For 35 years, Black Tape for a Blue Girl have been releasing powerful, passionate records that transcend style and genre. While the project, spearheaded by Sam Rosenthal, has evolved countless times and changed lineups since their inception in 1986, Black Tape for a Blue Girl’s sound remains steadfast and singular, easily identifiable due in part to Rosenthal’s emotive lyrics and sweeping electronic soundscapes. As head of Projekt Records, Rosenthal also is responsible for curating a variety of artists past and present, running the gamut from glam-infused post-punk, ethereal dream pop, and heady ambient music.
Black Tape For a Blue Girl will be releasing their latest record – lucky number thirteen – on October 1st. The Cleft Serpent is a concept album circling around the central themes of regret and fate, told through a haunting series of tracks that combine somber strings, emotive vocals, and subtle electronics. Joining Rosenthal on this record are Black Tape newcomers Henrik Meierkord and Jon DeRosa. The album will be released on a variety of formats, including digital, 2CD featuring instrumentals and alternate mixes, cassette, vinyl, and curiously enough, MiniDisc. Ahead of the album’s release, we’re honored to feature a full stream of The Cleft Serpent, and as an added bonus, we had the pleasure of chatting with Black Tape for a Blue Girl leader Sam Rosenthal about the album’s formation and some upcoming Projekt Records news. Enjoy!
The Cleft Serpent is Black Tape for a Blue Girl’s 13th LP. Quite an impressive run so far! What inspired this particular album and can you speak a bit to the central themes and character of the album?
13 albums in 35 years, so I’m always kicking myself wishing I had made more. But time, life, it all gets in the way! Anyway, The Cleft Serpent is the main character who is the album’s narrator. He’s eternal, and reoccurs with the weight of knowing the terrible things he has done in the past, and is fated to do in his current existence. The theme goes around ongoing recurrence, and the weight of our previous bad choices. The conflict details his interactions with the secondary character The Trickster, who is often times his victim but sometimes his tormentor.
Black Tape has always been known for experimenting with different sounds, textures, and lineups over the course of your career. Were there any new techniques or instruments used on this LP?
Stylistically, it’s neoclassical. It’s mainly strings, vocals and a light layer of my electronics. The idea has been swirling in my thoughts since finishing 2018’s To Touch the Milky Way. Before I had any of my music started, I imagined an album sounding like this, and I lucked into working with two really talented artists who could help me create what I had in mind. My idea was to lay down foundations of electronics for songs, record the strings, and then strip back a lot of my parts. I wasn’t finding the string player that could realize my idea, so I procrastinated a while.
And then you met cellist Henrik Meierkord?
That’s right. He collaborated with Jarguna on Tapestry Flow which I released on Projekt. And then in the summer of 2020, I asked Henrik to contribute to two tracks for my Tim, where are you now? collaboration. He’s in Sweden, it was all by email. I just loved what he played. He had such a good touch and the right emotional feel, and I was thinking, “This really sounds like Black Tape for a Blue Girl.” I knew bringing him in on this new album would be interesting, and we worked together so fluidly. Without having to give much direction, he lays out a mood that I love. It’s a mix of drone and melody, passion and texture.
Can you tell us more about the album’s other collaborator, vocalist Jon DeRosa? This is both members’ first appearance on a Black Tape for a Blue Girl LP, no?
That’s right. It’s an all-new band on The Cleft Serpent. And also it’s the first album with only a male vocalist, all songs have vocals, and we’re a three-piece. Never done it this way before, and it turned out great. Not many of my albums have such a consistent mood and sonic palette. Back in the day, I remember a buyer at a record store saying about Ashes in the Brittle Air after giving it a listen, “is this a various artists disc?” (laughs).
Jon did such a good job on the album, he really captured the character I created. Giving The Serpent life and presence. Jon and I met in passing back in the 90s, he was a fan of Projekt and the band when he was in high school. We were peripherally in touch over the years, and came back together recently. First on the 2020 Eating Rose Pedals EP which led right into this.
You’ve been experimenting with Bandcamp subscriptions and crowdfunding for this particular release and have been very transparent about the process thus far – how has the response been to the music?
Yeah, my favorite part of the subscriptions and crowdfunding is I get immediate feedback from the people who really love my music. Very positive response, suggestions about things (like making MiniDiscs) and the like. All the way back to The Rope album in 1986, a big part of why I made art was to communicate, to say what was weighing upon me, and hopefully get feedback, a response. Back then it was letters in the mail. People who the music touched. Now it’s more immediate. We email back and forth. It’s very cool to know these people who have been effected by the music. People who care about what I do, and care enough to get involved in funding the projects. Some people have backed one or two of the campaigns, some have backed five or six.
Would you continue to crowdfund the project’s next endeavors?
Oh yeah, definitely! The support is there, and the music keeps coming. I’m thinking that the next Kickstarter will be for an LP of 1992’s Terrace of Memories, my ambient/electronic collaboration with vidnaObmana. There’s a lot of love for that album.
The band has quite a legacy these days, having been releasing music for nearly forty years. Any thoughts, feelings, and musings after all this time?
Well, it’s only been 35 years (laughs). I don’t have the same angst and insecurities I did in the 80s. So the music serves a different purpose for me, now. I still don’t know anything about formal music theory, I can’t tell you what key a song is in, or why certain things sound good together. Yet I think I’m finally over the psychological hurdle of feeling like a fake because of this. I can make the music I want to hear. Making music is so much easier for me now. I feel like I am way closer to creating the sound that I had envisioned, where in the early days it was just stumbling onto things. Like with The Cleft Serpent. I knew I wanted a lot of strings, and for my electronics to be minimal. It was possible to get to that point without a lot of struggling. Of course, having great people to work with helps, no doubt about that.
As far as other musings: If it’s not fun, don’t do it. Life is short. Do things that you enjoy. Oh, and capitalism is evil, and being a cog and slave to a corporate overload is just not the way life is meant to be. And also, recognize and accept that it’s all CHAOS. There’s no organizing force in the universe. We’re just a happy accident. Which goes back to: have fun. Do what you enjoy. Because it’s just a fluke that we’re here at all.
These lines end the track “The Matchmaker.”
Humans find it hard to sit idly by
always have to do things
atrocities to pass the time
so as not to confront the anxiety of our ambivalence
so as not to confront the anxiety of uncertainty
And yeah, that’s a big one for our time. People just can’t leave others alone. They’re always making trouble because they can’t just sit with their anxiety and uncertainty.
How about the label – what’s in store for Projekt records over the next year or so?
Projekt has been so busy the last couple years. Since the pandemic began, artists were at home more, they’ve been making a lot more music. Which is great for the listeners and fans. I’ve been trying to release at least two digital albums a month on Projekt, plus a physical release every couple of months. that’s a lot of music. And a lot of work.
Are there any new projects that have been catching your ear?
There’s a glitchy-ambient noise-bliss release coming in November from a 21-year-old artist, Benjamin James Stewart. They sent me an email, asking if I’d listen to their demo for consideration for an upcoming unsigned-band collection. I get a lot of emails asking me to listen, and often I’m busy and they just sit in the “To do” pile. This one I listened and was like, “Hey, this is cool. I can imagine fans of Projekt’s Lovesliescrushing liking this.” Their Spaces album is coming out as a digital-only release.
Assuming live shows come back in full force, will Black Tape for a Blue Girl tour to support The Cleft Serpent? In your opinion, is there value to playing live in 2021, or is the focus now on making the best record you can?
Everyone asks about live shows, but I think there’s not much chance of that, really. Even besides the ongoing pandemic and my cloistering away so as not to run any risks, it’s just not financially feasible to tour. I’m in my 50s, my band isn’t a bunch of 20-somethings. Clubs offer less than minimum wage when you actually do the math. Touring is a great way to spend time and lose money. Not really fun. I do enjoy meeting people at shows, but touring takes a lot of time, and just isn’t something I can imagine doing again. It’s been just about a decade since our last show. Fine to let it rest.
Are you planning on reissuing more of the back catalogue on vinyl in the coming years?
Definitely. Vinyl is beautiful. I’ll be honest, I don’t listen to the format, but I do enjoy designing the package and looking at it when they arrive. And if this is the format that fans want, then I’m all for it. Black Tape vinyl releases sell through, while the CDs do not. I’m repressing a few titles right now.
You’re offering a variety of formats for The Cleft Serpent, including minidisc – you mentioned earlier about the fans suggesting that format in particular?
Oh yeah, I made a MiniDisc for The Cleft Serpent and also for Remnants of a Deeper Purity. It’s a cool obsolete format from the 90s. it has some very loyal users. That’s really why I made it: patrons at Bandcamp kept asking for MiniDisc, and I figured, “Why not give it a shot?” I found a place in the UK that can make as few as 10. I made 50, sold 35 so far. It’s amusing to be talking about numbers this small. I remember the first pressing of Remnants was 5000 CDs, and I printed 10,000 booklets and outer box at the time, because it was deluxe and I needed these on hand, knowing I’d make more quickly. That album has sold over 16,000 CDs now…. and here I am talking about selling 35 MDs! Times have really changed, right? It’s all about streaming in 2021. And that’s fine, I stream music. I rarely get out a physical format to listen. Aside from checking Projekt CDs or LPs when they arrive from the plants, I can’t even remember the last time I got out a CD to listen to for fun. The last album I listened to was Bowie at the Beeb. Streaming of course.
Thanks for the interview.