If the original Star Wars were made this year, Tobacco’s latest album Ultima II Massage is what the alien band in Jabba’s cantina might have sounded like. The melodies and song structures are a tweaked version of familiar party-in-the-basement dance fare. The synths, though archaic, carry weird futuristic connotations, and the sonic grit they are buried adds a seedy vibe. The surrealistic lyrics, which jump in and out of the mix throughout, help the whole concoction congeal into the fun kind of scary dream.
Tom Fec, the brain behind the Tobacco operation as well as the front man for Black Moth Super Rainbow, was kind enough to squeeze us in for a phone interview between soundcheck and showtime in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
So how’s your tour going?
It’s going good, we’re only like halfway through this leg, but yeah. It’s been good, nice and relaxing.
Glad to hear it. How does touring with Tobacco compare to touring with Black Moth Super Rainbow?
Uhm, I think it’s kind of more relaxing with less of a band. There’s not as many moving parts. We just kind of do what we do… I have Seven Fields on synth with me and Iffernot on drums. It’s kind of like a miniature version of Black Moth.
Ultima II Massage is out this week. You said in your press release that the album feels like a “definitive end to a concept you’ve been trying to perfect forever.” How would you describe that concept?
It’s hard to really describe. It’s sort of whatever that sound was that started with Dandelion Gum, and then morphed into what Tobacco was. With each project I try to perfect what I’ve been doing… and this one really feels like the furthest I could take whatever that is. I’m not sure I can completely define it. But whatever that is, it’s the furthest point of that.
You’ve also said that the aesthetic surrounding a project, kind of visually and experientially speaking, is as important as the music. Is your own aesthetic inspired by a particular artist or body of work?
It’s just everything, everything I grew up on. In the late ‘80s and the early ‘90s, there was all this neon gross-out kind of stuff. The toys I played with. The commercials being so out there, and the TV being so out there. When you take some of that stuff from 20 years ago and you try to watch it now and play it straight, so much of it you just can’t, it takes on a whole new meaning now.
One of the senses I got from listening to this album was kind of this dystopian world of, you know, kind of shallow consumerism… I guess I got that from the titles “Good Complexion”, “Self Tanne”, “Face Breakout”, mixed with kind of the synthy ‘80s work-out video thing. Was this a thing that you set out to create, or a byproduct of something kind of bigger and less pointed?
I think all the Tobacco albums kind of point in that direction, and this one’s more specifically about, you know, weird body care. Like awkward body care. Massages and make-up and whatever else, like the hotlines… Whatever else.
That comes up in Eric Wareheim’s “Streaker” video, which I just watched and am pretty disturbed by. How did that collaboration come about?
I’ve known Eric for a while now, and he actually did my Kickstarter video a couple years ago. But we’d never worked together on like an actual music video, so it was time. We were just on the same wavelength about you know, the influence behind it, and so it just made perfect sense.
Did you develop the idea together or just give Eric the song and tell him to run wild with it?
I gave him the reference points of what I was thinking, and he just kind of went with it.
Is there any particular record that gives you the reaction you’re trying to evoke in your listeners?
Not really—I think if there was, I wouldn’t be making what I was making. Every step of the way I’m trying to entertain myself, and trying to make something that I haven’t experienced yet. So I want it to be its own thing, you know?
I read about this project of yours, Sbarro Hot Topic, centered around you making these prank phone calls. Can you tell me more about that? Did you have a kind of character or trope you used?
I kind of stopped doing that, and I only ever put out a 10” record of a couple calls, a couple of the safer calls. But I’ve got like hours of that stuff. At least for the time being, it can’t be released, but maybe someday. It’d be fun. Yeah, I had a set of characters, most of them based on local Pittsburgher, like, Yinzer dialect. I felt like people heard that accent and kind of responded to it—you can keep almost anyone on the line if you’re doing that right.
Is there any new music out there you’re excited about, that Impose readers should maybe be looking into?
I’m excited about that new Wold album that just came out, I forget the name [note: it’s called Postsocial]. I didn’t even realize it was coming out, but that’s like one of my favorite bands.
Last question and I’ll let you go, have you had any particularly weird dreams lately that you’d care to share on record?
Hm. Weird dreams… I used to type them out on my phone when I’d wake up from them, and I stopped that last summer. So I don’t remember them recently, unfortunately. I guess I’ve had too much on my mind recently, between the album and the tour. You’d have to catch me at a different time of year or something.
Tobacco's Ultima II Massage is out now on Ghostly Intl.