Americana Highways recently took a road trip to talk to Last Chance Records’ founder Travis Hill, about the thriving Americana scene in Arkansas and the active roster he manages.
With a label name like Last Chance, the first question to surface was, how did that name and the label itself originate? “Originally there was a cut-out distributor in Little Rock, which formed in the early 1980’s. It was 40,000 square feet of vinyl, cds, and cassettes. They had a notch cut out of them and were marked up to be discounted,” Hill began. “I moved out to Little Rock in 1992 and I had heard about this store and wanted to see it, so I went out there and it was like being in Raiders of the Lost Ark when you walk in! It was where all the vinyl went to die when people stopped buying it! (laughs)”
“A couple years later one of their employees and I bought the business, we ran it for another ten years; then in 2007 we sold it to a company in California, but before I sold it I had just started Last Chance Records, using the same name as the store had.”
When asked what inspired him to branch out from ownership of the warehouse of abandoned musical hard copies, Hill laughed and said; “The label literally started over a beer with BJ Barham (of American Aquarium). They’d play the Whitewater Tavern 3 or 4 times a year and they didn’t have much merch. I said to BJ: ‘why don’t you just let me press you some cds, and then you can sell them and pay me back, that’s all I’m looking for.’ And Barham said, ‘why don’t you just become my record label?’ We put out “Dances of the Lonely” for American Aquarium and pretty quickly signed the band Glossary too. That was where I started. With a lot of optimistic naivete!”
“Almost every band I’ve signed to the label has been an act I’ve originally seen right there at the Whitewater tavern and we’ve gone from there. There are only a couple exceptions, artists like Eric Ambel I’d known from the Yayhoos. I’m a big fan. I’m hoping that [recently canceled] tour gets rescheduled because I love those guys.”
Hill mentioned the Whitewater Tavern, so I asked him to tell us more about that venue. Hill responded, “Little Rock has an amazing community of artists and music fans that support the scene and touring bands. I’ve been to venues all over the world and the Whitewater Tavern, which has been around since the 1940s, is just a unique magical place. I used to go there when I was going through a personally rough time in my life and I swear the place has some kind of healing powers. There are bigger venues in Little Rock but there’s just something about this place; I have the label showcase party there, the Holiday Hangout, every year. A lot of the best Americana bands play there and it’s always well-attended and a good time.”
“Matt White and the people at the Whitewater have really built it up into a ‘destination’; we have people from all over the world that come in December. Last year we had people from 31 states and 3 foreign countries that traveled to Little Rock for the Holiday Hangout. Every year it humbles me and makes me very happy to see.”
What’s the latest with Last Chance Records’ showcases? “Every year we do the Holiday Hangout in early December at the Whitewater Tavern, but it’s becoming so popular we are going to add one this year — July 6, 7, and 8, 2018 — we’re gonna do a “Summer Hangout” in Denton, Texas with Dan Silverleaf. And they we’ll continue to do the Holiday Hangout too.”
For a moment, Hill expressed concern, “I’m a music lover and I support all things musical, especially quality music and musicians. I feel an obligation to honor these talented people. That’s why the threat to net neutrality is a worry. Something like that could just lead to a big ball of hurt, with three supergiants – Google, Amazon, and Apple – controlling everything. We’ve got to do everything in our power to support individual artists.”
As for the artist roster on the Last Chance label, Hill says there’s lots of upcoming excitement. “Andrew Bryant from Water Liars is releasing an album in early March. John Paul Keith then has one coming out on March 31st, along with Motel Mirrors, which is John Paul Keith, Amy LaVere and Will Sexton. And then in late spring, Austin Lucas’ new record that he just recorded with Will Johnson will be released. And then in July will be Adam Faucett’s album.”
“We’ve got a reissue of the Bap Kennedy record that he did with Steve Earle “Domestic Blues.” Steve Earle rewrote new liner notes, and Ray Kennedy remastered it.” Bap Kennedy passed away in 2016, so this is a nice tribute to him and for his fans.
“Also, Ian Moore has an exciting project happening where we’re releasing a series of singles one at a time, as an EP, this year. We’re reintroducing him to a broader audience and then releasing a full album next year.”
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