Although Black Moth Super Rainbow's dreamlike, psychedelic melodies sound like they could've been part of those '70s era Sid & Marty Krofft shows, the band actually formed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2003 in the wake of earlier projects from the act's singer and multi-instrumentalist, the unimonikered Tobacco (aka Thomas Fec). The group's 2007 album, Dandelion Gum, helped to bring Black Moth to a wider audience, propelled by upliftingly disorienting live shows that were part dance party and part psychedelic affair.
In 2012, Tobacco revealed on the band's website that he had scrapped what would have been an album called Psychic Love Damage because he felt the material just wasn't what he felt comfortable charging people money to buy.
Instead of releasing that album, the outfit mulched the record and essentially started over to produce what is the finest album of the band's career to date. On Cobra Juicy, Tobacco and the rest of the band went with a more grounded approach resulting in music that is buoyant, tonally kaleidoscopic and infused with rhythms born of the body and not purely of the intellect.
We recently had a rare chance to speak with the refreshingly frank and imaginative Tobacco about his preference for a non-formal approach to writing music for an album, how it came to be that Longmont Potion Castle did a remix of "Windshield Smasher" and the charm of local Pittsburgh haunted house attractions.
Westword: Your solo album Fucked Up Friends came out on Anticon a few years ago. How did you get connected with that label?
Tobacco: I think it was through remixes or something. I think it just got to the point where they couldn't ignore me anymore. I had done so many with them at that point and I sent them that record and asked if they would be interested in putting it out.
What got you interested in using all or mostly analog electronic instruments?
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I think it's the fact that I'd rather not make music that doesn't sound real. I think the analog stuff is closer to guitar or an actual instrument where vibrations are happening -- when you have a current going through circuits instead of just recorded sounds. I wish it didn't have to be that way because it's not easy. Some people think I'm maybe an analog purist, but I don't really care. I just goes with what sounds the best, and right now, that's what sounds the best.
How did you get in touch with Longmont Potion Castle to do a remix for "Windshield Smasher"?
I just asked him. I've been wanting to do something with him for a long time, and I try every once in a while, and this was the first one that stuck. It might be my favorite of the remixes.
He's kind of from Denver. How did you hear about him?
I've always been into prank calls since I was a little kid. Once I got the Internet in high school, I found out about him just searching for that stuff. There's was an old website, I think it just closed down a couple of months ago, called Crank Call Central. I used to get all the weird stuff through them. I think that's how I found about him at first.
His rock band in Denver was kind of like Dinosaur Jr, and Longmont Potion Castle is a lot weirder a project, obviously.
I think I met him in Asheville, North Carolina, and he was pretending he wasn't him. I'm still not sure.
How did you come to tour with The Flaming Lips, and did you take away anything from that experience that has stuck with you?
They just sent us an email one day and asked if we wanted to go on tour with them. I don't know. It was all positive, but I don't know if I applied anything to what I do.
How did it come to be that Mike Watt came to tour with you as a bassist?
He just emailed me, as well. He sent me a message on MySpace a long time ago and just said he would love to do anything. He promised me he wasn't a hustler. We did a song he wrote the bass line to, and he came to our shows in the Los Angeles area and asked to join us. He is a quick learner.
Is it true that you ditched the music for Psychic Love Damage? What made it not worthy of putting out?
It was just the same old shit. When it was done, it was boring to me, and it felt like what you'd expect. It felt like flat-lining to me or something. It was the sort of thing that people that don't want you to change at all would like. But I couldn't have handled actually having to support that.
Why do you prefer to use the Vocoder for your vocals with this band?
Because I can't sing, and anything I can think of or want to write as a singer, I can pull off with that. I don't think it's schticky like robot. I have never gone for that. Everyone associates the Vocoder with the robot voice, but I don't think that's what I've ever wanted. I just wanted to be able to pull off melodies that I couldn't [otherwise] and hit notes I couldn't hit.
Did you feel some kind of dissatisfaction with how Eating Us sounded that informed the sound choices you made in crafting the songs for Cobra Juicy?
It sounded great, and Dave [Fridmann] made it sound really great, but I think I just kind of phoned it in on what I did, and that's what bothered me about it. That was the only album I think ever really done where I had a timeline. We had studio time set up, and I had to have so much of it written by then, so I was writing it to write it, which is kind of a bad idea. I just need to make stuff for the sake of getting out whatever. Then if it becomes an album, it turns into an album at the end. But that was destined to be an album from the beginning, and I think I wasn't working on it the right way.
What did you to challenge yourself for Cobra Juicy beyond the organic songwriting approach?
I wanted work in ways that I was uncomfortable with. Electric guitar was not something I was ever comfortable with -- especially with recording it. You can have something sound so corny if you record it one way, but it sounds so cool if you record it a different way. I've never understood or cared about that shit. Sitting down and actually writing lyrics that meant more than nothing, I think, was another difference.
More personal than a surrealistic approach?
You did a Kickstarter campaign for Cobra Juicy, and it doesn't look like anyone took you up on the roller disco level, which is a shame. But there was also a reference to taking people to haunted houses as part of that. What types of haunted houses would you have taken people to?
The ones that they set up and make you pay for like attractions. We have a lot around here, and most of them are pretty hokey. I like the ones the further you get away from the city that are kind of in the more red neck-y zone that are kind of weird. We do that stuff anyway, so it would have been to kind of show what we do.
What are one or two of the weirder ones?
There's one that I really like. It's not even really corny. It's just cool because it's so far out, and it's called Demon House in a place called Monongahela. I didn't see it this year, but I remember the first time I went, there was a room at the end with a person sitting in the middle of the room, with a shotgun, and they had just blown their head off. That's all it was.
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