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EP7 - Dustin Blocker

Vinyl Record Plant Owner, Artist, Musician

· Podcast,Brett Cowell,Dustin Blocker

Podcast EP7 - Show notes and Transcript

Show notes:

Links:

Hand Drawn Pressing: http://www.handdrawnpressing.com/

Hand Drawn Records (label): http://www.handdrawnrecords.com/

Audio:

Transcript:

BRETT COWELL (host)

DUSTIN BLOCKER (guest)

Brett Cowell: Hi it's Brett Cowell, and this is the Total Life Complete podcast coming to you from Addison, Texas. And today I'm here with Dustin Blocker, Chief Creative Officer of Hand Drawn Pressing, [Hand Drawn] Records, artist, musician. Welcome, Dustin.

Dustin Blocker: Hey, thanks for having me Brett.

Brett Cowell: My pleasure, and hopefully today we'll talk about vinyl, the independent music industry a little bit, and perhaps about the art of business if we get a chance.

Dustin Blocker: Sure, sounds great.

Brett Cowell: So I ask all my guests to start out with, how do you introduce yourself at a party when people ask who you are?

Dustin Blocker: Yeah, so I guess when people ask what I do for a living, I usually say I'm in the music industry, or I say I own a record company, and both of those things kind of get a mixed response, I guess is the best way ... So without diving in deep, the last about year, year and a half, when I say "I make vinyl records," that's much easier, people usually spark up, they understand what that means, and they usually have a story of either their mom and dad gave them their records, and they used to collect them, or that their niece and nephew is into it and they think it's cool.

Brett Cowell: So let's start on vinyl. We're sitting here, I believe that within a few minutes walk from where we're sitting, there is some sparkling, brand-new vinyl presses. Do you want to talk about that?

Dustin Blocker: Yeah, sure. So, we actually procured the first new vinyl, fully-automatic vinyl record pressing machines in the world in the last 35 years or so. So, really the way to think about record pressing, the actual process hasn't changed since the 60s, but what has changed is, now there's computers. So, the presses are pretty much made in the way that they actually make the records, it's the same way as they've always been made, but the way that the temperatures are controlled, and how much loss you have, efficiency, all those kinds of great things are now controlled by a computer instead of somebody trying to figure it out with their thumb. Like, the Titanic shoveling coal in is a way that they don't run ships anymore, so hopefully throughout time, record pressing could have gotten better, and it finally has.

So, yeah, we're really excited. A lot of new records coming off every minute, and it's really cool to work with new artists constantly. People that we normally wouldn't have a reason to be in the same room with, we now are doing something for them, and it's a lot of fun.

Brett Cowell: In preparation of coming here, when I said I was gonna come and talk about vinyl records/plants, I think most people were not aware of that [a vinyl pressing plant right here], and they were very surprised, and a few were quite nostalgic as you indicated earlier there. Why build, in 2017, build a record pressing plant in Texas?

Dustin Blocker: Yeah, so it's a great question. So, my business partner, Alex Cushing and I, about two and a half years ago, we were working at a corporation at the time. And I'd always been a musician for the last 17 years or so, and I started a record label. And it was doing fine, but as far as bringing home money for the family, that's something a lot different. So he said, "How do we turn this into a real business? How do we turn Hand Drawn Records into a real business?" And I said, "Well, what's happening in the market is vinyl records is exploding. Nobody is able to make them, all of the presses are very, very old, and it's just a really, really exciting thing that's happening."

And it fits with ... I'm a record collector, and it just fits with the DNA of what we do as a label. So if there's any way to get into something cool, and perhaps make a business out of it, it would be vinyl records. So, in the end of 2014, we actually started off as brokers for vinyl, meaning that we would go out to other plants and mastering houses, print guys, and just make the process a lot easier for artists to get their records, the whole time knowing we wanted to actually own our own machines and be in it in a much bigger way. Which led us down the rabbit hole for searching for old machines, couldn't find any in the world.

Finally, I guess about 18 months ago, I found a company that was literally just a splash page that said ... Like with a phone number. And I found it on some weird blog or something, and I contacted them, we flew up and saw the prototype in action, and knew that ... We saw the prototype working and said, "That the first thing I've ever seen that was new making a record," and we had been to many plants at the time. So if they can make the prototype work, what's the production model gonna look like?

So, we actually, on faith, signed up to purchase the first new record presses in the world, and they landed on our docks here, and we've been pressing ever since, and have been the guinea pigs in a lot of ways for the new machines, but all the while learning a lot and having a lot of fun, which is the key to anything in life we think.

Brett Cowell: It absolutely is, and thanks for saying that on the show. In researching to meet you, I looked at some of the video of the presses, and they look very familiar to me, and I kind of geeked out a little bit on the plants. So two things struck me. Number one, they were very modern, very new, and very up-to-date and modular, and computer controlled and everything. It wasn't the old steam engine kind of thing that you've seen before that's falling apart all the time. The other thing in noticed in the video is, you just sort of stepped off stage, and now you're in a record pressing plant here like that. Although now you're in business, you still look like a frontman of a band.

Dustin Blocker: Well good, yeah, hopefully when you do something that you love, you don't just have to go suit and tie it, right? Yeah, and that's an interesting thing about trying to find your identity. Sometimes you find it through business, and sometimes it finds it through you, but yeah, I've always been comfortable as a performer, and that was kind of part of my life for a big chunk of my life. And I got married and had a couple kids, which are now young children, but really trying to figure out that path, was there a way to still be artistic and do what I loved, and do it for a living?

I struggled with that for a long time. And in a good way, I don't know if it's just really the blessings that were bestowed upon me and my family, but we really ... My wife and I sat down, and when she knew I was gonna go full-time with Hand Drawn Records, it was a big leap of faith for her, probably more so than it was for me, because at least I could see the path that I wanted to be on, and she had to just trust that. So she's been a great partner all the way through, and now that we're manufacturers, and it's a place you can go to every day, and it's a real business, I think that hopefully just bolsters that faith in me.

But yeah, I think part of the stage and really that connection with artists is something that drives me. I really like to ... Coaching is kind of a thing that I enjoy, whether it be sports or really what to do on stage, or anything. So, a lot of artists we have on our roster and a lot of artists at shows, when it's appropriate, I try to give them little tips to maybe, "Try this," or "Try that." And I've had some great mentors in my career as a singer and a musician, too. One of them, actually Andrew Tinker who is on our label, I would consider him ... Really, he's a mentor, even though he's one of our artists, and technically I guess I would be over him because I'm the label guy, right? That's never been the case. He's produced records with me, he's played on stage with me a million times, and he's enjoying a lot of success as a songwriter. And now, it's funny, he's given me a lot of guidance, and now I give him ..

I think that's the way it should work in the artistic community. People that have been there and done that should be able to pass some of that information along, and the more you learn, hopefully the more you can help out others. So, that's the journey we've been going on, and I have been personally.

Brett Cowell: And I notice that you call yourself the chief creative officer, and maybe it's chief coaching officer as well.

Dustin Blocker: That's good, I'm gonna use that.

Brett Cowell: That's great. Was there any consternation here, and I know you talked about it a little bit already, but in working at what you were gonna call yourself that would represent what you do and who you are?

Dustin Blocker: Yeah, that's a great question. Yeah, originally I had done some marketing in the past, but it was kind of like I was pushed into those roles when I was in a different world. And it just seemed very disingenuous, the whole term 'marketing' and all that. So originally, my roles were broken up amongst the creative side and the marketing side, which ties the creative side. So part of my role originally had chief marketing in there, or marketing officer, etc. And I just didn't like the taste in my mouth of it.

The creative side, what I love is, I get to be creative and help people with what packaging ideas or colors for their records, etc. But also on top of that, it's really working with our artists on the creative side. All the graphic design, so our websites, the banners and posters that are hand drawn ones, I make all of that, t-shirts, hats, all of those things, I actually create all of those things still to this day. I don't have as much time to do all of the design work and any kind of performance work that I'd like to do, which is fine, so it allows me, even if I'm not the one that gets to be day-to-day creative, everybody I'm working with is on the creative side. So it's really cool.

Brett Cowell: Just to the name of Hand Drawn, where did that come from?

Dustin Blocker: Yeah, so it's interesting. So I started the label I guess about six and a half years ago. I'd been in a band, Exit 380 for, at that point, already a decade plus. And my guitarist, who was the best man at my wedding, we're really great friends ... He and some of the other guys in the band would basically write all of the music, and I would write the lyrics, or sometimes they would write the lyrics and music. So it was always kind of ... My whole, I don't know if you want to call it professional career of being in music, was other people kind of writing stuff, and I would fit in where I got in, right?

So, to think, I guess around that six and a half years ago, seven year period, is when my wife was pregnant with our first son. And I was like, "I'm gonna learn how to play piano." And as I was learning, I was like, "Well, I might as well record it, and that will get you better." So I recorded a solo project called W.A. Fite, which is a pseudonym for myself, and I wrote and recorded all of the parts and sang all of the parts. And I didn't know what I was doing, but I really liked it. So I was like, "I don't think anybody will buy this, but I'm gonna make this."

So I drew all the artwork, including the little guy who's on our logo, and he was actually reaching up ... So the name of the album is called Poisoning the Medicine Tree, and he's reaching up into the tree. And so, I took him, and I used stencils for the whole thing, and I said, "Hand Drawn Records," right? And I got with the guy who I started the label with, Chris Whitehead out of Oklahoma, who was making t-shirts for us at the time, owned a different company. I said, "Hey, if you will split the price of a CD, you throw in 250 bucks, I'll throw in 250 bucks, we'll have a label, and let's see where it goes."

And that was literally what Hand Drawn Records was. And then from that point on, we would just ... I would do trade of services with other people, I would draw their artwork, or I'd help them get into a studio or whatever, or help promote them. And that was the communal side of the label, and it just kept growing and growing until we're kind of at where we're at today. A very easy way of putting it.

Brett Cowell: We certainly have talked a lot on the show about community and more organic ways to do business, rather than a corporate structure where people are trying to be something they're not and doing something they don't really want to do because they want the money ... So I think Hand Drawn, I like the name, so I'm just gonna say that. I think it's cool that the design's on the website, it's really nice and fits in with what you're doing here.

When I was looking at ... When you were talking about the pressing plant in other interviews, it was really ... You talked a lot about empowering artists. We started off this conversation talking about nostalgia for records, and we'll get back into that nostalgia maybe in a second, but you talked a lot about empowerment, this plant being empowering, so maybe just speak a bit more about that.

Dustin Blocker: Yeah, so really the empowering side, the idea I alluded to earlier was to make it a real business, of course. But beyond that, it was to really ... A high tide rises all boats, so if we're doing something that's different, unique, and doing it in a space that we all want to be in ... There's probably not a musician on the planet that you would show them a record and they would spit on it, or throw it on the ground, right? I think it's universally something that all musicians love, and a lot of, thankfully, other aficionados love them as well.

So really, the empowerment comes from it rising us to a level where we can be in the ... I was saying earlier in the conversation, the people we typically wouldn't have a reason to be in the room with them, larger management companies, larger booking agencies, larger labels ... It really opens the door to build an ongoing relationship with people in other parts of the industry, which then vibes back to allowing it to help our artists.

So really, that empowerment is ... Some of it's singular focused, like "Our artist is putting on a show, and we'll help you promote the show." But really, the big picture should be, it's all about people and it's all about relationships. So if we're doing what is right in our day-to-day operations as a pressing plant, shouldn't that vibe off to make sure that we're doing things, affording opportunities to our artists? And not just to artists that are on our label, but really the ones that we like to work with, which is many that aren't on our label that we would consider on kind of the same vibe that we do things with all of the time. Whether it be compilations, or live events, of South by Southwest ... Any of these kinds of things. Cancer Jam, which is an event that we do every year ...

There's a lot of artists that fit under that umbrella, and we want to make sure that we're offering plenty of things that they can come back to us as a resource, and we want to be able to reach out to them to help us with things that we might not experts in.

Brett Cowell: And in the age of streaming, what about financial viability, or the ability to eat and survive ... How does vinyl fit in to that?

Dustin Blocker: Yeah, so really if you looked at just sheer numbers, vinyl is gonna be a little over a billion dollars this year in total sales. Which, if you're looking at, is that a lot? Well, two years ago it was $500 million, a couple years before that it wasn't even a blip on the radar. So, the last ten years it's been growing, the last five years it's started to become an interesting ... Two years from now, they think it's gonna be about three billion. And they think it'll probably taper and just stay about where it's at in 2020.

So really, what's gonna happen is, CDs as the physical medium is gonna continue to drop. They're still manufacturing a lot of CDs out in the world, but they're dropping 20% year over year. Vinyl records are jumping up 35, sometimes 50% a year. And then you have streaming growing exponentially, but streaming will actually cap out too. So what everybody thinks is gonna happen is, streaming and vinyl are gonna be your two options for ingesting music. Which is great.

So, we think we've aligned ourselves with a really great opportunity, of course. But the other thing is the tangibility of streaming. We think, it used to be in the past if you looked at all the stats from the 70s when it was only vinyl, to when it was tape and vinyl, to when it was CD and tape and vinyl, to when it was only CD, to then when digital came along and blew it all apart, then it was a lot of downloads, and now it's all being fractured again ...

What you used to see was portability versus quality. So, the vinyl record was never portable, so it got broken up by all of the accessible pieces that you could take on the road. So now that you have more than one option, people are actively choosing to listen to vinyl, along with they're actively choosing to stream. They're not actively choosing to download, and they're not actively choosing to do CD, to purchase CDs and listen to CDs anymore.

So it is interesting, it's funny when you look at streaming as far as a revenue stream, artists aren't making money on streaming. That's the nuts and bolts of it. Some of the big companies that offer streaming as a service are making money. Now, artists are making money on the road, and they're gonna make money on merch. And their merch can be either t-shirts and their koozies and their hats, and thankfully now, it can be a vinyl record again, which, out of all of those things, has some of the highest margins.

So, vinyl records are much more expensive to purchase, much more expensive to manufacture than CDs, but there's a return on investment that hasn't been there at the merch table for awhile. I know from my own experience, last even really five or eight years, we were just giving away CDs. We'd make them all, you'd sell the first few hundred at a show ... When I first started out my career, we'd sell all of them, thousands of them. And then all of a sudden, we couldn't even sell them. So you're just like, "Uh, here you go. Just come back, please. Here's a CD, here's my business card."

And I was emboldened by the fact, to kind of bring that back around to today, when we were at South by Southwest when we did a few showcases and we brought records to some of these big shows ... When I went out on the streets at night on 6th Street, I saw hundreds of CDs on the ground. People were just handing them out, and on the ground, stepping on them ... I didn't see one vinyl record on the ground.

So that kind of told me, nuts and bolts, there's intrinsic value to this thing. Not only is it cool, but it's valuable. And if somebody happened to be, which I don't think they would, handing them out like they do CDs on the road, I still don't think you'd find them on the ground. So, there's my little anecdotal note.

Brett Cowell: There's probably a sense of place if you're buying this at a gig. So putting aside the fact that these sweaty people that have had a few drinks are carrying these huge, unwieldy things around, and hopefully not dropping them on the floor ... That's an interesting mental image. But it's this sense of place, right? You go there, you remember the show, you buy some merch, not only a t-shirt, but you buy the music to take back with you that may not be available in that form anywhere else. So it's not just a kind of, letting the music wash over you, just flicking through your phone, discovering it on your computer and finding something new, it's actually having to go there on a day to get a limited edition presumably, or something like that.

Dustin Blocker: Yeah, and really what we find, and I think most artists can attest to this, is when you put a record down, you're actively engaging with that, so you're more likely to look at the lyrics if there are lyrics sheets, but look at the artwork, which is much bigger and more impressive ... The actual weight of the record usually holds a value.

But then what I do is, I'll put it down on a turntable and I typically work a few feet away from it, and instead of getting up to flip it, I might just hit play again. Or rather than take another one off the shelf, I might just hit play again. So I might listen to the same record for a week on just side A, and by the way, that makes me want to go to that show more, because now I know all five songs. I didn't just stream past it, I didn't flick past it or I didn't go past it on the radio or on my phone in the car ... I was engaged with it, and I'm like, "You know what, I didn't like track 3 at first, and now it's my favorite track." And that only happens with deep listening, and this format gives you that. It allows you to take the time in this insanely busy world to sit down and absorb.

Brett Cowell: I get that in terms of deep listening, I like the way you put that, because if I think about a time when I would actually sit down just to listen to music, I've probably not done that in a very long time. But having kids aside, I have music on as a soundtrack to working or traveling or whatever, and rarely sit down to actually put music on, whereas I would do that with vinyl records before, and CDs to some extent as well. So I think the way you're interacting with the music is different. So, how is this album format or this side format going to influence, and will it influence, the way artists produce music or think about music, package music, create music?

Dustin Blocker: Yeah, so art without boundaries is sometimes, I don't know if dangerous is the right word, but if you don't have any boundaries, it's a little hard to keep limitations to a minimum. So, what happened was, when it used to be analog-driven music, meaning an artist would come into the studio, they had tape, you only had so much tape. If you ran out of tape, it was going to be more expensive to get more tape, the editing process was much more complicated ...

So when they went to record, the band had to be much tighter. So they had to be a band that knew what they were doing prior to walking in. Now, then, when they did that, they knew only X amount of music, a certain amount of time was going to even fit on the record, which was the only format. So they had to pick the songs they chose wisely that they recorded, and they had to pick the songs wisely that they were going to actually mix and master to be on the final record.

So, the vinyl format, essentially 17 to 22 minutes is about what you want on every side for optimal volume and ... Just volume levels basically, and frequency ranges. So if you go past that, you're kind of in a bad zone. So that is something that you gotta coach up today's generation, because what happened? Tape went away, digital came in, and as digital then moved over to the laptop and recording got much easier, bands didn't have to be as tight, and then it became a choice. "Oh, this band sounds like crap on purpose," we say. But is that really true? Nobody really knows, it's 'eyes of the beholder' kind of stuff. But, the reality is, having a tight band, at least to me personally, having a band that's really tight live, I would love to hear that on a record.

So, the recording medium has changed a lot as well, where analog tape has now become a thing that most studios are offering again, because artists want to be challenged, just like they're challenged by how much time they can fit, and they have to be particular with what they put on the record itself, they're now wanting to be even challenged back in the recording space. So, there's a lot of, "Everything that's old is new again" happening, and usually art is what drives that, it happens a lot in fashion and in film and all that too.

But yeah, it is a lot of fun to see bands that have to get tight before they go in to the studio. And then, really choose their songs wisely to be able to fit it on a record, and it makes them have to edit, and editing is one of the most important things. Because at the end of all of this, if you want to be a successful musician or successful recording artist, people want to have ... You're gonna have to have them want to listen to it. So you expounding and having 75 minutes of music for no reason might not be the best thing for your career. If you want them to listen to it, make it manageable, make it so that it's chunks that they can absorb, that's my, there's my coaching

Brett Cowell Yeah, that's great on coaching. And I think, let's talk a little bit about the record label. How did you get your roster of artists? Was that something you set up based on a genre or location?

Dustin Blocker: Yeah, so it was very organic. A lot of the artists that we work with today actually came talking about the organic way from compilations. So we always found, talking about the working relationship, I mentioned that earlier about other labels, but even internally, that's something I always took as very important, and if I want to have an artist on our label, I want to be able to sit in a room with them, talk, I want to be able to hang out with them, drink a beer, whatever, more than just that they're really great and they can sell some music. So it's odd that those are the kind of people that are drawn to us.

So, we would do compilations, and out of the 12 artists on there, one of them would stand out, maybe musically, or maybe five of them would stand out musically, but one of them would stand out as contacting me, "Hey, how can I help? Hey, I want to promote," Or "Hey let's do that." And I would say, "This guy has a work ethic, let's talk more." And that work ethic is the thing that really, that's what bonds me to an artist. That work ethic is the one thing that got me ahead when I was doing music full-time, and I really see that as the most valuable piece.

And oddly enough, when somebody has a really great work ethic, guess what? Their music is usually pretty awesome too, because they're always striving to make it better, and the people that they put around them, the bass player, the drummer, whatever, they're driving them to make it better. And that being better and recording, without, financial implications aside, the music that our people, all of the people on our label put out, is unbelievable. And I'm just like, "These are all hidden gems. How is everybody not listening to this stuff?" Because the quality is great, the songwriting and the craftsmanship is unbelievable.

So, that's really the people we've been attracted to and have been attracted to us, on personal levels and then on the artistic side. So, Hand Drawn Records has really been made up, even to this day, community has been a big driver of it, on and off the stage we communicate a ton on and off the stage. We try to be as personalized as possible, as much as anybody wants I guess. And it's amazing, it's just, people are drawn to the right things it seems, and somehow it's afforded us new opportunities all the time.

Brett Cowell: Are you putting together some compilations, some label profiles on vinyl, and do you think that actually having that vinyl is gonna allow people to discover those artists they might not have heard otherwise?

Dustin Blocker: Yeah. So something we started, about two years ago, it was called Analog Sessions. So we had I think six compilations leading up to it that were called Hand Drawn Records: A Compilation, Volume One, Volume Two, Volume Three ... And they were great. Most of them were just digital only, and we maybe did a show. And it was really cool, it allowed us again to kind of work with artists during that time period of promotion. And then we started Analog Sessions, and we're about to release Volume Three in August. We released Volume Two in, I think, February or March of this year, and we'll probably continue that way. Analog Sessions means it was recorded to analog tape, and it's only on vinyl format, so it's not even on a digital format. So the only way to get it is to get it like that.

And they're all for free, and that's one thing we've done with every compilation. We take up all of the costs, right, we spend all of the money and then we give them out. And it's all pure promotion for those artists, and we hopefully just keep making them more and more interesting. More and more interesting packaging, colored vinyl tied with black vinyl, different gram weights, kind of cool things. And yeah, our Volume Two actually had Tim DeLaughter from The Polyphonic Spree, had a really cool solo track on there. We had Deep Blue Something, which did Breakfast at Tiffany's. We had Luke Way, Charlie Crockett, our artists Andrew Tinker, Un Chien, Cut Throat Finches ... And then, I'm trying to think, there was even a couple more ... Oh yeah, we had War Party, a couple tracks from The Texas Gentlemen who are doing some incredible things right now ...

So it's amazing when you do things for the right reasons we're talking about, they kind of come back in the forms of really cool opportunities like the analog sessions records. But yeah, we're gonna keep putting more and more out, and just finding new ways to do it. And talking about the one in August, so the Analog Sessions Volume Three, we actually went to Nashville to Welcome to 1979 with our artists Cut Throat Finches, and they went to Welcome to 1979 is an analog studio, and they do our plating. So they record to tape, and they cut the master, and they play the master, all there. It's an incredible place.

So, we had Cut Throat Finches, and Alex, my business partner, and I actually flew out there as well. And went to the studio, it was just a one day thing. They had what they called a vinyl camp where they were teaching engineers and producers how to record to tape. And then Cut Throat Finches recorded live. And it wasn't just like they recorded live to tape, so it was nerve-racking, the recorded live to the lacquer being cut in real time. So if they screwed up, you'd burn that whole lacquer. So they had guys in another room cutting the lacquer in real time, looking at them on the video monitor while they were playing. There was a couple times I could tell the band was super nervous. And they pulled it off, it was great.

So we did one song a side with a big 12 inch record, with one song on each side. And it's the Cut Throat Finches version, Live at Welcome to 1979. And the band pulled it off great, but they were so nervous, Sean Russell who is one of our artists, and he's the singer for Cut Throat Finches and he's a great public speaker and everything too, we had him interviewed afterwards, we had some people filming there. And he was so nervous even after the recording process, so it was over, he was trying to say "We're at Welcome to 1979 Studios live at Nashville, Tennessee," and he kept saying Nashville, Texas. And it was like five times. I go, "Sean, calm down."

But it is, when you're doing something you love and it's very difficult to pull it off correctly, the nerves get in there. But they did a great job, so look out for that one. We'll have it out I think at the end of August.

Brett Cowell: How can people get that ... Maybe just talk a little bit about distribution. Can folks go to their local records shops? And is that in Dallas, or Texas, or nationally, internationally?

Dustin Blocker: Yeah. So, we do have some distribution for, I think it's 280 independent record stores throughout North America. The things like the compilations, since we don't sell them, it's a little more difficult to put them on the shelves, so we literally make a deal with the store owners to say, "Hey, can we put these out and give them away?" So we do that with a lot of the local stores.

We'll talk to Good Records about it, probably Spinster down in Oak Cliff. Those guys do a lot with this. Chief Records down in Fort Worth, Doc Records down in Fort Worth. And those are usually the ones that we talk with the most and our artists perform at a lot.

Brett Cowell: Just talking a little bit about your journey, I'm gonna put two things together, because I know we're running out of time, in terms of your bands that you've been involved with, and then how your sound and your inspiration has changed as things have happened in your life. You've become a dad, and ...

Dustin Blocker: Sure. So Exit 380 was the band I started. I was 20, and we were playing in bars. And I remember when I turned 21, the bar owner was mad because we partied at the bar that we used to play at all the time, and he thought I was already over 21. So Exit 380 actually started as a party band back in '99. I started it as kind of an acoustic cover act kind of thing. And then we got more serious, got more players and became kind of a rock band, and then we became kind of a heavy rock band, and then after I started having kids, etc., maybe getting a little bit older, we kind of matured into more of like a roots rock, Americana, alt-folk kind of stuff. So we had lap steels and harmonicas, and tambourines, and everything wasn't over the top.

And then, the last record we recorded was in 2014. It was called Photo Maps, and that was actually my first segue into doing vinyl for my own purposes. And I got with the band, and I knew about the time constraint things, and Andrew Tinker actually produced the record down in his studio in Denton, Texas. And I said, "Hey guys, let's really do something with this format," and we used to do rock and roll, and now we do alt-folk. Let's do half rock and roll on side A, and we'll do the other half folk stuff on side B."

So that's what we did, and we thought it was probably the most exciting and fulfilling record we did. At least that's the one I think is my favorite, the bass player might say something different. So that was Exit 380 and that was the last record we did in the summer of 2014. And then, W.A. Fite, I did two solo records, Poison the Medicine Tree and then the last, which was 2011, and then Builds with Age ... I think I finished in 2015.

So yeah, the last time I recorded music for the public was then. I actually did perform on a couple of live compilations. We're on Analog Sessions Volume One, which I think was the end of ... I don't remember, whatever year that was, 2016 ... So yeah, those are my two primary deals, my solo project, and then the rock and roll band.

Brett Cowell: People make music for various reasons, and now you've got so many other projects going on in your life at the moment with the pressing plant, etc. Do you find that you can ... Why do you make music? And do you still need an outlet, or is what you're doing as a day job really enough of an outlet, or do you still need to go home and make some music there or whatever?

 

Dustin Blocker: Yeah, it's interesting. So, yeah, I really ... Kind of the need to write new music and perform hasn't really been there, which has been kind of nice. My wife and I moved with our family, moved to Granbury, Texas about 90 miles west of Dallas. So I drive in every day.

And during that time, over the last two and a half years, we actually ... We weren't really into the church before we went, and when we moved out there we kind of started getting into the church, which is a local church called Stonewater down there in Granbury. And they instantly, someone introduced me as a singer to the praise and worship team, and I told them, I was like, "I don't really want to sing, I'm not into that, I'm good." But I would go on Sunday mornings and see the band, the band is incredible. And the lights and sound, it's like a big production. And so finally I was like, I went and told them, "Okay, I want to sing."

So, a lot of Sundays I'll be on stage singing worship music, and it's amazing. I've never listened to worship music, I'd never sang it in the car prior to then or anything like that. So my one outlet is that, and I think it feels good, I do it for the right reasons, and it's not like "Look at me," it's actually probably the first time I've ever talked about it. But I love it, I absolutely love it.

 

Brett Cowell: It's great that you've got that outlet there. I know we're probably into our final minute here. Usually what I ask the guest is, people who listen to this podcast around the world I think in about ... 18 or 19 countries, and I always ask the guest to explain what the heart and soul of Dallas is, and how do you explain this place, what's it all about?

 

Dustin Blocker: Yeah, so if you look at Dallas on the surface, it's very spread out, and there's not a lot of things that tie it together like you would in some other cities. But I would say, at it's very core, Dallas used to be a big rock and roll hub, and all of the artists would come through here. There was big distribution, a lot of labels were here. So really, it's been kind of glazed over, and kind of concreted over as kind of this ... It's the Dallas Cowboys, and that's the only thing anybody knows about it.

But there is a lot of heart and soul here. Here, and Fort Worth as well, and in Denton. They actually call it the Golden Triangle, because if you look at a map, it's kind of like a triangle. They're all separated by about 30 miles apiece. But Dallas, Fort Worth, and Denton have totally different music scenes, they're all very tight, and they're completely different. And I would say, Dallas and Fort Worth specifically have very ... The growth of the scenes and the community within those scenes are incredible.

So yeah, that's what I would challenge people when they come to Dallas. Don't just go to the uptown bars, or maybe go see a sporting event, which there's plenty of that, or some of the art galleries in town. But really try to catch some live music, because they're ... In Deep Ellum specifically, there's lots of great venues, and now there's even ones that are opening up in Oak Cliff, you have Kessler Theater ... So you have some mid-range, larger, and really smaller intimate venues throughout Dallas and Fort Worth that are just incredible. So that's always a challenge. Support local, and you'll be amazed what you get back.

 

Brett Cowell: Any just final closing words for our listeners, any life lessons that you've learned that you want to pass on to others?

 

Dustin Blocker: Yeah. I might have said it a little bit earlier, but working hard and going towards something that you want to ... That can sound cliché, but I did a lot of things I didn't want to do for most of my life ... Or, I wouldn't say most of my life, some of my life. And it really let me see that the grass isn't always greener chasing the money, and chasing opportunities that aren't really very meaningful. So, challenges is something that I really love, so I like to challenge myself every day and work hard to get those goals. I just started as some rock singer in a rock band. Then I was some kind of label guy, and now I manufacture with the only new machines in the world, and it's amazing what can happen if you just stay at one thing and try to get as good as you can every day at it.

 

Brett Cowell: Dustin Blocker, thanks for joining us today.

 

Dustin Blocker: Thank you very much.

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