Tape For a Blue Girl
Interview by Brendan Merritt
Sam Rosenthal and Lisa Feuer are two of the main members of Projekt Records recording artist Black Tape for a Blue Girl. Since 1986, Sam has been not only the creative force behind this ensemble, but the guiding force behind Projekt Records as well. Lisa currently plays Flute and does backing vocals for the group, as well as helping out Sam with the monumental task of running a recording label, promoting their acts, maintaining an E-mail list and touring. We were very lucky that the two of them took some time out to engage in an E-mail interview with Paradigm Shift. Black Tape's new album is As One Aflame Laid Bare by Desire and is scheduled for release january 12th 1999. Their music, sometimes minimal, sometimes lush, is always hauntingly beautiful. The new album should be no exception.
You'll see why...
Q:In your view how does the new album differ from your previous efforts? Describe this.
Sam: For me, "As one aflame..." is more melodic than past albums. I think that is the result of working with musicians who are very good on their instruments, as opposed to the past, where more of the music was electronics. It gives me a chance to write parts for them, or have them improvise something within the framework of my songs.
Q: Is there a particular reason( philosophical or otherwise) for your movement toward less of an electronic sound?
Sam: Does it have a less electronic sound to you? It uses just as much electronics (as a backbone) as ever, really. I think that the musicianship of Lisa and Vicki gives it a more natural sound . . . because you notice that they are doing something very interesting. While on the earlier albums, the natural players really didn't have lead parts, they were just part of the environment.
Lisa: I think it can be partially attributed to happy coincidences where Sam realized that this band member or that friend (or in my case, girlfriend) were trained or accomplished musicians on a particular instrument. The coincidence was too good to pass up, a good opportunity to experiment with different elements. I don't see it so much as a conscious choice...
Q: Do you ever get the urge to just "rock out"? :)
Sam: No. I find that "rockin' out" stuff to be pretty out-dated, really. It was useful in the 50's and 60's when rock-n-roll was born; but now it's old news.
Lisa: I've always fantasized about being the front person in a band - singing and moving around, really connecting with the audience, like Toni Halliday from Curve or Tina Root from Switchblade Symphony.
Our music,though, has a very different feel and that wouldn't be so appropriate. Also, I am not a lead singer - I don't have that kind of voice, so I can't really front a band. I can handle backing vocals and that is about the extent of my vocal ablilities
Q: I read in another interview that your early musical interest consited of 70's rock.
Sam: Well, when you grow up in the 70s and listen to the radio, you cannot help but listen to that music. My faves were the 'weird' bands like Alice Cooper or Frank Zappa or Jethro Tull . . . so it's not like I was a big Don Henley fan (laughs!) . . . later, that evolved into Kraftwerk and Eno and Tangerine Dream in the early 80s. So I was always listening to the weirder music.
Q: Lisa is this the same for you too?
Lisa: I wasn't really very aware of popular music until the early eighties, when I became addicted to MTV! My favorites were Duran Duran, Culture Club, Thompson Twins, ABC, Roxy Music and especially David Bowie. I wasn't really exposed to goth - being from an almost rural area - until the mid eighties, but once I heard bands like The Cure and Bauhaus, I knew where my tastes lay.
Q This seems odd considering the heavy classical mood of much of the black tape albums. Why is this?, does it have to do with the nature of your collaborative creative process? What is that process?
Sam: I don't really perceive black tape having a 'classical mood' because I don't know anything about playing music. If you ask me to play something classic, I will just stare like a deer in a headlights. It is Vicki's playing - in my opinion - that adds a classical element. She's trained in Western and Indian Classical music.
As far as the creative process . . . I begin the songs on the keyboards, working up sounds into songs. I write the words and the melodies . . . and then I invite the musicians in to add to that. Sometimes, such as with the lyrics, my idea is very formed . . . and Oscar or Julianna starts with my melody and then embellish that. With the oboe and nearly all of Lisa's flutes, I wrote out the parts and they added flourish and human life. Vicki, on the other hand, comes in and improvises over the top. Adding melody and form at times. So the process is very much like a collage, and I am the director and the editor.
Vicki commented that it is hard for her to get an idea of the finished form of the album, because she is only aware of parts . . . but I have the idea of where it all goes and how it all works together.
Q: You and Lisa seem to have a creative relationship that is more than an actor director dynamic. Could you (both) tell us about this? Does this influence the nature of the material in any major way?
Lisa: Well - as far as the band goes - Sam really is still the director musically - at least at this point in time. He has had specific melodic ideas for the flute - ideas which worked into the framework as a whole, that didn't stomp on other people's parts. I did create my part on "entr'acte [the garden awaits us]," and I do hope in the future to create more music - both more solo material to be incorporated into black tape, as well as parts within black tape pieces. I think the key is affording ourselves enough time to really work together. With our recent touring schedule, there was a definite time constraint on creating "as one aflame laid bare by desire."
Outside of the band, I do find that my relationship with Sam is very inspirational to my creativity. I am a dancer/choreographer, and not only is Sam very supportive, but I feel our relationship - our exchanges -inspire my material very much. Both his music and his lyrics touch me in ways that inspire movement. He introduces me to great thinkers/artists/writers/musicians of whom I was unaware. His views and ideas inspire ideas in me - and these ideas can help me to evolve and grow as an artist - and as a person...I can only hope that I also provide him with some inspiration!
Q: There seems to be a renewed interest in music of a darker (gothic)nature these days. What do you think of the phenomenon, and how do you view the role of Projekt as a whole, and Black Tape in particular, in relation to this? Also, where do you see this music going? Is this a "fin de siecle" revival?
Sam: Somebody else mentioned that theory to me, which I find interesting. Which is to say that as the century draws to a close, people are taking a moment to reflect, and noticing the darkness around the silver lining. I think that there is a lot more interest in darker music and fortunately Projekt is here to provide some music in that direction. Sure, I would say that Projekt has taken part in the genre . . . we have been doing it for over a decade; but there are also other bands and labels that shouldn't be forgotten.
Q: Speaking of other labels, it seems that there are and have been a number of labels in the Chicago area that lean heavily on the darker, edgy side of the scene, most notibly Wax Trax, and Invisible. Is there something in the water there?
Sam: I don't see myself as part of that. I started Projekt when I was in Florida and it grew alot in California. Chicago *DOES* have a sizeable scene, but as it is one of the largest cities in the US that make sense.
Q. Is this reflective of the musical scene in Chicago in general?
Sam: Chicago is certainly more of a hotbed for goth/ethereal activity than say Atlanta or Miami . . . even though those places have scenes as well. I couldn't tell you why, in a philosophical way. I just attribute it to there being a lot of people living here, so there is a higher chance of people being into this kind of music.
Q. How does this effect the way you do business, or does it?
Sam: It doesn't. Our records and fans are nationwide. We are not a 'regional phenomena' like perhaps the Chicago house scene -- or whatever Chicago is known for. I don't really keep up with that sorta stuff. I just do what I do.
Q: Do you see your label as successor to the void left by the 4AD label, with reguard to ambient ethereal music.
Sam: I think that people perceive it that way. I really didn't have that in mind, when I was signing bands. I just gathered together artists who created music that I enjoyed . . . and the fact that it follows in the 4AD tradition is a complement, though NOT the intention . . .
Q: What is your take on ambient techno?
Sam: I think it's dreck.
Q: Lisa, how do you see this album as different?
Lisa: Well, this is a tough question for me, and my answer is a personal one, as someone involved in its creation... It is the first disc that I play on, so I can't see it in the same way as I see the others - I can't really compare it. The others speak to me of Sam's emotions at those points in time, but there was a sense of mystery...Who is this person really? What exactly did he go through? How did he feel? How much did he hurt? However, being involved with this disc, witnessing its creation and development, as well as being involved intimately and personally with Sam - has put me too close to it. I just can't see it in the same way. It is sort of like watching an illusionist and wondering how the tricks are done, but then becoming his assistant and learning the secret to each trick - but also really enjoying working with the illusionist and really enjoying entertaining the audience... Does that make sense?
Sam: Awww? Does that mean it means less to you?
Lisa: I know that if I were NOT involved in the making of the disc, it WOULD still have as much mystery as before. I know the fans will feel it still.
Q: you mentioned in the liner notes to "Aflame" that there is a song that related to a passage in the book "venus In furs". How has this book influenced your work? Are the subjects of dominance and submission somthing that are important to you?
Sam: With the song "Tell me you've taken another," I wanted to write something that was very over-the-top and dramatic. On "For you will burn your wings upon the sun" (off "Remnants") I wrote the lyrics from the perspective of a lover who was destroyed by his beloved betraying him. So I decided to write a song that would contrast that one, a lover who enjoyed the feeling of being betrayed. He desired that hurt and pain.
"Do you know this joy of being betrayed and left like a dog?"
I didn't have all the emotional baggage available to write this song with utmost honesty, so I looked to Masoch's "Venus in Furs" for inspiration for what the character in the song might be thinking.
As far as the subjects of dominance and submission . . . I find them interesting, yes. Even exciting. I think that people fall into complacent states. They assume roles. "The tough guy," "the sensitive guy" --- and it is interesting to think about other roles, portraying a character. Not for the rest of your life . . . but just occasionaly.
Q:what other Writing has influenced this album? Reading ony good books now?
Sam: As far as the concept goes, "Aflame" has been influenced by Marcel Duchamp, who is a visual artist who did most of his work in the 1920s and 30s. Many of the ideas within "As one aflame..." are infused with Duchampian concepts. Where do I begin? Most of his later work deals with desire; the idea that there could be a way to visually portray the mechanism of desire. Within his work are many ideas about this erotic desire, which I reconstructed into my songs. The idea that erotic desire could be a motivator for you; that it could sorta kick-start your motor, and lead to revelations.
(editors note:see http://www.freshwidow.com/duchamp-aug96.html )
Marcel Duchamp was the biggest influence on the ideas of this album,even though a lot of that came from reading about his work . . . rather than just his writings. He was a visual artist, but he also wrote text to accompany his work. Check out . . . . Http://duchamp.org
Q: There is an almost religeous nature to the sound that you have created,is this intentional? What , if any, spiritual paths influence you and your band members ?
Sam: I don't see it as religious, myself. I think it deals (lyrically) with the same issues and questions that religion does. Ethical questions of right and wrong; of correct paths for self; but I don't look at that as being any one specific religious nature. I guess 'religion' has sort of a bad connotation to me . . . but spirituality is different. So, I personally am not influenced by any religion or spiritual path. I am more of an atheist or existentialist . . . Maybe you should ask Lisa about that one . . .
Lisa: Well, although I was raised as Jewish, the spirituality that comes out in my work as a choreographer - and I do feel that my work is very spriritual - really comes more from that Divine Spark within, much more than from any religious doctrine I was taught. Whether that Divine Spark is "God" or the collective unconscious or just my heart and soul pouring out, I don't know.
I just know that at that moment, the moment I am performing my work for others - offering the fruits of that creative force within me - that moment is a transcendent one. I am totally lost and absorbed in that moment and inthat moment I feel the closest to whatever the source of that Spark is. I feel total bliss!
Q: you are obviously very involved with the evolution of the internet in terms of media distribution. The major labels for the most part seem to be threatened by the profusion of "free" information on net. How do do feel about this as a muscian and a producer? Do you think mp3s are a threat to profitability, or a great way to try before you buy?
Sam: Uh? I am not as hip at all of that as you think. I have no real problem with the concept of try before you buy, cause it can only HELP little indie labels grow. As far as the actual mechanics of it, beats me!!!
Q:Do you think the internet will help or hurt the industry as a whole? Will it infulence taste in the way that MTV now dose?
Sam: Not in the same way. Because MTV was one specific signal beamed into everyone's living room. So one message was forced upon the masses. That would (of course) cause people to buy the things they were force-fed. The internet has an infinite number of messages, therefore it cannot influence in the same way.
Q: Lisa, What Do you think?
Lisa: I feel it can only help the industry. It is a way to bring awareness to all sorts of people who might not be exposed to certain music or certain bands otherwise. I think it is really great for bands on independent labels like ours, who can't have the same kind of promotion in other realms that bands on major labels have. As far as MTV's and the internet's influence, well, when I used to watch a lot of MTV, I was able to choose what I like and didn't - what I was drawn to. I think the internet will be the same. It will educate people as to what is out there and then they can choose what interests them.
Q: what is your favorite use of technology (besides music making)?
Sam: Hm? I prefer NOT to be involved with technology for 'fun'. I get enough of email and computers at work. I would rather go to a movie of go out to dinner.
Q: So what DO you people do for fun?
Sam: Fun? Projekt doesn't allow me time for fun :)
Lisa: I like to go out dancing at goth clubs, spend time with friends, watch movies, travel, go to art museums, and hang out at cafes - not necessarily in that order. I especially like spending time with Sam and with our kitty!
Q: i have never had the opportunity to see you live, do you feel there is a clean translation from the studio to the stage in your sound? How is one diferent from the other? What kind of audience do you get?
Sam: I think that live is much more of "PLAYBACK MODE" while the studio is the creative mode. Some bands 'make music' on stage (such as Steve Roach) .
. . while black tape is there to recreate what has been recorded on the records. That said, live is quite different from records, in that it is a different line-up. Oscar and Julianna are not in the live band. For me, the goal of a show is to create the environment and mood of a black tape album, using previously written songs; but with different band members by necessity. The current live band is myself on electronics + vocals, Elysabeth on vocals + viola, Lisa on flute + backing vocals, and someone to be added on guitar + cello.
Thanks for doing this interview with us.
PS: your quite wellcome and if people want more info, they should email email@example.com with Subscribe as their subject . . . and they will be added to the band's mailing list.
To contact Sam firstname.lastname@example.org
to join black tape mailing list, click the link above
For more information on the band, and their new and current releases go to http://www.projekt.com/bands/btfabg.html
Music by Black Tape for Blue Girl