Behind Black Moth Super Rainbow's orange-pumpkin-skull mask is central commander, Tom Fec who we caught on tour for their new album Cobra Juicy. Fec takes us behind the scenes on the making of the record, those iconic Halloween masks, the ins and outs of Kickstarter and quaintness of Pittsburgh.
How has the touring circuit been thus far for Cobra Juicy?
It's been good, it's been weird going to Florida as your first time out on an album, I don't know, Florida is kinda weird.
How has Florida been, post-Sandy?
We actually haven't even had a drop of rain yet.
How is everything back in Pittsburgh with friends, family and everyone?
Not too bad, my parents are having their roof replaced tomorrow because of the storm.
That’s insane, so unprecedented, you think of these crazy things happening to little islands but that was surreal.
End of the world.
I knew something was up before Cobra Juicy came around when Dandelion Gum got reissued. And then that Kickstarter seemed to be a pretty positive thing for you. How did you rope in Eric Wareheim for the video?
I’ve known him for a while, I knew he would be perfect because beforewe even did mine, we looked at some of the [Kickstarters] out there and they’re so sad, they come across as so desperate, if you have ever seen that episode of “Portlandia” where they make a Kickstarter for a video that ends up being funded by the girl’s dad in one click, but yeah, everything they did is so true to how Kickstarter is. I guess I had the luxury of knowing someone like Eric to do an actual entertaining video and not something that’s kinda sad, so, maybe sad’s not the right word, but something that’s going to get your attention, not just me sitting there asking you for money.
Digital panhandling, so to speak.
Ha ha, in a way. I guess it’s sort of weird.
Yeah, maybe after that whole kerfuffle with Amanda Palmer and the crowd sourcing thing but at the same time it’s exciting because it does kind of tear down that wall between the artist and the fan by allowing them to contribute to the making of the album or be in the band depending or whatever the need may be.
I think with that Amanda Palmer thing and having done one myself now I think I am one of the few people that’s qualified to say, because everyone has been saying is Amanda Palmer is this or Amanda Palmer is this but the only mistake she made was telling people she didn’t have the money because when you see that $1.2 million you expect her to be super rich because of that. But the truth is, I set a goal of $45 thousand dollars and I made $125 thousand and after they take out the fees and the people whose funds didn’t go through I had $112 thousand and then once I made all the products that had to go to all those people and then to ship it all, that cost was $115 thousand so I lost $3 thousand dollars but I ended up having people around me who were like, ‘well you made $125 thousand dollars you can sure as hell do this’, no, well actually I’m $3 thousand dollars in the hole so ha, I really can’t! But I would never say that, I would never be like, ‘Oh, let’s see I only made $125 thousand dollars and I don’t have money to pay you!’ You just don’t say that, that’s all, you just have to be more tactful about it, that’s what got her in trouble.
Well, your goal was pretty modest. And after 2009 it was interesting too how you were going to carry on the BMSR name and what that would entail then having the means to do so because it costs money. It costs money to make the album, it costs money to get out there and distribute and not to mention the time it takes away from everything else going on in your life just to make everything else meet.
Right, and that’s another piece that I think a lot of people don’t understand. I think a lot of people have these really antiquated views on how people make music now and they’re like, ‘$45 thousand dollars to make an album, who needs $45 thousand dollars to make an album and then he made $125, shouldn’t he have to give some of that back?’ My albums I make for free, the last one Dandelion Gum wasn’t free but this last album cost $300 to make. But the things is, just to make Halloween masks, to make a lot of Halloween masks and buy all that animated cover vinyl and shit like that, it costs money that is real, I don’t know, I use it like a pre-order, like the way I look at it is a pre-order with a safety net because I knew that if I could make that $45 thousand I could at least justify creating the bare minimum of these projects, these different things without getting destroyed financially. That’s really all it was, because I didn’t know if people would still want to be buy anything like that.
It’s interesting how that shift in the industry has gone to these tricky and revolutionary approaches to merch where making the album is very much about supply chain and how big merch has become in this industry when so much of music exists in this online sphere.
It’s about everything but CDs now, it’s all about the extras I guess.
People love that kind of thing. But digging into Cobra Juicy, there’s a lot of radical action from “Window Smasher” to allusions to breaking mailboxes in “Dreamsicle Bomb”. What do you feel has caused this shift from the more idyllic nature on Dandelion Gum where there were flutes and more mellotron sounding synthesizers that recalls a neo-Sgt Peppers but there is a more aggressive vibe this time around, not that the aggression wasn’t there before.
This is truer to who I am and the older Black Moth records are a balance of things I wanted to hear where the new one is more true and real and more how I actually am and those other records were almost conceptually in a place and time of a small facet of who I am, you know what I mean? This is a more fleshed out version of that.
Like in your project Tobacco there is references to melting lollipops to Cobra's “Melting like a Sundae”, what is it always about desserts & psychotropics in your music?
Ha ha, it’s all pretty metaphoric, ha ha. Nothing is what it means on the surface, I’m kind of like, instead of being up front, I would rather tickle some weird place in your brain to where you’re like, ‘does that really mean this?’, or is that actually a euphism for this? And that’s really all this stuff is, especially on Cobra Juicy, almost nothing literal, it’s all supposed to tickle some part of your brain and make you wonder if it is something really dirty or whatever it is.
It’s cool too because the mind goes all over the place. I was curious too, did you mean to connect tracks like “Hairspray” to the closer, “Spraypaint”, and stuff like that?
I put a lot of thought into the way this album was going to end up moving, and shifting, and you know, some of the weird themes. I had a lot of things I wanted to hit, like a lot of these were ideas I had already touched on or started touching on even more with Tobacco and this is probably the last time I’ll be so up front.
Is this time around with BMSR closer to your forwardness than say the music you would make for Tobacco?
Yeah, I mean, if Black Moth was one side of the coin and Tobacco was the other side, this is like somewhere in the middle where reality finds those two things.
In the beginning did you initially intend to have your face always covered in orange masks, doing like a Residents thing, being in it for the long haul, and never revealing your identity type of deal?
No, it never was really about that. I always like imagery to go with music and I think that gives that more of a reference point where you’re coming from with it. There is so much music and such little time to understand it and if that album cover, ha, in any way, like, I don’t know, I think the album cover and the picture and the mask and anything we’re doing helps shape what you’re hearing in some way, it gives you a little bit of reference, but we never intended to have masks on all the time or whatever. It was more of just a way to keep the music as its own thing and keep us separate from it as people.
Another interesting thing that it does too is that you’re giving that vocoded vocal a face as well, because it exists as this electronic, almost androgynous entity that flanges, keeping your mind trying to put together a visual composite. What you succeed with that visual is that you provide that voice and that strangeness with a being, it’s own entity and from there the music takes shape around that. That’s just my experience with cover art and assigning that to the music as we were taught to do when first introduced to LPs.
Yeah, I like to imagine that it is some kind of character from that face that’s on the album cover. You know it’s like on every album cover that I do, no matter what project there’s always some kind of face that’s old, and dead and kind of weird and I always kind of imagine that face as where that voice is coming from.
Pittsburgh Top 5 right now?
The food is really good, I can’t put anything in order but really in the past few years it’s gotten so good, there’s not like any huge rise in restaurants but what we do have is really good. I really like the landscape of Pittsburgh too, it’s nice to just hang out and drive around. And even if you live downtown you’re no more than 5 minutes away from finding some weird woods or something. Everything is kind of everywhere. I like how it’s easy to kind of get anywhere, like you’re within 8 hours of Chicago or New York and a couple hours away from Cleveland, like a really nice central location that hasn’t really been taken over yet. I don’t know, very quaint in a way. I don’t know if anyone else has called it quaint but it feels that way compared to some of these bigger cities. There’s a lot of weird hometown pride there, it’s kind of strange. if you say anything bad about Pittsburgh they will definitely come down on you and if you move away from Pittsburgh you’re almost like a traitor or something, it’s weird. But if you come back they’ll accept you, I think you just have to go to confession.
BMSR's new album Cobra Juicy is available now from Rad Cult.