Projekt Records Being Sam Rosenthal
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When one listens to the best of Projekt Records, it is like being in the cult movie Being John Malkovich, for it gives one the opportunity to crawl into the musical mind's eye of the label's mastermind, Sam Rosenthal. "I'm probably the only person who has heard every Projekt release," Rosenthal admits, "and (the only one who) knows the music very personally. In a way, that's what Projekt has always been about: my favorite music." Founded in 1983 by Rosenthal as a home for his black tape for a girl project, Projekt has endured like no other label, and twenty-four years later, it has become synonymous with gothic ethereal music. This year, the label releases it's 200th album - a triple disc box that is a celebration, a retrospective, a glance at the future, and like many landmark Projekt collections, a peek inside Rosenthal's mind. (By Vlad McNeally)
SL. Projekt stands as the longest-running 'gothic' label in U.S. history. What do you think made you persevere where so many others faltered?
S. Honestly, I think the main thing that has kept Projekt alive is that we run our own web store. The label has always had a way to sell directly to fans, and this has kept us in touch with people who care about this kind of music and has allowed us to diversify, so we're not relying on one distributor to keep the cash coming in. It would be great to answer this question with 'my brilliant vision as a label chief' or 'the amazing bands we signed.' Those two things are naturally a big part of how Projekt has persevered, but all the good music in the world will not keep a label together, if the bills cannot be paid. I'm really proud to say that every artist on Projekt has been paid what we agreed to. I've been practical and I've been honest. And that's the way to stay in business.
SL. With so much experience as a label head under your belt, what would you say was your greatest accomplishment outside of Projekt's record-setting life span? Conversely, what was your biggest mistake?
S. Well, the biggest mistake is easy, I think. In the mid-90s, we were selling tons and tons of CDs. And I spent money as if we'd always be doing that well; it would have been better to put some of it away for a rainy day. There are a few albums and bands that I wished I had released on Projekt, but I really cannot complain about that, as I've put out many of my favorite albums as well. As far as greatest accomplishment.... I think it's really satisfying to 'discover' a band, release their record, and get a positive response from the audience. This isn't a one-time thing, in happens over and over. It happened with Love Spirals Downwards and Lycia in the early 90's, with Voltaire at the end of the 90's, and again this year with our new band, Tearwave. It's great to serve as a conduit between artists and fans.
SL. How would you say the gothic music market has changed for Projekt since 1983? Has Projekt had highs and lows within the particular genre of music?
S. Yeah, definitely. The nineties were the high point. There were a lot of fans interested in the music, and we were getting press coverage and selling tons of records. That was all pre-Digital era, pre-Death of the Record Industry era. Rozz Williams killed himself in April of 1998, and Columbine was a year later. For me, those two things kind of signaled the end of the good years. As far as how the market has changed. I think that fan interest shifted over to what I think of as 'dance music' and others call industrial, synthpop, or EBM. People seem to be more interested in hearing music in clubs, rather then buying music for listening at home.... that definitely makes the gothic music market different from the nineties.
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SL. This year, to commemorate your 200th release as well as Projekt's 24th anniversary, you compiled a new box set that cover Projekt's existence from its beginning to the present. It opens with a brand new version of black tape for a blue girl's hit, 'Across a Thousand Blades'. By my count, this is the third studio take of this track, and with Black Tape's 1986 promo-only retrospective bearing the same name, it leaves me curious. Does this particular song hold a unique level of personal significance for you?
S. Well, I do like the erotic nature of the lyrics, and Oscar's powerful delivery. I think the song is actually not representative of the overall black tape for a blue girl sound. In that sense, it's entertaining to me because it's so much more 'rock' than what we usually do. I think that a lot of artists feel the need to 'get it right' which motivates new versions of songs. To be clear, there has never been a new 'version' of 'Across a thousand blades,' as that implies a rerecording of the entire track, these have been new mixes with additional instruments added. For me, I like presenting the song in slightly new ways, to keep it interesting. And I think that each mix is the best the song can sound, at that particular point in time.
SL. If you don't mind my asking, I'm quite curious as to the story between you and London After Midnight? You have said that you regret passing up on signing them, yet they have stated that you tried to court them?
S. Sean entertains me with his recollection of the past. At times we get along fine, and have totally nice emails; at other times he says something in print intended to put Projekt down, and contradict the reality of what happened. That doesn't make me angry - it really just entertains me. It seems that each denial needs to be bigger than the lastů Did I try to court them? Back in the early nineties, I might have asked Sean to send me a cassette of his music - though he might have sent it on his own. I don't really recall. Regardless, when I heard it, I decided it wasn't right for Projekt. I didn't want to sign London After Midnight, I had a stick up my ass about what Projekt 'should be' and I don't think I gave his music a fair chance. I mean, when I hear it now, I like it. It's better than a lot of the other gothic rock stuff out there. But I think, at that time, I was too much in an ethereal state of mind. I would have made a lot of money signing his band, honestly. Oops!
SL. In a previous interview, I read that around the time of Halo Star, you were plotting on taking a step into multimedia performances with black tape. Did this concept ever come to some level of fruition?
S. I'm always talking about doing videos, and I never do them! I just never have the time for it. My college degree is in TV/Film. So I certainly should be able to do it, but when is there time? I am still trying to finish my book, which was written in 2003 and 2004. I am going to force myself into a room and lock the door, and not come out until it's edited! I really want to get that book out in early 2008.
SL. Finally, where do you see Projekt going from here? If it does last another twenty-four years, will someone stand to inherit it, or will Projekt end with you?
S. When people ask me, 'where do you see yourself in X number of years?' I always answer 'Kind of where I am now, but a little bit to the left.' There was never a plan behind Projekt - it just sort of evolved. Now it's how I make a living, so I can imagine it still being around when I am older, assuming there's still somebody out there buying Gothic + Ambient releases. Sasha, my five-year-old son, will inherit Projekt. He currently likes to come into the office and run the paper shredder, which means he's got a leg-up on most of the people who run major labels. Thanks for this interview. I really appreciate it.
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