Most musicians create songs that, at best, sound good playing in your earbuds. The song plays, you hear it, and move on. Even if the track sticks with you, it's usually just an audio experience.
Black Moth Super Rainbow, on the other hand, produces music that breaks the boundaries of what music can achieve. Their brand of pop thumps with colorful layers, soft and jagged edges, lush vibrations that quickly become sensations you can feel and see. Listening to a BMSR cut makes you feel like you've been sucked into some brilliant, bizarre, swirling and pulsating movie, where everything you hear tickles your every sense. Think a tripped-out version of Sesame Street, but with a slightly more modern flair.
Black Moth Super Rainbow is fronted by the enigmatic Tobacco. That's all he goes by when it comes to music, so I'm not going to waste time by digging up details about what he does outside of music. In this day and age of baring every intimate factor about yourself on Twitter and Facebook, it's refreshing when a band is able to maintain a shroud of mystery for their entire career, leaving their personal lives out of the public eye, so all that's left to talk about is their music.
Tobacco takes his privacy so seriously, the only way he communicates with the press is through a highly sophisticated system of carrier pigeons. By doing so, he maintains a pretty solid control on his public image. Sure, if you really want to see his moonlighting role in alien porn, you'll find it, but even then, it's related to his music.
To be sure, this approach hasn't hurt BMSR's allure. They've managed to make a solid following for themselves without the help of a typical record label, or even band management. Most of their music has been released on their own imprint, or with artist-friendly labels like Graveface Records, who operate to support art, rather than milk it for all its worth.
When Tobacco submitted to our interview request - covered in bird doo as it may have been - he acknowledged he's baffled as to how they've managed to thrive simply by staying focused on doing their own thing. “I have no idea,” he says from his secluded compound nestled somewhere in the hills near of Pittsburgh, PA. “Even now, and maybe especially now, it feels like we're part of an industry that doesn't like that we haven't fed it the way it feels it deserves to be fed. And it wants us dead because we're not paying the tax to keep the business people alive. I guess we've been really lucky to have people like what we're doing and buy the music and come out to shows, even without our industry backing us.”
Despite the black heart of the music industry thirsty for their blood, BMSR is at a point where, every time they make a chirp, the music world pounces on it like it's the greatest thing of the year...which is usually true.
BMSR has defied common sense and traditional concepts of music from the start. They're known for making tunes from deteriorating tape echoes and weathered organs older than dirt, going analog where everyone else would go digital, and delivering vocals as heavily synthesized instruments, rather than guiding the song. In the process, their songs conjure up visions of everything from Flaming Lips and Neutral Milk Hotel and Ween to Ice T and Kurtis Blow to Boards of Canada...and then some.
The last album released under the BMSR moniker was 2009's “Eating Us,” a delicious and freaky journey into experimental pop that borders on a psychedelic, transcendental experience that leaves you dancing before you realize you're even moving. Since then, Tobacco veered off on a solo path, releasing two albums as Tobacco, collaborating with cats like Beck and Aesop Rock, and launching a gritty hip-hop project with funkmaster Zackey Funk Force, called Demon Queen.
Then Tobacco announced a new BMSR tour for this spring, and if that wasn't enough, he released “Spraypaint,” the first new track from their upcoming album.
Of this next BMSR chapter, Tobacco says, “To me, in my world, this is a really different thing. I'm just not the same person who made 'Dandelion Gum' and it doesn't have anything to do with 'The Woods' anymore. Every time I make something, I think it's pop, and then no one really agrees and convinces me I'm wrong. I'm sure this won't be any different, but I think it's about as far pop as I can go without compromising.”
Indeed, “Spraypaint” has all the general markings of a pop track, even going so far as to have, for possibly the first time in BMSR history, vocals you can almost understand. “This time they actually mean something,” Tobacco says, “so I kind of want you to at least get a hint of what I'm saying. Everything's still up for interpretation, but it all meant something when I was writing it at least.” Naturally, the song is every bit of abstract-yet-accessible as their greatest tracks.
While Tobacco produces almost all of the music on the records, the BMSR lineup has fluctuated over the years, with the only constants being Tobacco on vocoder, The Seven Fields of Aphelion on keyboard and monosynth, and Iffernaut on drums. “We're back to a 5 piece,” Tobacco says of the current roster. “Ryan [Graveface] is back on guitar, and we've got a girl who goes by 'Bullsmear' on bass now. Totally the most solid crew we've ever had.”
With this upgraded crew and fresh batch of tunes to share, BMSR will be hitting the west coast in May, for dates in San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as Seattle and Portland.
Just as exciting as a BMSR song is their live performance, which has evolved into a multimedia presentation, one that establishes not just a mere concert, but a tangible setting which further sucks the audience into their world.
“We put together a visual show that really was made up of just settings. Instead of videos with cuts, I wanted to literally just have settings that could somehow give someone in the crowd even more of a chance to use their imagination. We'll be trying to build on that for awhile.”
That, at its core, is the beauty of Black Moth Super Rainbow: it's music that triggers your imagination, activating an experience that manipulates all your senses, and envelopes your entire soul with their songs. They become a piece of you, a viable yet alternate reality made up of your personal collaboration with the music.
For more BMSR, visit BlackMothSuperRainbow.com
Jake McGee is filmmaker and writer, currently serving the world of arts & culture as the editor in chief of Kotori Magazine, www.kotorimagazine.com.