In Tape Op #16, my pal Stephen Murray interviewed Tchad Blake while he was in the middle of co-producing Pearl Jam's Binaural album in Seattle. Nearly two decades later, Tchad and I sat down in New York to discuss the intervening years, his inspiring mixing style, and relocating to Wales, where's he's been living for over a decade. He's worked on records by Los Lobos, Sheryl Crow, The Black Keys, Peter Gabriel, Madeleine Peyroux, and many others.
It's great to see you again.
Yes, We've changed. Way older!
Well, none of us get younger. I've always been really curious how you ended up on working on Peter Gabriel's Up in 2002. Was that when you started working at Peter's Real World Studios?
There were a couple of projects that I did at Real World before that. I did my second or third production project there for a band called Wild Colonials. We had gone over there because Tony Berg [Tape Op #121] loved the studio plus I'd worked with T Bone Burnett [#67] doing his solo album, The Talking Animals. It was produced by David Rhodes, Peter Gabriel's guitar player. David and I got on really well and we became friends. Mitchell [Froom, #10] and I did a project at Real World too, so I was meeting more and more people there. Jacquie Turner, who's my wife now, was chief engineer at Real World in those days, so when an outside engineer would come in, she'd be the assistant.
Help get you up and running and everything?
Yeah. Over a long period of time we ended up falling in love and we married in California. When we started having kids, we both decided L.A. wasn't the place, so we came back to the UK. Peter Gabriel was doing OVO, a collaborative soundtrack [to the Millennium Dome Show]. I mixed three songs on that. Peter liked them so he asked me if I'd be interested in doing the Up album.
That's a sonically interesting record. It's dynamic, with abrupt shifts and changes.
Tons of what I like, plus the voice of Peter Gabriel! What's not to love? Once I got that done, work kept coming in. I ended up being parked in the big room at Real World for about six years. I had all my gear there by then. I was in there more than I wasn't.
At that point, were you starting to get more mixing than engineering?
Well, I was focusing on that. Especially with a family coming. Production gigs were popping up, but I've always been a reluctant producer. When I hear something I like, I think, "Why should I change this? I love this!" That's not usually the sign of a good producer. When you're walking into a project, you've gotta think, "I really love this, but this is how we're going to change it."
And you've worked with producers where you see how they do that. Everyone does it a different way.
Yeah. That's right. It doesn't mean that I won't change things when I produce; but, generally, if I like it enough to produce it, it also means I already like it as it is. As producer you need to be very committed to the band, which often means travel and lots of time. Anyway, mixing seemed to be more in line with the coming family life. Jacquie and I decided to homeschool our kids, which meant we'd all be together 24/7/365. We wanted a studio at home, which took several years; but eventually we got that together.
I find it awesome that Jacquie had the precognition to tell you that if you wanted to keep working, you needed to learn Pro Tools. It's also smart that you set up a room where you can work with any budget.
That's right. I had done a Los Lobos record at Real World around then, and with the studio cost all they could afford to pay for was five days of studio time. I had two mixes going at the same time on the 88 input SSL [console, in order] to do the whole album in five days. But there wasn't enough in the budget to pay me. What was I going to do? I wouldn't ever turn down a record from Los Lobos. That's when Jacquie said, "This isn't going to work. You've gotta get a home studio and learn Pro Tools." Claire Lewis, my Real World assistant and Pro Tools wizard by this time, also helped me make the transition.
You were working at Real World and building a space to work in near your house?
Yes. We lived near...