Mix Interview: Producer/Engineer Joe Chiccarelli
Mar 1, 2012 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson
'THE SONG TELLS YOU WHAT TO DO'
Chances are, if you checked in on what Joe Chiccarelli was up to in almost any month dating back to the dawn of the ’80s, you would have found him involved in some interesting recording project. What a career! The producer/engineer/mixer has weathered the fads and fluctuations of both the music business and the recording industry with hard work, grace and good humor, and along the way he’s worked with dozens of amazing artists from so many genres—rock, pop, folk, blues, classical, country, Latin, jazz; he’s done it all. It’s impossible to pigeonhole him, but it’s fair to say that Chiccarelli has always had a special affinity for working with idiosyncratic singer/songwriters, relishing the challenge of capturing their essences and their songs in the studio.
He sometimes points to his engineering work on various Frank Zappa projects as an early turning point—it’s a testament to Chiccarelli’s talent and temperament that he worked so successfully for so long with one of music’s true eccentric geniuses. But his resumé is filled with singular, creative types: Oingo Boingo, Elton John, Lone Justice, Steve Wynn, American Music Club, Counting Crows, U2, Etta James, Café Tacuba, Beck, Rufus Wainwright, White Stripes, Raconteurs, The Strokes, Tori Amos, My Morning Jacket, The Shins and the Kronos Quartet are just some on a very long list. What are the common elements? Passion, intensity and commitment. He’s had uncanny success working with up-and-coming young artists, helping nurture and refine their vision, and that continues to be true—recent successes have included Christina Perri’s superb debut album, alternative darlings Young the Giant and Australian stars Boy & Bear (whose Chiccarelli-produced album is about to be released in the U.S. after winning five ARIA awards Down Under).
If you think, looking at the list above, that a mellow, mainstream singer/songwriter such as Jason Mraz might not be on Chiccarelli’s wavelength, think again. They collaborated on Mraz’s new album, Love Is a Four-Letter Word, and it was an extremely positive experience for both of them. The band Chiccarelli assembled for the sessions at Sunset Sound broadened Mraz’s musical palette and stretched him a bit, without sacrificing the pleasing commercial qualities of his sound. It’s already produced a pre-album iTunes smash in “I Won’t Give Up,” with more hits no doubt to come. At the beginning of February, we caught up with Chiccarelli in the midst of sessions at Sunset Sound with another distinctive talent, Alanis Morissette. We chatted about the Mraz album and some other aspects of Chiccarelli’s studio journey.
How did you happen to hook up with Jason for this record?
I had worked with Christina Perri, who is with Bill Silva, who is Jason’s manager, and they were real happy with the way that turned out, and it’s been pretty successful, so he asked me if I’d be interested in Jason. So, I met with Jason and I met with Sam Riback, his longtime A&R guy, who discovered him, and we had a really good meeting. I liked where Jason was going with his songwriting. There was something about it that struck me as really classic, like great Billy Joel songs or Paul Simon songs. There was something simple, honest and universal about the writing.
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