Alan Richardson and Matt Minigell had a simple business plan when they launched Dead & Mellow Records one year ago: sign some of their favorite comedians, record their albums live, and also release some noisy punk music along the way. As they celebrate their anniversary by releasing a stand-up and music compilation album on Christmas Day, they find themselves in a completely different entertainment landscape.
Most live entertainment shut down in March. Great Scott, the Allston club where Dead & Mellow recorded many albums and hoped to record many more, lost its Commonwealth Avenue location in May, though efforts continue to revive it at a new address. That left a big hole in their plans for new releases. “We had a whole lot of different things kind of more planned out by January, February, that we had to kind of scrap because of the pandemic,” says Richardson. “So a lot of what this year has been is just kind of us [getting] on our feet.”
“We had like a couple of years’ worth of things lined up and sort of getting put together,” adds Minigell. “And then this all happened and completely changed.”
Those plans aren’t necessarily dead, but the pair won’t revisit them until there is a more stable environment for live comedy. “I don’t think either of us are looking to rush anything back for live comedy,” says Richardson.
The first official release was Richardson’s “I was supposed to be a Genius” in January 2020, which Richardson recorded in an empty warehouse, a weirdly prescient choice. “I can’t believe we recorded an album alone in a warehouse, like pre-pandemic,” he says.
The next release was Zenobia Del Mar’s delightfully blunt “Reckless With the Truth” in March. “My release party was the absolute last normal day,” says Del Mar. “It was at The Jungle in Somerville. And nobody showed up except for me and the comics, which, you know, happens sometimes. But that was the day that the [expletive] hit the fan because that was the day that Tom Hanks and Rita [Wilson] came out as having the ‘vid.”
Despite a tumultuous year, the label has released 11 comedy albums, three singles by Minigell, and five-song EPs from punk bands Circus Battalion and Noisebreaker. In November, they released a National Lampoon-style audio sketch album by The Dirt Men, which features Richardson and comedians Dan Ham and Andy Mattfield. The “Dead & Mellow Sampler: Vol. 1” is a kind of “year in review” including tracks from all of their releases so far. It’s a diverse array of stand-up from Richardson, Del Mar, Rob Crean, Gary Petersen, audio sketch from The Dirt Men, and music from Minigell, Circus Battalion, and Noisebreaker.
Now the label is changing course somewhat, providing web hosting and administrative work for podcasts like “Death by Comedy,” on which Chris Walsh and Gary Petersen talk about hellish comedy gigs with their guests, and “The Gimme,” on which Kathleen DeMarle interviews people about their childhood obsessions.
Richardson and Minigell believe they were in an oddly perfect spot as a startup to survive the pandemic — established enough to have work on their plate, but not so big that failing to deliver on a release would sink them. “We started slim enough to keep it together,” says Richardson.
“There was a lot of comfort in knowing that, as long as we maintained some semblance of control over this operation, we could pivot into something else,” says Minigell.
The idea for the label came to Richardson and Minigell when they were touring in 2019. Richardson is a comedian, and Minigell is musician with a deep appreciation for comedy. The pair saw a lot of talented comedians around the country doing good work, work that wasn’t likely to get picked up on any mainstream platform. “One guy was dressed as a possum doing stand-up,” says Minigell. “He was really good! But we were like: How do you pitch this to somebody?”
Richardson and Minigell imagined Dead & Mellow as a place where these oddballs from around the country could connect and form a circuit, starting in Boston. “If everybody lived in one hypothetical neighborhood somewhere and played the same gigs all the time, all of these people would love each other,” says Minigell. “This would be a really, really cool, vibrant scene. So we started thinking of the label as something that could be a way of doing that virtually.”
Del Mar made an immediate impression on Minigell when he saw her perform at Great Scott. “I was like, yeah, I’ll start a goddamn label if it means she can put out a record,” he says.
Del Mar says she’s not likely to be on the industry’s “to-see” list when they scout in Boston. “There are a lot of people in Boston that are freaking awesome that will never be on that list and never be mentioned, because they don’t subscribe to the way that these people do things. And I’m one of those people all damn day.”
Three of the albums are by Rob Crean, the erstwhile host of The Gas on Friday nights at Great Scott. Crean had the material recorded before he signed with Dead & Mellow but hadn’t released any albums in part because of all of the grunt work involved, like figuring out distribution and creating a Spotify profile. “[I] always sort of intended to put them out myself, and then just never got around to it,” he says. “And it’s just not the type of stuff that I’m good at.”
After a trial by fire in 2020, Richardson and Minigell are understandably reluctant to look too far forward into 2021. “The difference between every single quarter this year has been like four different years,” says Richardson. “At this point, we’re just kind of playing by ear and seeing what feels right.”
That means making sure the artists on the label get the support they need while earning some income from merchandise until they can get back onstage. It’s a struggle Richardson and Minigell understand as artists themselves. The idea is to just keep moving. “We’re honestly just too broke to stake any kind of a claim that could damn us,” says Minigell. “When things kind of get [expletive] again, as long as we can provide for ourselves and our artists, we’re just back to the ideas. Just find something else to run with as hard as we can.”
Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.