MUCH AS THEIR fans and supporters in the music press might like to think otherwise, Black Moth Super Rainbow’s leader Tobacco doesn’t consider the band’s music psychedelic. And just to set record straight, he isn’t a fan of psychedelic music. Gracious as he is in discussing it, he’s clearly tired of having to clarify where he’s coming from. Given Black Moth’s wash of (ahem) trippy analog layering and heavily distorted vocoder vocals,Tobacco’s adamancy might seem puzzling, maybe even contrary.
After all, the band’s 2007 album was named Dandelion Gum, of all things, and features a multi-colored album cover that, no matter how much you try and rationalize it, looks suspiciously like the very state of mind people slip things on their tongues to achieve. Not to mention that Black Moth’s music sounds like the perfect soundtrack for self-induced bouts of solitary head-expansion, if you will. For the record, Tobacco says he’s not a drug user and that he’s not interested in making music for a drug experience. But if his insistence that everything he makes is pop came across as evasive in the past, it won’t anymore, with the release of the new album Eating Us.
“My music isn’t like what usually gets categorized as pop,” says Tobacco, “but it’s supposed to sound like catchy melodies and colors—at least to me.”
With Eating Us,Tobacco (who plays almost all of Black Moth’s music himself and doesn’t divulge his real name so as to avoid getting into trouble at his job) may succeed in clearing up any misunderstandings about his work once and for all. A dreamy, hook-filled affair, Eating Us sounds not unlike like vintage California AM pop rock when you strip away the surface strangeness. On certain songs, such as “Golden Splatter,” you can practically hear the Pacific Coast glimmering in the background. And where previous Black Moth music centered on repetition and texture (and did, at times, sound like it was designed to give folks in skinny jeans bad trips) this time Tobacco and producer Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips, Longwave) made it a point to let the melodies shine. Apparently, actual songs have always been hiding in Tobacco’s writing the whole time.
“I’ve been able to rely on textures and weird production more,” he explains. “I wanted to work with Fridmann to see if these songs could stand up to a more traditional treatment. Not that he’s a traditional producer, but compared to what I’m doing he is a lot more traditional.”
Unsurprisingly, given Fridmann’s body of work, the producer helped Tobacco craft an album that is at once sonically distinct yet direct.The acoustic instrumentation that Tobacco would have buried in the past is clearly discernible, for example, as are his lyrics. He still sings through the vocoder the entire time, but the vocals no longer skirt the line of gimmickry. Much like a guitar player who eventually masters a delay pedal and uses it artfully rather than hiding behind it, Tobacco was able to rein in the effect. On Eating Us, he no longer sounds like he’s trying to avoid singing, or like he can’t be bothered with it. Here, he explores new avenues of harmony that would otherwise have not been available to him and actually makes a fresh contribution to singing as an art form.
Still, no matter how much he’s moving in an accessible direction, listeners might be shocked to know that one of his biggest influences is Stone Temple Pilots.
“I’ve never been ironic about that kind of stuff,” he says. “We get lumped in with the Pitchfork bands, so people assume that that’s what I listen to. I like to find new music, but I can’t say I’m a Pitchfork music fan.”
Again, it might seem like Tobacco is merely trying to keep a comfortable distance from indie-rock trend chasers, but he may have found the most genuine way to stay ahead of the curve—by breaking up Black Moth. Yes, Pitchfork readers, this may be the band’s last run.
“I always set out to achieve something,” he says, “and once it’s achieved, then I don’t really know where to go from there.With Black Moth records, as soon as I finish one, I’ve always got one I’m already deep into.This time around, I’ve got no ideas. I’ve got nothing.”
> Black Moth Super Rainbow
July 24, Pier 17, South Street Seaport; 6, FREE