At 11, a young Frenchman started taking keyboard lessons. Self-taught bass, drums, guitar and a lifelong fascination with The Beatles would follow — and Chris Joss' music career was born. You might know that Joss, who still resides in the quiet hamlet of La Rochelle, France, is an accomplished and groundbreaking instrumentalist, composer, producer and engineer; what you might not know is that he does all that in spite of struggling with ongoing tinnitus, plus a recent accident that almost cost him his right arm.
Photo: ESL Music
“It was a freak thing,” Joss explains. “The mezzanine gave way in my home, where I have my studio, and I fell. I thought, eh, I only have broken my arm, but it was bad. I had a very good surgeon who is also a guitarist, but [the accident] still slowed my music.”
Joss is understating this a bit. He may still be in danger of eventually losing the use of his arm, but it's made him oddly grateful. “You tend to think you are immortal, but I really appreciate each moment now, you know?” he says. While in the hospital, using only a notebook computer, Joss recorded a cover of John Williams' Superman theme song, slated for the new movie trailer; but due to time constraints, it was released separately by his label, ESL. Meanwhile, Joss' “The Man With a Suitcase” was picked up for use in the Ocean's 13 trailer. The accident also caused him to take four years to record his newest album, Teraphonic Overdubs.
Inspired by the sounds of the '60s and '70s (“There was a lot of freedom in people's minds then — you can hear that in the music,” he explains), and by The Beatles' penchant for experimentation, Joss created the album at his PC-based studio with a Soundcraft mixing desk, an ST Audio soundcard and Ableton Live.
Instrument mics were of paramount importance. Joss favors a T.bone ribbon mic to record his sitar and double bass, which he bought at Thomann, a small retailer in Germany (“in France, no shops sell sitars,” he says with a laugh). He also uses the T.bone for his Startone flute, which he plays most notably on the track “Magic Tubes.” “I don't fancy myself a real flute player, but I can record a bit,” Joss says modestly.
Meanwhile, his sitar can be heard on “Count the Daisies.” “My sitar sounds are influenced by George Harrison,” he explains. “Although, traditional East Indians would be horrified by how I play; I use a bass technique, with two fingers, which makes me able to play really fast.”
Joss also uses a special five-mic setup for his drum kit: a Shure SM57 on the snare and SM58 on the kick, a couple of Schoeps on the overheads and a Milab on the hi-hat. And he's got very specific recording methods for his Epiphone Sheraton guitar and Fender Jazz Bass.
“I plug them through a Boss multi-effect SE-70 using light compression and an amp simulator,” Joss says. “I go through the desk to hear myself before sending to the soundcard. I know the SE-70's amp simulator is basic, but I'm happy with it.” His keyboards, on the other hand, are due for a revamp.
“My mother keyboard is on the cheap side,” he says. “I'm about to buy a better one. And I use two very old sound libraries for plug-ins; I've had them for over 15 years, but I like them. I'm not even sure what they are anymore; they were converted from Akai to E-mu and then to HALion format when I switched to PC ages ago.”
And Joss' dream keyboard? An old Wurlitzer he ran across on a recent trip to the States. “I wanted to get it, but it was too expensive, $3,000. Plus, I'm probably better off with plug-ins anyway, given the little space I have.”
Old sounds, new sounds, no matter: Joss has an uncanny ability to select the perfect elements for each track. “Fatality Strikes” features the Native Instruments Pro-53 emulation of the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, which nicely encapsulates the song's spy-lounge mood; “A Room with a VU Meter” is anchored by the ideal harpsichord sample from Joss' aforementioned Akai/E-mu sound library; and “Granted” wraps up the disc with its refined wah guitars and funky feel. Chris Joss is the perfect example of, “It's not the equipment you've got, it's how well you use it.”