Tobacco has several potent weapons in his aesthetic arsenal—woozy synth hooks, beats emanating from outdated equipment, strange sound filters, vocoder-warped vocals—but the most enticing is his aura of mystery. Cribbing his alias from Tobacco Man, a character in Troma’s Redneck Zombies, Tom Fec fleshes out his hallucinogenic electronica with puzzles and bizarre imagery. He rarely reveals his face publicly, devises ominously open-ended lyrics and nightmarish track titles (“Hairy Candy,” “Constellation Dirtbike Head,” “Sweatmother”), and his album covers’ style is like ’60s grindhouse posters meet the Garbage Pail Kids. Together, it all hints at some ruined future where the Earth is swallowed by all of its trash and discarded ephemera. Fec, who also leads the equally freaky Black Moth Super Rainbow (BMSR), is set to to appear in both guises at this weekend’s Austin Psych Fest. In keeping with the sense of distance and mystery, we caught up with Tobacco via Internet chat for a conversation that’s equally revealing and murky.
The A.V. Club: You’ve repeatedly discussed your interest in ’80s workout tapes and prank-call projects like The Jerky Boys and Longmont Potion Castle. Does that play into your music?
Tom Fec: The workout tapes were just an aesthetic thing that spawned the Fucked Up Friends record. This guy, Beta Carnage, gave me this DVD he was making of found footage. At the time, I had never seen found footage edited quite like that, so we re-edited it to make the first DVD [Fucked Up Friends]. That’s really what gave me the idea to separate that material from BMSR, because as visual as BMSR was, it was never meant to be quite like that. I’ve just always listened to prank calls more than music since the time I started listening to music, so that’s in there too. I’m not exactly sure how it plays out in what I do, but it’s in there.
AVC: You primarily use several old synths. What value do you find in them that more recent equipment lacks?
TF: The only thing better about old synths is the sound. They have more of a real presence that digital, and even new analog, hasn’t been able to touch. I wish I didn’t have to use this old shit, but I’m stuck with it until these companies get it together.
AVC: New York Magazine asked you about the best time to put on a Tobacco record and you said, “I want it to be party music that has something deeper behind it,” contrasting it with AC/DC and LMFAO. What did you mean by “something deeper”?
TF: I don’t think I really said that the way I meant it in that interview. I just want people to have something to chew on after the song is over, whether it’s because it’s just on the verge of making sense, or it’s not in your face lyrically. Literal stuff can be so boring, because it takes no imagination to hear it. That sounds pretentious as fuck of me to say, but I feel like anyone can say what’s on their mind. I’m not too bright, but maybe if I can come up with these lyrics that don’t mean anything, I can pull some meaning from that down the line that means so much more to me than anything literal could.
AVC: Is there anything concrete about Tobacco in terms of ideas or themes permeating every record?
TF: No, that’s the thing—there are no concrete themes. Lyrical themes might sneak in from album to album and some are clearer than others, but they’re never meant to be literal. The next BMSR record is probably gonna sound like a breakup record, but it couldn’t be further from that, and I couldn’t be further from that. It’s just a way of expressing something else.
AVC: How vital are Tobacco’s non-musical elements—videos, cover art, the mystery of your persona—to the project versus the actual music?
TF: The cover art is the most important to me, but I think I’ve always wanted to show people what this stuff means without saying what it means. It’s all context. If I just used some pretty picture of the woods or a landscape for the cover of Maniac Meat, what would that record mean then? I just think it would make less sense than it already might, so I’ve always tried to build these places with everything I do. If you’re gonna put a fucking circle as your album cover, you better sound like that.