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Firewater - Interview

  by Mark Rowland

published: 22 / 3 / 2002

Firewater - Interview


Something of an American punk rock super group, Firewater features members of the Jesus Lizard, Soul Coughing, Laughing Hyenas, and Foetus. Frontman Tod A talks to Mark Rowland about the band's two albums 'Psychopharmacology' and 'The Ponzi Scheme'

New York band Firewater's latest album, 'Psychopharmacology' is getting the band some much deserved praise, even from Britain, where they have been largely ignored. Most important is that their music, a melting pot of musical styles that takes in the songwriting of Tom Waits and the Pogues and revitalises it for the modern age, is what is getting them all the attention. The release of 'Psychopharmacology' coincides with the reissue of previous album 'The Ponzi Scheme', which came out in 1997 and has now been rereleased in a fantastic tin can case. Firewater have also recorded one other album 'Get off the Cross' which came out in 1996 and which is only available in America. The band itself is something of a supergroup, with members of the Jesus lizard, Soul Coughing, Laughing Hyenas, and Foetus passing through its ranks. A member of Cop Shoot Cop as well as Firewater, frontman Tod A tells us of his inspirations and idols, as well as his views on religion, The Strokes and popular British music papers. PB : What does Psychopharmacology mean? TA : It's in the dictionary. It's basically the study of psycho-active drugs and their effects on the brain mostly.  There's animal psychopharmacology but it 's mostly used in relation to the human brain.  Prozac would be a good example of a psycho-active drug. PB : The lyrics of 'Psychopharmacology' are quite bleak and dark. Is there anything specific in your life that influenced the content of that album? TA : It was kind of a bad year, I lost a couple of friends and in the meantime we were going through this really long boring battle with our former record company and it was a crappy year all round, but the idea was to take those ideas and present them in a positive light - it would be easy enough to wallow in self pity - to take the negative and try and give it some positive spin, though I'm not exactly Mr Sunshine. PB : Your 'Ponzi scheme' album has great packaging, how did the idea of a tin CD case come about? TA : We actually saw a circular one  - it was a Patsy Cline Greatest Hits or something in a truck stop in France. We thought it was a great idea so we tracked down the company that did it in America . It sort of specialised in cigar cans, cat food cans - stuff like that. The record might have been delayed by something like a month because they had this huge order of cat food which was kind of irritating, but we got quite a bit of press out of it so I guess in the long run it worked out. They just called up and said we're going to have to delay your shipment by a month, which in the music business is not good.  People can get very upset when you get calls like that. PB : Firewater's sound takes in a diverse range of musical styles. Do you sit down and choose the styles you want to incorporate into each song, or do the songs just develop naturally? TA : I like a lot of different kinds of music so I never felt limited to play in any one particular style, and I like records that vary from song to song. I see each song as a little mini film, or scene maybe, and we kind of make the music that sets the scene and then by logical extension I guess the record would be the movie. You put the scenes together and it hopefully it tells some kind of story. PB : Are there bands that particularly influence Firewater? TA : Definitely.  I like a lot of different kinds of music, but in terms of good song writing I have to say Tom Waits is probably high up there on the list. He writes great lyrics, and great lyrics are important for me to enjoy the music. PB : Are there any newer bands that have caught your ear recently? TA : I think Beck's pretty good. He's definitely creative and challenges himself not to stick to a formula and he challenges the audience at the same time. Good new bands and artists are kind of few & far between - the Eels I suppose. There's not that much I think that is really that ground breaking. PB : Is there one album in your collection that you would recommend to anyone? TA : 'Raindog' by Tom Waits. It's 59 minutes - just shy of an hour - and there's not one wasted breath on there. PB : How come it took so long for your albums to be released in UK? TA :I think we're still not released in the UK to the best of my knowledge! We' re available on import I believe. I don't know. Maybe the English music press doesn't like us. We'll be over there eventually but they have yet to roll out the red carpet and strike up the band. PB : All the members of Firewater are already in established bands. Would you ratherthat Firewater be seen as a band in itself and not just a side project to yours or any of the other member's bands? TA : It doesn't really matter to me - I just care about the way the music is perceived.  As a matter of fact most of the big names that were on the first album were no longer in a band so I think that the music stands on its own. It's not really an issue to me - we just try to make good records. PB : You yourself are a member of Cop Shoot Cop. Is it hard to find time to commit to both bands? TA : Cop Shoot Cop hasn't played a show since 1995. We're effectively broken up,so no it's no conflict whatsoever! PB : Is there any sort of Concept behind the 'Ponzi scheme' album? TA : It's about this deaf, dumb and blind boy who was really good at playing pinball. No if there's any underlying concept - and I hate that word especially when used in the same sentence as "album" - it was, the name was poking fun at the relationship or the similarity in my mind between Christianity and pyramid schemes, in that it's a long shot gamble that supposed to pay you infinite rewards, but it's basically just a big scam, a rip off. Yeah, so that was my little joke there. PB : Oh. Sorry. Not a big religion fan then? TA : Not as such. I think they've done a lot more harm than good. Let's put it that way, and if there is a God he's got a lot to answer for. PB : What are your touring plans over the next year? TA : We are going to do Germany, Austria, Switzerland and then we're doing a full US tour in April.  Hopefully we're going to come back and do some more a European shows in late spring, specifically Italy, France -maybe England if anyone wants to see us - we'd be happy to come over there. I mean I've slagged off England but it's more in a comical way, a light-hearted way. My wife is English and I have nothing against the English. I do have a problem with the transparent way the English music press works but that's the nature of the beast, I suppose. PB : Oh thanks. TA : I wasn't talking about you. I was more referring to the NME. I just feel sorry for bands like the Strokes and the B.M.R.C. who don't really have any clue that next month they're going to be yesterday's news and they are going to be trashed all over. Suddenly they're not going to be cool and somebody else is going to be cool and suddenly they're going to be making fun of them and they're all kind of young and sensitive, you know, so I just can see they'll just have to learn. PB : What do you think of the Strokes? TA : The Strokes? I think they're a good band. They're not the second coming of Christ but they're a good band. PB : Do you feel any hostility over the sudden rise to fame of New York bands like the Strokes? TA : Not at all. Sometimes I kinda wonder why them, you know? But they're good. They definitely deserve to be as famous as anyone else. Yeah I've nothing against them and they write good songs. Absolutely ! PB : Thank you. TA : Thank you.

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Firewater - Interview

Firewater - Interview

Firewater - Interview

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Profile (2002)
Firewater - Profile
Firewater features members of the Jesus Lizard, Cop Shoot Cop, Foetus, Soul Coughing, and Laughing Hyenas. With both the bands' two albums to date out for the first time in Britain, Mark Rowland profiles this exciting new American group

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