Mix Interview: Producer/Engineer Joe Chiccarelli

Mar 1, 2012 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson



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photo of Justin Meldal Johnson, Jeff Babko, Joe Chiccarelli

From left: Bassist Justin Meldal Johnson, keyboardist Jeff Babko, and Chiccarelli in Sunset Studio One.

Almost all the songs were done live in the room, and on some songs the lead vocal is live, too: On “93 Million Miles,” that was live, then he overdubbed the harmonies and we overdubbed percussion on it. In some other cases, once we established the tempo of the song, I would have him overdub a lead vocal to one of the takes and then we would basically overdub the band and the acoustic guitar to the lead vocal.

Was Jason in a booth?
Yes, he was in a nice comfortable booth for acoustic guitar and a vocal. He always records his vocal with a Telefunken 251. He has his own and we used that, and/or Sunset Sound’s 251. They went through a Wunder Audio PQ1 preamp and then a Mercury Audio Pultec, a Retro 176 limiter and then an API 550A EQ. I would kind of get the bottom end out of the Pultec and the top end out of the API.

For the acoustic guitar, we switched off for a lot of different songs. Sometimes it was a combination of a Sony C37A and a [Neumann] KM-84, other times it was a combination of a [AKG] C-12A and a KM-84. On a few I also used a new mic on that sounded really good—a Black Pearl DC 96. Some were done on an Audio-Technica AT4050 through Sunset Sound custom mic preamps or Chandler mic pre’s. The band was in the big room and everybody was in close visual proximity to Jason, and we kept the band physically tight in the room.

photo of Tim Pierce

Guitarist Tim Pierce in Sunset Sound, Studio One

Were there any stylistic things you as the producer had to conform to in terms of tailoring what you do to what he does?
I don’t believe in molding. I think you do what the songs tell you to do. I think that dictates the arrangements. Certainly I made a point to listen to his past albums and get a deep understanding of who he is as an artist and understand the boundaries in a sense. If you’re getting too “left,” too quirky. Though the one thing the record company wanted to make sure of was that the album wasn’t too light. They wanted a strong sense of rhythm section, because that’s something he hasn’t had much on his past records. They wanted some muscle in the rhythm section and bigger dynamics. So that’s one thing the band tried to bring—more impactful grooves to the songs, because when you have that light, airy, beautiful vocal and you have a great sense of pulse and motion underneath it, it’s a great combination.

When you hear a song, do you instantly know it might have a shot at radio? Was “I Won’t Give Up” an obvious choice?
Not in the least. There were other songs on the album that other people thought might be singles and wanted to treat them like that.

What does that involve from your standpoint?
Making sure the tempo’s right, making sure the energy is right, making sure it doesn’t break down to the point where when you hear it on the radio it sounds like the radio station ground to a halt. [Laughs] Because you’re competing with Katy Perry or whoever it is at the moment. So you have to be at least cognizant that pop radio plays that kind of thing. So stuff can’t be too weird or too slow. In the end, though, the song tells you what to do. The better the song, the easier it is to put it together.

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