The building used to be a bank. But in December, 2004, when I first met Chris Dinardo, the sign on its door read SMR Studios. Chris, and two of his hard-rock bandmates from DownNeck had opened the rehearsal/recording space there in Garfield, NJ and were running their own record label, Saturday Morning Records. I discovered the newly-opened studio via Craigslist when nobody here knew about Craigslist. I knew Chris could be trusted when he told me he knew who Matt Skiba was. Inside SMR, walls were decorated with brilliant paintings by Paul Jach, who rented space upstairs. Their engineer Jamie ate voltage and loved Primus almost as much as Chris loves KISS. Let me tell you, there's nothing like recording vocals in a vault.
But years passed, and it was a strain for the rest of the original DownNeck to keep focus on the SMR venture when they, unlike Chris, had proverbial day jobs. (One we suspect was CIA, although he won't admit it, and the other may have built your house.) The studio closed and DownNeck split. Chris, who had studied TV/film production and broadcasting, needed a better way to fuse creativity, music, and video production, so he decided to start his own company, NeverImage Entertainment. His latest music project SLeuX came about last year, which Chris started with James Donovan, DownNeck's singer in their later years. Chris is no stranger to the NYC/NJ underground scene or to indie music business, and he had a lot of great stuff to tell us, so let's cut right to it.
- RVE: Tell me more about your vision for NeverImage. I mean, when you were starting it a few years back you saw it as an entertainment company rather than a traditional record label. Are you taking on other artists with NeverImage?
Dinardo: I think with the way things are today you can't be a traditional label and survive. With NeverImage we're doing albums but we're also able to get into other areas like film, video, DVD's, webvids, and whatever else we feel like doing. The key is to have an artist own what they do content-wise and have the vision to present it. NeverImage started as a home for me and my friends to have place to put out their stuff, my crazy projects, and stuff I produced with other artists. Now with the release of SLeuX it's a nice way to start off what we're going to do in the future. We're not taking on artists, but with that said, I'll never say no to a good idea.
- RVE: You mentioned producing a video for every track on the new SLeuX album. Awesome. Is that still the plan? What's your approach on that?
Dinardo: Well we made two so far…10 to go…(laughs). It's a task, that's for sure. I know five songs on the album have video treatments. The approach is as footage is collected and ideas get filmed, we'll put the videos together. There's no timeframe, but we'd like to have all of them done before the next album comes out…(laughs)…in 2023.
- RVE: Old school vs. new school—who wins?
Dinardo: Old school recording, performing, and music wins for me. The new school way of the music business wins over the old school model.
- RVE: Tell me about the lead up to SLeuX and the production of the debut album.
Dinardo: Well we went in wanting to give the music justice. We wanted to record old-school style on 2-inch analog tape. We had 22 songs. We wanted that down to 12. For the production I wanted a sound like Rock and Roll Over by KISS. I realized pretty quick that I wasn't Eddie Kramer either…(laughs)… I wanted the musicianship to jump out…I wanted guitars up. I wanted to play the fuck out of the guitar on this record. So many new guitarists play two strings and don't know what the hell they are doing. I play it like I stole it and the guy I stole it from is about to break down the door and take the guitar from me. I wanted harmonies. Character-driven lyrics. We definitely achieved what we set out to do. People are gonna dig it.
- RVE: You imposed at least one rule on SLeuX so far: don't make the same song twice. Are there any more…or is that the only one you need?
Dinardo: Yeah, never say no to a musical idea without trying it or feeling it out. It's no fun making the same song over and over,or getting held down in one sound. It's exciting because when someone brings a song in it could be anything in any style. It may never even have a style. You have to take the song where it should go and that could be anywhere. To me that's where the fun is—creation.
- RVE: With the industry in hyper flux, how are you adapting on the business side? What are you doing the same or differently now with SLeuX and NeverImage?
Dinardo: It's insane. The way the music business is now, it's like you're playing a football game and the rules keep changing every minute. It's impossible to navigate. But if you make your own playbook and play by your own rules it makes things easier. I love the way the music business is. I think if you are an artist who can create good songs, have a decent idea of promotion and kick ass live, you will be fine. Business-wise we have ideas on this release. We haven't decided the exact route yet. We know it will be on iTunes first before it's anywhere else. Then we're gonna get crafty with the actual CD. Not too many people buy CD's but we want to make it special for the ones who still do. I'm hoping to have it released as a CD/DVD and keep it at a low price. We do all the DVD production in house so it lets us keep our stuff low in price. We're not into over pricing anything we do.
- RVE: What's your take on free media, P2P, and alternative pricing like pay-what-you-want?
Dinardo: I don't have a take. Everyone can decide how they want to present their music. An idea might be perfect for one artist and a disaster for another.
- RVE: What's one thing that's wrong with the music industry, and one thing that's right?
Dinardo: What's wrong is artists looking at getting signed as the be all end all. It's not. Every deal is different for every artist. You have to make it on your own before anyone invests in you. Hard work pays off. The thing that's right is artists can have total control. As long as you have tunes that people love you'll be okay. Trust your vision.
- RVE: What's the SLeuX album called?
Dinardo: It's gonna be self-titled. But like everything with SLeuX, it's subject to change. The thing that won't change is NeverImage. I will be involved in several projects in the future and NeverImage will be the home base for everything. I can't stop making music and I see myself being in several different projects. I love what I do. Music is my passion. Plenty of good shit is coming from the NeverImage camp.