When we interviewed Joe Chiccarelli for Tape Op #14 he was heading back to Chicago to finish producing the new Pulsars album for Dave Trumfio and his brother Harry. When I mentioned that we needed to interview Dave soon, Joe obliged. Dave has recorded for ages, starting as a home studio and now as a pretty darn nice place with it's own mascot to boot. He's also done some great recordings for Barbara Manning, Wilco, The Mekons, Tsunami, Butterglory, Ashtray Boy, Number One Cup, Alternative TV, Billy Bragg/Wilco, and more. -LC
At a young age you were a guitar player. What was the first band you had?
It was called the Roadhouse Blues Jammers, and it consisted of my friend Tom on violin, my brother Harry on Tupperware (filled with different amounts of water) and myself on a Harmony triple pickup guitar.
Wow was it a Rocket or something?
No it wasn't even that, it was "No Name", the triple pickup version from Sears with a Hohner amplifier.
So out of that was born the Pulsars?
Oh, no. The Pulsars came way later.
After the Larry Cash Project?
Larry Cash, after Ashtray Boy...
Ashtray Boy was another one of your bands?
Did any of these bands put out any CDs?
Ashtray Boy has actually put out five CDs on Ajax and Feels Good All Over Records. They're still together. I'm kind of a rotating.... I play when I have the time. I usually play keyboards.
And did you produce the CDs?
Usually it was a group effort, but...
So this was all done in your basement?
Liz Phair sang on our first record. As she was recording Exile in Guyville, she would come over after her session and sing back up. That was all started on a 1/2 inch 16 track in 1991.
This is all pre-King Size, which is your studio that you own here in beautiful downtown Wicker Park, Chicago.
No, no we love King Size. So before you had King Size Studios, you had the studio in your basement. What other bands did you record in your basement studio?
Mostly local hardcore bands. A band called Flesh Merchant, a band called Freedom- a couple of bands from the north shore of Chicago.
What year was this?
This was between '88 and '92. We started King Size around '92.
So around '88 was when you got into recording?
I actually got into recording pretty early, starting with the Roadhouse Blues Jammers. We would do boombox recordings and we figured, "Hey we could move instruments further away to get the mix right." So pretty early, in sixth or seventh grade, we started to dabble with boombox recording. In eighth grade I had saved up enough money to get an X15 Fostex four track. I had that for about a year, until I figured I needed something more. That's where the addiction started.
So the next move was to a 16 track?
The next move was to a Fostex 250, then to a 1/4 inch 8-track. Finally, out of high school and on my own, I went to a half inch 16-track. I stayed with that until about a year or so into King Size. All our early King Size recordings were done on a cheap 16-track Fostex.
And a Biamp Legend, 20 x 16 console.
Oh man, you really learned the hard way.
Well, I did work at a studio.
You worked for Seagrape Studios.
That's where the 24-track deck at King Size is from. There was an older Neotek prototype console... a really cool console. Most of the stuff recorded there was a lot of mid to late '80s house music. Frankie Knuckles did some stuff there, Ralphie Rassario and the Hot Mix Five, some Massive Attack remixes. I got my professional start assisting, and eventually becoming an engineer there, and learning a lot about electronic music at the same time. Up to then if we used any electronics it was a choir sample from a Mirage.
So was that where the birth of the Pulsars came from? From all your new interest in electronic stuff?
Well yeah...At the same time I was really getting into indie rock, like Sonic Youth and the Pixies. The kind of newer stuff coming out in the late '80s and early '90s. Slanted and Enchanted by Pavement, Sebadoh and stuff. I had that kind of DIY, lo-fi interest. But at the same time I was making the best 909 kick drum I could make for house guys. I guess my growing up, engineer wise, was done in both genres. During the day I would do house music...