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Adjust Tracking: An Interview with Tobacco

Anyone who has seen Tobacco perform, either solo or with his band Black Moth Super Rainbow, has probably seen the background video that accompanies the performances. The videos are part schlock-horror, part regrettable exercise tape, and part even-more-regrettable porn. They have been released on two DVD’s: “Fucked Up Friends” 1& 2, the latter claiming to be “the first ever low resolution, lo-fi Blu-ray video.” Tobacco, whose newest record, Maniac Meat was just released on Anticon, took some time to speak with Ladies & Gentlemen about his video work, wet latex, and the freedom of jokes.

When did you start using video in your live performances?
Probably for the first Black Moth [Super Rainbow] show that we ever did. So, pretty much since the beginning. I remember dumping a bunch of videos onto a VCR tape and just projecting it. I can’t remember what was on it.

Was there something that spurred that decision to include video in your shows?
I think it’s always been to make it a more entertaining show and give people something to look at. We’re not the most animated people onstage. So, I think it’s a lot more interesting to watch fucked up shit on the screen than it is to just be staring at what we’re doing.

In the production of the videos, what are Beta Carnage, Warren Kroll and Steve Lutes’ contributions?
Beta Carnage was this guy that I met out in Rochester, New York. He actually had all of the footage for the first Fucked Up Friends. The first Fucked Up Friends was actually a re-editing of a project that he had made a year before that. Then on the second Fucked Up Friends a couple of my friends, Warren and Steve, gave me a batch of videos that they had dumped down, I used them for one of the videos on that one.

And George’s Videos in Canfield?
Yeah, that’s the spot.

Is that where most of [the videos] came from?
Yeah. It’s a really, really, really weird place. It’s in a strip mall. I’m pretty sure this guy lived there in the winter. Then he opens it up in the summer. It’s his personal video collection. It’s millions of tapes. Half of them are just blank tapes that he taped on to. You can go in there and just fill up a cardboard box for twenty bucks and he doesn’t really give a shit. We got this retirement-home-village video. I brought it home and George had just put porn on it. It was pretty awesome.

Is it still around?
Yeah, it’s open in the summer. I don’t even know how much longer it’ll be open but apparently it’s been open for a few years.

So what’s the process in constructing these videos?
Well, any time I see something good, I put it on the computer. Then I’ll have this giant pool of little clips that I can pull from. I usually come up with a pretty basic idea. If I want the video to be shocking or if I want the video to be stupid, I just go from there.

So do the songs that the videos run behind influence some of those stupid or shocking decisions?
Yeah. There’s this one I put on the new one (Fucked Up Friends 2) we do live that has E.T. getting fucked by a couple of guys. That song just sounded to me like someone getting fucked and I knew that was the perfect footage for it.

That clip seems like the crown jewel. Do you know the details of that E.T. porn?
Not really, I think it might be Russian. The suit is just disgusting. It’s really thin and almost decaying away. It’s really gross. It’s like a Halloween mask that you’ve had since you were a little kid that you find in the attic, it’s like flaking away… That’s what this suit is. This person is wearing it while they’re getting fucked, it’s really disgusting.

(NSFW)

I guess what’s sad is that it’s evidence that this E.T. costume had been used on a number of occasions before they shot the video.
Yeah, I’m guessing it had been wet before. Sometimes latex is like that; if you put it under the elements it just reacts in a kind of gross way. Next time you watch it, just look around where they cut out the holes, it’s really fucked up.

That leads to another question; do you consider these videos beautiful or ugly?
Well, they’re definitely not beautiful. I don’t know, I just consider them eye candy. I keep thinking about the word disgusting. They’re kind of ugly, I guess. I’m just trying to make really, really dumb entertainment, but hopefully it has replay value. Hopefully it’s not THAT dumb that you can only watch it once.

At what point did you first decide to release a DVD and a Blu-ray?
When we first starting doing a lot of touring with Black Moth Super Rainbow, when Dandelion Gum came out, I had all these other songs that were working in a different space in my head. I wasn’t really planning on doing a Tobacco thing, but I had all the videos that Beta Carnage had given me and they were really great, It was inspiring me to make music from a different angle. I thought it would be cool to make something so fucking weird, and maybe not what people expected or wanted, and to have those things on sale. While playing the Flaming Lips shows that was pretty much my goal, play to six-thousand people a night and then have at the merch table these DVDs that don’t say Black Moth Super Rainbow on them, just have these weird almost-porn videos in them, and to see if anyone buys it.

It seems like everything I do starts off as a big joke to myself and then it becomes real.

That actually seems like a nice creative process. You’re not committed to take anything seriously so if it fails you don’t have to blame anyone. Is that a defense mechanism?
Right. Yeah, people just didn’t get the joke and then I don’t have to be hurt by it.

You just mentioned how you were trying to influence the music or change the music. Did that first Fucked Up Friends influence music after that?
Totally. It was the groundwork for opening up what I really wanted to do. With Black Moth, I had all these ideas and I knew what I wanted to do, I always took Black Moth pretty seriously. Then when Fucked Up Friends came around, and the idea for that came around, I thought maybe I could do something that was totally just fucking around for me. Really the groundwork for me was to just take the tools that I’m using and all the ideas that I thought were too out there or too juvenile for people to take it seriously. I just threw it all out and I was like, whatever, I just want to do this and have fun with it. And taking that up to the next level with Maniac Meat. I don’t know, it feels really fun to make music like that again.

Are there any specific videos from the DVD that influenced musical decisions?
I think the whole thing as a whole. I think the whole Fucked Up Friends Record was influenced. Every piece of it. From being more of a hip-hop tone, to some of the more aggressive stuff, to some of the more primal stuff, like the porn urges in the music. I mean, that’s all from that video.

I watched Fucked Up Friends 1 and 2 in HD but on a non-HD TV. Did I miss anything?
No. It’s probably better. It looks terrible in HD.

By design.
Yeah, well… it wasn’t even supposed to look as bad as it did. But, damn, when I got the actual Blu-ray it looked really, really bad.

Where do you plan to go next with the video work? Do you like playing with that stuff? Would you like to take it further? Or is that thinking to seriously about it?
Now that I’ve done it, if you go on YouTube there are so many fan videos that are doing exactly that. It’s gotten to the point that it’s way too easy to replicate. So I don’t see the point in ever doing anything like that again. If I was going to go back into videos again I think I’d want it to be original stuff. But that might take forever.

There seems to be a trend of visual artists creating original content that is similarly inspired by this ephemeral VHS world. Obviously the first people that come to mind are Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. How do you feel about that kind of stuff?
I think it’s cool. It’s like when guys like Boards of Canada started taking the seventies and early eighties and sort of made their name on nostalgia. It wasn’t even necessarily how it was back then, it was amplifying it into this new thing and sort of boosting those memories. I think Tim & Eric are totally doing that with that new Steve Brule show… it’s perfect.

Going back to the fan videos; how do you feel about the videos that are somewhere between an homage or a rip-off of your original video work? Do you like that or dislike that? How does it feel?
It’s cool that people are inspired to do that. I just hope that that’s just a starting point for them. Because you kind of need a place to start. You know, you kind of need an influence. It’s hard to start off doing your own thing completely. It is what it is. If people are inspired by this stuff that’s a good thing. But for me it just makes it like, if fans can do it, what’s the point of me doing it? Seriously, I need to give them something that they can’t do themselves of there’s just no point of me existing.

At it’s essence it’s the idea of melding the execution of the music and the video. It’s easy now because you’ve kind of shown them how to do it. It’s not like that is very hard to do, but to think of it in the first place is the challenge.
What I always wanted to do was tell a story. Whatever story it might be, even if the story is only two sentences. Tell a sometimes weird fucking story that makes you feel something weird, with these clips. I think one thing a lot of the fan videos are missing is that. A lot them will just take random clips from one thing and just put it together. But they’ll get there. They’ll make their own Fucked Up Friends 3.

Tobacco’s newest record Maniac Meat is out now on Anticon. Head on over there and pick it up!

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