Interview Tobacco: ‘I’m Just Entertaining Myself’

Tom Fec discusses torturing his already broken sound on new album ‘Ultima II Massage’.

Artists don’t usually admit to screwing with your head, and they’re even less likely to take it as a compliment. Tom Fec, however, is different. He declares a casual mess-around to be ‘what makes me happiest in music,’ and listening to his latest digital sleaze-fest as Tobacco, ‘Ultima II Massage’, it shows.

Tom Fec produces unnervingly hypnagogic music with no equal. His fractured scuzz taps into the discovery of the unknown - conjuring the feeling that the mysterious VHS tapes that you weren’t allowed to watch as a child. It’s immediately obvious from the outset; Fec has a tight grasp on the unknown. He was allowed to watch those tapes as a kid. “It’s what kicked the Tobacco project off,” he mentions. ‘While I was making this album, I was really into the idea of the old hotline numbers and not knowing what kind of evil is on the other end of the line.”

Coming off the back of a collaborative record with G-Funk revivalist Zackey Force Funk, as well as a crowd-funded record for his other project, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Fec has finally returned to the music that he wants to hear with ‘Ultima II Massage’. His third Tobacco album, and tenth overall, ‘Ultima… ’ is the sound he’s been striving for his entire career.

“I think it was conditioning and time,” he says. “If you’ve ever heard the very first music I made in high school, it’s pretty gruff, and was really off-putting at the time.” He has a firm belief that people have gotten more in touch with the abrasive, and that the sound of his high school project, Alleghany White Fish, isn’t quite as alienating as it once was. “Over the years, a lot of music out there has gotten harsher and weirder; more people recognise the art in destruction, so they aren’t so quick to write it off as a bunch of mistakes.”

He’s been slowly moving back to the sonic exploration and destruction that he started with: “With Black Moth, I just totally diverged to an unrelated place, and ‘Fucked Up Friends’ was the beginning of me finding my way back.” The sound and grit of ‘Ultima II Massage’ has been hinted at through the progression in his sound, despite the fact it’s so in tune with his early forays into music. This is his end destination, right back at the beginning again. It’s not like he doesn’t know this: “I guess the most fun I ever had making music was when I was making alienating music in high school, and ‘Ultima II Massage’ is essentially that again”. He adds, “Maybe it’s not so alienating these days”.

Maintaining his pop sensibilities with tracks like ‘Eruption’, and completely shattering them with songs like ‘Creaming For Beginners’,’Ultima’ defines Tobacco at both extremes. Despite how initially abrasive the record comes on, there are some remarkably pretty melodies hidden under the menacing smog, resulting in a new kind of beauty that’s not as easy to appreciate. He says of ‘Creaming For Beginners’: “I wanted to take what could have ended up being the best BMSR song I’ve ever made, and break it in every place I could until it lost everything that was so good about it in the first place.”

It’s this desire to break his already damaged sound that makes it his most experimental sounding release in a long time. But he clarifies that it’s not experimental for the sake of it, saying, “I’m just trying to entertain myself, and that’s why some things I do end up sounding experimental”. Even the lyricism is vaguer than it was before. His signature vocoder vocals have shifted from a masking of his voice, to yet another set of colours in his aural palette. “It’s not even all in English” he explains.

He reiterates, “I think with time, you spend so much effort trying to carve yourself out of any box, and you end up building yourself into a new box - even if it’s your own, it’s still a box” he says. “I approach things now with the mind-set of ‘how would I do this if no one was listening and I didn’t have anything to prove to anyone?’” This adventurous mind-set is both humble and fruitful; with it sounding just as playful as it does ominous.

But it must be said, this shifting of gears is something that he’s had in him all this time; it’s just finally approached the right moment for his possessed synthesiser exorcisms to be accepted. With the intention of making music for no one besides himself, he stresses: “I don’t do music to make moves or propel the arts; that’s for other people to do”.

Tobacco’s ‘Ultima II Massage’ LP is out 12th May on Ghostly International.

Tags: Tobacco, Features

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