Richard Chycki on recording Dream Theater, Rush and Jagger
11th Oct 2013 | 16:52
As a man who has worked the production desk for the likes of Aerosmith, Mick Jagger and Rush, Richard Chycki has a gargantuan bank of knowledge to draw from.
He also has bags of killer stories. As he finished up work on Dream Theater's self-titled new album, we tapped Richard and got him to share a little wisdom and humour from a career working with some of rock’s biggest stars.
“James [LaBrie] and I were in a band together in the late ‘80s. We stayed in touch, and I did some work with him and recorded the vocals for Dramatic Turn of Events. We’ve always had really good chemistry working together. I mixed their Luna Park DVD [due 5 November], and John Petrucci called me to offer me the recording and mixing project for their new album.
“I think chemistry is so important, and on this album you can hear it in the performances. Getting the sound is a collaborative effort. The main thing going in is, when speaking to John, we shared a similar vision.
“John has a very specific guitar sound in mind. I was up for the challenge of working with him on sounds. There were some days when we were working on guitar sounds until 2 or 3 in the morning. He kept saying it was like chocolate cake with all these layers.
"We used NEVE 1073s preamps for the mics; we used an Audio Technica 4080 ribbon mic as part of the main sound in concert with a Neumann Fet 47; we also had a Shure SM57 that we brought in here and there depending on the brightness we wanted. We didn’t EQ a lot – most of it was combining microphones. The main core were those, and we also used an Audio Tehcnica 4047, which is similar to the Neumann Fet 47 but just a different flavour. And then off to ProTools we went."
“I got a call from Rush’s management in 2004 when they were doing a charity event in Canada. I was asked to do the recording and mixing for the TV broadcast. We had a lot of chemistry. They’re all really funny guys. We spent the time just laughing our faces off.
"A few months later, Al Lifeson asked me to mix their new R30 DVD. In the nine years since then, we’ve had 26 platinum and gold sales awards for all of the DVDs and albums we’ve done. Their main mantra at this point is to continue putting out music for their fans – they have done everything.
“The first time I really got to know Neil [Peart] was on Snakes And Arrows. He was warming up on his kit and I was setting up microphones. When the kit is so large I measure the distance of microphones to drums with a tape measure so that we have the best phase coherence that we can have, because we have so many open mics around the kit. Neil was doing these press rolls on his snare, and I was literally putting the tape measure down on his snare as he was playing. He was looking at me like, ‘What are you doing?!’
“With those guys, if they hear something they like, they say, ‘That’s great – let's go.’ They can be hands on, but a lot of the time it is hands off because they will hear what they want and say, ‘Let's just record.’”
“[Jaded] was the first Number One in America that I had. That was my first experience of a mega band. A lot of the bands at this high level have a similar vibe and approach. They are really comfortable with themselves; everybody has a proven track record, and they want to make music that excites them and their fans.
"That was a ProTools album; we had all these fresh new possibilities of editing. We recorded in a lot of different locations because everything was now so portable. We even did some recording in Joe Perry’s bathroom!
"Joe would always come in the studio and say, ‘Hey, boys.' As soon as you heard that, you went, ‘Uh-oh, here it comes.’ He said, ‘Hey, boys, I was in the shower, and I really like the way it sounds when I sing in the shower.’
"He had a handyman on site, and he had this gentleman cut a hole in the floor. Joe’s studio was on the bottom floor beneath the bathroom. He had the handyman cut through all of this insulation and floorboards, and we ran all of the cables up the floor and into the bathroom, set up some amps in the bathroom – a full rig – and off we went. It turned out great and had a real ambient type of sound.”
“I got called to record the basic tracks of bass, guitar and drums, and we did the lead vocals and some backing vocals for four or five songs [for the X album]. We recorded in California at Rumbo Studios.
"They were all great players. It was amazing to watch Rick Allen do what he does with a combination of his feet and hands. We did some segregation of his drumming. We split his drumming so he wasn’t making any compromises that he felt he was making by playing with his feet and hands. Using his feet, he uses a lot of samples, and we were trying to pull away from anything that was overtly sample-y. Instead of a sample, we wanted him to hit an actual drum or a cymbal.
"We split his performance in half and had him play the songs twice. It was amazing how flexible and adaptable he was. He was so driven to do a fantastic job. When you see that band in the studio, it becomes obvious why it has lasted such a long time. Phil Collen, as well, is a great guitar player with a lot of great production ideas.”
“The funny thing is, when I would hear Kiss From A Rose on the radio, I always loved the intimacy and vocal tone. It was a production thing where I was going, ‘How do they do that?’ – because it was so pristine and so intimate.
"When I got the call for the project I thought, ‘Gee, I hope I can match that.’ So I go into the studio and set up, and he comes up to the mic – I really hadn’t done anything beyond setting up the mic with a straight ahead vocal chain. He started to sing and it hit me - it’s all just him.
"That’s just the way he sounds. He is one of those vocalists that what you hear on an album is completely him – no editing, nothing, just boom. He’s got that fantastic tone.”
“Mick Jagger is the consummate performer. I received a lot of instructions prior to working with him; I had instruction from his production team about what he needed. More so than any other performer to date.
"That was fine, but one instruction was that the vocal booth had to be a fairly good size. It was ten square metres maybe, all this open space. I couldn’t quite understand it. He came into the studio and started. He put on the headset, and all of a sudden it was Mick Jagger live on stage! This is what he needed all the space for – it was all of his moves. And he still had fantastic delivery and great tone, a real full-power delivery.
"He turns on the performance like a switch. It was mind blowing to watch. Just watching him behind the console was exciting. He just delivers consistently and never deviates from his style.”