Even as Black Moth Super Rainbow has emerged as a national touring act, a reputation for being press-shy and mysterious has clung to the local keyboard-based psychedelic sextet. It's finally time to set the record straight. "We never got interview requests, and over time, people have turned that into [the idea that we're] not granting interviews," says BMSR figurehead Tobacco (a.k.a. Tom Fec). "Critics can say we've cultivated a mystique and they've seen it all before, but our mystique was mostly cultivated for us by the disconnect in public perception and reality."
Nevertheless, he and his bandmates aren't about to take the meet-and-greets route either. Tobacco still conducts interviews via e-mail; face-to-face meetings could take the focus off the main reason for the interview -- the music. "I didn't get into music because I wanted to talk about myself or have my picture taken," he says. "There's too much emphasis on the personalities behind music. All I want is for people to listen to this stuff and have it mean whatever they want it to mean. I made it, but it's not about me."
Black Moth Super Rainbow's fourth album, Eating Us, will hit the streets officially on May 26. It continues in the band's dreamy tradition, but it came together only after the band emerged from the sanctity of its home base.
Tobacco finds recording studios too sterile and as a result, all of the band's previous releases were created by him at home or "just about anywhere I could get into a room alone. I like the feel and the weird imperfections of tape or an old sampler," he says. "I'd rather have my pieces of sound in a box than sitting in Pro Tools on a computer. I know a sampler and a computer are essentially the same thing, but a sampler feels more real, and I can't really explain why."
The first albums consisted of Tobacco handling everything. But BMSR has become more of a live unit since the release of Dandelion Gum in 2007, and tours supporting the Flaming Lips and Aesop Rock. The time had come to try something different. Tobacco contacted producer Dave Fridmann, who has worked with the Lips, Weezer and Sleater-Kinney. "I've always thought of him as like my sound opposite. Where my stuff is usually tight and gritty, his is spacious and smooth," Tobacco says. "He's down with grit, but it's a different kind. I knew he could give me everything I couldn't do on my own."
The sessions weren't the typical tracking and overdubbing that happens with most bands. In fact, most of the album was already recorded before the musicians headed to Fridmann's Tarbox studio. Tobacco had been sending recordings to Uncle Ryan Graveface (who plays guitar, banjo and bass, and runs the band's Chicago record label), who added his parts at home. With the structures in place, most of the studio time was devoted to getting drummer Iffernaut to add live beats to the songs. The keyboardist, known as Seven Fields of Aphelion, opens the album with a fuzzy electric-piano riff, but from there, the album essentially features the work of just three people.
Eating Us possesses the same trance-inducing quality found on Tobacco's solo album Fucked Up Friends, which he released last fall. Amid banks of keyboards, he sings through a vocoder, resulting in a synthesized, androgynous voice that leads listeners on the musical trip. The vocoder gives tracks like "The Sticky" a seductive feeling, thanks to the surreal recurring lyric, "We're going to melt away / like apples in the ground."
"I'm not a singer, and I couldn't get the sounds I want out of my voice without a vocoder," Tobacco explains. "It lets me make any melody into a vocal part."
Graveface's contributions give the album a more human feel, especially when the banjo shows up in "American Face Dust" or an acoustic guitar strums on "Fields Are Breathing." And there's no mistaking the live drum beats that shape the sexy grooves of "Tooth Decay."
When the band released the EP Drippers last year, the disc included five scratch-and-sniff scents with the package. For Eating Us, BMSR has gone one better: a 16-page booklet that can be re-folded to change the cover image, and a jewel-case encrusted with hair. More than an artistic statement, it acts as a reward to fans who still like their music in tactile formats.
"I think if you're gonna buy a CD now, we should probably make it worth your money and the space it takes up," Tobacco explains. "With the hairy summer jacket, I want to make sure the CDs are warm and itchy when they come out in May."
Black Moth Super Rainbow with special guests. 8 p.m. Sat., April 25. College of Fine Arts lawn, Carnegie Mellon University campus, Oakland. Free. All ages. 412-268-2107 or www.activitiesboard.org