Following his return as Black Tape for a Blue Girl with a brand new and highly mature album “These Fleeting Moments” (coming out on Metropolis Records), that many lovers of the sonorities he spread through his label Projekt over many years of activity will appreciate as well, we had a very in-depth chat with Sam Rosenthal.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi Sam! How are you?
Sam Rosenthal:Hi Vito. I’m doing great. It’s nice and cool here in Portland, and my cat is sleeping on her perch a foot away.
Chain D.L.K.: I’m pretty sure many people who loved your music, exclaimed “finally!” when rumors of a new Black Tape for a Blue Girl were first spreading… and most of them were maybe asking, why so many years after “10 Neurotics”…what’s your reply?
Sam Rosenthal: Really, the problem was my procrastination. I can make all kinds of reasonable excuses (work, fatherhood, not having a studio space, decline of the music industry) but those are just the ways I procrastinated. It was fueled by unhappiness with the way the music industry had changed since the release of Halo Star. I felt people didn’t care about music anymore, with the shift away from purchasing to obtaining music for free. It led to thoughts of, “What’s the point of even making music anymore?” Mentally I was not feeling motivated. I just wasn’t making music. Finally, after a lot of thinking and reading about what other artists were doing, I realized it was pointless to fight the reality of things being different then they once were. Life is always about change. And you change with it, or you stagnate and die. Creating art is all about change, discovering something new that didn’t exist at all yesterday. It took a long time to see I was using the wrong measurement of success: income and sales units. That isn’t accurate anymore. I think more people hear my music now than ever before, they just don’t pay for it. As an artist, I had to figure out what would allow me to keep making art. That led to crowdfunding and reconnecting with people who loved my music and were interested in helping make it happen. The frustration led to a positive connection and new art. Things ended up nicely; it just took many more years than I wanted, to get to “These fleeting moments.”
Chain D.L.K.: I happen to be one of those people who think you don’t really need any introduction, but how would you introduce yourself to teenagers and/or people who had no chances (for age-related reasons) to live the booming years of Black Tape for a Blue Girl and that big wave you gave voice to by means of the legendary Projekt?
Sam Rosenthal: I think that most people these days don’t think about “record labels” like we do. The idea that a company would serve as a source of a certain kind of music would seem somewhat archaic to teenagers. That’s what Projekt did:
It gathered together like-minded and somewhat stylistically-similar artists, and encouraged them to create. My job was to oversee that, and provide a safe place for artists to do their work, and not feel pressured to “be commercial.” But in a great sense, that time has passed. Black Tape For A Blue Girl was at the front of the Projekt label for the first ten years. It was the best known and best selling band. Then in the mid-90s, the business took over and swept away my ability to focus on my band. It has taken another 20 years to come back to putting my own art first.
Chain D.L.K.: I guess you talked about the vastness of Projekt catalog many times…before we temporarily stop speaking of it, I’d like to ask you if there any albums you’re planning to re-issue…
Sam Rosenthal: All the important Projekt albums remain in print. The ones you might be thinking about are from bands who got the rights back after the contract expired; Projekt no longer has those albums. Many are out-of-print, but that is the band’s dumb choice. I never created a contract that gave Projekt eternity rights to the albums; as an artist, I didn’t find that fair. Nevertheless, Projekt keeps releasing interesting music.
Chain D.L.K.: We spoke about the vastness of Projekt, we could start talking about the vastness of life… the reference is of course to the opening suite of your new album. Would you say life is so vast that it’s a miracle there’s a hopefully welcomed return, Oscar Herrera, in a Black Tape for a Blue Girl?
Sam Rosenthal: Life is so vast, that anything is possible. At the same time, we have to go out there and make it possible. Imagine it, and then pull it out of the invisible into the visible.
Oscar decided to retire from music many years ago. Every now and again I’d ask if he’d like to sing on an album, and this time he said yes. Which is to all of our good fortune. I wrote songs that showcase his vocal range and style. I really enjoy hearing his voice in my music again. And we’re going to create more music together.
Chain D.L.K.: The lyrics of the first part of “The Vastness of Life” sound related to the return to the stage of BTFABG, don’t they?
Sam Rosenthal: You are right that there are certain bits of the first part’s lyrics that are about Blacktape. That is a secondary thread that runs through the song: the memories, the feeling of being rejected, a return. But the main thread is about being authentically myself in relationships. I had a habit of trying to present the best personality, the one that I thought people would like and keep around. “I told you the story of myself that I thought you wanted to hear.” The song asks what would happen if you knew the real me? Would you still love me? So it’s really about breaking through fear-created façades, to be authentic and real. And then see what the reaction is, if a lover is presented with the truth.
The last line of “The vastness of life” is, “Life will pass us in an instant, and what have I done with mine?” I’m 50 years old. I don’t want to feel death’s tap on my shoulder and think, “Oh shit, all these things I wanted to do! If only I had a bit more time!” I have to live now. Because now is all I have.
Chain D.L.K.: I guess the fact you titled this album like the first song of “A Chaos of Desire” is not an accident…
Sam Rosenthal: That’s right. “These fleeting moments” seems to be a perfect encapsulation of what the songs on this album are about. The underlying theme of the album is that life isn’t permanent; we’re not immortal. All we have are brief experiences, fleeting moments with other people, and fleeting moments on this earth. And if we’re living a lie during the few moments that we have, then what have we really accomplished?
I think fear is a big motivator for people’s actions, or rather their inactions. And living in fear isn’t going to give you a fulfilling life. We have to jump into the abyss of our own truths, and live a full life.
In the final song, I wrote it as if I was speaking to my son from my deathbed. And saying, “Don’t feel sad, I lived a great life.” We have to be sure to live our life, so we can look back and feel good about what we did in our years here on earth.
Chain D.L.K.: I was surprised by the stylistic heterogeneity of “These Fleeting Moments” and its substantial homogeneity at the same time…would you say this aspect is a sign of maturity?
Sam Rosenthal: I had to go to the dictionary for this one: “Heterogeneity is a word that signifies diversity. Homogeneity is the sameness of things.” So let me see. I think there are a number of different stylistic moods on the album, but having one person as the director allows a vision that brings them all together into a whole. I see myself a lot like a film director. During the process of creation, I am the only person who has the whole concept visualized. The song order, the lyrics, the artwork…. I know what I want to happen within an album. I write a bunch of songs, then trim back to focus on the ones that I think best fit with that concept. The singers and musicians don’t know the big picture. They are the amazing actors who bring the story to life.
You ask if this is a sign of maturity? Well, I think I’ve been doing this throughout all the albums. Creating diverse tracks that still all work together.
So yeah, maturity? I think early Blacktape was quite mature for a 21 or 22 year old. Now I am better at making music, better able to create songs as I imagine them. Back in the early days, I got the best I could from myself.
Chain D.L.K.: I don’t know if it makes sense to refer to a gothic scene since the one Projekt fans knew today…or would you say there’s a gothic scene still?
Sam Rosenthal: I know there are still people who consider themselves gothic, but I don’t know if the music that is played “in the scene” is what I would consider “Goth.” It’s a lot more electronic and industrial than what we called goth back in the day. But then again, I play a lot of electronics in my own music (laughs).
I think “gothic” is a concept, an aesthetic, a way of looking at life. I am personally not morose and sad. But I know my music fits into the gothic scene.
Chain D.L.K.: The melancholically sweetest moment of the album, “Affinity,” starts as follows…”The past: fading stories/ the future: unknown borders”…and the present?
Sam Rosenthal: The present is the moment you make the choice. Will it be about fear and the past, or will it be about enlargening yourself and moving into that unknown future?
“Affinity” means “a spontaneous or natural liking or sympathy for someone or something.” And I think we have to make that spontaneous choice, and then live the life it points to. And when that choice leads to a dead end, if it’s no longer rewarding, or no longer helping you grow, then you make a new choice and live a new life. Society is too interested in locking us into a path, a rut. School, career, relationships. We’re told to pick one and stick with it. But there is nothing wrong with moving on, and finding a new spontaneous affection for something or someone. That’s life!
Chain D.L.K.: Is there a song from your last album that tormented your dreams for a while?
Sam Rosenthal: Oh yeah, “Limitless.” I think I wrote seven different sets of lyrics for that song, trying to find out what it was about. It started out as “Alaska” and then went through changes, and then came back to “Alaska” – and then in the last few weeks before Oscar and Dani came to town to record, I rewrote it as “Limitless.” “Alaska” appears on the “Limitless” single that was released right before the album. You can hear two completely different lyrics and melodies on the same backing track.
Chain D.L.K.: …and who’s that skeleton?
Sam Rosenthal: You and I are the skeleton, Vito.
The song was inspired by Thich Nhat Hahn. We think we are this body that exists in this world, but the body is just the house for our spirit, at this moment. And we obsess about the body, and the ego, and don’t see the much larger world that is out there for us. So become more than the body, the skeleton lying on the ground. The idea is that embracing your own death – dying while you are still alive – permits living a true and authentic life.
Chain D.L.K.: That Buddha statue in the cover artwork… did you get closer to Buddhism?
Sam Rosenthal: I wouldn’t say that I am Buddhist. But I have read a lot of Thich Nhat Hahn, and other writers that discuss peeling away the layers, and the false beliefs that we use to entrance and trap ourselves. Buddhists talk a lot about suffering; a phrase I believe in is, “Suffering is caused by our inability to accept reality as it is.” Reality might be the end of a relationship, or the changes in the music business, or whatever applies at the moment. But if I keep trying to make the world conform to what it is not, then I will suffer. It’s better to accept what is reality, and then make a new choice with the right facts.
I get more of my beliefs from the writer Carlos Castaneda. Not the drug parts of his work, but the Naugal / spiritual ideas: living an impeccable life that tries to be free of ego, and self-importance, can lead to our desires and dreams. I think people spend the day in ego-powered obliviousness. They waste their energy on things that don’t truly matter, and wind up not having energy for the things that they wish were possible.
The idea is that whatever you focus on expands in your life. Spending too much time thinking about all the bad things – the shitty people, the stupid drama, the nastiness – only creates more bad things in your life. I try to envision what it is I want. And work to have it happen. Creating a song, or album, or a new relationship.
The ability to envision is the first step to it happening. It is called “thinking from the end.” Making art is definitely that way. At first, the end is just a vague idea of having the album exist. But as more songs are created, and more focus is put on it, I start seeing what it’s about thematically, and what it needs, and what concept might make a good cover. I imagine it existing, and then it does.
Chain D.L.K.: I see you’ve invited listeners who maybe don’t know your band to download a free compilation from your bandcamp… any interesting feedback following this operation?
Sam Rosenthal: Well, no. I hear very little from people, except from the really great folks who back my releases at Kickstarter and Patreon. Everyone can go download the compilation: https://blacktapeforabluegirl.bandcamp.com/album/the-collection-free and they can also stream all the albums there.
Chain D.L.K.: Any plan to bring Black Tape for a Blue Girl to the live stage?
Sam Rosenthal: Zero chances of a live show, unless somebody comes along and offers a lot of money (laughs). It is just not economical to do a show, lose money, and not be able to pay my band. I’m not going to ask them to work for free. That’s not right. And honestly, I’d rather spend time on music instead of getting ready to play a show. I already have four new songs with my part of the music written and recorded. I’m thinking about lyrics, figuring out what the songs are about. Then I will record the singers, and the other musicians. My idea is to have them finished around the new year, and release a digital EP. Within the new streaming music economy, bands need to stay active, with regular new releases. I want to put out a few EPs, then take some of the songs and some unreleased songs, and make the next album. Hopefully for release at the end of 2017. I am definitely not going to wait 7 years until the follow-up to “These fleeting moments.” For certain!
Thanks for the interview. It feels like a very long time since I’ve had the chance to talk with Chain DLK’s readers. I appreciate this!
visit Sam Rosenthal on the web at:
Black Tape for a Blue Girl – www.blacktapeforabluegirl.com
Projekt Records – www.projekt.com
Sam Rosenthal photography – sam-r.com