Even if you’ve never heard of Mike McHugh, the legendary sound engineer and producer from Costa Mesa, you have most likely heard at least a few of his recordings. Unfortunately through the last several years, McHugh started on a downward spiral that included losing his studio The Distillery, dealing with major issues with back pain and dependency on pain medication, the death of his mother, and major money issues within the family on top of being arrested for brandishing a BB gun at his daughter’s high school in 2013. Things only continued to get worse when his storage unit that houses what was left of his infamous recording gear was in flux and almost lost time and again.
The struggle eventually left him sleeping out on the street in Costa Mesa, in the neighborhood of his old studio. That’s when his friend Klee Van Hamersveld decided to step in and help McHugh, with the intention of raising a few thousand dollars through the fundraising website Go Fund Me. That initial intention quickly spread to raising over $15,000 in a matter of a few days, which just goes to show how much love the community has for Mike McHugh and his legacy in the music scene.
“I wasn’t going to let people take advantage of him, so I wanted to solidify something, some kind of financial support for him,” Van Hamersveld explains. “And that’s how that whole thing started.” The goal was to buy the producer a van, some vehicle for transportation, something that he could sleep in, and find him a studio space. But Van Hamersveld had no idea how widespread the support would be.
“I was absolutely astonished that within the first day it was up over $4,000 in a few hours, I was just blown away,” he says. And it just kept going. Bands like the Allah Las, King Khan & The BBQ Show, and The Growlers, who’ve worked with McHugh in the past, put something on their Instagram. Tons of other bands and individuals shared it over 4,000 times on social media.
Through the years, McHugh has interacted with so many different artists, it’s no wonder the good word spread like wildfire. What sets this longtime local apart from modern engineers and producers is that he creates recordings completely in analog. It may be said that recording on tape using analog equipment is coming back in many ways, but as for the vast knowledge of the actual inner workings of circuitry, sound design, and editing techniques, McHugh’s mind contains an abyss of knowledge that would take a lifetime—perhaps more—to absorb. Not only is he a genius of sorts when it comes to this old school technology, but also an incredibly creative mad scientist in the ways of sound aesthetic as well.
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Throughout the struggles that continue to plague the producer’s life, Van Hamersveld says he’s tried to stay in touch with him. “I gave him a sleeping bag because he was sleeping on the street behind his old studio for a little while until he got kicked out of there,” he says. When Van Hamersveld started the Go Fund Me page, he figured it might pull in a few thousand bucks. He had a ballpark estimation of the price of a van, a year of rent. “I didn’t think we would come anywhere near the amount that we did,” he says. So far, the response has generated close to $17,000.
“Everybody really likes Mike and he’s helped a lot of people through the years,” Van Hamersveld says. “He’s recorded so many bands, and they’re so appreciative of that that they’d like to see him survive and continue his path and his art form.”
McHugh is currently getting help in the hospital for multiple bolts that had been surgically implanted in his back that eventually broke when he fell down a flight of stairs. Despite his current limbo, he says, “I’m just blown away by it. I can’t believe that people from around the world actually care about it, you know? For a start, I’m going to get a small place that’s in Anaheim that’s already got a shower and everything in it so I can live in it, and then also I can record in it. That would be a smaller studio, and then have a mobile unit, and then have a warehouse where I can put the Flickinger board and have that be for the real studio, the real sound-mixing place. I’ve still got a lot of records to do. It’s all going towards a positive thing.”