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- Posted on Mar 14th 2010 2:45PM by Seano Barry
Tobacco is an electronic musician from Pittsburgh who moonlights as the founding member and wizard in charge of the psychedelic synth-pop band Black Moth Super Rainbow. Tom Fec is Tobacco, and he is mere weeks from releasing his second "solo" album, 'Maniac Meat,' which will come out May 25. The album, featuring Beck on two tracks, meanders and flows between lo-fi hip hop and spacey synths that mesh with rock beats. Tobacco will be playing an astounding six or seven shows at this year's SXSW festival. Spinner talked with him about the festival and what we can expect from the new album.
How would you describe your sound (on the new album)?
It's kind of like all of the things I liked as a kid from the late '80s, early '90s. Like all the weird synth sounds. It's kind of abrasive, kind of a party record, without being like AC/DC.
You're going to be down at SXSW for four showcases...
Actually, it's six or seven.
Good lord. Are you touring with any other band members?
Yeah. It's always two of us on stage. But for SXSW and a few shows after that, there will be three of us.
Who are your musical influences?
It seems to be always changing. In high school I really loved the Butthole Surfers, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Beck, obviously. I think 'Mellow Gold' is probably my all-time favorite record.
What is in your festival survival kit?
I wish I could say sleeping pills, but I don't really like pills. I don't know. I really need to put one of those together, because I always get so killed. I mean, SXSW and CMJ are so hectic at times, and I'm not really sure how I have survived. Doing six or seven shows this year, I'm not sure I will survive.
You seem to have a fondness for synth pop, at least in some of your work. And I know you like analog equipment. Here is a scenario: You are banished to a studio as punishment and you can take one keyboard in with you. Here are your choices: Fender Rhodes, Mini-Moog, Wurlitzer, Hammond B3 or Mellotron. Which one do you take?
I'd take the Mini-Moog, because you could get the widest variation of sound out of it.
You can bring another piece of equipment in with you, one that you've always wanted to try, but never had the chance. What would that piece of equipment be?
I've always wanted to try a VCS 3 [late-'60s portable synth with a pin matrix patching board and a joystick]. I don't even know how to use it, really. But it would be a lot of fun and you'd always end up with something new.
On the new album 'Maniac Meat,' you got Beck to do vocals on two tracks. How did you make that happen?
That was a really awesome coincidence. I wanted to write these songs that are sort of outside what I normally do. And I was thinking, "Man I should just rip off Beck." Maybe just see if I could sound like Beck. Obviously it didn't work. Right when we made that decision, I was talking to the guy who runs Anticon Label [Shaun Koplow]. He tells me he's taking this computer class and while in class, a guy raises his hand to ask the teacher how he could use what he's learned in the band that he's in. After class, he approached him and asked "Just curious. What band are you in?" The guy answered, "I'm Beck's musical director," and Shaun said, "Well, I run a label called Anticon." "Anticon? You guys put out the Tobacco record." So I had to jump on it.
What bands are you hoping to check out at SXSW while you're there?
I'm just hoping to get some sleep, honestly. I don't foresee myself having a chance to see anyone, but if I did, my friends from Austin, the Octopus Project, are putting on some kind of show on the roof of Whole Foods. It's some kind of multimedia thing.
I read that you are a big prank phone call fan? Besides the Jerky Boys, who are your favorite prank callers?
The all time greatest, hands down, is this guy from Colorado. He calls himself Longmont Potion Castle. I'm not sure he was on anything when he made some of these calls. These are not like the Jerky Boys, who come up with a character, then they call you, and have a bit worked out that they are going do on you, like walking into an 'SNL' skit. This guy was more like on the fly, really f---ed up. He didn't threaten you, but he would say the weirdest s---.
Do you have any musical guilty pleasures?
I used to think some of the things I liked were just guilty pleasures because the indie kids I get grouped with would look down on some of the things I listen to. I love the Scott Weiland album that came out last year. I would absolutely love to work with that guy.
How did you come up with your name?
There was a Troma movie that I saw as a kid called 'Redneck Zombies.' It's a goofy movie, but there's one character in it that's really freaky. It's this guy called the Tobacco Man. He's like an ice cream man, but he would bring tobacco. He would drive his truck out into the woods and ring this bell. He wore a piece of burlap over his face. You could only see one eye but you could tell that he was burned up. He was this weird prophet, and the ambiance that they would have behind him made him really scary.
What's the craziest thing you've ever seen on tour?
I haven't seen or done anything too crazy. But at one of those Flaming Lip shows we did, they had us up in the balcony filling those huge balloons. We were gonna throw them out on top of the people. At one point in the show, they're playing full blast, and one of the dancers that they had onstage -- I don't know if they were drunk or what, but the dancer fell off of the stage nine feet down right on their head. And as they were playing you could hear that thud all the way up in the balcony. And that just stuck with me.
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