Black Tape for a Blue Girl
Interview with Sam Rosenthal
Tell me about the origin of the Black Tape for a Blue Girl name and the reasons that led you to create this musical diary in the late 80s. Did you have any kind of prior education in the first place, or are you basically self-taught?
I had no particular musical education, except for taking part of a band in high school and not being very good at it.
Why do people make music? For me, it was a way to express my inner angst and anxiety; that was why I started doing it in the early 80s, though, of course, now I do it because it is something I like doing and I am good at doing. I never really learned how to make music properly, I just put together sounds that I liked to hear!
This year celebrates the twentieth anniversary of your label, Projekt. Looking back at what you’ve accomplished so far, tell me a little about your fondest and worst memories throughout the years, as well as if you’d have liked to deal with something or someone in a different way.
Projekt is something I came up with many years ago, when I was still making cassettes in my bedroom. There is no secret meaning to it, or really even any intense thought, as I was just having a bit of fun putting out cassettes. I never expected that I’d still be at it 20 years later, or being able to (sort of) put food on the table for my family by means of the kind of music Projekt releases.
I really cannot say about fondest or worst memories, because Projekt is a job that I go to, that still is fun at times, but isn’t as glamorous as you might think. I believe that my biggest problem is that I taught myself how to be a businessman over the years, which means that a lot of business mistakes were made along the way. It’s all rather tedious, but I know what I would do differently, given the chance!
Personally, there are three albums of Black Tape for a Blue Girl that I hold dearly: The Rope, Mesmerized by the Sirens and Remnants of a Deeper Purity. Nowadays, what are your thoughts on these three pieces (both lyrically and musically) and what is your most cherished work in every aspect so far?
I definitely look at old albums as artifacts from a certain period, and I really don’t have any interest in “fixing” them, because they are what they are. Jean Cocteau said something about Art taking on a life of its own when it leaves the creator and I agree. The albums are what they are and the fans enjoy them for what they are. It would be difficult to give individual impressions, because that assumes that I listen to them regularly and can reflect on them. The fans get to listen and enjoy my albums far more than I do, because when I hear them now, I still remember when they were recorded. They never are “just music” or “just entertainment”, which isn’t to say that I am not pleased with what I created, just that my impressions might be more like “Oh, that studio where we recorded the vocals for The Scar of a Poet was very dark and had wood walls!”
As far as my preferred work, naturally it has to be the newest album, The Scavenger Bride, because that is the most successful, in my mind (well, I like the brand new material I have written even better). A new album is due out in the autumn…
Your albums have this distinct dark, gothic and ethereal ambiance to them, so I always wondered what drove you to lean towards these spheres. Tell me also about what you like best in film, literature and music.
I cannot say that there is a specific reason why I make the darker music that I create.
As a kid, I was a fan of Alice Cooper, Jethro Tull, Kraftwerk, Gary Numan… kind of in that order. Is there a logical reason why I would create the music of Black Tape for a Blue Girl with those artists as influences? I don’t really think so. However, they were all “outsiders”, in a certain way…
You once decided to delve in a one-off experiment that was a tad different (Before the Buildings Fell), as it touched certain unusual electronic territories once explored by Tangerine Dream or Terrace of Memories (an effort you worked in collaboration with Vidna Obmana). What influenced you to write it and why remaster it for CD under the Black Tape for a Blue Girl name afterwards? Speaking of Tangerine Dream, what are your views on this incredible entity? Are you also into records like Radio-Activity or Trans Europe Express by Kraftwerk?
Before the Buildings Fell was recorded at the same time as The Rope, actually. Some of the songs became The Rope and some did not. The reason to reissue it in 2000 as “Black Tape for a Blue Girl’s Sam Rosenthal” was because I was hoping people would find it in the record stores under that label (not that it really worked!).
As far as Tangerine Dream, I really cannot listen to them these days. A few albums, like Phaedra or Stratosfear, still have a place for me, but they put out so much crap (so many awful albums) that I just don’t care to listen to them. Now Kraftwerk is a different story! I still love their music! When that first voice begins singing on the Radioactivity album it’s a very chilling thing!
How do you feel about the variety of labels in Music? Speaking of which, how do you look upon the term “Gothic” when used to describe your sound?
I think that people need to categorise because life has too many choices. For instance, if you like Conway Twitty, you need to know that you enjoy old-school Country music, so you don’t accidentally buy the new Marilyn Manson record! But it’s the way humans work; the brain likes to sort things to help process what is available in the world. I don’t have a problem with being considered a gothic artist, because it makes it easier for like-minded people to discover my music…
I read that London After Midnight wanted to be a part of Projekt when you started up the label: is there any truth to this? Do you like what they do musically? I ask because I’ve always noticed some influences from The Cure in their sound and I suspect that you enjoy their work.
In retrospect, not signing London After Midnight was the stupidest decision I made. It was around 1992 and I thought “Oh no, Projekt is an ethereal label!”, rather than using my ears to hear what they were creating. I agree that there is a certain The Cure element in their sound and I love most of what The Cure has done (Lisa and I were watching the Trilogy DVD a few weeks ago, actually). So I should have listened and went “Hey, this is good!”, but like too many people, I had my head up my ass (laughs).
When signing artists what are the most important factors for you?
I have to like the music and I have to think there’s an audience I can reach (who will buy the music). I might sign a band that I think can only sell 500 CD’s if I feel I can access enough fans to make it worthwhile for all three of us: artist, audience, label.
You said that you were raised as an agnostic Jew. I recall reading something about the attitudes of such a person towards religious ceremonies, in that the individual participates in a ritual that doesn’t glorify God, but he doesn’t believe in its direct meaning (in a religious sense); in other words, he doesn’t take for granted the essence of said rite. Do you think this in agreement with said ceremony? What are your views on religion and spirituality?
Wow! There was way too much thought put into that question! I, personally, don’t think there is a god, sitting in a throne, who makes rules and cares about our lives! There’s probably some sort of “force” that makes things work, but it’s not going to have human form; more likely, it could be explained via science – the forces of nature and reality. I “do” believe that you have to take responsibility for acting “correctly” towards the rest of the creatures on the Earth, but that’s probably more of an ethical question. People do way too much damage out of selfish interests, whether it’s on a personal level or on a national level. People think “God” is on their side – Pat Robertson recently said “God” told him George Bush will win the 2004 election in a blowout – and they justify their crimes that way. I am sorry, but if humans blow the world up, nobody wins, while on the other hand nobody cares. There’s no force “out there” who is placing bets on humans succeeding and guiding our civilisation towards something better. People have to take “God” out of the equation and realise “Fuck! Nobody is stopping us from killing our neighbours, destroying our environment and blowing this place up: We better start behaving rationally here.”
You once edited a fanzine. When and for how long did it happen?
That was in the early 80s, from about 1982 to 1986. I really cannot recall the details without digging through boxes that contain them and I don’t have the time… I remember I had New Order on one cover, Frank Zappa on another, Robert Fripp on one… interviews, so to say!
Tell me about your future projects regarding Black Tape for a Blue Girl and Projekt.
I have been working on material for a new album, which is why it has taken me so painfully long to get this interview answered… There is about 50 minutes of material in various stages of being complete, from all done and just in need of a mix (Damn Swan! and Your Love Is Sweeter Than Wine), to very rudimentary structures; but it’s a process of building upon parts and working towards the final album. I am very pleased with the music, as it has more of an acoustic element (thanks to Michael’s guitar and percussion). The songs are sparse, yet dramatic and I am very happy with the lyrics that I have completed: they are dramatic! Look forward to an album in the autumn…
Black Tape for a Blue Girl