Carrion Rockin’ – Artcarcass, Rick Tyrrell!
We’d been following our latest Artist Feature for some time; enjoying his highly creative and often experimental tracks which are typically accompanied by a few lines of intriguing commentary.
He posts recently created compositions along with treasured recordings from years gone by; timeless pieces which offer rich insight into what appears to be a life soaked in music. Having spoken with him about his life experiences, it became apparent that his flair for creativity extends well beyond music; a natural storyteller, creative writer, and a lover of the arts… we couldn’t resist asking whether he’d be interested in joining the IAMUR team as a creative writer. Much to our delight, he accepted, and we’ll be seeing some of his contributions soon enough. Meanwhile… we are delighted to introduce the supremely talented, Rick Tyrrell.
Rick spent the first fifteen years of his life in the Toronto area before moving to small-town Port Elgin on the shores of Lake Huron. He recalls the welcome was much like the harsh winters there, thanks to his big-city background and unconventional long hair, yet gradually managed to find his place with the outcasts; punk rockers, artistic types, socially shunned non-heterosexuals, and the small population of musicians whom he describes as “wonderful people who kept me interested at a time when I was wondering just where the hell I had been transplanted to”.
Yet despite the strong friendships he’d made in Elgin, his love for the big lake, the beaches, and nearby forests, he grew restless over ten years of artistic boredom and bleak winters and headed back to Toronto to follow his dreams of a life in music.
Rick, many of the artists we’ve spoken to recount their love for music having been nurtured through childhood, and influenced by what their folks would listen to. Is that something you can relate to?
Both my parents were music fans and my Dad in particular, although he never played an instrument, loved jazz. An uncle of mine was a fantastic non-professional Bluegrass/Folk guitar player and he also made me begin to think “I’d like to learn to play guitar”, but that feeling was cemented by my love of bands like The Beatles and then when I heard other older releases like American Woman by The Guess Who, with that ultra sick lead guitar… or Deep Purple’s Machine Head album… and ultimately Jeff Beck’s Blow By Blow masterpiece, that was it. HAD to play guitar. HAD to write my own songs. HAD to try to replicate the sheer creative diversity that once upon a time formed the backbone of popular music.
How would you describe your sound to anyone who hasn’t heard your music?
This is nearly impossible because I tap into so many genres all at once and often toss them in a blender to see what comes out. I like to think I’ve always carved out my own kind of sound but it would be stupid not to acknowledge the influences of many artists and/or bands who blazed their own trails. More often than not it will be heavier guitar-based material, but there is enough mellower-darker-acoustic stuff or hybrid jazz-funk instrumental output, that I believe most people would consider me a hard to classify entity, depending on how closely they listen and of course their levels of patience! Span the decades, feel free to do entirely what I want when I want and fear not the lack of “focus” or target market. That’s my credo.
Where do you draw influence from, and what bands are you listening to at the moment?
I’ve mentioned three already, but let me add Max Webster (guitarist Kim Mitchell is a definite influence), Frank Zappa, Mike Patton (especially Mr. Bungle), Killing Joke, Bad Brains, Pat Travers, Bill Bruford, Brand X, Jean Luc Ponty, early Judas Priest, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, The Police, XTC… oh man this is difficult because there are so many diverse influences… these days I am really into artists such as Grizzly Bear, Michelle Ndegeocello, Josh Pyke, Gojira, and anyone else who seems to exhibit artistic freedom and originality. I’m a headbanger at heart but love so much of everything else.
You credit your uncle for your initial interest in guitar, and have evidently put in the hours! You also play bass and do a fair bit vocally – what other instruments do you play and to what degree of proficiency?
Guitar is my main instrument, both acoustic and electric. I got a right-handed Silvertone as a (15th) birthday present and played it strung for southpaw until I could gradually get left-handed guitars. I feel adept at it to a degree that allows me to be diverse enough to express what I’m feeling in a broad spectrum of genres. People tell me I’m very good at it but I long ago knew I could never attain the technical level that I once coveted, so I am at peace with the continued learning curve and sheer love of playing the instrument. Drums is what I started out on and I love playing, more so the hand drums and percussion at my disposal. I’m a reasonably good drummer but my brother Curt is far superior. Bass is something I enjoy and I took it up as a need so that I could complete my compositions. I continue to slowly improve. Keyboard? I’m pretty lame overall but can pick out melodic accents for my tunes and continue to improve at a snail’s pace. I once owned a vintage tenor sax and just as I was beginning to not be horrible, had to sell it due to financial duress. Oh well, next life!
Can you give us some insight into your creative process? How do you use those instruments when putting a song together – what comes first?
The first and most convenient is to be noodling on a guitar and coming up with ideas that can be expanded outward into song format. I also love to come up with drum grooves first and build bed tracks with guitar parts in mind, because drumming stokes my fire and I love playing guitar and bass over a pre-existing groove. Ideas come fast and furious that way for me. Lastly, I like to jot down lyric ideas at a given moment and keep them in a notebook. Oftentimes a particular idea put to paper will ignite the rest of the process.
I am rebellious when it comes to rules, in particular, the songwriting “do and don’t” nonsense. I love to do exactly what each song tells me to do, and cookie-cutter arrangements tend not to happen when I’m writing even though I adore a properly arranged piece of memorable music. I’m a walking contradiction, I suppose, but there is an urgency and freedom that I feel when ideas strike.
“I love to do exactly what each song tells me to do” – That reminds me of something I learned when I was at art college. Michaelangelo is quoted to have said. “the sculpture is already complete within the marble block before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” Sounds like you share a similar view with regards to songwriting?
I don’t feel that I am a songwriter even though I technically AM. I feel that I channel something from a source much larger and more mysterious than I could ever name and that in the pursuit of humbly “translating” those signals I find something akin to the truest version of myself that I can be. Sounds pretty grandiose and pompous, but it’s how I feel.
I can relate to the notion of ‘striking whilst the iron is hot’ in that I can have dry spells that last an eternity, and yet after stumbling into a ‘that could be something’, I can have a track written and recorded in a day or so (though that doesn’t happen often). I know that for other musicians the process can take weeks, or more, to complete a project. What do your timescales for writing and recording look like?
Most of my songs happen from idea to fruition within a couple of days, sometimes less. I don’t really like to listen to my own music after the fact, but love to share it with others not for the potential ego stroke but for the mutual inspiration factor. I feel like music is the true currency of the species and we fucked up big time by making money our god.
So, what about your setup – talk us through your equipment and approach to recording.
I have access to drum kits that are already set up for recording purposes, and use my little Zoom R24 24-track recorder-sampler to lay down various types of grooves and feels, all the while knowing myself so well musically that I usually end up with useable drum beds that I can later extrapolate into fully realized songs at my apartment. It’s an odd way to work but it works! I also make use of loops, hand-triggered actual drum kit samples, and many percussion items in my collection at home.
Some of my gear is vintage and I like it that way. I love to plug in cables, set up the mics, press buttons, and essentially record in an old school organic mode that also involves dealing with the issues of big city sirens, dogs barking, assorted other intrusions that are part of life in a high rise (albeit solidly built) within a busy metropolis. I have an old Boss Dr. Rhythm for drums sounds, a Yamaha keyboard that is stocked with many other instrument samples including several drum kits, a beautiful hand-crafted djembe, bongos, a Turkish darbuka, several shakers, a guiro, claves, tambourine, cowbell, triangle, various other percussion items… an Ibanez bass, Gibson SG, 50th Anniversary Edition Stratocaster, Kramer Imperial, a Norman acoustic guitar, a Seagull acoustic guitar, a Seagull Merlin which is their version of a dulcimer.
That’s… quite the set-up!! What about amps and effects?
I still have my workhorse 1986 Marshall JCM-800 Lead Series half stack, a modern era Marshall combo that is also 100 watts but with loads of on-board effects, a tiny Peavey practice amp, a very useful Line 6 PodXT that contains 32 fine-sounding virtual classic amps along with several of their own design, various foot pedals from way back when that I don’t use now, enough cable to capture the Loch Ness monster, and I use Blue microphones such as the Bluebird which is a fantastic versatile mic for the price point, plus assorted Audio Technica microphones.
You’ve not mentioned Bandlab Mix Editor, or any of the other more widely known digital audio workstations… Do you tend to favour a more analog approach to recording and producing?
After so many years recording at home and growing through the phases of Fostex 4-track, Tascam digital 8 track, Tascam 24 track, and now the Zoom, I have a streamlined workflow method and just vastly prefer doing things the hands-on hard way over sitting in front of DAW screens although I definitely see the awesome versatility and convenience of that method. I have two well-known professional Producer and Engineer friends who have offered to set me up with Pro Tools and I always say “no thanks”, which elicits a shake of their heads and amused smirks. I mix the songs within the Zoom, reference them on my home stereo system, desktop 3-speaker set up, and ultimately with earbuds and headphones since that seems to be the main way that people listen these days. I’m still learning to get good mixes and results vary, but overall considering my budget and gear, it is the best I can do for now until I win a massive lottery. I use the BandLab editor only for increasing gain and perhaps shaving off some high-end.
What is it that motivates you to create?
Inspiration: I get turned on by music from others that sparks something within me and makes me want to contribute my two proverbial cents. Catharsis: When the world goes mad, or someone does something awful, or any other negative action or energy moves me in such as way that I have to purge the resulting feelings through music’s outlet. Creativity itself: I love to pass time creatively when possible. Even if inspiration or catharsis isn’t the impetus, it just feels good to play an instrument, sing, write something of my own that didn’t exist until I began to channel the ideas from the Great Unknowable.
Probably about time we got to listen to some music… what’ve you got for us?
The Eclectic Menu was an attempt to introduce my diverse ways to the BandLab community, and it is a decent cross-section of what I’m about.
Hopefully, our readers will be listening to The Eclectic Menu, whilst we jump back in time a bit… to Elgin. You moved there when you were around fifteen and at around that time, you got your first ‘right-handed strung lefty’ Silvertone guitar. Tell us about that time, and the events that unfolded.
My brother, Curt, and I lived in a small town on Lake Huron in Ontario Canada, where finding other like-minded musicians seemed impossible, but eventually, I befriended a fantastic young guitarist and we formed a band (The Hang). Made my brother Curt be the “drummer”… he started out on plastic bowls, pots, and pans until he developed a real love for drumming and became old enough to buy his own actual kit.
I worked for ten years mostly on night crew at a large Zehrs supermarket, entered into my first serious common-law relationship, and tried to find contentment in that town which meant doing a lot of kidding myself.
I wanted out. I wanted to head back to Toronto to address the little whispers within that said “pursue your dream of making music for a living”… my partner at the time was a small town gal and although she convincingly pretended to be on board with the plan to relocate in Toronto, and even after I landed a job there, I was given the surprise of her tearfully stating that she couldn’t go through with it. With that, we were through.
Fortunately, I was very young and didn’t have children, so I was free to leave my fairly solid job and head to the city with my good fellow guitarist friend, along with my brother Curt, the drummer. Curt had already gone out on the live band circuit but hated the dives he was playing AND the tunes he had to play, so off we went to Toronto to chase the music wanna-wanna.
James Stewart, said “my cousin has to hear you guys” and that cousin turned out to be Jamie Stewart who was at the time bassist for The Cult.– Rick Tyrrell
What happened when you got to Toronto?
I began my, still ongoing, career as a painting-decorating contractor, The Hang found its bassist/third vocalist and we began to play all over the city and also back in our hometown of Port Elgin where we mixed crowd-pleasing (late 80s early 90s) covers in with our originals, all of which went down very well. Soon enough we began to record at Reaction Studio and lucked out when the engineer, James Stewart, said “my cousin has to hear you guys” and that cousin turned out to be Jamie Stewart who was at the time bassist for The Cult. James attended a rehearsal and loved the band, agreeing to co-produce our demo. He was on a world tour for the Sonic Temple album and the other Hang guitarist and I were invited along for several very cool shows in Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal.
Hanging out with the bassist from The Cult sounds like incredible fun!
Hard-partying times indeed and I have many cool mementos. He visited my small town stomping grounds during one of our three-night gigs there, and actually jumped on stage impulsively to play bass on a cover of Led Zep’s Rock and Roll… minds were blown! He wasn’t as instantly familiar as Astbury or Duffy but most of the room knew what was happening. We pulled off a raucous rendition and to this day not one photograph has surfaced. Ahhh, pre-digital times! He also attended a post-show party in a distinctly rural setting, and that was fun to behold. Lastly regarding Jamie, after The Cult’s show in Ottawa, he and his cousin James and drummer Matt Sorum joined my fellow Hang guitarist Rob and we partied until the sun came up in nearby Hull, Quebec. Jamie was so green and sick on stage the next night in Montreal, he barely made it through the show. Oooops.
That’s insane, and a shame you didn’t manage to unearth any photos. What other crazy stories can you share with us from those days?
When metal gods Pantera played a Toronto show for their Vulgar Display of Power tour, I had all-access backstage and got to have a beer with the late great Dimebag Darrell, whose guitar power is matched only by the ache of his tragic murder. I began to ask him about his wicked signature scoop town sound and he clinked beer bottles with me and said “fuck that” with a smile. He wanted to talk about Toronto, what it was like there, and anything but his gear and sound. I loved that about him and it’s a great memory for me.
So, the decision to move back to Toronto paid off!?
Despite The Hang being very popular and respected in our scene, and with Jamie’s name attached as we shopped the demo around, Canadian labels didn’t want a rock band with more than one singer. (Beatles? Eagles? nope). After The Hang disbanded, following a spell of inactivity, my brother and I plus the bass player formed a new much heavier act called Gut-Sonic. This band went through three roster permutations and in 1995 became a five-piece that was signed to an independent label, a booking agent deal, recorded a prog-metal-hybrid album called Impetus 23 with none other than Dee Long from the band Klaatu as engineer – great guy, fantastic wit, total pot-head. As soon as the bag o’ weed dwindled we knew the session was going to end no matter how great the progress. We co-produced this record with Zack Werner, who was a music lawyer ex-rock band frontman and future Canadian Idol “mean judge” à la Simon Cowell. I have hilarious footage of these times and must digitize, if only for blackmail purposes.
We toured Canada and some of the USA. It didn’t sell particularly well and now can be purchased online here and there for coaster and self-harm reasons. Critics dug it for the most part and the band was always a force on stage. A few years later I worked in various projects, always diverse, including; Fuel, a year-long stint with recording artist Betty Moon, The Ass Moles, Belinda Stewart, and various other indie projects until I met the love of my life Tamara Wight and began to work with her and, as always, ongoing collaborations with brother Curt. I can reflect on over 330 gigs plus having opened for Blue Oyster Cult, Voivod, Teenage Head, Goddo, Warrior Soul, Viletones, and quite a few other name-drop-worthy acts.
I recently heard one of your live recording sessions with Betty Moon and was most excited about it… those all sound like amazing memories and the tracks you’ve shared from those times are treasures! What’s been happening in more recent years?
A lot of my musician friends went on to become professional players in tribute acts such as Classic Albums Live, but I couldn’t do that. Life called me away and I remained a prolific songster in the background and memories of those who kept at it. Brother Curt and I continued to write and record music together and a lot of what I post on BandLab is from those ongoing sessions. Too many of my friends who are well known in the recording industry, who I need not name, continue to struggle to pay their bills and have one too many stories about getting screwed over. This has led me to a path of doing Music as a means of whole self-expression and happiness, free of ambition and agenda. Discovering BandLab quite by accident was a fortuitous event. It has renewed my joy in creating-sharing-being inspired by others who do the same. My audience need only know that I express myself with honesty, sometimes raw, and I don’t second-guess myself. If one song sucks or is too weird or heavy for a certain person’s tastes, maybe the next very different tune will catch their ear.
When you were describing your recording setup earlier, you mentioned your ‘apartment‘ and ‘home‘ which sounded like two distinct locations – did I visualize that correctly?
I live in two locations concurrently; Toronto where my work is and where I maintain a downtown apartment that also serves as my humble recording “studio”, and the beautiful small town Elora Ontario which is situated in farmland. This is where Tamara and I make our main home and I am blessed to have wonderful relationships with three stepchildren aged 22, 20, and 12. This is the best purpose in my life because I never did become a bio-dad. I love the responsibility and trust in being a parental contributor to their quality of life.
Are you working on anything new at the moment that you’d like to mention?
I am always writing new material and also collaborate with my wife, Tamara Wight, who is a very talented singer-songwriter. Future musical goals are to continue working with Tamara and hopefully record an EP or full-length album of the results with my engineer friend Robi Banerji who has a studio within his Kitchener Ontario home, to not give a damn about record deals and such, to write challenging music across a range of genres that will hopefully please a few who listen and maybe even inspire them in some way, and to enjoy to the fullest this experience that is BandLab. There are so many talented artists there and I will certainly be working with several of them in the months and years ahead. Yay!!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’d like to add two pieces of freshly caught Alaskan halibut with crisps, a couple of pints of ice-cold Phillips Brewery Dr. Funk, and. cowbell, but none of that will fit into this box.
I can’t end this interview without asking you for some random likes, dislikes, and non-musical interests… it’s become a ‘thing’.
I have a seriously diverse and huge film collection that nearly matches the size and scope of my music collection. I’m a fan of both art forms and try not to be a snob. I can love a Kurosawa film as much as a Lynch film, in other words. Two hobbies dear to me are creative writing and photography. I am an activist-minded environmentalist and Tamara and I have reduced our “footprint” through smart choices at home (bye-bye plastics, backyard garden with Mennonite seed crops, and so forth). I love being outdoors and Vancouver island is my favorite part of Canada. A place where I hope to spend my final years.
Other interests include UFOs (I’ve seen and filmed and photographed some interesting things) and heritage architecture (I’ve restored and had three Victorian homes I owned listed as heritage properties to protect them). Non-smoker, cat lover, like to cook, avid cyclist, not fashion trendy ever, twisted sense of humor, John Lennon was a huge role model via his flawed honesty and when it comes to lyrics when I go raw, it is he who I think of.
Dislikes then, Rick?
Politics. Liars, racism, discrimination, willfully ignorant people, kidding myself, cookie-cutter condos, money as a life focus, unoriginality, delusion, blind ambition, posers, the lack of left-handed guitars in music stores, texting, billboard charts, award shows, peas and lima beans, egotism, panic buyers, turtle neck sweaters, pickles without crunch, what professional athletes are paid, the capacity for humanity to wipe itself out.
Let’s close this off with some more music – what else do you want to share?
Fun Slinger – a more recent addition and I think it captures a mix of my off-the-wall humor, irreverence, and also more serious rants and observations about human nature. It’s also perhaps a good headphones w/booze crank.
Well, it’s been amazing getting to hear about your past adventures and plans for the future, and we’re proud to have welcomed you to the IAMUR family Rick! Thank you for taking the time and sharing your life stories with us!
Rick Tyrrell everyone!! Head over to his page on Bandlab here.