Music

Transcending Logic: An Interview with Black Moth Super Rainbow

Jennifer Kelly

Black Moth Super Rainbow’s Tobacco weathered a difficult couple of years after hating 2009’s Eating Us and tossing an entire new album out in 2012 because it sounded like the same old thing. He talks to us about coming out of the doldrums, finding a meaner more guitar-centered sound and why you don’t need drugs to trip out to BSMR.


Black Moth Super Rainbow

Cobra Juicy

Label: Rad Cult
US Release Date: 2012-10-23
UK Release Date: 2012-11-26
Amazon
iTunes

"Black Moth Super Rainbow is not drug music," says Tobacco, the main singer and songwriter behind one of indie rock’s trippiest sounding bands. "If you want to use it to enhance your experiences, that’s fine, but I get kind of bothered sometimes when everyone’s so quick to credit drugs for making this stuff."

Black Moth Super Rainbow has been making its candy-colored, vocoder-filtered, Rhodes-and-synthesizer-shimmering psych since the mid-00s, emerging, appropriately enough (at least in lepidopteral terms), from another band called satanstompingcaterpillars.

The band’s third album Dandelion Gum was the break out, pulling in giddily positive reviews and, er, a bunch of drug references. I myself, writing for PopMatters, opined that "Dandelion Gum is one of those records that makes you feel like you’re high, even when you’re not, like you’re on the verge of shambolic visions, even if you’re taking out the trash, like there’s an ineffable order to the universe, even when all signs point to chaos. "

The association with contraband has dogged Black Moth Super Rainbow through its sprawling collaboration with the Octopus Project, its Dave Fridmann-helmed Eating Us and, now, the band’s fifth album, Cobra Juicy. Tobacco, who goes by the name of Thomas Fec in the real world, has just gotten back from a six-mile bike ride when we talk. He says that he gets more out of cycling and running and hanging out with friends than from any artificial substance. He doesn’t even take drugs.

Tobacco is fine with the idea of alternate realities. In fact, he explains his band’s use of nicknames (Seven Fields of Aphelion, Iffernaut, etc.), masks, film, and costumes as a way of creating a self-contained musical universe. "I just never wanted music to be attached to a person. I just wanted it to be its own world, with its own visuals and names," he says.

But, Tobacco maintains, it is not a world that you need a pill, a joint or any other kind of chemical assistance to enter. "People just don’t want to use their imagination," he says. "The easiest thing is, ‘Ah, it’s just drugs.’ Then you don’t have to think about it. But it has nothing to do with it."

In search of the unknown sound

"I never really aspired to be a musician. It wasn’t really ever something I wanted to do or could see myself doing," says Tobacco. "I just wanted to make what I wasn’t hearing."

Tobacco wasn’t interested in music as a kid. He was about 15 when he began digging into the sounds around him, looking for something that just wasn’t there.

"I got tired of what was on the radio," he says. "Then, I think my mom found me a copy of CMJmagazine. It came with a CD. So every month it was a bunch of new bands and I had never heard of a single one. Eventually, I got to the point where I had heard enough of that to go off and make my own."

Tobacco started, as many musicians do, with a guitar and four-track. But he quickly realized that the sounds in his head weren’t going to come from a standard rock rig. "I wanted to start recreating all these great sounds from PBS when I was a kid, likeOne, Two, Three Contact. I just remembered all these weird synth sounds, and then Boards of Canada came along." At about the same time, eBay was starting to take off as an online marketplace for used instruments. Synthesizers were available – and affordable – even if you were a young kid from suburban Pittsburgh.

Tobacco taught himself the rudiments of the instruments he plays – guitar, keyboards and synths – but never aimed for virtuosity. "I learn every instrument just as much as I need to. I wouldn’t call myself a multi-instrumentalist because I don’t actually know how to play any of these things," he says. "I force myself to play what needs to get done for the recording, and then I can never remember it afterwards. "

Limitations are an important element in Tobacco’s music. He’ll switch from one instrument to another when he gets too comfortable, or when all the songs start to sound the same. Even his signature vocordered sound comes from his awareness of his own limitations.

"I’m not a singer," he admits. "Pretty much the first Black Moth album, where my voice is on there for a few songs, that’s about as much as I can do. But with the vocorder I can get any texture, any sound. I can even make female parts. I can make all kinds of harmonies."

A meaner moth in Cobra Juicy

Tobacco was unhappy with Black Moth Super Rainbow’s last album Eating Us. "The last one just felt really lame to me," he says. "It was cool when I was making it, but I don’t know, by the time it was released, I was just so past it. "

"I wanted the next one to be a little meaner," he explains. "Not totally mean. I didn’t want it to be the same old woodsy kind of thing."

Tobacco went into the studio and started recording a series of songs that got the tentative title Psychic Love Damage . But by early in 2012, he announced that he had scrapped the whole set. " Psychic Love Damage was coming out like the Black Moth album that you would expect," Tobacco says. "It was like Eating Us Part 2 or Dandelion Gum Part 2. When I got to the point where I was pretty much finished, and I was pretty much expecting to put it out, I thought ‘I just can’t. I can’t imagine supporting that on tour for a year."

Tobacco started over. He used more guitar this time, filtering the sound through pedals and effects so that it sounded like a synthesizer. He came up with the giant, abrasive riff that starts "Hairspray Heart" and built a song out of it. He changed the modules on his synth to extract different sounds. He became fascinated with vocal harmonies. And finally, when Cobra Juicy was done, he gave it time to sink in. He knew he didn’t want to make the same mistake he had with Eating Us, where he rushed completion and ended up touring a record he didn’t love. When I talk to him, on the eve of an extended U.S. tour, he sounds satisfied with it, ready to take the new songs out on the road with a five-piece band.

I ask him what makes the difference between the new songs that he’s happy with and the older ones that didn’t make the cut -- the old question of what exactly it is that makes a great song. "I think for me a great song has always been a song that transcends any formula. It’s so much nuance and so many ideas that are so complex and yet so deceivingly simple," he says. And, as you might have predicted given his reluctance to sound like anyone else, even himself, it has to be authentic and original. "You can try to be whoever, but you’ll never ever get it because you’re not them and you can’t understand what it is that makes their process. It’s almost like existence. You can’t explain it. You’ll never be able to explain it. It defies logic or formula."



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Music

Hip-Hop's Raashan Ahmad Talks About His Place in 'The Sun'

On his latest work,The Sun, rapper Raashan Ahmad brings his irrepressible charisma to this set of Afrobeat-influenced hip-hop.

Music

Between the Buried and Me's Baby Pictures Star in 'The Silent Circus'

The Silent Circus shows Between the Buried and Me developing towards the progressive metal titans they would eventually become.

Music

The Chad Taylor Trio Get Funky and Fiery on 'The Daily Biological'

A nimble jazz power trio of drums, tenor sax, and piano, the Chad Taylor Trio is free and fun, funky and fiery on The Daily Biological.

Music

Vistas' 'Everything Changes in the End' Is Catchy and Fun Guitar Rock

Vistas' debut, Everything Changes in the End, features bright rock music that pulls influences from power-pop and indie rock.

Film

In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?

Music

Maestro Gamin and Aeks' Latest EP Delivers LA Hip-Hop Cool (premiere + interview)

MaestroAeks' Sapodigo is a collection of blunted hip-hop tunes, sometimes nudging a fulsome boom-bap and other times trading on laid-back, mellow grooves.

Music

Soul Blues' Sugaray Rayford Delivers a "Homemade Disaster" (premiere + Q&A)

What was going to be a year of touring and building Sugaray Rayford's fanbase has turned into a year of staying home and reaching out to fans from his Arizona home.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.