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Firewater | Psychopharmacology | interview | Tod A | alternative | Lollipop
An interview with singer Tod A
by Lex Marburger
When you talk about an artist making a change, usually it comes in increments, edging towards mainstream (Green Day), or getting the hell out of dodge (Radiohead). But sometimes, just sometimes, they take a turn from left to obscure, and no one wants to go. A tough decision all around, and, while not entirely applicable to Firewater, it's pretty close. Lead singer and bassist Tod A went from fronting neo-industrial punks Cop Shoot Cop to venturing into the realm of tangos and gospel drinking songs. Their first album, Get Off the Cross... We Need Wood for the Fire, sounded like Tom Waits in a wedding band traveling through northern Europe. Their second, The Ponzi Scheme, had them taking a slight side trip to South America. Now, Psychopharmacology has them traveling through time to when pop stars used sitars.
With your last three albums, you've had a bit of an evolution. It's not so much the drunken wedding band through Europe kind of thing anymore.
Yeah... I'm not exactly sure why, except that we kind of let the songs do what they want. So if the song doesn't seem like it needs accordion or bagpipes, you know, or uh... marching snare, then we don't try and add that in. So this record is definitely much more... stripped down.
There's an almost '60's pop feel, some Beatles influences. Especially on songs like "Fell off the Face of the Earth." Were you trying for that kind of style?
Not intentionally. It sort of just happened that way. The Beatles have an insidious way of, you know, getting into everything eventually. (The chord structures of Firewater, and even Cop Shoot Cop, are far more interesting than standard three or four-chord punk - hell, three or four-chord anything really - but the kind of stuff they've been doing recently has been almost too much.
There is so much "White Album" and Abbey Road here, it's a little off-putting at first. But after a few listens, it smooths itself out. Another Beatles technique perhaps...). The pendulum might swing back the other direction for the next record, I'm not really sure... There're actually a lot of songs I'd intended to get on this record that I couldn't because of the way I wanted to deliver them. I guess I have to wait 'til the next record to find out what the hell that means. Since we had about 50 songs to choose from, we chose the ones we were able to serve up in the best fashion.
Of course, you couldn't get the same line up as in the first album (members of The Jesus Lizard, Foetus, Soul Coughing, and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion). It was sort of a side project at the time...
It wasn't really a side project, it was just that I had a bunch of songs and no band. So I asked people I knew to play on the record. Since then, the line-up's been pretty much the same in terms of the few core people, the four of us. Horn guys, you know, come and go. (There's always a change in sound when major members leave a group. The Firewater sound definitely got more rock/pop oriented with The Ponzi Scheme, and although these last two albums definitely have a skewed soun, Get Off the Cross... stands alone).
"Knock 'em Down" and "Drunkard's Lament" were originally written for the first album, but they weren't ready in time.
Yeah, it always boils down to money... I think I might never finish a record if we didn't have a financial cap on it. I'm too much of a perfectionist.
Lyrically, this seems a little more autobiographical.
Maybe. Yeah. It's been a rough couple of years. A bunch of people I know are no longer with us, so I guess it's a bit more serious. And I've been trying to let a little more honesty seep through, as I'm a shy person, if you can believe that... I found a good way of approaching it is to take on the character that the song is about and let the character speak things that I probably wouldn't ordinarily say.
"7th Avenue Static" actually has one of the more positive messages on the album: "Life is for the living."
Yeah, I'm treading on thin ice with the clichés... Again, it has to do with the last couple of years. Two people I know killed themselves, pretty close to each other. And being a person who is not of the happiest disposition anyway, it kind of makes you think about things in a different way. I've kind of come to the conclusion that however miserable I may be, I want to see how things turn out. You know, you want to see how the movie ends... It's got to be pretty bad for you to walk out on it. It's like, having all these very negative things happen has forced me to be a little bit more positive, if that makes any sense...
You also brought back Jennifer Charles for quite a different style song for you, "Bad Bad World." Where did that come from?
(Essentially, it's just a dialogue between a guy and a girl, teasing and taunting one another, in a very sexy way. And if you've heard Jennifer Charles sing [Elysian Fields], you know that it's a very sexy thing, indeed) (laughs) Don't ask me... I just wrote it. I wasn't real sure about the song, it fit more along the lines of a campy love song than anything I've ever done, but she really liked it and was into doing it... I really love what she did with it..
You guys haven't been touring much lately. I remember seeing you more than a few times for the first couple of records, but now the only place you've been is, what was it, Sweden?
We're doing Switzerland this summer. We toured Europe around Christmas and went to Israel and did a bunch of shows over there.
How'd it go in Israel?
Really well, actually. Nobody was blown up, which is always a good sign. Bodes well for the tour when everyone makes it back alive.
Are you going to tour the states?
We do like a month and a half in September and October. And we're going to Japan, also in October. We're finally getting out there. I can't wait.
Sounds like a really good plan.
Yeah. Make a record and go on tour. It's experimental. We're going to see if it works. We tried sitting around at home, but that hasn't really done so well.
Anything else you want to add?
Umm... Don't forget to breathe.
(67 Vestry Street, Suite 5B New York, NY 10013)