With every new record, rural Pennsylvania electronic pioneers Black Moth Super Rainbow expand their cult popularity with ever stranger, slicker and more beautiful psychedelic pop music. BMSR’s front man goes by the name Tobacco, and when he’s not making awesomely odd music with his hipster-approved band, he’s working on solo projects and homemade recordings with tape machines, samplers and creaking analog synthesizers. With three recent releases under his belt — 2009’s Eating Us (by BMSR), 2008’s Fucked Up Friends (new solo material) and 2009’s The Allegheny White Fish Tapes (old solo material), Tobacco has plenty of trippy electronic music to bring to the Grog Shop when he plays there on Saturday. To help preview his solo show, Tobacco answered a few questions for us. —Keith Gribbins
Let’s jump right into your last record — 2008’s Fucked Up Friends: great album, lush production, very tight but still filled to the gills with 16 great songs. Yet the album exudes that trademark Black Moth Super Rainbow sound. In your view, how does this sound and feel different that your other great band, BMSR?
I’ve always thought BMSR was more feel-good, melody kind of music, and that might not have become apparent until [2009’s] Eating Us, so I like having my own stuff that’s a little sicker and more paranoid, but hopefully in a good way.
Fucked Up Friends was released in 2008 and BMSR’s Eating Us was released in 2009. Are you working on new stuff constantly? How does the writing process differ for your solo material?
Our touring schedule is pretty light, so I like to use my time coming up with new shit. For the solo stuff, I don’t worry about how I can pull it off with a band. I like to keep it really raw, and don’t worry about much else than making myself snicker. Maybe that’s why it’s more fun in the end.
You’re also out promoting The Allegheny White Fish Tapes — a collection of early tapes from 1996-1999 — over 70 minutes of mostly unreleased/unheard broken ghetto-blaster songs, warped drum machines, purple noise, ripped cassettes and melodies. A lot of this was before BMSR?
Yeah, this was the first stuff I was ever writing on my four-track in high school. I think I kind of rejected it when I was trying to be serious with BMSR, but I don’t really care about that anymore. I like the ideas again, and I feel almost like I’m coming full circle with some of the stuff I have for the next Tobacco record. It was all guitar and tape noise and having fun back then, and I think I lost my way with BMSR because I was in search of something bigger. And I finally feel like I’m at the point where whatever that bigger thing is, it doesn’t matter if it’s not as fun. I mean honestly, the latest BMSR album is like a well-thought classy record for my standards, and I don’t think of myself as quite that classy.
I’ve read you enjoy creating your odd and ethereal style of electronic music using pre-digital electronic instruments — analog synthesizers and tape machines. What attracts you about the feel and sound of the pre-digital format?
I don’t care what time period an instrument is from or if it’s analog or digital, but in my experience playing around with this stuff, the analog synths have more life. I wish it was the other way around, because analog comes with the price of stability. I’ve finally found a good combination of samplers so I don’t have to use tape reels anymore, because that was painful for someone like me who likes to work really quickly on the fly.
You and BMSR have some of the most frightening and hilarious artwork around for your albums. You seem to have this obsession with creepy cartoons, faces, rolled back eyes, mouths and teeth. What inspires your album artwork?
I just like big bold imagery — stuff that’s simple and hides all of its detail in a few elements.
I love to listen to almost any Aesop Rock song — and “Dirt” [on Fucked Up Friends] is no exception. Do you see more collaboration in your future or at the show?
There won’t be any collaborations in the live shows, but I’m bringing in more voices for a minute on the next album. There’s this new one called “Lick the Witch” with Rob Sonic on mic duties that’s like my favorite beat I’ve come up with in a long time.
Having a year plus to reflect on the 16 tunes on Fucked Up Friends and play them live, do you see certain themes or patterns emerge from this specific set? Fucked Up Friends is certainly an interesting title — does it somehow tie these tunes together?
The title can mean absolutely anything, and I like hearing what people come up with, so I won’t say exactly what it means. But for me, the meaning’s a lot looser than it seems. I thought that set of songs was really dense and they belonged together. I was making them at the same time as Eating Us, and it was like they were a freaky escape from the freaky escapist music I was making. One of the themes was paranoia and how it can be awesome if you feel it the right way.
Tell us about your live set. For fans who haven’t attended, what is a Tobacco show live set like?
It’s something like a DJ set with VHS and grossout visuals. There are two of us playing, and then it changes depending on who we can round up to stick in the sweaty wolf suit.