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Interview with Mike VanPortfleet conducted August 2013.
Sam: The new Lycia album, Quiet Moments is out this week. I read that it’s been 12 years since LYCIA had a new album out? Is that accurate? What made you decide to record a new album?
Mike: Well, we had the Fifth Sun digital EP out in 2010, but in regards to a fully realized full length that goes back to 2002 and Tripping Back Into The Broken Days, so that would be 11 years. But even that is a little fuzzy because right up to the pressing time we had planned to used the Estraya name as opposed to Lycia. I sort of see Quiet Moments as picking up from where Estrella left-off back in 1998. As always with me and Lycia, everything is a bit blurry and even questions that would seem to have clear answers don’t. Even though Lycia was pretty low profile throughout the 2000s I was always messing around in the studio. After helping Tara with a solo show back in 2008 it sort of lit the fire again, and that led to us working on Fifth Sun. After that I immediately began working on Quiet Moments, which also involved me finishing some songs that were started back in the mid 2000s.
Sam: The return of LYCIA began when Handmade Birds released a Vinyl edition of your 1996 album Cold. What were your thoughts on Cold, hearing it all these years later?
Mike: Cold was Lycia’s high point in my opinion. Everything fell right into place at the right time. To me it’s a special release. Listening to it again during the preparation for the Cold LP brought back a lot of memories from those initial Ohio years. Which was good and bad at the same time. Those days were Lycia’s best so it’s nice to remember, but sad that they are so far away.
Sam: Is there anything you miss about the 90s, and all the road-work Lycia did?
Mike: I miss the way 1995 was. We were pushing forward and so many things happened. The ’95 tours were filled with such hope and excitement. Later tours I felt a bit jaded.
Sam: A lot of past LYCIA albums has a mood of nostalgia, loss, sadness, & hope. Is that still in your lyrics?
Mike: It is still very present and still very important. In fact that description would be a perfect one for Quiet Moments. If I had to describe each individual song on Quiet Moments with one word, I could use the four you just stated, and have an answer for each song. I would say that Quiet Moments is the most nostalgic release I’ve ever done. It is the most personal by far.
Sam: How are you a different person than back in the late 80s, when you were mailing me the “dreaded white cassettes” with LYCIA demos on them?
Mike: A good yet very hard question. I’d like to think that my musical vision is the same. I think it is, but obviously the way that I make music now is light years away from the way that John and I worked back then. Despite the different tools I think the end result creates a very similar mood though. I see it that way. Lifestyle though I’m a million miles away. So is my perception of things around me. But who wouldn’t be? That was 25 years ago. Oh, the dreaded white cassettes. What an idiot I was using those horrible cheap tapes. If I would have used quality cassettes back then there would at least be a chance for me to restore hours of never released music. But that will never happen.
Sam: Final question. You said Quiet Moments is sort of like a follow-up to Estrella. How do you think old-school fans will like this album?
Mike: In terms of the Lycia timeline and how it feels to me, I see Quiet Moments as a continuation of our 90s work. Estrella was the last in that line. But really I see Quiet Moments as a follow-up, in regards to mood and style, to A Day In The Stark Corner. They are the two most personal releases for me. They both have ambient and noise experimenting. In both cases I layered sound beyond what I thought I initially could. I see them a sister releases. I didn’t go into the recording with this in mind, though I did want to reconnect with the slow motion atmospheric side of Lycia’s sound again. I’m thinking that the old school people, the ones that were into Ionia and A Day In The Stark Corner, will like Quiet Moments. Well, I’m hoping they like it. For years I’ve received e-mails (and before that letters) asking for a return to that style. Well here it is.
From Ryan Lum:
For a dormant band, there’s strangely 3 Love Spirals Downwards news items for everyone:
1st, I remade the Ardor instrumental “Mirrors a Still Sky,” a new re-recording that I did in the studio this year. It’s on the Love Spirals Downwards youTube channel. I guess for that matter, the fact the we have a youTube channel may be news in itself
And 3rd, You probably heard about Suzanne performing some Love Spirals Downwards songs in Portland on August 17th at Brickbat Mansion. Facebook page.
And thanks for the new Steve Roach CD; always a pleasure to get something new from Steve. Ryan
“When desolate cityscape post-punk merged with the melancholic lyrical and theatrical pull of gothic rock in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, darkwave took form. Drawing in synth-heavy hypnotic pop and industrial chills, darkwave’s often whispered, crestfallen sound first began to take shape in a series of overlapping electronic and rock scenes that were particularly strong in European independent music circles. The resulting bands (whether favoring industrial, pop, shoegaze, or rock leanings) were frequently shrouded in a fitting sense of pitch-black subcultural and musical mystery, and in North America, Projekt Records was one of the first labels to promote the resulting surge of darkwave artists. Founded in 1983 by Sam Rosenthal, Projekt concentrated on releasing dream-pop, neoclassical, ambient, gothic rock and shoegaze bands, and Rosenthal’s own group, Black Tape for a Blue Girl, was an early exponent of darkwave’s hallmark mournful cabaret. ” – popmatters.comhere.
This 2008 interview was for the Italian Magazine Rosa Selvaggia Interview by Fabio Degiorgi e Nikita Translation questions by Laura Ferro
When you released your first album for Projekt, did you expect you wouldreach 200 releases?
Sam Rosenthal: Ha! No….. of course not. That was 24 years ago, and I was just putting out some cassettes. I had no idea it would become my job, and the way I live more than half a lifetime later….
Was it easy to select the tracks included in the three cd celebrationbox? We think it was not, considering the 199 previous releases you could selectthe tracks from, plus the unreleased tracks
Sam: Well….. I found it pretty easy. I have been thinking about this release for a couple of years. So my brain was always “processing” this question. So when the time came to actually do it, decisions had already been made. I think that’s the way my brain works, when I am designing a cover, as well. I already have an idea of the elements, so then it’s just to actually DO IT. I knew there was an remix here that nobody had heard, or an overlooked song there that I wanted to include (such as Arcanta). So it wasn’t that hard.
A statistical question for you: which Projekt album sold best? And howmany copies of it have been produced?
Sam: The best selling non-compilation release was black tape for a blue girl’s Remnants of a deeper purity which is somewhere around 17,000 now. For compilations, the best seller was Projekt: Gothic, which is around 23,000. People often have this misperception that bands sell 20,000 CDs with every release. But let me assure you that this is not the case. All of us indie bands really NEED the support of our fans. We need those sales, to keep us alive and making art.
Is there any album that sold less than you expected?
Sam: Of course. But I don’t think that it would be very kind to talk about that.
Did you ever think of releasing a vinyl edition of some of the albumsincluded in your catalogue?
Sam: Yes, I have thought about it. And then 10 seconds later I slap myself and ask, “What are you thinking?!” When we get a vinyl release in our webstore, from another label, we are lucky if we can sell 5 copies. People always talk about vinyl, but I cannot find anyone who actually buys it. Who even has a record player? I have one in a box, that I haven’t opened since 1995 !!!
Apart from the objective criteria of quality, and the fact that you must like the music, which other characteristics must a band have in order to work for Projekt?
Sam: The people need to be charming and nice to work with. I do this all day. It’s my job. The last thing I need is to deal with assholes. (laughs)
What advice would you give to a band who wants to send you a demo, hoping they will work for your label?
Sam: Please don’t. It is very rare that I sign a band from a demo. It would be better to send a link to your myspace page. Then I can listen, without feeling guilty about what to do with the demo, the packaging, the paper inside of it. It’s bad for the environment to send me demos.
Are there some groups or artists working for other labels that you would like or you would have liked to join your “team”?
Sam: Spiritual Front!!!! I can say that 100% with certainty. I absolutely am in love with Simone’s music. Ya hear me!!! I want you, baby! Come to poppa……!
About the mp3: according to many in the music field, mp3 damages the sales of music and so they damage music itself. Some other think that they can increase the sales and that they are good promotional material, because they allow listening and discovering unknown bands, or allow listening to some traks of an album that otherwise should be bought sight unseen (or, better, traks unheared). What do you think about mp3 and how do they affect the work of your label?
Sam: I used to think that it was a great thing that people could hear an MP3 on-line, and then they’d go out and buy a CD. But my optimism and faith in the human race has been defeated by the fact that people just download stuff illegally now. Music is Art. And artists need to pay their rent and their check at the restaurant., just like the rest of us And these days, people just steal us artists blind. Why don’t they go and rob banks and liquor stores as well? It’s just as horrendous. So, I think MP3s are killing bands.
Considering the long life of Projekt and considering how many artists that have worked for this label you could have enough material to write a book about its history. Did you ever think of writing a book? Is there any funny or odd anecdote you want to tell us?
Sam: Well, I’d prefer to work on my fiction book, rather than write about the ugly truths. There is so much I could say, but most of it would just come out sounding nasty and stupid and bitter. This scene is full of goth drama, ya know. I prefer to meet and hang out with people who are positive, creative & interesting. Recently I met Lucas from Cinema Strange and Deadfly Ensemble. What a great guy and what a captvatng performer.
Speaking of books, when we interviewed you in 2004 about the Black Tape For a Blue Girl, talking about the texts of “Halo Star”you said thet you were writing a book about a group of female artists from 1920’s Prague. Did you finish it? If yes, has it been published in the USA and in other countries?
Sam: Well…. I have slowly…. sloooooooowly been finishing it. I did a bunch of editing and re-arranging in October, and I think it is in final form. I would love to find a publisher for my book. People who read it have really nice things to say about it. I’d also love to come up with a name for it. I’ve also started working on new songs, which have nothing to do with the story from the book. In my head, I am calling this new album “Ten Neurotics.” And as you can guess by that name, it’s going to be about some interesting characters…. I have 5 of them started! I hope I can get a lot of progress done this summer, and maybe have it done for the fall. That would be wonderful!
Sam,thank you for your time and kindness, and we wish you that the Projekt catalogue will get to nr.400!
Sam: Eeeps! 400. I’ll be an old man by then. My Son will be in charge. = )
This page has not been updated in 1/2 a decade. We’ll get to it someday, promise!
Begun by Sam Rosenthal in 1983 as a way to release his own solo electronic music, Projekt Records spent its early life as a cassette-only label with a series of long out-of-print titles. Having previously published an underground music fanzine (Alternative Rhythms) in his native South-Florida, Rosenthal operated Projekt as a hobby while working at a local record store to support his music addiction.
Moving to Los Angeles in 1986 to attend college, Rosenthal found himself making warmer, more introspectively personal music incorporating vocals for the first time. The result was the first album under the name black tape for a blue girl, the rope, released on vinyl.
In 1989, Projekt released its first compact disc, black tape for a blue girl‘s ashes in the brittle air. Though Projekt had begun as a way to release his own art, Rosenthal began to see his label taking shape as a vehicle for exposing other artists whose passionate work impressed him. His first “discovery” was the band Lycia, signed to Projekt that year. Soon thereafter, Rosenthal was impressed with another young band, Love Spirals Downwards, whose debut release followed.
With several releases now in the CD format, Projekt found their listenership growing in America and Europe. Relying on self distribution to stores as well as their own mail-order sales, the label’s vision remained true: to release music deserving of attention with mindful care given to the aesthetic of the end result. Projekt went on to find other bands that shared their artist sense, signing discoveries Soul Whirling Somewhere, Lovesliescrushing, Thanatos in the early 90s and Arcanta, Voltaire, Peter Ulrich in the late 90s. Other artists who had established careers on other American and European labels rounded out the roster, including Steve Roach, Vidna Obmana, Attrition, Human Drama, Ordo Equitum Solis, O Yuki Conjugate and Alio Die.
In 1993, Sam began Projekt: Darkwave, a mail-order company that carried the music of Projekt as well as labels with a similar outlook, including Santa Barbara’s Tess Records, Germany’s Hyperium Records and Sweden’s Cold Meat Industry. Thousands upon thousands of printed catalogs were mailed out to fans, and a lot of great music was made available in the U.S. for the first time.
Projekt soon gained a reputation for being a label that put out music that was as good to listen to as it was to look at. The label’s album graphics, often designed by Rosenthal himself, have established a look that bespeaks the ethereal nature of the music.
Moving to Chicago in 1996, Rosenthal’s label grew in both number of releases and number of employees. Now with full-time marketing, distribution and promotion managers, Projekt became better able to meet the challenge of making people aware of the label. In 1996 Projekt celebrated their success by staging a two-day Projekt Festival at the historic Vic Theatre in Chicago. Fans from all over North America and as far away as Taiwan and England traveled to take part in the historic event. Subsequent festivals were held in 1997 and 1998, with the festival concept expanded to include Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles.
While nurturing the growth of Projekt’s select roster of artists, the company also took on the task of establishing a sub-label devoted to reissues of albums important in the history of darkwave music. Projekt: Archive has become the home to reissues by Amber Route, Area, Attrition, Controlled Bleeding, Jeff Greinke, Judgement of Paris, Shinjuku Thief, Slap, The Sleep of Reason and Vidna Obmana.
After many years of struggling with self-distribution, Projekt secured exclusive distribution in The US with ADA (The Alternative Distribution Alliance) in 1997. This union allowed Projekt to achieve a new level of visibility in the marketplace. In 1999 Projekt entered into a new agreement with Ryko Distribution (with fulfillment by WEA); this new “major label” distribution makes Projekt releases available in virtually every record store in America.
In late 1999, Sam up and moved to NYC. This is somewhere he was always heading, and it is – in a way – a fresh start for the label. As Projekt enters the new millenium, there are new faces joining the Projekt roster, adding to the label’s trademark sound while also helping to redefine the genres Projekt is known for. Look for new signees Mira, Audra, Unto Ashes, Frolic and Forrest Fang as they join the establish acts to open the door to the new century for Projekt.
(very brief update from Sam) It is now 2006, and Projekt is based in Brooklyn. We’re still around, releasing great music and keeping our heads above water in the turbulent world of “the music business.” As has always been the case, Projekt has a small roster of brilliant bands that we love. We release specialized music for our loyal fans, keeping in touch via our email list + mail-order catalogs.
We’re glad your interested in our music…. and I apologize for how out of date this page is! ; ). Stay Well.
Photo of Sam by Lisa Feuer.