Below you’ll find a selection of tracks that I believe best represent my work as a drummer over the years. For a full list of the albums I’ve recorded, see my discography. And, since I like to write, below the playlist I’ve written up a little about each track featured. I encourage you to read it only if a) you have time to kill at the office or b) are really interested in the background of the song you’ve heard.
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It was the summer of 2001, Ciaira’s tears had been together for just under two years. Steve Baria, the band’s lead singer/songwriter/guitarist, had just enrolled in a studio engineering class at Studio 11, a local, independent recording studio in Winnipeg, Canada. They needed a band to practice their recording skills on. Steve volunteered his band, Ciaira’s tears. And so it was to lead to my first recording gig, the band’s second or third, and would produce our first single, Jellybean. This recording session itself was monumental not just because it was my first recording appearance, but because it would introduce me into the greater Winnipeg musical culture and to many of the folks who had been in the scene for years. We would go on to record three more songs in the studio that winter which would later be released as our Life After… EP. A rock song through and through, the lyrics sing of first relationship that, as most of us can relate to, was “doomed for failure.” This song struck a chord with the most folks and remained our most requested song.
I have no idea where the true inspiration for this song came from, but the title is an amalgamation of “tylenol” (a pain killer) and alcohol (also a pain killer). I’m pretty sure Mr. Baria has personified the two instruments that can lead to so much relief and, well, destruction in one’s life. Probably one of my favourite songs of all time probably because of the powerful intro and resolution into the chorus (the wha? Wha?) Check it out. We almost always played Alconol in conjunction with Mrs. Alexander between which we’d always do some sort of jam. The version released in the Life After.. EP was recorded on January 3, 2002 on a small digital recorder at the Wise Guys Bar Downtown.
A son gone wrong is what this song is about. Written by Steve Furmaniuk, the band’s bass player and second guitarist when needed, I immediately loved this song. I remember the first time he introduced the song to me, we were just jamming along and I put down some beat similar to Fatboy Slim’s Funk Soul Brother, somehow the song morphed into Mrs. Alexander. It is this song that Mr. F would recommend that I learn the “dynamics” of song structure. Dynamite? Sure, so I played harder and louder and faster. I will admit that I was an eager little drummer and would, sometimes, play at speeds that my fellow bandmates found difficult to keep up with. This song, especially live, was always a powerhouse. The melody, in my mind, remains simply the best ever written. The version here was recorded on the same night as Alconol and remains one of my proudest achievements since I laid down some solid double kick work. Have a listen to the end of the song and see what you think.
One of the last tracks we wrote and, this track, performed live at the Royal Albert Arms Hotel in Winnipeg, Canada. One of our favourite and dirty haunts, unfortunately this track wasn’t recorded properly so there’s a bit of a digital “pop” whenever I hit the snare. Too bad cause the song’s got a good groove… kinda like Tool except not. Lastly, this song features bass work by our new bass player, Mike Joss.
After Ciaira’s tears had run its course, I joined a Ukrainian polka band. If there’s one thing that this band did for me was become a conversation piece. You see, after years of slumming around the Royal Albert, the Zoo and other hard rock and metal palaces in cold cold Winnipeg, I’d gotten to know a few folks who played in other bands. Imagine their surprise when I told them that my next project was a Ukrainian polka band and, yes, I wore a suit to most shows and played at people’s weddings. That’s right, people entrusted me, Steven Sirski, drummer of hard rock band Ciaira’s tears, to polka their eyes on their special day. And so we did. A seven-piece ensemble playing mostly Ukrainian folk songs and other popular party songs led to us actually earning money to record our first disc, Before Sunrise, which (thankfully?) is nowhere to be found. That first disc thus enabled us to play more and record another disc and truly establish an identity on the Ukrainian-Canadian music scene with Moonlight. This song begins our second disc with a masterful violin solo by Katrusia Basarab. The disc garnered quite a bit of attention and we regularly performed in support of it at festivals across Canada.
I wish I could claim credit for this song but it’s too good to pass up on a “best of” collection. This song really belongs on the “best of Andriy Michalchyshyn” since he took the lead in writing and arranging it. The Arkan is a traditional Ukrainian fire dance performed by men in a circle. Although nothing like the more popular version done by Ukraine’s own pop-phenom, Ruslana, this song, in my mind, is an imaginative and picturesque version. Every time I hear it I can’t help but think of an old man hustling through the Carpathian mountains. This is one song that we played live only once, as a warm up to one of our shows, but never again. The song is primarily a studio mixture of sounds, though the drums were recorded live, which we tried again for The Cliff! (see below).
Let’s Drink, Brothers!
Like you need an excuse to drink if you’re at a Ukrainian wedding. It is a reality, however, that the current generation of kids growing up in Ukraine don’t drink as much as the previous generation. This song, however, hearkens back to the days of the Kozaks (also spelled “Cossacks”) preparing for battle or celebrating their victory. A powerful song all about… drinking. A song that always packed the floor and helped liquor sales at every function we played. I’m told there was a study done at one of our shows that proved that whenever we played this song, sales of vodka would increase by a third. I don’t know whether or not to believe that.
Mama Sent Me
Never before heard in Canada, this song was brought back from a Ukrainian village by the mother of our fearless leader, Dobryan Tracz. Apparently she overheard the song while leading a tour group through the village and inquired about it. She managed to acquire the music and lyrics and brought it back for Taran to perform. And so we did. We changed it into a country-folk song. Another one of my favourites from the “Taran Era”, this song went on to inspire a short film of mine that never got off the ground. I think Johnny Cash would be proud of this track. Ah, as for the meaning of the song, according to my rusty translation, apparently a well-meaning mother sends her daughter a bunch of lovers but she’s like, “NFW, Mom.” So she sits on the edges of the Danube doing whatever it is people do on the edge of the Danube.
The Young Writer
Ah, and the boys of Taran strike out on their own. Having found a generous amount of success with the Ukrainian polka, the desire to strike out with an original project burned deep down inside. And so the Zrada Cultural Academy was born. The Young Writer, written by Andy M, details the life of a young songwriter and all the trials and tribulations therein. Is it autobiographical? This song was one of our faster songs that could get out of hand at shows. Not only that, this song debuted my “jungle snare” that I needed to justify its purchase.
Beginning with a powerful and picturesque violin solo, this song would go on to be one of the fan favourites. The music would also serve as inspiration for my short film The Five Muses. Clocking in at just over seven minutes, the song is an epic telling of a very nice girl who simply, well, is too good to be true. The song starts with a slow violin solo, reminiscent of old black and white films, and segues into a powerful verse followed by a rampant chorus. The songs breaks down in the middle before building into an often vodka-soaked and uncontrollable finale, a part which always got out of hand and would never end at live shows.
Black Sea Mania
A traditional Ukrainian song about sailing the Black Sea to the south of the Ukrainian mainland usually sung by Ukrainian scouts, called Plastyn. We… uh, I had trouble keeping up with the click track on this one so what did we do? Record without it. You can hear the pace of the change within the first few bars but the tempo remains steady after that.
Give Me Liquor
Heh, what else do you think this song is about? The only thing that makes the day good is a good drink. Although I’d like to think that the entire album is a stellar representation of the band, what Andy M would later describe to me as a “museum piece” simply because most of what you hear on the album cannot be duplicated faithfully live on stage. The album, however, stands on its own. Unfortunately, this album would also take the longest to complete topping out at a year and a half. I wouldn’t be in Winnipeg long enough to see the end of the album process, preferring to begin my world travels. Nick Luchak took over drum duties and it is with him that they debuted the album at festivals in Winnipeg and Toronto. The album is a solid musical creation and the lead off track, Give Me Liquor, is just the beginning of a monumental album.
While I’m Alive
A fast-paced ska-punk-polka song about being alive or something like that. I can’t remember how much we actually practiced this song before we recorded in the studio but I don’t think it was very much. The song starts off with the sopilka, then come the drymba and trembita, after which the drums roll in and the song kicks off into its almost undanceable beat. Short, sweet and to the point.
Similar to the Arkan mentioned above, The Cliff! is one of two instrumental tracks included on Zrada‘s first full length album. I remember recording this song in parts as there was really no structure to begin with. Instead, we recorded a bunch of sounds and then Andriy took the lead in mixing and arranging them into what you hear now. In addition to the regular drums, bass and accordion, other instruments you’ll hear on the track include the drymba, sopilka, tambourine, tsymbala, rain and wolves. The melody/rhythm that you hear is a traditional Ukrainian pattern that is found throughout Ukrainian folk music. Dun dundun dundun! Dun dundun dundun!
From my yet-to-be-released instrumental jazz EP, Jazz Journals, recorded in Malaysia, Baby’s Waltz is firstest first song ever really written by myself. The song went through several variations before I finally settled on a very simple waltz-like melody. I thought about how my nieces back in Canada learned how to crawl and then finally walk and then played that on the piano (yes, I composed it myself on piano). However, I would find out throughout the recording process that musical inspiration is one thing, but writing, recording and producing music is another. At any rate, this stands as my first song written as a jazz musician.
Though I originally laid down the drums back in South Korea, it took until Malaysia 2012 for me to actually build up the courage (and money) to record the Jazz Journals EP. With this track I had in mind a teenager sneaking out of the house to prowl the streets, much like the Pink Panther would sneak around a house during an investigation. However, upon completion of the EP, I realized that it could also be a toddler getting wheeled around in his/her stroller. I suppose it fits with the concept of “age” throughout the rest of the songs.
A project I should’ve done years ago but just kept putting it off I finally made it work in the fall of 2013. This track, tentatively titled Djembe Ensemble, is heavily influenced by years of listening to African tribal music. This is one of the first tracks I made for the album, DjemBA, and consists of layered djembe tracks with some additional percussive elements. My aim was to replicate the feel of a chase or a hunting sequence.
Djembe Solo 2
One of a few different djembe solos I made for DjemBA. It’s a simple and short solo, showcasing free-form improvisation on the African djembe.
If you still have time, head on over to the Reminiscences series to read about my years as a musician in Winnipeg.