Steve Rosenbaum – Have a Cool Summer! (Q&A)

‘During the 80s, I was playing in Ann Arbor, then in LA. During those years, I recorded many demos of my originals in my home “studio”, which consisted of, at first, two cassette decks, then a Tascam Portastudio 4-track cassette recorder. I never thought much about them being at all good enough to “release” so I sat on them from nearly 40 years.

About a year ago, I started posting a few of them on Facebook groups (Power Pop and Home Recording). The response was overwhelming, which was quite a surprise to me.’, says Steve Rosenbaum.

And now 23 of those demos have been bundled and released, on 8-track and reel!

Find out how that came about.

Have a Cool Summer! is a collection of 23 demos you recorded in the 80s. Have you always known the songs were too good to go unheard?

Quite frankly, I didn’t know. In a vacuum, I do think my stuff is excellent, but then, when I hear one of my favorite artists, I get a doubt in my mind: is it really that good? Many of the songs in this collection have not been heard by anyone else ever.

I joined a group on Facebook for fans of 4-track cassette machines (loosely referred to as Portastudios). These machines came out in the 80s as a cheap alternative to big studios. I posted a few of these recordings, and the members of that group were effusive in their praise – not only for the quality of the recordings but also for the songs themselves. It was then that I realized I might actually have a bit of a goldmine hidden in this collection of tunes.

A lot has changed in the music business since you recorded these demos. What change has had the most impact on your career?

If I had to pick one change in the business, it would have to be the ability to easily share music online, either by streaming, sharing, or posting. When I was recording these demos, the bar to distribution was incredibly high. If you really wanted to reach a large population, you needed a record deal, which I was not likely to get with these demos or this style of music.

Now, I can find blogs online (like yours), Facebook groups, or a hundred other avenues, and get these songs into the ears of exactly the people who will like them. Case in point – these songs are finally catching the ear of quite a few power pop and home recording fans.

In my experience, My Innocence could have been a hit for anyone who hit the charts in the ’80s. Have you often offered the song to others?

Thanks for saying that! I always thought the song was good, and others have told me the same. I’m open to anyone covering my songs but was never in a position to promote that happening. Nonetheless, funny you should mention it, this song actually *was* recorded by a singer named Niki something in the mid-80s in Los Angeles. My friend and bandmate, Mitch Goodman, knew her. She needed a song to showcase her vocals for a contest, so he suggested “My Innocence.” I still have a copy of it.

If anyone wants to cover it or any other song I’ve written, please let me know!

And then suddenly the question came up, ‘shall we release your demos from the ‘80s?

So, this guy I met on Facebook, Nathan Brown, heard some of my Portastudio and two-cassette demos, saw all the interest that they were generating, and proposed that he release them on his label, Dead Media Tapes. I was surprised that anyone would take these demos seriously, but he heard something in them. He has exclusive rights on them for 8-track and reel-to-reel release, with digital download, until sometime after the first of the year. After that, we will move to more typical media. I think it’s kind of cool that they are only available on tape since that’s how they were originally recorded.

A little more about the Portastudio: this machine, and others like it, was a big deal for songwriters in the 80s. For about a thousand dollars, you could actually do a multitrack recording at home. Famously, Bruce Springsteen did “Nebraska” on one. They didn’t sound great, but they got the job done. Before the Portastudio, I used an even cruder technique where I “bounced” tracks between two regular cassette recorders.

In the early days, I didn’t even have a drum machine and was doing my “drums” with buckets, Tupperware, coffee cans; you name it. I was running a mic through a guitar amp to add some reverberation. So, the sound of these recordings is a bit unusual, to say the least. But I figured out how to work within my limitations and still produce something that sounded good, even though it didn’t sound like an $800 an hour pro studio.

Hopefully, we are almost over a very crazy period. Do you already dare to look ahead and make musical plans?

Here in San Diego, the venues are re-opening, so there are starting to be opportunities to play live. I work with a couple of terrific musicians here in town that play my originals live with me in a band called “Mess Of Fun.” The last time we played was on the eve of the shutdown, March 12, 2020. We were supposed to open for Power Pop legend Paul Collins, but he cut short his tour right before our date. We went ahead and played what was probably the last live music show in San Diego that night. Now, with things opening up a bit, I’m back on the phone and email hustling for gigs.

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