Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Projekt and Sam Rosenthal are names that merge, and emerge, when we look at the past 30 years of the so called darkwave sound. It all started in Florida in the early 80s while Rosenthal had a fanzine and, at some point, included a song on a tape featuring some local bands he was writing about. They were all very new romantic / electropop oriented, a genre so fashionable in those days. From there to create a record label that could launch the work of his own band, Black Tape for a Blue Girl, was just a little jump. And thus was born Projekt, a name that became a reference that distinguished itself over the 90s, launching groups such as Lycia, Love Spirals Downwards, in addition to the already mentioned Black Tape For A Blue Girl. In a conversation with Sam Rosenthal, we got to know the news about new Blacktape, as well as the circumstances that continue to make possible a label like Projekt in such hard times for the record industry, when everyone is fully aware that the music business has changed radically.
1: These Fleeting Moments, Blacktape’s new album, will be out on spring 2016. From what I’ve read on the Bandcamp page, you’ll be returning to that ethereal sound of the early 90’s. Why is that? Did you feel some uncontrollable need for this BTTB?
Sam: I think 10 Neurotics was as far as I needed to go, in the direction of writing really structured songs in a pop/rock/cabaret vein. It was interesting and challenging to do that, but I guess you can only go so far. It’s probably the same reason I started writing less-ethereal songs, after The Scavenger Bride. I didn’t want to be an artist who had to do the same thing each time. I want to try new things. Even if that “new thing” is actually an older thing (laughs). I also think that people are happier when they are hearing a style that they expect from an artista, so it’s a delicate balance. I feel the new songs come from that same 90’s darkwave space, but they sound current. I am using less reverb on the vocals; I’m not burying these amazing performances. Sometimes I listen to the old albums and scratch my head and wonder why the vocals are so deep in the effects. Also, as you’ve noticed, the last few albums didn’t have many instrumentals. So I am bringing some of that back. I met a great violist here in Portland, Grace, who is playing on some of the tracks. To give a nice searing string sound to the tracks.
2: Remnants of a Deeper Purity is higly acclaimed and considered as Blacktape’s masterpiece. Do you think that These Fleeting Moments will be able to compete with that classic album? By the way, what’s your favourite Blacktape album? (and why do you prefer it)
Sam: There are tracks on the new album that fit in very nicely with Remnants, and I think people will enjoy hearing them. I don’t know if I live with ideas of “compete with,” because I’ve never been about competition like that. I do think about making music that people who love Blacktape will be excited about. And I am thrilled that I still have it in me to write those sorts of pieces. As far as favorite? I am really partial to A Chaos of Desire. I just love those instrumentals with Vicki!
3: Looking at the new album’s title, may I conclude that you’re telling us that all in life is ephemeral? Is there anything that isn’t?
Sam: What I am thinking is that our moment in this life is very ephemeral, and I’d suggest we each look at what we are doing with our life and honestly ask ourself if we are spending our time in a way that will feel good, when we get to the end. I think a lot of people rush through their lives, and put a lot of their effort into things that – at the end – will seem pretty trivial. Such as answering emails. Or watching cat vídeos. And when the end comes, will you say, “Shit! Should I have watched all those cute kittens? Or maybe I should have loved more.”
4: There was a time when you strongly supported the free digital downloads because you believed that people exposed to music would, eventually, support the artists they enjoy. I have the idea that, altough you’re behind the PETm website, you still believe in this concept. That’s why you share some part of your music for free on Bandcamp, am I right?
Sam: You know, I’ve definitely see-sawed on this topic over the years. In the beginning of the digital age I was very pro-free-exposure, then grew very annoyed by free, and now back into believing in it. I’ll tell you why I’m back to believing in this concept: You cannot fight change. You can scream at it, and bury your head in the sand. But that ain’t gonna alter what is happening. Ultimately, you have to work with what you are given. And if people want things for free, then I am looking for ways to make that work for me and my art.
5: You’ve been often returning to Kickstarter and you’re doing it right know to put the “Bike Shop” EP out as a vinyl edition. As an artist and a label owner, do you think that’s the right path (and probably the only one) for independent labels and musicians to make a living through art?
Sam: I wouldn’t say it is the only path. There are some indie artists who get ahead with other methods. But I think it is a sweet spot for my music, and it’s a way to connect to people who care about what I do, fund releases, and feel some sense of dignity in the process. Five years ago, as mentioned above, I was really frustrated with “people taking my music and not paying for it!” I had to really live with that, and work through that, and discover an avenue like Kickstarter where I could connect with people who respect my work as an artist. It has been both inspiring to me and a source of income. It’s been great in multiple ways.
6: On the “Bike Shop” EP you have the collaboration of vocalista Michael Plaster, from Soul Whirling Somewhere, a band that arrived to my ears in the 90’s through the Projekt label. How and why did this collaboration happened now?
Sam: When I was writing “Bike Shop,” I realized it was the perfect song for Michael: it’s an intimate story about lost love, and reflecting on love. This is really what Michael specialized in, with his lyrics. I’ve released all the SWS albums on my Projekt label, and I’ve listened to them hundreds of times. I know where he likes to go, lyrically. I felt a bit like one of those old-timey songwriters, writing songs for a star who was going to be in my show. I created the lyrics for the three additional songs in a week. Telling more of the story about the situation behind “bike shop.” There are ideas that come directly from my real-life experience (yes, I was dumped via text!) And there are bits I made up. I like how it all feels very personal and real.
7: Nowadays, how do you choose artists to be part of the Projekt catalogue? What kind of sound are you looking for?
Sam: I really haven’t been adding many artists to Projekt, these days. The most recente signee is Mercury’s Antennae. They have a sound that really fits the label. It’s Dru from this Ascension on vocals, and Erick on guitar and electronics. They have a 90s Projekt / Lycia sound. With some 4AD as well. They’re the perfect band for Projekt.
8: In your point of view, what are the main differences between a major label and an independent label?
Sam: Major labels have a lot of money, and put out a ton of music in the hopes that one or two acts are a hit. Indie labels spend more time on a small group of artists, trying to nurture careers. I personally am not anti-major label. A lot of the music that I love came out on majors (granted, we’re talkin’ back in the 70s and 80s). Warner Brothers took a chance on Devo, for example. A major put money behind Gary Numan or Peter Murphy or Soft Cell or the Cure. Can’t knock that!
9: There were some bands that, at a certain stage, were part of the Projekt label. I’m thinking in Love Spirals Downards, Lycia, Peter Ulrich, Thanatos, Autumn’s Grey Solace, and so on… Do you still have contact with any of them? If so, what do you usually talk about?
Sam: Oh yeah, I’m in touch with them. I am having a Facebook conversation with Pat from Thanatos right now. Of course, I have known Pat since middle school, so he’s definitely a friend as well as a guy from a band that used to be on Projekt. Pat and I are discussing the “Bike Shop” Kickstarter, actually. With the other bands, it’s more about royalties, or an offer to be on a compilation (there’s a lovesliescrushing track coming out on a Cherry Red Records shoegaze boxset).
10: You’ve been moving from place to place over the years. Florida to L.A., L.A. to Chicago, then you moved to New York and now you’re living in Portland, Oregon. Was this a personal option? All these different places are reflected in your work, or is it something that doesn’t affect you at all? (as a musician and as Projekt owner)
Sam: I am fortunate that Projekt can operate from any city. Most people have a much harder time uprooting their lives to go somewhere new. I was also very lucky that my son’s mom and I are still friends, so we could orchestrate a cross-country move, get out NYC, and resume our lives, and watch him flourish.
I would say that the way that Portland is reflected in my art is TIME. I now have time to make art, because Portland is an easy and inexpensive place to live. In Brooklyn, everybody is always stressed out about earning enough money to afford to live in Brooklyn! It really drains you. Here in Portland, I have the time and brain-space to make art. I like it a lot.
11: Are you interested in other forms of expression of the human spirit, like philosophy, literature, painting… ? Do you have any hobby in some other form of art?
Sam: Hmmmm. I’m probably not so much a fan of painting and literature these days. I like reading psychology or self-help. Stuff about the human spirit, but more about finding ways to actualize it, vs angsty or lofty expressions of it, like in art. I like finding things in my own pysche that I can wash out and improve upon!
12: Will you continue to use photos taken by your son to make cover art for Projekt records, as it happened with As Lonely As Dave Bowman? Is he interested in arts as his father is?
Sam: He’s much more interested in electronics and engineering, not so much art. He’s a really good classical guitarist, but he is not continuing with it at this time. Yeah, I’d use more of his photos… but he’d need to shoot some. I asked him to shoot the cover of Dave Bowman’s MONOLITH. But while I was shoving the camera at him, I noticed something interesting myself, photographed it, and that became the cover. “Sorry son, I just took your job!” (laughs)
Thanks for the interview. I like the interesting questions that I haven’t answered before.