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Dave Way Shows the Way It’s Done

By Steve Harvey. Multiple Grammy-winning engineer and producer Dave Way, who has worked with nearly everyone (only a slight exaggeration), chats about working on the latest 7Horse project and his home-based Waystation Studio.

Los Angeles, CA—Take a sharp turn off Mulholland Drive and down a steep driveway and you’ll find yourself at Waystation, the studio that multi-Grammy-winning engineer, mixer and producer Dave Way built at his house in 2002, the year his daughter was born. Way once had a commercial studio, but Waystation is a prime example of how records are made now; Waystation is where he worked with blues-rockers 7Horse on Superfecta, the band’s fourth album, released in December.

Twenty-six years ago, it was hard to escape “Dizz Knee Land,” the debut single from L.A. alternative band dada. In 2011, dada’s vocalist/bassist-turned-guitarist Joie Calio and vocalist/drummer Phil Leavitt formed riffing rock duo 7Horse and enlisted Way, who had mixed a dada EP in 2006, to work on their first album. They have worked together ever since.

For the first three albums, the duo would track at various studios, then head to Waystation for overdubs and mixing, reports Way, who has worked with seemingly everyone—Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Pink, Shakira, Fiona Apple and on and on. “What was great about not having a bass player was that the bass drum could be huge,” he says.

“Their MO before was to have a few riffs, go into a studio and write. This time, they did a proper sit-down at Phil’s house and made some rough demos, just the two of them,” says Way.

On this record, 7Horse brought in multi-instrumentalist Brian Whelan, formerly of Dwight Yoakam’s band. “We still cut the tracks with Joie and Phil together, but [we did it] knowing we were going to have more layers on top,” with Whelan overdubbing at Waystation, says Way. “It was a good opportunity for me to get more involved with them from the beginning. I helped them choose the best songs and we worked on the arrangements and the forms.”

Way once co-owned The Pass Studios, purchased from Larrabee Studios owner Kevin Mills in 2005 and previously known as Andorra, but he rarely worked there. When he and his partners sold the studio, Way expanded his home mix facility, building out an adjacent room as a tracking space with several small iso rooms and bringing some of his gear over from The Pass, including a cue system, EMT plate reverb and a tape machine.

There are instruments everywhere at Waystation—two pianos, a Wurlitzer, a Hammond C3, guitars, basses and a drum kit occupy the live room—with more in a shed outside. “People don’t have to worry about bringing a lot of gear,” says Way. “Most of the colors we need to cover are here.”

When Way built Waystation, he tried to emulate his regular haunts and installed an SSL 6000E. “It was my favorite console, but the record business started changing very quickly after that and budgets started coming down,” he says.

He found himself working increasingly in Pro Tools, so he moved the console out—it was followed more recently by his Studer 24-track machine, then his A80 2-track—replaced by much-needed additional seating. An SSL Matrix currently sits at the center of his setup, which includes racks of tracking and mixing hardware.

“I have no regrets; I love working the way I do now, and the Matrix is a good part of it,” he says. “It’s everything I need in the analog world. When I first got it, I used it more as a summing mixer, using all 16 channels. Now I go into two or four channels with different EQs or compressors for that last analog stage. But sometimes I’m completely in-the-box.”

Way has plug-ins galore—“But when I’m recording, I try to get the mojo from the microphones, with a compressor and an EQ, and make it sound like a record from the beginning.”

Two racks behind him are crammed with tracking gear. For drums and vocals, he favors his Inward Connections MP820 sidecar, configured with four compressors and four mic preamps. “I’ve had these for 18 years; they’re just fantastic,” he says.

Ampex Model 350 mic preamps modified by Inward’s founder Steve Firlotte work well on a variety of things: “I use them occasionally for vocals, but a lot for drums. And I love to use them for a DI guitar, to get a Motown sound.”

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He adds, “Another one of my favorite gear makers is Tim de Paravicini’s EAR. He and Firlotte are two of the best guys out there making gear.” Way has a pair of EAR 660 tube compressor/limiters that he brought back from England after working with them at David Gilmour’s Astoria Studio. “They’ve been in use every day since,” he says. A tube EAR 825Q stereo EQ sits in his desk: “I’d say that’s one of the best sounding EQs ever made.”

Way also has two channels of Motown passive EQ, originally from Hitsville in Detroit. “They’re so vibey and great. I use those on bass and vocals, occasionally on guitar or snare,” he reports.

Related: Dave Way: Mixer on a Hot Streak, by Maureen Droney, April 1, 2000

Additional units from API, Calrec, Empirical Labs, Focusrite and UA, plus Telefunken V72s, Neve 1081s, 2253s and 33609s, and LA-2As fill out the racks. For mixing, says Way, “My staple bus compressor is still the Smart. But I also like this Rockruepel tube compressor, which is German. It’s a vari-mu, sweet sounding.”

Way’s newest piece, at just six months old, is the stereo Monheim Channel Strip, which features two EQ sections per channel. “You can get a lot of different colors out of it by the way you drive the transformers,” he says.

Way likes monitors—he has vintage NS10s and newer ProAc speakers on his desk, and plenty more in storage—and enjoys changing them out now and then, so he was receptive when KRK product manager Rich Renken sent over a pair of the company’s new V8 nearfields.

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“I was working with 7Horse; we had been tracking the night before. I only have one set of cables for active monitors, so I took down my ATC 25s and spent the day listening to the KRKs. I liked them, and the band liked them,” says Way.

“I got them dialed in, started mixing on them and immediately felt I was getting there faster—and having fun doing it. I’ve been very happy with them. I feel I can ‘look’ into the mix more. And 7Horse’s was the first album I mixed on them.”

Dave Way,