Sam Rosenthal is the founder and songwriter behind Black Tape For A Blue Girl, and the guy behind Projekt Records. Michael Plaster is the founder and songwriter and only member of Soul Whirling Somewhere. They’ve worked together on The “Bike Shop” EP, which was funded via a Kickstarter campaign. You can order the EP for $12. Sam & Michael took a moment to interview each other about the music, working together, and cats (of course!).
(listen to the music while you read the interview:)
Sam: How does it feel, singing on new songs after being out of the public eye for a while?
Michael: Actually it was a really good experience. I have had the songs for my own upcoming album churning around in my head for over a decade, so to be able to work on someone else’s songs was pretty neat.
Michael: So tell me about the subject of the songs on the “Bike Shop” EP. Are they all based around one person?
Sam: No, actually they are about the last three relationships, merged into one person for the sake of the story. Reflecting on the feelings after a break up, going back to old memories, remembering little sweet things that happened, and then feeling sad that they’re not going to happen anymore. The funny thing is that I don’t even own a bike, but I was seeing somebody who repairs at a bike shop, and I liked having a physical location in the song, a place I’d want to go back to as an excuse to talk with her again. When I was writing “Vega,” I wanted to come up with a name for this romantic partner, and it needed to start with “V” to make the little joke in the lyrics work. I was running through all sorts of names that started with ‘V’ – and I came upon Vega and I thought, “Yeah, that would be a good name for the person I’d have dated.” The joke about the birds spelling out her name was actually part of a joke Voltaire said when I saw him live. I modified it, but I should give him credit for that.
Sam: Can you relate to the words that I asked you to sing?
Michael: Oh absolutely. I have always known that you and i have had a similar take on love and relationships, though from different angles. “The Cabin” was the first one i really clicked with; it just has that really intimate story of a very specific place and time, and the distinct things that happened there, and the whole end of it being kind of just “i give up”-ish… that’s very Plastery. And then even moreso the song “She’s Gone.” This is probably my favorite on the EP. The bittersweetness of looking back at a love that really never fleshed out, the self-defeated response to it… it just all smacks of lyrics i very well could have written myself.
Sam: Yes, agreed. That one is the song that has the most self-analysis in it, where the others are more just capturing moments. When I get dumped I kind of immediately revert back to an old storyline about not being worthy of love in the first place. And my brain says, “You dummy, of course you were dumped. Why would anyone love you, anyway?” I might not be that guy all the time, but certainly there’s that moment in a break-up where I just go back to that sad, dark place from when I was a kid. And then I have the line in “She’s Gone:” “Love’s a lot like insanity, anyway.” Because really, what’s love about? Why would somebody be one of a billion people yesterday, utterly amazing today, and then lost in the crowd tomorrow? It’s hard to objectively say that somebody is really more amazing and loveable. “Oh my god, look how good they are repairing those bikes! She has such long fingers, they smell a bit like grease. I love her!” Really? That’s crazy talk. (laughs).
Michael: Do you find that you sometimes fall in love too easily? Or at least become infatuated with someone too easily?
Sam: I don’t think I become infatuated too easily, any more. I look at things more realistically these days.
Michael: Is infatuation good, i.e. more song material?
Sam: Sure infatuation is good song material. Maybe I am saying that all love is infatuation, and you are just asking about the speed with which one gets to that point? Or maybe infatuation implies the person you love is unobtainable? For me, I’ve gone on so many dates and met so many interesting people. Unobtainable is something that I have made myself consciously aware of, to not go there anymore. It’s too big of an energy drain.
Sam: Tell me some more about your thoughts on the songs.
Michael: You know it was just really nice to hear some very straightforward, minimal acoustic guitar. That isn’t exactly the typical Black Tape for a Blue Girl sound, but is very much up my alley, so i definitely responded to it. The whole straightforward approach has always been something i have striven for lyrically, and i think all of the songs really hit that nail right on the head!
Sam: I was thinking about straightforward recently. The thing that makes a song lyric really great is when it is specific and really personal. “I came in like a wrecking ball, I never hit so hard in love,” that’s such a generic platitude. I want to know what it smelled like, and what was said, and how the writer reacted in concrete terms. To me, that’s what makes lyrics interesting.
Michael: What made you decide that i would be a good vocalist on these tracks?
Sam: Well, I love your voice. There’s that. And your lyrics are about these topics, so it made sense that you’d sing these sort of sweet, sad, occasionally humorous lyrics about past relationships. It was after you agreed to sing “Bike Shop” that I wrote the other three tracks, with you in mind. I felt like I was your songwriter, and I could write words that I knew you would relate to, and be able to get into, and deliver delicately and authentically.
Sam: What does music do for you, these days?
Michael: It’s weird; i have always been such a snob when it comes to the music i like (and the music i can’t stand), and the industry has changed so much in the last twenty years. It still affects me like nothing else can, but it seems harder to find the music that does so. Now, i don’t work at a music store anymore, so i am sure some of it is that i am no longer on the inside, hearing about upcoming albums & such… But then again it is easier than ever to find out on the internet i suppose. But music still brings me feelings that nothing else can…
Sam: I think I’ve heard so much music in my job at Projekt that I’ve grown more and more picky. I still hear new things that excite me. Definitely not as often as in the 90s… but I think that’s true for most people.
Michael: You’ve lived all over the United States; L.A., Chicago, New York, and now Portland. Does the change in your surroundings affect your songwriting, either sonically or lyrically?
Sam: I don’t think the environment changes my songwriting. What the environment does is give me the ability to create, or the environment can take that away. I think New York is so expensive that our brains get consumed with scarcity, and making enough to survive. And that mindset isn’t conducive to making art, if you ask me. I lived in NYC from 1999-2013, and I only created three Black Tape For A Blue Girl albums in those 14 years. Yeah, we had a baby in that time, and I gladly spent a lot of time with him. But after he got older, it was so much money stress. I’m very happy here in Portland. It feels alot like Los Angeles in the early 90s, like when you came out to mix your albums. I can take a day off, or a few days off, and work on art when it feels good. Not trying to cram it in at the end of the day or whatever.
Sam: Which gives you more joy in life, people or cats?
Michael: Cats of course. I know it shouldn’t be that way, but it is. I am unmarried, got no kids, but got like a hundred cats. Okay, four cats. But still… Here is a quick little story that might convey it better. Just earlier tonight i was up at the local grocery store, picking up my usual stuff. They had recently remodeled the store; the cat food was in a new aisle, with new fancy decorations & such. So i looked around, got my cat food and noticed a bunch of signage hung throughout the aisle, with picture of various cats on each one. I spent a few moments in my mind picking out my favorite cat (it was the Tabby)… Then i went to check out, and spent 7 minutes waiting behind some bitchy lady who couldn’t get off her phone, and refused to take 8 quarters instead of two one dollar bills, so i had to wait for the cashier to call her supervisor over to restock her till. So yeah, cats.
Michael: I will ask you the same last question — which gives you more joy in life, people or cats?
Sam: People, definitely. I think the thing I like most is hanging out with a friend at a bar or coffeeshop, talking about life, relationships, woo-woo spirituality, psychology, how they’re doing. That is what really makes me happy. And it’s also inspiring because it gets ideas flowing. I write about motivations — about why people do the crazy-ass things they do. And while cats might be peaceful, and zen-like, it’s humans (and why we do the stuff we do) that gets my brain going.