Arts Desk

Black Moth Super Rainbow’s Tobacco on Kickstarter’s Shortcomings and Why He Dislikes Touring

Pittsburgh’s Black Moth Super Rainbow has a way with names. The group’s song and album titles pretty much sum up the music’s gooey mess of electronic psychedelia. There are the LPs, with names like Falling Through a Field and Dandelion Gum and EPs called Lost, Picking Flowers in the Woods and Drippers. BMSR’s latest full-length is Cobra Juicy. Tom Fec, who also performs under the name Tobacco, is the band leader and Cobra Juicy is entirely his creation. The “cobra” part of the name gives clues as to this record’s new bite, in the form of crunchy guitars. Thanks to the six-string addition, some of the album’s tracks don’t sound too distant from the glam rock of T. Rex.

The updated sound isn’t the only thing different about Cobra Juicy. Released on the band’s own Rad Cult label, the album’s creation was funded in part by Kickstarter. The crowd-sourced fundraising website listed a variety of awards for contributions: A $25 contribution earned the backer an exclusive t-shirt, stickers, and high-quality downloads of the new album and other BMSR music. For $10,000, Fec would have thrown the backer a rollerskating party in Pittsburgh, complete with pizza and ice-cream sundaes, but no one stepped up to claim that reward. In a month, 2,032 backers helped the band raise $125,634, far surpassing the band's initial goal of $45,000. With the money, BMSR released the album in several formats, including on vinyl with a 3-D lenticular cover and as a wearable latex mask like the one on the album cover,  with a tooth holding a USB drive filled with the music.

Fec brings a full band to U Street Music Hall tomorrow. I recently spoke with him about the details of his Kickstarter project and his decision to end an email-only interview policy.

Washington City Paper: Have you fulfilled all the rewards and made everything [from the Kickstarter project]?

Tom Fec: We are actually still doing that [laughs]. It’s been so much work, and then we had to go on tour for three weeks. We got the posters in, so we’re still doing—probably still have like 200 more to do.

WCP: Is it more [work] than you expected? Do you think it’s worth it?

TF: It’s way more than I expected and still trying to figure out if it’s worth it. But actually, at the end of the day, I actually lost money.

WCP: Really?

TF: Yeah. Like three grand in the hole on the project.

WCP: Even with $125,000, you still lost money?

TF: Yeah. They take out a percentage, and then all the people who don’t pay you, so I actually made $112,000 and then the cost of the whole record with shipping everything out was $115,000.

WCP: So, why did you go to Kickstarter for this project?

TF: Well, I didn’t know it would turn out like that and I also didn’t really have a choice ‘cause I couldn’t get signed. So, it was really—I guess the only option. [Laughs] I guess I could’ve not put anything out and then just been even, or put out this record and made some money. I dunno.

WCP: So, [former BMSR record label] Graveface wasn’t able to put out an album?

TF: I wanted to do something bigger than a small label would want to handle. ‘Cause I wanted to do latex masks and lenticular vinyl—I wanted to do really expensive stuff. No one was really willing—I don’t think—to take that on. And I didn’t really offer it, either. I was going for the bigger labels with big budgets. … It’s, like, one of those things that’s, like, I did it, and it’s cool. Even though I lost some money and I don’t ever plan on doing it again…I still consider it successful ‘cause I was able to create all these things.

WCP: So you’re satisfied with the results?

TF: In a way, yeah.

WCP: And you made the whole record yourself?

TF: Yeah.

WCP: Why not with the band?

TF: I dunno. I don’t really—it’s just kind of how it—I think I just write best that way. I’m not really good as just, like, a player, you know what I mean? I know exactly what I want and I know how to get it. It’s a lot smoother and easier, and I prefer working alone.

WCP: But you’ll be touring with the band, right?

TF: Yeah.

WCP: How did you first start making music?

TF: I just had a four track and a guitar with some pedals. That was how I started. I was never in anyone’s band or anything. Like I said, I don’t know how to play other people’s music. I never had any interest in being in a band, never had any interest in being a musician. I just did it because I thought it was fun playing around on a four track.

WCP: When was that?

TF: That was in high school. I think my mom got me a four track; got it for me for Christmas in ‘98 or ‘99.

WCP: The last time we talked it was for my college newspaper, and you would only do email interviews. And now we’re talking on the phone. What’s changed?

TF: Honestly, what’s changed is I don’t have time to sit and type it out any more. It’s just too—I mean, right now, I have been, since I’ve been home, and I have been all day, just working on orders and stuff. So, trying to get me to even answer an e-mail is such a chore. So, it’s out of necessity.

WCP: There was a reason for doing only email interviews awhile ago?

TF: I guess the reason before was—I dunno. I had a reason. I don’t remember what it was.

WCP: In that conversation, you said you didn’t like touring. Has that changed?

TF: Uh…[Laughs] It hasn’t changed a whole ton. I like it more. I don’t like it, but now I can tolerate it. So, I don’t dislike it. I would rather not be touring. But it’s getting better. The live band is a much better group of people. So we’re totally like—I think we’re a lot more in sync now.

WCP: What was it about touring that didn’t you get you so excited? Was it the people you were with? Or the rigors of touring, or…?

TF: I think it was partially personality clashes. I just wasn’t super into the idea of recreating the same songs and the same thing every night. It just felt like it was—I dunno. It felt like it kind of took some of the art out of it and made it more of a job or something. But I like just creating in the first place. And then moving on and then making something else, you know?

WCP: Touring—do you just do that because you have to? Because it’s a way to help support the band?

TF: Pretty much. At this point, too, I’ve been doing this long enough, that I do actually enjoy—the one part of it I enjoy is getting out there and meeting people and getting to present what I’m doing for people who like it. That part of it’s cool.

WCP: You’ve been able to work and collaborate with some really great artists in the video field with Eric Wareheim and PFFR. How did those collaborations come about and what were they like?

TF: The collaborations just come about by just sending someone an email. And that’s pretty much all. It either works or it doesn’t. Yeah. I like everything that Eric has done. I always thought he was perfect for what I was doing. So I’ve worked with him twice now and would definitely love to do something again in the future.

Black Moth Super Rainbow performs with Casket Girls Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. at U Street Music Hall, 1115 U St. NW. $15.

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  • Dthenextlevel

    How does any record by an indie band cost over $100k in this day and age? Maybe the '3-D lenticular' cover could've been skipped...

  • What???

    And Kickstarter's shortcomings are what??? How is it Kickstarter's fault for Pittsburgh’s Black Moth Super Rainbow inability to do math, read the fine print, or his inability to budget? The way I see it is that Kickstarter gave him the ability to connect with 2,032 backers he would not have been able to connect with on his own.

  • Alex M. Penfolds

    Well, at least now we know why this self-absorbed, mediocre, spoiled kid only did email interviews. Because, put on the spot and having to speak off-the-fly reveals he has very little to say, is as average as average gets and is deftly inarticulate. He's just like a million other average kids with some musical toys who believes his painful self-absorption translates into putting out meaningful music. It doesn't work and before too long his lenticular record will land silently and unobserved on the junkpile of mediocre records like the millions before his. Why anyone would support someone by going to the show of someone who doesn't even want to be there just doesn't make sense.

  • Jed

    Fantastic album. Fantastic live band. Tom is one of the most honest and down-to-earth musicians I've ever come across. Some people making comments above don't seem to understand that there is a devoted fan base that isn't going anywhere. That's why the kickstarter was so big. The stuff offered in the kickstarter was elaborate and very generous on the band's part. Probably generous to a fault. Because of this it wasn't a big money maker, but it was very effective in creating an experience for fans. Tom said it was a success in that sense, but some weirdos above want to attack him for it based on one short interview. Bizarre thing for people to spend time writing or getting upset about when they don't even seem to know or care about the band.

  • Heydawglisten

    The music is good and some people are introverted. Get over yourself. Try and produce a BMSR record, and then I'll believe it's "mediocre."