Tom Fec certainly knows how to fuzz things up. When he’s not distorting synths for Black Moth Super Rainbow, he’s tweaking sounds and twisting knobs as Tobacco, his solo, edgier alter ego. Case in point is Tobacco’s latest release, Maniac Meat (Anticon). It’s full of gritty, dirty, sinister-sounding synths layered upon sweet effected vocals, all backed up by pounding drum-machine beats.
And hey, Beck even makes an appearance on Maniac Meat to lay down some vocals on a couple of tracks (“Fresh Hex” and “Grape “Aerosmith”). Tobacco also tricked out one of his noise oscillator boxes by covering it with fur. Why? “Because with the way it sounds, it was begging for it.” Does it get any better than that? No, it does not.
EQ hit up Tobacco with some nerdlike questions about how Maniac Meat was born.
Can you pick a track on Maniac Meat and tell me the step-by-step process of creating it, from writing to recording to mixing?
“Sweatmother” was one of my favorites to put together. I found some so-bad-they’re-good drum-machine hits for my MPC and used reverb for the first time on them. Then the chunky riff—the one that everyone’s giving me credit for coming up with an awesome synth sound for—is just a bass guitar played into a handheld tape recorder. The vocoder sound is a result of how the vocoder, the mic, and the Echoplex felt like working with each other that day. They seemed to be friends for that one. Most times, they’re at war.
The more wild synth sounds that come in are from my trusty old go-to synth that I’ve kept a secret all these years. All four years that I’ve owned it. [Laughs.] I’m not sure if I even remember why it’s a secret anymore, but I’ll stick with it. Anyway, it’s analog and has just one oscillator but it sounds better than most three-oscillator synths to my ear. The end part has this noise oscillator box, and that is the sound of me trying to tame it. No MIDI or anything—you just have to twist knobs. I wish I could remember what it was called, but I ripped the sticker off when I first got it and covered it in fur because with the way it sounds, it was begging for it.
In the end, there was no EQ. EQ is not something I really ever use because I like to get the right sound going in, and I just get overwhelmed with options. I export it hot though. The only software I use is [Syntrillium] Cool Edit because I love the way you can push it and it doesn’t seem to even try to fight you. It just gives up and is like “Alright, if you want it to sound wrong, that’s your problem.”
Beck is a guest vocalist on the album. How did you come to collaborate with him?
I just asked and he was cool enough to say yes. We did it all through emailing files. I sent him MP3 drafts, and he sent finished vocal stems back.
Did you try any recording experiments on the album? If so, what and how’d you do it, and what were the results?
It feels like a lot of the songs started off as experiments on this album. Especially with “Six Royal Vipers,” I wanted to start with a sound that was too corny for me to ever use and see what I could build off of that. Not only that, but 99 percent of what I’ve written is monophonic, so chords are weird to me. “Constellation Dirtbike Head” is my first and maybe last real attempt at playing actual drums in real time with no looping or editing. Then the end section of “Heavy Makeup” was a ton of BOSS SP-202 Dr. Sample work. I don’t have any memory cards, so you can work with only 30 seconds of audio at a time. I really like the way that sampler in particular slows things down. It’s got a gross flavor that you don’t get from software.
The vocals on “Motorlicker” have a really cool vibration-like sound. How did you achieve that effect? How did use you layering, panning, compression, and effects to suit your voice?
That one was one of those accidents, like most things I do. Two takes combined with weird jiggling tape echo on the verge of burning out on each take that’s slightly off. I meant for them to be in sync, but it’s an old Echoplex.
What are five pieces of gear you couldn’t live without?
Z.Vex Woolly Mammoth Fuzz
Portable suitcase modular synth
*Photo by Seven Fields