In high school, Joe Mardin didn’t need any career counseling. The son of legendary producer and Atlantic Records senior vice president Arif Mardin knew his calling early on.
Any kid hanging around Atlantic’s recording studios, even during summer vacations, couldn’t help but get involved in music.
“At a certain point, I used to spend all my free time at the studio when I was a teenager,” Joe Mardin said recently. “Friday nights, I’d be there, and over the weekends, I’d sneak into rooms and mix tapes or watch sessions. I remember when (Aretha Franklin’s) ‘Until You Come Back to Me’ was recorded; I remember being there and watching it when I was probably about 9. I had a wonderful childhood.”
Even though his father has had a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career, Mardin didn’t want anything handed to him on a silver platter. He wanted to earn his wings.
His first break came in 1984 when, as a junior at Berklee College of Music, he and classmate Alec Milstein were working on a project with Arif Mardin. At the same time, his father also was producing Chaka Khan’s Grammy-winning “Feel For You” album. She overheard “Caught in the Act,” one of the Mardin-Milstein collaborations, and insisted on using it for her album, without changing a note.
That opened more doors. In the past 12 years, Mardin has worked as producer, arranger, background singer, drummer and keyboard programmer for such artists as Franklin, Roberta Flack, Vanessa Williams, Anita Baker, Bette Midler, George Benson and Culture Club. He also conducted and arranged a 50-piece orchestra for “In From the Storm,” BMG Classics’ symphonic tribute to Jimi Hendrix.
Mardin wears another hat, that of a label owner. Two years ago, he launched his NuNoise label specifically to release the self-titled debut album for the alternative rock quartet Danielle’s Mouth, fronted by singer-guitarist Danielle Gerber. Mardin also happened to be the group’s drummer, but for the untitled follow-up album, to be distributed next year via Atlantic, Danielle’s Mouth essentially became a solo project for Gerber, with Mardin serving as producer.
“We’ve been working on the demos in my studio,” Mardin said. “Danielle’s a real singer with a huge range of emotion. Great lyrics, very poetic, but this silky-smooth voice she has contrasts with her guitar-playing style, which is kind of raunchy and blues-influenced. You have this great bittersweet-and-sour mix happening with her artistry. The last record, that was backed up by a rock band. On this record, it’s a slightly different twist, more drum loops, more R&B-influenced on the bottom end.”
Mardin has devoted so much time to Danielle’s Mouth that he hasn’t begun to think about what’s next on his agenda.
“It’s funny,” he said, “the logistics and everything are weighing down on me so heavy and we have so much work and we have so many songs that we’re considering that I haven’t even thought about anything beyond this project. We’re really trying to turn this into something special.”