kooky, you can put in a couple of other floor toms on the other side of the set, you know, another 16 and 18. And then usually two crash cymbals on either side and at least one China and a splash and a ride and high hats, and maybe you put a couple of crashes up and another China if you want to get kooky and [throw a cowbell?] up and that’s about it.
MPc: What do you latch on to more in your monitor mix? Is one instrument more predominant than the other or no?
BT: I like everything really loud, but I would probably opt to not have much bass, because the more bass you put in, the more clutter of a mix with your kick drums and where the guitars sit and the vocals. Usually the bass amp is kind of close by so you can get the low end.
I like hearing everything. I’d like a perfect blend of everything really extremely loud. But I do gotta’ rely on singers a lot, so I like to hear where they’re at. I usually have singers pretty loud. But I love guitar the most.
MPc: Is there any single time signature on the drums that you've tried to master behind the kit that you still find yourself kicking yourself in the ass, going, "Man, this is tough?" What signature—if any—creates a stumbling block for you?
BT: They all do. It can be how you’re syncopating or displacing beats in 4|4, which is just basically Meshuggah. So it’s like—well, yeah, anything that’s not even is odd. That’s a pretty good quote. [laughs] And the more odd, the more difficult.
MPc: You have a new set of signature sticks from Regal Tip. How different are they from anything you've ever used before?
BT: Well, you would hope that everybody picks them up and thought the same thing. But it's basically just what I liked in a drum stick at the time, which I still do when I put a combination of a couple of sticks together and it worked, and one of the main things was that Regal Tip has a certain lacquer for which I came up with this term. It's like, "Your lacquer is great, I love the way it feels. You should name it something like Performance Enhancement Lacquer, PEL," and they changed it to Performance Enhancement Finish. So now they call their finishes PEF.
Some people think it’s slippery or something, but everybody’s got a different feel. Some people want to use this, some people want to use that. I’m just saying this is the stick I dig and it’s a pretty well rounded stick. It might be a little bit longer than your average, and it might be a hair heavier than your average, but it’s not like a baseball bat by any stretch. For me, it’s great. All you can hope for is some other drummers pick it up and say, oh, this is cool. But, like anything, who’s to say one stick is better than the other? What style we play, everybody, it’s too much of a personal thing.
But the stick is great. Regal Tip makes super-consistent sticks… and, with the lacquer, my techniques are better, because I don’t have to grip as hard and I can swing harder. That’s why I switched to them when they approached me, because I picked up the sticks and they just automatically felt right.
“That’s what makes it special. There is no formula.
You just gotta’ try.”
MPc: I've seen that you sometimes teach clinics. Tell me about those.
BT: I really enjoy it. It can be really stressful the first few times, but the more you speak in front of an audience and have to hold the floor on your own, you have to look at it sort of like—for me, you have to get over any weird insecurities or think there’s other guys that do clinics all the time that are much more famous or well-known, blah, blah, blah. You just look at it like I’m here and I might as well do the best I can, and you have to be able to sit on what you’ve accomplished for however long you’ve been a professional musician, which is like… Hey, I can talk about a couple of decades of playing with some of the bigger bands in rock and some guys that were my idols and that are still at the top of their game, still kicking ass. Regardless of whether it’s David Coverdale out there or Mick Jones in Foreigner or Bill Adler, these are guys, when we were kids, they were on MTV and they were huge and they’re still out there.
MPc: Right, exactly. And I'm sure you have plenty to teach and show.
BT: Yeah. I don’t have my own band, like, say, Alex Van Halen, where he’s known for Van Halen and that’s his gig and that’s what we love about Alex Van Halen… I happen to be, my little path has been more like a chameleon, which makes me feel… I feel more scattered, I’m all over the place, who knows what band I’m going to be in next.
But at the same time, there’s something to be said for being able to adapt to other people’s bands and jump in there and make them feel comfortable. Whether it’s—I don’t play the same with Billy Idol as I play with Foreigner or Whitesnake or Ozzy. I played the whole double bass drum kit in Ozzy. With Queensryche I played a Neil Peart replica kit, just because I had it made through my company and it seemed to fit, with the Fleet Right tour, but I never played that kit in my life until the second Queensryche show.
So, it’s fun to go for different things and stuff like that, but I do love the Bonham and Alex Van Halen [stuff]. Their talent and the grooves they’ve gotten on immortal tracks that will forever be on radio and stuff.
“I always listen to James Brown.”
MPc: A lot has changed in the music industry over the years. For those who are trying to make things happen, what would your advice be to them? What advice would you give to anybody trying to make something happen?
BT: Well, the only way I know it is because I knew no other way and I had no clue how to do anything. I don’t’ know anybody that really does. Some people are leaders, some people sort of fall into things. Some people are just so one-track-minded that nothing else matters and so they get where they’re going. And some people are so good that people just flock to them, whether it be like a Randy Rhoads, Eddie Van Halen or a Dimebag—these people just have something super special that it’s going to carry them because they’re so good at what they do.
But then there’s bands that get together and write a hit at the right time and maybe there’s some luck involved in that and they just happen to write something that people just dug into real quick at the right time. But for me, all I know is that my goal was to have my own band, to be a drummer in my own band and that would be the shit and to headline Madison Square Garden with your own band is the shit. That’s your band headlining an arena and you’re involved in the songwriting and you’re involved in, like—it’s your band. You call some shots in the band and that’s the dream, that’s the little kid goal and stuff. But how do you…? I don’t know. What do you suggest to anybody? The first thing is, you have to be prepared to—you have to love this more than anything else.
But maybe you don’t. Maybe some people don’t. I think you do… it makes it more awesome, it makes it cooler, because if all you want to do is this and you work towards it, who’s to say how hard did I focus compared to somebody else? Maybe I focused twice as hard, but this other person who focused a tenth as hard got one hundred times more successful. I have no idea. Did this drummer who’s in one of the ten biggest bands of all time try a million times harder than the drummer who never got into a band? I think there’s—there can’t be a formula. That’s what makes it special. There is no formula, you just gotta’ try.
And, I mean, really, did somebody say to Paul McCartney, “Hey, Paul, you’re going to end up growing up and writing ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Let It Be’ and ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’?” He had no idea, he just started writing songs and people loved them. Did Elvis really know that he was just going to take over like he did and become this icon? No. He might have had an idea. The guy probably really, really loved to sing and really loved music and just had a natural ability to have this charisma on stage. But, like, Jim Morrison. Whatever, it seemed like in the beginning, he didn’t [have that]. But he had enough confidence to get on stage and do something and then it all came out. So, everybody’s different, but I don’t know, you just got to try.
MPc: You've worked with a wide range of artists over the years. What are some of your favorite recordings that you've done—songs and albums? And what makes them special to you?
BT: Well, I guess, a couple of things at the top, just having this record, the S.U.N. record with Sass, just the fact that there’s no auto-tune and there’s no beat detective and there’s no modern fade—like stuff that is thrown on records now without even people thinking about it or talking about it; it’s really organic, I like that. I like that because people—the reviews have been real nice that the record sounds raw and it really is. It was made intentionally for that reason, because when you listen back to The Who, and Stones, Hendrix, The Doors, Rush, old Van Halen, Aerosmith, a lot of Led Zeppelin—these are records that were made with guys in a room…The band was the band. It wasn’t just a cut-by-numbers, cookie-cutter type vibe.
So I like the fact that we have a record out that represents what we are and how we sound. I like that most. And then I like the fact that I got a chance to write music with Billy Idol. He’s written a bunch of hit singles and sold millions of records and could write with whoever he wants, and we got in a room and wrote and we hit it off. I liked that, I was proud of that, because… I wasn’t just a drummer anymore.
And then, I don’t know, as far as songs recorded, I got a chance to record a bunch of stuff with Don Felder [from The Eagles], which was a big highlight because it was Don Felder, and he liked my drumming on the Whitesnake record. That was really cool. I got a chance to record with Steven Tyler and that was super-awesome because it’s Steven Tyler.
MPc: What did you record with Steven?
BT: Well, it was a song that he recorded when he left American Idol or put his book out, he had this single two summers ago, 2011. It was called “Feels So Good.” It’s a simple, basic rock drum track, but it was just the fact that he watched me play in the studio and my second take was the one [we used] after we tightened up the snare, made more ringing. He liked the sound better and that was it. It was a done deal.
He thought I was a great drummer and that was just, like, so cool that two years later he called me again to come and do a John Varvatos benefit show this March in L.A., he and Joe Perry and Robert DeLeo from Stone Temple Pilots on bass and Russ Irwin on keys. And we did an eight-song Aerosmith show. That’s, like, insane to me, just sitting here being able to say that I did that is insane. And that was because I was given a chance to play drums in the studio with him watching.
But, anyway, yeah, just I don’t know, recording stuff that’s on a Foreigner record. It’s a Foreigner record, man, isn’t that pretty awesome? And a Whitesnake record. And David Coverdale, you know, giving a stamp of approval on my drum tracks, that’s awesome.
So, that’s all great stuff. It’s all just real cool. But the highlights are me having my own band, because like I said, it’s been really fun to play with, play in other people’s worlds and make them happy, it’s always a lot of fun. But I want to experience a little bit more of my own thing, being able to have some more control in it, just like my bosses do, you know?
MPc: Cool. So what top five albums influenced you to become the drummer you are today?
BT: Physical Graffiti, Aerosmith Live Bootleg, Rush, Moving Pictures, Exit Stage Left. Van Halen—David Lee Roth era, all Van Halen… and Kiss Alive.
MPc: And while we are at it, what top five albums inspired you to pick up the guitar?
BT: Guitar? Blizzard of Ozz… Probably once again, Physical Graffiti. Trying to think what else I was super into back then… well, I don’t know, Nugent’s Stranglehold, Deep Purple’s Made in Japan, Ace Frehley’s solo record. I don’t know. As a kid growing up in the ‘80s, I was just learning all the guitar hero records that were out, all the riff stuff, all the Warren DeMartini and Jake E. Lee and George Lynch and Yngwie—just trying to learn all the stuff that was going on then.
But I was really into Randy Rhoads. I was really into Randy and Eddie and Lynch and Jake and all the ‘80s stuff when I was a kid. And that was a little bit easier than trying to learn George Harrison riffs because that involved chords and shapes, you know? It was just a different style. I learned on metal, like Priest and Maiden and stuff like that.
MPc: If you could have written one song in your life, what would it have been and why?
BT: “Freebird,” because it’s the best song in the world, ever.
MPc: [laughs] Awesome. Have you ever thought of putting out an instructional DVD?
BT: Yeah, I guess it’s just a time thing and a focus thing. Just like, okay, this is what I’m going to do. It’d be pretty cool. I definitely wouldn’t mind, it would be fun to just say here’s a bunch of stuff and hopefully make it like a three-parter. Like, here’s some beginner rock stuff, with some stuff that you should know to get on the drums and start getting the basics going nice and solid. Then there’s intermediate, where you want to get to the next level. And then there’s advanced. And then there’s probably, like, here’s my own crazy stuff that I don’t even practice, but it’s interesting and fun to do if you want to try it.
MPc: I'd buy it.
BT: Well, cool. You and my dad, there’s two sales there.
MPc: [laughs] Alright. What are you listening to nowadays?
BT: Meshuggah, Gojira, James Brown. Old Aerosmith. Neil Young. James Brown—did I say that already? I always listen to James Brown, but uh, Meshuggah and old Aerosmith. And Rush, I’ve been listening to a lot of Rush, old Rush stuff.
MPc: Who are some of the drummers that you're into today?
BT: I love Tomas Haake from Meshuggah. I love the dude from Gojira, his name is Mario Duplantier. John Bonham and Neil Peart and Alex Van Halen and Clyde Stubblefield and Michael Derosier…
MPc: So what's next ? What do you have going on in the future?
BT: Just trying to work on some new S.U.N. stuff. Trying to get some new touring going and then just coming home and chilling a bit with some lessons, some teaching, and some sessions. There’s no big joining a band or tour thing going on right now. [But] there’s a project going on with some friends that might come out really soon. It should have already been ouot… we should have had a press release out, but it’s going to be real soon. Just a few friends doing a cool little side project as a tribute to our heroes from when we grew up. But I’ll let the press release get that out first.
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