Eddie Chacon aspires to nothingness
The prolific songwriter maps out the bizarre path that led him to his third act as a solo artist, and his new album Sundown, on The FADER Interview.
Eddie Chacon aspires to nothingness DeMarquis McDaniels

Nobody else in the world has had a career quite like that of Eddie Chacon. He started his first band, Fry By Nite, with his two buddies, Cliff and Mike, in the mid-1970s at the age of 12, playing shows in the Castro Valley’s abandoned movie theaters. Fry By Nite never took off, but those theaters turned out to be some of the smallest venues those three kids would ever play. Mike Bordin founded Faith No More; Cliff Burton joined Metallica.

Eddie went in a different direction. He moved to L.A., got a job as a staff songwriter at CBS Songs, and earned himself some respectable credits — though the debut solo album he’d been working on turned out to be a flop. He wound up in Miami, signing a deal with Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew. The idea was that Chacon would record an album called Sugaree under the pseudonym Edward Anthony Lewis. But sessions with the legendary Dust Brothers turned out to be — according to a recent article in the Guardian — “an education in heavy weed consumption.” Chacon ended up being credited as an engineer on 2 Live Crew’s infamous As Nasty As They Wanna Be — the first album in history to be legally defined as obscene. But he was 26 years old and no closer to realizing his dreams of working as a solo singer-songwriter.

Chacon moved to New York and signed with Josh Deutsch at Capitol Records. Soon after, he met another young, aspiring singer-songwriter, Charles Pettigrew, on the C Train. The two bonded over a copy of Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man — nobody’s sure exactly which of them was carrying the LP — and realized they were both signed to the same man at the same label. They teamed up and, as Charles and Eddie, wound up with one of the biggest R&B hits of the 1990s (the smooth and irrepressible “Would I Lie To You?”) and a pretty successful debut album, Duophonic. They also wrote and recorded “Wounded Bird,” a sugar-packet-sweet ballad for Tony Scott’s True Romance. But their second album, Chocolate Milk, would end up being their last. The music industry had changed around them. What they thought would be a hiatus in 1997 turned out to be an amicable breakup. And though they started talking daily again in the early aughts, even sharing ideas for new music, Charles never told Eddie he was sick. He died of cancer in 2001.

Eddie hadn’t stopped making music. He wrote songs for other people, including the English pop group Eternal. He worked with the Danish producer Poul Bruun, which led to credits on a handful of massive Scandinavian records. But, as he told Aquarium Drunkard in 2020, he was lost in those years. One day he walked into his studio, the same as he had every day, and realized he didn’t want to make any music. He was depressed. A perceptive friend sent Eddie a camera with a note saying “I think you’d be good at this.” Somewhat inevitably, he was. In fact, he ended up as the Creative Director at Autre Magazine.

It was only in 2018, when a mutual friend set up a meeting in L.A. between Chacon and the jazz-soul songwriter and producer John Carroll Kirby, that he really entertained the notion of returning to music. The result was Pleasure, Joy, and Happiness — a moody, gently funky, oddly meditative record that sounded unlike anything Chacon had done before. Chacon, between a falsetto and a honeyed croon, always seemed to be ruminating on something or dispensing some gentle wisdom. And, though at times it seemed as though it might have been his swan song — a perfectly unexpected record to call time on a completely unconventional career — Chacon is back again. His new album, Sundown, is out this Friday.

Recorded in part on Ibiza after a fan and perfect stranger offered up his house on the island, it picks up where Pleasure, Joy, and Happiness faded out. It’s an album that wants to be linear, free from crescendos or emotional peaks. It aspires, like much of what Chacon does, to nothingness. Still, it’s weirdly unforgettable. Chacon and Kirby create an atmosphere — something warm, welcoming, unhurried — that you’ll feel compelled to revisit.

A few weeks ago, I called Chacon at his home in L.A. to discuss the influence of Laraaji on his music, the extremely weird path that’s led him to Sundown, and the quest to rid ourselves of bullshit.


Eddie Chacon aspires to nothingness DeMarquis McDaniels

This Q&A is taken from the latest episode of The FADER Interview. To hear this week’s show in full, and to access the podcast’s archive, click here.


The FADER: You’ve called Laraaji a foundational influence. What made you gravitate towards Laraaji’s music? What did you admire about it?

Eddie Chacon: I didn’t want to fight my age, I wanted to make something that you’d have to be my age and have my life experience to make. But sometimes, when you embark on something, you need to give yourself permission. I was looking for someone who had done it beautifully so I could have some sort of a roadmap. I wanted to do something that was tender and kind, and, counter to the pop music industry, quite linear. I didn’t want anything to stick out. I wanted it to be a meditative experience.

I conveyed these things to John Carroll Kirby. He said, “I think you’d like this guy Laraaji,” and turned me on to Vision Songs. I listened to it, and it embodied so many of the things I had in mind that would help create a framework for me to express what I wanted to express, vocally and lyrically. That’s how all of it came about. I immersed myself in the record, and it was a great catalyst for helping me to get where I was trying to go within myself.

I want to go way, way back to Fry By Nite. What made you want to play in a band for the first time?

My mother really admired rock stars. She was obsessed with Rod Stewart and Elvis Presley. In seeking your parents’ approval, you try to connect with them through their interests, and my mom’s interest was Elvis Presley and Rod Stewart. And my father, as I came to learn later in life, wanted to be a singer. He was a jazz aficionado. He was very into Dave Brubeck, and Johnny Hartman was his favorite singer.

I found out recently that when he was about 15 years old, he went with a fake ID on the bus from Oakland to San Francisco and was dressed with white shoes and a white suit and his hair slicked back, real 1950s, and he saw Brubeck and Coltrane. That must’ve had to do with why I put music on such a pedestal.

Our house was filled with music. I’m the youngest of three, and my older brother was obsessed with Led Zeppelin and Robin Trower and [Crossby, Stills, Nash & Young]; Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon and Pink Floyd Animals, these were the soundtracks of my childhood. That was through one bedroom wall, and on the other wall, my brother Jim was obsessed with early Barbara Streisand and the soundtrack from Lady Sings the Blues where Diana Ross is playing the part of Billie Holiday. So I just had this mixture of hard rock — my mom and dad called it acid rock — and crooning soul music. I became obsessed with James Brown when he came out with “Get on Good Foot (Parts 1 & 2).” I remember having that 45 and playing it on our green shag carpet on this little record player we had. We three little kids danced around that 45 until we wore it into the ground, man. We would go to Walgreens and buy the same 45 over and over again because it would get so scratched up from skipping all around.

“I can put together this little jigsaw puzzle of where different parts of my voice were formed.”


Were you writing your own music as early as Fry By Night?

My brother tells me that I would make up songs and tell him they were mine from the time I was six years old. He would say, “You didn’t write that.” I would say, “Yes, I did.” I was trying to make up songs that sounded like the Delfonics or Bloodstone, pivotal songs to me. There was a band called Cold Blood featuring Lydia Pense from the San Francisco Bay Area — they were really popular in our house. She was a Janis Joplin-esque soul singer, a beautiful blonde girl singing like Janis Joplin. It freaked me out.

I can almost decipher the vocabulary of myself as a singer, where certain aspects of my tone came from. My voice has somewhat of a raspy grit, and I always used to try to mimic Lydia Pense. I wanted to have this crooning, easy, low tonality, and I became obsessed with the song “Natural High” by Bloodstone. Of course, Tower of Power was a pivotal band if you grew up in Northern California in the late ’60s and early ’70s — and, of course, Sly Stone. I can put together this little jigsaw puzzle of where different parts of my voice were formed.


When you then moved to New York City, it seems like you and Charles almost had a compulsive desire to keep writing music — that you were writing wherever and whenever you could.

That was largely driven by Josh Deutsch. I never met anybody like Josh, and I have to credit him for taking what was already a strong work ethic and upping the ante. This guy had me whipping out my guitar in taxi cabs going from Uptown to Downtown to a studio. I’m like, “Dude, we’re going to be in the car all of five minutes.” He’s like, “Just get it out, man, let’s do something.” We were lying on the ground, writing lyrics on napkins.

Then it just dissolves. When you realized you were leaving the label, did you think you would pick up and take it somewhere else?

We thought that what turned out to be a permanent break would just be a short break initially. There was a series of awful events in which, around that time, Charles lost his father and his sister, and he was overcome with grief. I was much younger and far more narcissistic, so I was more driven by the music and career. I wasn’t able to process what he was going through the way I would’ve processed it today. So months turned into years, and a few years after that, I got a phone call that Charles had passed away. I didn’t know that he had cancer. In fact, within six months of his death, we’d started talking on the phone again, sending cassettes back and forth to each other with song ideas. I remember one of the last things we said was, “Let’s get an attorney to get us a record deal again and make another record.”

All I could think of was how we started with nothing. I was on my last $500, and I know he was broke too. I looked around, and by that time I’d bought a beautiful house in the hills, my rockstar dream home, and I had my walls covered with 25 gold records. I had this immense sadness come over me: The man who traversed the whole journey with me from nothingness to us both having our dreams come true — homes and comfort and all the joy and gratification that goes with that — was gone. I remember being in touch with those emotions, and it made me feel such a depth of sadness.

Eddie Chacon aspires to nothingness Pat Martin


You have this moment then around 2005 where you just stop, and you don’t return. What happened?

That was one of the saddest moments of my life. I had a studio my whole life, from the time I was a kid, and it was first order of business for me to wake up in the morning, wander into the studio, turn it on, sit down in my chair, and go. I guess after having done it my whole life, I realized nobody was listening anymore. Nobody was waiting for the next Eddie Chacon song or creation. I fell into despair and turned it off for what I thought would be a two-day break, a three-day break. It turned into two weeks, two months, two years, 10 years, 20 years of not doing music.

I’m a mad scientist artist, like many artists are, but I also have something in my sauce where I’m quite ambitious, and I constantly gauge where I’m at in the real world: “Am I making hits?” I’ve always been quite a good administrator. On one side of the pie, I’d be a mad scientist; on the other, I could be that guy who’s making a million phone calls, trying to connect with people, trying to get meetings. I had great confidence in what I was doing and always felt that if you just got me into the room with someone, I could do the rest. If there was a language I knew how to speak more than anything, it was the language of music. There’s no other area in my life where I feel this confident.

That manifests in your first meeting with John, which in an incredibly Los Angeles way is of course conducted in the car. What was it about that meeting with John that convinced you to do this again in earnest?

The thing that made me want to take the meeting with him was that I so loved the records that he’d been making in the couple years previous. He was working with Solange and Frank Ocean and Blood Orange, and he had a very flipped, fresh perspective on indie music. Of course, it appealed to me that he was working with synths from my era, but he just seemed to be so astute at manipulating them to his liking in a new way. I’ve always been quite spoiled and thought the last thing I’d ever want to be on this planet was a heritage artist — “Eddie Chacon sings Motown.” So I always thought to myself, “If my journey is not looking to the future and I’m not digging up new ground and discovering new things in myself, as I have always done my whole life, I don’t want to do music. I’d rather just leave well enough alone.”

When I met John, I never thought someone who was at a high point in his career would have any interest in working with a 50-something-year-old man who hadn’t made a record in 20, 30 years, and whose last success was from the early ’90s. So that was curious enough to me in and of itself, that he wanted to meet with me.

What is that you find in this communion with other people, in collaboration, that helps you to find your peak?

I’ve always felt like the job of a good collaborator or producer is to mine the gold in the people you work with. I find that the essence of great collaborations is a genuine interest in helping out the other, not helping out yourself. It has to be in the service of someone else to be great, I believe.


“Nothingness is the basic core of what I aspire towards as a person at this point in my life.”


The way you’ve talked about Pleasure, Joy & Happiness, it seems like you considered that it might be a swan song: “Here’s my statement. Here’s something I can do.” Why did you want a swan song?

To me, there was always this unanswered question: What happens to talent as it sits and is underutilized and not given a purpose? Does it mature like wine? Or does it fade with time? This question was at the forefront of my mind all the time. Making a record at age 56, after having not done music seriously for over 20 years, was part of me trying to answer that question. “I have my own opinion that there’s things I want to say, and I feel and see in a way that I could not possibly have felt or seen 20, 30 years ago. Wouldn’t that be wonderful to incorporate that into a new project and see what happens?” I didn’t know there would be an audience for it. I didn’t expect that anyone would want to hear it, because it’s very quiet. I wanted it to be linear and meditative, and I wanted it to be a listening experience. I remember telling John I didn’t want anything to stick out, which is counterintuitive to making popular music.

When did you realize that you wanted to keep doing this — that this was the beginning of something, not the end of something?

I didn’t have a realization. I have zero entitlement and don’t think the universe owes me anything. I just take it moment to moment. I never really thought of it as a followup record. And even if it was a followup record, what I’ve learned from my past experience with Charles is don’t overthink it. If there’s magic in the room, let it be. So we didn’t continue with the heaviness or significance of, “We’re making a followup record. We’ve got to make it better or bigger or splashier.” We just showed up.

You’ve talked about Pleasure, Joy and Happiness having a nothingness to it, which maybe is related to the linear nature of these albums that you’re talking about. Do you feel that Sundown has that same nothingness?

Nothingness is the basic core of what I aspire towards as a person at this point in my life. I can’t take credit for it. I read it somewhere, and then at some point someone broke down the word into no-thing-ness. That really resonated with me, because I do have an aversion to things being a thing: a gimmick, a trick. I love this idea that you’re never getting over on anyone ever. We know. So it’s not something I had to think about in making Sundown; it’s just the core of where I’m coming from.


Eddie Chacon aspires to nothingness