Tobacco- also known as Ronaldo Fauntroy, aka Elizabeth Shields, aka Pete the Egyptian- has gone and done up a solo album. If you’ve been following Tobacco since she was the frontman to satanstompingcaterpillars and then Black Moth Super Rainbow, Fucked Up Friends feels like a natural progression, with hints of yore fused with his strange yet proven vision of what’s to come. Even so, it is a cool departure from BMSR, like all the gangsta stylee taken from BMSR's psychedelic poppy treats, and amped it up.
The beats push Fucked Up Friends into true Ice T territory, with the underlying thumps of songs like “Truck Sweat,” “Side 8 (Big Gums Version),” and “Berries that Burn” making you feel like you’re walking down the streets of Compton, circa 1992. All the same, there are cuts like “Yum Yum Cult” which feel like the electronic folk that has stuck with Tobacco throughout her projects.
Tobacco points out the difference between this creation and BMSR as, “mostly everything I’ve done with BMSR is made to be pop. And alot of people say BMSR is bordering on hip-hop beats. So with Tobacco, I wanted to embrace my beats and get darker and sleeker with it all. I want to make you feel paranoid in a good way. There’s something seriously fucked about workout tapes from the mid 80s, and just about everything obscure on beta tape. They make me feel awful, but really good and curious at the same time. With this Tobacco stuff, I’m trying to translate that feeling.”
So she’s mimicking workout tapes of the 80’s, calling it Fucked Up Friends. Is Tobacco crying for help? How fucked up is he?
“I don't feel like I’m very fucked up at all. I feel really normal most days. Maybe that's a sign that I’m a fucking mess, but I really feel pretty ok.”
Thank God for that. So it’s really about her horrible friends, then?
“I think the title was based a little more on the people I would see and hear everyday who I got to know through their fuckedness. I was living in city limits again while I was making the record. No trees or any of that perceived hippy stuff. It was me up in a room by a window, being able to hear people on the street passing by. It felt better than the woods.”
Even with his professed mental stability, Fucked Up Friends is spooky at times, such as the flowing yet subtly creepy “Backwards Altar.” The track gives the sonic sensation of a whirlpool: it swirls around majestically and peaceful, but once you get sucked in, you’re trapped.
True to form, Tobacco used less-than-typical instruments for her solo record, yet hints that he may be looking for more challenges. “I used my beater samplers and synths and dropped the reel-to-reel tape machine. It was too run down. I’m thinking of moving on to something new.”
Regardless of what kind of machines she uses, Tobacco has always produced sounds richer and fuller than just about anything else. Even when he was recording on a 4-track, the way the music bent and danced through your mind evoked complex reactions, even in its simplicity. So it’s no surprise that she seems to be on the same page with artists like Neil Young and Trent Reznor, who have been pushing for higher standards in the quality of distributed music. “I’ve always thought mp3s and cds should be able to have higher quality by now. Why is it that vinyl from a thousand years ago can still sound better than a cd? I guess it's why we don't all have jetpacks. We could, but no one cares enough to make it happen.”
He’s also been an avid critic of the music industry. Not so much of the music itself, but rather the business aspect that all too often pollutes the art. “Biggest threat, in my opinion, is and has always been dickhead managers. There are good managers who are down to earth and just fine, but some of these motherfuckers just see you as an opportunity. Time and time again I’ve been turned off from bands I used to love, because of their dickhead managers. The best way to not hear back from me is to have your manager contact me.
“Other than that, it's the best time ever to be making and recording music… because if you or one of your friends has a computer, you have a recording device and instruments all rolled into one. And if you have a connection, you can put your song out there within minutes. You could even be selling it that day. When you can just think out a song in your head and instantly have it playing for someone else, that'll be an even better time for making music.
“Maybe if I think about it long enough, it's like easier to get lost in the ocean of new artists, and that could be threatening, but who knows.
“Sometimes I hope it all washes away. But I guess more realistically, I hope there's some kind of revolution in the way music is marketed and it's not so rooted in pr.”
“I am jaded,” she continues, “and waiting for another Longmont Potion Castle or Jerky Boys album.”
Yes, that’s right. One thing that holds true about this musical wizard is his genuine adoration for a good prank phone call. From The Tube Bar Tapes to the Jerky Boys, Tobacco is an aficionado unlike any I’ve ever met.
“I’ve always loved the Jerky Boys. Since middle school. I don't think they could have a proper resurgence today because it seems like you can't just tell someone you're gonna smash their face in or kill them over the phone. At least they wouldn't be able to. But maybe someone new with nothing at stake could...”
Only a real artist can appreciate such genius as the Jerky Boys. So it’s no surprise to find Tobacco’s videos are just as tripped out (and funny) as her music...yet even in that, there is a certain precision that sets a bar. From naughty videos of girls blowing bubble gum bubbles into each other faces, to a guy dressed up as Max Headroom getting spanked with a fly swatter, the videos that Tobacco produces for his music are sheer delight.
Tobacco is a master of what some call the “lo-fi” sound, turning it into complex, rump-shaking, soul-raping music. In due time, Tobacco will be in all of us.