Steve Chadie has been a mainstay in the Austin, TX, recording scene since 1995. As a Recording Engineer, Producer, and Mixer, Steve has made a name for himself, working with the likes of Willie Nelson, Los Lonely Boys, Sublime, Dolly Parton, and Meat Puppets. With multi-platinum and GRAMMY-winning projects under his belt, Chadie has recently come full circle, going back to a true “out of the box” workflow. Westlake Pro was there to help him take the leap, and we even got some good Texas BBQ recs along the way!
Westlake Pro: Hey Steve, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today! You recently retired your old Mac “Cheesegrater” for a Pro Tools HDX rig using the new Mac Pro.
What made you decide it was time to upgrade?
Steve Chadie: It had been a long time coming simply because I hadn’t upgraded since 2012. I also figured I have a lot of mixing left in me, and the system I had just wasn’t going to make it all those years. I still have that old system in the corner, and if I need to go back to do something I can always fire it up. I want to be able to work on older sessions of Willie’s or other clients if the need arises (and it always does eventually).
WLP: What was your experience like working with Westlake Pro on this Upgrade?
SC: David Arnold was fantastic. I didn’t have to do a thing and he had answers for any and all questions I had. I asked plenty of questions, too, and he never once got frustrated with my lack of knowledge on the technical end. I told him what I wanted and the rig came to my house ready to roll. I fired it up without incident and haven’t looked back.
WLP: Any projects you’re working on now with the new rig?
SC: I just finished mixing a song for Micah Nelson. It’s called “Halfway to Heaven”. I also mixed a project for a local Austin band when I first got the system. I literally have not cranked up the 2012 Mac Pro since this one came to my door. The transition has been seamless.
WLP: Have you used the new Pro Tools HDX Hybrid Engine on your new system yet?
SC: I stumbled on that feature and had to ask David about “the little lightning bolt” on my tracks. For what I’m doing I have no problem staying in a Native world but the technology seems like a game-changer if you have high track counts and need your DSP for plug-ins and processing rather than mixer building. Especially if you’re doing Dolby Atmos stuff. I have a mixer and outboard gear I use, and the computer side of my mixing is fairly minimal by comparison. I came full circle two years ago and started mixing as we did in the good ol’ days.
WLP: Last we spoke, you were revamping your mix room in Denton (WFO Productions).
What sparked the revamp?
SC: A few years ago we revamped Willie’s Pedernales Studio to fit his personal recording needs rather than run as a commercial facility. I still run bands through there but for the most part, it’s for Willie’s use. I slowly migrated out of the box using more and more outboard gear on hardware inserts while working at Pedernales. When I would go to Denton on my off time, I really missed that and started a mission to get out of the box there as well.
WLP: How are you getting out of the box these days?
SC: I bought a Rupert Neve Designs 5088 last year and that was huge for me. Josh Thomas over at Rupert Neve Designs set us up with a 5088 at Pedernales several years back, and once this “outside the box” obsession started for me, it was inevitable that I’d end up with one. Those mixers are really badass and sound great, the whole team at Rupert Neve Designs have been great to work with. If I have a problem or need a tweak on the board they send someone out right away.
As for outboard gear, I’m a pretty straightforward old-school dude. 1176’s (several of them from AudioScape), LA2A’s, LA3A’s, Tube-Tech, Distressors, Alan Smart C2, Manley VariMu… all the stuff I learned on. I have Burl conversion on the mix bus as well. Pretty basic gear but it gets the job done and has for decades. I have a lot of preamps from before I bought the 5088, too. V72’s, Neve’s, Vintechs, API’s.
WLP: In addition to WFO Productions in Denton, you do quite a bit of work at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales studio along with Arlyn Studios in Austin, TX. Can you tell us a little bit about what makes each of these studios unique?
SC: Arlyn is Fred and Lisa Fletcher’s place in Austin. It’s 7000 square feet and has a really large back room for drums or a whole band setup situation. The mixer there is the old Neve 8024 we had at Pedernales married to an API in one big frame. It’s a beast. They have all the instruments and 2” machines, Amps, B3’s, etc. that were at Pedernales before we privatized. They also have a mix room in the back with our old SSL 4000G+. Jacob Sciba and Joseph Holguin are amazing. I can pretty much walk in and they know what I want since we’ve worked together for a couple of decades now.
WLP: What have you liked about working at Pedernales all these years?
SC: Pedernales has a pretty awesome echo chamber that I just love. I can’t explain how good the real verb sounds. The rooms there are incredible too. Properly designed and easy to get a sound in. I’ve been there since 1995 and I love the place. It just feels good in there. Lots of history and vibe for days. It’s way more than just a studio to me – I wouldn’t know what to do without it. I’ve spent more time there than any of the houses I’ve owned. It’s been my life for about half of the life I’ve had already. It’s crazy to think about so I try not to, and just keep on truckin’.
WLP: You’ve been working with Willie Nelson for more than two decades now – how’d that relationship begin?
SC: I was studying Sound Recording Technology at Southwest Texas State and they had a former Pedernales engineer working there who got me an internship, and I never left!
On my first day there, I assisted on a local artist’s session, and the main office at that time called and asked if I could stay because Willie wanted to come in and sing on a Beach Boys project. That was my first day. Willie was super down to earth and I was very comfortable in that element, so I stayed and slowly worked my way up.
WLP: How has that relationship developed over time?
SC: I didn’t see Willie as much when he used to tour 300 or so days a year, but in recent years that’s changed. When COVID hit, I moved into the studio condo next door and spent 15 months living less than a football field length from the studio. Those were some great months for me, and we ended up producing the Willie Family record together.
WLP: Are there any recording tips/techniques that you’ve learned or developed over this time working with Willie Nelson?
– You’d better be rolling when you hear Willie come in the door. In other words, be prepared.
– An artist won’t be at their best if they’re not comfortable. No one cares about a really good recording of a bad take.
– Make the most of the gear at hand. Lots of great records were done with less than the best gear available.
WLP: Have any of these techniques crossed over to your work with other artists? Any techniques that are unique to Willie?
SC: I try to keep the same MO for all sessions, but with Willie, I really have to stress the “be prepared but not locked down” aspect of that gig. Nothing happens in a conventional manner when it comes to Willie. I have to be ready to roll but anything after that is a crapshoot. In general, I feel like you should be recording whenever music is being played. I can’t tell you how many run-throughs ended up being keeper takes. There’s no reason not to be rolling these days with relatively inexpensive hard drives and no tape limitations.
WLP: You and Willie co-produced the new album The Willie Nelson Family, which features members of Willie’s legendary band “The Family” along with many members of his immediate family. What was it like recording this record?
SC: From time to time Willie likes to come in off tour and just jam with his band or with Sister Bobbie. In fact, the album “December Day” was cuts of him and Bobbie playing standards while off tour, and spans the years 2004-2012. I got a call from Buddy Cannon one day asking if I had the multi-tracks because Wille wanted to put out the roughs. I did and we tweaked the songs up and released them. Well about half of the songs on the family album are just that. Willie came in with his band one day in March of 2019 fresh off tour, and cut a bunch of songs. It’s really special because Paul English is on there and it’s the last recording of Paul playing with the band.
When I was living out at the studio during the early part of the pandemic, Willie and his sons, Lukas and Micah, came in for two days and cut songs. It was very challenging because they were all playing and singing in the main room together, and I couldn’t go in there and adjust mics because we weren’t sure what the deal was with COVID. It posed some challenges later on but I got through it and it all came out okay in the end.
WLP: You worked with Andy Johns for quite some time – do you have any favorite stories or recording techniques from that time that you’d like to share with us?
SC: Man, I learned so much from Andy and I really miss him. He was pretty crazy and quite a personality. Most of my stories involving him are probably best told over the phone, but needless to say, we weren’t always on our best behavior. We were quite close after 14 years, and I cried like a baby when I heard of his passing.
WLP: As someone who’s worked in Austin for decades, how has the Austin music scene changed over the years?
SC: Austin has grown a lot in the recording industry and music festival area, to be contending with Nashville or LA or New York even. There is a lot of talent musically and in the studios here and it’s just a bit of an uphill battle, at least in my experience, to be taken as seriously as I feel we deserve.
WLP: Any favorite BBQ you can recommend in Texas?
SC: Terry Blacks BBQ on Barton Spring Road in Austin, Opies BBQ in Spicewood Texas, and The Salt Lick in Driftwood Texas.
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