Published Oct 31, 2012At the beginning of 2012, Black Moth Super Rainbow announced on their website, "We're back!" Leaving fans confused by the implication that the Pittsburgh, PA quintet ever left. After three quiet years that saw band members release solo LPs, head honcho Thomas Fec (aka Tobacco) scrapped Black Moth Super Rainbow's expected full-length before recording Cobra Juicy, sans band members, with the help of an overwhelmingly successful Kickstarter campaign. Now nearly three-and-a-half years after their last LP, the rather languid Eating Us, Black Moth Super Rainbow's fifth release may not be their most resourceful work to date, but it's undoubtedly their most sublime. Packaged on a USB stick jammed into the mouth of a menacing, wearable latex mask, or as lenticular 3D vinyl, Cobra Juicy keeps the band's yin/yang splendour intact. Everything on Cobra Juicy ends up filtered through bent-pitch optics, leaving the listener with gestalt-infused delicacies that come off exceptionally gooey on the inside, but obstinately crusty on the outside.
Where am I talking to you from, are you in Pittsburgh?
Fec: Yeah, I'm actually at the post office.
You don't use Stamps.com like Marc Maron suggests?
We did some Stamps.com and they won't let us do anymore; I don't know what's up so I had to go to the post office. We're in the middle of a Kickstarter thing where we're trying to get 2,000 orders out in, like, a week.
Has this stress taken away from the anticipation of releasing a new album?
I usually find these times stressful; this time is the most stressful because I'm basically running a shipping centre right now. It's really, really intense and we have four people working on it and it's not even enough! I haven't really had time to sit back and get ready for this album to come out. And as soon as we're done shipping we have to go right out on tour, so it's difficult.
Can you talk a bit about the recording of Cobra Juicy?
The main difference between this one and the last one [2009's Eating Us] is that I did this one completely on my own. I didn't go to the live band for any help. I also didn't use any kind of producer. We worked with [Dave] Fridmann last time. The last one was kind of an anomaly because that was the most collaborative I've ever been as a band and then we had Fridmann at the end polishing it. But this one was weird because I wrote a record [working title: Psychic Love Damage] and I thought it was going to come out, maybe end of last year or the beginning of this year, but it was way too Black Moth-y and I thought that was a bad thing.
Are you saying you wanted something more personal?
I don't know; I think people have expectations now for what I do. I feel like I've created my own thing and I feel that people have expectations of what they want to hear. That album that I created was a total Black Moth Super Rainbow album and I didn't want that. So I threw it out and made this one instead; I rewrote a couple of the songs.
Do you think that this might have stemmed from the fact that your last solo album as Tobacco (2010's Maniac Meat) was a success? The fact that everything went right with that album?
I don't feel like the Tobacco album did that great and I feel like a lot of people didn't get it because it was kind of a raw album. I mean, it was really fun to make and it was really fun to tour on.
I think that would qualify it as a success; you don't have to necessarily have to judge it on critical acclaim or record sales.
Yeah, that was the record that really showed me that, like, "Fuck! It really doesn't matter what anyone says." Because at the end of the day, these shows that I'm having, everyone's having fun. Which was fine to me because I would get people on Facebook or Twitter that would say, "This album is too... da, da, da. I don't like this," but then they're at the show the next night having a great time. That's kind of all that matters and I took that way of thinking to the new Black Moth album. Because with Black Moth, I've always put a lot of pressure on myself to write songs that maybe won't turn people off as much. The fun that I had with Tobacco, that's the only way I'm going to be able to come back to Black Moth, because after 2009 when we were done touring, the band were essentially done. I really didn't have any plans to come back and make another Black Moth album. I was kind of a giant drag and it was all self-imposed, but I wanted to flip the script a little bit.
Does scrapping and re-recording an entire album put more pressure on you or less?
It was no stress to do that. I honestly didn't give a flying fuck if I did another Black Moth album. I only make these things to entertain myself and then I edit them down two ways: into songs I don't think people will be disgusted by, which become Black Moth, and into songs that I really think are fucked up and that make me happy, which become Tobacco. I would have been totally fine continuing on with Tobacco with no pressure. Me scrapping it, yeah, I did all this work but I could use these ideas on something else. Cobra Juicy is kind of like a third-generation record because before that first Black Moth album, in the summer of 2010, I got hired by this girl and her record label to completely rewrite her record, so it was sort of a remix record.
Who was it?
They don't want me to say. But I got hired to do that and I had all these skeletons and structures that I was really in love with and the whole time I was working on it they [the record label] were like, "Oh, yeah, this is great, this is perfect!" And when I finally turned the finished thing in they were like, "Oh, this isn't going to work." And I was like, "Well, why the fuck did you hire me, didn't you know what you were getting into?" It sounded too much like me, I guess. So, a lot of those pieces and structures and skeletons became the backbone for that first Black Moth album and then I kind of cannibalized that and turned that into the new Black Moth album. Cobra Juicy is kind of the third try at something.
Can you sum up what makes Cobra Juicy an improvement over Psychic Love Damage?
Because it's back to me just having fun with what I do. For Eating Us, I thought about it, because that was the first record I ever did where I knew people were finally watching. I really thought about it, which was the dumbest thing I can do, and at the same time, I feel that I didn't really quite finish that album.
Growing up, were you a fan of that first-wave of four-track material, like Sentridoh or Guided by Voices or early Beck, the type of stuff that was recorded without any expectations of success?
Maybe my favourite album of all-time is [Beck's] Mellow Gold. That was one of the first albums that I really got into. I didn't really like music as a kid; I mean, at all. To me, it was all posturing, almost like acting, and that's kind-of what we're back to now, like what indie music is now: back to total fucking posturing. So, yeah, I just want to entertain myself.
Can you sum up the Kickstarter campaign your band started to record Cobra Juicy? Money aside, do you feel that you gained something valuable from doing it?
I feel like one of the better things that came out of it was when I was shopping the album around, I was trying to get a bigger label because I had these expensive ideas to make these masks and special vinyl and everything, so I wanted a budget and basically all these labels told me that I was unsignable. When you hear that 30 times, you start to believe it.
You're talking indie labels?
Yeah, any big indie label you can think of turned me down and told me that I was unsignable... or maybe they just don't like what I do.
They were talking in monetary terms?
Beyond that; I had three labels say that because they didn't discover me and they couldn't take credit for what I do, that's just not something they want — they want new people. Because it's some weird Internet thing where you need credit, I guess. I had meetings with a number of these labels and they were telling me what kind of sales they have and what kind of money they make on their releases. So seeing that number on my Kickstarter page felt good because it was like, "Oh, I'm unsignable? Okay, sure."
In the end, did you feel validated by the number of people willing to put their money out there for your band?
It completely proved to me that this is why labels are going under. People want what they want and you have to give that to them, and in 2012, they're not going to pay for something that they don't want. They're going to download it and check it out and they're not going to fucking pay for it. That's what made my Kickstarter special to me: it showed me that people want what I'm doing. Even if it's not that many, it's enough.
And you exceeded your goal. Correct?
Yeah, the goal was 45,000 dollars and we did 125,000. Who's that unsignable to? In what fucking world? It's not like I was talking to Sony. Yeah, that would be bad for someone like Sony, but for who I'm talking to, it's like, give me a fucking break. I'm unsignable? Yeah...
I know that Eric Wareheim from Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! did the video for your Kickstarter pledge. How did you hook up with him?
I've stayed in touch with him since he made me that first Black Moth video for the live show [an introduction for the 2009 tour]. Originally, I was looking for an awesome, crazy director and we had a mutual friend. I knew if I was going to do a Kickstarter that he would be the guy to go to. Those guys actually are revolutionary within comedy, and visual art even; you see their influence all over the place.
I'm actually going to see David Liebe Hart from Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! live tomorrow night.
He's actually opening for us on this upcoming tour.
You've always tried to give something unique away with each album. Some copies of Eating Us included human hair and 2007's Dandelion Gum came with a scratch-and-sniff cover. What sparked this affection for unconventional packaging?
I feel that physical albums have genuine weight and you just can't download that; it makes a record more real and it's not disposable. Like, if you have a record that comes inside of a tooth of a mask, you're probably not going to throw that out. You're probably going to hang on to it and you're going to listen to it more intently and you're going to try to understand it and you're not going to just be like, "I just downloaded this for free and I don't like it on first listen so, I'm just going to delete it." It holds more weight.
Can you recall something that you've owned that made you feel this way?
The first one that I remember, the first one that made an impression on me when I was a kid, I think I was in eighth grade, it was when Pearl Jam's Vitology came out and that was like a book with those medical pages, because I guess it was taken from a real book called Vitology. I just sat with that thing for days while I was listening to the album and went through it. Then they did it again when they did No Code — they had the fake Polaroids; it was all just really great. Around that time, I remember Tool came out with an album; it was a lenticular animated CD [1996's Aenima]. It just stuck with me and really made me pay attention to these records I might not have paid as much attention to. People don't put enough time and effort into creating a world with their record and I think that that's a missed opportunity. I think if your cover is perfect and everything in the booklet, it all just works together.
There certainly is a theme that Black Moth Super Rainbow keep throughout each release, juxtaposing adorable song titles with menacing imagery.
I guess that's not really something I'm thinking of, it just usually turns out that way. But I really do like having limitations because I think nothing stifles creativity more than having limitless options, like people who write things on a computer who have everything at their fingertips. Where if you have one or two things and you're forced to make something out of what you have, that's when the personality actually comes out.