think we are all familiar with the infamous mythology king Midas who could turn everything he touched into gold. If we could find this man among us today in the music scene, he would be Chris Tsagarides. Chris is a well known, Grammy nominated, Writer / Producer / Engineer / Mixer who has worked with Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Depeche Mode, Bruce Dickinson, Girlschool, Ian Gilan, King Diamond, Helloween, Malmsteen, Gary Moore, Ozzy Osbourne,Sisters Of Mercy to name a few. CLICK HERE to view download Chris’s full Biography and Discography. We had the honour of talking with Painkiller’s producer about what exactly is that makes the producer’s touch critical to the success of an album and some insider info we were just dying to know!
Metalzone: We wanted to talk to you cause since you started being a producer there have been many changes and you’re probably the most appropriate person to pinpoint them and how exactly an album is made.
Chris Tsagarides: Sure, probably the most appropriate because I am the oldest (laughs) that’s one qualification!
Metalzone: I wouldn’t say that! I would say you’re the most experienced one
Chris Tagarides: That’s nice, nice way of putting it.
Metalzone: So tell us a little bit about yourself how did you start?
Chris Tsagarides: Well it started a long time ago. In 1975 I left college and joined a recording studio in London called Morgan\r\nas an apprentice; generally do everything for no money. Try and learn how to become a recording engineer was the plan. We had a terrific studio to begin with I was very lucky really. It was one of the first independent recording studios in the UK. And they had a really good clientele which sort of mapped down my future, because of the type of music that was there when I arrived. Judas Priest was in there recording, it was their second album Sad Wings Of Destiny that they had started working on. They were in there recording, and Black Sabbath were in there recording, and Jethro Tull were in there recording so I thought I’d arrived in heaven really as a big fan of all this. I worked with Judas Priest for a while, and seven months after I started working there, the engineer that was working with Judas Priest got taken ill and they said well carry on. And I really didn’t know much but I thought well now or never, so I jumped in and I got my first credit as an engineer on that record which kind of set the set of what kind of music I’d be doing. A little while later, a few years later, I became officially a recording engineer. And we got to do an album with Gary Moore. We began that record which was called Back on the Streets and he said you could produce this with me and I thought he was joking and we made this album and there was a song called Parisienne Walkways which was a massive hit and suddenly I am a producer to this world. Through that album I got to meet Phil Lynnot and the rest of the guys from Thin Lizzy and that’s kind of how later on in life I went on to produce Thin Lizzy
Metalzone: You speak of it as if it is a thing someone can do everyday…
Chris Tsagarides:\r\nIt was something that happened to me. Things have changed so much from those days till now, because the whole culture of recording now has changed so drastically. There aren’t so many of the big studios anymore where people go along and learn to be engineers because the economy and everything has changed. People do it a t home, there advent of digital recording, computers, it’s a lot easier and cheaper for people to be able to do it at home. But the biggest reason is that labels have become so global, so institutionalized and they would only spend money on something they can see a quick return for. Pop music, something\r\nthat’s disposable, something that will make a lot of moneys very quickly so that the shareholders are pleased and the company makes money. So it’s more of a money making concern than it is anything to do with art. Which it used to be… I mean it’s always been a business, don’t get me wrong, but there was al little bit more of a personal involvement from the people who owned the independent labels back in the day. They wanted to see… obviously make money but also see some decent music coming out. And that’s the differences, I think, there are between then and now. It’s still the same if you have a great band they will shine through and will become successful, that will always be. But it’s not quite the same system as it used to be. Both for people wanting to be in the industry doing what I do and bands coming up.
Metalzone: You can see big bands, huge names like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, who produce albums nowadays but none of them has the same sentiment or the same impact old albums used to have.
Chris Tsagarides: I agree with you. A lot of it has to do with the way things are done these days. Because of the technology you don’t have to play everything quite so well, you don’t even have to play the whole song! You can play the central parts of the song and then have it all edited together, there are machines that put your voice back in tune, machines to put the drums back in time, lots of technology. This for me, for rock music, isn’t really the way to do it. Rock music is an emotion; it’s a feel, a time of a band’s life that is captured on a record, this is what we are writing this is what we’re playing. If you don’t play it from beginning to end, I don’t think that’s right. You have to play your music as a musician. I don’t see the point in having some clever guy with a computer do it for you. And I think that’s why records now\r\ndon’t sound like records did back then.
Metalzone: So what you’re saying is that what made them great was the small imperfections
Chris Tsagarides: Yes totally, that’s all part of, the small imperfections that moment captured. They could do a fantastic solo but in the middle there’s tiny little mistake but, the whole solo gets you and it doesn’t matter about\r\nthe little mistake. And that’s kind of what it always was like. Also what happened back in the 70s and 80s was that they were groups that could actually play their music. That’s why they got signed and got deals because they were much better than\r\nanother band. Now you get a deal because you got a great looking nsinger, the band’s not that hot but you can make it sound sort of ok. And it would be ok but it wouldn’t have the impact the older recordings used to have. There was a certain charm about them, a naivety because no one had actually done it before them. And maybe that’s another reason too. Because it’s been done. How many different ways can you play drums, guitar etc. It’s harder to be original I think.
Metalzone: Another thing we wanted you to explain to us, as an insider in matters\r\nlike that, is how exactly is a production made? When we say that the\r\nproduction has been made by Chris Tsagarides, what exactly is it that you do? Do you guide the band through the recording how to play?
\r\nChris Tsagarides:\r\nYes, there are many elements to it. There really is. A producer like\r\nmyself that began when I began was really… There weren’t producers\r\nlike me until I came along. I am not saying it was me that invented\r\nanything. All that I am saying is that up until that moment producers\r\nwere people that were sent down from the record companies. They would\r\nbe working as a house producer for the record label and basically their\r\njob was to make sure that the band didn’t spent too much money, tell\r\neverybody when it was time to go to eat, and generally be more\r\nadministrative.
\r\nWhen my type of production\r\nbecame popular we became almost another member of the band and our\r\nposition was more creative than it used to be. You know the term\r\nproducer. In fact producer really is not the correct term for what we\r\ndo. It should be more like a film director is. It’s a vision that you\r\nhave when you’re approached by a group that wants you to produce their\r\nalbum. You take the songs that they have and you try and arrange them\r\nin the best possible way. You make suggestions; you suggest which\r\nstudio we would go to, how long it would take, how much it would cost,\r\nwould we need any extra musicians, would we use orchestration, would we\r\nuse extra singers, all sorts of things. We discuss with the band and\r\nthen the record company and we would decide, ok this is how we’re going\r\nto do it. We’re going to use some orchestra on some songs because it\r\nsuits them and they would be really good for example. \r\n
\r\nThen we would go to the pre production\r\nface, which would be a rehearsal room and we would go through all the\r\nmaterial, make sure that the base player knew exactly what the drummer\r\nwas doing, and I would know what the guitar players were playing and\r\nsort out any musical problems that were going on and actually make a\r\nplan, a sketch as to how we are going to do this.\r\n
\r\nThen we would go into the studio and start recording.\r\nWe record the drums and the base first, and then start overdubbing\r\neverything else on top of that. And it would be my sort of call\r\nbasically to say… no, do that again, no, that’s not good enough, do\r\nthis like this, why don’t we use this guitar, why don’t we use that\r\namplifier etc. It’s an incredibly all encompassing job, very stressful\r\nat times, because it’s all on your shoulders. If it doesn’t work it’s\r\nyour fault. \r\n
\r\nMetalzone:\r\nWould you say that it’s easy doing that to a musician? Because we all\r\nknow that there are musicians whose egos are bigger than their height.
\r\nChris Tsagarides:\r\nAbsolutely, and that’s what you’re dealing with. The 95% of it is\r\npsychology. It’s how you can work with people. How you can make them\r\ncome in on any given day of the week and perform something that is\r\nexceptional. And that’s the hardest part of it, is really be able to\r\ndeal with all these different egos. And you know to be a musician, be\r\nsomebody in a group who wants to stand in front of thousands of people\r\nand show off you’ve got a big ego. Some people know how to deal with\r\nthat and are very easy to work with and there are others who’ve got\r\nproblems. \r\n
\r\nMetalzone: Have there been times when you said not I can’t work with this one?
\r\nChris Tsagarides:\r\nYes I have. I’ve said this like that before and much to my amazement\r\nthey turned around and said ok we’ll do it your way then. And then ok.\r\nThey are very few far between. Because when somebody asks you to make a\r\nrecord it’s because they have a certain respect already for what you\r\ndo. And so it’s silly to say let’s get Chris to make a record and then we disagree with everything he says. Why bother?\r\n
\r\nMetalzone: If a band isn’t that good, can you make it good?
\r\nChris Tsagarides:\r\nNowadays yeah, you could make it better. Because there had been\r\noccasions when you get a group and the drummer for example isn’t very\r\ngood. You get a session guy in, somebody else to play on the record.\r\nThat’s happened a few times. When that happens it’s a decision that\r\neveryone has made, the group, the record company, me, all of us.\r\nBecause, the way I see it if a band has come to me and they have a deal\r\nwho am I to say, that they are not good. I am going to say, the drummer\r\nisn’t happening guys, what are we going to do, it’s making the record\r\nsound awful, what shall we do, we’ve got this option now. We could use\r\nanother drummer or we could use machines or whatever the hell it is\r\nthat we’re going to do. Normally we come to the correct decision for\r\nthe benefit of the record. \r\n
\r\nMetalzone: You come from Cyprus. Have you worked with any bands from Greece or Cyprus?
\r\nChris Tsagarides: The only person I’ve worked with from Greece is Mark Cross (Firewind)… He is the… that’s the only… having said that, there is a band over here an English band called Biomechanical whose singer is Greek. That’s the only relation, but I am expecting and I’ve been having lots of conversations with many Greek bands\r\nat the moment, wanting to do stuff, it’s a question if we can sort out\r\nto do it. I would love to. The music I’ve been hearing that’s coming\r\nout from Greece looks like a really good healthy rock market. A bit slow incoming, but I think it’ll just get bigger and bigger. \r\n
\r\n Metalzone: Between our listeners there are Greek bands so tell us how easy can they get to you?
\r\nChris Tsagarides: I have a myspace web site\r\nand that’s always looked at. If there’s anybody on that wants to send\r\nme something or talk to me that’s the best way to do it. And it’s just\r\nmy name, Chris Tsagarides.\r\n
\r\n Metalzone: From the artists you’ve worked with who are your favourite ones? What production has made you proud?
\r\nChris Tsagarides: There are many I suppose from each of my various things. Some very successful albums in different genres. From the Heavy Metal genre, of course Painkiller\r\nI like very much. No one knew when we made that record that it was\r\ngoing to be whatever it was going to be. So that was great. Because you\r\ndon’t say when you make a record I am going to make a record that\r\neveryone is going to talk about. You hope they will. But you can’t go\r\nlike that, you just do the best of what you have and if you’re lucky\r\nenough the people really like it. What we did back then was unique and\r\ndifferent at the time. In the sort of rock world I am really proud for Thunder and Lightning from Thin Lizzy. I guess if Phil was still around today we’d still be working, and lord knows what we’d be doing. Phil\r\nwas always keen to listening new music and what was going on so we\r\nwould do very strange collaborations with various people for that band.\r\nIn the sort of alternative indie kind of rock there’s an American band called Concrete Blonde which is phenomenal, amazing, huge act. And another one is Tragically Hip from Canada. A massive band from Canada but not big anywhere else. A very unique band and we sold, oh goodness, we went ten times platinum on this album called Fool Me Completely. It’s a terrific kind of rock record. It is rock, it is a cross between the Rolling Stones and REM, it’s their own style. I guess those four are the ones I am the proudest of. \r\n
\r\nMetalzone: I always thought but also talking with friends we always say that Painkiller\r\nis a song that should never stop. Its minutes are not enough. What did\r\nyou have in mind when you made that? What effect did you want to get\r\nfrom it?
\r\nChris Tsagarides: A r e a l l y brutal but clear sound. When I heard the original demo, it was just guitar and a little drum machine. The song is very fast. And I said where the heck are we going to get a drummer to do this? They said well we got one. And I said oh yeah. And there was Scott\r\nand yes, he could do it very well. With that, having such an amazing\r\ndrummer, he set the level up that much we could reproduce the speed\r\nthat was on the demo. And we set out to do a very focused; I told them\r\nwe have to focus on this record. You have to be… If it’s heavy metal it\r\nhas to be heavy metal from the beginning till the end. We have to have\r\nall the songs sorted. And I was lucky, I had written a song called A Touch Of Evil\r\nand they liked it and they collaborated with me and that became the\r\nsingle from the album. This was awesome. At that time I was the only\r\nperson that had written anything on a Judas Priest album, other than being a member of the band. And for a little Greek kid from Cyprus that was pretty cool I thought. \r\n
\r\nMetalzone: Is there any artist at all that you would wish you could have worked with or wish to work with in the future?
\r\nChris Tsagarides: Pink Floyd. I’d love to work with Pink Floyd.\r\nI have always been a massive fan of that band, they were always making\r\nrecords that were like ouaou. Think just how amazing they were. So\r\nunfortunately they are not really recording, or around or anything like\r\nthat, I think they’ve retired gracefully, they might come back but the\r\noriginal Pink Floyd is who I would want to work with and possibly Aerosmith back in the day like they were in the 70s. If that band was still going like that that would be nice to do. \r\n
\r\nChris Tsagarides : If there are any bands out there that want to please get in touch \r\n
\r\nMetalzone: They can also contact us and we can bring you in contact.
\r\nChris Tsagarides: Absolutely, that would be great because I want to find a Greek band to do some work with. That would be a great thing. That way we can show we can do stuff. \r\n
\r\nMetalzone: Thank you so much
\r\nChris Tsagarides: My pleasure \r\n
\r\n Click Here To Listen Chris Tsagarides’ Interview (mp3 10MB)\r\n
\r\nHelen "Blackie" Michailidou \r\n