Q: Like your other recent releases, The Scavenger Bride and Halo Star,10 Neurotics also revolves around a cast of characters. When beginning this album, did the concept come first, or did working on the music dictate the concept?
Sam: The albums always begin with the music. I put together tracks that sound interesting to me and then along the way a theme starts to develop. After Halo Star, I went through a divorce, played live with Nicki in Revue Noir, and there was a long stretch where I was not focused on creating music as I got accustomed to being a dad half the week. When I came back to writing lyrics last year, I was in a mood to do something different. Scavenger & Halo Star are both about imaginary characters, so I decided to start writing songs from real life, from real experiences. Looking at the erotic and the neurotic, and how it runs through people and their lives.
Q: For the first time, you wrote this album on acoustic guitar. How do you feel it affected the outcome? How was it different from your normal process?
Sam: In thinking about doing things differently, I figured ‘what could be more challenging than not writing the album on the keyboards?’ The acoustic guitar gave me freedom to explore in a new way. The result, I feel, is the songs are more “song-like.” The guitar gives more rhythm and it feels natural to write verse/chorus. I think it is like when a painter tries ceramics, you still see the painters inherent style, but it manifests itself in a new way. That is great for the art.
Q: You started exploring the “dark cabaret” style with Nicki Jane in Revue Noir. Why did you feel 10 Neurotics needed to be expressed through Black Tape for a Blue Girl?
Sam: Revue Noir was fun because I could relax and not be in control of every aspect of the sound. I was often the producer and sideman, which took the pressure off. I knew I needed to go places with 10 Neurotics, that could only happen in a band where I had full control and final say, so it needed to happen with Black Tape For A Blue Girl. Revue Noir is a dark cabaret project, wherein Blacktape mixes dark cabaret with rock with ethereal elements.
Q: Do you have any music recommendations for those interested in hearing more of the “dark cabaret” style?
Sam: Two of my favorites are Nicki Jaine and Jill Tracy. The two bands I love most are both in the neo-folk/pop vein: Rome & Spiritual Front. I am very excited to be on the same label as them, Trisol Records in Germany is bringing out the European Edition of 10 Neurotics.
Q: After 20 years of not having a drummer in Black Tape for a Blue Girl, you said this album “demanded a rock-n-roll drummer.” What do you feel necessitated that decision?
Sam: The songs have an urgency and power that is best realized with a drummer kicking it along. On the last few albums Michael Laird played percussion; but 10 Neurotics is conceptualized within a more traditional rock sound. I asked Brian Viglione to be involved. I knew he would understand my ideas of “this part needs to be subtle and washy, and this part needs to be powerful and driving.” On a song like, “Sailor Boy,” he gets to do both within one song! Working with Brian was fantastic, because I might have a vague idea of what I was looking for, and he would come in to the studio with a fantastic arrangement that often worked perfectly right away. On a few songs we tried something, but then listening to it for a few weeks we would decide a different approach was needed. The way the drums smash in on “Love of the Father” was the 2nd idea, and it propells the song in such an emotional way. Brian’s like a brother in sound, for me. He gets where I am coming from and he has great ideas to add to my songs. His involvement is definitely more integral to the sound, than has been the case with past musicians in my band.
Q: You have always been very deliberate in choosing the musicians you work with. Why did you choose each member of the new line-up, and what did each bring to the new album?
Sam: When I was creating this album I was really excited about the words I was writing; but I did have a feeling they might not be words my vocalists would be comfortable singing. These are first person accounts of people in the fetish lifestyle, or people with certain personality traits that most people would not usually talk about. I was sort of creating a problem for myself: would I tone it back in order to make it “easy” for my vocalists, or would I be direct and honest? Brian’s opinion was to go for it, to say exactly what I wanted to say. I fully agreed, but when I presented the work in progress to my vocalists, they were uncomfortable with the idea of singing them. I had a bit of a mutiny (laughs), but that’s OK. I completely understand where they were at. and I ended up with something very powerful.
In finding new vocalists, I had three requirements. Talent, stage presence, & fearlessness. I knew I was creating a new sound for the band, and I was thinking about how it would come across on stage. Athan Maroulis was the singer for Spahn Ranch, Laurie Reade was the U.S. vocalist for Attrition, and Nicki was my bandmate in Revue Noir. I picked them not just for their talent, but also for the way they could bring my characters to life on the recording and on stage. I was writing lyrics with character, flesh & blood. My new singers powerfully bring them to life.
Q: As this is your 10th release for Black Tape for a Blue Girl, did you feel you needed to make a statement by pushing your boundaries, stepping out of your comfort zone?
Sam: Well, that might have been the end result. What I really felt was that after nine albums, I could do whatever felt good to me and not really concern myself too much with playing it safe. It felt very freeing to know I had already created nine albums and now I could venture out into new territory. If somebody feels, “man you’ve kinda lost me with this one,” they can always go back and listen to Remnants of a deeper purity to get their spacious, neo-classical fix. I have done that, I am happy with it, and I also like moving forwards.
Q: That said, when working with new musical ideas, are you concerned about how your fans will receive it?
Sam: I think about that, but I try not to let it stop me from following an idea. I think an artist can get paralyzed by second-guessing their creativity and worrying about creating what is expected of them. That prevents great ideas from being realized. Art is really about experiments, many of which never get off the ground. The only way to find out is to try it. If I was afraid of what people might say when they hear my art, then I would not be moving forwards.
Q: What do you want your audience to take away from10 Neurotics?
Sam: Underneath it all, these stories are a search for love and connection. No matter the manner these people express their inner self, they are still looking for the things we all want. Because the stories often occur in the fetish world, most of society would not imagine that these people possess the same sort of love, attachment, and connection that traditional people have. Society seems to think the S&M world is only for deviants and delinquents; for example, there is a sample in that Ordo Equilibrio/Spiritual Front song “the Pleasure of Pain” where a man says, “they constantly portray abnormal sexual behavoir as being normal.” People in this lifestyle are actually looking for connections and love just like you or I; but it is expressed in a more dramatic, more theatrical, more intense manner.
Q: With Black Tape for a Blue Girl we are used to romantic metaphor, but this album’s approach is more raw and confrontational. With the album’s theme exploring the fetish lifestyle, did this cause you to be more direct, and not “mince words” with the listener?
Sam: I wouldn’t say that the songs are confrontational, so much as they are open and revealing. My feeling is this: I am an adult, I have been writing lyrics for 25 years, I want to write ideas directly and honestly, rather than cloak them in metaphor and dreams. I think there is still a romantic element here, just not hidden by metaphor. I am writing mature lyrics for people who want to hear these things directly, where we can be open and direct about it.
Q: What inspired you to undertake this journey through the many complex fetishist relationships shared on 10 Neurotics?
Sam: All of our relationship dynamics are based upon power and control. Who is controlling you? Who is pulling the strings? Where do you submit, to get certain things you need? In this lifestyle, people bring it out into the open, put it on the surface. In a sense it is theatrical, it is a pageant. But it is also the life they are living. Power & control is the life we all live, it is just that for the most part we try to keep it hidden. Either intentionally or because it is unconscious. I set out to write about these experiences, and people I have met. I am doing the same thing I usualy do as a lyricist: I look deeply into motivation and actions. An attempt to comprehend experiences.
Q: Which song do you feel stirs up the most emotions or questions?
Sam: To me, “The Perfect Pervert” is one of the songs on the album about true lovers. They are talking about their sex-play and what excites them in their sexual relationship. While it is true that “The Perfect Pervert” is about non-consensual consent, bondage, and pain…. it is still about what two adults chose to do within their emotions for each other. They are searching for perfection and the ideals of love. It is a search for purity. “Purity” is the word they repeat at the end of the song.
Q: Some songs like “Rotten Zurich Cafe” and “Love of the Father” discuss how a bad childhood can cause powerful destructive neurosis which can manifest in adulthood. How does this tie in with the central theme? Is it about control?
Sam: Oh, it’s all about control! (laughs) Much of what we do in our lives is the result of what happened to us as children. For most people, I think the awareness of these things remains hidden. Their fears, neurosis, baggage comes from the interactions they had in childhood. I felt it would make 10 Neurotics a more complex album if a few of the songs went into the back story, the interactions that screwed them up. Within the lyrics, I do not place judgement on the actions the people are taking. But as observers, I think we can look in and say “Oh, is that why they do that!” Just like in real life, if you can find the clue from the past, it might help you become aware of the action in the present. In “Rotten Zurich” I think about how the rage of the character’s alcoholic mother motivates her to destroy her present relationships. The abuse and abandonment of the boy in “Love of the Father” causes him to search for a connection through male love. If we sit down and game it out, we will find the reason for some of our unpredictable behavoir in the unresolved issues of our childhood.
Q: Will you be touring with the current line-up? If so, will you be re-interpreting older material for these performances? Any hints as to which songs you might be looking at playing?
Sam: As I write this, we are beginning to rehearse for our first show in a years, we’re on a bill in Boston with a short set. The four songs are from 10 Neurotics: “Sailor Boy,” “Rotten Zurich Cafe,” “Tell Me You’ve Taken Another” and “Love of the Father.” After we play that show, we will start adding some of the older tracks. My guess is “Knock Three Times” and “Remnants of a deeper purity.” Aside from that, I cannot say.
Q: Any parting words?
Sam: The reactions to 10 Neurotics has been really really positive. It is rewarding – as an artist – when I step out of expected territory and people say “Wow, that’s great! That’s something I wanted to hear.” It makes all the work really seem worthwhile.
Thanks for the interview.