He goes by the name Tobacco, his band is called Black Moth Super Rainbow, and his song credits include the tasty likes of “Lollipopsichord” and “Iron Lemonade.” He also knows what you’re thinking—and you would be wrong. There’s nothing psychedelic about electro-pop’s trippiest band.
“I’ve never set out to make psychedelic music,” Tobacco says. “I don’t listen to psychedelic music. I don’t particularly appreciate psychedelic music.”
When asked if he finds Black Moth Super Rainbow’s presumed ties to the drug culture to be somewhat limiting, Tobacco takes it a step further.
“I find it extremely limiting, and I’m definitely not okay with it,” he says. “I mean, I don’t care what anyone does when they listen to the music. It does not matter to me as long as you enjoy it. But what bothers me is how 90 percent of our write-ups have to talk about how we’re stoners or how you have to be stoned to listen to the music. It just trivializes everything that I’m trying to do. It’s fine if people still want to call it whatever they’ll call it, but it’s just the constant, never-ending drug references that really get old.”
Tobacco was probably slightly more forgiving of the hallucinatory similes two years ago, when Black Moth Super Rainbow’s superb album Dandelion Gum was making the blog rounds, widely hailed as one of 2007’s breakout indie efforts. Even with a DIY production style, Tobacco had managed to carve out a sonically vast, danceable, otherworldly electro-pop gestalt, landing Black Moth somewhere between the robot romanticism of Air and the somewhat creepier robot futurism of Boards of Canada.
Despite the success of Dandelion Gum, though, Tobacco and his occasional Black Moth bandmates have never abandoned their unusual commitment to privacy—no real names, no traditional press photos, and vocals sung exclusively through a droid vocoder of some kind. Their vague backstory—born from the muck of some West Pennsylvania nowheresville—and Tobacco’s nonsensical lyrics have only helped enhance the group’s appeal among listeners itching for something with a hint of mystery.
“It goes back to pre-Internet days, I think,” says Tobacco. “I think you probably know just as much about us as people might have known about most bands in the ’70s or ’80s. And they weren’t considered mysterious back then. It’s just that everyone has to know everything now about everybody in every band, so by comparison, we’re considered mysterious. But this is honestly just the way we are. It was never a marketing thing with us.”
Of course, on Planet Indie Rock, what makes you charming one day can also make you yesterday’s news tomorrow. Black Moth Super Rainbow’s fourth album, Eating Us, was greeted with largely ho-hum reviews last month. Much of the lackluster response has focused on Tobacco’s decision to enter a professional studio for the first time in his career—taking BMSR hi-fi with none other than hotshot producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, MGMT, Weezer).
“For me just to go into any old studio would be a mistake,” Tobacco says. “But with (Fridmann), he was able to add a lot of space and dimension to what we do. And on top of that, after meeting him, I knew he was really, really open to me and my dumb ideas. The interesting thing was Dave was actually nervous about changing our sound. I think he was a little worried about the backlash, and it’s actually the backlash that we are kind of getting now. But I sort of expected it. My philosophy was, ‘Hey, do what you do.’ I wasn’t really worried about changing the sound, because that’s kind of the point of what we were doing.”
For all the attention given to Fridmann’s professional deflowering of BMSR on Eating Us, the final product he and Tobacco produced sounds a lot closer to Dandelion Gum than it does to The Soft Bulletin. Standout tracks like “Twin of Myself” and “Tooth Decay” maintain the fun, mystery, and underrated pop songcraft that made Black Moth a noteworthy find in the first place. So, how does Tobacco explain the seemingly irrational backlash?
“Just laziness and a lack of imagination, that’s all,” he says. “For some reason, people think the new Grizzly Bear record is like the greatest thing in the world. I heard it playing at a record store, and a guy told me what it was, and I was like, ‘This is perfect old-person record-store music.’ Because it’s just so easy to understand. That seems to be what people are looking for right now.”