Though an impressive back catalog of CD, vinyl and digital releases by Vincent Neil Emerson, Colter Wall, Riddy Arman and The Local Honeys helped write the La Honda Records story so far, the Bowling Green, Kent.-based label's owners set few limits when it comes to the mediums they release and the genres they spotlight.
"A lot of people mention our artist roster and what we've put out so far, and they want to pigeonhole us as a particular type of label," La Honda co-founder Connie Collingsworth told Wide Open Country. "I think we're both here to say that's just current perception, but it isn't reality. We have some country and Americana and western artists on our label now, but who knows what it'll look like in the future."
La Honda's launch title, a 2019 CD release of rising singer-songwriter Vincent Neil Emerson's Fried Chicken And Evil Women, earned a taste-making reputation for Collingsworth and her business partner: Emerson's manager, Travis Blankenship. A vinyl release of the same album followed later that year, setting the label up well despite there being a pandemic on the horizon.
"When that two years started, we were at the point of we'd just financed ourselves and through the sales of the CD of Fried Chicken and Evil Women a vinyl run," Collingsworth said. "We put that out to overwhelming success for Vincent's presale. So much so that we immediately needed to start thinking about a repress. Great news for us. That's when the plants shut down. It staggered us a few months. That was really our only hiccup during all of what happened as far as getting the music out there. The people waited and the plant came back up, and fortunately, we got our order in to be in line for when they started back up. So we didn't change our thinking. Instead we were like, let's just do what we were going to do and see. We were very fortunate, and I think that speaks to the fans of our artists and our roster and the trust that our artists had to say, 'Yeah, let's put out the music.'"
The lack of live music options through most of 2020 didn't quench collectors' demand for fresh releases and reissues. If anything, followers of independent acts were hungrier to find aural distractions and fund their favorite artists through more than donations during livestream performances. La Honda and distributor Thirty Tigers fulfilled that need with new Wall album Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs plus vinyl repressings of the Colter Wall and Songs of the Plains LPs and the Imaginary Appalachia EP.
"I wasn't personally nervous because the thing is that even through whatever we're going to call it at this point, pandemic or those two dark years, people still were consuming music," Blankenship said. "It doesn't matter who you were. Music was the one thing that I think helped people get through those times. As a business, my brain can work one way and say, 'Oh, there's all these numbers involved,' But for me, I didn't give a damn if I was going to have to put speakers on the back of a wagon and tie it to the dog and walk up and down the street. My passion is to put music out. That's how I felt about it. I was like, 'No matter what, I'm doing this.'"
Not even the well-publicized wait times to get vinyl records pressed --caused by the huge demand placed on the shortlist of active record pressing plants (there are around 30 in America, per the Indianapolis Business Journal)-- harshes Blankenship's mellow.
"Yeah, it does take longer to get vinyl because vinyl's really popular," he said. "But that also means that people are able to start new businesses and create small, boutique pressing plants, and those independent businesses really do benefit independent labels and independent artists."
The La Honda team's ties to Wall (Blankenship as manager and Collingsworth on the merchandise and art directing end) also resulted in the 2021 release of Wall and the Scary Prairie Boys' limited-run Live in Front of Nobody LP.
Riddy Arman, another artist managed by Blankenship, joined the La Honda family in 2021 for both the vinyl and CD versions of her self-titled debut. A short-form documentary about the making of one of last year's best albums will be among future signs that physical releases of music aren't the label's final frontier.
"It's mostly interviews of her around her home in Montana, talking about the record," Blankenship said. "We're going to start leaking that slowly in various little snips on social media."
La Honda's first cassette release, Emerson's Live at Luck Mansion, follows later this year.
"It's like its own different type of project," Collingsworth explained. "I've enjoyed doing the artwork on it, and Travis and I trying to decide how it's going to be set up and how the audio is. I think Vincent's excited about it. And of course, being associated with the Luck Mansion and Luck Sessions is great. We highly enjoyed that."
Regarding a difference in 2022 between two formats that never really went away, Collingsworth said that "you're looking at a five to seven-week turnaround [for cassettes] as opposed to five to six months [for vinyl manufacturing]."
The label will remain a go-to source for country and Americana listeners when it issues a highly-anticipated release this summer by Blankenship clients The Local Honeys, the duo of Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs.
"I've gotten to do two of their records, and they're probably going to be one of the next Americana acts to really blow up whenever they drop their next record," said Melvin Dillon of Soul Step Records.
Beyond the audio and visual, La Honda Presents has popped up on show posters for not just Emerson but also folk revival legend Ramblin' Jack Elliott, proving that few things are far reaching for a record label with a far-out name.
"I tried to use that name in some sort of creative, artistic venture since about 2010," Collingsworth said. "I come from a background working more in rock 'n' roll band merch and art and things from my previous company, Print Mafia. My partner and I in that had a lot of clothing deals that came our way and a lot of merchandising deals. I had that name in my back pocket because I'd watched a documentary about the '60s and Ken Kesey and the Acid Test and The Grateful Dead and the San Francisco music scene, which is one of my favorite topics in culture and music.
"In an off-handed comment, they said that The Grateful Dead would go play the Acid Test at Ken Kesey's house in La Honda, Calif.," she continued. "It was very cool, the house and the imagery they had going with it. I looked up the town and found out that Neil Young had lived there, [Allen] Ginsberg had lived there. All of these phenomenal people that I've always looked up to. And so I loved the name La Honda. I like the way it rolled off the tongue, and I like what it's associated with."
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