Q&A with Sam Rosenthal
Sam Rosenthal is musician and label producer — his band Black Tape for a Blue Girl has been producing its signature ethereal darkwave and goth rock sound since 1986, and his associated record label Projekt Records turns 40 this year. The label has produced over 300 releases, and Rosenthal himself continues to produce his own music year after year. 2023 also marks 10 years of Rosenthal living in Portland after spending most of his life in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Brooklyn—almost all of his time in Portland has been in the Sunnyside neighborhood, just off of Hawthorne Boulevard.
How long have you lived in Sunnyside?
Sam: I’ll have lived in Portland for 10 years at the end of July. Brooklyn, NY was the last place I lived. When I moved to Portland, I moved into a month-to-month apartment downtown. I moved myself and my business, so there was a lot to move. I was fortunate enough to buy a house when things were still “reasonable,” especially compared to Brooklyn at the time.
What was the draw? Why did you settle on Portland?
Sam: The number one thing was to move out of Brooklyn. I was on tour and had friends in Portland who suggested moving here. It’s a very small town compared to Brooklyn or L.A., but it’s got the cool parts of Brooklyn.
Do you think you’re going to stay in Portland for the foreseeable future?
Sam: My partner lives here; I’m staying here. I really like living in—for lack of a better term—“blue bubbles” and Portland is a nice one. People were moving to Austin or Portland ten years ago but I never thought of living in a “red state” for any reason. Portland feels like a really good spot to be.
What do you love about Sunnyside? Do you normally stay in the neighborhood or do you venture out much?
Sam: When I was living in Brooklyn, my son was in elementary school. Each day I would walk, pick him up and walk back home…. It was a very small neighborhood. I love that [Sunnyside] is a walkable neighborhood…. You really don’t have to drive that much here. Bars, food, and whatever convenience you need is right around here. I work from home, and I can stay at home all day, but it’s nice that there are these places right there. After ten years, I ended up in my little one mile square area.
When you do go out, where do you like to go?
Sam: Reel M Inn. Hat Yai on Belmont. Tov Coffee. I used to host a film series called Movies in the Dark at the Hollywood Theatre and at Clinton Street Theater, but not since the pandemic. I’m COVID-cautious, as my partner’s mom is immunocompromised; I’ve eaten in one restaurant since February 2020, and haven’t been to any clubs or bars. So I’m not the most aware of what’s new in the restaurant or bar scene here. But I have gotten much better at baking bread!
Are you involved in the local music scene much?
Sam: The music I produce isn’t related to Portland—the artists are from around the world. There are a lot of Italians and Australians on the label right now. Ash Sain’s band Trance To The Sun and Soriah are my friends; they were the people I knew in Portland who I visited before deciding to move here. Because of COVID-cautiousness, I don’t see any shows, local or national. The last show I saw was Projekt artist Aurelio Voltaire at the Star Theater in February of 2020.
As a lifelong resident myself, I’ve seen the neighborhood change a lot. But it’s probably changed the most in the decade you’ve been here. Is there anything about these changes you don’t like?
Sam: The things that have changed in Sunnyside are the things that I might be missing soon. The amount of small, weird businesses that are being replaced by condos are kind of a drag.
If you could change something about the neighborhood, then, what would it be?
Sam: A lot of the problem is capitalism; the thing that gets the most complaints is the homeless problem, but the problem is capitalism. I don’t have an answer for that, but I do think it’s part of the problem. We are more than our labor. It’s not a “Sunnyside issue.” How do you fix the issue within the system that is the cause of the issue?
Finally, cats or dogs?
Sam: I’m a cat person! My current cat, Nova, is 18. I adopted her when she was 14. Our new album is coming out soon.
A collaboration album with your cat?
Sam: Yeah, I record her purrs and extend it and add ambient music to it. It’s our second [album]. Most of what I release is digital, so it’s easy to make an album with a cat. The new one is more music and not just purring.
To hear Rosenthal’s cat albums, go here: tinyurl.com/SamCatAlbum
His most recent Black Tape for a Blue Girl Album, The Cleft Serpent, is also on Spotify: tinyurl.com/TheCleftSerpent