Remember Eddie Chacon? You will do…
“I didn’t want to make a clichéd comeback record like ‘Eddie Chacon Sings the Hits of Motown’ or anything,” says the man himself, smiling ruefully at the thought. “I couldn’t bear the idea of that. I would prefer to just bow out gracefully and not do music anymore, if that was all that was to be available.”
Talking to us via Zoom, having just returned to his native California following a triumphant festival season in Europe, Chacon comes across as affable, sanguine and at peace; a man relaxed in his own skin. Which is exactly the mood that infuses his midlife masterpiece, the don’t-call-it-a-comeback album ‘Pleasure, Joy and Happiness’, released in 2020, a full 25 years since his last album, as one half of the 90s soul duo Charles & Eddie (with Charles Pettigrew), hit the shelves.
His subtle, nuanced, reflective collection of songs, delivered with all the savvy and self-awareness of a world-weary 50-something soul veteran, has gathered a slow burn, word-of-mouth success, with some high-profile cheerleaders (“Gilles Peterson has been really supportive,” Chacon enthuses).
With its pared-back production and nods to Shuggie Otis, Marvin Gaye and Sly Stone at their most circumspect, there is a knowing retro feel to his new work – but in a way that sounds completely relevant and now. It often feels reminiscent of the interludes on a Frank Ocean album spun out to their logical conclusion – which is hardly surprising, given that it was produced in collaboration with John Carroll Kirby, whose CV includes Ocean alongside other contemporary heavy hitters Solange and Blood Orange.
“I just thought his work was sublime and I jumped at the chance to work with him,” says Chacon. “I wasn’t sure if he would want to work with me, because I’m a guy in my mid-50s who hadn’t made music since the 90s… I mean certainly there were more obvious choices he could have made! But we really hit it off and thank goodness he thought it was a really interesting thing to work with someone my age, who wanted to make the kind of record I was interested in making.”
A significant part of that record’s appeal is a refreshing, seen-it-all-before realism that challenges and reverts the usual soul clichés (‘You never meant to hurt me, you were hurting yourself…’ – from ‘Hurt’). It’s an album that adds the perspective of age and experience to a youth-obsessed market.
“We live in a society that worships youth – and why not? Youth is incredible and it’s such a beautiful part of our life,” says Chacon. “But I wanted to do something that you would have to be my age to do. So rather than being intimidated by youth, I thought it would be wonderful to lean into my life experience. I thought, I’ve got nothing to lose – there’s a lot of things I want to talk about, and I’m going to allow myself to do that. I think the upside to where we’ve landed in the music industry is people now can go down the rabbit hole of Spotify or Apple Music and just find their own lane. And as it turns out, people are far more interested than just the narrow lane of pop music. And that’s good news!”
Of course, Chacon knows all about youthful appeal – Charles & Eddie’s 1992 debut album ‘Duophonic’ garnered no less than three Ivor Novello awards for songwriting – and spawned the international über-hit ‘Would I Lie to You?’
After a 1995 follow-up, ‘Chocolate Milk’, the duo disbanded – and one can’t help but wonder whether the weight of such a huge hit was a burden…
“You know, it’s such a high-class problem to have,” he laughs. “You’re so incredibly fortunate, in the difficult, competitive world of music, to have the annoyance of a huge hit that is so gigantic it will haunt you for the rest of your life! I was never one to ever find a shred of unhappiness from that extremely fortunate situation. It’s my nature, I’m an extremely optimistic person.”
Instead, he puts their eventual split down to the sheer exhaustion of promoting and performing that ensued. “We never really decided. I think that we always felt there was this safety net, where at any point we could call an attorney and say: ‘Hey, Charles and I want to make a record again – go get us a record deal.’ And there was a certain comfort in that, which probably made us lazy, as the years went by.”
In fact, Chacon reveals they had been talking about making a record again when, in 2001, he received a call from Chris Frantz of Tom Tom Club (for whom Pettigrew had become a full, signed-up singer-songwriter) to say that his former musical partner had passed away from cancer. “That was so incredibly sad,” he says. “And also it ripped that safety net away from me. And now I was confronted with myself – and frankly I have issues with my self-confidence. I didn’t really know how valid I was as an artist on my own, or if I had anything to offer as a solo artist. And I struggled with that.”
In the intervening years, Chacon had built a successful career as a creative director and photographer and had all but reconciled himself to never returning to music in any professional capacity. “I dabbled, but I didn’t dabble seriously. I didn’t want to put my name on anything, because I’m so proud of the work that I did with Charles in the 90s – I thought that they were very special records and I didn’t want to do anything that would spoil the beauty of that, or the memory of that.”
Which is why the new material comes as such a perfect riposte to that self-doubt. “Well, yeah. I’m certainly a late bloomer, I’ll give you that!” And despite a lifetime in music that began as a 12-year-old in a garage band with childhood friends Cliff Burton (later of Metallica) and Mike Bordin (Faith No More) – “I started out as a little rock’n’roller!” – he was never really intoxicated by the trappings of fame.
“Yeah. I’m more interested in creating work where I can look myself in the mirror and like what I see,” he explains. “But I think by the time you hit my age, hopefully I think we all come to that conclusion. It’s a brevity of life thing. We know that life is short, and by the time you’re my age, you want to do things that are authentic and that you can be proud of.”
So, is there a sense of redemption from this new flurry of activity? “I felt like it was a closure record at the time that I made it – I didn’t think that anyone would ever hear it! I wanted to create a record that fulfilled the culmination of a life’s work in music – create something that really for me was almost an investigation into what happens to a person’s talent as they become older? Does it become more refined like wine? Does it deplete as you get older? These were unanswered questions that I had. So, I was really curious to make a record at this age and see what happened. Where am I with my talent? I’ve been doing this my whole life, since I was 12-years-old, and I wanted to know where I am as a man in his mid-50s?”
Thankfully, he continues to answer those questions, with a new single, ‘Holy Hell’, preceding an album that he promises will expand on the ‘bedroom soul’ feel of his solo debut.
“I think it’s a nice addition to the sauce – ‘let’s have a little more of this spice’ –and you hope the sauce becomes a little more complex while retaining all those familiar elements that you love about it.”
This article was first published in Disco Pogo issue 2 (October 2022)
Eddie Chacon's new album 'Sundown' is out now. Check it out here