Based out of Hope Valley, Red Dress Records wants to bring Rhode Island’s music scene together. Initially putting out music via co-founders Jordan Sereno and Neil Redmond’s rock & roll band The Part-Time Poets, the label’s roster has grown to include other acts. This includes Sereno’s current band The Dirty Birds and co-founder Stephen Heredia-Smith’s punk trio Yohafu, among others. Their website at reddressrecords.com also has a blog page that’s chock full of music reviews and playlists, partly because of Tony Nimmo, who also plays drums in The Dirty Birds and punk rock labelmates The
Inhumanoids. As you can tell, this isn’t your typical run-of-the-mill independent record label.
I recently had a talk with Sereno, Redmond, Heredia-Smith and Nimmo about the label’s beginnings, working remotely before COVID-19 reared its ugly head, writing about other people’s music and goals for the year.
Rob Duguay: Who’s idea was it to start the label?
Jordan Sereno: If I recall correctly, I believe it initially started because we were looking to release music for The Dirty Birds or even our previous band, The Part-Time Poets.
Neil Redmond: Yep.
JS: We were on Distrokid looking at all the business models you could do, and we suddenly realized that if we made a little co-op Distrokid account and got bands like Yohafu and The Inhumanoids on the label, we could probably save a little money and get a lot more out of it. That’s sort of where the idea started — it started from a joint Distrokid account and from there it was kind of like figuring out the next steps. Do we make a website? Do we do this? Do we do that? That’s where it’s developed from, but it started from the idea of having a joint Distrokid account and we thought it would be a lot of fun.
NR: I’m going to expand from that because Jordan, Stephen and I trying to put together an album taught us a lot of things. One thing we noticed was that there’s a huge gap in our skill set. So many bands will focus solely on the music and spend hours on the weekends perfecting their craft. You don’t know what it’s like to go into a studio and you don’t know what those studio engineers do once you’re gone. You don’t know how to set up your own album art and you don’t know how to set up your own promotion. We realized that we were so under-equipped for a real release, and also a lot of our friends are similarly under-equipped. We wanted a way to teach people how to do some of these skills and pull together people who were willing to do it so that we had a way to work together with everyone lifting each other up in making what we think are the best products we could possibly make.
RD: When it comes to the roster, Jordan already named a few bands on there with Yohafu, The Dirty Birds, The Part-Time Poets and The Inhumanoids. Have you gone outside of your nucleus when it comes to getting more people involved on the Red Dress Records roster that perhaps you don’t have that close of a relationship with but you like their music?
JS: We’re actually looking to expand our roster.
NR: The nucleus that you’re thinking of is the group of bands that have specifically released music with us and have gone through the entire process, from recording, to promoting, to creating the album as a whole product. But realistically, we try to work with bands on the terms they want. Tony’s old band The Denver Boot was looking to release an album but the band had already broken up so there was no place to release to. There wasn’t an audience waiting for this album, so we took it upon ourselves in our blog to create articles and promotion in order to create a niche for that specific band. We’ve been doing this for a whole lot of people — it might just be general promotion, it might be shout-outs, it might be little guest segments on songs, but the umbrella is much bigger than the bands that have gone through the whole process with us.
JS: With that being said, to build off of that, right about now actually we’re starting to meet with more artists. Especially with live music starting to come back, now is the time for us to really start to collaborate with people we haven’t before. We’re looking to see how we can help each other.
RD: Now Neil, you’re in Louisiana right now pursuing your Ph.D. in Marine Biology, right?
NR: I’m just outside of New Orleans, about a 45 minute drive, studying to get a Ph.D. in Oceanography while focusing on Geochemistry. It’s a very hard endeavor.
RD: I can imagine. How has your relocation affected the running of the label?
Stephen Heredia-Smith: It’s become more remote.
NR: Things have definitely changed because Jordan, Stephen and I used to meet in person all the time to discuss things. Since I’ve pulled away, I’ve been really trying to tackle the social media aspect. The label released The Dirty Birds album when I was gone, so I tried doing things like being the one in charge of running the Distrokid account and being the physical person to upload the songs, the lyrics and do a lot of the digital things. Realistically, this all would have happened the same because of the pandemic anyway. We had already started to work remotely about a year prior, so things didn’t really change — we just kind of had to alter our approach. Realistically, we lose the physicality of it, but we gain a lot because it’s how we do most of our communications anyway.
RD: That’s interesting how with doing things remotely before the pandemic started, you were already a step ahead of things going on with the label. Tony, you’ve been writing for the label’s blog page and reviewing people’s records and singles. As a drummer and as a guy who has written songs, what’s it like for you analyzing other people’s music?
Tony Nimmo: Honestly, it hasn’t been any sort of real transition for me, because for the longest time I’ve really enjoyed watching other people play. I get a lot out of watching other drummers, other singers and other guitarists. I’ve always tried to look at everyone’s music and I’ve tried to find what’s really good about it and what is making this different from other people. When I go to write about something, especially in this format that we have here, I know we’re trying to promote local musicians. I’m not going to write a critical article about someone that takes them apart; I’d rather write an article about someone that says something positive.
With me, it’s all about trying to bring everybody up, and it’s kind of easy for me because it’s something I’ve always tried to do with music. I wasn’t really into folk music when I was in The Denver Boot, but I saw that there were some good aspects of what the band was doing back then and I wanted to support it because I thought good music could be made. That’s really the reason why I’m doing what I’m doing with writing the blogs, to push everybody up as we move up. I like to give out shout-outs, that’s another big thing I’ve been trying to do, and I like to make playlists on Spotify, because I think that helps us make connections with bands. So far, I didn’t think the review part was going to be in my court, but so far I’ve really enjoyed it.
It’s nice to listen to something over and over again. I feel like if you review something, you have to listen to it multiple times and really give it a lot of consideration. I’ve really enjoyed getting to do that and pick apart musical elements, tempos, dynamics and things like that while trying to say something at least a little substantial about what that person is bringing to the table.
RD: That’s a great outlook to have and a great approach to have with it, Tony, it’s really cool for you to say that. For any entity, label or business, every year brings about new goals and new things you want to accomplish. When it comes to Red Dress Records, what’s your main goal for this year? Like you said, Jordan, live music is ready to come back in full force and there will be more opportunities for the label to have showcases when it finally becomes a reality again. I know on the website there’s a post saying that there’s gonna be a music podcast called Red Dress Radio, so do you plan on starting that up?
JS: For the start of Red Dress Radio, that was actually going to be one of our flagship programs when we started. Turns out making an hour-long weekly podcast is really, really difficult, so we’ve been discussing different ways how we can make it a little more plausible. We might try to hire an editor to alleviate the time crunch about it. It might be something where we’re doing 15-minute videos every week, but that would definitely be an end of the year goal — to have some form of weekly media up, whether it’s a podcast or video chat or something. That’s definitely up there, and other than that we’re just trying to work with as many artists as possible right now.
NR: To diversify, we started this off with a couple bands and a couple albums. Like I said before, there’s this whole other world of things that need to be done in order to make an album successful. We’ve started to pull in talents that are even non-musical in nature because these talents are what helps support this structure. Tony is a really good blog writer but we’ve brought in other people while starting to do other podcasts and bringing in artists who can draw things. The idea is to bring in a lot of differently talented people from the area, music is music but there’s so much more that goes behind it.