03 April 2014
Joseph Chiccarelli engineered and mixed several tracks on Elton’s Songs From The West Coast album in 2001. He spoke with Eltonjohnworld about what it was like to watch the musician at work as well as about other exciting moments in his career.
EJW: You used to play bass in a number of groups. When and why did you decide to switch jobs?
JC: Playing was great fun, but I always was fascinated with the studio. I was constantly the guy asking all the technical questions and trying to have the overall vision for the band. The process of getting a completed picture out of your head and into a finished recorded work was the most satisfying for me.
EJW: Who was your first famous client, and what did you learn from the experience?
JC: My first big break was engineering for Frank Zappa. He taught me to take chances and be irreverent musically. He was always interested in pushing the limits, nothing ever needed to be safe.
EJW: In 2001, you joined Elton on the Songs From The West Coast sessions. What do you recollect about this?
JC: This was Nigel Olsson‘s reintroduction to the band in some time so he was super excited. Davey Johnstone and the band were so kind and fun to work with. I remember Elton’s unrelenting desire to make banjo work on several of the songs. In the end, I’m not sure if it made the final mix.
Elton wrote all the songs in the studio. So being part of that process was a magical experience–perhnaps akin to seeing a great painter at work in his studio. . . . Out of nothing, something beautiful appears. In Elton’s case, it usually took no more than an hour per song. I loved his professionalism and focus when it came to record. It was never more than a few takes but they were always moving performances.
EJW: Had you encountered the piano player previously?
JC: I had never met Elton until he showed up at Sony Studios to record. He was funny and gracious and always appreciative of what Pat Leonard, the producer, and I were doing. I grew up on albums like Tumbleweed Connection and Honky Chateau so it was an honour to be involved.
EJW: In January, the 56th Grammy Awards were televised. Your name has been among those called, hasn’t it?
JC: I was nominated this year for co-producing Cafe Tabuca’s El Objecto, but unfortunately did not win. I’ve been nominated many, many times, though–including for Producer of the Year–and have won 10 Grammys to date.
Being nominated by your peers who really listen and value your work is a great for many long weeks in the studio.
EJW: You have racked up quite a few film credits. These included Saturday Night Fever, The Breakfast Club and Men With Guns. What was this like?
JC: In the past, I’ve been a part of a lot of movie and TV show soundtracks, both as a music supervisor and a record producer. Seeing just the right piece of music elevate a scene can be quite impressive. When you get to work with great directors like Robert Altman, the collaboration is even more impressive.
EJW: At one time, you considered becoming a painter, but you’re now a collector. What sort of pieces are you drawn to?
JC: I’m an admirer of the dedication that it takes to be an artist. One who can create his own language, his own signature sound if you will, that can reach deep inside of us. I like those who are integrated into the culture of their times but aren’t afraid to scrutinise it or be critical of it.
They make us question our world. People like Basquiat, Warhol, John Baldessari and others.
EJW: Apart from Elton, which musical artists have you found it most rewarding to team up with?
JC: I’ve been fortunate to work with many greats of various genres including U2, Beck, Rufus Wainwright, the White Stripes, the Strokes, the Kronos Quartet and jazz singer Kurt Ellins.
Joseph Chiccarelli was interviewed by eltonjohnworld’s Cheryl Herman