conversations with bianca

Remembering Rick Parashar & the Making of Unwritten Law’s Black Album

Rick Parashar art by Bianca Valentino++

Sadly in August this year, Rick Parashar passed away. You may not know who Rick is but there’s a good chance you’ve heard his work. Along with being a musician in his own right, he was responsible for producing a lot of albums that were the soundtrack for my (and a lot of other people’s) good time. Rick helped create incredible game-changing records for bands like Temple of the Dog, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Blind Melon, Dinosaur Jr and Unwritten Law. When Rick passed – from a Pulmonary Embolism, Deep Venous Thrombosis of the lower extremity; a blood clot from his leg moved up to his heart – my friend Wade Youman (drummer for Unwritten Law) called to have a chat about how much he missed Rick and how bummed out he was about his dear friend passing. Wade wanted to do something to celebrate Rick’s life, work and to express how much he meant to him so, we got together – along with ex-Unwritten Law guitarist Rob Brewer – to chat about Rick and the recording of Unwritten Law’s 1998 released self-titled/Black album.

ROB BREWER: I’m so happy for Wade that he’s back in the band. He’s had a bit of a rough go at times over the past few years. It’s nice seeing him doing what he loves in a band that he founded. He had the name Unwritten Law in mind when I first met him when I was 20. I’d played with a bunch of people but when I started to play with Wade I knew we had something. It’s not every day you find that creative chemistry with people. Right now I’m playing with some guys that I’ve known from Poway (like Unwritten Law) that I’ve known for 20 years. The band is called, Good Intentions. Me and Wade grew up with the guys; one of them used to be Unwritten Law’s drum tech. The vibe is really good. There’s no egos and everyone is having fun and just enjoying music in its purest form, how things should be. We’re currently writing our record.

BIANCA: Good Intentions is a great name! I could totally get behind something called that.

RB: Thanks. It’s such a bummer about Rick. When we die there has to be something else, that’s why we can’t explain it. If everybody had all the answers though I guess there’d be no mystery and wonder.

B: I think nurturing that sense of wonder and investigating those big life mysteries is important.

RB: Absolutely! It’s so easy to get jaded with things in life as you get older, it becomes a challenge to stay positive. I got the news about Rick’s passing from a buddy. I had been trying to look him up and get a hold of him just this past month. If you knew Rick though, you know he’s a pretty private guy, very quiet and a soft spoken individual.

B: How did you come to know Rick?

RB: …we had it in our contract that we could pick whoever we wanted to and we wanted Rick. When he came down to watch us play he seemed like the best fit for us. It was nice that we could get out of San Diego and go to Seattle to live and record. It was great to get away from all of the distractions. It was our third record and people were starting to know who we were and really get it.

Rick Parashar+

WADE YOUMAN: Rick found us. At the time we were sending out demos for the Black record. We were meeting with a couple of producers about it. We had this studio in Clairemont and Rick showed up. At the time I didn’t really know who he was, he walked in dressed in all white. He watched us practice our songs and was really quiet but there was a real rad energy to him. We were all immediately like, this is the guy! We went and got something to eat with him after and all of us really connected, it was really magical. He told me when we were eating…there was this really big poster of Shannon Hoon, a Blind Melon one, and he told me about working with Shannon.

RB: I remember Rick talking about Shannon. Wade and I were big fans of Bind Melon. I know he was really affected by Shannon’s death. What I took from that is how much Rick really cared about the people he decided to work with. He really seemed to have a genuine interest in you as a person. He treated you like family. Him and his brother Raj owned a deli too, they both took us in as family—that was part of Rick’s make up. I kept in touch with him for a few years after. When I got home from Seattle I met my wife, we’ve been married 13 years now, when I went back there on tour I was able to take her and Rick came out and met her too. He was such a genuine person, if you’ve ever met some of the big producers over here in America, they’ve got big egos. Like, look at who I’ve worked with, or how much money I’ve made that kind of thing; Rick was never like that. He was the most down-to-earth person and cared about what he could bring out of you musically. By the time we worked with him he had made records with Alice In Chains, Temple of the Dog and as mentioned Blind Melon and Pearl Jam, yet he was totally humble. I think everyone felt that.

Blind Melon had lived in his house (near the studio) before us. Because a lot of bands had stayed there while recording with Rick people were interested and come by to see what was happening at the “rock n roll house”. All different kinds of people would visit when they saw someone living there, from kids in the neighbourhood to strippers [laughs]. That whole period is a time in my life I will definitely never forget. Wade and on were on the phone for over an hour the other night talking about Rick and that time. It was crazy.

B: You mentioned Wade that Rick liked to dress in white; do you know why?

WY: I’m not too sure. It was just what he did, it was his style, and it was part of his air of magic. I noticed that whenever we’d practice or record, Rick always wore it. It was cool.

magic board

B: I know that Rick means a lot to you; why was Rick important to you?

WY: Oh god I could go on for hours about that! When we moved up there, to London Bridge Studios, it comes with a house you can live in that’s two blocks from it. Something I wanna say that was really important is that Rick took the time to spend solo time with each of us. We were a handful to deal with back then. After the success of the Unwritten Law Oz Factor album we were pretty much some of the toughest motherfuckers on the planet to deal with, somehow though he found a way to bring us all together. I remember the time I spent with him and we’d talk about magic, invocation and lyrics I was writing as well as my drumming—he was always behind me and supportive in every way. When I did the track ‘418’ he create a real atmosphere in the studio, he’d bring in candles, help me set them up and light them. He was very reassuring when I’d feel insecure about drumbeats. He really pushed you to get the best out of you while being encouraging. The time I spent with him was so radical. Any idea that would come into my head he would embrace.

RB: We went to his house for three months and we wrote the best album we’ve ever released musically, in my opinion. The label never came out to watch any of it while we were doing it. As soon as we made the record they told us we were dropped. We were fortunate because our manager found another place for us to put the album out on; Interscope Records was willing to buy the record because it was already done. Epic sold us to Interscope and it was probably the best thing that happened to us. Most bands don’t get a second chance at being on a major label and we were fortunate in that aspect.

Once we got to Seattle to write and record we learnt a lot from Rick. He was a really interesting guy. He co-wrote a lot of the songs on the Pearl Jam ‘Ten’ record. You can hear his piano parts on some of the biggest songs they recorded like ‘Jeremy’. The piano that he used for that record was in the studio when we were recording. I used to geek out and sit there and play the part for ‘Jeremy’ Rick played. It was cool to be able to do something like that, it’s like you’re channelling some of the artist’s energy or something [laughs].

WY: I remember halfway through one of our sessions we went out to the car and tripped out for an hour on this Indian music he would play me. We would talk about really deep stuff, stuff that really matters. Me and him talked about all this stuff that he was going through in relation to missing Shannon Hoon, his passing really affected him. While we were getting stuff out while working on the record I think he was too, that’s part of the Black album’s magic.

Another thing about Rick is that he’d always pay attention to everything, whether that be our influences, ideas or even just what was going on in the room, it was all important to him. He is such an amazing producer. I’m really sad right now, I feel such a loss. Rick always had such a spiritual vibe to him; he was really private, he didn’t like having too many pictures taken or videotaped, he definitely didn’t do many interviews. I feel like he kept all of his “magic” for the bands that he worked with, that is so special to me. He was always meticulous with whatever he was doing. Also, with him there was no bullshit, he didn’t care for outside kind of things like fame or any of that stuff, he never gave a shit. It was always about the music and creating something great.

rick

B: Do you have any particular memories of that time you could share?

RB: The first day that we showed up at Rick’s we’d just come of the Warped tour that summer and took a few months off before working on the Black album. We drove 25 hours to get up to Seattle and the first thing we asked after we got there and unpacked was, where’s the nearest bar? Rick told us that there was a rock bar where a lot of bands and strippers would hang out [laughs]. We went down there the very first night. We weren’t in the bar even for five minutes when these familiar looking dudes walk in. As they came in we realised it was the Deftones, we had come of the road with them from Warped tour – we spent the whole summer of 1996 with those guys and became friends with them. They looked at us and us them and we were all like, what are you guys doing here? They told us they were recording a record and we were like, that’s what we’re doing too! The next thing you know it was us and the Deftones most nights for the next few months at the bar after our sessions. We’d go up to their apartment and they’d come to our house and we’d just party. I knew right away that it was going to be a fun adventure.

B: When Rick passed I noticed there was a lot of love for him expressed by friends and people he worked with online. From what I’ve heard and read the constant theme is that Rick really had a conviction for his work: music first, record sales and whatnot second.

WY: Oh absolutely! Bianca without a doubt, he was awesome—it was all about the music! Fuck man, that’s embedded in my soul and always will be, it’s one of the raddest things that Rick reminded me of and I took away from those sessions.

B: In our chats you’ve told me about how in that period you yourself wanted to take a more “Fugazi” grass roots route for things rather than be some huge famous band…

WY: Yeah. I thought it was cool that he took us on because before us he worked with Pearl Jam, Blind Melon, then us – a complete different direction from previous stuff he’d worked on. When you listen to the Black record you can really hear our evolution from what we were doing on Oz Factor. I believe it was a huge progression for us. A lot of the songs that we were writing at the time were actually done in the studio. He really helped out with songs like California Sky and Coffin Text, he really pushed us. Coffin Text was last minute, we had the idea and then he’d encourage us like, “Come on boys let’s just do it.” It’s like it came out of nowhere. On the song 418 we set up the whole studio with candles and there was a magic board that we worked on. We did it in one take drum-wise! He bought in the Incubus boys for it, Mikey [Einziger] and Brandon [Boyd]. That session was really spiritual for me, I’ll never forget it. London Bridge was also one of the coolest looking studios. He worked a lot with Scott [Russo] too; Teenage Suicide was written there.

B: I read an interview with Scott from ages ago and he commented that he thought that the Black album was the first time you guys really produced a good piece of art.

WY: Right. I talked to him yesterday about Rick, we were saying how Rick was really the best producer we’ve ever worked with. He taught Scott and me a lot of tricks. I don’t know where we got Rick from, from another astral plane or something! Definitely not from this planet it seems to me. The whole time that we lived there it was magical.

B: I’ve heard Rick referred to as a “supernatural” producer before.

WY: Oh dude absolutely without a doubt. I really do feel it now. It sucks when someone you care about and love passes and sometimes you don’t realise just how much of an impact they had on you until they’re gone. Thinking back on it he’d teach me things like the importance of being in the moment. When stuff was going on all around you he’d bring you back to base. He really helped make our band work. We were all going 8,000 miles in different directions, at time it was such chaos—he brought us together.

B: Rick played on the Black album didn’t he?

WY: He played a few little things, I know he does that when he records people. You can hear his voice, if you listen close you can faintly her him, he talks at the end of California Sky. He played on Pearl Jam’s song Jeremy, the piano thing at the beginning. He was the guy that made bands blow up! There was something that he had in him, something in his eyes. His brother Raj who he was very close with was really great too. Together they were a super team—Rick and Raj! They were best friends. Raj looked after the band, he’d take us out to party, calm us down so Rick could get focused in the studio.

RB: We were out of control! We were on our third record, we’d just come off the road after touring all over for about four years. Rick had worked with bands that I guess you wouldn’t call punk rock bands at the time and I also wondered if he knew what he was getting into with us. We were wild when we were younger [laughs], it’s well documented. I look back now at the age of 44 and I’m just appalled by some of my behaviour when I was young. We lived a punk rock lifestyle more than most bands we encountered. We did whatever we wanted; we fought, we drank, we were loud, we played loud, we toured a lot. We didn’t fake a punk rock lifestyle that was our reality. We were proud of that because that was our roots, where we came from and what we listened to.

WY: My heart really goes out to Raj, I love that guy. I hope that he is ok. That’s like his twin brother y’know. They were each other’s spiritual counterpart that helped keep bands together.

B: I got that impression from seeing a couple of photos online.

WY: As close as you can get.

B: Something else folks have said about Rick is that everyone who came in to his orbit was important to, that he made you feel special and have a unique love for you.

WY: I would agree totally. The whole experience with Rick changed my life. To this day it’s one of the most special things I have done. Ah Bianca you have me getting all choked up now…

B: Awww its ok Wade, I know how much Rick meant to you. Like you were telling me the other day when we spoke, Rick’s energy is still there and you can totally tap into it.

WY: Yeah that’s right thank you for reminding me Bianca. He was magical. I just miss him.

B: I know and rightly so. Like we’ve talked about, Rick helped not only your band but you on a personal level. To have a mentor and guide in life like that is a really special thing.

WY: Yeah you’re right. I love talking to you, you remind me of all the positive, important stuff that matters. Thank you.

B: That’s what friends are for dude! It’s essential to have positive people in your life that lift your spirits when you’re down and that spark magic in your soul. You want to surround yourself with people that have your best interests at heart that work towards a common goal and help you to shine and be the best you, you can be. Life’s too short to be surrounded by drama and negative people. Like with Rick and Raj making order out of the chaos that was you guys back then like you mentioned earlier.

WY: You’re right. Coming back from Australia I was thinking about the Black album ‘cause we played a lot of songs off it on the tour and now with me being back in the band, it can get overwhelming. When I’m on stage playing those songs Rick will pop into my mind and I’ll remember London Bridge and being at the house. I talked to Rob last night about it.

Another thing that makes the whole Black album period special was that before we lost our bass player, John Bell. I was really close to him. I was so upset and crying thinking, what am I going to do without my bass player? I’ve spent my whole life playing with him. I felt at a loss, it felt like a tragedy happened. Rick really helped me with that, he was almost like a therapist as well as being a producer. He told me that we’d get through it and make what has to happen, happen…and he did!

Rick's piano at London Bridge Studio

B: Is there anything else from that time with Rick that sticks out for you that you could share?

WY: I just remember his smile, laughing a lot and being able to diffuse the situation and make things better when we were at each other’s throat. It was such a comforting thing having his voice come through the headphones while I was recording. At times my headphones would fall off and he’d come duct tape them to my head! [laughs]. I’ll never forget it, it was the best. During the recording he was definitely the fifth member of Unwritten Law, he’s all over it. I miss him very much.

Something else that me and him talked about that I’m so glad we did was, what happens to you when you die? That was a big question that I had in my head at the time. We talked a lot about the “spiritual” world. We spoke about Shannon passing, there was stuff of Shannon’s at the house we stayed in. The rooms had a real vibe too. The perspective that he gave me on death is that there’s no such thing, that we’re energy that goes on. I believe he’s really, really alive just not in physical form. That idea gives me comfort. I was hoping one day I’d get to work with him again.

Greg Graffin taught me a lot of stuff when we recorded the Oz Factor album with him but Rick really made me realise how tough of a job it was, especially for Unwritten Law, to keep it together. I can honestly say back then we were the hardest band in the world to work for. Bringing people together and making magic happen is what Rick did. I think back then we took a lot of things for granted, at least I know I did. Another thing I really remember is there was a basketball hoop out the back and we’d go play to vent, he’d made it so we’d bond on the basketball court and then we’d go back inside and just do it. There was no fucking around when you had to go to work. There was a sunroof on top of London Bridge, when I first got there I couldn’t stand the light coming through; he let me go up there and cover the roof with trash bags [laughs]. I cut holes in the trash bags so it looked like the constellation of Orion’s belt!

B: That’s awesome! I could imagine you doing that, rad!

WY: [Laughs] Yeah! He really embraced me, whether, like I said before, lighting candles, using a magic board. He was down for it. He was into whatever mood I needed to get into to create. Other people might be like, oh here he goes again—but not Rick.

B: I’ve been told that Rick was a real optimist?

RB: He was, he believed in you. He always felt that if we just worked things out and spent the time doing things…like this was before everyone had access to digital recording, we record on 2-inch tape so it took a long time. It was time well spent though, we’d rehearse every morning and work in the studio every night. In between doing the edits he always liked us to go outside and exercise, like play basketball and badminton [laughs]. He used to say that if you got outside and got the blood pumping it would help our creativity. He was just pleasant to be around. Me and him spent about three weeks in the booth just doing my guitar parts. Rick’s thing was that he was really open to things, he’d give you a shot to try things out. When we were trying to work things out while recording he’d get up and go to his piano and try to work things out.

I really remember being at peace while I recorded. That was a big deal for me, I used to get really, really stress out with that stuff early on because I knew it was a big deal especially with major labels involved. I really wanted to put out something good, that can really get to you when you’re in the studio. It’s a really interesting process you can go through so many emotions, that stress, or you could be really fired up and on it one day and then the next be really down and bummed out. Rick would get you in the right state of mind, he really tried to bring out the best in you. He mixed the record down too. It’s a testament to a producer that they can record an album and mix it down good. He was just an amazing talent.

B: Any other thoughts?

RB: Only the fact that I think the fifty years that he lived was too short. I feel that Rick had so much more to give. I’m sadden I didn’t get to catch up with him again. We met a lot of great people along the way on our journey with Rick. His co-producers were all such good people, they really welcomed us. It was such a beautiful time and one of my favourite memories of being in Unwritten Law.

B: What is one of the most important things Rick taught you?

WY: To stay alive! [laughs] and put all of my heart and soul into whatever I do, to play with heart and give everything you’ve got. Don’t be afraid of anything. Really, really work hard at what you love and to follow your dreams. He taught me spiritual stuff, he taught me to keep opening my mind and create good art. I’ll always remember when he told me: the world revolves around music. I’ve always been a really spiritual person, intrigued by aliens and the occult, he was into it too. He taught me to reach inside, dig deep and have confidence in what I do rather than wasting energy on trying to prove myself to other people…actually he didn’t teach it to me but through working closely together he proved it to me. He was a great teacher. Thinking of all this now reminds me how important it is that I kept playing music—it’s our job to help the world stay alive and keep pumping! I just wanna say, love you Rick! I feel ya.

Rick Parashar tribute celebration by Carlyn Crawford

Join the REMEMBERING RICK fb page here. For more UNWRITTEN LAW. Click for LONDON BRIDGE STUDIO. More on RICK PARASHAR.

Thanks for the music Rick. R.I.P.

I heart you

 

 

*Photos: 1) art by me; Pics 1 + 3 – courtesy of Rob Brewer; Pic 2 – courtesy of Wade Youman; pic 4 – London Bridge Studios; pic 5 – Carlyn Crawford.

 

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