Life is about balance. Nowhere is that truer than in relationships.
Stephanie Lima and Natalie Smallish are friends and business partners, and during an hourlong conversation with New Times, it becomes very clear that each is the yin to the other’s yang.
They are both ambitious and energetic, but Lima is the business-minded one — friendly but straight-to-the-point. Smallish is a bit gentler yet passionate in everything she discusses. She has a long history in the South Florida music scene that began when she was a 14-year-old musician and today finds her in the role of general manager for Radio-Active Records.
“Sometimes I run in circles before I can make a point,” Smallish says jokingly halfway through our conversation. That may be true, but to make a long story short, Miami is getting a new record label, WaxRomantix, courtesy of Lima and Smallish, and they want to be everything to everyone, including artists and fans.
At first, the name of their label, WaxRomantix, seems to be a play on the phrase “wax nostalgic,” which means to grow increasingly sentimental or wistful over a memory or an object that dredges up certain past emotions. This concept isn’t far from Smallish’s original idea.
She cites The Breakfast Club as one of her inspirations for the name, both that sense of '80s comedy, as dewy-eyed as it may be, and the idea of the hopeless romantic she associates with music and the throwback medium of vinyl records. “I love records. I feel that there is such a beautiful, warm tone to anything that’s on vinyl," Smallish says. "You can hear the shittiest band in the world on record and just love it because it’s such a pleasant sound.
“I love anything that’s cheesy,” she admits. “I love melodies and great poetic lyrics. It doesn’t have to be pretty. It can be extremely depressing or extremely haunting — anything like that. Anything expressive like that is romantic to me.”
So far, the brother-and-sister indie duo AnastasiaMax; Miami’s favorite loud-as-fuck rock twosome, Deaf Poets; and Jennie Vee, the bassist for Courtney Love and Eagles of Death Metal, have joined the WaxRomantix family. Lima and Smallish have their eyes and pens ready and willing to sign more local artists but believe they already have a strong roster.
Lima is Deaf Poets’ full-time manager, while Smallish oversees AnastasiaMax. Record labels don’t normally mix the two sides of the business — development and production — but WaxRomantix is atypical in that sense.
“I feel like artist development and paying attention to the artist is nonexistent,” Smallish explains. “It’s not just about how many likes you get. You have to remind the artist that they have to be an artist. It’s not about coming up with the money and doing all the social media or whatnot. I think it has completely shifted to that part, and it’s easy to get lost in that vision. We want to go back to the roots. We want you to be 100 percent an artist. We can take care of the things that you should not have to worry about.”
Throughout her career as a touring bassist and seven years at Radio-Active Records, Smallish has seen firsthand the struggle of bands to get the support they need that oftentimes leads to discouragement or disillusionment. She and Lima are eager to fill any role necessary in an effort to draw South Florida’s deserving talent into the light.
“I understand how hard it is with the commercial industry being so inundated,” Smallish says. “I wanted to do that [put out music] for South Florida. I realized that no one is really doing that down here at all.”
At various national conferences, the criticism Smallish was hearing over and over again about South Florida bands was their inability to break free from the state and their unwillingness to tour, either because of geography or, as she puts it, “there’s no business down here.” WaxRomantix is looking to be an educator as well as a resource for bands that need guidance.
“After all these thoughts and all these things, I was just like, I’m going to start a label,” Smallish proclaims. “That’s when Steph came in and really gave me the courage, the backbone to be able to do that.”
“The way that I see the dynamic between Nat and I,” Lima says, “I’m left-brained and she’s right-brained.” Although not a musician herself, Lima is still a creative despite her logical nature. “I am very much a business-development person. It’s what I do; it’s what I’ve always done. The thought of creating something from scratch is extremely exciting. We are going to create a brand that represents the type of music we feel the world should be listening to.”
The artists signed to WaxRomantix lean toward indie, from Brit-pop to shoegaze, but Lima and Smallish will not limit themselves to just one or two rock genres. In terms of expanding their roster, Smallish is relying more on her intuition, that feeling music fans get upon discovering a band and thinking, Yeah, that’s the one. But more than that, she and Lima are looking for bands that are serious about their craft, that are willing to tour and put in the necessary work.
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Lima, Smallish, and the WaxRomantix bands will present their work Thursday, December 7, at Gramps, just in time for Art Basel. The label’s launch party will offer a full evening of music. In addition to special guest the State Of, the 21-and-up event will also include performances by AnastasiaMax and Deaf Poets, as well as a late-night DJ set by Jennie Vee and Eagles of Death Metal frontman Jesse Hughes. The show will mark the last Miami performance for Deaf Poets before they move to New York.
Although Lima and Smallish look forward to a healthy crowd for the unveiling of WaxRomantix Records, there is one simple criteria by which they will judge the success of their new venture: “If my artists are happy,” Smallish states plainly.
Happiness comes in many forms, she explains. It can mean meeting certain goals such as playing Revolution Live before the end of the year or building a sustained career. WaxRomantix hopes for both.
WaxRomantix Presents AnastasiaMax, Deaf Poets, Jennie Vee and Jesse Hughes (DJ set), and the State Of. Thursday, December 7, at Gramps, 176 NW 24th St., Miami, 33127; 305-699-2669; gramps.com. Admission is free. Set times: 7:30 to 8:05 p.m., the State Of; 8:20 to 8:55 p.m., AnastasiaMax; 9:10 to 10 p.m., Deaf Poets; and 11 p.m. to 3 a.m., DJ Set by Jennie Vee and Jesse Hughes in the front room.