For many people out there Bob Ferbrache is sort of an enigma in the Denver underground music scene. He has pretty much covered all the genres from punk, to noise, to industrial, to Goth, and has been involved with a hybrid of neofolk/sound collaging/Celtic group for the past 20 years. It’s a safe bet that he has tried just about anything once music or recording wise. After my conversations with Bob, I found him to be more of a music enthusiast with an incessant thirst to explore and experiment with sound.
Bob is often credited for discovering and fine tuning the so-called Denver sound where some might argue started with the Frantix-My Dad’s a Fuckin’ Alcoholic EP (his first attempt at recording music that wasn’t his own). Following his punk start he moved on to capture and help influence the recorded outputs by: Human Head Transplant, Warlock Pinchers, 16 Horsepower, Slim Cessna's Auto Club, and the controversial Blood Axis-The Gospel Of Inhumanity LP (Michael Moynihan’s band and co-author of Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground)-the above is merely a splash of his accomplishments.
Bob, Big Bad Bob, Robert or any combination thereof is no stranger to controversy. He’s been threatened and labeled all sorts things, from a maniacal Carpenters fan (as in Karen Carpenter), to a Satanist, to a neo-Nazi, just to name a few that have been thrown out there. “Also if you were looking for more notorious accusations leveled at me I was accused of the JonBenét Ramsey murder by CBS news. It's a funny story that was perpetrated by Andrew of the Warlock Pinchers. It even got me questioned by Boulder’s District Attorney.” Although he has been self-employed for the past 30 years recording, producing, and playing in bands, he has quite a list of other experiences that have taken him around the globe. He doesn’t play up his achievements; he matter-of-factly describes his work as if he is walking to his favorite sandwich shop down the street.
On a short trip back to Denver I headed over to Bob’s house in Federal Heights. In my conversations with Davey of the Frantix, he had mentioned that Bob turned him on to Trappist beer from Belgium, specifically Chimay. I arrived prepared with a couple bottles of Belgium brews in a brown paper sack; a tripel and a gueuze in case you're wondering. We chatted a little and thought we should go grab sandwiches and a couple more bottles of Belgium beers to continue our education. The evening even included summoning Davey on the telephone.
Living in Egypt was another topic that popped up; an experience we both had in common. Bob was amazed how American soap opera stars past their prime were not only still relevant, but all the rage and treated like royalty over there. Former president Mubarak even invited the cast from one of the more popular stories to his palace. “They also showed western movies on TV when I lived there with all this gang violence and the dialogue is like, "I'm going to shoot your motherfucker…" but then they would cut out parts where people are kissing or about to walk into a brothel.” I relayed back to Bob the one night my wife and I were watching a cooking show and the word “pork” was bleeped out. The Egypt conversation ended when he told the story about asking a visiting friend to bring him a hit of LSD. “The calls to prayer are so dense, it has a psychedelic edge…by design I wanted to try out acid at the City of the Dead. I hung out there all night long by myself. Lots of people live in there inside the tombs. Family members of the people that have died surfaced at night.” It was his last time taking acid.
The conversation turned to touring Europe with his band Blood Axis and how music and the arts are more revered compared with the states. According to Bob, sales wise the band’s The Gospel Of Inhumanity LP was as successful as all of his other projects put together.
After all this chatting I finally hit the record button.
|UNX at the Packinghouse in 1983. Original photograph courtesy of
Jill Razer's Denver Punk Scene page. Brush and ink drawing by Bob Rob (Medina).
…In recording The Itchy-O Marching Band LP, Jello Biafra is always going to shows looking for new bands. He was genuinely interested in putting out their record. A year later after he signed the band and released the album he called me up to tell me the Itchy-O record was the best I ever made, ever. I was like, "Do you remember when...” I'm grateful he put it out. He didn't put it out because he's my friend and did it gratuitously; he released it because he heard something he liked. At the release show I must have had a dozen people get into my face telling me “nobody can record them” or “nobody can do them justice” and not a single one of them had listened to the fucking record.
I admit I was surprised when I heard the album. I was in Denver for a couple of days and saw the album by chance at Wax Tax. I had seen the band a couple of times and always thought, "How could someone capture that?" I shot video with my camera and showed it to my students in Egypt several years ago. They were dumbfounded by the onslaught of imagery: the size of the group, the flames, the hearse, the flags, and the overall procession. So I had my doubts when I saw the record. I took a chance and bought it. I was surprised on how clean, clear and organized the music is. You layered it quite well. And to be honest, I didn't know you recorded it.
Most songs have over 100 tracks on it...When I recorded the Foreskin 500 album that was on a 16-track and an early 2-track digital thing. I would record two tracks at a time, mix it and dump it on the reel tracks. It was one of the first albums ever done that way; it became standard practice. For Denver and music in general, the Foreskin 500 album was groundbreaking.
It seemed like a lot creative endeavors from the early 80's Denver music scene was fueled by the process to problem solve, survival, and the need for expression. In my opinion, it seems like a lot of us just thought up stuff and did it. You got into recording because you wanted to do it yourself?
I can't get a job at all-I've been self-employed for 30 years. Technology has changed that quite a bit. Everybody is doing what I did now with their laptops or IPhones. People are making whole albums with Garage Band.
That's a pretty significant change. Most of the bands I was in as a teen couldn't afford to go into a studio-at best we had ghettobaster recordings. Think of all those bands that never had a chance to make a proper recording or to have their songs documented. Nowadays everything is over-documented…people pulling out their phones and snapping pictures and shooting video of the most mundane shit possible.
It gives a lot of bands that didn't have the ability to do it now, but it also gives a lot of idiots that shouldn't have that ability, the ability to do it. During that punk rock era, that was sort of my legacy-documenting some of the Denver bands during that time.
How did you get involved in recording?
I wanted to do it myself. That is about as basic as it can be.
Because you had a band and you wanted to record the music yourself?
I always had bands here and there during that time. D.I.Y. started happening. I had cassette tape recorders and started bouncing tracks off each other. I initially did that on a 4-track cassette recorder. By the time I recorded the Warlock Pinchers-Pinch a Loaf, I was using an 8-track reel to reel.
| It only seemed natural for the Warlock Pinchers to be in cahoots with Bob.
Flier courtesy of trashistruth.com
How did you find yourself getting interested in underground music?
Jello Biafra and I were friends before he was in the Dead Kennedys. He turned me on to D.I.Y. stuff. I moved to San Francisco for awhile and when I came back I started meeting like-minded people...bands that were doing original music, politically motivated, thrashing...and a lot of that ended up being done by 15 year-old kids. People my age were dressing up in spandex and playing cover songs.
How did you meet Jello?
We were rival record collectors. We would go to the record stores at the same time and would fight over the same record. I wasn't competing that much because Boulder was their turf. Jello, this guy Sam and Joe were competing. I'd pop by for a little bout. I owned Wax Trax (laughter).
|When you literally have one day to advertise a show...2 nite, Mon 13, 8 pm.
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That was an interesting project-we took elements of hardcore. I hooked up with the rhythm section, the Swank brothers. Miguel was 11 and Chris was 15 at the time. Their ages added up together equaled mine. People my age weren't into playing that sort of stuff, they weren't even interested in playing Sabbath-they just wanted to play that strummy Eagle's shit.
The UNX played a show, maybe with DOA (?) at Taste of Denver. They wouldn't let our drummer into the show because he was 11. When we were loading in I carried in the drums, emptied the bass drum case then went back out to put him in it and carried him in to the show. Once we got on stage, we played and it was done.
Larry from Trash Is Truth gave me the UNX recordings; it has the hardcore crunch sounds that you captured with other bands at the time. It sounded like you wanted to experiment with a nosier direction guitar wise. Were you looking to expand beyond a punk sound?
The obvious transcription would be metal at that point. The guitar sound got heavier and noisier. With Human Head Transplant and The Soul Merchants, that was very heavy stuff. That was the next phase right there. It's way heavier than the punk shit that I was doing despite the melody, harmony and the rhythm of that. It had a very Beatle-esque romance to it as opposed to one chord dissonance. UNX was really fun for a year.
Why did the band end?
There were many different circumstance-they were little kids.
Were they in a different place than you were?
No, not really. I was immature, still am (laughter). I could play in a band with an 11 year-old if they were as good as Miguel. No problem.
How did you meet up with those two kid and go, "Hey let's start a punk band?"
I had a friend Steve Lobdell; I think he played guitar in Problem Youth...though later he ended up playing in Faust for a while. He was 16 and he was really advanced at playing. I gravitated to him a little because of his talent. He introduced me to the Swank brothers. He told me they were looking for a guitar player so we started playing together just like that. By that time I had already knew the Frantix because I recorded the first record for them.
|As opposed to seen and not heard.
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I've seen those Frantix living room recording pictures.
The Frantix recording was the first thing I did other than my own material.
How did you get involved in recording the Frantix?
What did Davey say?
We didn't talk about any of the recording sessions.
I think it was Matt or Ricky who brought it up, so we had a party Davey’s mom’s house and set-up and recorded the songs and did the vocals right there. It was done in one afternoon.
Was there a secret sound to Ricky's guitar sound?
The real secret was that it was done then and forever blown in the wind. He had a little amp that was blown up to start with. He had a bunch of small Peaveys at one time that were painted pink and blue psychedelic colors. He got the acoustic amp later that blew-up and burned down the Fluid, maybe it was technically the Madhouse practice space. (Laughter) He got the amp because it was the loudest he ever heard. It came from me. Somehow it caught on fire and burned the space up.
We should call Davey! (After a quick exchange of greetings, Bob tells Davey why we’re calling.)
Ferbrache: He’s basically calling you because I can't answer the questions properly and I have to defer to you.
Davey: If you bring Chimay ale you've got every answer.
Ferbrache: We’ve gone beyond the Chimay.
Davey: Did you ask Bob Ferbrache about the whole experience recording the Alcoholic record?
Ferbrache: That's why we are calling you because I can't remember anything. (Laughter)
Davey: Bob, that was the greatest.
Ferbrache: That was awesome, that was one of the greatest times in my life.
Davey: So Bob shows up to my house driving a Pacer or Gremlin.
Ferbrache: A Datsun B210.
Davey: He shows up and says he's got a little this and this, 3 microphones and we're like. “Yeah, man, fuck yeah.” My mom's upstairs drinking a cup of coffee at the kitchen table. What Bob witnessed was with a real football, not a Nerf. We're standing around in a circle throwing it as hard as we can at each other's face while Bob is taking his shit in. We don't even stop; we're like, "Yeah, take it downstairs to the family room." Ok, we had challenged a whole rival pack of young adults to a tackle unpadded football game. And this is the whole truth. Early in the morning we've been playing tackle football in the park with a bunch of young thugs and we beat the fuck out of each other. We were bruised and everything else. Bob shows up and we're 3-4 hours into this thing and he goes, "We gotta record this thing today!" We're like, "Yeah, that's cool' and we all high-five each other and get back to business. So Bob brings in the three microphones, a Fender amplifier while we're trying to see who can throw a football the hardest and knock out or bandmates. Bob steps outside in the middle of all of this and says "Are you guys ready to go?" We went in, and did it on one take. It was one sound check. Bob brought in his own amplifier. Ricky plugged into Bob's amp and went, “Nope.” So Ricky used his Peavey pacer amplifier and it had caught on fire a couple of nights before at the Packinghouse. We got into a situation loading out and grabbed drums and amplifier and threw over our heads into a back of a pick-up truck. Anyhow, Bob goes, "I don't think this is good." Rick fucks around with the amp a little bit and goes, "This is good Bob." and Bob goes, "I guess we'll do a take." That was the deal. One take.
Wait, what was the situation you got into at the Packinghouse where you had to get out of there throwing your equipment over your head?
Davey: No, no we did that every time we played. (Laughter) It wasn't a situation, it was, "Let's get the fuck outta here." Bob, do you remember some cat where the Highlands is now right off of 23rd street and I-25?
Ferbrache: There was a viaduct there at one time.
Davey: I think Bart the skater had a hand in a house destruction party there. Bob Rob, somebody had an old house that was going to be torn down in a few weeks, and put up a flier for a home destruction party and invited every miscreant deviant; we didn't give a shit. It was a show with no PA and the whole point of the show was to destroy this fucking house and all these people did.
Here's the most important thing, you know how Pete Best was the fifth Beatle? Well, Bob Ferbrache is the fifth Frantix. There was one point before the Madhouse thing where we got out of the Frantix and didn't know what we were going to do and ended up being the Fluid and the Fluid ended up being the Frantix and Rick died. Bob was always right there. (End of phone call)
Was the music you were making and recording on your own more experimental?
It was, but I also like the discipline of working with other people. My major band during that time was the Soul Merchants. It was still in the underground realm, we played with Bum Kon, the Fluid and all those bands. We were more textured and for a lack of a better description, we were a Goth band. We dressed in black and greased our hair.
How did you get involved with the Soul Merchants?
I saw them as a three piece, I really liked them, and they had a lot of good songs-I like good songs. The guitar player was a long time friend of mine and I didn't even know he was in the band. I told him, “If you had one more instrument in the group, you’d be incredible.” He said, "I know what you mean." So I started playing with them the next day. (Laughter).
That’s a way to get into a band, point out their weakness and offer a suggestion on how to fix it, preferably affixing yourself into the equation.
We recorded and the band had so much material. In a period of 3 years time, we had close to 80 songs recorded. We released two cassettes, and an album...the album was only made because I stumbled across a pressing plant in Canada that was reasonable and would press a 1000 copies. Three records were made because I found that plant: The Fluid's Punch in Judy, Bum Kon's Ground Round and our record. Smooch (Andrew Murphy) reissued a Soul Merchants double CD and the entire 4- track cassette Bum Kon Recordings.
Rumor was that nobody knew about all those other songs on the Bum Kon recording session, was that tape was lying around on a shelf?
I knew about it, I'm sure Bob McDonald knew about it. I mixed it once and sent it to him; in fact I sent it to him a couple of times.
It's hard for me to comprehend that people have albums worth of material sitting around; I guess they had other priorities.
I remember going through all my four-track cassettes and I had a few things and found an incredible Jux County recording. There was a Peace Core recording that was never done. I took all the Jux material and gave it to Mike Serviolo. He has them so if he ever wants to mix them... That's where the Bum Kon recordings was; they just sat there.
|Gotta love sexy punk-goth illustrations.
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You joined Human Head Transplant while playing with the Soul Merchants?
It was concurrent. We did shows together. I worked with HHT and started recording, it evolved into that. I phased out of Soul Merchants and phased into HHT. Initially, I had a producer role in HHT; we were always trying different things. We were doing pop music and industrial. One week we would play a sadomasochistic industrial show, which was a wall of sound of noise protesting the Supreme Court actions on the sodomy ruling in 86 and a month later we would come back and play computerized pop music.
Did you like the freedom of experimenting with different sounds with HHT?
Definitely. I drifted from band to band; I was never one that was much interested in the wide aspect of it. I liked doing it because I liked to have a good time playing parties, getting fucked-up, and carrying a gun. To be the rock star...that wasn't my interests in it. I worked with all those other bands and recording them. I was more interested in that realm of it.
Did you help bands find their sound when you recorded them?
The role in that is, a lot of band never heard themselves before and they realize good or bad... a lot times someone hears themselves after being recorded and say, "We sound like that, Oh my God, we need to do something about that." Even to this day I do records with bands for what they want.
You’ve also help bands solve problems on the go?
I remember a situation once were the Fluid were playing in Boulder at the Depot. The Soul Merchants played up there quite a bit. During one show Matt's on the mic yelling at me and I go, "What the fuck do you want?" He was trying to get me to come up on stage because his amp was fucked up, I realized it was a fuse in his amplifier and I didn't any fuses left. What I had was a pack of gum in my pocket when gum was wrapped in aluminum foil. So I wrapped the fuse in the foil and stuck it back in and it worked. Since he saw me do this before, maybe they tried to fix Ricky's amp the same way and that's how it caught on fire burned down the Madhouse practice space.
I fixed may fuses with foil, even a HHT show in the Netherlands where we blew out transformers. We blew all this shit up; we took our own transformers there and fixed them on stage with foil for all three people that were in the audience. We had great shows in Europe except that night. We were playing an art galley and it would have been great if 50 people showed up, but Fugazi was playing next door. The sound guy came in and did a sound check for us and left it up to us because he wanted to go see Fugazi, he didn't even want to stay at the show he was being paid to do sound at.
I was talking with Davey not to long ago and he told me that I turned on to good beer. He said that I was drinking a bottle of Chimay beer at a Husker Du show at Kennedy’s standing in the front watching the band. I don't have one recollection of that whatsoever. That’s why he brought it up in our phone call.
| Zozobra is one of Bob's lesser known bands.
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That's funny because he was telling me about going to Albertsons and picking up a cheap 12-pack of whatever is on sale like Miller or MGD. I'm thinking, "Why would you do that, there are so many good beers out there?" I brew; I've made several trips to Belgium and rode bikes to breweries. I'm a fan of Belgium beers.
We played (Slim Cessna’s Auto Club) Belgium in the town where Duvel is made. It was a youth center where they had a concert hall; it was literally next door to the brewery. We go backstage and the promoter tells us, "We have a whole refrigerator full of beer for you, your kind of beer." He had imported American Budweiser. I go. "I don't drink that shit, even when I'm in America." He was, "Oh...do you want some Duval?" I was, "Yeah," He leaves and comes back with 10 cases. (Laughter). I drank like 8 bottles.
You must have been pretty messed up, it's like close to 9% alcohol.
We revived HHT one last time to make a CD in 91. Bert and I moved to Seattle at the end of 89 for a couple of years then I came back here. I hooked up with the Haters and did a tour. HHT did a tour in Europe and everyone was all into it. We were like, "How did everyone hear about us." That's how strong the underground cassette culture was.