Black moth: super rainbow.
For their new album, Eating Us, BMSR stepped into the studio for the first time. The songs sound bigger and breathe more easily than their predecessors. Additionally, there are more sounds and instruments to lure in listeners. Guitars play a bigger role, and a banjo even pops up on one track. But long-time fans shouldn't worry--the same dark undertones are at the core, still wrapped in dulcet melodies and syrupy vocals. I spoke with BMSR's frontman, Tobacco.
Talk about your origins.
Power Pill is my cousin, and I was friends with Father Hummingbird from school. Seven Fields and Iffernaut came along in late 2003 through a mutual friend, around the time I realized I was finally making the kind of music that I could maybe pull off live. The old synths made me want to put together a show because they can come alive when they're really, really loud.
The vocoder is a signature part of your sound.
I had gotten into some really hushed kind of acoustic guitar stuff, and would spend a long time getting my voice to sound right in the recordings. I was never comfortable with it, and so the vocoder came with the idea of being able to not only be comfortable playing live, but being able to get exactly what I wanted out of my voice. I like to think of vocal lines as important melodies, rather than just singing for the sake of singing. I can reach the melodies much better with a vocoder. It's like my super suit or something. The vocoder was pretty much the beginning of BMSR.
How much of BMSR is just Tobacco? What do the other members contribute?
It depends on the time period; most of the older stuff is solo, but there are usually appearances by the rest of the band. I brought everyone in to interpret the recordings and amplify them for a live show. "Trees and Colors and Wizards" was the first song we ever wrote together as a full band, so it's got the best flow for me live.
The Dandelion Gum album has at least one appearance by almost everyone. Eating Us is a lot different, though. With the exception of one beat that I was really proud of, the drums are all Iffernaut. Ryan Graveface helped me with a bunch of parts as well, writing and recording. And Seven Fields and Dave even dabbled in a couple spots.
How does the writing process usually go?
Lots of playing around, trying to get something I'm hearing in my head, never getting there, but getting lucky and stumbling on something else. Then I go to bed and it all just works itself out.
Why make the switch now to recording in a studio?
It was time to go for something a little grander. Dandelion Gum was as far as I was interested in taking the BMSR sound on my own. I really felt like there was no point in another BMSR record if it had the same kind of space to it. I guess in a way, Dandelion Gum was the quintessential lo-fi BMSR album I had been striving for.
There's less of a reliance on effects now. What happened?
I think my stuff always gets pegged as psychedelic, so I wanted to experiment with less experimenting. I was pretty conscious about not having as much tape delay all over the place, and getting real room space instead.
You specifically wanted to work with Dave Fridmann, the Flaming Lips' producer. What about him appeals to you?
I knew he could give me the opposite of what I normally do, and I could trust his decisions without ever second guessing. Those late '90s Flaming Lips albums have that special touch that put them in such a great space, and that's something I've never been able to get anywhere near.
Did you enjoy the studio experience? Advantages? Disadvantages?
Yes, it was totally comfortable. I still don't believe that every studio experience could be like that, but Dave and his wife Mary made us feel at home, and Dave was open to absolutely anything. The advantage is that if you're lucky enough to be with a great producer or engineer you have the capability to get whatever you want, with a lot of new "wow" moments. The disadvantage for me is you feel like you're wasting everyone's time, and not just your own, when you're messing around and trying to come up with something. That's why I had almost all of my parts recorded before we got up there.
Are you happy with how Eating Us turned out?
Yeah. It's a strange one for me because it wasn't all me, so that takes some getting used to after all these records. But it came out the way I envisioned, and that's a first. Dave made it come alive, and it's a lot of fun to listen to on a real system.
Obviously BMSR has played live before and will tour for this record, but the new songs feel more band-oriented, more geared toward playing live. Was there an intentional shift?
I've always made this stuff with the intention of recording only, and worrying about trying to pull it off live later. There was a definite shift on this one, because I had done all I wanted to do with the BMSR sound with Dandelion Gum, so it was time to make something a little closer to what a live experience might be like.
Were you stoked to get a song in the new Alien Workshop video?
That was almost two years in the making! Odd Nosdam did that incredible Element soundtrack, so maybe this could be like my first step to working my way up to something like that. If anyone wants to hire me, you know where to find me.
I like change, so I'm working on this new Maniac Meat thing that I'm hoping to get out there soon. It's my new band and it lets me get a little more nuclear. Or nukular. I guess right now it's coming out like murder party music, but we're going for serious beats. I've said too much.
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|Date:||Sep 1, 2009|
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