"I don’t want to keep trying to perfect the same thing..." hmv.com talks to Tobacco
Black Moth Super Rainbow frontman and international man of mystery Tobacco returns next week with his third solo album, Ultima II Massage. We caught up with the man himself to talk about recording with cassette tapes, his fascination with 90s massage parlour commercials and why he's taking a new approach to making music...
First of all, where did the album title come from?
"Uh, well, there was this weird place called Ultima II in a mall nearby to where I was growing up as a kid, it’s like one of those rotting malls where there’s only a few stores left open. So it all looked kind of seedy and reminded me of those commercials – you know, like early 90s commercials for weird beauty products where there’s a hotline…"
Those ‘not available in stores’ kind of things?
"Yeah, exactly! So, I don’t know, just got really into that whole aesthetic idea, that’s where it came from."
How long have you been working on it?
"Well, it’s not like I’ve been working on it non-stop, it’s been on and off, but I started when I finished Manic Meat in 2010. There’s been another Black Moth record since then so I’ve been doing it in between that and, y’know, touring, just kind of hanging out and thinking about what I’m doing. When I start a demo sometimes I’ll sit on it for like two or three years, listening to a loop of it every once in a while in my car until it really hits, you know?"
I read that you used completely analogue gear for your early material, recording on old tape machines and stuff. Do you still work that way?
"Not completely, I mean I use samplers for most of what I do. But for this album instead of using a reel to reel I used regular cassette tapes. For some of those more destroyed-sounding songs, that’s from doing stuff like I’ll record a piece onto a cassette, take the cassette out, run a hairdryer over it, put it outside in the sun, pull it all out and screw it up then reel it back in and record it again from that."
You’ve got Eric Wareheim involved in directing the video for ‘Streaker’, how did that come about?
"You know, I’ve been getting asked that a lot recently and, honestly, I actually don’t remember! I’ve known him a long time and he’s been doing stuff for me for years now, he did a Black Moth video for us back in 2009 I think but I don’t even remember how we met! It must have been through someone, a mutual friend or something…"
You said recently you felt like this album was a definitive end to a concept you’ve been pushing forever - could you explain a little what you mean by that?
"Well, I think with the Tobacco stuff - even with Black Moth I guess, Dandelion Gum was kind of like the start of this idea, the seed of the idea - but when I started doing the Tobacco thing, Fucked Up Friends was like the gateway to this land of like old videos, chat lines, stuff like that. So where something like Black Moth is probably a little easier on the ear, Fucked Up Friends was like the gateway to where I’ve been heading all along. Maniac Meat was a little more intense and I feel like this new one is as far as I can take that idea. So I just meant I want to sidestep from that, I don’t want to keep trying to perfect the same thing."
Does that mean you’ll do something completely different next time out?
"I don’t think anything I’d do would ever be 'completely' different, I think what it means to me in my head will be completely different, I don’t know, sonically it might sound the same to everyone else! But I’ve definitely started taking a new approach as far as that goes, you know? I was starting to feel so tied down to this one sampler or this one delay unit that I’d use on everything, and I was always so worried that if that stuff broke, it would be, like, the end of my sound! So with this album I wanted to strip all that away and I made it with all new stuff that I wouldn’t normally think about using, and I really liked that, so I want to do it again with the next thing. Even if it ends up sounding similar, to me it’s different."
Do you have a favourite piece of gear that you couldn’t do without?
"Before, I would have had an answer for that but now, as a result of making myself go through this process, I kind of feel like I could do without any of them and start over with something new. But if I had to answer I’d probably say my little Buchla modular synth."
Can you tell a bit about the hand-dipped vinyl thing you’ve been doing?
"Yeah, they’re done by this guy called New Fumes out in Dallas. I actually met him through Flaming Lips because he’s done stuff for them before, and we call them hand-dipped but I think the correct term is ‘hand-poured’, the ‘dipped’ thing was more just that I was trying to relate it to ice-cream. I don’t fully understand the process, but it has something to do with the beads that go into the record press and he just knows how to do this in a way that creates art out of records. It’s incredible."
Are there any particular artists that have been an influence on your work?
"On this record I was really into…I don’t even know what you call it, maybe lo-fi Black Metal? There’s a band called Wold that does this kind of stuff really well. I liked the way that it was so heavy, or if you saw the band in real life it would be so heavy, but there was something about the way it was recorded. It sounds like it was recorded on a little micro cassette or an answering machine or something, so I wanted to try and work that into what I was doing."
Are you planning to tour the new album? What sort of live show can we expect?
"Yeah, we’re actually leaving Nashville right now. I have this thing called the Tobaccotron, it’s like a projection unit with a video curtain. That’s where the visual element comes together with the musical concepts. We go out as a three-piece, but it’s totally all about the visual element for the live shows."
Do you have any plans for another Black Moth Super Rainbow record?
"Uh, I never really have plans! I started working on a new Tobacco record at the end of last year, and that’ll probably change ten times before it’s done! I’ve actually started testing out some of it live already though. But yeah, plans? I don’t know. Anything can happen at any time. I kind of thought at one stage that I was done with Black Moth, then all of a sudden we had a new album and we were touring again!"
You’ve said in an interview before that you didn’t think bands should outstay their welcome, have you changed your mind?
"It wasn’t that I felt we had outstayed our welcome, it was more that I had fucked up! I made an album that I didn’t think really defined what the band was, and I needed to redeem myself, almost. I did that accidentally, by the way, I wasn’t trying, I was just making music and at the time I started I really wasn’t planning on making another Black Moth record, but when it was done it just kind of made sense."
That was Cobra Juicy then, yes?
"Yeah, that was Cobra Juicy. And maybe I will end up outstaying my welcome! I don’t know, I guess as long as it feels right I’ll keep doing it."
Ultima II Massage will be available from Monday May 12th. In the meantime you can head to our download store to check out Tobacco's artist page, or check out Eric Wareheim's video below for the new single, 'Streaker'
Beware though, it's a bit disturbing and definitey NSFW...