Sunday, 18th February 2018. 1:22:28pm ET
Interviews Ethereal Interview- Black Tape for a Blue Girl
Band: Black Tape for a Blue Girl
Interviewer: Joshua Heinrich
Date: 10/27/04

Black Tape for a Blue Girl's recently released 9th album, Halo Star (read my review here), adds an interesting and adventurous new dimension to Black Tape's sound, incorporating a number of rock elements into the band's trademark ethereal blend. Through the miracle of cyberspace, I recently caught up with central Black Tape for a Blue Girl member and Projekt Records head Sam Rosenthal while on the east coast leg of Black Tape's US tour.

Hi Sam. Thanks for doing the interview. I'm assuming your schedule is pretty hectic at the moment between the new Black Tape album and everything else going on at Projekt. How are things going over there?

October 27th, in a hotel in Framingham Mass, on tour....

Halo Star, while having some hints of early Black Tape releases, is obviously considerably different from your other recent work. How did the new sound come about? Was there any conscious attempt made to sort of recapture or incorporate the percussion and guitar of Black Tape's early days? The album also bears certain similarities to other Projekt bands, and the live band currently includes Audra's Bret Helm, Bart Helm, and J. DeWolfe. Were you influenced by other bands signed to the label or, perhaps, by what the label's current fan base seems drawn to?

Yes and No. After recording The Scavenger Bride, i felt a certain satisfaction that I had created an album in the heavenly voices/ethereal genre that perfectly captured the sound. I didn't have a burning need to do it again, you know? I felt I had achieved that sound. Knowing that I don't get to work on music as often as I would like to, I took some time to think about just what I would do differently on a new album. In that way, it was a challenge. To think of a new way to approach my music, yet still end up with something that sounded like my music.

What I decided was that I would like to write an album that was more emotional, more song-structured and more male-oriented. I guess it is true that there was a certain influence from bands on Projekt, in so far as I wanted to write more 'immediate' music, rather than cerebral music. Reading Shikhee's lyrics reminded me about the way I use to write words, more in the moment and more of a scream, rather than a thought.... does that make sense?

I think that bringing in Michael from Unto Ashes to play percussion, guitar and dulcimer created a change in the sound, though I think most Unto Ashes fans would agree that Michael is playing more in a "rock" mode here than he does in his own work. I like to mix it up a bit in the sound.....

Sam, where as your synth work has been the fundamental element in much of Black Tape's catalog, your electronics often take on more of a supporting role this time around. How did writing and arranging this album differ from previous Black Tape albums? Did the supporting musicians have more of a role in this album than they have in the past? How did the other musicians' interpretations and ideas for arrangements play into the recording sessions?

I think that on previous albums, a lot of the really interesting contributions of the band got sort of buried under all the layers of electronics. I mean, that was part of the concept of the sound on an album like Remnants of a Deeper Purity. It was made up of a deep electronic wash of sound. But I wanted to let the other instruments be heard. My songwriting worked the same way on HALO STAR, in so far as I began with a sound or a chord and then built up from there. The difference is that I stopped adding my parts sooner. I left the songs in a more sparse state, and then asked Michael or Vicki to add their parts to the music. This made the contributions more noticeably part of the arrangement of the song, and it gave the music a different energy on many of the songs.

The new album is the first in quite some time to make prominent use of a male vocalist. What type of dynamic do you feel that brought to this album? Is it something you've felt has been missing from recent Black Tape albums that you wanted to incorporate into this one, or did it just sort of happen with Bret naturally falling into the role? Your own vocals on some of the albums, while somewhat processed and, perhaps, a bit more subdued, were quite good. Did you ever think about stepping into the role of lead vocalist yourself after Oscar's departure?

(laughs) Oh, No! I'm not a singer. I am not a lead vocalist. I definitely knew that if I wanted this album to recapture the male energy that I had in my earlier work with Oscar, then I'd have to find a true singer to do it for me. I have known Bret for five or six years now, he's one of my closest on-line friends. I think personalities are an important part of making a decision about who will be in the band. Because we're gonna have to spend a lot of time together in the van on tour. I not only needed to find a voice that was able to capture my music, but I needed to find a person that I can get along with. And Bret is both of those things. I am really pleased with the way Bret's voice sounds on HALO STAR. He did really amazing things with his range and creating harmonies, and doubled vocal tracks. We recorded most of Bret's vocals at Steve Roach's Timeroom studio in Tucson, and that was a great experience.....

The current live lineup is somewhat more rock-oriented with two guitarists and percussion. Have you radically rearranged any of your old material for the current lineup or have you chosen setlists based on the current lineup? If you have rearranged material, how did you go about it, and how has fan response been?

The fans absolutely love the new line-up. We have a lot of energy on stage. And we also are having a great time performing the music, and that comes across to the audience. There's actually three guitarists at times, which is probably not something that anyone would have expected from black tape. As far as older songs, we do "Across a thousand blades" from 1988, "Decomposed by the fire of the firmament" from 1993 and "Remnants of a deeper purity" from 1996. I feel that they are pretty authentic to the originals, honestly.

If I'm not mistaken, Lisa is not part of the live lineup this time around. What effect has that had on the band dynamic? Has your current family life made being out on the road touring more difficult?

Lisa's at home with our 2.4 year old son, Sasha. He's not yet ready to be away from her for long periods of time, nor is he ready for a life in a van and hotels. It has changed the sound of the band, because the flute is a very melodic instrument, so we have taken her lead melodies and transfer them to the viola or electric guitar. But the flute isn't something that you do a lot of processing on, so it's a clear and direct melodic line that has been removed. Yeah, i miss it...but it's just a variation to the whole. Lisa will be involved in future recordings, and of course Sasha will get older and more independent, and then we will see what we do....

For our musician/producer readers, could you please elaborate a bit on the synths you're currently using and your instrument and recording setup?

Ack! You're all gonna think I am a caveman, because I am still using synths from the 80s and 90s. My main sampler / module is an Ensoniq ESI4000 with the turbo (so it has built in effects). My sequencer and controller keyboard is an ESQ1. For recording, I use Sonic Foundary's Vegas on a dreaded PC. Steve Roach showed me this software, and I love how easy it is to use. but PCs are crap! : )

You once released a compilation of various video art pieces featuring Black Tape and non-Black Tape solo material titled Fragments. Have you done any work in this medium since or is this a medium you'd like to pursue again in the future?

I would love to work on Video again some day. the quality of recording and editing that you can do on a low budget is so much better than the pieces on Fragments which are all from my college days in the 80s. The problem always is time. I don't have enough to work on my music, so when will I find the time to work on Video?

Where do you see Black Tape for a Blue Girl going next? Do you feel that the current band-oriented lineup and style will be something you stick with, producing more slightly goth rock-oriented material in the future? With Halo Star arguably being the most stylistically adventurous, or at least sonically different, album you've done in years, do you feel driven or, perhaps, even pressured to push the envelope further and possibly explore even more diverse territory on future releases, both stylistically and instrumentally?

There's no pressure in black tape for a blue girl, because I do the things that I want to hear. Like I said earlier, the main issue is "time." I would love to record an ambient album. I would love to record an album of Nico covers. But i just don't have the time. So i have to do the one album that most speaks to me. And i definitely am interested in doing an album with the members of the Live band. Bart's guitar, Jay's percussion, Elysabeth's viola, Nicki's piano, Bret's guitar..... It's all something that I can imagine incorporating into the next album I record. I don't know exactly how, yet. I hope to start working on music after the New Year, and we'll see what arises.

You've long been a proponent of mp3s and have spoken out about major label business models and the idea of taking legal action against downloaders. Any opinions on the subject of so-called copy protected CDs or other such tactics and technologies that seem to penalize consumers that actually buy the CDs in question or could be seen as violations of fair use?

The majors will always find a way to do the wrong thing.

From your discussions on the Projektlist newsletter over the years, you're obviously very interested in politics. Have you ever considered incorporating political ideas into your music, or do you feel those two entities should remain separate? What are your thoughts on the current political climate with regard to music and other forms of artistic expression, from recently released political albums to politically motivated concerts and concert tours?

I don't think that I will do a political album, because it's an issue that quickly becomes dated. I write about emotions and sexuality and relationships which will always be an issue that people are trying to come to terms with. I don't know if politics REALLY have much of an effect on stifling music, because the government's function mainly seems to be to make profit, and stifling artistic opinion stifles corporate profits. Even though there are so many conservative idiots out there, I don't think the environment is anywhere near as bad as the 80s, when Reagan was having the NEA cut grants to artists. These days, art is about profit, for the most part, and that keeps the conservatives happy!

Anything you'd like to add?

I appreciate the interview. It's always nice to talk about what I create. Best of luck.... - Sam

Thanks for taking the time to do the interview! I'll let you get back to touring and running Projekt now :^)

 


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