Tobacco of BMSR: "It's Not About Creating a Persona, It's About There Being No Persona"
Master of the mindmelt, Tobacco is probably best known as the enigmatic frontman of Black Moth Super Rainbow, penning the vocoder-drizzled psychedelia of a digital generation that misses Super Nintendo and VHS tapes. While BMSR is often the kind of tuning you'd slap on as you peaked on a mushroom trip in a field of wildflowers, Tobacco's solo efforts are more appropriate for long bike rides that leave you drenched in sweat and nearly dead by the side of the road.
His 2010 release Maniac Meat featured Beck on two tracks, plus the Pennsylvania synthesizer brainiac has worked with Aesop Rock, HEALTH, Rob Zombie and Matthew Dear. With a new album hinted at in mid-2014, not to mention all the dark energy carried over from BMSR's latest release, Cobra Juicy, whatever his upcoming show at Crescent brings will be the fluid of dreams to come.
And if you haven't heard, Tobacco is also behind Demon Queen, a collaboration with Zackey Force Funk of Tucson's Machina Muerte hip-hop collective. Zackey, a whirlwind of falsetto funk and old skool beats, will be opening, and there are rumors that some Demon Queen action will also liquefy your spine.
Anyway, we caught up with Tobacco to talk cool shit like riding BMX bikes and why running a cult could be fun and his new music that he's set to release in 2014, if the world doesn't end.
Up On The Sun: I read somewhere that after collaborating with Beck and Aesop Rock you had checked off every celebrity you wanted to work with. Is that still true? Tobacco: Yeah. I don't really care about working with anyone else now. I didn't get into music to work with people in the first place. That was never really, like, a goal. Beck was always the ultimate--I thought I would never even get to meet him. I'm sure opportunities will come up, but it's not like I'm gonna seek them out.
You know, something occurred to me a while back. I think you and Richard D. James are kindred spirits. I think you both said in interviews the reason you started making music was just to hear something you hadn't heard before. And you both accomplished that in very different ways. Yeah and that's still what I'm trying to do. Once I feel like I've heard it all, then it's time to do something else, I guess.
I did a story for Noisey on Demon Queen, so I've met Zackey Force Funk a couple times. What was it about him that when you came up with the project, you knew? I get a lot of pressure from people to work with rappers. That is what it is, that's fine, but it feels really predictable. I had a bunch of beats I didn't know what to do with and it's like, stuff I didn't use on Maniac Meat or Fucked Up Friends or whatever.
I could either give that to a rapper and have that be this sort of predictable album, or I could give it to a guy like Zackey. Zackey kinda came outta nowhere. This guy from Anticon knew him and got us in touch ... He was the guy I'd never heard of on there, and he had the coolest thing. He doesn't have to try. He just does his thing, you know?
So will this show have any Demon Queen? Because that's not what the flyer implied. Yeah, we're gonna do separate things and then we're gonna do a little Demon Queen stuff too.
Cool. One of the most attractive things in your music, to me, is the cult and religious themes. And it's interesting to note that a lot of cult leaders like David Koresh, Charles Manson, etcetera, are failed musicians. Do you think if your music hadn't taken off you would have started an alternative religion? [laughs.] No. I'd have probably just kept riding BMX and doing nothing and hanging out and wrecking myself. Right, that's why I didn't get your call, I was just bike riding--I ripped up my fucking heel. I ruined my shoe. It's all red now.
Well, I accidentally called the wrong number a couple times. What appeals to you about cult leaders like Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite? Those people, those figures don't appeal to me at all. I just like the idea--and not that I would ever want that--it's just one of the ideas that's kind of fun to play with in music. The idea of people just giving themselves to something completely, putting your faith in something and actually trying to understand it, even though it may be absurd. It's kind of what I do.
Everything I do is absurd to a degree, and that idea is kind of fun to play around with and think about.
Absolutely. I think [cults] are a very interesting human phenomenon. Do you ever get a vibe like that, that you have "followers" or something like that in your fanbase? No. I hope there are people out there that will always give me a chance every time I do something and trust, I want people to have a faith that I'm not gonna give them shit. Even if you don't like it the first couple times you listen to it, you keep listening to it, I promise it'll make sense.
It's kinda like--well I'm probably straying from what you're asking but, that's completely where I'm at right now. The stuff I'm working on now. I'm playing it for people and they'll be like, er, OK. It doesn't really make sense, but I think the more you listen, the more it presents itself to you.
If you just trust... you gotta just trust me. The music I'm making right now in 2013--had I done that all along, I never would've been given a chance. I've finally been given the opportunity to do that. So I hope that there's enough people [around now] that everyone doesn't just drop off.
When you talk about music you're creating this year, do you mean your upcoming Tobacco release? Yeah, yeah.
Can you shed any details on that yet? I think I just finished it today. I think. I'll probably do some more work on it, but yeah, it'll be out by April or May. Hopefully.
Well, I'm really excited about that. When you posted the news on Facebook, I was just ecstatic. Haha, cool. It's just the first thing, I feel like, I'm just so awkward talking about what I make. I feel like people should just listen to it and make it whatever they want to make it. But this is like the first record... well, I've been working on it since 2010.
I was putting so much thought into something that presents itself over a long time. Doesn't make sense at first. There are certain songs on there that will instantly make sense, but I dunno. I feel like the kind of immediate going through your balls... Like I've done throughout the history of what I've been doing up until now, just [going] right for your balls. This one's not that. At all. It's a lot different.
Is "Lipstick Destroyer" gonna be on there? Uh, probably. That's one of the ones that'll probably make sense when you hear it the first time.
I gather that a large part of your identity as an artist also has to do with anonymity. Your stage name, the masks. Even to some degree, your prank phone calls, Sbarro Hottopic. Why is a lack of identity as important as creating a persona? It's not about creating a persona, it's about there being no persona. When I was growing up, I didn't really know anything about the people I listened to, and now it's like I know everything. Everyone who's sorta coming up now.
And it ruins it for me. Like, everyone that has a thought has to go on Twitter or whatever, and it just ruins it. I want something that just exists, on its own, without having to know anything about me. Or maybe the stupid shit that I say every day, I don't want any of that to affect what you're hearing.
I respect that. I totally get that feeling that you often express in interviews, how you don't want to be seen. I have this dream house in the middle of nowhere, no internet connection, nothing, just being isolated. Do you ever fantasize about isolating yourself like that? Like being a recluse almost? Yeah... I don't know. I have to go back and forth between... I mean, I like to spend a lot of time alone. But I'm not quite at the point where I'd want to do that permanently.
OK. Ever gonna use Kickstarter again? No.
So for your new Tobacco release, is that gonna be on Anticon? Um, no. It won't be. I can't say where yet.
OK, that's fine. So I heard your gear got stolen on tour--Appleseed Cast, who are also on Rad Cult, too. In fact, I hear about gear getting stolen from bands at least once a month. What's the deal with that? I wish I knew what the deal was. Maybe we could've avoided it.
Did you recover your stuff? Some of it, yeah.
That's good. You must have, like, samples that are saved on the equipment, and it would suck to lose it, right? Well, it's all backed up. Stuff I take out, I don't take any good shit. It's all stuff that can afford to be stolen, and it's all backed up and everything. It definitely hurt us for a couple shows until I was able to replace a couple things, but it doesn't kill anything.
Tobacco is scheduled to perform Saturday, September 7 at Crescent Ballroom.
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