ThisIsNotAScene‘s Steve Fallows caught up with Tod A of Firewater for a quick chat. They talked about “International Orange,” Firewater‘s seventh album, changes in the band over the last 10 years, touring, Tod‘s travels over the last decade and much, much more…
“International Orange” is the 7th album from Firewater, can you tell us a little about the album?
Created in Istanbul and Tel Aviv during the 2011 Arab Spring, the new release captures the frenetic pulse of a world in the state of flux.
‘International Orange!’ continues in the proud Firewater tradition of cultural and stylistic mash-ups. High-energy Turkish percussion drives jagged guitars and horns on eleven anthems of frustration and hope, movement and transformation. The songs tap into grooves as disparate as Turkish maqsoum, Punjabi bhangra, Jamaican ska, classic punk and old-school mambo. Muskat’s mixing aesthetic draws on everything from the Bollywood excess of sixties-era R.D. Burman to the early dub experiments of King Tubby. Yet the team manages to meld all these flavors into a cohesive whole, as only they can do.
Lyrically it’s as poetic and playfully acerbic as ever. ‘Ex-Millionaire Mambo’ tosses caustic jibes at the architects of the 2009 financial crash: “It’s tough to be chic when you live in a cardboard box”. ‘A Little Revolution’ draws on the frustration of a generation with limited options and even fewer outlets: “Got no job and got no cash, going nowhere and going fast.” And ‘Up From The Underground’ warns of the imminent sea-change just around the corner: “You can beat us up, but you can’t beat us down.”
I like the fact that, during the so-called ‘flotilla crisis’ between Turkey and Israel, Turkish and Israeli musicians were collaborating on this record, even when governments can’t seem to get along, there can still be hope for the rest of us.”
What has changed in the four years since “The Golden Hour”?
The world, mostly: the crash, the Arab Spring, the rejection of conservatism in the US.
I guess I’ve changed as well. Well, at least I’ve changed addresses quite a bit. I’ve moved around a lot. I was back and forth between Indonesia, Cambodia and Turkey for those four years, touring, writing songs, working part time with an NGO in Phnom Penh, and working on my novel. Now I’m based in Istanbul, the novel is done, new record is out, and we’re back touring again.
You have spent a lot of the past ten years traveling (outside of touring). How has this changed your approach to writing?
I wouldn’t say that my basic approach has changed much. I still write on a guitar, orchestrate on computer, then collaborate with people who are much more talented than me, in order to bring the songs to life. A man is the sum his influences. It follows that the more experiences you have, the more those experiences will naturally emerge in your writing.
Firewater always seems open to new approaches and experimentation, where do you look for inspiration?
I just try to keep my eyes and ears open. Inspiration is wherever you look.
Also, I get bored easily. I always want to try that item on the menu that I’ve never tasted before.
After witnessing 9/11 at close range, I had a realization: that at any moment your future could simply implode and be swept away like so much toxic dust. From out of a clear blue sky the hand of fate can deal you a savage blow that lays all your elegant plans to waste. Without any drum roll or dramatic cue, you can simply vaporize
It’s impossible to witness office workers leaping to their deaths without undergoing some change in perspective. A lot of people talk about living in the moment: after that day, I think a lot more of them started doing it. If your life can be snuffed out at any second, do you really want to meet your maker by the coffee machine?
I decided leave my NYC life behind in order to put myself into situations where more unexpected things would happen. So far, they have.
Spending so much time away from the USA and in very different surroundings and cultures, how do your now view your former home?
It certainly gives you perspective. Americans really need to travel more: only 30% of them hold a passport. The decisions we Yanks make in voting extend far beyond our own borders. I think it’s healthy to see the effects first-hand. I feel very lucky to have been born in a prosperous country with a free press, but there’s a big world out there, and I want to see it before it all becomes indistinguishable from New Jersey.
Despite a more upbeat sound, Your lyrics have kept that cynical side to them from your days in Cop Shoot Cop, do you ever see yourself revisiting any of that material?
No, not really. You can never go back. Rhythmically, for me, Firewater has been a natural progression from the CSC days. I think Firewater is certainly more musical than Cop, but there are definitely obsessions that remain.
After ‘Songs We Should Have Written’ Would you consider another album of covers? Which songs would you like to rework?
Wow. That’s a tough question. There are so many songs that we love dearly or would dearly love to butcher. We do regularly play covers on tour – though usually just once, to make each show special. At the moment I’m happy that original songs are still falling out of my sleeve.
An injury put paid to the recently planned European tour, how is the recovery coming along?
Very well, thank you! I’m doing physical therapy 3 times a week, and I’m down to a single crutch – not counting alcohol and cigarettes, of course. The EU tour has been rescheduled (see below), and we’ll be back on the road before you know it.
The UK hasn’t really seen a full Firewater tour, are there any plans to get over here in the future?
We’d love to bring the Firewater party to the UK. We’ve certainly been working on it. I know we have lots of fans there. Sadly, many in the UK music establishment still seem to regard music as a fashion thing. And I guess we don’t have the right haircuts or wear the right trousers. Yet, we haven’t given up hope. We’ll see.
Whats next for the band?
We have a new video for our first single “A Little Revolution”. The video was shot here in Istanbul, and animated/directed by the amazing Paul Griswold and various other co-conspirators.
As I mentioned before, we have an EU tour coming up in Feb/ Mar 2013. After that, we’ll be playing a ton of festivals in the summer, both in the EU and the US.
Also (this ain’t a Firewater thing) but I just finished my first novel, Banging the Monkey, which will be published in 2013.