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I hear ABBArecords to this day," declares Bob Ferbrache, "and I can't believe that human beings made those records. They sound just out-of-this world perfect -- and they're 25 years old."
Ferbrache and I are sitting in the basement of his mom's house in Westminster, talking about the music that's moved him over the course of his life. After name-checking one of my wife's all-time favorite groups, the revered knob-turner -- who's clad in a powder-blue velour track suit and black house shoes -- goes on to list "Superstar," by the Carpenters, as a song that completely resonates with him.
While these admissions might sound strange coming from a guy who co-founded a band named Blood Axis (which also includes Michael Moynihan and whose provocative recordings have featured Charles Manson), they actually make perfect sense.
You see, Ferbrache is clearly functioning at a higher intellectual level than most of us. I wouldn't have been heartbroken if ABBA had died along with disco; I don't get the fascination. But Ferbrache does, and he's in outstanding company. Other local notables who at one time or another have copped to drawing inspiration from Sweden's biggest export include Chris Fogal, the former Gamits frontman whose own pop sensibilities are off the charts, and Ian Cooke (featured on page 74), who says he's been impacted by both ABBA and the Carpenters.
Masterminds think alike. So it seems almost as natural as breathing that Cooke -- an artist well on his way to establishing himself as a unparalleled talent -- paired with Ferbrache to bring The Fall I Fell to life.
"I knew he was doing his solo stuff," says Ferbrache, recalling how he first approached Cooke with the idea of working together. "When it was coming along, I was like, 'Remember those songs that we redid your vocals on for your album -- how great that was, how it changed that?' I was like, 'C'mon. Don't record your album in your house. I really want your album to be what you are, and not another album done in somebody's house.'"
Of course, Ferbrache is recounting this story while sitting in the control room of a home studio. But Absinthe is not just any home studio, and Ferbrache himself is a veritable institution. Over the years, he's overseen recordings by such seminal Denver acts as the Fluid and Bum Kom, and captured/sculpted acclaimed releases by such artists as 16 Horsepower, Woven Hand, Slim Cessna and Munly, among others. Beyond that, he's also been a member of numerous groups, including Axis and Horsepower, as well as the Soul Merchants, Human Head Transplant and Tarantella.
A Colorado native and burgeoning shutterbug while still at Westminster High School, Ferbrache regularly attended shows at Ebbets Field, Chuck Morris's renowned club, and took photos of various acts performing there. Taking note of his talents, Morris offered him a job when Ferbrache graduated from high school in 1974, and he got his start hawking sandwiches and cleaning up the club. He parlayed his experience at Ebbets into a position with Feyline, where he was Barry Fey's production assistant for three years, then worked at various record stores before landing a job at the now-defunct Rainbow Music Hall. During this time, Ferbrache also earned two degrees, which he says are not worth the paper they're printed on.
"I got a degree in math and in electronics, which is worthless now, because the math that I know is worthless and electronics is completely obsolete -- except in this realm. This pre-amp," he says, motioning to a piece of rack-mounted equipment, "which is now a valued thing, that's old-school electronics from the '40s and '50s, and that hasn't changed fundamentally. And the microphone, the idea for that is from the '30s, and it hasn't changed."
If anyone knows microphones, it's Ferbrache. In a back bedroom that's been converted into a b-room for tracking, vintage amplifiers are stacked neatly across a shelf lined with a treasure trove of mikes, all German and Latvian. He eschews the Asian-made models for the dependable craftsmanship of the European. And like the gear he favors, Ferbrache's handiwork is time-tested and reliable. The songs he recorded for the Frantix in the early '80s -- which make up the "My Dad's a Fuckin' Alcoholic" 45 -- are every bit as important as his work through the years with the Fluid (he recorded Punch and Judy), Foreskin 500 and 16 Horsepower. For a short time, Ferbrache was even a member of the last group. He'd known members of the act from the early days of Blood Axis (David Eugene Edwards and Jeffrey Paul Norlander were in another outfit called Pavilion Steps), and he was blown away the first time he saw Horsepower.
He'd been living in Egypt for a year, Ferbrache explains, and he "stepped off the plane and saw 16 Horsepower play. A friend of mine made me go. He goes, 'That's your friends. You know those guys.' I was like, 'Naw. I'm grown up now. I'm not going to go to shitty bars and hang out. I'm gonna, like, go find a job and be a yuppie and make money' -- which didn't happen. I was in the band the next week, playing backup guitar, lap steel and organ."
Ferbrache's time with the group was short but momentous. After Horsepower left A&M Records, Ferbrache manned the sliders on several of the band's subsequent albums and Edwards's post-Horsepower recordings. He's also been behind the boards for releases by many other noteworthy pioneers of the so-called Denver sound. A master craftsman, Ferbrache approaches each of his friends' projects as a unique piece of art, taking painstaking care with each recording. In fact, he's been known to take several months to perfect his mixes. As a result, the albums sound amazing -- particularly his most recent effort, The Fall I Fell, Cooke's debut.
Ferbrache is pleased with how it turned out. "I love the first note of the first song," he says. "The vocals are phenomenal. I hope it makes him famous. I'd like to see somebody like that have success. I'd like to see him become a significant artist. In this tight-knit community, nobody has even heard this album, and everybody already knows he's a significant artist."
Indeed. Ian O'Dougherty, Cooke's Uphollow bandmate, recently sent a note echoing this notion. "I've been very encouraged by the initial responses of friends," he says. "It's definitely the best thing I've ever produced or played on."