It seems counterintuitive, but sometimes imposing narrow technical boundaries can force open unexpected creative doors. Take Ken Fec, a.k.a. Power Pill Fist, best known as the sweatbanded bassist for Pittsburgh psych-rockers Black Moth Super Rainbow, who discovered a new creative vista by making music on an archaic device not even intended as an instrument.
With BMSR on hiatus from touring, and bandleader Tobacco pushing his solo release Fucked Up Friends, Power Pill Fist is using the time off to explore the further reaches of what his hotrodded Atari 2600 can do.
"There's a cartridge that actually turns the Atari into an instrument," says Fec. The cartridge was developed around 2002 by a member of the band Tree Wave, who used it alongside a Commodore 54. "I got one off of him and started screwing around with it," including broadening the instrument's range with effects pedals. "We've used it a few times for Black Moth, but not very often," he says. "I just kind of branched off from there on my own."
Indeed. The past year alone has seen Power Pill Fist playing regional solo shows and releasing two albums: KONGMANIVONG came out in February on Graveface (also home to BMSR), and White Noise Fury came out just last month. On the former, "Sagadraga" starts out simply enough as a doomy synth funk line, but gradually grows chaotic, with distortion and delay effects slopping things up. "Chuckanut Drive," on the other hand, has an odd-time bass line with a crackling backbeat, before near-vocal sounds and screamy synths stab their way in. At the track's end, a couple of stark tones drone out, as if to savor the crackly limits of the technology.
Now based in Brookline, Fec grew up in the West End playing metal and heavier music, which eventually brought him into the trippy world of BMSR. "When Black Moth was in its original form, we were more experimental and noisier -- that was one of the reasons I liked it so much," he says. "But we kind of gave up on the heavier stuff and calmed down a bit."
BMSR's most recent local appearance was at 2007's Three Rivers Arts Fest (memorable not least for its video projections of CP contributor Manny Theiner's visage). Power Pill Fist's Sun., Jan. 11 show at Brillobox also promises to be his last for some time -- at least as strictly a solo act.
"I'm going to try to pick up a couple more people for the band -- it'll free me up a little," he says. He's working on bringing in a live drummer and perhaps a keyboardist for his future shows and the new record he's already working on. "I'd like to morph it into something bigger -- I have a good foundation laid."
Power Pill Fist with See Urchin and Discuss. 9:30 p.m. Sun., Jan. 11. Brillobox, 4104 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. $5. 412-621-4900 or www.brillobox.net