Mix Interview: Producer/Engineer Joe Chiccarelli

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

'THE SONG TELLS YOU WHAT TO DO'

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I often wonder what it is that makes one album have staying power over time and others essentially disappear. It’s so hard to predict.
That’s true. That’s a thing that drives me. I grew up listening to those classic albums, whether it was The Beatles or Brian Eno and Talking Heads. The Clash was a big, big influence on me. I live to make that one classic album, but I haven’t yet. So much of what we do is ephemeral, it’s so much of the time, but that’s the way pop music has always been. I think if you asked Jimi Hendrix or The Beatles if they thought they were making classics, they’d give you the same answer.

I’d like to close by asking you about working with Etta James.
I loved her. I just went to her funeral last Saturday. It’s sad, because it’s kind of like the end of an era. She was one of the last of those singers who started in church.

I can imagine some of those hair-standing-up-on-your-neck moments when she’s in the vocal booth.
It was always that. We would cry in the control room. So many of the performances were just stellar. On top of it, she really welcomed me into her life; she was so supportive and so sweet to me. I probably worked on half-a-dozen albums with her, and it was no-holds barred. I think about those sessions all the time, because in my personal studio life, she set the bar in terms of what a singer should be and what a vocal performance should have. She’s going to be missed, but really, she will still be everywhere.

photo of Tony Maserati

Tony Maserati in his mix room

Maserati Mixes Mraz Redux
A lot has changed for Tony Maserati in the years since he mixed Jason Mraz’s multi-Platinum album, We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. Aside from his usual bounty of superstar projects—Beyonce, Britney, Lady Gaga, Chris Brown, Alicia Keys, et al—he relocated from New York to L.A. and settled into a North Hollywood facility, owned by Rafelson Media, in what used to be a studio known as The Bakery. When it came time to work on Mraz’s latest, he found a lot was different on the artist’s side, too.

“This record is completely different in so many ways,” Maserati says. “Jason is four years older, his audience is four years broader. Those things are extremely important to me. I take into account who the audience is, who the artist is, what they’re talking about. It’s a different production team and different musicians—the way that they play, the way they create; the chordal harmony is different. And the way that Joe Chiccarelli arranged the songs is different than the way Martin Terefe [producer of We Sing…] would have. Both are complete geniuses, but they have different approaches.” Because Maserati had never worked with Chiccarelli before, he made a point of stopping by some of the sessions at Sunset Sound. “I wanted to get Joe’s feelings on things, learn what his intentions were, as well as Jason’s.”

Maserati’s mix room, Mirrorball, offers a blend of new and classic pieces of gear. He uses an Avid D-Command as a controller, “but I don’t use any of the audio functions in it. The summing goes through an EMI mixer and a Neve mixer. I’m still all-analog, including my monitoring, which goes through Cranesong [Avocet controllers]. His extensive outboard arsenal includes both hardware and plug-ins, however. For Mraz’s latest, too, he tested out the new Pro Tools 10 HDX system; he lauds this latest version for its new Clip Gain feature, which allows for more precise level adjustments, and for its “better functions for finding and organizing things, such as what buses and auxes are being used.”

With some two dozen songs under consideration and multiple versions in different styles for some of them, Maserati had his work cut out for him. “You could release a whole ’nother record with alternate ideas and some of the amazing songs that didn’t make it,” he says.
—Blair Jackson






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