"The thought had entered my mind, but recording was more of a passion with me, something I really wanted to do," he says. "The record label just kind of came along, because there were all these bands out there that I really like, and that I think were some of the best bands in Denton, and no one was doing anything. They didn't have anything out, and no one was considering putting anything out for them. So I was like, it's just time for me to do something. I mean, look at Light Bright Highway. They've been around for seven years, and they haven't ever put anything out."
Don't expect 2-Ohm Hop's roster to grow much--or even at all--anytime soon. Willingham has no intention of letting anything take away time from his work in the studio. For now, he's concentrating on the four bands that are already on the label, and the only plans he has made for the future of the label are full-length releases by Stumptone, Sub Oslo, and Light Bright Highway.
Willingham's career as an engineer and producer began out of the same necessity that led him to start a record label. Like the bands that come to him now hoping that he can turn a loaf of bread and a few fish into a feast, Willingham was in a band in high school, the Squidmen, that didn't have many options when it came to recording. He was the only member of the band who was interested in recording and running the soundboard, so he bought some equipment and taught himself how to use it. Gradually, his hobby grew into a full-blown career, making him one of the lucky few who can pay the bills by doing something they like.
Before he moved to Argyle, Willingham worked out of his house in Denton for about three years, until a few run-ins with the local law and a general dissatisfaction with living in Denton ended that situation. It worked out for the best, though, because--however strange it may seem at first--Argyle is actually a great place for Willingham's studio. The studio itself is just as well-equipped as any other, and the area around it is so distraction-free, it could be a holistic cure for attention deficit disorder.
The number of bands making the trip to Argyle should only increase now that Centro-matic's Matt Pence moved to St. Louis. For a while, Willingham, Pence, and Sam McCall--the former bassist for Brutal Juice who has since left for New York City--made up a fraternity of North Texas producers that could be counted on to deliver the goods even if the money or the equipment wasn't there. Willingham was the unsung member of the trio, overshadowed by Pence's and McCall's slightly higher-profile projects, such as Slobberbone, the Grown-Ups, and Centro-matic. But Pence and McCall are gone now, making 70 Hurtz the studio of choice for many up-and-coming bands such as Go Metric USA, a fuzzy pop band from Dallas set to start recording with Willingham this week. Pence's and McCall's departures have certainly been good for business, but Willingham still sounds wistful for the old days.
"Once Sam McCall left Denton, I got all his business that would have probably returned to him," he says. "They didn't have anywhere else to go, so they would call me. Then Matt started recording, and a lot of the people who recorded here would go work with Matt. There was a good, nice family. We'd just kind of trade around with the bands, and they would go wherever they felt most comfortable. Now that Matt's gone, it's all back to me."
He doesn't sound worried by the prospect of taking on the additional work, or greedy with the knowledge that every band in North Texas will probably have to record for him eventually, like it or not. Willingham doesn't have time to worry about things like that. There are record sleeves to be folded and more bands to record tomorrow. For a second, as we talk about release dates and recording equipment, it doesn't feel as though we're out in the country anymore. With the door and windows closed, 70 Hurtz Studio could be any studio, anywhere. Then Willingham opens the door to leave and exposes the open fields that extend behind his studio all the way to the horizon. I'm not sure, but I think I saw the middle of nowhere.