“I had no idea it was there, and all the people in Colorado I talk to still don’t know it’s there,” he says. “It’s a warehouse. You don’t even know when you drive up to it that you're there. They don’t advertise. They’ve never had to.”
Pendergast discovered the Blasting Room — which comprises three recording studios, a mastering suite and an editing suite — when he started listening to punk bands in high school. Later, as a filmmaker, he began to think about his hometown and potential stories he could tell about it. Sound City, a film about the studio in California where bands like Fleetwood Mac and Nirvana recorded their biggest albums, was a catalyst for his current project.
“I was at home one night watching Sound City, and it just kind of clicked," Pendergast recalls. "We have a really cool thing like this, but a more punk-rock version, in the town I grew up in. If I'm going to do my own feature film, this is a perfect one to start with.”
He set out to make a documentary about the studio, teaming up with Fort Collins-based cinematographer and producer Kevin Kirchner, who has filmed hours of footage with bands and staff at the studio over the past several years. The two are currently seeking financial support through a Kickstarter campaign that launches on October 29. In the meantime, they’ve made quite a bit of progress on the film, though it was stifled somewhat by the pandemic — but the Kickstarter should help them punch through to completion.
“The goal for the campaign is $40,000,” Pendergast says. “The actual usable amount is quite a bit lower. I’d say we're about 70 percent of the way through the production aspects of the film. There are a few key interviews we’d really like to pick up to round it out.”
They hope to have the film, simply titled The Blasting Room, done by next year, and show it at film festivals.
The Blasting Room was founded in 1994 by members of punk band ALL — featuring three members of Descendents — with money they received as an advance for recording an album. The nondescript studio has been used by dozens of bands, including NOFX, Lagwagon, the Distillers, Descendents, Frenzal Rhomb, Rise Against, Alkaline Trio, the Ataris and Hot Water Music. Currently, Bill Stevenson (Descendents, Black Flag, All) and Jason Livermore own the studio.
While the Blasting Room caters to punk bands, artists in a variety of genres record there. “They do a lot of different stuff, but they do a lot with local artists,” Pendergast says. “They aren’t exclusively a punk rock studio, but it’s what they're known for.”
Among the Colorado bands and artists who've recorded and mastered their music at the studio are Reno Divorce, Gregory Alan Isakov, Jacy James Anderson, ENZI and VYNYL.
Production on the film began in 2019, but it took some finagling to get Blasting Room co-owner Stevenson to agree to the project, Pendergast says. The filmmakers had to agree not to focus on him, and Kirshner spent a lot of time whispering in his ear.
“Bill doesn’t like to celebrate himself or the things he’s done,” Pendergast explains. “This kind of thing isn’t something he’d usually be interested in doing." But with the studio marking its 25th anniversary in 2019, "it just seemed like the perfect storm of events to make that happen.”
He and Kirchner have interviewed 27 people and bands so far, including Fat Mike from NOFX, Joey Cape from Lagwagon, Hot Water Music, Useless ID, Rise Against and others. "We’d also like to get some people who are less connected to talk about its reach and impact on the scene...someone without that connection but still an authoritative voice," notes Pendergast.
Those interviewed tend to talk about the family vibe at the studio, noting that the staff truly cares about the bands and aren’t just there to record music and collect the money. Pendergast recalls an anecdote from a former intern who said that Stevenson once spent 45 minutes tuning a snare drum for a local band that was coming in to record. “There's no reason Bill had to do that,” he says. “He just wanted to help and teach. I don’t know if you see that level of care taken by a lot of places.”
Over the course of making The Blasting Room, Pendergast, too, has been impressed by the staff at the studio, and by the fact that a band can get a well-done recording there and not be charged an arm and a leg for the service. There aren't many punk bands that haven’t recorded music or had it mixed and mastered at the studio, he adds.
“They're just so prolific,” he concludes. “They don’t make a big deal of what they're doing, but they're one of the most important studios to punk rock ever.”
The Blasting Room Kickstarter campaign launches on Friday, October 29. Donors can receive merchandise, including a vinyl compilation of tracks recorded at the Blasting Room with an unreleased Descendents song. For more details, visit kickstarter.com. An official trailer is available at blastingroomfilm.com.