Mix Interview: Producer/Engineer Joe Chiccarelli

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



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photo of Tony Maserati, Jason Mraz, Joe Chiccarelli

Maserati, Mraz and Chiccarelli at a listening session in Maserati’s studio.

Did you know from the beginning of the project that Tony Maserati would be mixing it?
Yes, on day one they asked if I would be okay with Tony doing it. I said, “Absolutely!”

Does that change anything you do?
No. The only thing that changes is maybe I have a little bit more breathing room in terms of time to complete it, because I know somebody else can be mixing it while I’m overdubbing. And Tony is awesome in that he’s really part of the team. He would come by the studio and hear stuff midway to get a vibe of where it’s going. He spent a lot of time mixing this, and he’ll tell you there were multiple versions of some of these songs—acoustic versions, pop versions, middle-of-the road versions. He’s like the ultimate team player; let alone the quality of his work. As a collaborator, he’s incredible.

I wanted to ask you about the types of people you worked with early on who influenced the way you wanted to work in the studio maybe informed your aesthetic. There was Zappa, obviously…
It started before that. I played in a bunch of rock bands in Boston where I grew up. I always came at it from being the guy in the band who had a picture of what the band should be.

Every band has a guy like that!
Yeah, whether he’s welcome or not—the techy nerd. [Laughs] But in terms of the studio thing, I worked with some classic producers, like Jerry Wexler—people who were really all about the song and the performance aesthetic. As well as more contemporary people, like Jack White; even though he has a lot of classic sensibilities, he’s of a whole other generation and aesthetic. I’ve been very, very fortunate to work with a lot of different kinds of producers who have different ways of making records. I’ve learned from all of them!

The other thing I’ve really come to appreciate is working on music of all genres, all styles—doing a jazz album, doing heavy metal albums, doing classical things. You really learn a lot about music in general and what’s important to each genre. In other words, during a heavy metal record, obviously the power and impact and the over-the-top quality of it is really, really important. And then you tend to bring those sensibilities to other projects—not that it translates to a guitar sound—but understanding what records in different styles have to incorporate to hold one’s attention.

Is it difficult adjusting to the temperaments of the artists you work with, not to mention the musical differences between them from project to project?
One thing you learn is to adapt very quickly. You start to build this mechanism in yourself where you can suss people out very quickly and you become very sensitive to them and you start to understand that, “Okay, my role in this might be to be the cheerleader and the high-energy jokester, because the artist needs that positivity and that lightness in the room.” On another project you realize, “This is a very sensitive artist and he needs a very chill environment and you need to respect that.” Trying to understand the artist and be sensitive to what the person needs is a skill you develop. I was fortunate that I was an assistant engineer for a few years and that’s a big role of the assistant—the vibe of the studio. I learned being in rooms with major artists that everybody has a different mind set; everybody requires a little different hand-holding, if you will. You become a chameleon in a way.

The thing that’s important to me is coming up with a sound for the artist or respecting their particular sound. For me as a listener, what gets me most excited is when I hear a band or an artist that doesn’t sound like anyone else—that really has his or her own unique identity. That carries over to painters and filmmakers and writers: When you have a language that you’ve developed, that is pretty powerful to me. Understanding what that language is, and respecting it and protecting it, is really a key role of a producer.

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