For a guy who makes some of weird sounding shit, Tom Fec is a pretty normal dude. He exercises. He dreams of giving up, getting fat and going bald. He loves the '80s, but not in a lame, ironic way. But Fec crafts day-glo hallucinogenic pop with Black Moth Super Rainbow, and drops bass like a fisherman under his chosen nom de costume Tobacco. He's released four albums since 2007, switching gears between Tobacco and BMSR, which has left him psychically fatigued and turning to prank calling Yinzers from his native Pittsburgh for fun. We caught up with him Friday night after soundcheck in Madison, Wisconsin to answer some burning questions, like whether or not he's ever going to release another album (seriously) and why we're heading for a "crazy revolution" or widespread creative devastation. Take a little time to get to know Tobacco, and then see him with the whole Black Moth Super Rainbow gang tonight at Off Broadway.
Diana Benanti: We're going to start with a verbal Rorshach test if you will.
Tobacco: Oh God. [laughs]
Just say the first thing that pops into your head. Galaxy.
[laughs] I don't know, all I can think of when you say creamed corn is creamed corn.
Um, haha, she's just funny.
Okay, enough of that, sorry. You've expressed some cognitive dissonance with BMSR versus your solo projects, saying that you've not the same person who wrote Dandelion Gum. Do you still feel that way or were you ready to dive back in after Maniac Meat came out?
When I wrote Dandelion Gum I still had a regular job and no one was paying attention. I was just a completely different person. Anything that sounded kind of cool I just went with it; I think I'm a lot pickier now. It's harder to have fun sometimes when it gets to that point, so Maniac Meat was almost an escape sort of.
Are you having fun working on the Psychic Love Damage stuff?
I am but it's different, this is completely different, this is me taking way too much time, like years now of just throwing stuff out constantly. I'm trying to treat it as if this is my last chance. And also, I feel like there's so much wasted stuff out on the internet, everyone is just constantly releasing stuff and putting it out for free, so much music; I feel like whenever I do something again it's gotta be special. Yeah it's fun playing with it, but for the last Black Moth album, my escape was making Maniac Meat. Now my escape on this one is prank calls. I guess I'm trying to be a professional idiot or something, but I'm trying to make a prank call record. The Black Moth record should be done right now, but it isn't because I keep getting sidetracked with this prank call shit. I feel like I went so far away from your question.
Not at all. I want to come back to the prank calls, but do you think that with constant releases, of every song someone's banged together in two hours, do you think it's a struggle for relevance that's prompted that or what?
Absolutely. It's really weird, everyone's got a manager, and I still don't. It's interesting to watch all this stuff happen. It's like, Bandcamp is crazy because people just come out of nowhere, and the first idea you think of is up on Bandcamp. And there actually people scouting that stuff, and that shit gets reviewed, and that's really all it takes. I don't know, I could go on forever for that. Especially: A lot of, like the hip hop guys, you know, the underground beat guys, it's like every single idea they could possibly come up with they just release, and there's so many albums...it's kind of crazy. I guess it is a struggle for relevancy, I don't know.
Yeah, it's kind of depressing because it makes it really difficult to keep up if you really like someone's work, you have to be trolling daily while sifting through everything else.
Yeah, I'm going to try to make it easier to keep up with my work. I'm going to make my work get a lot smaller. But hopefully at the end of the day that says more.
What do you mean when you say a prank call record?
I don't know, its like a Jerky Boys kind of thing that I've been working on nonstop. It's not really work, it's getting together with my friends and playing around with people on the phone. I've been channeling Pittsburghers. I don't know if you know about Yinzers.
I grew up around that stuff so it's like ingrained in me. I've been channeling these Yinzers and trying to talk like them in these calls, and act the way I think they would act, and calling these other Yinzers. It's really stupid [laughs] I don't know, but it's a lot of fun.
Are you really making a movie too?
The one that I was making I had to scrap because the guy who it was about, it's not really working out, it's so much work. I had a few hours of footage and it sort of fell apart. Maybe. I don't know. I feel like I've had all these ideas, and then people come out and they do them better than me. That movie Trash Humpers, I had that same idea, and then that guys came out and did it so much better than I ever could have. So maybe leave the movie making to the movie guys. Maybe someday though.
Do you think that maybe, since you didn't, like, put the time in like that guy did, maybe yours would have been better? You can't really know at this point right?
I guess not, but it's more of just what I saw in my head. I'm sure I'll want to do something. For the next Black Moth or Tobacco, I want to do like a full video for every song so it all sort of works together. I guess that would be a start. Maybe that'll get me going.
You said the album should be finished. Do you have a drop dead date that you're looking at?
No, there's nobody waiting on me. I mean, the album could fizzle, and I don't think anyone would care. I thought I would have it done, on my own little imaginary time line, in like November or December, and out next summer and we'd be touring and stuff.
So if the album fizzles, are you prepared for what will happen? That 40 second tease on Soundcloud really has people excited for the new stuff. There are so many ideas in that snippet, and it sounds brilliant.
Thank you. I don't even know if people are excited about it. I just wanted to see if these ideas were even worth pursuing, almost. I don't want to be like Weezer, where they ask their fans to pick out their record for them. I think that's kind of fucked up. I have Dandelion Gum and Maniac Meat, and maybe that's enough, maybe it would almost be a bad thing to make more. I don't know. BMSR - Psychic Love Damage Demo Teaser by Black Moth Super Rainbow
Oh my god. I'm going to cry.
A lot of that stuff is quote unquote done, but done in the way of done just isn't good enough anymore. It's gotta be, it's just gotta be more than that. I need something to bring it over the edge and I'm just not there yet. You know what I mean? I've got like, a finished record that would be a Maniac Meat or a Dandelion Gum, but what's the point in doing that again? If it's not like 1,000 times better then there's just no point. I don't like when bands destroy whatever they had by putting out garbage as they get older.
The fans don't like that either. I guess I can't fault you if you hold out. This might be a moot question now, but if you had to choose would you have this album leak or not?
Considering at the very earliest it'll be a year before it comes out, maybe even like two or three years. But if it leaked now, I can't imagine even finishing. I don't like leaks, not because people are stealing music, it just kills the whole thing, it's like what you were talking about before with Bandcamp and everything, it's here and gone, by the day that it comes out, people already don't care because they've already heard it a thousand times. It's not special anymore, like the leak day now is the release. I'd rather things like that didn't happen.
Okay, so the world is about to blow up. In the perfect apocalypse situation, where are you, who are you with and what are you listening to?
Um, I guess I am with my fiancé, and my good friends and I am prank calling people from a basement or something while this is all going down and trying to have fun with it.
Awesome. Have you been working on any Tobacco stuff in your down time?
I have, sort of accidentally. I do not know if the world needs another Tobacco album, but I'm still trying to figure out if the world needs another Black Moth album. I'm sure some day. I'm sure. When I say all this stuff, when I say I'm never going to do this stuff again, I'm sure I will someday. I'm not in that same pace that I used to be. I'm 31, so I'm like elderly in music years, I can't keep up. You can't keep doing the same shit over and over again.
Is that your biggest challenge right now then, trying to keep up? Or what would you say is your biggest challenge?
I'm not really trying to keep up because I never really was. I never really did keep up with anything, it's kind of been an accident that anyone listens to this stuff. The challenge is trying to get it to be. It has to sound new for what I do, and it has to be better. It can't even be a little bit better, it has to be a lot better.
What does everyone else in the band say when they hear you talking like this, about a new Black Moth album. Do they get mad at you, or is it all up to you?
It's really just me alone doing it. We don't really talk about it. I think they have faith in me, so they kind of don't really care.
What was the last real job you had?
That would have been, man, four years ago, Mike Watt would yell at you for saying that; he says this is a real job because we have to tour and everything. It was this weird computer job that I wasn't qualified for. Not to be self-effacing or anything, I really was not qualified. And when they found that out they fired me, which was good timing because we were about to go on tour with the Flaming Lips and I was going to quit anyways.
I heard you guys are about to collaborate with the Flaming Lips. Is that still happening?
Yeah it is, it's all in their hands now. I guess my part is done, unless they send me anything to do at the end of it. I don't know what they're working on now. I don't think they're working on it right now but I guess they will.
If and when you quit music, what do you plan to do with yourself?
I can promise you, there's no way I'm going to be doing this when I'm 40. There is no way. That time is going to come, I think about it all the time. I'd like to open up a pizza place, I think that would be really great, just one of those places where all your friends hang out. I just want to be one of those gross old people who hang out in a pizza place all day. I guess that's really what I want to do, have my own pizza place in nine years.
Favorite kind of pizza?
That's a hard question. I don't really eat it very much because I'm really into running and stuff. But I can't wait to just go crazy, just eat pizza every day and stop running. You know, go bald. Whatever. I love all kinds of pizza.
Would you work with Beck again?
Yeah, I'd love to. If he ever needs me I'm here. He's got nine more years.
Have you ever listened to your own music while on acid?
No, I've never been on acid. So no.
Huh. Are you a weed person or a DMT person, anything?
No, I'm not an anything person. Anything that's like, man made really scares me. I'm way too health conscious, I freak out about stuff like that. I'm hoping to like let go, like with the pizza place, so maybe I'll just be the greatest druggie ever in nine years, but for now, no.
I'm sure you get questions like that a lot, even though you've always said first and foremost Black Moth is a pop band. Does it bother you?
It bothered me when I was first starting out because I didn't understand it. I don't know, I took it as an insult because people were like, oh it's so wacky, you have to be on drugs to appreciate it. I don't write it for that purpose, I'd hope that someone can appreciate it without being on drugs. When you say you have to be on drugs to appreciate it, it makes it sound like a chore, right?
It's not that. I mean, I love it sober, it's obviously enjoyable either way, or we wouldn't listen to it. It's more that if you listen to it under the influence, of anything really, it's like you've never heard it before, its so incredibly different, you can almost feel and chew through it because it's so textured and insane and it's just awesome.
[laughs] Well that's good. Alright, that's an okay response.
That's even more amazing that you do it without even knowing what that's like.
I've been preaching this for years, but I really think, you can't make what I'm making with this level of detail if you were on drugs. I think it would be hard. I think people who are fucked up when they're making music either make weird noise or ambient, something that's unlistenable. That's one of the things that I remember talking to Wayne [Coyne] about when I first met him. He said the same thing. In the weeks before, we were doing some shows and people were like, "Oh man, I bet you and Wayne will be hanging out backstage, just doing all this acid and making music." But no, Wayne's a straight guy, he wouldn't be able to do what he does if he wasn't, you know?
So tell us about your obsession with '80s workout videos.
It all started with a guy who gave me a ton of videos, this guy from Rochester who found a ton of beta tapes, and a lot of them were these work out tapes, and that kind of became the inspiration for the whole Tobacco world. Fucked Up Friends and that whole thing. I think a lot of that stuff from the '80s that was meant to be serious, it is just really fucked up. It's way more fucked up than when people try to be fucked up now.
That's kind of the mark of the '80s, isn't it?
Yeah, like kids' shows and everything were all really, really weird. That's why I feel like if I were doing what I'm doing in the '80s somehow it would be more acceptable, it was like more okay for people to be able to use their imaginations, you know. It's so weird to me, a lot of even old people -- in like their 40s and stuff -- will be like, "This is cool, totally into it." The younger people get, the more fucked up it sounds to them, I don't know if it's like Ritalin or whatever, but something is erasing people's imaginations I think. Maybe that's one of the marks of me getting super old or something. I just wonder, in ten years, when every kid is so advanced in certain areas of their life that their imagination is just going to be gone. It seems like it's on that path, I don't know.
Do you think it's smart phones and having to be plugged in socially at all times, while searching for the next new thing on the internet?
Yeah maybe. When I hear the next new things, they're not like, they're not weird, it's all so normal, but it's trying so hard to be different, but it's not. It's going to keep going that way, and it's just going to be totally flat. We're either ten years away from being totally flat, or ten years away from crazy revolution. But I'll be gone by then, so it doesn't matter I guess.