Tobacco talks collaborating with Beck, the possible demise of Black Moth Super Rainbow and unveils exclusive MP3
The world first discovered Black Moth Super Rainbow three years ago, with the release of their third album, “Dandelion Gum,” a supernatural and synaesthetic swirl of drum machines, disorienting vocoders, and sun-splintered Moog synths imitating Mellotrons.
Shortly thereafter, BMSR's Tom Fec dropped his first solo album under his pseudonym, Tobacco, a harder edged and hip-hop skewing affair that revealed the side of him that first got turned onto music via the Beastie Boys’ “So What'cha Want” video. With a style spawned at some murky crossroads of the Beasties, Air’s “Sexy Boy,” Boards of Canada and Beck, Fec’s unprintably titled debut found him collaborating with Aesop Rock and becoming the darling of underground hip-hop bible, Okayplayer.com, making him the token indie icon among the backpack crowd.
But rather than bask in the acclaim or the admiration of his peers (Mike Watt’s fandom is well-documented), the prolific Fec and his Black Moth peers wrangled go-to producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, MGMT) and conceived “Eating Us,” a record that upped the band’s cachet and further confirmed that Fec was one of his generation’s most singular songwriting talents. It also drove him a little crazy.
The stigmas of satisfying a full band, press interviewers and simple-minded critics and the rigors of touring life slowly wore him down, making the already-reclusive Fec even more remote. Never suited to the demands of the blog era, he found himself searching for transcendence by returning to his roots — making bedroom music with a big-tent sound. Not “big-tent” in terms of audience potential, but in terms of the bizarro personalities clustered within.
“Maniac Meat,” his sophomore solo record, features song titles like “Lick the Witch,” “Unholy Demon Rhythms” and “Creepy Phone Calls.” Featuring a pair of guest-spots from Beck in “Mellow Gold” mode, the record hits somewhere between the surreal and the sublime — jagged, raw and filled with hellishly catchy melodies.
Dropping next Tuesday on Anticon, Tobacco's “Maniac Meat” offers an iteration of noise-pop that actually delivers on the sub-genre’s conceit, unlike most of the mediocrities who believe fuzz and feedback can mask a lack melody. In advance of its release, Pop & Hiss spoke to Tobacco about working with Beck, the possible demise of Black Moth Super Rainbow and his plans for a rap record.
You make all the artwork for the Black Moth and Tobacco album covers, and you’ve always said that you try to get them to match the sound of the record. Did you do this one and if so, what was the meaning behind it?
This one was a lot different actually. I just had the picture and didn’t have any use for it or even plan on using it. Then the album came together, and it just seemed appropriate for the cover.
What does Maniac Meat mean?
It doesn’t mean anything in particular. Without knowing what it actually is, it just felt like what the album sounded like.
When did you find time to write another solo record considering you’ve released four records in as many years?
I was writing it at the same time that I was forcing myself to write the last Black Moth Super Rainbow record -- it felt like an escape for myself because I had been creating all these roles for the Black Moth record and it felt like work. This is what I was enjoying doing, and it became my jogging soundtrack last spring and summer, and then it just became clear that I’d recorded an album.
What was so difficult for you about recording that last BMSR album?
It was my fault in that I fell into a cycle where people liked the last one, and I was trying to figure out what they liked and what they didn’t. I’d never done that before, and I’ll never do it again. I’ve been pretty critical of it, but it’s not even that I don’t like the record, it’s just what I hear in it is all the [bad stuff] that I put into it. It’s not the album itself that’s bad; I hear all the things that I was enforcing upon myself. I don’t like listening to it. I think [Fridmann] did an awesome job and it sounds great, but it doesn’t conjure up any good memories for me.
Was it just that it felt too forced?
I thrive when I don’t think anyone is going to hear a record -- when I’m recording just to entertain myself and be as stupid as I want to be and don’t have to worry about what people are going to think. “Eating Us” is wondering what people were going to think.
So is it safe to say that you’re through with Black Moth Super Rainbow?
Right now, there are no plans to do another Black Moth Super Rainbow record.
But you recorded “Dandelion Gum” and everything before it alone. So what’s the difference between that and a Tobacco solo record?
The major difference was that no one knew who I was during the recording of “Dandelion Gum” and I didn’t expect anyone to hear it. Not like we’re so huge now, but I like the feeling of doing it all myself and it got to the point where I couldn’t do that.
You’ve had a couple rappers flow over your beats. Ever consider doing more hip-hop production?
There was actually a point in time where I wanted “Maniac Meat” to be a rap record, and there is actually half of one made out of a bunch of songs from it. I eventually thought that it kind of lost the voice of the record by having too many people and too many ideas, and it made me feel better to break the rap songs out and do a separate rap record.
Who’s going to be on the rap record?
Right now, Rob Sonic, Dose One, Serengeti, my one friend who has never rapped before. I’m working on getting one more guest right now, but I don’t want to say who it is yet.
The Beck collaboration came about because Anticon label head Shaun Koplow took a class with Beck’s music director. Was there any interaction between you and Beck or was it just trading files back and forth?
Just trading files. We’ve never actually spoke, but I was able to get his e-mail address to say thanks.
You’ve talked about how much you loved “Mellow Gold.” What was it about that record that you admire so much?
I was actually setting out for this to be my “Mellow Gold,” but it came out a little rougher. In the beginning, I always looked to that album as a blueprint on how to mix things up and how to mess around and still be really good. “Mellow Gold” is an album full of tiny little details that made it onto the finished product, and that’s something that I love in music. That’s the problem with “Eating Us” -- there are no little details. It’s just straight up, get in the studio, record a song and that’s it. I tried to have more fun this time.
Download: (Pop & Hiss exclusive)
MP3: Tobacco - "Six Royal Vipers" (left-click)
-- Jeff Weiss
Photo: Tobacco; Credit: Anticon
Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.