Black Moth Super Rainbow
The Great Unknowns
by Kevin J. Elliott

Until recently, it seems like Black Moth Super Rainbow’s status as relative unknowns was a product of their various mythos overshadowing their phantasmagoric pop. With band members taking on oblong pseudonyms (Seven Fields of Apelion, Power Pill Fist, Father Hummingbird, and Tobacco), never revealing their faces in photos, and conjuring up fairy tales about bubblegum, witches and the woods in which they record, their anonymity equated to obscurity. According to Tobacco, the wizard behind the curtain who is in reality the sole writer, producer and creator of the Rainbow, that was the opposite of what was supposed to happen. By not giving the listening public personalities with which to focus on, the actual music should have been magnified. For Tobacco, the music of Black Moth Super Rainbow is neither psychedelic nor nostalgic, it’s intended for a wide audience—not a cult-like following—but somewhere along the way it dawned on him that maybe the do-it-yourself, lo-fi, masked-men approach was a wall he needed to breach.

Consider then Eating Us, the Rainbow’s newly released record, as a last ditch effort to tear into the other side. In a streak of extremely good fortune, Tobacco was able to wrangle Dave Fridmann (producer of countless pop wonders) to man the controls, mix the live drums to perfection, and even add some string arrangements for pomposity’s sake. The results of this collaboration are more than evident on Eating Us, which boasts song after song of oozing atmosphere and starburst melodies. All of the qualities that fans of the band have grown to adore—overly vocoded vocals, monolithic synth waves and paisley break beats—are here multiplied onto a much wider screen, where every detail shines through. That attention to nuance brings out softer tones never heard before, like the pastoral guitar line throughout “Smile the Day After Today” or the banjo daydreaming on “American Face Dust.” It also accentuates the heavier laser-beamed boogaloo on songs like “Tooth Decay” and “The Sticky,” which is indicative of Tobacco’s solo hip-hop adventures on last year’s Fucked Up Friends. Regardless if this journey into high fidelity yields radio gold or signals the disintegration of Tobacco’s concept of Black Moth Super Rainbow forever, it’s a grand achievement for one of the country’s most underrated artists.

I recently caught up with Tobacco to discuss the mysteries of the band, how he’s assembling the band for a round of live shows, and the future endeavors he’s likely to pursue once this tour is over and the smoke surrounding Eating Us has cleared.

I’m of the understanding that even though Black Moth Super Rainbow is a band, you are pretty much the sole creator of the songs and music. Was this the case on Eating Us and you are still doing a bulk of the work yourself?

Tobacco: The difference on this one is that instead of being 99% me, this was 90% me, because I finished it like I normally would and then passed it on to my drummer. He did drums for everything. Then passed it on to another member of the live band, and he wrote a few bass and guitar lines for it.

Between Dandelion Gum and Eating Us, what did you strive to accomplish sonically? How did you want it to be different?

T: I wanted to treat this as an end, even though it isn’t. I had an opportunity to work with Dave (Fridmann), so I took it. I wanted it to be a little more accessible, a little more clear—something that people are accustomed to hearing. My production in the past has been, I don’t know, jolting to some people. So I wanted to take one stab at it. This doesn’t determine the future of what I want to do, but with this opportunity I wanted to make it hi-fi, and that was the main point of this record.

How did you end up choosing Dave Fridmann as a producer? Was there a certain record from your past that made the decision for you?

T: In the late-90s, I was so into the Soft Bulletin and Deserter Songs, and those always stuck with me. He’s always been the guy who understands live bass and live drums better than anyone. Those were the two things I wanted to bring out the most for this one, and he was the perfect guy to do it.

Did you find it hard to adapt to working with a producer as opposed to doing it all yourself?

T: No, not at all. He had more adapting to do then I did. We didn’t work like you normally would in a studio, where you go into a studio, write the album, record it, and it’s fucking done. The plan all along was that I would have it finished before we went out there, and we were going to work backwards. We were only there for a week. We just went into the sessions that I had already created and anything that I thought that Dave could really excel at we re-did, like the drums and bass. I had him redo all of the strings that I wrote. And then he did the final mix.

I guess I have to ask, since I’ve never read anything about your influences before. Your sound is rather distinctive (even though all of the analog synth-pop is slightly nostalgic—I’m thinking filmstrip music and A.M. radio), but I’m curious to know what artists brought you to create this?

T: I was really into pretty normal stuff because I didn’t really have friends who listened to cool music. I still like stuff that I liked in high school. I’ve been doing a lot of interviews this week, and this question always comes up. But honestly I love the Stone Temple Pilots and I really enjoy the new Scott Weiland album. I don’t usually like stuff that people compare to us. I don’t want to burn any bridges doing that, but I don’t think Air is any good. It’s fucking boring. I can’t stand Daft Punk. I don’t like psychedelic music.

I’ve read the last record was loosely based around a story about witches and chewing gum. Is there any conceptual narrative at work on Eating Us?

T: No, this one has no concept. The concept on the last one was really loose. We had it done, and I wanted a story behind it. We had this idea to put together a book of weird western Pennsylvania folklore and we’d been recording a lot in a remote cabin, so eventually each song had a different story after the fact. It all connected because it all had a similar sound, but we got tagged as the “witches in the woods” band. So this one has no concept and no narrative.

It doesn’t need it. With this you can explore your own imagined world.

T: Exactly. That’s what I wanted.

You’ve been a rather anonymous band for the most part. Is there an importance to taking on pseudonyms and hiding your faces? Do you think you’ll ever emerge from that mystery? Have you ever considered ditching the vocoder for your next phase?

T: Ditching the vocoder would be impossible because I’m not a singer. The main reason I do that is because I can get vocal lines and melodies across that I couldn’t do with my own voice. I’m just not comfortable singing. I think a lot of singers are in it for the wrong reasons. The anonymity is there because I don’t want people to get too caught up into who we are. The music is not about my past or anything I care about; I want it to be about what you hear in it. I think giving too much away about ourselves would ruin the whole purpose of what I’m trying to do.

Speaking of a different phase, in a lot of ways, Fucked Up Friends could have been the latest Black Moth Super Rainbow album, but you chose to give it your own name. How do you distinguish between the two?

T: Right after Dandelion Gum, we started playing live a lot and people began to think that’s what this band is. It was then I made the conscious decision that Black Moth had to be hi-fi. I said in 2007 that either I’m going to get Fridmann or Dandelion Gum is the last Black Moth album. I was lucky that it turned out the way it did. The decision to separate the solo record was the difference between me exploring things on my own and exploring things with Dave. I didn’t want to worry about performing certain songs with the band, or teaching the band. Overall the records feel pretty different.

As Fucked Up Friends is more indebted to the beat and to dusty samples (there’s even an appearance from Aesop Rock), do you have any desire to become a hip-hop producer? Is there anything in the works?

T: I would much rather be touring with hip-hop guys than rock guys, for sure. It seems like that’s where I have the most fun and that’s where my heart really is. But Black Moth has taken on a new life, in a different stage than it was with just me alone, so I hope it makes sense to everyone why I have two things going on at once.

Do you have a dream hip-hop collaboration?

T: I actually do. I really want to work with Biz Markie, but I don’t know how to get in touch with him.

The band is also known to incorporate a lot of visuals to the packaging and the live show (the new video, the Eating Us booklet), so what can we expect to see on this tour as opposed to the past?

T: The live show has always been pretty beefy. The only difference now is trying to incorporate some more entertaining visuals. We’re not trying to change it up too much because I don’t really think many people have had the chance to see us live.

Anything new currently in the works?

T: There’s always something on the way, and there’s definitely something coming soon. What it is I’m not sure, but it’s definitely not Black Moth. At the end of the year, I plan on putting Black Moth to bed for a while and concentrate on something completely different.