Imagine my surprise when, last fall, at a late-night gig after Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, I discovered that the falsetto-voiced singer of a new favorite band, Black Moth Super Rainbow, was a male, not a female.
To be fair, Thomas Fec (who also goes by the moniker "Tobacco"), the band's brainchild, sings through a vocoder, which means half the time he doesn't even sound human. This gives BMSR a weirdly lo-fi psychedelic space vibe, which you'll be able to experience for yourself at Fitzgerald's May 29.
BMSR is touring in support of the band's fifth EP, Cobra Juicy, an album that almost wasn't made. A few years ago, Fec was approached to do a remix of a female singer's album. He won't name the singer, only to say he'd never heard of her before.
"I didn't want to make music at the time," he says. "I wanted to take a few years off."
But he took the job and ended up being pretty happy with the result, "once I got into it." Unfortunately, the female singer's people were not, and so the album was scrapped. Fec reworked it, and reworked it again, and the result eventually became Cobra Juicy, which was released in October.
Fec said it snapped him out of his writing slump.
"Writing around something like that, her voice, I had to look at things differently," he said. "To think about writing songs with guitars, it's really uncomfortable to me. Traditional pop music is weird to me."
"But I need constraints," he said. "I can't read music. I didn't go to school for this."
In other interviews, Fec has often disparaged his normal singing voice, hence the vocoder. He also uses an older keyboard and an old sampler whose age give the band some of its unique fuzzy sound.
"I like pushing that one thing to see what I can get with it."
Fec says a lot of the band's noise is influenced by the pop culture of his childhood.
"When I was a kid my parents let me watch trauma movies," he notes. "People's faces were always, like, melting off in those. And the guy who drew the Garbage Pail Kids cards. They had big ideas and big colors and a lot of personality. I think that stuff kind of stuck with me."
In 2007, the band released what is probably their most well-known album, Dandelion Gum, and went on tour with the Flaming Lips, playing several festivals. Despite that, the band has a reputation of having "cult status."
"If cult is defined as having, like, a small amount of fans, I guess," Fec said. "The ten people that like us really like what we do."
And a barrage of articles on the internet describe the band as "enigmatic," "reclusive," and that "little is known about the band or its members."
Fec says the reputation is unintentional.
"People never wanted to interview us before, so then we got the reputation for not doing interviews." And yet, in almost every picture of Fec that exists online, he is wearing a mask.
Though Black Moth Super Rainbow is typically a five-piece band, Fec essentially wrote Cobra Juicy on his own at home, so after the tour he plans to focus on some other projects for a while, including a new album as Tobacco, his somewhat darker project.
"When I make stuff that I think people will like, that's Black Moth Super Rainbow," he says. "The stuff that might sound totally almost offensive to people, that's Tobacco."
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Black Moth Super Rainbow performs at Fitzgerald's Wednesday, May 29, with The Hood Internet and Oscillator Bug. Doors open at 7 p.m.