The new album from Denver’s Of Feather and Bone is pummeling stuff and sounds terrific, thanks in part to tracking done by Ben Rohmsdahl at his new space, Juggernaut Audio. Ben’s credits go back to his time on guitar in Denver’s Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire, who put out an LP and EP on Prosthetic Records before splitting up and spawning current Relapse artists Primitive Man. Since leaving CTTTOAFF, Rohmsdahl has worked front of house (FOH), managed tours, and focused on tracking, mixing and mastering. On top of all that, he’s also started a label, the newly formed Destruent Records.
Where was Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire [CTTTOAFF] at career-wise when you signed with Prosthetic?
Probably around year five. We previously released an EP ourselves and an LP on Debello, did a few DIY tours. Ethan McCarthy and I have been friends and played in bands since high school, and CTTTOAFF was the natural evolution of that. We just found a good bassist and a good drummer along the way. Our first tours were booked with phone calls and digging around MySpace for places to play. I don’t know how we found shows, but there were actually some good ones.
Do you remember how that deal with Prosthetic came about?
Not exactly, but I do remember signing the contract in a green room at SXSW after we played one of our worst sets ever, driving straight from Denver to get there.
When did you leave CTTTOAFF?
I don’t remember the year, but it was after our Prosthetic release [2010/11].
When did you start getting front of house gigs?
Around 2011. I graduated from audio school in the middle of the recession in 2009, so I had no gigs for years. I did some studio stuff aside from day jobs, but that was it. Once I got a few gigs around town, it was a rude awakening because live sound is vastly different than the studio. It felt like starting over and took a long time to adjust.
Was most of your FOH work local or on the road?
For a long time it was all local, but Dave Sanchez (Havok) and I did a few sound gigs together and he invited me to go on the road. He helped me out a lot. I did sound for Revocation, Gorguts, Otep and Lisa Loeb as well.
Is touring as FOH with a band any different than touring as a musician? Different headspace, easier/harder, or just another day?
FOH is so fucking difficult. It is, by far, the hardest job I have ever done. As a musician, if you flub a note, people hardly notice. But if your show sounds bad, it’s on you, even if it’s not your fault. Bad room, PA, tones, feedback… The crowd just looks at you. I found myself frozen behind the soundboard at times because it sounded so bad. So many things are the sound engineer’s responsibility, but a musician just has one job (albeit a difficult one). Maybe some guys don’t care as much, but I am a perfectionist. I would lose sleep on tour because I was thinking about so much stuff, especially as a tour manager.
What’d you learn as tour manager?
Tour management is especially difficult and it takes the right kind of person to deal with it. People who are very good with logistics and can handle stress make good TM’s. Every show has to be advanced (load-in, production specs, interviews, catering, VIP, etc) before you leave home. You also have to know how to get to the next show, and book hotels and transportation if necessary. What’s more, you are responsible for counting and keeping track of the money after every show (and sometimes merch). Europe is especially difficult because of all of the different travel (trains, planes, auto), baggage/check in fees, bus drivers, bad/expensive cell service (unless you have T-Mobile), currency exchange…the list goes on. The TM/FOH gets paid well (or should) because it is extremely difficult to do both.
Was owning a studio already the plan when you parted with CTTTOAFF?
It was definitely a dream that I wanted to pursue. I wasn’t happy working a shit job.
What did you learn in all the years playing in bands that you’ve brought to producing?
Not to microscope as much. When you’re young, your world is smaller, so you tend get hung up on the little things. I try to stick to the mantra that something either works, or it doesn’t. The audience doesn’t care about your music theory lesson, or your ego-driven part, they just want to bang their heads. Be a part of the band, save the rest for your solo album.
Now that you’re on the other side of the glass, what do you wish you’d known when you were being recorded?
Practice! Practice! Practice!
What do you wish more bands understood about producing?
You don’t have to fit into the producer’s mold. At the same time, your tone might be garbage; listen to the producer.
How was it working with your old bandmate when you did the Primitive Man album?
It was wonderful to reconnect. I also made new friends with Jon and Joe.
That mix is suffocating, but super clear.
They are a pro band with pro gear, I just tried to capture it and keep everything in tune. I didn’t touch any of their amps and didn’t do much producing. That’s an oversimplification… I have experience, good gear, and a decent room. Also, Arthur Rizk, who did the mix/master, is a killer engineer.
What I’ve heard of the new Of Feather and Bone sounds really ferocious. How did you record them?
The OFAB session was great and we had a good time, but there really wasn’t a lot to it. They had everything ready by the time they came in. All I did was mic it up, keep it in tune, and drive the session. The songs are extremely dense with riffs, so we grinded for sure, but OFAB brought the magic. I hardly did any producing. They are pros.
Do you remember what amps either of those bands were using?
OFAB guitar was a Mockingbird through a 5150 and Marshall cabs. Bass was a Mockingbird through an Orange solid state and an Atlas 8×10. Primitive Man guitar was a Dunable through two full stacks and four different heads. I don’t remember all of it, but definitely some Orange cabs. We used different heads for the right and left guitars. I was skeptical of the idea at first, but it works really well. The bass was a Dunable through an Orange tube head and another that I forget, Atlas 8×10 and a 2×15.
What can you tell us about your label?
The goal of Destruent Records is to develop and showcase talent, not just press records. I want to produce everything that is on the label, because I want to be known for fidelity. Destruent Records will probably always consist of heavier bands, but I don’t want to be stuck doing one sub-genre, so every band will have a different flavor hopefully. Our first release, Shepherd’s First Hand is out in November (for fans of Torche, Deftones, Mastodon).
Why start a label right now? You’re the second studio owner I know who’s starting one.
I really like working with heavier music, and I form a really deep connection with the music I record. I see it as a waste to record something that the label and/band does nothing with (which happens with smaller bands). It really bums me out, regardless of money.
What’s going on in Denver? Seems like the scene there has really grown in the last few years.
Denver has always had a healthy music scene: lots of venues, good promoters, and places to practice. You are seeing the culmination of people growing up in, and developing, the scene. Yes, there are transplants, but a lot of the musicians grew up here, or have been here a long time.
What venues are important to you guys? How are they doing with COVID?
Every venue in Denver is important, from 7th Circle to Hi-Dive to the Oriental to Red Rocks. We have some of the best rooms in the world. The independents are throwing socially-distanced shows, but corporate rooms and DIY places are pretty much shut down as far as I know. They are all hurting, plus everyone is bored, cause shows are a thing here.
Why all the discordant grind and sludge bands? Was there a punk/crust scene back in the day, or a band that kicked that off? Cephalic Carnage seems likely.
Still a healthy punk scene here for sure, I think more Catheter than Cephalic Carnage, though. Cephalic is bigger, no doubt, but more avante-garde than anything. Both bands definitely influenced CTTTOAFF. The DIY kids here love discordance and sludge and musicians want to see a pit. Personally, early Deathspell Omega is one of my favorite bands. I like to make the frowny face.
Odd question, but should touring bands coming to Denver give themselves a day to settle into the elevation, or is it not that big of a deal? Seems like a singer might have a rough time of it.
Depends on your fitness level. Bigger bands will rent oxygen tanks, but we are on such a little island, no one has time to stay. It’s at least an 8 hour drive to the next city. Maybe don’t run around as much?