Usually in partnership with producer Mitchell Froom, engineer Tchad Blake crafted some of the most adventurous -- at times, even avant-garde -- acoustic landscapes to hit mainstream music during the '90s. Working in typically organic, stripped-down styles (guitar-based pop/rock, roots rock, singer/songwriter records, world music), Blake's unorthodox techniques -- low-fidelity distortion, vintage compressors and effects pedals, mic filters made from everyday found objects, and so on -- gave his work a distinctive, immediately identifiable sound, which grew increasingly odd as his aesthetic developed. Blake began his career at age 25 (circa 1979) as an assistant engineer in Los Angeles; in 1983, he began a five-year stint at the Sunset Sound Factory, where he met Froom in 1986 when the two worked on Crowded House's self-titled debut. The two soon began working together often, and began a long relationship with Richard Thompson on the same year's Daring Adventures. As the '80s ended, the duo worked with Paul McCartney, the Pretenders, Los Lobos, and T-Bone Burnett; Blake also worked on some of Tom Waits' more cacophonous albums, like Frank's Wild Years and Bone Machine.
In 1992, Froom and Blake hit upon what would become their signature experimental sound with Los Lobos' Kiko; Suzanne Vega's 99.9O F and American Music Club's Mercury further solidified their blossoming new approach. In 1994, Blake and Froom teamed up with Los Lobos' David Hidalgo and Louie Perez to form the somewhat bizarre, studio-based roots-music project the Latin Playboys, which allowed Blake's fascination with environmental ambience to run wild; the same year, the duo helmed Elvis Costello's Brutal Youth and Blake also began a fruitful relationship with Soul Coughing on their debut Ruby Vroom. 1996 brought an equally experimental follow-up from Vega, Nine Objects of Desire, worked on Cibo Matto's Viva! La Woman, and crafted one of their finest collaborations on Sheryl Crow's eponymous second album. During this period, Blake had also begun to experiment with binaural recording, using a small portable recorder with two small mics attached to his ears; in addition to the Tony Levin album From the Caves of the Iron Mountain (actually recorded inside a cave), Blake began using his setup to record indigenous world music for Peter Gabriel's Real World label. Blake shared a Grammy for his work on Sheryl Crow's 1998 follow-up The Globe Sessions, also appearing on Froom's Dopamine album; in 1999, the Latin Playboys released their sophomore effort Dose. Blake kicked off the new millennium by working on Pearl Jam's Binaural, as well as continuing his work with the recording approach of the same name.