On Cobra Juicy, the latest self-released effort from Black Moth Super Rainbow, ringleader Tom Fec (a.k.a Tobacco) abandons much of the Technicolor-hued, whimsical, glitchy carnival of sound that rendered the band instantly recognizable over the past decade. Their distinct arsenal of wonky synths and syrupy, slightly sinister vocoder vox remain in tact of course, but the Black Moth hiatus of the past couple of years (which also saw solo releases from many of the collective’s members) seems to have rebooted the project into BMSR v2.0. Cobra Juicy serves up Black Moth’s most focused effort to date, showcasing a songwriting craft that’s elevated Tobacco’s brainchild into new stratospheres. Cobra Juicy offers a more traditional collection of songs while remaining even harder to categorize at the same time, which is kind of a mindfuck. It’s unequivocally one of the best psych pop efforts to come out in a long time, so it was thrilling to get Fec on the phone and shoot the shit. While he was excited to talk about the new record, he’s really excited to talk about his latest project – prank call outfit Sbarro Hottopic.
KB: I understand you’ve been doing press all day, I hope you’re not too zonked.
T: Nah, I’ve been bike riding today to help keep my brain lubed.
KB: [laughs] I can appreciate that. I wanted to first ask before we get into Cobra Juicy about the 2-3 year break you all took after Eating Us and the change in line-up. What was the impetus for the change and hiatus?
T: I just got tired of what the band was about and the music and back catalog. I was having just a lot more fun, and found it more interesting, with what I was doing with the Tobacco project. I didn’t really see a reason to go back, but I dunno… I kinda started on new music again and it came about organically. I wasn’t trying to make an album through Black Moth or anything, but I was coming up with a bunch of songs that sounded like Black Moth… and actually liked it. So I decided it was time to bring it back.
KB: So what was it that reinvigorated you exactly about the Black Moth project?
T: The fact that I remembered that it was my baby - that I really had all the control in changing it – even though sometimes I felt like I didn’t. But I had this epiphany that was like, to me I was either gonna come back to it and it’ll be over, or I’m gonna come back to it and do something different and risk people not liking it and it being over again. So either way I’m gonna run the risk of it being over so I might as well have as much fun with it as possible. It’s an outlet, might as well.
KB: Yeah, and it’s hard to give up something that you’ve already invested a lot of time in. I read somewhere as well, and I can’t remember where it was now, that you disliked Eating Us. Why was that?
T: I wrote it in a really lazy way. I kinda like… it was a weird record in that there were no outtakes. I kinda just like wrote it song by song, and after the way people responded to Dandelion Gum, [Eating Us] was really the first record I had ever written knowing that people were listening. I was like “well, I’ll write this and I wanna get it out in 2009, and I’ll bring it to Dave Fridmann and have him polish it up, and it’ll just be cool and everyone will like it.” But I just didn’t put in the effort it needed. I feel like it needed maybe another year of work by me, and I think like, the only redeeming quality of the record is the production work Dave did on it. I think it sounds really neat and really different from anything I’ve done. But it was just… I’ve never worked that way before, and haven’t worked that way since and knowing that I could have put in so much more effort made it a huge regret.
KB: Gotcha. Ya know, I asked because I still really like that record so I was surprised when I read that comment, but of course that’s me as the listener and there’s no way for me to get into your head and know what you wanted [that record] to be. As a fan of the band for about five years now though, I thought that record was great. Yet with that said, Cobra Juicy is the best record you’ve done yet. I also think it’s the most diverse, and I was curious if the songwriting process differed this time. Was it more collaborative in any way, or otherwise different?
T: Well, it was just me alone in a room pretty much for a couple years. It took probably about a year and a half to write. But yeah, I just did it completely solo. I was thinking about not wanting to get into the Black Moth frame of mind, because there’s really kind of a frame of mind since I’ve been doing this now for however many albums, and consciously trying to figure out like why I was unhappy with Eating Us. And one of the things was… I did what I did on Dandelion Gum, and then I just kinda like did it again. And that was not the right way to approach it, because when I made Dandelion Gum, I was totally doing things on the fly. I guess experimenting would be one of the words, but that’s what I wanted to bring back – that kind of energy – with [Cobra Juicy]. So it’s a giant stew of weird ideas and new ideas that come out of my comfort zone.
KB: Right on. So how do you decide what becomes a Tobacco song and what becomes a Black Moth song?
T: The way I’ve always looked at it is this: if it sounds like a pop song that people might like – not that I write with people in mind – but if the end result sounds like a pop song people might like and it isn’t too offensive, then it goes to Black Moth. If it’s something that I think people might be turned off by or offended by or it’s kinda abrasive or unfinished or it’s something that, like, makes me really happy because it’s just fucked, then it goes to Tobacco.
KB: That’s interesting because I always thought it was the other way around, so [laughs]… that’s awesome. So who does all the artwork. Is that you?
KB: I love it because it reminds me of – especially stuff like the ugly orange mask and the basketball head – reminds me of a bunch of toys I had as a kid that were all about being weird and gross. Would you say that a large part of the visual element of Black Moth is sorta informed by the, ya know, ’90s childhood experience?
T: Yeah yeah, a ton of it! I was into all that gross out shit because that’s what my parents got me as kid. I’ll always remember the logos and packaging and everything, and that’s what I was drawn to. I think, at least for me and there aren’t a whole lot of us out there maybe, that anytime I see a record cover that’s big and bright and ugly and [laughs] it’s basically yelling at me, I’ll check it out. It’s just… I dunno, I think album covers, especially now, they’re just so bad. So many bands, their album covers are just so so bad and so boring. I can totally see why you would want to just download the mp3. You don’t need to have the fucking thing in your hand, because it’s just a picture of someone on a beach or something.
T: Basically, yeah.
KB: I can definitely appreciate that because I’m a graphic designer in the day so I can tell pretty quickly looking at artwork how half-assed it is. But ya know, when I look at the Black Moth albums, like the first time I saw the logo on Dandelion Gum, and this is what inspired the question, it reminded of the old Creepy Crawlers logo. I was like ‘that’s rad, I haven’t seen something like that in a long time.’
T: It was actually the You Can’t Do That On Television logo!
KB: Oh, right on!
T: If you go back – and it’s morphed a little in the past few years – but the original logo was meant to be like if you looked at, um, in the intro of the show when [the guy] gets stamped on the head, that’s what it’s supposed to be, that exact design.
KB: [laughs] Holy crap, I’m gonna have to go back and watch it now, I didn’t even make that connection. So speaking of having fun, Sbarro Hottopic. When is that droppin’, man? We want the whole thing!
T: [sighs] I wish it would come out. I wish I could put it out now. It’s just got some really dangerous material on it. [laughs] It’s the kind of thing my lawyer has advised me to never ever release. I love it so much and I want it to come out. I mean, I’d like to think I believe in everything I do, but I dunno, I think I might be a better prank caller than musician. I’m just really proud of it. I have this one call on there, it’s like, I feel like I’ve heard it all, but this is the craziest prank call I’ve ever heard. I’ll slowly get stuff out there though. One guy in the band runs a label called Graveface and he’s doing a charity series, and I’m gonna do a 7″ for it that’s got a couple of tracks on there that are less dangerous and won’t get me in trouble. Hopefully. Maybe that can lead to an album.
KB: Is it because you have to get releases from all these people, or is that sensitive information is getting out in some of these calls? Or is it just super nasty?
T: I mean, some of [the calls are] just super nasty. To get releases… you’d just have to hear it to understand why I can’t get releases from some of these people [laughs], some of these calls are really embarrassing to some of these people. And some of them unfortunately I’ve lost their numbers, so I wouldn’t know how to even get a release from them. It sucks. But something will come out eventually, and I promise it’ll be worth the wait.
KB: This is a two parter: what made you decide to peruse this prank call project, and how do you feel you can kinda do something new that like The Jerky Boys haven’t explored?
T: I think it’s because… I’m sitting in my room right now, and I have two rows of prank call CDs. So that’s probably about 100. I’ve just heard so many prank calls and I know what makes a good one and what makes a bad one and I think I was able to come up with a, I dunno, a group of characters and personas that I just haven’t heard before that just make sense. I feel like my angle is a little different. The Jerky Boys always felt like skits to me – and they’re really great, they’re obviously one of my fucking heroes – but it feels like they’ve got everything they want to say kinda planned out whereas I wanted to keep it more conversational. And I think it’s funner to be channeling some kind of character yourself to always keep the listener invested, but you also need to get that person on the other end to be the one saying the crazier shit. That makes it even funnier. I just did an interview with MTV on the five tips on what makes a successful prank call, and I actually think it’s a good guide, so if you can find that…
KB: I think I saw it actually, and you had mentioned some of these points, and I listened to “Little Ted” a couple weeks ago and you can definitely tell that you’re just kinda rollin’ with it and see when you can get this guy to stop just agreeing with what you’re saying!
T: [laughs] Yeah, and “Little Ted” is a safe one, which is the only reason it’s online. It also kinda demonstrates some of those points. It’s also not edited down that much, I kinda kept it long. I think if you can imagine tightened versions of that call, that’s what the album would be like.
KB: Well maybe one day.
T: Definitely one day. Probably not very soon.
KB: How did you hook up with Eric Wareheim for the Kickstarter video?
T: I’ve known him for a few years, but I can’t remember how we met. I’m sure it had something to do with getting a video made from the Eating Us days, or maybe earlier like the Fucked Up Friends days. I’ve just kept in touch with him ever since.
KB: So you went way over the Kickstarter goal, which is excellent and congratulations on that. What are you gonna do with the extra Kickstarter scratch?
T: [laughs] Well, that’s actually a really funny question actually. So after they take out all the fees and people’s credit cards that won’t go through, I made $112,000, and the final costs on this record after shipping and making all the masks and special vinyl was $115,000. So I’m $3,000 in the hole.
KB: Oof. Well, I just bought the record so there’s a little more coming your way [laughs] and I know a bunch of people that are picking it up this week as well. I mean, the stream I think helped, because a lot of people were like “gotta get this on vinyl because it’ll sound awesome,” which it does.
T: [laughs] Well thank you. I need the charity, Kickstarter like wiped me out.
So there you go. You should buy Cobra Juicy because it’s great, and it sounds great on vinyl, and Black Moth Super Rainbow is a solid ass investment. Pick it up at your brick and mortar store or on their site. If you’re on the east coast, they’re probably near you soon. As for me, I’m stoked on this: