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By Jena Ardell
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By Alex Distefano
Taste the Rainbow
Black Moth Super Rainbow’s Tom Fec finds peace through nicknames and vocoders
Black Moth Super Rainbow’s bucolic lo-fi electric meditations evoke visions of a hippie tribe on their own Spahn Ranch, like fellow cult rockers Indian Jewelry, only trading in their fuzzy guitars for fuzzier synthesizers, Ween pushing up a little Kraftwerk with their little daisies, the Polyphonic Spree in all their robed, harmonic glory taking the brown acid and turning into Butthole Surfers, circa Another Man’s Sac—that is to say, before the tuba.
Live, Black Moth Super Rainbow (BMSR) are even more fantastic, a dreamy nightmare of melodies poking through an array of hunched-over knob twiddlers and beat keepers, partially hidden behind massive, manipulated video projections. Not surprisingly, a myth has grown around the Pittsburgh-based band, the members semi-obscured by nom-de-Rainbows (“Power Pill Fist,” “Father Hummingbird”) and a reputation for not doing interviews.
“People always assumed that because there weren’t a lot of interviews with us, it was like, ‘You don’t do interviews.’ Up until now, people didn’t want to do interviews with us,” says Tom Fec, architect of the BMSR sound who records under the name Tobacco (naturally, after a hick zombie in a Roger Corman flick).
And what’s with the nicknames? For Fec, it’s just a way to fill in the blanks and deflect attention away from him.
“I’m not the kind of person who should have a blog,” he says. “I don’t think I should be writing about what color my shit was today.”
The soft-spoken 29-year-old doesn’t champion his brand of smudged, analog psychedelia as a major revelation, but rather just an improvement. “It really came about from not being happy with the music I was hearing. Nobody cares about melody. People get caught up in technicalities or making a statement,” he says.
One record that didn’t disappoint was Boards of Canada’s Music Has the Right to Children, which is essentially The Wall as a progressive preschool curriculum. Inspired, Fec began to transform his noise/ambient home recordings into the frayed, dilated pre-Altamont beauty that had that faded, pillowy, ’70s-Coke-commercial (“I’d like to teach the world to sing”) quality but yearned to be something more. Nick Cave used to describe it as having the finest tailors make him the best-cut suits out of the most dated material.
Since 2003, Fec and his collaborators have put out four albums and at least as many solo and side projects, toured with the Flaming Lips in 2007, and have gently been thrust into a kind of limelight that even beards, nicknames, singing through a warm fuzzy vocoder and wall-sized projections of Richard Simmons can’t hide them from.
What used to sound like the butterscotchy smell of unicorn farts is now a real band, with a live drummer, as well as the owner of his record label in the band’s lineup. Replacing the usual Fec “Find a room, lock the door, hit ‘record’” m.o. heard on his solo Fucked-Up Friends last year, BMSR are now working with a producer, Mercury Rev icon Dave Fridmann.
“Dave was a little nervous about making us sound more conventional,” Fec admits. “I actually was the one who wanted to push it. I needed to do it at least once to see if I could.”
Fec says he needed a break from his own myth. “I never wanted to come across as ‘retro,’ but unfortunately, that’s the stuff that sounds good,” he says. “Some songs took, like, maybe an hour. I went with it.”
While BMSR purists might miss the heaping low-down and dirties, their latest, Eating Us, puts BMSR more in a league with the expanses of Caribou or even RJD2’s easy-listening ’70s live experiments, themselves based on Peanut Butter Wolf remixes of the feather-tickled, soft-focus Free Association. What emerges—honestly, if a little more solemnly—is a smug Ratatat or the kind of ballsy atmospherics Air used to try when they pulled out that three-guitar version of “Sexy Boy” all those tours ago. “Born on a Day the Sun Didn’t Rise” starts off as Three Dog Night and winds up “Kelly Watch the Stars,” while “Iron Lemonade” is a log cabin of guitarchitecture that’s better than anything on Boards of Canada’s Campfire Headphase. A Pyrrhic victory, sure, but a victory nonetheless. The essence is the same—resurrected, reconstructed melodies—even if the execution is, in his words, “more conventional.”
“Maybe I suck to a lot of people, but the one thing I can really give myself credit for is that I stand by what I do.”
And the good news is, live, he’s still hunched over the controls of some ready-for-the-Smithsonian keyboard singing like a Gibby Haynes/T.I. hybrid. Enjoy.