Jim Chapdelaine

Apr 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Gary Eskow

Versatile Musician/Producer Has a Blast Behind the Glass


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Making a living in the music industry today is a) easy! b) easy, but only if you know Paris Hilton, c) tougher than ever, or d) forget it. Many talented musicians have thrown in the towel and reclaimed their amateur status due to the depressed state of the recording and advertising industries.

Jim Chapdelaine isn't one of them. The multitalented guitarist/producer/engineer, who grew up in Connecticut and lives just down the road from Mark Twain's home in West Hartford, has just turned the corner on one of his busiest years.

Highlights for 2003 included producing Phoebe Snow's 2002 CD, Natural Wonder, mastering Clarence Clemons' Temple of Soul: Live in Asbury Park (with performances by Bruce Springsteen) and scoring Energy, a five-part PBS series featuring Ed Asner. His own band, Feathermerchants, recorded their new album for Rykodisc, with Chuck Leavell on keyboards. A meeting with Artemis Records to discuss his latest project, Backroads for Tomorrow, is scheduled. “Backroads for Tomorrow is a two-man group that I'd describe as Coldplay meets Nick Drake,” Chapdelaine says. “They record basic tracks in a cabin in Maine and bring them here. I'm playing lap steel and mandolin on this record, and then we'll add some horns and keyboards.”

Chapdelaine spent a few years at Berklee in the mid-'70s and then left to study privately with Pat Metheny. While deciding whether to return for his degree or go on the road, he received some bad news. “I got cancer and things looked bleak for a while. But I'm healthy and happy, a husband and the proud father of a 4-year-old girl.”

After his recovery, Chap hit the road, playing with “everyone from Duff McKagan [Guns N' Roses] to Mike Love [the Beach Boys] to Big Al Anderson to Les Paul.” By the early '80s, he was writing and producing jingles in the Hartford area. “I built a 16-track studio and started educating myself about microphones, preamps — the whole shooting match,” he says.

In 2002, Chapdelaine built his latest studio, with the help of industry veteran Chris Huston. “Anyone who isn't familiar with his history should check out www.chrishuston.com,” he says. “He grew up with John Lennon, engineered the first two Led Zeppelin records and did a great job for me!”

After selling his digital console last year, Chapdelaine now mixes in Pro Tools, where his path leads from the DAW to outboard gear (via inserts) and into a Dangerous Music 2Bus. Monitoring is done through the Dangerous Monitor. “Everyone addresses the front end,” he says. “You need great mics, mic pre's and equalizers. I never stop shopping for this stuff. Fortunately, I have lots of guitar endorsements, so I'm able to stay current with Gibsons, for example, without busting the bank. Rick Turner builds great instruments; he makes all of the weird stuff I love, including an electric mandocello and baritone 12-string.

“But people are less conscious of the back end. I go in and out of my system using a combination of Apogee Trac2s and 8000SEs, and I'm getting ready to beta test Apogee's latest converters. I listen on ADAM S3A monitors in stereo; I still haven't gotten much call for surround work. The Dangerous 2Bus lets me re-access all my cool analog outboard gear: Manley SLAM!, Focusrite Blue 230, Distressors. I bus analog signals from the converters in subgroups.

“I create the subgroups — overheads, let's say — in Pro Tools. The 2Bus can be set up as 16 discrete mono channels or eight stereo pairs. If I want to process the overheads, I'll pick them up at the patchbay before they get to the 2Bus and then route them back into it. Other parts will pass directly into the 2Bus.

“I love plug-ins and have billions of them, but I can't imagine giving up my analog processors. Once I complete my stereo mix, I'll go outside once more before I reach my final media, usually an Alesis MasterLink, and hit it with a bit of compression from a Manley VariMu or the Manley Massive Passive. I have the entire Dangerous system: the 2Bus, the Monitor, a headphone amp, a digital/analog metering device and a little 8-channel line mixer.”

He may have stayed in Connecticut and taken the road less traveled, but the word on Chapdelaine has gotten around. Sterling Sound's Greg Calbi has been watching him for some time. “Jim's the quintessential post-modern industry figure: a recording engineer, producer, musician, technician and computer wizard,” Calbi says. “You have to be a generalist in this economy, and he has all the elements to be self-contained. Jim has one of the best creative attitudes I've ever come across.”

Given all of his talents, which part of music-making gives Chapdelaine the greatest pleasure? “I think producing, in the way I get to work. You surround a band with a sound. For me, that means playing my crazy instruments, thinking about what will make the artist and song shine and working the technology. What a blast!”

Gary Eskow is a contributing editor to Mix.

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