Joe Chiccarelli 13 Questions: Joe Chiccarelli
Issue #3

Born in Boston, Producer/Engineer Joe Chiccarelli had his first experience in a studio through a cousin who owned Fleetwood Studio (in Boston). Chiccarelli moved west in the late '70s where he was an assistant engineer at L.A.'s Cherokee Studios. Chiccarelli assisted many sessions and caught a big break when Frank Zappa's main engineer got held up and couldn't make it to the studio. Zappa was working on the album Sheik Yerbouti, and asked Chiccarelli (who was an assistant engineer at the time) to engineer. This break led Joe to work with Zappa many more times on projects such as: Joe's Garage and Baby Snakes.

Joe Chiccarelli's Grammy award-winning career includes production and engineering credits for artists like Elton John, American Music Club, The Stranglers, Beck, U2, White Stripes, and a host of others like: Joe Walsh, Frank Zappa, Peter Wolf, Tori Amos, Steve Wynn, Ed Mann, Joan Baez, Bee Gees, Pat Benatar, Bon Jovi, Chicago, Shawn Colvin, Rita Coolidge, Counting Crows, Cracker, The Cult, Fishbone, Hole, Julio Iglesius, Journey, Lone Justice, Ricky Martin, John Michael Montgomery, Ian Moore, Oingo Boingo, Poco, Romeo Void, Bob Seger, Brian Setzer, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, George Thorogood, and many, many more!

You may ask yourself as a young engineer... "How does someone continue to get all the good gigs?" or "How does someone continually work in a very competitive business?" Well, I will tell you why I think Joe does... First and foremost Joe is a talented engineer and really knows his stuff, so you might say that is a given to get good jobs... I would agree. But secondly, Joe is one of the nicest guys in the recording industry. I have found Joe to be very humble, open, and very giving of his time and experience.

So, Yes Joe has experience under his belt and yes Joe is a "people person," but thirdly, and most important, Chiccarelli still has a passion for what he does and for music in general. After many years in this business some people tend to start feeling a little jaded towards the recording process or music business in general. But Joe still has that creative spark that is needed to create, capture and cherish music. I consider Joe Chiccarelli one of the "good guys" in the industry.

~ David Marquette

Joe Chiccarelli at Not Your Average AES Party Mr. Chiccarelli was nice enough to guest host at Mercury's "Not your average AES Party" at Hyde Street Studios in San Francisco during AES 2006. Joe was professional, patient and extremely knowledgeable. It was a great night and Joe was a big part of making the party a huge success.

01) When did you know Music was more than a hobby or dream job and was going to be your 'career'? Was there one thing that made that happen?
I was always interested in music. At an early age my grandmother would play opera and classical music. Every time I went to visit her I was transfixed. Later when I actually began playing in bands I developed a fascination with the technology. Sooner than later every band I was in failed and it looked like I only had a future playing weddings and Holiday Inns. I was fortunate I had a relative that owned a studio and I would go and visit on a day off from school. That started my education.

02) What aspect of 'music' are you known for (i.e. Engineer, mixer, producer, musician)? What's your Favorite?
I'm very lucky in that I get to mix, engineer and produce. I'm very particular in what I take on from a production standpoint. It's a three to four month commitment so I really evaluate the artist before I commit. I divide my year to about 30% engineering, 30% mixing and 30% production. The other 10% is spent doing things like music supervision for films or teaching at a college.

03) What is one thing that most people are NOT aware that you do (music related or not!)?
I'm a serious modern art collector. At a young age I wanted to become a painter. My parents (thankfully so) discouraged it. So now I purchase and do very little painting.

04) What do you think the most important thing is to get a great recording? What stage of a recording is most overlooked?
Great recordings are great events. They capture something magical and intangible. Set the stage before you record i.e.: Have all the right songs, have the band really rehearsed, have everyone in the right frame of mind. When people are excited about making the record and all share the same goals and vision the magic can come.
...and What stage of a recording is most overlooked?
Often it is what I said above, A cherry track with very little deep emotion behind it. The ones that have feel, they are the shit.

05) Who did you first admire in the recording world (engineers, producers, mixers, band/group ...) and why?
At the age of 10 I first heard Jimi Hendrix . My mind was altered. Everything about it and the risks that everyone involved took in making that track. From then on I wanted to know all about what went on behind the scenes.

06) Now that we know digital recording is not going away anytime soon, what are your feelings on TAPE vs. DAW (analog vs. digital)?
Tape has a sound. Just like you choose a microphone or a compressor. Tape is a choice. It's a color that can add or subtract from the music. It can bring tremendous color and dimension to a recording. It also can soften the focus and take out some of the accuracy. It's now just a choice to use when it's appropriate.

07) What new Artist/Group is in your player right now... and what Artist/Group has always been in your Top 10?
I like people who are unique. Those who create their own noise. Bjork will always be in my CD player. So will Miles Davis, The Beatles, Astor Piazzola, David Byrne, John Cage, The Clash.

08) What generation had the best music and/or recordings? Why do you connect with that era the most?
Some people feel there was a Golden Age of popular music in the late 1960s. However, I still think the best is yet to come. Society needs music and creativity to function. There will always be exceptional talents to emerge and captivate us.

09) You get to have one mic for vocals for the rest of your career, what is it and why?
Having grown up in the 1970's with analog and vinyl. I still think a great sounding tube Neumann U67 is the benchmark. It's what all my favorite rock singers were recorded with. It seems to work on almost every musical instrument as well as 9 out of 10 singers. If it doesn't work on a singer you can usually put it in omni or switch on the pad and it sounds great.

10) When did you first hear of Mercury Recording Equipment Co.? What was your first experience using Mercury Equipment?
I heard about Mercury gear about 7 years ago from a bass player friend Dan Schwartz. He told me about this guy (David Marquette) was making tube Equalizers that would kill Pultecs. I was skeptical. He was half correct. Nothing sounds quite like an old Pultec but Mercury EQs are one of the best sounding tube Equalizers on the planet.

11) What piece(s) of Mercury Equipment do you own or have you used? What applications/sessions have you used it (them) on?

The Mercury EQs (EQH1 & EQP1) are a quite original. All the tone of a classic tube Equalizer but without the noise and much more power. The Mercury 66 Limiting Amplifier is quite unique. It has the color of some of the all time classics but smooth and seamless compression for the singer you need to control without ever having to have it sound over compressed. Having used the Mercury M72s I now see no need to scour Eastern Europe to search for the last of the original units. Recently, I used the Mercury EQP1 and Mercury 66 on the new Grace Potter disc I recorded for Hollywood Records. Grace is a strong singer, a big powerful blues rock voice. She's been compared to Bonnie Raitt, Etta James and Chrissie Hynde. Her vocals were recorded with an ElectroVoice RE20. It just seemed to be the right amount of grit and character but could also handle her levels.

The preamp was either a Neve 1272 or Neve 1073 depending upon the song. The Mercury EQP1 was used to add some openness to the top end. The Mercury 66 Limiting Amplifier was perfect for her voice. It was strong but invisible.

12) Describe your experience with Mercury Recording Equipment using 5 words or less?
Full of Tone!

13) What has been your most rewarding experience in the studio?
I've been very fortunate in having been able to work with artists that I'm a fan of. People like Beck, Elton John, U2 ,Rufus Wainwright, Kronos String Quartet, Frank Zappa, Tori Amos and most recently Jack White (The White Stripes). These are singular talents who always push the limits and never settle for the ordinary. That's what I aspire to become myself.

See more issues of Mercury Recording Equipment's "13 Questions"