Weekly Wire
NewCityNet The Real Wizard

By Dave Chamberlain

MARCH 8, 1999:  He's quite possibly Chicago's best-known music figure this side of Billy Corgan, but he's a lot harder to find. He's also being looked for a lot more. You won't see Jim O'Rourke sitting courtside at a Bulls game, you won't see him behind the bench at a Blackhawks game. In fact, you'd be lucky to see him at all. As the guru of all things production and engineering in the studio, demand for Jim O'Rourke is worldwide.

On the heels of releasing "Eureka" (Drag City), his twelfth solo record and - by his own estimation - at least the 100th that he's played on, O'Rourke is presently in London, working in typical fashion (behind the scenes at the engineering board) to help finish a forthcoming High Llamas record.

The High Llamas record is nothing more than the kick-off to a pointedly busy four quarters of the year. After finishing with that, O'Rourke will come back to Chicago to help record the next Superchunk album. Then it's off to New York to play on - for the second straight time - the next Sonic Youth effort. Then back to Chicago again to produce the third Aluminum Group record. Touch and Go recording artist Storm and Stress' next record is also on the docket. "When I'm not working," says O'Rourke from he London studio. "I'm not comfortable."

The 30-year-old Chicago native speaks pleasantly and adroitly on the telephone. I'm reminded of when Scratchie recording artists Fondly spoke of O'Rourke, stressing that no producer or engineer had ever put them so at ease in the studio.

O'Rourke has been working behind the scenes on records since his college days in DePaul. "I don't even like to admit that I went to school for music," he laughs. "It didn't really help. I took it seriously for about a semester. Most of the time I spent in this pathetic thing they call a studio. The rest of college I just finished to make my parents happy."

He's been recording and producing records so long, he needs a second to think about the first thing he recorded. ("In the late eighties I was recording for Table, remember them?" He pauses. "Wait a minute. I don't even know if that was ever released.") As far as he remembers, the first thing he recorded that was released was Faust's first record. ("Good place to start, huh?" he offers playfully.)

How does he feel about the recent spike in interest from well-known bands? "It's not a lot different. I've spent so much time recording demos and crap like that, but I've been doing it for a really long time. It's just been that recently, people whose records are bought by a lot of people have been asking me to do it."

"Eureka," like most of his solo recordings, shows O'Rourke's skills behind the microphone approach his skill behind the engineering table (though he produced "Eureka" himself). Swaths of jazz, lounge music, avant-garde construction, Beatles-esque pop and even a Burt Bacharach cover grace "Eureka," but O'Rourke prefers - by far - working behind the scenes.

"When I'm producing, I get to do almost everything I like to do, and very little of what I don't like to do," he explains. "I don't really enjoy writing music. I prefer to work with the music, to help refine it. Also, producing a record takes about three months. As a producer, the studio has a built-in reset button." It's worth noting, however, that when O'Rourke records his own material, it takes a touch longer than three months. Because of his work schedule, his own records can take up to three years. "I started 'Eureka' in the middle of 1997, and finished it in December of '98." That time in between is regarded by O'Rourke as a positive. "It's a built-in way to get distance from it. I prefer working on stuff that way."

His preference for the studio also contributes to his reluctance to play concerts. "I don't like it. In fact, I hate it," he says pointblank. "I've spent my life being the man behind the curtain, and I like that."

With such a roster of heavy hitters forthcoming on O'Rourke's plate, does he feel more pressure. He pauses for a second, "Actually, no. In fact, I feel less pressure. I like to work."

With O'Rourke crisscrossing the planet to produce records, he hasn't even been in Chicago in the past six months. He spends a lot of time in London, and as much time as he can in Tokyo. "Tokyo is the best," he says. "I live there part of the year now. I feel anonymous there, even though occasionally I get stopped on the street." He laughs as he notes that "Eureka" is actually on the Japanese music charts, one spot below the Offspring's latest record. "Japan is like the inverted world."


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