Archive for October 2015 | Monthly archive page
“Across a thousand blades” Demos + Live versions
Entrevista a Sam Rosenthal Black Tape for a Blue Girl
This interview appears on the Portugese website arte-factos.net as promotion for the Kickstarter “Bike Shop” EP. Here it is in English:
Outubro 14, 2015 · by Pedro Gomes Marques · in entrevistas, música
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.
Interviewed: Michael Plaster & Sam Rosenthal
(listen to the music while you read the interview:) the "Bike Shop" vinyl EP by black tape for a blue girl (featuring Michael Plaster of Soul Whirling Somewhere)
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.Download the “Bike Shop” EP at Bandcamp.
Sam talks about crowdfunding, and his Kickstarter — Peek A Boo Magazine
Sam Rosenthal took some time to tell us more about his kickstarter project to release a new 12″ of Black Tape For A Blue Girl. In the end Sam reminds us (the journalists) that you (our readers) would love to hear more about the lyrics. Probably he’s right, but hey, now you have an extra reason to listen to the songs for free, that you can find here.
Why did you decide to ‘kickstart’ your EP Bike Shop? If I understand it correctly you can download the songs for free, but to realize the vinyl EP (with extras) fans need to pay a certain amount of money.
Sam: I think letting people hear the music is an essential way to get people excited about supporting a physical release. I know it sounds counter-intuitive to give away what you are trying to sell; but the music industry has gotten pretty surreal these days, and you can’t assume that the old laws of nature still apply. I tried this same idea with the Monolith release (from my solo-electronic project As Lonely As Dave Bowman), and it worked out; I figured I’d try it again. So far, it’s looking promising.
What can people expect for their money?
Sam: They are helping to create a 12″ on yellow and black vinyl. There’s other things they can get with higher pledges, such as test pressings, hand-written lyrics, their names in the credits.
You released the rough mixes of the EP (they are almost done, but not mastered). Why did you choose that option? Why didn’t you release (for instance) two tracks instead of four?
Sam: I think that each artist will discover what works best for him, as far as interacting with listeners and the new record industry is concerned For me, I’ve always been very honest and open with Projekt’s customers and the people who care about what I create. It’s a bit of a tease to say, “here are two free, now pay money to get the other two”. Right? I want them to hear the music, that’s really the most important thing to me. Give it away, and money comes in somehow.
Will crowdfunding be the new way to release and distribute music? Especially for a label like Projekt? Or will there be no labels anymore in the future (I know you have your opinion about the current music scene)?
Sam: I don’t think there’s one rule that applies to every artist. I think engagement and seeing what works is what bands need to do. I don’t really know if a label can crowdfund all of their releases. I don’t know if that works. I think the people who love the music like interacting with the band, reading what the artists have to say on their updates, etc. So, I think it’s a fan-to-band interaction that works best. To the other question about “no more labels;” Well, I am not ready to commit to yes or no on that. I think labels still serve a purpose, especially as artists get bigger and need professionals working with them to forward their careers. A lot of musicians just aren’t good at the detail-oriented part of getting their music out there / getting paid. I have more than 30 years experience at it. I know where the money comes from, and how to make sure the artist is in the channel to get that!
Is downloading music a blessing or a curse? Why?
Sam: I guess that downloading is neutral. It’s a way to hear music. It’s what humans do with it that is a blessing or a curse. I’ll tell you why I believe in downloads: You cannot fight change. You can scream at it and bury your head in the sand, however that is not going to alter what is happening. Ultimately artists have to work with what we are given. And if people want to download music for free, or stream music for almost free, then I am looking for ways to make that work for me and my art. Working so what I used to see as a curse, is revealed to be a blessing. That’s definitely something true in many aspects of life: you never really know if a choice is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ (‘good’ or ‘bad’), until it has played out and you see what ends up happening.
You had to wait a long time (you know him 20 years) to finally team up with Michael Plaster (SoulWhirlingSomewhere); why was it so important for you to work with him?
Sam: I love Michael’s voice. As you probably know from my band, I do like working with male vocalists; they often represent me within the lyrics. When I started writing these songs, I wrote lyrics I thought fit Michael’s thematic styles. As if I was a songwriter for Michael. It’s like creating a new character, or writing a short-story. And then knowing I had the perfect actor to portray this character. The pieces draw from my real experiences over the last couple of years. But I blurred a bunch of relationships into one, and then embellished with things that made the stories more alive.
The voice of Michael gave you the opportunity to approach the music differently. What are for you the main differences between the Bike Shop EP with Michael and the other Black Tape For A Blue Girl material?
Sam: These are four acoustic guitar songs together, which I wouldn’t really do on a Black Tape album. It’s a different sound, in that it’s sort of mellow, ethereal acoustic rock music. In the past, there would be one song like this on a Black Tape album; this was a chance to make a whole release of ‘em.
You were so excited you wrote three more songs in a very short time. You love how quickly this release has evolved from idea to something we can listen to. Do you think this will always work like this or do you need more time for other releases?
Sam: I think that I write pretty fast these days, and once a song has moved to the point of adding the vocals I know it’s going to be released. So, I am thrilled by the idea that along with full albums that take a lot more time (writing songs, deciding which ones fit, recording with the different singers and instrumentalists), I can do these EP projects which can appear much faster. I feel that as an artist, it’s good to have many outlets, rather than putting all my energy into one release. That’s why Monolith and Bike Shop happen simultaneously to the creating of the new album.
The track Bike Shop/Absolute Zero will be released on the new Black Tape For A Blue Girl album These Fleeting Moments as well. Can you tell us more about the new album? You said on the website it will be a return to the ethereal dark wave/darkambient sound of the 90s?
Sam: That’s right. My thinking is that it’s a good time to explore the older sound, the languid, long-form, darkwave mood of the past. I love the 10 Neurotics album; and at the same time I think I don’t need to keep going in that direction, just to make a similar sounding follow-up. I still have a number of unreleased songs from that period which I might write lyrics for and record, and do an EP that’s sort of the 11th Neurotic. But I recorded that album 6 years ago, and it’s not where I am at today, thematically and sonically. The new songs deal with relationship angst, of course; But they also look at life experience, questioning our goals, what we’ve accomplished, and if we’re living the life that is authentic to our core. The first side of the album is done (I am conceiving it as a 2-LP set, which will also be on CD). It’s a 17 minutes track, that explores a lot of those questions, in a darkwave/dark ambient sound.
Will you release These Fleeting Moments with crowd funding or will it be a normal Projekt release (in the ‘old fashioned’ way)?
Sam: It’ll be crowdfunded, for sure. Why? Honestly, it is much more fun this way. I like getting people involved in the process of making the album, meeting old and new fans of what I create. It’s inspiring to get to know people who like my music, and want to see me succeed. The old fashioned way is sort of dull, isolating. Me at home alone most of the time. And then one day, POP! The album comes out. With crowdfunding I get to share with the listeners the process. “Hey, look! I am working on the cover!” “Hey, look I just recorded drums with Brian!” That’s fun.
Is there a chance we will see Black Tape For A Blue Girl performed live in Europe in the near future?
Sam: Sure, there’s a chance. But playing live is a big undertaking. Time, and money. And generally, the band loses money playing shows, and that’s just not really what I want to do. If a festival wants us to play, they need to pay our expenses and pay us something for our time. It’s only fair to the people who work with me in the band. They are taking time off from their job and their lives, and they deserve to get paid for that. Otherwise, if it is going to lose money, I’d rather lose money on something like making a video or buying some new gear. Or going on a vacation (laughs)!
Something you always wanted to say, but never were asked…
Sam: I guess I wish I was asked more interview questions about my lyrics. About the themes behind the music. I think that’s something the audience really connect to. But I don’t think it’s something that journalists take the time to delve into. So yeah, about the themes.
Thanks for the interview, I appreciate it.
Kickstarter to donate: http://kck.st/1Fkr0T1 Hurry, because there are only a few days left to get involved!
Vote on these Projekt T-shirt options
There have been many different versions of the Projekt logo T-shirt over the years. Most sizes are currently out-of-stock (except for the small silver outline and white logo girl’s T) so it’s time to do a new print run. I’d like your opinion about which design to go with. Use the image above as reference to tell me your preference at SurveyMonkey.Just added to the Projekt webstore:
Four Alio Die CDs at a budget bundle price of $25, order here!. Alio Die & Amelia Cuni: Asparas Alio Die & Sylvi Alli: Amidst the Circling Spires Alio Die & vidnaObmana: Echo Passage Alio Die: Deconsecrated and PureFreelease at Bandcamp: Various Artists: Victor Frankenstein (music for a dark evening)
Victor F is coming to theaters on November 20. Sam thought it would be fun to create a dark and spooky alternate soundtrack; this is what the movie score could have sounded like if Projekt had been the music supervisor. “I went through the Projekt catalog and pulled tracks both spooky and soundtracky for this compilation that’s available for name-your-price at Bandcamp. You could also go buy it for $5 at iTunes, but you certainly don’t have to; that’s for people not-in-the-know. The goal of putting this album up at the traditional digital vendors (and the streaming sites like Spotify) is to get people to hear Projekt’s music for the first time.”
Victor Frankenstein (music for a dark evening) is also a perfect spooky soundtrack for Halloween!
Enjoy Projekt’s freelease at Bandcamp!