Photo: DeMarquis McDaniels

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Liz Sánchez wants someone to write a piece about pointless rebrands and why they feel so personally offensive.

Eddie Chacon is a perpetual morning person. The Chicano soul singer rises when darkness still lingers in the sky, sipping coffee as the smog-filled sunrise brilliantly illuminates his bustling DTLA neighborhood.

“We live in a skyscraper that’s all glass. So if you get up between 5:30 and 6:00, the whole apartment is just burnt orange,” Chacon says, between bites of a kale and farro salad at the Portuguese-American fusion restaurant Caldo Verde in Downtown LA – where he and his wife, stylist Sissy Chacon, are regulars. “I’m a painfully early riser.”

On a crisp March afternoon, Chacon’s wearing varying dark neutrals that compliment DTLA’s industrial silhouettes. His style has been largely shaped by his work as a fashion photographer and creative director – and one of his closest collaborators, Sissy. Today, he’s attired in a loosely fitted patchwork Eckhouse Latta long-sleeve, dark baggy denim pants, narrow-framed shadowy sunglasses, and chunky Prada boots – a fit you might expect to see on a darkwave artist turned techno DJ.

His early-bird nature has been a life-long habit. Growing up, he jumped out of bed before school to make music in his childhood home studio in suburban Oakland. He’d play night and day, seven days a week, locking himself in his room with a “do not bother me” sign on the door. “I was just obsessive,” he reminisces.

The early obsessiveness led to a multi-decade career producing and writing with artists like Chico DeBarge, Feargal Sharkey of the Undertones, and Aaron Neville. Those years were followed by what he called a “20-year overnight success” with his R&B duo Charles & Eddie.

Chacon happened to meet “Charles” Pettigrew on the NYC subway, after spotting Pettigrew carrying the Marvin Gaye album Trouble Man. The two instantly hit it off and started making music together. You may have heard their ‘92 earworm, “Would I Lie to You?” – with its finger-snapping hook and quintessentially ‘90s music video with high-contrast graphics and smoldering glamour shots. It hit number one all over the world, and went platinum in the UK and gold in three other countries. (The song is still burrowing in peoples’ ears, with over 23 million streams on Spotify.) Their second and final album, Chocolate Milk, was released in ‘95 for the crime film True Romance (co-written by Quentin Tarantino and starring Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, and Gary Oldman). They were partying and living like pop-stars at the height of this corporate workhorse era. For Chacon, that was an ongoing tug-of-war between fame and “career flops.” Those lows eventually culminated into a two-decade departure from music.

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Now 59, Chacon’s mornings and music career are more laid-back. After the alarm rings, he usually wanders DTLA’s calamitous streets for an hour, embracing all of the city’s intensity: “I really thrive on being in the middle of the whole spectrum of humanity… I love Downtown LA for that reason,” he beams. To top off the morning, he’ll climb back up to his home studio to tweak lyrics or record whatever he feels inspired to create that day.

That’s the approach he’s taken on his latest project, Sundown – his first album with Stones Throw and the second released since returning to music. Both were recorded in collaboration with producer John Carroll Kirby, a Los Angeles native and fellow Stones Throw artist who’s produced for Frank Ocean, Solange, Steve Lacy, and The Avalanches. Kirby’s known for marrying stripped-back R&B and blissed-out ambient beats. “John Carroll Kirby played a huge role in helping me really mine the gold in myself,” says Chacon. “He’s just a terrific listener.”

Their collaboration started about five years ago, after Chacon had lunch with a friend, Ethan Silverman, the co-founder of Terrible Records. At the end of the meal, Silverman ostensibly asked Chacon the classic question, “Well, what’s your story?”

Chacon probably went into detail about his career and his dance with momentary fame. Before all that, he was just a kid who loved making music.

In the 70’s, Chacon and his similarly music-obsessed friends ran around the Bay Area sneaking peeks at Santana and The Grateful Dead rehearsing. (“We’d stand on milk crates looking through this long, rectangular, thin window watching Journey rehearse at the Oakland Coliseum.”) Starting around 12, Chacon played in different new wave and post-punk bands, including a garage rock outfit with Cliff Burton of Metallica and Mike Bordin of Faith No More. In his twenties, he played in another locally famous band, The Toys. They played all the big San Francisco clubs like The Old Waldorf, and even opened for Pat Benatar (before Chacon joined). Musically, Chacon was all over the map.

If he was going to make it big though, Chacon knew he had to move to Los Angeles, home of the major labels. So in 1984 he did – marking the start of his aforementioned “corporate era.” He worked on big-budget records, trying to make chart-topping hits in fancy Hollywood studios with pop stars.

“It was like a big corporate machine,” he said, searching for the right sentiment to describe that period.

In the late 80’s, he landed a solo-deal with Columbia Records, but was dropped after his projects delivered less-than-desirable numbers.

After his early 90’s success with Charles & Eddie’s “Would I Lie To You,” their follow-up music didn’t take off quite like they’d hoped. The two eventually split up in ‘97.  “I was quite wounded about that [time],” Chacon softly confided. In 2001, Chacon would learn that his music partner, Pettigrew, had a fatal form of cancer only after he’d tragically passed away at age 37.

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On one particularly daunting day, Chacon was working at his home studio when his wife walked in, “I remember Sissy… said, what’s wrong? And I said, no one’s listening. And I just turned off the recording studio… took it apart and put it in the garage.” Between years of pushing for his own music to break through, and getting tugged every which way the industry could push him, he was done, “It just broke my heart. It brought me to tears.” So, he traded in his mic for a camera, and started working as a fashion photographer and creative director, “I had no intention of re-entering music whatsoever,” Chacon definitively says.

That might be a similar version of the ‘story’ Chacon told Silverman that day over lunch in NYC. Silverman would eventually text Chacon something along the lines of: “I have this crazy feeling that you and this great producer, John Carroll Kirby, would really hit it off.”

Kirby and Chacon set up what was supposed to be a 15-minute coffee chat in Los Angeles, but it turned into a a multiple-hour impromptu jam session in Kirby’s Toyota Camry. They drove around LA’s hills while Chacon sang whatever came to mind. At that point, Kirby already had a list of producer credits with prominent artists. Chacon hadn’t been in the game for years. He humbly laughs, “Here [John] was being asked to meet with a 57-year-old guy who hadn’t made a record since the mid-’90s, and who was essentially a mid, one-hit wonder.”

In 2020, Chacon and Kirby released their first album called: Pleasure, Joy, and Happiness. Something, as the title suggests, the world desperately needed during a raging worldwide pandemic. It’s a harmonious collaboration between Kirby’s light atmospheric production and Chacon’s dulcet tones. On the title track, Chacon offers hard-earned wisdom, “Learn to walk away sometimes / Don’t hold on to what you know,” while Kirby’s metronomic beat hypnotizes and soothes. It invites its listener into a soft, meditative space to heal from external harshness, a global pandemic, a loss of a loved one, a failure at work.

That album resonated with listeners so much that one guy and his family lent Chacon their “Villa Can Rudayla” in Ibiza, Spain for a few weeks. “He said, ‘I hope you’ll do something creative there, but you can do whatever you want,’” Chacon remembers. They would record the first half of the album there – and the rest back home in Los Angeles.

Ibiza’s sparkling waters and desert cliffs provided the backdrop for Sundown’s free-flowing recordings and relaxed atmosphere. Almost right away, Kirby and Chacon set up a recording studio in one of the villa bedrooms so they could record as they pleased. They gathered whatever equipment they could find, renting the island’s only Fender Rhodes from a local rave crew.

Chacon would bring along his wife Sissy, who directed the music video for “Comes and Goes,” giving us a glimpse of the modern Spanish villa with cement gray walls, mid-century decor, and a castle-like spiral staircase. Kibry remembers how the vastness of that recording space affected their creative flow, “The house was huge but made of concrete so sound traveled. When someone was working you’d hear it. I might start an idea, and Eddie could hear it from the other room. When it was time for him to come try vocals, he could pop in.”

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You can hear that cave-like capaciousness on parts of Sundown. On “Far Away,” Chacon intentionally sings with an aching, echoey voice, vocals endlessly lapping against the canals of a distant four-cornered space, begging to be reckoned with. In the background, David Leach’s (percussion) and Will Logan’s (drums) percussive shaking drives the vocal’s timeless pleas for connection and rest. The same goes for the album’s boppiest track “Holy Hell,” where Chacon contemplates the power of perspective, and appreciates for the moment: “We can make it holy / Or we can make it hell / We can keep on shining / But we can’t stop the hands of time.” The album is a cathartic experience – and according to Kirby – so was producing it, “Music is free therapy and if we stayed longer in Ibiza, we might have become blissed out like the retirees there, slow-cooking ourselves in the sun along the Mediterranean.”

The album’s emotional source is rooted in a place between pain and joy inspired by Chacon’s life experiences – from career failures to family matters. It’s dedicated to Chacon’s mother, who died of Alzheimer’s about six years ago, “That was brutal. That was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” he sighs.

Chacon’s mother and father were big supporters of his rock star dreams. They were second-generation Mexican-American entrepreneurs who ran a successful trucking company together based in Oakland. They instilled a strong work ethic and unwavering self-belief within Chacon, “[My father] would say you’re climbing a ladder, but only allow yourself to look at the rung in front of you. If you look at the top, it will intimidate you.” They were “intense,” and consistently advised Chacon on how to achieve his goals. They were also wary of racism, afraid it might affect the future of their three boys and didn’t teach them Spanish, “In some ways they really wanted us to pass.” But Chacon looks back fondly on his childhood – especially when it comes to his mom’s cooking, “My mom made tacos all the time. Probably the best.”

Sundown’s title track is a playful musing on mortality. The listener is first welcomed by a Samba-adjacent rhythm with worldly percussive undertones. It’s then penetrated by a synth snaking its way through the noise, evolving into a flute-like melody. All the while, Chacon’s harmonizing, “We all face the sun / Sundown / Lost so many friends along the way / Still here on Earth.” Chacon sings with the whimsical sincerity of someone at peace with their mortality. That’s more or less the pathos of the album, “All of Sundown is about the brevity of life. And how time is a thief. And it’s important to just understand to not get caught up in the minutiae, but to see the bigger purpose of why we’re here,” says Chacon.

When I ask Chacon what it’s like to get produced by Kirby, he points to a wide range of influences the producer would draw from. One thing stood out in particular: a video of an elderly man with frazzled white hair and a bushy white beard is halfway submerged in a pond screaming into the water alongside a group of native musicians in the Brazilian jungle. I asked Kirby via email about who this bearded half-naked Rick Rubin-esque wizard might be, “The piece is called Música Da Lagoa by Hermeto Pascoal … [it’s] stripping the musicians out of their suit and tie, leaving them half naked, playing empty wine bottles instead of flutes,” he shares. *Pascoal actually did play the flute in this video, but that’s besides the point.*

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Pascoal – literally known as “o Bruxo” (yep, the Wizard) – is a Latin-grammy-winning producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist. He played in the Sambrasa Trio with Airto Moreira. He played on Mile Davis’s 1971 album Live-Evil – and at one point, Davis ostensibly called Pascoal “the most impressive musician in the world.” He’s a serious artist, “but what makes this piece so special to me is how irreverent he comes across,” Kirby writes. He sees this piece as a removal from the formal structure of “Jazz/Avant Garde/Improvised music,” and re-contextualizes musical performance outside of the concert hall and puts it into a lake, in the middle of the Brazilian jungle. “It informs just about everything I do.”

But how is o Bruxo related to producing Chacon? “Eddie and myself both have adhered to musical canon, which gave us our foundation, but I showed him this video as a reminder to both of us that it can be good to abandon the rules,” Kirby shares via email. (BTW: Pascoal is going on tour this summer with Jazz is Dead.)

When it comes to starting anew, Chacon is an unassuming optimist, “I had this mentor that used to always say significance is a killer. And I really believe that. Like we weigh ourselves down with expectation and ambition and cleverness.” Chacon recognizes the silver lining in his failures, accepts the sting of mortality in his stride, and wholeheartedly soaks in the beauty of ephemeral circumstances – aptly, the last song on the album is titled, “Morning Sun.”

Both albums, Sundown and Pleasure, Joy, and Happiness, are emblematic of the lighter, more joyous, less-workhorse mindset Chacon now has towards making music, “I feel for the first time in my life that I am no longer in my own way. And there is an easy flow in what I’m doing that I allow to happen,” he says, as if confronting his past. “There’s a certain magic that happens when you are not significant. When you’re just light.”

Eddie Chacon Tour Dates
Apr 1 – Sydney, AU @ The Ace Hotel *
Apr 4 – Sydney, AU @ Phoenix Park *
Apr 7 – Bali, ID @ Potato Head Beach Club *
Apr 19 – Los Angeles, CA @ Lodge Room *
May 16 – Brussels, BE @ Ancienne Belgique
May 17 – London, UK @ KOKO
May 18 – Manchester, UK @ Band on the Wall
May 21 – Berlin, DE @ Frannz
May 25 – Dublin, IE @ Sugar Club
May 28 – London, UK @ Gala Festival *
* w/ John Carroll Kirby

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