Punk Rock Giants Walk Amongst Mortals in Fort Collins
A History of the Blasting Room Recording Studios
Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters and Nirvana once said that he didn’t bother taking lessons when he first started playing drums. As a kid, he instead listened to his favorite records and played along on a mock set of drums he made in his bedroom out of pillows and such. One of the first records he would play along to was ‘Milo goes to college’ by the Descendents. He credits Bill Stevenson’s influence as part of why he became a drummer.
I remember back in my high school and early art school days (think the golden years of the early ’90s) hanging out with my friends on warm summer nights, drinking 3.2 beer and throwing the empties at the local frat houses of CSU while yelling out the names of punk rock bands. We were some of the first generations of punk rockers on the Colorado Front Range. Many of us got tattooed with ‘RMHC’ tattoos which stood for Rocky Mountain Hard Core.
In these social circles, there was a band that was spoken of in hushed tones of reverence, The Descendents. Well, it started as the Descendents and then became ALL after Milo Aukerman, their lead singer, went off to college (see the album Milo goes to college), then went back and forth between the two as Milo came and went. Anyway, there were always rumors of them coming to town to play gigs, both at venues and in garages. These shows were the stuff of legends.
Then the rumors began to change from them coming through on tour to they were moving to Fort Collins. Then the rumors became even more outlandish when we began to hear through the grapevine that not only were they moving to Foco, but they were actually going to open a recording studio in town. Well, as it turned out, those rumors were true.
I had a chance to visit the legendary studio The Blasting Room in Fort Collins over the holiday, meet the crew, and sit down for an interview about the history of The Blasting Room in their own words.
During this interview, I was able to sit down with;
Chris Beeble, recording engineer and producer, along with studio manager duties.
Andrew Berlin, engineer, and producer
Johnathan Luginbill, operations, and restoration
Colton Krohm, audio engineer
Jason Livermore, co-owner, mix-master, recording, and production.
And of course, Bill Stevenson – co-owner and one of the producers who was also the drummer for Descendents/ALL, Black Flag.
It can be challenging to find the Blasting Room. There are no exterior flashing neon marquee signs announcing its presence. When I came to the front door of what looked like it could have been an unused industrial site, I wasn’t sure I was in the right place. That is until you open the windowless metal door, and you are ushered into a magical hallway of colorful show posters, albums, and awards, many of which were for some of my favorite bands growing up.
As we all gathered around a conference table in the employee lounge, I was offered a cup of coffee, something I would not have passed on at any occasion, much less a chance to drink a cup of liquid caffeine with some of the band members who have written entire albums in ode to coffee. I, of course, picked out a Milo coffee cup to drink mine from.
We started off by talking about the ancient history of the Blasting Room. Bill being the most senior member of the gang, took over this part of the interview.
“The band (Descendants/ALL) felt like we were getting run out of LA. It was too crowded, too expensive, too polluted, too much traffic. And we were all living in our practice room, which was half the size of the room we are in now. With no hot water, no shower, and we were paying way too much money to be afforded that luxury. So, we ended up searching for a smaller town where we could sort of live like human beings. And the idea of a smaller town where if you go to the grocery store, someone will maybe your name isn’t such a bad thing.”
“But having come through here (Foco) on tour, we had great experiences here. Keep in mind that Fort Collins is much bigger now.”
“When the band moved here, we rented this building just to be our practice room, and when we first moved here, none of us had apartments or houses, or anything, So we all wound up sleeping on the floor here too. We were all living here and practicing here, and it was Stephen, the guitar player of Descendants/ALL had the idea, ‘hey, let’s not rent studio space the next time we record. Let’s buy our own gear and have our own studio, and we can record whenever we want. We can practice there, record demos, and it will be really easy.’ So we did that.”
“But then it seemed the universe had grander plans for the Blasting Room. Because no sooner than we had the walls built, we didn’t even have paint on the walls yet, bands started calling to see if they could record here. When we built it, that was way down on the list of possibilities. So, that seems to have been the case for 27 years now. We have never done any advertising or anything, you know that whole ‘if you build it…they will come’ thing, well, we didn’t even have time to build it, and everyone just started showing up. And all of a sudden, The Blasting Room had a life of its own, and we have been fully booked ever since.”
That’s when Bill says Jason showed up in late ’94. At this point in the interview, co-owner Jason Livermore (who was also in the band Wretch Like Me) takes over the storytelling.
“I showed up right when the place started in ’94. When I showed up, I went to work as a monitor engineer. So, when they were on tour, I was on tour. After about a year of that, I decided I wanted just to stay home. I like the studio more than the road. So I just kind of took over all of the engineering while the band was gone and recorded mostly local and some of the national stuff when the band was touring back then. We just kind of split it up when they were here. It kind of went on like that until 2002 or so.”
“2002 was another milestone for the Blasting Room. We sort of knew what we were doing, and at that point, we all had kids. So the band took a break from touring and focused on work at the studio.”
“If you are used to living your whole life playing music and then suddenly, you’re not doing that quite as much. You wind up having a lot of extra energy you have to put somewhere. So all that energy went into the studio. And Bill and I were working seven days a week, twelve hours a day. That’s how much we worked every day…minimum, and we did it for ten years solid. Until Bill wound up in the hospital.”
“That’s a lot of intensity to put into anything, and that’s when we really took off. We had started to get some of the FAT Records bands, which were kind of like the bigger thing back then. And then we did Rise Against’s second record for Fat Records, and that’s when we really went full-force for another seven years.”
“It was in 2008—maybe 07; Bill and I had both worked 72 days in a row with no days off, literally. When we finished, I went to Hawaii for a week. But that’s how we did it. How we built it just by doing it full force.”
Bill adds, “Sadly, there are no geniuses in my lineage. So, whatever sort of half-ass career I have been able to cobble together for myself has been by the sweat of my brow.”
Rise Against was a relatively unknown band when the Blasting Room started working with them. But Bill says that they launched upon Good Riddance’s ‘Operation Phoenix.’ (GROP) He adds that GROP was one of the most influential melodic punk hardcore crossover albums, and Rise Against launched on the shoulders of that.
“The Rise Against guys were really into what we had done with Operation Phoenix, and Rise Against proceeded to get popular. It’s funny how some of us all got popular together. The business really became nonstop.”
I asked about the pandemic’s effects on the recording industry, and the answer was that there weren’t that many. The changes had come about eight years ago with the advent of streaming music services. CD sales took a significant hit, and recording budgets were knocked down.
So many of the projects the Blasting Room gets nowadays are from bands that may have been recorded elsewhere and delivered via the internet for mixing and finishing.
“We just kind of cruised along with minimal impact.” They feel for those that lost jobs and loved ones.
The Blasting Room just purchased the building they have been renting for close to thirty years now, which has allowed them to take over and use more space than they had previously. They have added Studio C and doubled their recording capacity.
I ended the interview by asking which bands they are rocking out to and digging these days.
Their first answer was Plasma Canvas. If you have been living under a rock, read my interview with Plasma Canvas here. They also have been working with Teenage Bottle Rocket since they were kids.