Denver, Colorado, is a better place for the tireless audio work of Bob Ferbrache. I tracked him down in 2012 at his home/studio to learn more about his history. Bob worked on records by Blood Axis, Human Head Transplant, Wovenhand, 16 Horsepower, Soul Merchants, Changes, The Czars, and Slim Cessna's Auto Club. Soon after our talk Bob left the music industry, closed his Absinthe Studio, and left Colorado for New England. Bob's mark on Denver's music scene should not be forgotten.
I know you were in The Healers with Jello [Biafra, Dead Kennedys] way back.
I was in The Healers. Not concurrently with Jello, but Jello was my friend. He was with The Healers, and a newfound punk rock god, but the guy who co-wrote "California Über Alles," John Greenway, he's The Healers.
He's the main focus of that?
Yeah. I was a friend of his too, and Jello goes, "Get him out of his basement! He won't get out of his basement."
Oh, like playing shows and stuff?
Yeah. I did, and he writes brilliant stuff; rock operas. We did instrumentals mostly.
That sounds fun. Was that out of Boulder, Colorado?
Were you living in Boulder at the time?
I was probably living here at that time. I remember practicing around town with them too. They had a B&O turntable, a giant Crown amp, and two big Klipsch PA speakers. I'd play albums as loud as possible.
People were saying that you were doing a lot of photography and recording live shows early on, right?
Yep. I was mostly skewed to photography. The live shows came because of my interest. I got into cassettes real early; I got a really early cassette deck. It was a little console from Japan, through the military. This was before cassettes even started coming here. It actually took a year before I could even get cassettes. I would record live radio shows for myself. As it turned out, I was one of the only people who had a record of those kinds of things, on normal-biased cassettes, from '71.
So no one...
Tommy Bolin recordings, and stuff like that. Then as time went on, I was a photographer and I hung out with people. I'd always collect board tapes from sound guys and get board tapes that I'd listen to. I was really obsessed. I was really into live recordings – quality live recordings. Especially when artists in that time did things that weren't so calculated, or timed to click tracks or whatever, like they do now.
Do you feel like that's carried over into other fields, into helping people to make records?
We're talking about the ‘70s. ‘70s records are amazing, like Queen and The Beatles, anything that sounded like that. I love garage bands and stuff, especially some ‘60s ones, and all the big hits that you've heard in the past that are garage bands, I loved that too. But I was into prog music. So, Gentle Giant, and The Strawbs, or folk prog more, too. I was into European folk, and I loved the ways those records sounded, and I liked the way that people made records and layered them. Pink Floyd didn't make a record where they were necessarily just sitting there consciously saying, "Oh, we can't do this, because we can't play this live! They just made records."
"We'll figure that out later." [laughs] No, that's true. I love Yes, and you hear that stuff and are just like, "How did they build that?"
Well, if you're a Yes fan, I can tell you the funny thing. The first time I saw them, they were the opening act for The Allman Brothers, so you can imagine. I think they actually won the crowd over, despite the capes and the knee-high gold boots. They could play. I think that everybody in the audience recognized, "These guys can rip!"
So you continued to play in bands in the area, but what led you to recording?
4-track cassette, when that popped up. I got my first 4-track in '81, a Studiomaster, so I had a 6-channel mixer on it, where you could patch any of the channels.
Is that the rack mount one?
Yeah, it's a rack one.
My friend bought one of those at the same time. He was obsessed, and he was a coke dealer or something, so he had some extra money.
I was a geophysicist at the time. There was a big boom in the oil industry.
What did you start recording?
My bands at the time. I've actually got a whole stack of CDs and stuff for you. Here's a CD of a band that I was in during the ‘80s that was recorded on 4-track cassette.
Where were you working out of?
That 4-track cassette was recorded in that room in there.
Really, in your basement?
Yeah. I remember when we recorded the drums for one session of that on the 4-track cassette. A friend of mine, the drummer, had a big house with a huge room in it. We set up in there for a couple weeks and just did all the basic tracks. I would get another Yamaha mixer in line with the six-track mixer, and I would do a sub-mix of the drums on tracks 1 and 2, in stereo, and then the bass, or guitar and keyboards, whatever drove the song. So I'd make a stereo mix of the drums, guitar and bass, and while I bounced it to the two tracks, me and the other guitar player would play live to the bounce. That basically was the music, and then we'd have two tracks for solos or vocals.
Did you run into the typical catastrophes of the bounce not holding up once you got further down?
I was pretty lucky.
I always felt like that was so dangerous. I was doing a lot of that too.
Well, I could always go back. I had the original, so the only thing that would be a problem was the drum mix that I initially did in stereo from like five or six mics.
What kind of mics were you amassing at that time?
Did you start working with other people once they heard the results of your 4-track stuff?
Yeah. Punk rock bands; the local crews. A couple of those albums even came out later. Revolver distributes them. If you know any of the Revolver guys, one of them was the guy who runs Revolver, his band in the eighties.
Yeah, I know Bob from the Bay Area when he moved out there. Who was he singing for?
It was a band called Bum Kon. The album came out, so it was 4-track recordings.
I met Bob when he moved out there, because I had friends that worked at Systematic Distribution before that.
Joe Pope [Systematic's owner, member of Angst]. He's one of my best friends.
I haven't seen him for decades. I think the last time I saw him was at a party at Systematic in like '85 or something. And Jello was there.
Well, they were friends too.
Where they from out here?
I forgot all about that. This is dredging up my past too. When did you move into sessions where you went to an outside studio?
I went all the time when I was doing that, even in the ‘80s, to 8-track or even 16-track studios that were in town. I'd go with other people, usually as help. Like the first Fluid album [Punch N Judy], they got me to sort of coordinate the recording. I found the studio for them, and we went into an 8-track studio and recorded their first album.
Were you officially like a producer or something at that point? What would you call your role?
Associate engineer, or associate producer – if there's anything in the middle! So as an engineer, I could say, "Turn that knob." Or as a producer, sit there and say, "That needs to be turned! We need the engineer." I don't know.
Did you feel like you sort of gradually pulled the skills together that let you step into a studio, or take over a session producing?
Definitely. Yeah. But I guess throughout this whole time – starting with that band – I've had unbelievable misfortune when it comes to corporate people.
Well, I think we all have! In what ways?
Well, that band was lined up to be signed on Geffen, and somehow the bottom fell out of that. That was more from egos in the band. Later on, it was 16 Horsepower, when they were signed with A&M, and A&M was like, "Who's this wildcard?" The stories just go on and on! It always circulates around some major thing, so I never involved myself with that whatsoever. That's why I've always been self-contained.
You've moved to other places too, but you're seen regionally as someone who's been in and helped a lot of these bands progress.
Yeah, I've done restoration, engineering, mastering, producing, and mixing. I just mixed an album for some guy in Canada. The tracks were recorded well, so I mixed this whole album.
You said you feel like you have this opposition with the corporate world. Was it something that just sort of randomly happened that way?
Maybe it's my indecision with the corporate world in general, and that's just a little harsher than the music world, with what they're judging, especially with what they're putting out now. That's the only benefit for guys like you and I – them putting out such crap.
The worse the mainstream is...
A guy like M. Ward can really rise among these ashes to become a prominent artist.
It's true. Remember how the ‘80s were? There was a lot of crap on the surface, but then there was a lot of amazing stuff in the early ‘80s that there was just no chance in hell of getting on the radio. But it was good music.
Yeah, a lot of good music!
Describe the evolution of your space and the house here.
Well, the 4-track, and then the next thing that came along was that I had to go to the next realm outside of that. That was to get out of going to 8- and 16-track studios. I wanted to do that here, so I went into 8-track. Tascam made a great thing. When I saw the unit, I said I'm getting it. It was a built-in, 1/4-inch, 8-track with dbx.
The 388? Is that what it's called?
The 388, with a little mixer.
Yeah. So I bought it, and I got a couple more mics and a couple compressors.
At the time, what kinds of studios were open?
8-track and 16-track studios with, I was almost going to say Trident boards, but I think that might have been excessive. I can't even tell you what kind of board. Now, it wouldn't be the same, because you can buy a Trident for $1,000 now.
But that was what it seemed like. This was pre-Mackie. When Mackie first put out their mixers, to me, that changed everything. To be able to get a desk like that...
Yeah. I had the 32x8.
Yeah, the 32x8. That's what I got.
No polarity buttons! The worst thing in the world. How long did you work with the Mackie?
I had that one here for a couple years. I went to 16-track. The 8-track ended abruptly, and I sold everything for a girl. I moved to Seattle in '90 and '91, and particularly two or three albums I had recorded on that 8-track, they were playing the fuck out of them on the radio in Seattle. I'm sitting here working in a kitchen! I was an outsider, so the only job I could get was as a prep cook in a kitchen. I jammed with a couple people, and that was sort of fun, but nothing. So like the Human Head Transplant stuff that I did, the Boyd Rice album that I did, I did Crash Worship here on 8-track...
Was that done here?
Yeah, that was done here on 8-track, and they were playing it there on the radio every time I got into the car. The Boyd Rice album came out while I was living there, and they played it every hour for three months.
Crash Worship was really big for a while. What gear do you have now?
That's a further evolution. I have a laptop, and I've been experimenting with that. I got the PreSonus. I tried to find 16-channels of input for the Mac, and I wanted it to be small.
You're using Soundscape [DAW]. That's far more well known in Europe for recording stuff.
Yeah, it's SSL now.
What drew you to that?
I'd moved to Seattle, and then I came back here, and I was just here for a few months, and I moved to Cairo. My friend said, "Nothing costs anything; we can live like kings," so I went there for a year, and yeah, I didn't do anything. When I came back to Denver, that was the beginning of this studio as it is. The day I came back, I went and saw 16 Horsepower play. It was shocking how original and good they were. I actually sort of knew those guys, and I went and said, "Man, this is the best thing I've ever heard." They said, "We need a keyboard player. Do you want to play in the band?" I was going, "Okay, well, I'll play some bits." So I was in 16 Horsepower the day I got back from Cairo. Then we started doing some stuff.
Had they recorded at that point?
Yeah, they had a demo. I'll tell you the story. They had an 8 track cassette, and a live cassette, which is fantastic. Later I re- mastered all of that stuff, and it's an album called Olden now. We made a demo tape with the band and me on a 24-track at a big pro studio that just seemed to make demo tapes or something. Mercury Records was jumping on it, and I had done this thing where I had committed to a tour to go to Europe with this band, before I was in 16 Horsepower. I had all these people, Karl Blake, and these brothers who played percussion. It was kind of like a Crash Worship style of band, but we were set up to go on a four-month tour of Europe. I went on that tour, and I kept checking in to see what's going on. "Oh, Mercury's really interested." I came back up and got back in the band again. We hooked up with Morphine. They saw us play. We played our first shows with Morphine.
That makes total sense.
We got really friendly with Morphine. Then the Mercury thing didn't happen, and then this guy I knew who worked at Slash Records came and visited here. He went, "Oh, I'm really interested in your band." I had the demo tape – when I came back they had mixed the new demo tape, and it was awful. I re-EQ'd it and ran it through a BBE and did all sorts of crap to do something to it. Later I found out that they made it sound really bad on purpose, because if the label was interested in them, they'd see through that. The drummer told me that they had this idea that if it were too polished, the label wouldn't be interested.
[laughs] I don't know if that always works!
Yeah. But I made this tape, and I played it for him, and he said, "This tape hit my desk six months ago and I threw it in the trash can. This is fucking amazing!" He goes home the next day, and an A&R guy from A&M calls me up and says, "When are you playing next?" I tell him that we're playing tomorrow, and he says, "Well, what about after that?" A few days later, A&M flew out and saw us, and bam – we're on the label. Just like that. And then I'm out of the band.
What year was that?
That would have been '94.
Why were you out of the band?
Corporate. When the band got together the day before we flew out to see A&M they were like, "Let's get our interests in order. What do we want from this label?" "Okay, we want to get an equipment budget. We want the recording budget. We want to find producers." Everybody was barely working on minimum wage with their other job, if they had another job, and the singer had a child that needed dental work really bad, and we were barely getting by. So my suggestion was, "This is a multinational corporation, and they have interests in bomb factories in South Africa. Let's get health insurance, and pay for unemployment insurance, and make sure." So we came and met, and we sat down, and they were like, "Okay, what do you want to do?" We said, "Let's talk about producers." They said, "We'll get T Bone Burnett [Tape Op #67]." I go, "Well, I know Steve Fisk [Tape Op #3]." They say, "Oh, no, we'll get somebody bigger than Steve Fisk." I go, "I know him, and he's a great producer." "No, we'll get you Dan Lanois [Tape Op #37]." So that's where it went. Then it came down to healthcare, and they were like, "What?" They flipped on that, the same way the rednecks at the Tea Party flipped on it. We were like, "It's just a suggestion." And that was my suggestion. I wasn't the one who was like, "T Bone Burnett? Really? You're just going to call him up and get him in the studio to produce us, just like that?"
The whole budget's going to go away.
They dropped $250,000 on their first record. And then they shelved it – $250,000 on the record, $100,000 on the video that the Brothers Quay did. MTV passed on the video, and that was the end of their interest in the band. They didn't even promote the album.
Everybody else gets paid. Not the artist.
Yeah. The band technically owes A&M millions of dollars, and A&M released them.
So they just let them go? But the record was in the can – did it ever come out?
They made a second record, and they had an option for a third album. The whole shit hit the fan when A&M got bought up. The head of A&M, Al [Cafaro], used to drive a Porsche and wear black karate outfits. He was a huge fan of the band, because he actually saw them play live. He always let the A&R guys do the work. He'd never listen to bands. So if his A&R guy said you're great, he'd trust them. But he actually went and saw the CD release show for the first album, and the band blew him away. They're a fantastic live band. They had an option for a third album, and that got picked up, despite the fact that they owed A&M over a million dollars. They had an option that they were to be paid $50,000 if they weren't able to do their third album. So then their contract got sold, but he picked up the option before he got fired. So he signed off on the option, he got fired, Universal, or whoever, took the label over, looked at the contract, dismissed the $2 million or whatever they owed them, and gave them the $50,000, because of that option. So then we had $50,000, and they came to me, and they recorded their best record [Secret South]. And it's their best-selling record.
And you weren't involved in the records before that at all?
Not the label albums. We rented a cabin in the mountains for a month. Well, more than a cabin. It was a lodge. It had 15 bedrooms in there, and there were mountains in front of us out the window. I took my whole studio with me. At that time I had a Mackie 32x8 and we just tracked to the Soundscape. After we got everything tracked, I transferred everything to DA-78 tape, the 24-bit. Then they took them to Hansa Studio [Tape Op #95] in Germany and mixed it there.
Who did the mixing on that?
The guy who did the Nick Cave albums at the time [Paul Corkett]. Then they got it mastered. So they got to spend $30,000 on the album. I think their best album is the next one [Folklore], which the label said, "You owe us a record," and they made them do it. They said, "There's $5,000." We recorded it in here for $5,000 – $1,000 for each of us, and $1,000 for expenses for a month to record the album here. That's when I had gotten my Sony DMX-100. It was written, performed, recorded, mixed and mastered here in 21 days. We would sort of take Sundays off for the three weeks.
Did you find that interesting that someone could spend so much time and money on those other records, with less results?
Well, I've always felt that. Since 4-track days, even.
When you're producing, what are the things that you're looking out for?
Well, if I'm capable of it, I learn all the music. I learn how to play all the songs, even if only in a rudimentary form, on keyboards or guitar most of the time. Not all of the time, and especially when I can see that I don't need it; when I can see that the performer's well-advanced so that it's not even within my limits to figure that out. I think everything I do gets centered around vocals. They're the most important things. I like to get a performance. That goes into the realm of click tracks, you know? All the Wovenhand albums that I'd done – I'd done six or seven of them – were all done to click tracks. Those were a construction process. He [David Eugene Edwards] comes out here with ideas, and that's it. Then the records get made.
The Threshingfloor is beautiful. It's spacious, and there's a lot of cool shit going on.
That was written here. He had a couple Arabic instruments that were given to him, and he had licks. "Okay, let's make a lick, and get a click track. Okay, I like this measure. I like these four parts. I like this part." Construct a song, verses and choruses, and then re-do it to the verse and chorus. I had 48-tracks up, and we're sitting there going, "I'd really like that chorus to come here instead of there."
In that sort of scenario, you're more of a collaborator than an engineer and producer in helping the process along. But don't you feel a huge amount of that is based on the trust that you guys have?
Yeah. I only work on a half-dozen records a year at most, because I take a couple months to record a record, or a year! I record records simultaneously, and I'll spend a year on them, when people aren't on tour.
Is it kind of a nice situation to be in here? I assume that equipment's paid for, the house is your house, there's no extra overhead...
Yeah, and there's no worry about time, other than the labels.
Yeah, someone might be waiting for it! Say you're working on a Woven Hand record, and you guys are in here. When do you say it's done?
He knows. When he's doing stuff, he knows. With the Slim Cessna's Auto Club records, I do those, and they don't really even come here. If I send them a demo or a mix, they tell me if it's wrong, but that's about it. I have total freedom. I throw Theremins on stuff, and backward guitar solos, backward masking... whatever!
These are a lot of people that you've had connections with for a long time, too. I guess everyone kind of knows how their roles interact at that point.
Especially with the Auto Club. I mean, I'm in the band, and I've been touring with them for two years, off and on again. We've just had our twentieth anniversary this year! So yeah, just whatever becomes. The last album we did, I think, is one of our best records. I'm really happy with it. That was done to click tracks, because of the drummer on the record. He created the click tracks, and he created click tracks that slowed up and sped down. The Auto Club is not a click track band. They never have been, even when we first started recording stuff. Before Soundscape I had DA-88s, and we were doing some stuff with click tracks, because one of those guys was like, "We have to record with a click track." So Slim, who plays guitar, all of a sudden sounds like reggae with a click track! We're like, "Play like you're supposed to play." He goes, "I am, I am!" We turn the click off, and it's strum, strum, strum. Turn the click track back on, and it's reggae. Ker-chick, ker-chick, ker-chick! So the click track actually influences the way you play, especially in a case like that.
Do you get requests for people to work on stuff where you end up passing?
On occasion, but maybe less now. There are less people out there. Everybody's got a PreSonus interface, a Mac, GarageBand, and a [Shure SM]58, and you're a studio.
Are there places you can go in Denver if you want to get out and do something a little different than just working here?
Yeah, there are a couple of places where I'll think about doing drum tracks. But the last drum tracks that I recorded here were the best drum tracks that I've ever made.
Have you ever done them upstairs? Does it get a little loud outside?
The neighbors are completely copacetic with me.
Yeah. I recorded this metal album for Kingdom of Magic, and I couldn't have the bass player in my house. He had a Mesa Boogie and an Ampeg stack, a thousand watts! It's part of his sound. We literally had to go to an airplane hangar to record it. I took my Mac, and I set up four mics on the bass cabinets and just let him have at it. The bass sound is awesome! I actually had to use dynamic mics on the distant mics, because I took my Crowley and Tripps, but I wasn't even going to take them out of the box in that room.
Blow ‘em up?
Yeah, or get dirt in them.
Where do you see things going for you, like more of the same?
Well, I don't know. I'm probably a bit confused on that. I've been doing stuff just to sort of make ends meet. I devote myself to these projects. One thing that I do is that lots of people who do their own demo recordings or make their records in other studios and stuff offer people cut-rate mastering. I could do something that's worthy of their project really well, and do it for a couple hundred bucks. Then you just spend one afternoon on something.
Yeah. Do some of the tricks come from the restoration work as well and stuff?
Yeah. I do stuff with this guy, Bobby Beausoleil. I just did a restoration on all the tapes that he recorded, about 20 tapes. He sent me all the reels and I transferred them. I rented reel-to-reel players, transferred them all digitally, and restored them. There have been a few records done. We've got about four or five out. The Lucifer Rising box set, I don't know if you've seen that.
I've heard of it. We've had someone who was going to interview Bobby a while back.
He would be an amazing interview. To start off with, the stuff he did in the ‘80s.
Right, and he was in prison!
If you ever play a [Korg] M1 or a Kurzweil, chances are he programmed that sound in prison. He was the programmer for that.
It's a crazy story.
And through the prison stuff, he works in the audiovisual department. He sort of runs it, and he sometimes gets access to that gear. They've got a whole Pro Tools rig, but he can't really use it for his own stuff.
Blood Axis I know people probably want to know about.
Well, that's when the studio started. This realm of the studio started when Michael [Moynihan], who does Blood Axis, was a friend of mine. I'd done that Boyd Rice & Friends album [Music, Martinis and Misanthropy], and I'd done some Boyd Rice albums in the past few years. After I wasn't in 16 Horsepower anymore, he finally goes, "Okay, well it's time we made up." We'd dabbled together, I mean we'd played music together before, and I didn't have anything, and he goes, "I can get an advance from two or three different labels in Europe. I'll get the advance and give you the equipment, and then we can just start recording." So that's what it was. In '94, he got a couple thousand dollars, and I got a Mackie 32, a Tascam 16-track reel-to-reel...
Yeah. And we recorded that album, The Gospel of Inhumanity. That's where the name of the studio came from, Absinthe. We were drinking a lot of absinthe, and we wrote a song called "Absinthe."
It's kind of a notorious record. How was that created? Were you guys just bouncing ideas around?
Yeah. We had a couple song ideas, but a lot of it's soundscape stuff. We made samples and collaged stuff. I did most of the music.
Was your mom living at the house at the time?
Was she ever like, "What's going on down there?"
No. She loved it. One time when we were doing the Blood Axis album, it's five in the morning, and there's two bottles of unopened wine. I go, "Hey Michael, watch this. I can juggle!" And I can't juggle. I threw both bottles up in the air, and they crashed and broke and fell all over. I was like, "Oh shit!" So I got a Shop-Vac and started vacuuming everything up, and my Mom came in and was like, "What are you doing?"
"Wait... that might be enough." But the music and the noise and stuff?
Yeah, only on a couple of occasions did she ever comment. She liked most of the noise. She loves David and Slim. Michael and Annabel [Lee], who are Blood Axis, are her best friends. They were here when she had her stroke.
One of the things that we constantly see is that sustaining longevity in this business is difficult, and when you can come up with scenarios when you're not in a desperate financial position, it helps to keep a sort of stability.
I have many, many a time – when I was here with my mom in particular, I'd always tell her, "Oh, this is temporary. I'm gonna move out, and I'll keep an eye on you." I never did, but I thought I was going to get a space, because I'd looked at spaces. But then it was like, "You know that record by that band that I didn't want you ever to listen to?" I couldn't even think of the idea that I'd have to listen to them 3,000 times, over and over again.
Like doing something just to pay the rent?
Yeah. I've done it before. I'm have some projects coming up where I'm doing that too.
What kind of restoration work have you been doing?
I went to thousands of concerts in my day, and I even worked for concert promoters. I worked at this venue, Ebbets Field, where I took photographs and stuff, and I saw bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, the first time they left Kingsville, you know? I saw Leonard Cohen, in a 250-seat club. I have a whole bunch of CDs I've done [Live From Ebbets Field] of restoration stuff, and those are from that club that I was just telling you about. That's from '73 to '76, and there's Robin Trower, Peter Frampton, Gene Clark...
Were these all shows you taped?
I helped tape some of it. The tapes came around. Like the Peter Frampton thing on this, for some reason sometime in the ‘80s, they got copied onto DAT, and they weren't done well. Whoever did the copy actually put reverb on them!
Oh, come on.
‘80s reverb! So the Peter Frampton one on this, that was found online. It was like the Peter Frampton thing was a cassette that I had that's great. Peter Frampton heard it, and he flipped out over it. The guy who arranged to put them out did it all for charity. That's how they could get everybody to agree to it. There's like 2,500 copies of each made. I've got Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf sets, and I better restore them for their archives.
How are you mixing here these days?
I do analog mixes, because I use an SPL summing mixer.
What's that? Oh, the SPL.
I use that. Most albums are done in the box in Pro Tools now, so let's say your kick drum, to get it in the mix, if you have your master at zero, then your kick drum is at -20. But that's 20 frames of bit-depth or whatever, so that's half the bit depth, so it's probably 8 bits at that point. Using the summing mixer, I put the kick on track one and two. I'm using all 24 bits, so I put the kick, and the snare, and the toms, and then the rest of the percussion and drums in those four channels. Then I do equally with the other four channels, and that sums them. But I'm using the output at zero.
Had you tried mixing in the box without an external mixer before that, too?
Yeah, I do that as a final thing for overdubbing and tracking. I'm mixing in the box.
Did you feel like there was something missing when you weren't going into the external summer?
On certain things. Like on the Blood Axis album, there's a couple things that I mixed in the box where I was so used to the mixes I had going. I had 44 compressors on 66 tracks. On that I probably used outside reverbs and compressors. There were at least two tracks on that that I spent hours trying to make a new mix, and then I went back and listened to the old mix, and I don't know... the mix I was using just attracted me.
You've worked with Boyd Rice on NON releases and more. He's known as a pretty intense character. Is that for real in the studio?
No. Our interests are ‘60s French girl pop groups and things like that, or television. If I talk to him on the phone it's like, "Did you see that episode of Mission Impossible last night?" Yeah, he's really into things like that.
Where's he living these days?
He lives in downtown Denver.
I saw a NON performance a long time ago. It was pretty fun, but his persona is like...
It supersedes him. They made that four-hour movie and it still didn't defer his persona at all! And his book, he just put a book out, NO; it's really good. It's just his thoughts. Just to perpetuate his myth even further.
There's a bit of myth about you, too. To people in town you're just this legendary guy, or you're Big Bad Bob or something. Do you think that's part of the success of things?
Oh, probably. Yeah.
There's something that seems a little larger than life.
I don't know, I always thought that it was just because, like I said, I only make two or three albums a year or something. Then if it's a local thing, that album sort of transcends it. It's done on a level that's more than a demo tape-sounding album. That's the problem with everything that comes out of Denver – they sound like demo tapes to me.
Like not finished, so to speak?
Yeah. There's a really lo-fi ethic coming out here, like this band Tennis and other people have kind of broken out.
What did you think when The Apples in Stereo [Tape Op #2] and The Minders were doing records here? Did you notice some of that too?
Yeah, I know those guys too. Robert Schneider's a really great guy. I think actually some of that stuff that they recorded was on my old 16-track reel-to-reel. I sold it to a friend of mine and Robert used it and did all the stuff. I think that they eventually ended up with that for a while.
Oh, that's funny. Do you think that we always go through like cycles of younger groups being like, "The studio's going to ruin my music," or something, or, "We don't need a stinkin' producer?"
Well, that's what I'm talking about. Because, I mean, people can just get there, maybe that's Trent Reznor damage – they can record their album on GarageBand with a 58 and a PreSonus interface, or an M-Audio interface. I've heard some good demo tapes with that!
Yeah, but it's hard to take it to another level you think? Or flesh it out more?
The rhythm sections and stuff get a little muted. But like I said, I like to do big productions, too. I don't mind having ten overdubs of vocals on that one word for the sake of that or whatever.
Are there any albums you didn't feel worked out well?
I guess one to my credit is that I worked on DeVotchKa's first record [SuperMelodrama], but it's not very good.
Their albums are fantastic, but the one I worked on didn't sound any good. They recorded it on ADATs with a rented mic and then brought it to me. Then we re-tracked the vocals and I tried to mix it. It's okay. Some people love it. I think it's really good, but it's not like their other records.
I feel like we kind of organically go through that process where you buy a mic, try it on different things, and then know what you like about it.
It's actually a disease. Microphones are a disease. When I look at a magazine, it raises my blood pressure. It's just, "Oh, I want this! I want a [Neumann M] 149 tube mic for my house!"
What kind of stuff have you purchased lately microphone-wise?
Well, the last thing I got was some cheap mics. I got those Cascade Fat Heads out of your magazine for next to nothing. Okay! I've been using them! I love ribbon mics. I always get mics in pairs, so I have a pair of Royers. I've got an interesting mic. I had $4,000, and I wanted to buy a microphone. I decided that I wanted something different. I'm not sure if this was the right choice or not, but I got one of these InnerTUBE mics [MM-2000 MAG MIC]. Yeah.
What do you think of the sound of that?
I like it. It's sort of bright. It's really powerful.
It looks crazy! That's an actual Maglite?
Yeah, it uses actual Maglites. So I could sit there and tell the vocalist, "Okay, yeah, so this mic serves two functions. It's an excellent vocal mic, and if I'm not getting the best vocal take, I can just whip the Maglite part and beat you over the head with it!"
Yeah, or if we get lost on the way out. You certainly know that the choices for recording equipment, not even ten or fifteen years ago, were so much different.
hat's why everything's at home. Like I said, I think maybe it started really big-time at home when Mackie boards came out. It started with the 4-tracks and stuff, but seriously when they had Alesis ADATs and the Mackie boards... Fortunately I went towards the DA-88s.
Yeah, the tapes take up less room.
Yeah. I did this whole series of recordings at the Bluebird Theater; we set up a recording setup. We had the [Yamaha] 02R, two DA-88s, and powered speakers.
Was it off in its own little room, upstairs somewhere?
Yeah, it was upstairs off in a booth. I multitracked and did recordings up there. There's a live 16 Horsepower album.
So you did a lot of other shows and stuff there too?
Yeah, part of that Built to Spill live album [Live]. Bush and Cake put out songs as B-sides and stuff like that. Bow Wow Wow... I worked for a lot of video shoots where I mixed stuff that was shot. That again started coming around to dealing with people in suits and offices. Image Entertainment – I don't know if you've ever heard of them. They're like the Columbia Records or Epic Records of video companies at the time. They can't sit there and think that they could make money off a band that plays five hundred seat arenas, or clubs, and makes an album for ten grand.