In an HRAC Exclusive video, legendary Canadian guitarist Rik Emmett walks us through the current album by his band Rik Emmett & RESolution9, RES 9, track by track, and he also plays us a number of its signature riffs while doing so. Take a look and give a listen right here:
I had both the honor and privilege of interviewing Emmett extensively about the making of RES 9 last year for a special project at his request. I also spoke with his compatriots in the RESolution9 band, which is comprised of Rik’s touring quartet — namely, Dave Dunlop on guitar, Steve Skingley on bass and keyboards, and Paul DeLong on drums. Dunlop and Skingley also co-produced RES 9 with Emmett.
RES 9 is available in a number of formats, including CD, limited-edition red vinyl, and hi-res digital download on Provogue Records, an imprint of The Mascot Label Group. (You can also get the hi-res 44.1/24 version on HDtracks.) And while I gladly defer to Emmett’s explanations of each of the album’s 11 songs in the above video, let me just say the full-on gallop of “Human Race” (which also features a driving 12-string contribution from Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson), the testifying tones of “My Cathedral,” the whispering blues of “The Ghost of Shadow Town,” the cutting-heads guitar duels on “End of the Line,” and the touching album-closing bonus track “Grand Parade” (which features, yes, his two longtime bandmates in Triumph), all sound absolutely magnifique in 24-bit form.
In case you’re wondering where the band name came from, Emmett (whom many of you know spent a number of years as the vocalist/guitarist in the aforementioned Triumph before embarking on a successful solo career) reveals he always viewed the recording team as a band and not as solo-artist support from the very outset. “We always wanted it to be packaged like a band, so we needed a band name,” Emmett recounts. “I didn’t want it to be just Rik Emmett. We liked the idea of using the initials RE for Rik Emmett, so what about a word that starts that way, like REvolution? RESolution was even better, because it’s almost like the Rik Emmett Solution, and the solution to all of my problems is the band! Great! But I thought using RESolution on its own was very ’60s or ’70s, so I said, ‘How about we stick the number 9 at the end?’”
“This album represents a journey through my life,” Emmett observes, “and the idea behind a lot of these songs is me trying to figure out who I am, and why I’m doing what I’m doing. There’s a common thread of positivity here that ties into the records I was making 30 years ago. What did I learn from making them? You’ll hear all of that echoed in the grooves of this album.”
As noted above, Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson added some period-perfect 12-string guitar alongside Emmett and Dunlop to buttress the impact of the album’s second track, “Human Race,” and Alex says he found it quite an honor to play with and for his lifelong friend. “When Rik asked me to play on his new album, I didn’t hesitate for a second,” Lifeson reports. “He’s the consummate musician, a wonderful guitarist, and a terrific person, and it’s always my pleasure to work with him any chance I can get. There is a rock purity in his songwriting and performance, and it’s just so much fun to get together and throw ideas around. He’s always so up and open for anything — even a notoriously uncooperative Rickenbacker 12-string!” Dunlop points out the way RESolution9 meshed with Lifeson “stands as a great example of the collective efforts of the brotherhood.”
Another one of RES 9’s honored guests, Dream Theater vocalist James LaBrie, lent his own considerable talents to a pair of tracks, “I Sing” and “End of the Line” (the latter of which also features Lifeson taking the third guitar solo), and he jumped at the chance to record with his fellow Canadian. “I’ve been extremely blessed and fortunate to meet so many great musicians and beautiful people throughout my career, and to have the opportunity to collaborate and record with some of them is really icing on the cake,” LaBrie notes. “What a thrill it was to record with Rik, who is such an incredible musician and overall down-to-earth cool guy.” About the slow-build manifesto of “I Sing,” Skingley enthuses, “James sang his ass off on that song!” Adds Dunlop, “I enjoyed tracking the guitars on ‘I Sing’ the most because I got to go crazy with several layers of guitars — and I also got to channel [Pink Floyd’s] David Gilmour on the outro.”
A fair amount of the album was recorded and mixed at Mississauga, Ontario’s MetalWorks Studios, a location where Emmett, bassist Mike Levine, and drummer/vocalist Gil Moore (who owns the studio) recorded many of Triumph’s greatest works — and it’s also where the trio convened to tackle the album’s closing bonus track, “Grand Parade.” Clarifies Emmett, “The Triumph song is a bonus track. That’s the best way to position it. It’s like ‘Suitcase Blues’ [the last track on Triumph’s 1979 million-seller, Just a Game] — or ‘Her Majesty’ at the end of Abbey Road!”
Having Triumph involved on RES 9 to some degree was always on the table. “I play ‘Suitcase Blues’ as the last song of the night in the encore for my acoustic shows. I dedicate it to Mike and Gil and the fact that they gave me the latitude to do the crazy things that I do,” Emmett laughs. “As I was developing the lyrics for ‘Grand Parade,’ I started thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I could get Mike and Gil to play on it? Wouldn’t that just bring everything full circle?’ One thing led to another, and there we were, recording in MetalWorks. Things just lined up perfectly.”
Levine had a great time in the studio with his former bandmates. “We rocked it up a bit, and Gil made the drums heavier than they were on the demo,” the bassist notes. “Once I paid deeper attention to the lyrics, I really got into the ‘let’s wrap up this late night’ kind of feel to it. I think it turned out really fantastic. I told Rik I felt it was a really cool tune, one that was very personal for all of us. I’m really, really proud of it, and it was great to work with both Rik and Gil on it. It was really neat.”
Moore wholly enjoyed the “Grand Parade” experience. “It was really a pleasure to have Rik and his band at MetalWorks, and getting to see him there every day was just like the old days,” the drummer recounts. “I always liked how Rik was able to bring another dimension and another color palette to what we were doing, and I like the spacious bass and drum tracks we did together. That’s what’s always been in my wheelhouse, as far as my playing is concerned. I’m really happy with how this song turned out. I hope we get to do it again.”
(Incidentally, if you want to see what Emmett, Levine, and Moore thought about their pivotal album Allied Forces having celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2016, as well as their views re its ongoing impact, you can read all about that in a story I wrote for Rik’s official site.)
As great as it was to have such honored guests on this album, Emmett is also a strong believer in band teamwork, and to him, the overall vibe of RES 9 is clearly reflected in the brotherhood and camaraderie shared amongst all the artists who made this special music together. “You can’t accomplish this kind of project 100 percent by yourself,” Emmett believes. “It takes a lot of things working together to make something like this happen. I come back to the old saying that goes, ‘Success has many fathers, and failure is an orphan.’ I knew that I had to spread it all around. It’s important I keep the guys in my band pretty happy.”
For their part, Emmett’s fellow RES 9’ers couldn’t be happier with the end RESults. “I’ve been working with Rik for over 20 years and we’ve done several records together as a duo, so I knew going in that it would be a good experience,” says Dunlop, who’s also performed with Emmett under the quite fitting name of Strung-Out Troubadours. “Rik is always open to suggestions and is gracious in the space he gives me to play and come up with ideas. He trusts my judgement, so I had endless freedom when it came to creating my parts on the album.”
Concurs Skingley, who also served as the album’s co-principal engineer, “Brotherhood is a good way to describe it. It’s a very unique record in the sense that all of the writing, production, and engineering was kept in-house. It reminds me of a throwback to the ’70s, where bands like 10cc did everything themselves. Here, everything flowed from Rik. Dave and I spent a week of pre-production choosing the songs from his demos and playing them acoustically, making sure everything was solid. We then brought in Paul on drums, and started playing them live in a room together. I recorded each step along the way. It was pretty interesting to listen to the development of each song throughout that process.”
Once DeLong got behind the kit, the unique brand of RES 9 magic was unleashed full-force. “Rik is a great leader in that he allows creativity to take place, always,” DeLong says. “He welcomes input from everybody in the band. This hasn’t always been my experience, so it’s a welcome change — and it made for a lot of fun while we were both rehearsing and recording the material for the album. And the recording was painless! Rik was always very positive about what we were accomplishing, and I think that reflects in the overall vibe of the tunes.”
Overall, RES 9 is a spot-on representation of the many facets of Emmett the recording artist. “I was always an eclectic chameleon of a player. I had to learn how to adapt from playing folk guitar to being in a wedding band or a polka band to joining a rock band,” Emmett recalls, “and with RES 9, that chameleon is showing off all of his colors. While there are vintage and retro sounds on the album, it is very much about my currency as an artist. I want this record to be a summation of who I am and what I’ve done as a songwriter, guitar player, and singer — the whole ball of wax.”
Emmett’s ultimate goal for RES 9 is to connect with as many people as possible. “The context of this entire album for me was, ‘Wow, somebody tossed me a lifeline,’” he concludes. “I still want to make positive music and offer people something that’s motivating and inspiring — and I want to do it for myself too. I need music, and music can provide that lifeline for me.” Mission accomplished: “I’ve got a thirst for life,” as Emmett sings on “Human Race.” And you’ll find that thirst being quenched quite handily in the very heartbeats that percolate within all 11 tracks of RES 9. Drink up.