Hand Drawn Records co-founder Dustin Blocker gained invaluable musical experience as the lead singer for local folk rockers Exit 380 and as the more introspective solo act W.A. Fite. But he says some of the most important lessons he learned were gleaned offstage.
Now, “I’m much more of a proponent of standing up in the front and watching bands and listening to what they have to say,” he says.
Blocker had been looking for a label home for both of his projects when he teamed up with Oklahoma City’s Chris Whitehead in 2011 to form the independent record label Hand Drawn Records.
Whitehead, who says that “music has always been an escape” for him, is a business-savvy entrepreneur and a longtime supporter of Exit 380. He handles the nuts and bolts and spreadsheets while Blocker pulls the creative strings.
After releasing albums from Exit 380 and W.A. Fite, HDR signed the psychedelic kings of Fort Worth, Secret Ghost Champion, and put out the group’s 2011 release, Psychosomatic Immortality.
In the rich North Texas music scene, finding great bands is easy, so the founders say they seek out groups whose work ethic acts as a multiplier for what the label is willing to do.
The label is now also home to upstart Fort Worth rockers Un Chien, as well as Swindle Boys, Denton’s Andrew Tinker and Austin’s Brandon Callies Band.
In addition to an organic, lyrical rock sound, Blocker and Whitehead go for groups that “want to learn, want to push,” Blocker said. “We’re just trying to facilitate that.”
Along with helping build a Web presence and greasing the wheels of the lengthy album release and promotion process, Hand Drawn Records has been stamping its mark on the Texas scene by giving out thousands of copies of free compilation CDs, which include already recorded songs from the HDR lineup as well as acts in the same vein whose tunes could use the attention.
Later this winter, the label is sponsoring a several-day recording session at Andrew Tinker’s Big Acre Sound studio in Copper Canyon, outside Denton. All seven Hand Drawn artists as well as a few related groups will lay down minimalistic acoustic versions of their favorite compositions.
Blocker expects this third Hand Drawn compilation to be available in early 2014.
The label will release Un Chien’s debut full-length on vinyl (as well as digitally and on CD) on Friday and plans to expand heavily into the sphere of vinyl releases.
Whitehead, for his part, would like to create future “festival-style shows,” he said.
No matter what sort of promotions they dream up down the road, the Hand Drawn Records founders want to be an engine to pump the creativity, not make decisions about artistic content — a big part of the reason they both describe HDR as an artist-first endeavor.
For Blocker, broadening his artistic vision into a community enterprise has led to unexpected personal benefits. “[It] helps me as an artist as well as a person,” he said. “It feels good.”