Updated: Sep 4
If you’re interested in my backstory and how I wound up here at Black in Bluhm, you’ve come to the right place! For any inquiring mind out there, here goes:
I was born into a wonderful, loving family, through which I enjoyed a fantastic childhood (even though I wasted it by being a real piece of shit sometimes). I was always a curious and technically-minded kinda guy. I loved sci-fi and computers and gadgets and learning how things worked and I would routinely take stuff apart without the slightest knowledge (often, intention) of putting them back together, much to the chagrin of my parents. My family always maintained deep roots in music and STEM, and as such my folks insisted that all of their children learned an instrument, among other things. So after trying and disliking a few of the classics, I found myself with a guitar in my hands at some point during the 7th grade. The first thing I wanted to learn was Stairway. I sucked real bad. It was fucking awesome.
The old cliche of “music-as-expression” very quickly turned out to be absolute truth for me, and all throughout my formative years I found myself using guitar as a way to express things I couldn’t explain or simply wasn’t mature enough to put into words. As a young teen, music was the easiest avenue of sifting through my thoughts, and I’d frequently come home from school and sit and play for hours. I became enamored with the guitar’s vast range of tones, sounds, and musical expressiveness, and I found myself constantly trying to learn the most difficult music I could locate, or the most expressive, if only to at some point use those technical abilities for my own work. It was a healthy diet of Satriani, Vai, and insane metal. I’d make sure I was doing things right by recording parts onto a boombox and playing along with them. I’d listen to myself played back to critique the sounds I was making. I’d experiment with harmony and use drones to run scale modes out of the Guitarist Grimoire. I’d play to my own backing tracks and pretend I was famous in our living room. My introduction to guitar was also one of recording, it seems.
All of this chugged along pretty hunky-dory until another cliche was eventually proven true: necessity being the mother of invention. My early experiences paying people for musical services (fortunately or unfortunately) never turned out quite the way I expected them to. Giving “the local pro” my allowance to set up my instrument seemed like a waste of money the first time I did it. The lawn-mowing cash my friends and I scraped together for time at a local studio never truly satisfied us for the effort. Regardless of whether I or my equipment was good enough (spoiler alert: they likely weren’t), experiences like these, coupled with my childhood of tinkering, immediately instilled a DIY mentality in me from the get-go. I started learning everything I could about everything: how guitars worked, basic audio systems, intonation and the limitations of western scale temperament, soldering, the physics of guitar, pedal ordering, you name it. Anything I could conceivably do my myself, I did. Parts were everywhere.
In high school, the old boombox morphed into the Tilev family computer with my guitar plugged straight into the 1/8” jack, running cracked versions of Nuendo 1.0 and Warp VST. I couldn’t afford the equipment to record a drum set so I quickly learned to program MIDI drums as a work-around, creating custom kits in Battery using the original Drumkit From Hell samples, and programming velocities to create realistic grooves by imagining how my friends might play them live. Multi-tracked guitar parts helped me flesh out ideas in ways that simply weren’t possible for me to experiment with even a couple short years ago. I got addicted to an early version of Fruity Loops because it was so much fun to create off-the-wall musical ideas so quickly. I became an early and frequent adopter of technology as an aide to the creation and performance of music, a thread that continues to today. To me, anywhere was capable of being a studio and demos are records, a perspective on production that I was fortunate enough to realize long before it became a luxury (or harsh reality, depending on the size of your facility) for much of the field.
Needless to say, I was then and am now, in love with sound and music. Personally, I think it’s the form of art that every other art aspires to be. Music is a fleeting moment that doesn’t seem to really “exist” in a physical form the same way other art is required. It’s just compression and rarefaction of the soup around us. Fleeting moments, departing as soon as they arrive. Music forces you to feel something about the moment. Musicians are forced to be in the moment. It’s very special in that way, and not many other forms of art can say the same. So when I was asked, as young people often are, what I’d like to do when I grow up, the answer was always music.
Fast-forward a handful of bands, and the world’s continued adoption of digital audio systems all but seemed assured. It was common at that time that project studios and fast-and-light productions were already changing the geography of the music world, and the prospect of landing a gig at a “traditional” studio seemed less and less likely for all but a handful of lucky up-and-comers, as they were closing up shop and selling their equipment by the droves. So when I landed at Columbia for audio school I shifted gears and fell in love with film sound. I was intrigued by the technical aspects of it, and how the judicious use of sound and music were used in conjunction with visual to make for great storytelling. It was also fascinating to me that if you were doing your job well that you were basically invisible to the audience. Thankfully, I had chosen to complete all but a few of my gen-eds at the local community college before committing to the big bucks, so for the 2 1/2 years I spent there I was fortunate enough to take almost 100% elective courses. In addition to pursuing my degree, I got to spend obscene amounts of time in their Neve and Calrec studios, I got to take tangential courses like psychology of human hearing and psychoacoustics, I learned about the similarities and stark differences between studio and live work from legends in the field, I even got to run a board for Buddy Guy once. I was so audio-ed out that I was doing logarithmic dB conversions in my head by the end of my audio systems classes. My time there was an absolute blast and I’m thankful that got to learn so much about the landscape of sound and what was possible in the field, all while getting to live in one of the world’s great cities. I had a wonderful time. I was so dedicated to it that I graduated with a 3.98, and then immediately went to work in my father’s machine shop. Hah!
You see, music was still the most important thing to me, and performing was still the easiest way for me to pursue that. I had gotten to contribute to some really incredible projects alongside some brilliant talents over the years, and I fully intended to keep going. Whatever my life was going to look like, I knew it needed the flexibility to chase performance and touring, or to be able to hole myself up for a weekend to track a few songs, or do whatever I felt compelled to do whenever I felt it, and I knew there was a 0% chance I’d be able to do it with a normal 9-5. Fortunately I’m incredibly lucky to have the parents I do, and through their realization of this, my father graciously offered me to work for his company as an independent contractor, welding and fabricating industrial equipment. Sure, I’d take significant hits on wages, taxes, healthcare, and the like, but at least I’d have the flexibility to chase my dreams. I can’t overstate the credit that their compassion deserves in where I am today. Because of them I was able to keep going and try to get better at everything (which now included playing with steel, fire and CNCs!) and I continued to learn as much as possible and record and play music and perform as many shows as I could. 2016 alone had almost 200 of them.
Fast-forward a couple bands, where I was fortunate enough to meet Fogal on a Counterpunch tour in the summer of 2019. He was filling in for Poli of Bombpops, and as far as Counterpunch’s near-term plans were concerned, everything seemed to line up perfectly. At the time we were hunting for a studio in which to record our next album, what’s was to become the “Rewire” sessions, and after about 2 seconds spent looking into Chris’s history and catalog of work we quickly decided that Black in Bluhm was the perfect place to track the project. We booked 2 weeks and headed to Denver.
To say I was excited about the project is a gross understatement.
Of course, I had obviously done a bunch of my own hipshot productions over the years, but having learned so much over the years and also having a deep respect for Chris’s talent, I was elated to get into the space, trust his expertise, and for the first time in a very long time (if ever!), allow myself to focus solely on the creation and execution of the music. The cherry on top was getting to shadow a great engineer along the way. I remember Jared asking me on the ride out if I was excited at the notion of likely coming away with new knowledge on production and engineering while we were there and I said something like “Oh fuck yeah! Hopefully I can convince him to reveal all of the secrets!” Hahaha. Little did I know.
Still, we arrived and I made it my point to stay out of the way. You don’t walk in to a doctor’s office all tell ‘em what you have, you know? But nevertheless I was super interested in his workflow and approach, his navigation of Logic (which I had been on since v9), and fortunately over the course of the production there were plenty of moments that allowed me to ride shotgun and absorb what I could. It was a fantastic time, even with shingles.
As the two weeks progressed, I had discovered small ways to contribute to the flow of the project. I had brought my laptop set-up along with me and were able to quickly deep-dive the demos to get questions answered. Fucked up bounce? Easy fix, gimmie a minute. Some of the things I had tracked for the pre-productions felt really great, so why not just reamp them instead of recreate them? This eventually evolved to me prepping almost every additional guitar part out in the live room (lovingly nicknamed “Studio B”—or “whatever room Chris wasn’t in”) and bringing them back into control to run through the amp wall. The song “Rewire” got a last-minute addition of a guitar solo while we were tracking drums, so while the rest of the guys spent their time tackling more important aspects of the project, I slammed that out in Studio B as well. Chris was apparently confident enough in my ears, Logic chops, and evaporating session time that he even turned the chair over to me once or twice to continue tracking after-hours so we could cover more ground and hit everything harder the next day. Kind of a holy shit moment, but rad, let’s get this thing done!
Although my initial intentions were to steer clear, it was truly amazing to feel integral and welcome to the process of making our record, to get to collaborate with someone as talented as Chris, and for all of us as a group to get so much accomplished in so little time. When the dust cleared and we left for Chicago, Counterpunch’s “Rewire” session saw the completion of 16 songs in 12 days. It was a blistering pace. (Shingles pun!)
Back in Chicago, I returned to work and settled into the usual grind, and after two months of it, the shingles returned. At that point it became abundantly clear that the stress of the job was no longer worth it and, among other things, balancing it with a nascent assertion of nepotism that had been growing inside a “manager-in-spirit” (you know the type) who didn’t quite understand the concept of independent contracting, encouraged me that it was time to seek greener pastures. So with that, after 13 years and a lot of new skills acquired, I quit first and planned later. To be honest though, I had long wanted this. I hadn’t been happy for a number of years and desperately desired to do something on my own. That entire summer preceding Counterpunch’s BiB session, I could be found reading book after book on entrepreneurship and starting your own business, but as so much in life is like—although I wanted to leave, staying was easier. But not anymore. I knew I wouldn’t be able to accomplish it without a fire under my ass, so I started a big one.
One of the best pieces of advice I picked up from one of those books was a Venn diagram in which you have your passion in one circle and your skillset in the other, and the common area between them is where you have a unique ability to offer something to the world. Remembering this, I reflected on my history of touring and love of travel, of those 20 some-odd years of “worm-holing” in bedrooms and warehouses and kitchens that I called studios, as well as my recent experiences at Black in Bluhm. The exercise made things crystal clear, and that’s the moment I decided I would build a mobile studio. Recording in a place that an artist felt most inspired seemed like an awesome no-brainer, and it might just be the thing I was always looking for. It would translate into greater performances. It would lend itself to different-sounding records, which is something I’ve always aspired to and greatly admire from the world’s best engineers. I also felt that I found a true niche in the Tilev family story as well: My grandfather, once a corporal in the Turkish military, became a luthier when he immigrated to the US in the 50’s, eventually building classical instruments for some of the greats. My father didn’t desire becoming a violin player like his father had wanted, but instead fell in love with fluid dynamics, becoming an entrepreneur and artful designer of coolant filtration systems, and in my desire to be something other than my father, I found a perfect middle ground by becoming an engineer of art.
I immediately reached out to Chris for advice on whatever gear he thought might help me get off the ground best when COVID suddenly hit. Most everything went on pause, save for an industrious friend in Colorado Springs who saw it as an opportunity to build something new. Luke Blanton, another kind face from the tour on which I met Chris, was building a new practice facility in Colorado Springs, and he and Chris had half a mind to turn the top floor into a satellite location for BiB:
I looked at the timestamps from our texts and it took all but 45 seconds for me to show Chris’s first text to my girlfriend at the time, Pakizé, have her excitedly reply “Fuck yes babe, let’s go to Colorado!”, and get back to him that we were 110% interested. What an incredible opportunity! What an incredible lady! I couldn’t say no to either! Full disclosure: my dumbass initially thought “the springs” was just a cool way of saying “in the spring”. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
A few months of earnest planning ensued, with my focus on the mobile rig now becoming the supplying of a project studio with enough gear to run full sessions, and I already had most of the tools I needed to hit the ground running. Things were coming together. Pakizé had passed her board exams and agreed to receive her licenses for Colorado, and the adrenaline moment of “Oh fuck this is actually happening” finally hit. We were in the earliest stages of planning our move when the studio project ground to a screeching halt. Things had unfortunately shifted and the prospect of opening BiB 2: Electric Boogaloo was shelved indefinitely. I was heartbroken. I reached out to Chris for his thoughts while Pakizé and I chatted contingency.
I took it pretty hard for about 30 minutes until Pakizé, the amazing wonder that she is, reminded me “why don’t you just do what you were going to before all this started?”. She was totally and so perfectly right. After a short conversation, we decided that we'd still move to Colorado, considering it was always somewhere we both wanted to be and had already made the mental leap of doing it, but now we decided we would go to Denver instead. We had more friends there, more opportunities, more experiences, and do it together. I’d figure something out and she’d start her career. It’d be great no matter what happened. And who knows, maybe at some point I could intern with Chris, get my foot in a door somewhere, destroy some bitchwork or do session prep, capture overflow, fire up the mobile studio like I had originally intended, anything. Basically, just get back to basics and do it somewhere far more beautiful. In the span of less than an hour, my attitude did a complete 180 and shifted back toward excitement and determination, albeit with a few more question marks this time. And then that afternoon, I received this:
Fuckin’ a. Studio B. :)
It was all but 3 weeks after we settled in Denver that Chris asked me to come have a chat with him at the studio. Details were light but I didn’t pry, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I had no clue what he wanted to speak about, but a boy can dream. In my wildest hopes it would have been asking to take over some small aspect of BiB’s workflow, possibly even offering to bring my mobile studio thing under the BiB umbrella, but I was woefully unprepared for what awaited. When I arrived, Chris explained that he and Melissa were going to chase a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in Switzerland, and that I, were I willing, would be piloting BiB in his stead when they departed. Without thinking, absolutely. A million times yes.
What followed was an intense 7 months of shadowing Chris in every aspect of BiB, learning as much as I possibly could about the tools, workflow, facility, and thesis of the place. It was like the “Rewire” sessions on steroids, and way more fun. There were things I was even able to contribute to help make BiB a better place. I brought all my gear from Chicago and all of sudden, new sounds were available that weren’t before. My time in the machine shop gave me handiness that I used to make some long-overdue improvements that were always on the list because Chris was so busy for so long. My long history of DIY-ing it, akin to Chris’s, facilitated us learning from each other in a lot of respects. I was beyond stoked to be somewhere where I felt all of my abilities were finally being put to good use, and even though the looming challenge of filling such a huge chair was a daunting one, I was ready to try my hardest and make mistakes once.
As of this writing, it’s been an incredibly short year since I began keeping BiB warm for Chris as his colleague abroad, and looking back over the road that led here is actually pretty wild when I piece it all together. There always seems to be an uncountable number of butterfly effects that get people from point A to studio B, but a lot of luck, as they say, is just having the relevant experiences in place that allow you to say yes to an opportunity. That said, you still gotta find a way to say yes. It’s possible that my story here might have something to be said for an uncompromising idea of what someone wants to do or who they want to become, but to be honest, I had no clear picture of any of this until only very recently.
I’ve known a lot of discouraged artists over the years who wound up in offices because they tried to assemble art around their ability to do life, not the other way around, and for the longest time I always felt like I was just kinda "going with the flow”, but now that I’m a bit older I can see that I was actually directing the current the whole time. If anything, I think I serve as proof that you don’t even need to know what the “correct” choice actually is—just that you’re positive that something is or isn’t right for you, and you’re willing to stick to that conviction. To stay curious, chase whatever you love, damn the consequences, and keep the partners, friends, parents, and colleagues that believe you’ll get there, all around for the journey. A bit of dumb luck never hurt, either.
I feel like every single one of those aspects have been with me the entire time, and because of that I genuinely believe I’m one of the luckiest guys around. Today I’m in beautiful Denver, living with the Pakizé of my dreams, surrounded by wonderful and encouraging and talented people, getting to work my dream job alongside a mentor I deeply respect (when I’m not touring, that is!), and acting as a conduit for people’s most cherished musical expressions—all while using as many of the experiences I’ve acquired along the way as I can. It’s honestly the happiest and most complete I’ve ever felt in my life, and although the little kid inside still feels compelled to take things apart from time to time, at least know a bit more about how to put ‘em back together. :)
Thanks so much, everyone. Let’s get loud!