Mountain Fever Records: Rising Temps, Sounds Aflame
by Susan Marquez
Like many teenage boys, Mark Hodges loved music. He played in a band with his friends, and while they grew up, they never outgrew their love of music. Since elementary school, Mark has sang and played piano and guitar and enjoyed tinkering around with recording devices. “I had two reel-to-reel recorders,” he recalls. “I would record myself singing on one recorder, then play it back and sing on the other.” He enjoyed experimenting with sound. “I didn’t really know what I was doing, but it was fun.”
Years later, the boys from Mountain Fever got back together, playing music, and enjoying each other’s company. Mark put together a recording studio in the upstairs of his home in Willis, Virginia. It is the house his grandfather built in 1937. “It just started as a little project to record me and the band,” he says.
“I bought a four-track cassette deck and hated that. Then I bought an eight-track mini-disk recorder. I honestly learned by trial and error. From there, it kept growing and growing.”
Today Mountain Fever Records has a state-of-the-art recording studio that Mark had built on the hill behind his home. “I didn’t plan on having a recording studio and record label,” he laughs. “It happened by accident.”
The “accident” began with a local band playing in area churches. “The name of the band was Statement,” says Mark. “They played for love offerings, so they didn’t have money to record an album. I brought them in to record, and we released their record on the Mountain Fever label. That was the official start to Mountain Fever Records. We started at a time when the record label business was turning upside down. I didn’t know anything about what a record label did, but I watched what others were doing, and our friends, the DJs, were very helpful. They told us what we needed to do to get more airplay, and the most important thing was to give them good music.” In the world of digital and streaming music, Mark realized records still needed to be played on the radio. “That’s what sells seats for promoters.”
Soon other bands began contacting Mark, including Michelle Nixon and a band from Mississippi called Volume Five. “We have done eight records with Volume Five,” Mark says. “They’ve done well on the charts, and they’ve received a Dove nomination and several IBMA awards. Michelle’s record was our first number one record, followed by Volume Five at number two. The next month they switched positions on the charts. For us, it was both a surprise and an honor.”
Mark learned the importance of artist relations. “We work with the artists to pick a single, and we get press releases written up so we can get reviews and stories. From there, we follow what pops us. We try to get coverage on everything we do. We also get songs ready for radio and digital distribution.” Mark says albums are falling by the wayside. “Everyone these days wants singles.” But they still press CDs, including a newly released album by Colebrook Road out of Pennsylvania. “They were brought to our attention, and we started listening and liked what we heard. We invited them to come to the studio. They were wonderful to work with.”
Mountain Fever Records released Colebrook Road’s album, Hindsight is 2020, in October 2021. The album was recorded over two sessions in early 2020, just before the pandemic.
Mountain Fever Records and Mark Hodges
“I’d say about 75 percent of the records we put out are recorded in our studio,” says Mark.
He purchased the house next door for bands to stay in when they record.
“We also have full hook-ups for bands who want to bring their bus.” Sometimes it may be easier for the Mountain Fever folks to go to a studio closer to the band. “And some of our seasoned artists record their own tracks and submit them to us. We have a sound we are proud of, and the DJs tell us they like it. We have a very airy and open sound. We believe that acoustic instruments need room to breathe. It’s not like the more standard Nashville mix.”
Mark’s wife, Rhonda, offers her opinion on things when asked, which is often. “She is there for us any time we need her,” Mark says. “She loves music, so this is fun for her.” They hired a publicist to write press releases and Michelle Cochran to work with DJs and manage artist relations. “Michelle had her own booking company for years, so she is ideal in that position.” Amanda Cook came on board part-time. “She keeps us all on track,” says Mark. “She is also an excellent engineer and producer.” Aaron Ramsey rounds out the Mountain Fever team. “He is the best musician and the best studio engineer,” says Mark. “He was nominated for a DOVE award for a record he recorded in his living room when he was seventeen years old.”