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Sam’s memories of Peter Steele April 19 2010
Listening to October Rust as I write this…..
Peter Steele of Type-O Negative passed away a few days ago. I thought I’d put together my recollections of the times my life intersected with Peter’s.
The first time I recall hearing Steele’s name was from Mike VanPortfleet of Lycia. This was after the 1993 release of Lycia’s A Day in the Stark Corner. Peter said complimentary things about Lycia in a few interviews. I do not have the original quotes, but I searched my hard drive and found:
MKUltra Issue #1 (1995) Q: I think the production on Bloody Kisses is phenomenal! Peter Steele: You should be familiar with Lycia. It’s dark, ambient Goth music. The last album is called A Day in the Stark Corner. I would like our next album to sound something like this. It is the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard in my life. If I put it on in the morning when I get up… I’m useless for the rest of the day. It makes me feel like killing myself. It’s like, why even bother getting dressed when I can just slit my wrists. Such simple hypnotic beats. Everything is drowned in reverb, yet the emotion comes through so loud and clear. It’s just devastatingly beautiful, as beautiful as it is devastating. That’s how I want to come through. INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE: Full exchange between Alex and Peter.
Honestly, I wasn’t familiar with Type-O Negative but I got to know the Bloody Kisses album. Peter asked Lycia and The Electric Hellfire Club to open a small Type-O Negative tour in October 1995. I was living in California at the time and flew to the East Coast to be Lycia’s soundmixer. Not long before, the drunken leaders of The Electric Hellfire Club (Thomas and Shane, RIP) had gotten into a confrontation with me at NEO in Chicago, something about my supposed Judeo-Christian beliefs. Total non-event and something I have always found funny / absurd. When I got to the venue in Boston (?) Peter came over, picked up my quite large suitcase and tossed it on his shoulder (he could have picked me up as well as the cabl!). He said something like, “We’re not going to have any problems with the Hellfire Club.” And I was certain he was right!
Oh yeah, speaking of Chicago, I remember now that a woman I knew there was seeing Peter now and then….. so I probably had heard some stories about him by then.
Peter was down-to-earth, charismatic and charming. Peter was totally straight edge. He would talk about other people smoking pot on the bus while he lifted weights in the back. This was during the multi-year touring for Bloody Kisses, when Type O were getting their music out to the fans and developing a strong following. It was great to watch them from the side of the stage as they performed each night at smaller venues, 300 – 500 people. I remember a really lovely old theatre in Poughkeepsie, NY; I was watching from the balcony during sound-check, Type-O were running through covers songs, I think it was DEVO and The Beatles. At one show, Josh’s keyboard was acting up, he pushed it out of the stand and it crashed to the floor. A roadie ran in with a replacement. At the show in Syracuse, I watched the bouncers drag some guy out the back door by his feet, head bouncing on the steps and into the parking lot. Lycia did not get the warm reception Peter expected; stuff was thrown, spit was lobbed. Just a bit too much violence for me.
I believe it was this tour when Type O played the massive Roseland Ballroom in New York City. Really nice to see them on such a big stage, big risers for each member, as if Peter needed to be even taller, to get his point across! ; )
MK Ultra Issue #7, Summer 1996 Q:Two of your favorite bands, Electric Hellfire Club and Lycia, you’ve had the chance to tour with them. Do you feel a responsibility to the public to turn them onto bands like this? Peter: (takes a very deep breath) Um, I think the best way to answer that is to simply say yes. I try to put together an interesting package that I felt if I was a fan I would want to see this package that I would want to see all three bands. Q: How did hardcore fans react to a band like Lycia? Peter: Some of our fans are quite rude. At some points, I felt like I wanted to go out and say something to these few people who were giving the opening bands a hard time, but I figured that might egg them on even more, so I just let it be. Q: Projekt uses the quote you did with us in the first page of the Lycia press kit. Peter: (laughing) Where I said it was “devastatingly beautiful?” Q: And why even bother getting dressed when you can just slit your wrists. They loved that. Peter: (laughing) That’s great music, man.
Black Moon #7, 1996 We did shows with Lycia and the Electric Hellfire Club last October and I thought that the line-up was great. But the management wasn’t happy with the line-up because everything seems to come down to money these days and they would rather put people on the bill that they are sure will draw a lot of people to the show. It sucks that finances have to rear their ugly head.
When you look back on it now, you see a long list of bands that Peter asked to open for Type O Negative, even though the bands might have been obscure and not “adding to the bill” the way management thinks about it, these days. Meaning, Lycia were never asked to pay to get the opening slot, nor did Peter worry about how many heads the band was going to add to the evening. I think Peter genuinely liked helping bands he enjoyed, and he was confident that Type O could draw on their own.
Back in Los Angeles, in the summer of 1995, I caught Type O opening for Queensryche at some massive place, probably the Laker’s Arena. At the end of Type O’s set, roadies walked on stage and wheeled away their equipment, mid-song; staged as a smart ass comment about the 30 minute opener’s set length. Eva-O, Patrick and I didn’t stick around to catch much of Queensryche, we went backstage to hang out with the band. Pat recalls, “Peter was really sick but nonetheless took time to chat before saying we should hang around but that he had to go ’cause he didnt know which end it was gonna be coming out of next!”
Lycia had another opportunity to open for Type-O at an outdoor show, I think it was Toledo. I was living in Chicago at this point so it might have been Summer of 96(?). The sound system was shitte, I think there were no monitors, so Lycia didn’t play. At the end of the set, Type-O’s roadies handed out what seemed like a crate of toilet paper, and a massive toilet paper fight ensued, with long streams of paper flying all over the venue. I just googled “Type O Toilet Paper” and found this fan comment: “Once one guy beaned Pete right in the head with a roll on stage. Peter immediately looked down at the guy and said ‘you should pitch for the Yankees.’ ”
In October 1997, I saw Type-O play the Vic in Chicago, on their October Rust tour (the in-door snow machine was very cool / the blow-up dolls were dumb – but I guess that was the point). As Projekt fans noticed at the time, the album showed sone of the haunting and spacious qualities of Lycia (such as “Red Water (Christmas Mourning)”). Peter lived up to his artistic promise. They were growing, maybe more than his audience wanted. Back stage after the show, a woman had Peter sign her breasts. Another woman sat on his hand and he picked her up as if working a 10 pound weight. As always, Peter was very polite and friendly, he might have been enjoying himself.
Over the years, I heard about Type-O wanting out of their contract with Roadrunner, so they could move to a major label; Roadrunner wasn’t letting them go. I don’t know the politics of this; who was right, who was wrong. I think Peter ended up stepping on too many toes. The band seemed in a holding pattern, it was unfortunate because Type-O had a lot of momentum after the success of Bloody Kisses. I can imagine their frustration, and it spilled out into interviews.
I was doing a catalog mailing one day, and in the Brooklyn addresses I noticed Petrus Ratajczyk. It turns out that years earlier, Peter ordered some CDs and mailed them to his mom’s house. (I remember talking with a manager at one of the shows who told me he sometimes ordered Projekt CDs for Peter.) From that point on, I’d mail a couple of new releases to Mom’s house. It was sort of my “bat signal.” I send something, and a few months later I would get a thank you call. Peter’s deep voice, “Hello Sam….” and a few minutes of jokes and friendly chatter.
Outburn Magazine #11 May 2000 Q: And Type-O Negative toured with Lycia… Peter: They are such a great band. It was such an honor. But unfortunately sometimes our fans can be very ruthless to the opening bands. And there was nothing I could do. I thought it was actually pretty interesting. The October Rust album just came out, and it was all about creepy things and Halloween. I always thought A Day in the Stark Corner was one of the most depressing albums I have ever heard in my entire life…. it actually influenced me somewhat.
Revue Noir, my band with Nicki, had a show in New York City in 2005, I sent a postcard to Mom’s. A few months after the show, I got THE CALL. My son was a few years old, I was getting ready to get divorced; my life was frazzled. But Peter’s life was hell. I had read that he went through rehab, but had fallen back into his old ways. Peter called to say he’d like to come see us play some day; he said he was glad I was happy with my son, but that people like him should never be permitted to breed. The conversation devolved (and I paraphrase) to: “I would like to plunge off the Coney Island Parachute Jump, except I will not do it because that would just make them happy. They have my place bugged. I dismantled and smashed everything to find out where the listening devices were hidden. They were in the lamps and in the sockets in the wall.” Them. Them. Death. Suicide. Destruction. Paranoia. Some of what he said was about getting into Catholicism and that being a good thing for him, but most of what he said was really sad and scary stuff. I kept wondering “Why are you telling ME this?” Had everyone around Peter heard it to the point where they were sick of it, and he needed new ears for this story? We talked (which means, me listening) for about 45 minutes. Said goodbye. The next day I called a business friend who worked with his management at Roadrunner. “Can you ask them to check in with Peter, see if he’s Ok. See if he needs help or something?”
I was on the guest list to see Type-O Negative at Irving Plaza (May 8 2007). The band was really tight, but Peter was so annoying. It sounded like he was intentionally mumbling the lyrics to the songs. The melody was there but the words were not. I had a feeling he was doing it to annoy the other guys in the band. Midway through the set, Peter said something about “eating a bad slice of pizza and having to go throw up,” and the band left the stage. There was 5 – 10 minutes of cartoon music playing through the sound system, and then Peter came back to mumble his way through the rest of the set. If I had paid, I would have been really pissed. I spoke to somebody in California, who said Type O took the same mid-set break at the show there, and he thinks Peter went off-stage to breath from an Oxygen tank.
December 2007, Peter called and asked if I’d be interested in releasing Carnivore’s new album on Projekt. I was honest and said I did not know the material (“Lucky you,” he quipped) and was not sure if it was my style; but I would certainly work with him on releasing it, if it was something he thought made sense for his career (meaning I felt that while Projekt had the distribution network, he needed a bigger label with a budget). I made a few follow-up calls, but never heard more about the idea.
I sent another card to Mom’s house in the fall of 2008. I was working on the 10 Neurotics album, and looking for a vocalist. I thought it might be interesting to have Peter sing a song or two, he could do a really unique interpretation of “Sailor Boy,” or “The Perfect Pervert.” Over the years, Peter has offered to work with at least 5 people I know, but he was always busy and things never materialized. My expectations were very realistic. I just thought it was a cool idea. We talked and Peter said, “Sure send me something to listen to.” I sent him the album in progress; he called back and said he had met somebody and was living in Pennsylvania. “Yeah, I’d like to do something on the album, but can you wait? I’m going into rehab for a month, and I won’t be available until January. Here’s her phone number, if anything comes up and you need to get a message to me.” Of course I could wait, taking care of himself was more important than recording a song.
In January I called, and after a few false starts, we set up a time to record. He was going to drop by my studio in Brooklyn on a Saturday. The day came, I didn’t hear from Peter, then got the expected call. “Hey Sam, sorry about this. But I blew out the tranny on my car, it’s gonna cost me $300 to get it fixed man, I cannot make it today, maybe we can reschedule?”
A transmission doesn’t cost $300 to fix these days; I bet Peter has used this line since high school, when he needed to ditch somebody. You gotta laugh at life and move on. He had his reasons, it wasn’t mine to question them.
I never sent another CD to Mom’s. Peter didn’t call again. I never again heard that baritone “Hello Sam…” nor dreaded the scary reality that might follow.
As you can tell, I know little about Peter Steele and his life…. just how it intersected with mine. It is a pity that Peter is dead, but I think he has gone off to a better place. What I witnessed was a very sad story about a caring and talented guy whose demons got the best of him. Life turns out that way, sometimes.
A few years later The final part of this story is that a few years later I got a phone call. I think it was Peter’s sister, or maybe his ex? They said they were going through Peter’s CDs, and there was a copy of my solo-electronic release, Pod by As Lonely As Dave Bowman. Along with it was a note I wrote with my phone number. She called just to say Hi, and Peter had saved my CD from among the tons of things he received from people over the years. That was nice of them to call about.
This was written in 2010, about the Projektfest in Philadelphia. There was before the line-up revamp; still of interest.
BROOKLYN, N.Y. – “When I started Projekt,” comments label-founder Sam Rosenthal, “I never expected that 27 years later I would still be at it, still releasing amazing music, still making fans, and performing live on a regular basis. The music industry is a mess of corporate interests, run by people with no passion for art, only passion for money. Projekt is my way to make my art – and the art of bands I love – available for people who still have passion for music.”
Rosenthal brings that enthusiasm and love to Philadelphia July 30 and 31 for Projektfest, the 9th label festival and the first since their day-stage at the 2007 BlackSun Festival. Projektfest’10 will be a weekend of dark rock and indie music presented in conjunction with Philadelphia’s long-running Dracula’s Ball (details at projekt.com/projektfest). Through June 15th, they are offering a special 30%-off combo ticket price of $39.99.
The festival features a sampling of artists from the Projekt’s roster including Rosenthal’s own Black Tape For A Blue Girl, Lovesliescrushing, Unto Ashes, Weep, Makaras Pen, The Twilight Garden and others.
For those of you unfamiliar with Projekt, it is America’s premier independent label specializing in passionately intense music in the darkwave, shoegaze, ethereal, goth ambient, and darkCabaret genres. Past highlights include Voltaire, Lycia, Love Spirals Downwards and Android Lust.
Projektfest is a hands-on event for Rosenthal, a light-hearted guy with a casual manner and an easy smile. He is organizing the fest himself with the assistance of Shea Hovey, who has been his assistant, label-manager, and sounding board since she started at Projekt as a mail-order clerk in 2001.
“I’ve navigated the waters of the music industry for most of my adult life,” Sam says. “I love what I do, and I’ve got it to the point where the label and mail-order company are fun to work at and provide a minimal amount of Drama. I am releasing Projekt’s 245th CD this year; I have not succumbed to the downward spiral that prevades most of the industry. I struggle with how to make ends meet in the current reality, but I am kept interested by the great music that I get to release and the appreciation of the fans of that music. Actually, the label is more profitable than ever. Why? Because we love what we do and we keep in touch with our fans. People have this idea that musicians are aloof and unapproachable. My idea behind the festival to break down the barriers and bring the fans and bands together.”
Rosenthal’s dark rock outfit Black Tape For A Blue Girl performs at Projektfest. The band recently released their 10th studio album, 10 Neurotics, a collection of sinister-character sketches performed in theatrical cabaret style. Keyboardist/guitarist Rosenthal is joined by vocalist Athan Maroulis (formerly of the pioneering electronic band Spahn Ranch), drummer Brian Viglione (of the Dresden Dolls) and Philadelphia-native dark cabaret chanteuse Nicki Jaine.
Projektfest’10 will introduce the label’s newest signee, Weep, the musical side of Doc Hammer, co-creator of Cartoon Network’s The Venture Bros. Worn Thin, the first full-length from the New York City band, takes their aggressive and firmly pop-structured songs to a place of heightened grandeur within Weep’s guitar and drum-driven dark rock sound.
Another newcomer is Makaras Pen. Doug White – founder, guitarist and songwriter from Projekt’s now disbanded Tearwave – builds on Tearwave’s sound, walking the line between shoegaze and indie rock with a strong dynamic of crushing guitars and delicate female vocals.
Recent signee The Twilight Garden create European synth-pop, cold wave and post-punk. They blend catchy synth melodies, hypnotic drum beats, lush guitar work and elegantly powerful vocals from sole band-member Todd Loomis (who co-wrote and performed on Velvet Acid Christ 2006’s Lust for Blood).
Unto Ashes has been with Projekt since 1999. They haven’t played live since the 2007 Projektfest, so this is an opportunity for Michael to present the dark neo-folk sound that graced the recent The Blood of My Lady CD.
Projektfest’10 features a rare appearance from space/shoegaze/drone progenitor Lovesliescrushing, one of the “original Projekt bands” whose first release was in 1993. Scott Cortez’s guitar is processed nearly to the point of unrecognizability, leaving behind veils and walls of shimmery droning bliss. Melissa’s glossolalic female voice glides spectral and luminescent through the walls of sound; sheets of noise; glossy, ethereal. Lovesliescrushing makes noise sound beautiful.
The first Projektfest was held in 1996 in Chicago, where the label was then based. Several festivals followed, including Philadelphia in 1998 and 2002, as the label moved to the East Coast. Rosenthal took a break from the 2-day festival after 2002 to focus on raising his son. Black Tape For A Blue Girl’s tour earlier this year brought out the festival-itch, and Rosenthal began making arrangements for its return.
“It is great to meet the people who have passion for the music I release. I throw these festivals to bring us all together, to give the fans great music and give the bands a chance to connect to fans of other label acts. I plan to have lots of places at the festival where the artists and audience can interact, to make it more than just a show, it’s an interactive experience.”
Keeping with this philosophy, Projektfest’10 kicks off with a “Meet Up” at its official hotel, The Hampton Inn, on Friday at 2 p.m. The Meet Up, which runs until the festival door time of 7 p.m., offers an opportunity for fans, artists, and Projekt staff to meet and mingle prior to the show. The main show will be held at the nearby Trocadero Theatre. Fans gather again on Saturday at the Hampton Inn, which will host a Day Stage and Merchants Bazaar from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday Night is Dracula’s Ball, a gothic/industrial dance night that will feature live performances from legends My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult and Lords of Acid. The Digital Ferret record store will host a pre-event on Thursday.
“Hosting a label festival is really a blast,” Rosenthal said. “Hanging out with bands I usually only communicate with by email. Meeting the label’s fans. We sold a pair of tickets to a couple from Anchorage Alaska and also to two guys from Mexico City. That’s dedication to the music! Our fans stick with us because they know we’re the real thing, we’re doing this out of our love of the music. See you in Philadelphia.”
April 14, 2010. I have decided I want to take a green path away from plastic packaging for Projekt CDs. It might be a long route, but it is the way to go. I encourage all Projekt artists to look at non-jewel box options for their releases, even though it actually costs me MORE to print a digi, hub-pack or eco-wallet. Cool paper packaging and doing something positive for the earth is a WIN for everyone. Many customers now see the CD as a “container” for the music. Once the music is ripped to their computer, the disc sits on the shelf as a back-up. All that plastic eventually breaks and gets thrown in the landfill; I am finished adding to the problem.
This bucks the tradition of CD packaging, and it will take effort to convince fans that while the paper package weighs less, the benefits are immense. Aside from the disc & shrinkwrap, a digipak uses about two-thirds less plastic than a jewel box, a hub-pack has just a small foam nub, and the eco-wallet has no plastic at all (plus they are printed on recycled board). These eco-friendly packaging options reduce raw material and reduce emissions from fuel burned in transit.
As I said, it costs me MORE to manufacture these, but it’s the right thing to do. I hope you will support my decision to take this path toward paper-based releases.