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  • Writer's pictureCHF

The Fogal story

Hi. Fogal here. I’ve been given the assignment of writing my own little bio. I win? Here goes. I’ll keep this as concise as I can and try to only talk about my time spent “tones chasing” and the history of Black in Bluhm…I was born on a small military base in Mississippi. I remember that day. It was humid, downright swampy one might say. My Mom was so pissed.

JK. Let’s skip ahead a bit. I started banging the drums as soon as I could hold sticks and had my first real kit around age 9 or 10. In 6th grade, I heard Metallica. In 9th grade, I traded a motorcycle for my first guitar. Bad metal/cover bands followed. My partner in shred was Matt VanLeuven. We began our recording journey on a 4 track Tascam that he bought. I had no money. I think this was around 1991.

Our musical partnership took us through a few years of aimlessly shredding and eventually we built our first recording studio in ’94 or ’95 called 8 Houses Down. It was a humble setup in the basement of my Thornton, Colorado house that had 2 tracking rooms, a control room (which doubled as Matt’s bedroom), a small mixer and eventually some ADATs. Matt was the primary engineer and way ahead of me there. I was a budding producer-type and helped get tones and performances.

We recorded most of the smaller punk bands in the Colorado area at least once. We got results and tones with our limited tools that were competing with some of the more pricey studios in the area and it was keeping us really busy. When it came time to record our own band, The Gamits, we had to block off 7 days just like everybody else and get it done so the next paying clients could get in there. It was a very fun blur of a time. A non-stop party, really.

I owned that house for 10 years. After Matt left to run 8 Houses somewhere else, I ran another studio there for a short time. This one was funded and built by our good buddy, Jeff Merkel, who is still one of the smartest dudes I know. I learned a lot in this short time since there was nobody else pushing buttons and patching cables. My ears guided me and my know-how lagged behind for a while.

Later, and between tours, I rejoined the 8 Houses Down team which was Matt, Jeff and myself at a much bigger and better location in Denver. We built this place inside an old club called The Cat that Denver punk rock fans will remember as being a pretty fun party for a minute. When it closed, Jeff pounced on it and we got to work.

Lots of great records came out of that place. This is where I cut my teeth on my first DAW and started learning how to mix in the box. I recorded and mixed The Gamits Antidote album there and it went on to be our most popular release in June of 2004. Soon after that release, touring became more of a priority and the studio took a back seat for me. Matt was the head engineer and I ended up leaving to do my thing. I learned a ton from both those guys and I’ll always be grateful for that time.

I got married and had to get a real job. I went to work for Illegal Pete’s, the beloved burrito and bar joint that was spreading all over Colorado. I spent 3 years there and was making my way up the management chain when something happened. The bad news was that my grandma, Leona Bluhm, had passed away. The good news was that she left us some money. It was enough cash to open up some options. I knew I had to get back to recording and that the restaurant business, as much as I enjoyed it, was not my path.

We took the money and put a downpayment on a house where I could start building my new studio. I would name it Black in Bluhm after my Grandma. She worked as a public school teacher her whole life and somehow had the good will to invest in her grandkids future when each of us were born. Wow. You can read into the studio name whatever you want but I thought it was fitting and a catchy tribute. I built a rather strange hybrid setup in that basement. The rooms were small but the isolation was great thanks to the super thick brick walls. With some early room correction technology, some terrible MOTU pres and a few cheap mics, I managed to make it work.

The word got out pretty quickly about the new studio and within a few months I was booked solid! I switched over to Logic after a brief ProTools detour. I loved the workflow and Logic 9 had just been released which was a huge leap forward. Flex time and pitch was built in. I could comp with a quick swipe and quantize drums! It was so much better than anything at the time and I have stuck with Logic ever since despite annoyances.

After almost 3 years of tracking in the basement I recorded my friend’s band Lil’ Thunder. Their drummer, Dan Fox, and I really seemed to hit it off. He managed a rehearsal space/studio downtown and was looking to buy a building to expand the rehearsal spaces. At our wrap party over at Lost Lake, I asked if he was serious and if he might want to build a new recording studio in this new place. He was into it! I was ready to get out of the basement and my wife, Melissa, was more than ready, as you might imagine.

Long story short we found a huge building on East Colfax which just happened to have a TV studio in one portion of the building that would work great! We put so much blood sweat and tears into the buildout. We had a lot of help from some good friends and family. (you know who you are!) We opened up and hit the ground running. The new Apogee was working overtime and so was I. This was in 2011.

We launched the BiB sessions to bring in our rock star friends to record and film for free. It was really more of a favor for us than for them. The publicity was great. We started to get more and more bands from all over the place. I was working around 60 hours a week for the first few years and the mixes were sounding better and better. I finally felt confident in my abilities as an engineer and I knew the tools I was working with. “Keep pushing. Keep learning. Keep getting new toys and tools. You suck. You are the worst. You nailed it! You are a hack!” These are just samples of my inner monologue on a daily basis.

Several years flew by and so many projects came through the studio. When my kids were very tiny they would come by with Melissa and sit in on sessions. They would meet rock stars and run around like they owned the place. I loved this so much and life was good. (What does any of this have to do with tones chasing BTW?) I started working a little less to be with the family. Things were going great even though I never slept anymore. Then Covid hit. That sucked for us just like everyone else but we managed. We were lucky. We had recently expanded our rehearsal spaces to total 19 and managed to keep them full through the whole ordeal. This helped pay the bills for our 8000 square foot bandcamp.

Just as things in the studio started to get back to normal, I dropped the bomb on Dan that we were moving to Switzerland. We wanted to live abroad for a while and if we didn’t do it then, we probably never would. You don’t wanna rip your kids away from their lives and their little buddies, but we had to go. Melissa landed her dream teaching job. My plan was to hire a new recording engineer to take over my chair and I would do the post work at my new studio which was yet to be built over in Switzerland.

Pre-Covid I had done this album for a band called Counterpunch out of Chicago. They are all super talented dudes but Kyle Tilev, their guitar player, was really working his ass off despite being sick as a dog the whole time. He was working alongside me (not contagious, thanks) with Logic on his laptop and doing all this extra tracking so we could re-amp later and save some time. It was clear to me that he had the kind of ears I was looking for. My strengths in the studio are hearing tones, pitch, performance, stuff like that. I feel like anyone can turn knobs and learn gear. This dude Kyle had the right kind of skills, was clearly no dummy and was a very hard worker with a super positive attitude (also very important around here). As luck would have it, he was thinking about a move to Denver! Bam! Done deal. He and his lady made it to Denver and we would Keep on Trackin’ ™ until it was time for my big move at which point he would take over. Thanks, Kyle.

Uprooting your whole family, moving to another country and building a new studio is not as easy as it sounds! It took several months before I was able to do actual work in the new space. It was so much headache but the end result was pretty rad. BiB Swiss Branch is pretty much a mixing and mastering setup that works directly with the Denver branch as if it were in the same building. The only difference is that I am 8 hours ahead which has its advantages (and disadvantages depending on the situation). We continue to streamline this setup and so far it is working out great. With my focus entirely on post production, I feel like I can be more subjective with a mix or a master. I have not pounded my ears with the same material for a week straight before I dive into the next step. This gives me fresh ears every time which was never an option with in-house mixes before. I feel like the best is yet to come for Black in Bluhm and I’m so lucky I get to call this my job.

So that brings us to the present day! August 22nd 2022. The new website is almost done! I’m wrapping up a whirlwind of a summer and am very anxious to get back to work! Thanks, Melissa Fogal. Thanks, Dan Fox. Thanks, Kyle Tilev. I could not do any of this without you guys.

Love, CHF

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